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.
Two days ago I spent the day at the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago, which really gave me the itch to get on with painting. Today, I finally opened up the new set of water soluble oil paints that I’ve been planning to try. It didn’t go quite as well as I’d imagined. Half an hour into the project, I was wrestling with a cat in the bathroom, trying to remove Viridian Green from her paws. I’m glad it was the water-soluble type of oil paint because Turpenoid® probably isn’t safe for kitty to be licking off of her paws.
The next problem was that there was no brown paint in the set and brown tones are more square inches of the picture than any other color. Yes, of course I know that you can mix brown from red and green, but there wasn’t a true green either. (Viridian is a blue-green, in case you aren’t familiar.) I wasn’t having much luck coming up with brown, but I did come up with a lot of interesting grays. I’ll need to go back to the store and get a few more tubes in more basic colors.
The next problem was too much linseed oil in my glazing mixture. The blue was amazing, but it started running down into the unpainted areas and staining the white parts. (I may or may not have said a not nice word when that happened.) At that point I decided that it should lay flat to dry and I should continue working on it later.
The final problem is me. I am apparently completely unable to get near a wet canvas without sticking my fingers in the paint. With acrylics, watercolors, or gouache, that isn’t a problem. I even managed to keep my fingers out of the latex paint I used on the studio walls until it dried, but not this stuff. I need an angry doberman to guard it out there in the garage and keep me away from it until it’s dry enough to work on again.
It wasn’t all disappointment. I do REALLY appreciate the fact that oils don’t dry out on the palette before I’m done using them. I didn’t do much thinning with water, but when I did, it worked beautifully. It’s weird mixing water with oil, but it works.
Yes, that’s a still life in black and white. Don’t adjust you set! (Seriously dated myself there.) Actually it’s the under-painting — about 3/4 finished. It’s an Old Masters technique that I read about, painting the values first to establish the form and then glazing over with color. They used it mainly on flesh tones.
I’m trying it out on a still life… because a peach is not going to complain that I didn’t capture her likeness adequately. Actually, if those peaches could talk, I think they’d be flattered. No wait, I already baked them in a cobbler, so they wouldn’t say a word. (Working from a reference photo at this point.)
I’ve got five cherries, a white pitcher and one big flower yet to go, and then I can get to the really fun part — glorious color. This stage is getting tedious, but I’m very pleased with the results so far. I especially like the way the wood grain in the table is turning out, and the reflection of the pitcher in the shiny wood. (That reflection is pretty subtle at this point — probably can’t see it in this small photo.)
I think I stopped fussing with the wood grain just in time. There is a famous art school proverb about painting: “It takes two people to make a painting — the artist to paint it, and another person to clobber the artist over the head and stop him before he messes it up.”
So, my new drawing tool — a proportional divider (also called a scale divider) — arrived from Amazon on Friday. It’s the X-shaped tool on the left, and it’s used for enlarging a reference photo or increasing your accuracy when drawing from life.
When new art supplies arrive in the mail, it’s just like Christmas. I was tracking the shipment with Amazon, and I also signed up for that “Informed Delivery” service with the postal service, so I was ready to ambush the mail carrier when she arrived. (I may or may not have startled her a bit.)
I found it to be very useful. I am grateful to Stefan Baumann and his Youtube video for letting me know about something I didn’t even know I needed. I may have over-used it a bit on this canvas, but it definitely helped my drawing accuracy, and probably saved me some time too. The longer you use it the less you are supposed to need it, because it doesn’t just measure for you, but trains you to measure visually on your own.
I will also be trying out a new set of oil paints that have been sitting in my studio waiting for their first squeeze. That’s why I’m doing a nice, simple still life — don’t want everything in one project to be new and/or challenging. Also, I’ve heard that when you can’t decide what to paint, you should paint your lunch. The cherries were delicious.