Still Life with Snowman: week 3

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.

Still life with snowman, acrylics
Still life with Snowman

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.

Still life with snowman, acrylics
Painting from photographs

Still life with snowman, week two

Still life with snowman
Still life with Snowman, week two

In my second week of working on the still life, I added another layer of color to the plant, the snowman, and the Christmas balls. ( The canvas is in the middle on the easel with photographs taped to the sides here.) I was working from the still life and from photographs of the still life which I took last week. The poinsettia changed a bit and it was difficult to position it exactly the same as the week before, so the photographs help with the consistency and details of the painting. Next week, I might not bring the plant to class because the car rides in the cold weather seem to be making it lose some foliage.

Still life with snowman and poinsettia
Still life weeks one and two

In the photo collage, you can see week one at the top and week two below. The plant was in the still life, but I had packed it up to ride home with me before I remembered to take a picture of my progress. Basically, I added thicker paint, more accurate colors than in the underpainting, and began putting in more shadows to suggest volume. more shadows than highlights at this point. So from mid tones to darker last week to this week. Next week I will continue from mid tones to darks and maybe hint at highlights. Details with finer brushes and reflective highlights probably come last, or later, although there are no strict rules on the order of operations for me.

Still life with snowman
Posterized Still life

While playing with my photographs of the still life, I made a chronological photo collage for a quick look at the painting’s progress over time. I also began to wonder if making a ‘posterized’ version of the photo would be useful to help me think about the shapes of the colors and shadows in a very simplified way. Photoshop has a posterize filter, but for the photograph above, I used a website that allows you to upload and posterize any image. It was simpler to use my iPhoto on iPad to play with this option than to use my computer (Windows 10) and Photoshop. I am straddling, and struggling, with the two worlds of Apple and Microsoft and have just added into this technological tangle a small Canon Elph point and shoot camera. These platforms do not always play well together which can be frustrating. Using paints, brushes, canvases and looking at a real still life seems easier than climbing the technology learning curve. But climb we must, I suppose.

The Traveling Still Life Poinsettia

In my last post, I mentioned that one element of the still life I am working on in my teacher’s studio has to come home with me each week. I can’t leave the poinsettia because the studio cats might be tempted to nibble on this toxic plant. So the potted poinsettia gets tucked up in a brown paper bag each week and sits in the passenger seat while I drive home. So far the cold weather has not bothered it. It is so cold in my home studio that the plant is now on my dining room table where it’s nice and warm for this tropical denizen and also warm enough for me to draw it in my sketchbook today without freezing my hands. I sketched the plant loosely in pencil, then inked it in black. I erased the pencil marks, then added the color with a new set of watercolor markers that my daughter gave me for Christmas. The colors are vivid. The brand is ‘Primrosia.’

Drawing of a poinsettia
Poinsettia, watercolor markers

Still life with snowman and poinsettia

I am starting the new year with a Christmas-themed acrylic still life. After deciding on the general Christmas theme, I spent a fair amount of time switching plants and objects in and out of the set up: I added, removed, put back pine cones and Christmas balls, moved the snowman around and rooted around my house to find a suitable background drape. Then I took all the pieces of the still life to my teacher’s studio where I will work on the painting once a week for several hours. The photos below are of the still life set up and the square canvas with the drawing and under painting in place. We marked the placement of the easel and took photographs for future reference. I took the poinsettia home so the studio cats wouldn’t be tempted to nibble on the poisonous plant. For anyone interested in how long this process took, I would say roughly an hour at home to get the still life together (if you don’t count inner ruminations about what to paint next), an hour to set up the still life in the studio, including lighting it, an hour on the charcoal sketch, two hours on the initial underpainting, then some more time photographing it and packing up the plant for the car trip. My non-arty friends were surprised that I take this much time to start a painting, but I suspect this preparation time is not at all unusual.

Still life with poinsettia and snowman
Christmas Still Life
Underpainting for Christmas still life of poinsettia
Christmas Still Life : underpainting, acrylic

Hibiscus, pastel: making the yearly Christmas card

Technical stuff: I blocked out the drawing to be three times the size of a standard 5 x 7 greeting card so that when photographed to send to the printer, the resolution would be very high when the size was reduced from 15 x 21 to 5 x 7.

Choose paper color and go! The drawing of my hibiscus bloom, seen in the photograph attached to the easel, is blocked out with a white pastel pencil on green paper.

Drawing a hibiscus

Starting my 2021 Christmas card

Over several weekly sessions in my teacher’s studio, I added layers of pastel. I don’t generally blend the colors with a tortillion or paper or my finger, not until I layer in the color for hours and hours. If I get stuck at the end, I spray workable fixative to give the paper more grip. Finally, I might touch up edges with a pastel pencil and tortillion.

Hibiscus pastel

Adding color to the drawing

When the pastel painting was finished, we photographed it, and added the greeting using Photoshop. I also adjusted the colors of the leaves a bit to push them back, to not compete with the flower. The big impact here is supposed to be that vivid Hibiscus bloom I had admired last summer on my deck.
Christmas card of hibiscus bloom

The finished drawing for the Christmas card

I uploaded the finished image to Vistaprint to turn into my 2021 Christmas card. If you read the stories of my other greeting card misadventures, this year was a much smoother experience thanks to the technical and artistic guidance of my teacher. Thank you, thank you to her. And Merry Christmas to all!