The oil on canvas version of Still Life with Hydrangea (on the right) that I started back in mid-summer is finally finished. It just needs some drying time and a coat of varnish. The acrylic version on the left was finished last month, but I thought I’d wait until both were done to “unveil” them.
I started with oil paints that are water-miscible (water-mixable or water soluble — all three mean the same). I determined that they weren’t all they were marketed to be. Some colors/brands mix with water better than others. Some mix better with turpentine substitute (mineral spirits). Some don’t mix very well with either. Most colors got gummy at some point and resisted spreading. I ended up giving in and buying a bottle of Turpenoid® and a set of inexpensive conventional oil paints — the supposedly noxious chemicals that I’d been avoiding all my life for fear that they were dangerous to work with.
I found that I had been silly to wait so long to try oils. I had always assumed that oil painting required a big bucket of solvent. For that I blame Bob Ross and The Joy of Painting… also my unpleasant experiences with oil-based house paint. I bought a nifty little stainless steel cup with a spill-proof lid and a grate inside for rubbing the brushes against to clean them. It only needs a few ounces of solvent and it can be reused over and over again before needing to clean the cup and change the solvent, because the paint solids sink to the bottom under the grate. I can’t believe in all my years of making art, I never learned about this.
I’m sure you knew all about this and you’re shaking your head at my ignorance. Anyway, I’m very happy with how both paintings turned out and I will be posting them for sale shortly — the oil version will need to dry first. And I’ll need to keep my fingers out of the paint while it does. I seem to be getting better at that.
Here’s an update on the art I’ve been creating for the past month. It’s been a month for drawing practice. A painting doesn’t get very far if the artist’s drawing skills aren’t up to the job, and really painting is just drawing in color anyway. Above are a few of the ink drawings I completed this month for the Inktober 2018 challenge. I did them all in my miniature sketchbook that I carry around with me in my purse, so most of them are only about 3″ x 3 1/2 inches.
I’ve done other challenges — National Novel Writing Month (50,000 words of fiction in 30 days) for November and the National Poetry Month poem-a-day challenge for April — and those were interesting and fun, but also frustrating. I think that’s because I write well, but I LOVE drawing and painting. It’s my gift. Also, because I’d never heard of it until November 1st and I jumped in on a whim, I didn’t feel guilty when, about two-thirds of the way through the month and I stopped and only did two more for the rest of October. I just didn’t want to do any more. It was a liberating thing, actually, to abandon it, because it was good practice for a time but was no longer of benefit to me. Never keep doing something just because it’s what you’ve been doing.
I did these two drawings in an art group that I meet with at our church. The group leader stopped at a roadside produce stand to get the props to set up the still life. The drawing of the old man was from a photo she clipped from a magazine, and the rest of the page was cut away, so I don’t have the information to properly cite the photographer. I am particularly pleased with the hands, which are much harder to draw accurately than faces.
I finished two paintings in October too. The first was the acrylic version of that still life. I’ll share a picture when I finish the oil version, so I can unveil them together. The other was the abstract below titled “Vineyard” which started out as just a loosening-up exercise, but it went well enough that I refined and finished it so it’s ready for framing. I plan to paint three companion pieces in the near future titled “Orchard,” “Field,” and “Garden.” If you are interested in purchasing “Vineyard,” see my gallery page for more information.
Still plodding along with the still life. When I used the wrong mixture for glazing and had to set aside the oil version (on the right) back in August, I expected that it wouldn’t be dry enough to paint the next layer until Christmas. But it surprised me, and it appears that only a couple months was necessary. In the meantime, I started on the acrylic version of the same still life (on the left) and it has been going well… mostly. I’ve experienced some frustrations with the paint drying too fast on the canvas. (That’s situational irony, right? My 9th grade English teacher really tried, but I’ve always been a little unclear on that.)
So it wasn’t the subject matter that drove me to give up temporarily on the first canvas, it was the medium. And while working on the second canvas, the medium is making me itch to go back to work on the first canvas. I’m learning a lot, and relearning some too, about my mediums. (Or media, if you prefer–both plurals are correct in an art context; I checked.) That was pretty much the goal of this project–to learn the properties and possibilities of my materials.
So, even though I’m not finished with either version, I’m already thinking about Still Life with Hydrangea No. 3. I’ve got a whole room full of art supplies. I could do watercolor next. Or gouache. Or ink. Or watercolor over ink. Or pastels. Or charcoal. Or colored pencil. Maybe Crayola crayons will suit my mood?
OH, HOLD THE PHONE! I just recalled that single sheet of art paper that I bought on clearance this summer. (Only 15¢–I’ll never get out of an art supply store that cheaply again.) That paper is a rich muted red and that would be the perfect support for a pastel painting of that still life! I think it maybe the time is approaching to try out that box of pastels.
I’ve got a fair amount finished on the underpainting of the second version of my still life. It’s feeling very dark. Rembrandt dark. That was the plan though; keeping the rest of the painting dark and softened in detail, so the central focal point of light effects on the small pitcher will “pop.” But I’m used to using all the vibrant colors that acrylics are known for. This is new territory for me.
Yesterday I was working on the wood grain of the table that the objects are sitting on. I was using the finest of brushes with very few hairs and highly thinned paint mixed with gesso. It was tedious, but I think it’s working. The paint was so thin, it might as well have been watercolors; and the canvas was so absorbent with eight layers of gesso, it might as well have been paper. Quite a mixture of techniques will go into this one.
I discovered it’s really difficult to not keep painting those super-fine lines over and over in the same spot when I intend to paint new lines next to the previous ones. It seemed to be the same problem I’ve had with target shooting, so I employed the same principles to correct my “aim.” (Dad would be proud.)
More art tools … or, more precisely, framer’s tools. But most artists get good at framing too, because doing it yourself saves a bundle. Also, a lot of us wouldn’t let a professional framer touch our work, because our work is like our babies or a piece of our own souls. (Or we’re just control freaks.)
I just used these to frame “Bridesmaid in Pink,” (see my Gallery page) which I am about to enter in the 40th Annual Elkhart Juried Art Show at the Midwest Museum of American Art. If I get it finished soon, and if I can find a frame within my (currently very tight) budget, then I will also enter the still life painting that I’m working on.
One of my favorite Youtube art teachers, Stefan Baumann, says artists need to put their work out there for the world to see, even if they’re not trying to sell it, because it keeps them motivated. It also gives you the opportunity to see your work on a gallery wall next to other artists, which let’s you see how far you’ve come as an artist… or how far you need to go to achieve the level of art you are going for.
A fascinating portraitist whose blog I just discovered, Gwenn Seemel, provided the encouragement (in a video she shared) to get me over the dread of having to talk to people at an art event, should my work be accepted for the show… or even win something. It’s not that I don’t like people, I’m just one of those awkward introverts who has a knack for saying the wrong thing. That’s why I like blogging; I can edit the awkward out before I click “Publish” and put my words go “out there.”
They begin accepting submissions for the exhibit this week. Wish me luck!
So that still life is still sitting on a closet shelf drying…or not drying. The fingerprints just keep adding up. I’ve been mulling over what to paint next while I put coat after coat of gesso on the next canvases. (As soon as I make a sale, I’m going to start buying better canvases that are actually ready to use.) I decided on … the still life.
Lots of famous artists painted the same subject many times. Monet painted those haystacks so often that the farmers got annoyed and tore them down, just so he’d go away. I’m making a few small tweaks to the composition and this time I’m using acrylics. Maybe I’ll do another in watercolors or pastels.
My little supervisor in the tuxedo apurrrrrrrooves of that plan. So far, I have the object outlines re-drawn. I was kind of wishing I had traced it the first time, then I could trace it again. Oh well, it’s like I always tell the students at school when they forget to save their work on the computer — it’s faster when you do it the second time.
That second canvas in the background is bigger, and I have plans for it too — inspired by looking out the window at the full moon last week as the sun was rising at the opposite end of the sky behind me. More on that to come.
About thirty minutes after I published my last post, I had a face-palm moment. There was no brown in my set of paints, and there was no true green to mix with red and make brown, BUT there was a tube of yellow in the box that I never bothered to open. I did have all the pigments I needed to make brown. I’ll blame that on staying up too late.
After almost two weeks, the still life [see previous post] is still not dry, and I have determined that it probably won’t be dry enough to glaze another layer until sometime after Christmas. (It only has about five new fingerprints in it, even without the angry doberman.) While I waited on it, I did some more studying about how to use oils for glazing and how to work with water mixable oils. I learned that I should have done that reading first, and I should have finished that canvas in acrylics for the look I was after.
Today I was smarter. I took a cheap canvas that had a hole in it, and I made a chart of swatches to test each color. The vertical black lines under the swatches are there to help me see how transparent the different colors are. I labeled everything with an ultra fine Sharpie marker because the swatches won’t help if I don’t recall which tube I squeezed it out of.
I learned a lot. I now know that one brand is more highly pigmented–at least the two colors I bought. I learned that the other brand varies widely in consistency. I learned that both reds take a LOT of washing to come out of the brush. And I learned that the tube of French Ultramarine doesn’t mix with water like it’s supposed to and it’s also very, very stinky. It’s not turn-your-stomach stinky, but I would only use it as a last resort if I needed to mix a very particular shade.
I did a smart thing this time… I left the paint on my glass palette, so I can stick my fingers in that instead of the swatches on the canvas to see if it has dried. Next I need to slap some paint around a practice canvas and try some blending. Then I’ll have a better feel for these paints, and I’ll be ready to use them in an actual painting. Not tonight though–don’t want to stay up too late again. Time to feed the cats and catch some ZZZZZzzzzz.