I usually work on an acrylic painting on canvas at my weekly art class. These painting can take several months to finish. After a lengthy project, I often take a mental break by working on drawings that can be completed in a couple of weeks or so. After wrestling with the adorable snowman still life, which took more time than I had anticipated, I began a series of large charcoal drawings based on my teacher’s photographs of wildlife. These are about 11 x 14 inches on Bristol board, which should be the right proportions for making note cards.
I finished the snowman painting a few months ago, but haven’t posted on my website for months. Here it is, ready to be turned into next year’s Christmas card. Having the card image finished well in advance should prevent that last minute panic about making the yearly Christmas card, chronicled in previous posts. However, procrastination sometimes rears it’s ugly head even with all this advance planning. We will see how panicked I am in November…
It’s week 4 on this still life and I worked on the pot, the leaves and the #%**$@& Christmas balls. I always put a reflective element or some difficult piece into each still life to challenge myself. The reflective spheres are tricky to render as I knew they would be. Ellipses elude me too. The opening of the plant pot is this painting’s ornery ellipse. Next week, I will continue with these visual vexations. But challenging myself is how I learn and fortunately I have an excellent teacher who calmly guides me through these puzzling technical problems.
This week, I left the poinsettia at home and worked only from photographs of the still life. Today was my second “pass” * at the painting after the sketch, under painting and blocking in of shapes that I did in the first week. So far, I have spent about nine hours working on this painting. Today I worked on the poinsettia leaves, the snowman, and the background. *By “pass” I mean adding another layer of paint in a few parts of the painting.
Some challenges I worked on today were: finding the right color mix for the shadows on the snowman’s face to make him seem rounded. “Losing the drawing” always seems to crop up at this point. The initial charcoal drawing might have had a more accurate rendering of the snowman’s hat or nose, for example, but when paint is applied over the drawing, the image evolves away from the drawing. Sometimes, I try to correct it and sometimes, I can’t or don’t if the painting seems ok as it is.
I don’t have a strict ‘order of operations’ as in algebra. Next week, I will move around the painting, trying to get the painting to look like the still life in a fairly realistic way. It just takes patience, time, observation, careful color mixing, picking the right size and type of brush, and stepping back to look at the painting. I take photographs to help me “see” what I’m doing and monitor my progress. So we’ll see what next week brings. I’m not in a hurry to finish. My sketchbook provides an outlet for quick work, but paintings can take months to finish.
Last spring I picked some lovely early blooming bulbs from my garden and put them in a vase to be the subject of an acrylic still life. On the first day, I sketched the bouquet in charcoal on the canvas and then blocked in the drawing with an underpainting. I also took several pictures with my iPhone at the end of my studio session. When I returned to my teacher’s studio a week later, the bouquet looked completely different. The flowers were droopy and dying of course. That’s obviously where the photographs come to the rescue in the case of a rotting or dying still life. From then on, I worked from a both a printout of my photograph for the flowers and I looked at the actual vase and drapery which was still set up across from my easel. I continued to work from both the photograph and the non-living bits of the still life for the next six weeks until the painting was finished. The moral of the story is, of course, to remember to photograph any living thing or model you are drawing or painting because things change.
Underpainting for Spring Still Life