Friday, February 15, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough...

Top: "Tea for One"
Middle: "Them Apples"
Bottom: "Tutti Fruity"

...the tough go to the supermarket. I'm sorry if I seem to obsess about winter here in Maine, but really folks, since the Patriots lost in the superbowl, we've had nothing but cold and snow--and ice. But once I get the gloom cobwebs out of my head, I feel like painting again. But paint what? I've given up looking out of the window, so I have to think of something...
I read a book by Dan MaCaw called "A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art." The title is a little off-putting, but he sets forth some interesting approaches for painting. His take on painting still lifes got to me, so that's where the supermarket comes in. My wife doesn't like to drive in the mess outdoors so she asked me to take her shopping. I had a ball! All that colorful fruit. So I bought up some samples that appealed to me and got to work using MaCaw's ideas.
He suggests toning the canvas--these are 8 X 10 linen panels--using an appropriate color (I used raw sienna for these), make a rough drawing, thinly paint in the background and then paint the subject material using colors directly from the tube, thinned somewhat by solvent and Liquin. So for a warm red I used cad red, for a cool red-alizarin, for yellow cad yellow pale and so on. Use the color closest to the subject--even if not exact. Then--and this is the scary part-- wipe it all down except the background. What you are left with are blots of color that have soaked into the surface and sealed it. Then start over, painting the true local color and Liquin in the normal layers, but finish the background in paint thinned by solvent. I found that the dull background helps set off the layered work in the subject material and you begin to develop that wonderful transparency. It takes some time as you'll want to let the work dry when the paint starts to get mushy.I probably have six layers on these little pieces. All of this may be old news to those of you who have painted for years, but I'm happy to say that I am learning new stuff every day, and this was all a revelation to me.
I did these three pieces that way and was really pleased with the results (sorry that the photos aren't very crisp--another problem with winter light). "Tea for One" uses a silver teapot from a service we own. Painting a silver piece is like painting a curved mirror--it reflects everything very literally except the reflections are distorted like a fun house mirror. I placed some white canvases around the setup to try to tone the relections down but found that I needed color in the scene and put in a lemon. Now I had yellow reflected all over the place! The teacup is from a bone china set we have and I was hoping I could show some of the translucency of bone china, but the more I played with the lighting, the more I messed up everything else. "Tutti Fruity" uses a pewter pitcher which is duller than silver but still reflects a lot and the reflective surfaces of each piece of the fruit reflect the others. "Them Apples" uses a really crusty old pewter candlestick with three different kinds of apples. I tried to place them so that they "move" in different directions, each showing its best side and strutting its best stuff.
If you have any ideas about these, please let me know.


Frank Gardner said...

Interesting approach of Dan's.
Ambitious job with all the silver, pewter, china etc..
You did a good job with all of those reflections.
#2 would be my least favorite of the three Jack.
#1 has some really nice stuff. It is well drawn and painted.
The design in #3 reminds me of a Cezanne for some reason. Maybe because of the colors or the way in which you painted it. I really look right at the spot up front between the lemon, pear and pitcher, then get drawn into the reflection and pulled back out by the apple.
Great minds must think alike jack. I tried a still life myself yesterday.

Jack Riddle said...

Yeah--I saw it, very warm and appealing. My excuse is that I can't get out to do landscapes, so I do "plein air" indoors.
Cezanne--wow! I like #3 too and not so much #2, but I have to say the photo is terrible. I going to try some new things-opera scenes-using some of McCaw's ideas.
Thanks, Frank

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

You draw well and I like that.
The reflections in the first one are really well done. The weakness in the second one is that there are two subjects but it's well painted. The third is reminiscent of Cezanne that sure says a lot.