14th May 2006
This is number ten of the ten single objects series. I’m very happy that this is the last one of the series,because I tried two new things with this painting, both of which turned out to be very interesting and which Iintend toexplore for the next series of ten. So the last one of this set has shown me what to do for the next set, a nicenatural progression.
The first thing I tried in this painting is working sight-size. I’ve alreadybeen doing this with myBargue copies, which is where I’ve learned thebasics of how it works. The main thing about working sight-size is that it makes it much easier to distinguishdifferences inshape, tone and (as I found out with this painting,) colour, if the painting or drawing is exactly the same size asthe subject, as it looks to you from where you’re standing.
Although working sight size puts some restrictions on you, it’s ideal for a small still life set up, where youhave control over almost everything, even the light to some degree. Working sight-size is a great learning toolbecause it makes comparisons so much easier. You can see at a glance what’s different about your painting and yoursubject, if you’ve painted something too dark, too light, too green, whatever.
I want to catch light, to get a strong impression of the light in these paintings. I think the best way to dothat is tomatch the colours I see as closely as I can, I’m learning from nature first. My drawing has shown me how falliblemy eye, or my brain, really is whenit comes to seeing something and translating it to canvas or paper. I’ve been struck time and again when I’ve beenusing my colour checker how dark some colours are, especially when it’s something white, like aplate. Or like the back wall in this painting. If I hadn’t used the colour checker, I would have painted it muchlighter than it was. After I’d roughed it in, comparing my painting with what I saw through my viewfinder showedme immediately that the wall colour was wrong, overall, too warm. And that although the tone was right overall,in places it was even darker on the wall itself. It was workingsight-size that enabled me to do this, much quicker than usual and much more clearly.
The second thing I tried in this painting was using medium, for the first time in this series of ten. I’veused what I was gliblycalling ‘medium’ before, most notably in theCarrots and Squash painting, but what I wasactually using then was linseed oil mixed with turps, about 50/50. This time I used a bottle of Windsor and NewtonLiquin, a proper, shop-bought oil painting medium which I’ve had sitting in my kit box for a while buthave never used.
It’s different from linseed oil in that it’s thicker. It has more body so the paint seems to move more slowlyin it, which makes it easier to control. That’s my immediate impression anyway. With my linseed oil and turps mix,the paint seemed to slide around all over the place, but working with this medium was different.
I decided to try the medium because I was painting a glass bottle so glazes seemed like a good idea. I’d beenthinking about using some anyway,for shadows, after I got the shadow areas too thick, (in my opinion,) in theBluebells painting. It’s been my intention to paintthe green bottle as number ten since the start of this series, I thought it would be a good way to round off theset since I’dpainted it before back in November andwasn’t too impressed with the results. I’ve been meaning to have another go at it since then, but to do itproperly. Better, anyway
But first, sight size:
Here’s the set up. My regular visitor will know by now that this is pretty much the usual set up.One thing is different though, the space framed by the viewfinder is usually slightly smaller than the subject.Usually I enlarge the image slightly for the painting. This time though, I got the easel very close to thebottle, whichmeant that I could keep the framed image exactly the same size as my canvas. I even measured it.
This is the viewpoint I painted from, or I should say looked from. Obviously I had to move overto the easel to actually paint. I think four foot long brushes might be a bit unwieldy.Looking at this picture, you can see that all that has to be done is tocopy the picture on the left ontothe canvas next to it. Simple. Well, not that simple, since this is a photo, already reduced to two dimensionsand the subject itself is still a real, three dimensional object reflecting light.
But hopefully you can see how much this set up can be an obvious help if you’re trying to paint anhonest translation of your subject. I did intend to take some ‘in progress’ shots for this write up, and Iwish I had them now, but I was enjoying the painting too much to stop and mess around with the camera. As DavidBellamy used to say, “Why spoil a good thing?”
In order to judge the differences between the bottle set up and my painting more easily, I marked a place onthe floor about four feet back from the easel, the viewpoint that this shot is taken from. I returned to thisspot to look at the bottle, mix the colour,and decide what to paint next, then moved over to the easel without looking again at the bottle and painted.Then back to the viewing spot again to check what I’d done. I didn’t look at the bottle when I wasat the easel, only when I was back at the spot I’d marked.
This is really just a rough approximation of real sight-size drawing, which is all about measuring andusing plumb lines, very academic and something I’m beginning to do on the Bargue copies, so more on that later.But although I’mnot strictly measuring, in fact I did none at all, I am using the benefit of clear comparison which the sightsize approach gives you. I think it’s made enough of a difference to justify using it for all of the nextseries of ten paintings.
Here’s the photo of the bottle with the painting side by side, pretty much in the position I saw them as I wasworking.
Obviously they’re very different, for a number of reasons. Firstly, that’s a photo of the bottle, notthe bottle itself. It’s what the camera saw. Secondly, that’s my painting, me getting as close as I could inthe time to what I saw. I saw something different to the camera and my painting is wide of the mark anyway.Thirdly,that’s a photo of the painting, not the painting itself. It all gets a bit confusing. Anyway, the point of allthis, and of this shot, is to show how easy it is to spot differences when you’re working sight size. They’repretty clear here. Actually I think the painting has more light and more life.
Like the bluebell painting I did no preparatory drawing for this one. Unlike the bluebell painting I didn’tuse a toned ground, just a piece cut off a sheet of a white acrylic primed canvas pad. I wanted a white groundfor this because overall the key was very light, and that was all I had around. I wanted to use thin paint forthe bottle, with the ground showingthrough. I thought that would give some impression of the texture of the glass, that you can see through it.
I started with the bottle. First I went to mix a mid tone colour matching the general colour of the bottle.If you un-focus your eyes, cross them slightly, it becomes easier to see general colour because your brain is lessdistracted by details. I put down some titanium white on the palette, and started to mix in some cadmium yellowand ultramarine to get the overall greenish colour. It soon became obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. I’dstarted with way too much white, what I was getting wasn’t even close.
I started again with a clean brush and nowhite this time, just cadmium yellow and ultramarine. Much better. I had the general colour closer, but too dark.I tried a bit of it on the viewfinder, just to see what it looked like against the bottle. Although it wastoo dark with no white in it, it was in the right colour range and if I rubbed it back to thin it out it got veryclose. Hmmm.
At this point I got the Liquin out. Mixing up some liquin with the colour I had I could instantly see it wasgoing to work, very interesting. I’ve been reading up on mediums lately, finding out how to make them, and here I wassuddenly using one – even if it was shop bought. The colour was strong, so I mixed up a very weak mix and putsome on the canvas. The first bit Iwent for was the dark comma of green around the top of the bottle. That went in nicely, and after a bit of astronger mix, with more colour, the tone looked about right.
That seemed pretty encouraging, so I went on with the bottle, blocking in the main colour shapes, standingback and checking, adjusting and correcting. I got the form of the bottle, the outline, by painting it slightly toobig, then cuttinground the edge with a tissue soaked in turps. The sight size method was a godsend here, and it was a really nice wayto work: cut in a little, stand back and check the shape, cut in a bit more. The shape of the bottle came outpretty well. Thanks again Monsieur Bargue.
As I worked on the bottle, the medium already on the canvas started to become more solid, not tacky, but itwas definitely starting to dry. It hit a very nice stage, when I could pull the paint about on the canvas veryeasily. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but I just seemed to have much more control over where the paint went. Icould move it around pretty much where I wanted, after it was on the canvas. A lot of the bottle isdone with my finger, rubbing in the glaze to smooth it out. Some of it is blended out in soft edges, trying to matchthe soft edges of the main tone blocks on the bottle. No way could I have done this without the medium, not quitethis easily I don’t think.
Once the bottle was blocked in and the shape established, I painted the back wall. This was a job for the colourchecker, and I’m glad I used it. The tone of the wall was way darker than I thought it was, much the same as theplate in the Carrots and Squash. First I put in what I thought the colour checker showed me, a deep toned pinkishgrey. I mixed this with a lot of medium too, I was in a medium frenzy. When I stood back to check it, it wasobviously too warm, too intense, so I dragged some cool grey with mostly ultramarine over the top, and some whitefor the lighter parts. That seemed to work fine, with just a hint of the warm pink still showing through giving itsome life. This medium business was getting very interesting at this point. By working the brush just a touch intothe pinkish grey/medium mix, I could work the white over the top loosely or blend it in and mix the colourstogether. The main thing was to get the tone and the colour right, especially of the shadow.
The light in this painting is very diffuse. I wanted the white wall as a background with the shadow of thebottle thrown on it, and that meant setting up about six feet from the window, where the light is much weaker.It’s amazing how much the light differs in different parts of the room. But I thought that if I could get this veryflat, diffuse light to live and be convincing, then the more dramatic light with deep shadows that I’ve used in thelast three paintings will be easier to catch.
I do think I caught the light pretty well. I can feel it bouncing off the back wall, more than usual, and I alsothink I’m right that it’s this which gives painting life, convincing light. I also think that working sight sizewas a very big help. It helped me to judge the tones, which is key to getting the feeling of the light, especiallywhen I had so little to work with.
So how does this compare with the last time I painted this bottle? Well, I know from experience that differentpeople see different things in paintings, and some people might think that the first one is more ‘realistic’ becauseit’s a more detailed painting. But I think this one is much more realistic because it’s a much truer representationof what I saw. The colour, the tones and even the shape are much closer to the real bottle, and whilst this onegets something of the feeling of the light, there’s no light at all in the last one. In that first painting Icopped out. I was losing the painting, I wasn’t painting what I saw and I knew it, so I put in some detail tricksto save the painting.
But this one has no detail, so it has to stand or fall on the colours and tones, on the light. I think it standsup better than the one I did in November. In terms of my current goals, it’s much closer to the mark.
So, end of the series, what’s next?
Ten pairs of objects of course, what else. I haven’t enough imagination to come up with anything better. There’sbeen a few times in this series when I really wanted to put something else with what I was painting, especiallywith this painting, but the point was to keep things simple so I could get through them and progress. That seemsto me to have happened. For the next series, I’m going to continue with working sight-size. Maybe not for all of them,but where I can. I’m also going to find out all I can about painting medium and do some experiments. I’vebeen reading about some esoteric ingredients like dammar varnish and gum arabic which I know nothing about,so I’m going to get hold of some and try out some medium recipes. I think I already know what I need though. A thick,fast drying medium, fast drying because I paint in one sitting, and also because I liked it when the medium gotstiff and pliable.
I’mbeginning to wonder what will happen if I start to work for longer on a painting, maybe over two or three days.I think thispainting is really just started, I could have gone on with it the next day, adding glazes and more detail. Asusual with this painting I worked till the light went then stopped, in this case about six hours. But for the nextseries, if I feel a painting merits it, I’ll let it roll over to the next day. I still don’t want to get hung up ondetails, there’s still too much to learn about colour and light, but I am getting a bit tired of having to be atleast six feet away from my little paintings before they look like anything.
Finishing a series is a good feeling. Starting a new one feels even better.
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