End of June Update
Or start of July update, depending on your point of view. Although I've been very lax with site updates this month, I've been working away in the back room, mostly painting, although with the odd drawing thrown in too.
There's been another nine paintings since the last update on the 4th of June, bringing me to eleven paintings this month. I'm pretty pleased with that. One of them took 6 days too, so it's not a bad pace. Drawing-wise, things have stayed quiet. I've finished off the series of twenty eyes and finally got back to the cafe today, but apart from that I've just been painting.
End of Series: Ten Pairs of Objects
I think this is the fastest I've got through a series, which I guess goes to show how much I'm enjoying the painting at the moment. The remainder of the series was a continuation of how I started. Since the first one of this series, the Garlic and Aubergine, I've been exploring technique. A fascinating book by Max Doerner, "The Materials of the Artist and Their Use in Painting" contains, as well as some excellent reference on materials, a discussion of the technique of some of the old masters. I've been especially interested in the description of the way Rubens built up his paintings.
Doerner says that Rubens used to work on a grey toned ground, which he textured very loosely with brush marks, and which would show through when the painting was finished. Rubens used proper gesso to prime his panels, a mixture of gypsum and some kind of glue-type binder. This would give a brilliant white finish, which he would then loosely cover with a grey wash, mixed from powdered charcoal, lead white pigment, and binder, probably also a kind of glue.
The brush strokes would be left very visible in this ground. He would then start by laying in the shadows with glazes, scumbled over the ground but left translucent. The effect of all this was that light hitting the finished painting would, in the shadow areas, still reflect off the gypsum primer, behind the layers of grey toned ground and glazed shadows. The intention was to give the shadows depth and life. Areas of the subject in full light would then be painted with opaque paint.
Since I'd been less than convinced with the appearance of some of my shadows in the ten single objects series, and also since I've been conducting some experiments with different mediums, it seemed like the natural thing to do to experiment with a version of this technique. What I've been doing is priming my MDF panels with acrylic primer, then washing over it with a mixture of burnt umber or sienna and ultramarine alkyd, thinned with gum turpentine. Alkyd based paint dries fast, so I could prepare the panel the night before I was due to do a painting.
With my prepared panel, I would then start by laying in the shadow areas with thin paint, usually a warm mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine, mixed with whatever medium I was trying out that day. Once that was done I would start painting the areas of the objects in full light in the standard way, with opaque paint, sometimes mixed with a little more medium and sometimes neat. If, after this stage, the shadows needed any colour, say from reflected light, I dragged a little paint into the still tacky shadow areas, taking care not to let it become opaque and keeping white out of the shadows as much as possible.
I have to say the effect was almost magical. Paintings built up like this have a depth and life to shadows, much more as they appear in reality, whilst keeping a certain vagueness about them. They also have a lot of warmth. The areas in full light, painted with opaque paint, seem to come forward out of the shadows, with the transitions between the light and shadow areas eased by the medium, requiring only the smallest amount of blending where they were overlaid.
I admit I was quite surprised by this painting, the feel is very different from previous ones. The apples just seem to live more than any of the paintings in the ten single objects series.Grapefruit and Lemon, the fifth painting in the series, shows the opaque paint on the left where the light is hitting the grapefruit, with the shadow area on the right painted thin and translucent. You can see the horizontal streaks of the grey ground clearly showing through the shadow area.
For the white cloth, all I did was to lay on some opaque white for the light areas, and let the shadows stand as they were when I first painted them, with a lot of the ground showing. I've struggled a fair it with white cloth before, it was almost scary how easy it was to get an effect of the cloth with this technique.
I don't know yet how long I'm going to paint like this, whether I'll change the technique at some point. Certainly there's any number of ways to build up a painting. This exploration is teaching me something about how the old masters, particularly the Dutch seventeenth century painters, built up their work. Of course this is a crude version of the technique, but the effect is similar.
After doing a few paintings like this I went down to the National Gallery and spent an afternoon looking over the Rubens paintings there. I confess I was amazed how similar Rubens's paintings and these ones I'd just done were. I don't mean I paint as well as well as Rubens now, nothing could be further from the truth. I'm talking about how the paint is applied. Rubens's paintings are great to study because he painted quickly. Each layer of his painting is clearly visible, and it's possible to deconstruct areas of the paintings and get a good idea how he put them together.
There are areas of his Samson and Delilah painting where you can clearly see the untouched, streaky ground showing through, especially on the folds of the white sleeve on Delilah's right arm. The white highlights are laid over this streaked ground in opaque paint, with the ground serving for shadow. Look closely and that area of the painting becomes a lesson in how he built up his paintings. Step back and the cloth fairly shimmers with vibrant light. Follow the link above to the National Gallery's (excellent) web site. Click on the painting and use the zoom function to zoom in on her right sleeve, it gives you a good idea. Not quite the same as seeing it in the flesh, but clear enough to get an idea how that area of the painting is done. One thing I did notice about all the Rubens paitnings there though is that the ground wasn't grey, it was a warm yellow ochre. I haven't tried that yet, but plan to do some experiments with different coloured grounds at some point.Teardrop Fiddle and Bow. As a full stop to the series I indulged myself and spent a few days over this painting, it's much bigger than my usual little panels. Parts of it came out ok, but overall I'm not especially happy with it. I think I stretched a bit too far. I did learn a lot from it though, mainly about how much more effort it takes to produce a painting this size, with a subject this complicated. I did enjoy painting it though.
This beautiful little instrument was made by Blaine Horlocker of Smokey Mountain Dulcimers. I would recommend him without hesitation. In this ugly world of blatant commercialism and everyday rip-offs, there are still people producing beautiful objects for an honest price. In fact too honest in my view, he should be charging a lot more. I plan to paint this fiddle again at some point, and to do it justice next time. And yes, it sounds just as pretty as it looks.
End of Series: Twenty Drawings of Eyestwenty eyes is finished.
I must admit, it's becoming a bit of a trial getting all these series finished, I have two new drawing series I'm ready to start, but I wanted to get further through the ones already under way before I did. Now the hands and eyes are finished and there's just the noses and mouths to go, I'm going to start the next ones soon. They're going to stretch me a bit further.
I think it's important to make sure I finish the noses and mouths too though. Apart from anything else, getting to the end of each series means the achievement of a small but psychologically important goal. I feel I'm progressing when I can wrap up each one, whether that's really the case or not.
New Series: Ten Flower Paintingsorchid is number two.
Painting flowers is not the same as painting fruit and veg, it's harder. If anyone tells you different, tell them you are not paid to listen such inanities and require that they be on their way in short order. I do hope that by the end of the series I get a bit better at them. Mainly it's the complexity I think. But that's a good thing of course, because it means I'm being stretched. I do think that if you can paint, you can paint anything. It shouldn't make any difference whether you're painting a person, a park or a peony, the principles should be the same. After all, that's the point of all these still life paintings - to train my eye and to teach me approaches and techniques which I can directly apply to portraits, when I get that far. We'll see if it bears fruit (ouch).
On to July
June has been a good, productive month. It's had it's up and downs, but that's in the natural way of things. I'm feeling very positive going into July. My painting is definitely getting better, but I've been neglecting my drawing, so I'll focus more on that over the next month, at least that's the plan. But I also want to get the flower series finished by the end of the month, so we'll see.
I've brought in July by doing my first cafe sketches trip for just under a month, and I really enjoyed it. I'd had enough of drawing those unruly sitters at the start of June, but today it felt good to be back in the cafe again. The plan for July is to get back to doing that once a week again.
Posted 1st July 2006