Still Life with Conch: sketch and underpainting

A few weeks ago, I started my second oil painting with a still life of objects gathered from my house. Each object brings different textures, shapes, and subtle colors that are challenging to paint. As I go along, I sometimes question why I set up such a complicated still life, but that seems to be the best way to learn. If I just repeated what I already know how to do, I would be stuck. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Still Life with Conch, photograph of the setup

The orange has provided unique difficulties, mostly associated with the fact that real fruit (or flowers) rot over time so I have to either recreate the peeled orange repeatedly or work from a photograph for that piece of the still life. I might write a separate post about the “Orange Problem.”

Still Life with Conch, charcoal drawing on canvas

The drawing went well and the first daubs of color were mostly okay. The trick is to not “lose the drawing” as the paint goes on top of the drawing. So far the problems are, or will be: the orange, losing the drawing, and later, I’m sure, the reflections from the silver and who knows what else at this point? What sadist set up this still life? Right. Me.

Still Life with Conch, underpainting

Three Glass Bottles

I just finished my first oil painting after using acrylics for almost two years. The two mediums can look similar on canvas, but the feel of the paints is very different. Oils seem more like soft butter versus the stiffer feel of quick-drying acrylics. I can’t think of a good analogy for acrylics. It’s just more difficult to push them around the canvas than it is with oils. There are probably tomes written on the pros and cons of each medium, so I won’t go into that discussion here. For now, I’m learning how to use oil paints. Here is my first work in oils: The Glass Bottles.

Oil painting of glass bottles
The Glass Bottles, oil on canvas

Snowman: finished!

Acrylic painting of a toy snowman and a poinsettia plant
Snowman and Poinsettia, acrylics

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…

Week whatever: still working on the snowman

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.

Still life with snowman and poinsettia, unfinished acrylic painting
Snowman Still Life, acrylics

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