I started a still life painting in October, laying in the underpainting in two class sessions of three hours each. The photograph on the easel helps me remember what the flowers looked like when fresh. The blue tape sets the boundaries of my field of vision and keeps my gaze consistent over the weeks. There is a spotlight to the right of the gourds which casts dramatic lighting and shadows.
The first watercolor (pictured below) was painted in my Pandemic Sketchbook starting with a loose, wet on wet technique with some dry brush details added later. (Note to impatient people: I use a hair dryer to speed up the drying time so I can add the next layer of color sooner rather than waiting.) The sketchbook paper is intended for dry media and not really thick enough for watercolor as it tends to buckle. Despite that, the paper can handle a pencil sketch with a light watercolor wash, if not overworked. The intense red and green colors of the peppers are much better in this painting than in the next version of the still life, but I don’t remember exactly how I blended those colors to get that intensity (or ‘high chroma’/‘saturation’.) I always use the same limited watercolor palette so that was not the variable. Probably using less water on my brush and on the mixing tray before applying the paint to the paper made the hues more intense. I’ll have to remember this…
The second watercolor (below) was painted on heavier watercolor paper starting with wet on wet then adding details with watercolor pencils later. The objects have a more hard-edged style than the first painting which tends to make them look a bit flat. I added highlights by trying to leave white paper, then by removing (picking up) pigment with a wet brush, and finally by adding white gouache which sadly looks a bit chalky. Another problem is the shadow on the left side of the pumpkin which looks like a sunken bruise. I might go back to soften the hard edges by picking up some pigment and fix the ‘bruise’ perhaps by continuing the indentation ‘line’ of the pumpkin and blending out the shadow. I’m at the point where I am a bit tired of painting this still life though, so I’ll let it rest for a while. The 140 lb watercolor paper can take a lot more abuse and redos than the 60 lb sketchbook paper so I can’t use material failure as an excuse to stop working on this version of the still life.
So what have I learned by painting the same still life twice? The quality and weight of paper definitely affects the outcome. Hard edges fight with the illusion of volume, as my teacher pointed out when she saw my preliminary posts on Instagram. White highlights are best if you don’t paint over that lightest spot in the first place. Maybe I should get some masking fluid? I still struggle with wet on wet followed by a dry brush for details because the dry brush details sometimes obliterate the spontaneity of the wet technique. I should make a color chart to practice getting the right intensity of color and how to mix my colors and so on. You can see my small palette in the phot so a color chart would be manageable. And finally, draping a piece of white sheet over my drafting lamp makes a surprisingly nice still life backdrop!
Zinnias on my deck, collage and oil pastels.
Underneath the layers of glue and hand painted paper is the television schedule from the newspaper. That little bit of a Pandemic Past-time reference got covered up. Whoops. Can you find the paper towels I use to blot my watercolor brushes? Or the glossy advertisements for patio and landscaping companies? ‘Safer at home in the suburbs’ – maybe that should be the title. Try collage as a ‘way in’ to your artistic subconscious.
I have found it difficult to draw during this fourth month of staying at home, so I started painting rocks in June instead. Rock painting seems to require less concentration. I finally got back to my sketchbook today thanks to Fleur, my old froggy friend. In this drawing, Fleur the Frog looks at a painted rock featuring her portrait. An explanation of sorts is required. When I used to blog book reviews in my former life as a librarian, I recruited Fleur, an area frog from the local swamp, to ‘write’ for the blog. It gave me a break from the task. She reappeared on one of my recent painted rocks. Then, as is her rather ‘meta/ironic?’ habit, she just popped up in this still life today (above).
Fleur appears in my art from time to time: in the monoprint from 2019 and in the original drawing which still appears as her avatar on the old library blog (above) In today’s drawing, I used a small plastic toy as a model in the still life. Thanks, Fleur, for posing. I needed the inspiration and bit of whimsy that you always bring to my work.
Trying new techniques while sketching only what I can see while staying at home is a good way to see my surroundings with a different point of view. Collage is a technique that for some reason takes a little less concentration than a realistic sketch. It is less bound to reality, I suppose. I included crossword puzzles from the newspaper to remind me of new activities people are doing to pass the time. You can also spot a wrapper in Chinese from a bar of soap and a photograph of Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease specialist in the U.S. So hints of the pandemic lurk in the collage inevitably.