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.)
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.
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.”