Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 2: finished painting)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

10 May 2016. Much happier with this exercise than with the previous two. I have learned from them, changed back to using water only to dilute my paint and painting on an A2 painting carton rather than acrylic paper.
The study guide requires me to comment on a list of aspects, which I will deal with first to then add a photo sequence with some additional thoughts.

1. Planning and working methods

During the last three exercises I finally discovered the sequence of steps required from preliminary research regarding artists and styles, to a selective choice and well-thought-out positioning and lighting of objects. I have now switched from making sketches on larger-scale paper to such in my sketchbook, which results in a much more coherent story and easy reference while creating the actual painting. This time, for the first time ever, I sat down while painting and I found that extremely useful in case of a  still life. However, I have not yet found an ideal place to put the arrangement, which would at the same time allow a comfortable working position with access to daylight. I will probably have to buy a higher than normal table or board for the purpose (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1: The workplace

2. Choice of format/scale

I spent some time arranging my objects and found that with the most successful setup a portrait format would work far better than a landscape format. The last two exercises I had been experimenting on smaller scale acrylic paper and found this awkward to work with. I prefer larger sizes from A2 upwards, because I tend to paint with a mix of bold strokes with some detail added and found that I was unable to do that on smaller sized supports. This meant scaling up my objects to about two to three times their actual size, which had the positive side effect that smaller details could be added with confidence.

3. Composition

Initially I was not too happy with the composition, since I am not a typical still life painter, but the longer I worked on the actual painting the more I liked what I got. I think that it contains a pleasing mix of materials in positions which allows the viewer’s eye to wander without effort, while not totally devoid of a story.

4. Colour interest

I think that the mix of subdued greys and browns provided by both the piece of driftwood and the blocks of wood went well together with the metallic hues (brushed cool grey stainless steel salt cellar and pepper caster, polished warm grey spoon) and the plastic egg cup, whose colours were complementary. I tried to paint shaded areas using the colours of the respective objects mixed with my background mix of dark brown, bluegreen and a little black in case where there was deep shade.

5. Use of tonal contrast

Careful planning of the lighting conditions allowed strong shadows stand in contrast with a series of areas of lighter tonal values. I took care to cross-check relative tonal values across the whole canvas.

6. Paint handing

I came to appreciate very much the advice of using a coloured background to start with. It is far easier to work out tonal differences from a background, which is not white. Form the lessons learnt during the last two exercises I kept spraying water on my palette at intervals. I tried to produce strong and at the same time loose marks with a larger size flat brush as e.g. in the piece of driftwood, which went surprisingly well. Keeping in mind what I had seen in the work of Cathleen Rehfeld (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), I went over the background with lighter shades of the background mix, painting around the objects in a loose manner and tried to leave some of the dark to define outlines, where I thought it would create a believable addition to the description of an object’s characteristics.

The following photos were quite difficult to take, I did not find a place in our house and even outside where I could avoid all reflections, so unfortunately some areas on the canvas appear foggy (Fig. 2a-b, Fig. 3a-b).


Today I finished the exercise and am quite happy with the result (Fig. 4, Fig. 5a-b):

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Figure 4. Finished painting, acrylics on A2 painting carton


An important aspect I noticed with the use of acrylic paint is the fact that with my set of standard quality paint the colour of the prepared mix on the palette has nothing to do with the colour of the wet paint applied to the canvas (unless in very thick layers), but interestingly when dry the paint will return more or less to what was mixed. This was extreme with my background mix, which looked dark green when applied, but would dry to turn back to the pleasant dark brown-grey hue mixed. When mixed with white, however, the greenish hue remained. This I used to modify the background according to the different lighting conditions and was very happy with the effect.

Regarding the relative success of each of the exercises in this project I am not really able to compare them due to the problems I caused myself by introducing gloss medium in the second exercise. I think, however, that the third painting is by far the best regarding the choice of subject and execution through the various stages. This is the most intense phase of learning I have had for a very long time and I am pleased that I was able to come through with such a large gain.

Asked to revisit Assignment 1 there is not a lot I would have done differently. I like the viewpoint and idea behind the painting. What I would do completely differently now, however, is the painting of the flower-heads. I remember that each of them was done in a different way as a reaction to a more or less accidental application of paint and when looking closely the different sequences of opaque and transparent layers is quite obvious. If I had to do it again, I would do some preliminary experiments with the layering of paint in translucent objects and then try to work in a consistent way across the whole bouquet.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first¬†sketches) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/part-2-project-2-exercise-4-still-life-with-man-made-objects-step-1-preliminary-thoughts-choice-of-objects-and-first-sketches/ [Accessed 26 February 2017]

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Part 1, project 1, exercise 3: Painting with pastels

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).


24 February, 2016. Since during Drawing 1 I used both oil pastels and soft pastels extensively I decided that I would go straight for the suggested small painting. I felt I needed to paint something very gentle and peaceful for once. Choosing a photo we had taken last Christmas I developed my layout from there. On a 40 x 40 cm square painting carton, a size I quite like for reasons I can only guess at, I prepared the background first and painted the figure of my son on top of that. With pastels this technique will already lead to a 3D impression. Since the goal of the exercise is to practice both mark-making and blending, I decided to make the background indistinct while combining both painting and drawing in the figure of my son (Fig. 2 below).

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Figure 2. Christmas 2015, soft pastels on painting carton

This was the first time I used a painting carton with soft pastels and I soon discovered that the surface, at least of the brand I had chosen, would not take up the pigment quite as readily as the pastel paper I normally use, in fact found it impossible to blend the colours with a brush. All of them literally fell off the canvas – apart from vermillion that is, which turned out to be practically indelible. So I used my fingers for blending, which I normally prefer anyway, but this meant that I was unable to correct the fine detail on my son’s face, so mouth and chin are not totally correct.
To illustrate the difference between “all over” blending and mixing painting and drawing I include two close-up photos (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 below):

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Figure 3. Blended colours only, glass rocking horse on Christmas tree reflecting candlelight
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Figure 4. Blending combined with drawing elements

Looking at the result I am pleased not to have subdued the bright background colours. I think that they help convey the feeling of joy associated with seeing the candles burning on the Christmas tree.
If I use pastels on a painting carton again I will try and prepare the surface of the carton with a layer of paint or something similar. Another surface I have been planning to use and did not have time to during Drawing 1 was fine-grained sand paper, which during tests proved extremely versatile. I am not sure, however, whether that would count as painting.