My 2020 “Pandemic Sketchbook” chronicled my life during the lockdown through the advent of Covid vaccines. In 2021, I started a new sketchbook whose themes were more hopeful, so I didn’t think of it as a pandemic journal. It was just a way of keeping a habit of sketching several times a week. In 2022, I started a third sketchbook, smaller and the paper is best for dry media only. I made several charcoal sketches in early spring based on museum postcards, snapshots from my 1990’s instant camera and other visual cues uncovered while decluttering my house or reading the news.
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
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.
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.’