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.
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.
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.
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.
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.