Paintbrush and Trowel

I wanted to begin with a poem. A short thing that would foreshadow my post and summarize my sentiments. I scrounged up my books of poetry, flat, stiff, unused, and skimmed their contents. I needed something about spring, about life, about planting and gardens, about the hallowed act of creation.

I found mostly death.

So I tried to make it work. I squished my parameters upon the poems and thought, “Hm. These might work. Ah, yes, ‘The Diving Archaeologists’ by Selima Hill! That’ll do. My post is about painting classical objects, objects from the past…but I am also writing about gardening…hm…well, both archaeologists and gardeners dig! There it is!” So I read ‘The Diving Archaeologists’ four times and got less and less excited. It is an amazing poem, but not what I needed.

Perhaps one evening I will come across a poem that will agitate my mind and it will be a necessity to post it to this blog, but as of now, I cannot slap a poem on here and make it do what I want. I guess I learned a simple thing. Art moves you. You do not move art. Unless, I suppose, you’re an art curator and your job is to install the “largest classical sculpture in the United States.” (That’s a bit of an old article, but still interesting to read. Plus, it’s June, and the statue is Juno, so there’s that.)

Now that we’re done with that little aside, let’s talk about painting.

After taking the Pulidos‘ class, I began constructing my own still life. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have my first attempt critiqued by the Pulidos. In short, they found it too concentrated, lacking space, and too object-centric. So I went back to the drawing board and devised a still-life with fewer objects and focused on the progression of object height.


Underpainting. Notice the overall triangular shape of the setup, with the jug in the middle being the highest point.

After setting the still life up, I began my underpainting. I drew out the objects with a black Sharpie because I tend to paint opaque and I knew the paint would cover the lines. I would not suggest such prominent lines for those who paint in thin layers.

First dabs of color!

First dabs of color!

The underpainting dried fairly quickly, so I was almost able to immediately apply local color to my painting. It was at this point that I also began to emphasize the value I had built up in my underpainting.

Getting some work done.

Getting some work done.

I tackled the jug, the background, and the highlights on the first day of actual painting. I gave the canvas a coating of medium and then worked in fairly opaque. I did, however, thinly paint the highlights on the bell and the overturned box. My main focus of this stage was to make the top of the jug blend with the background in order to deepen the shadows and depth of the painting.

Listened to the some awesome episodes from the podcast "Stuff You Should Know" during this session.

Listened to some awesome episodes from the podcast “Stuff You Should Know” during this session. Does it show?

During this stage I smoothed out some rough areas of paint and went to town on the right side objects and their shadows.

Popping dat color!

Popping dat color!

With all sections of the painting worked over at least once, I chose to go back and bring out highlights and cast shadows. All the while I toyed with color fluctuations between objects and their surroundings.

Keep on keeping on.

Keep on keeping on.

Before I began this session, I made a glaze of burnt umber and went over the background and the top of the jug. This brought the highlights and cast shadows down to prevent the jug from popping out from its surroundings. Then I moved along to the left side objects.

While painting, I tend to work left to right and then right to left. Having just worked out the highlights on the bottle, it was time to move to the trio of objects to its left. I started on the bell, struggling to get the perspective right. I had to make sure the bell’s handle was at the correct angle and actually looked like it was resting on the surface plane. After the bell, I worked up through the box and into the sugar cone and its cup.

So close to done!

So close to done!

The penultimate session was a quick one. I focused on unifying the painting and defining the slight creases in the table cloth.



My priority on the last day was to smooth out the apples. It was a small correction, which is why I left it to the end. Additionally, I put some warmth into the front of the table cloth.

This painting presented a chance for me to focus on the development of my style. I started off incredibly loose, allowing my brush work to feel organic. As I progressed, I attempted to tighten the realism up without sacrificing the fluidity from the earlier stages. What I was left with was a painting that looks very free and relaxed close-up, and defined and unified from far away. Like I said in my last blog post, I’m searching for that middle ground between expressionism and classical realism. I think I’m starting to get an idea of where I’m going. And I also think I know what I want to paint for my next painting. I’ll just let you know right now that it will have a chicken in it.

With my painting talked about, I’d liked to move onto the subject of gardening. Would you kindly indulge me? I promise it will include pictures. Okay, here I go.

A few years ago, my father and I put a little garden in our backyard. I don’t know if you would call it a Victory Garden, but it was small and the concept was the same. We wanted to save money and have some vegetables. That garden did well and we had some delicious peppers and cucumbers that came from it. Sadly, I went off to college and we didn’t do anymore gardening.

Until now.

On Sunday, we got our green thumbs going and bought some plants to start it all up again. It was a little too late to sow seeds so we decided on plantlings.

What a beautiful day to garden!

What a beautiful day to garden!

The area that had been our garden was overgrown with weeds. As is evidenced by the photo. So I did a little mowing.

Ah freshly cut weeds!

Ah freshly cut weeds! What a potent smell!

The mowing was done to lessen the amount of grass we would have to sift from the dirt. It helped, but not that much. We spent a lot of time raking dirt.

Rake it up, oh, oh, ohhh. Rake it up, oh, oh, ohhh.

Rake it up, oh, oh, ohhh. Rake it up, oh, oh, ohhh.

After mowing, I rotortilled the ground to make it dirty fresh. Since the soil was still good from the last garden, we did not have to haul in loam. Thank goodness gracious. My paps raked. He did a lot of that.

First of many grubs i found.

First of many grubs I found.

It's a-drizzling!

It’s a-drizzling!

As we worked, the clouds tumbled overhead and we started to get some chilly rain. It felt good…at first.

Fog. Rain. Gloom.

Fog. Rain. Gloom.

Then it downpoured. Hard. So we retired to the indoors, thinking the storm would pass quickly. We were sort of right. It eventually let up to a light sprinkle.

I wonder how many rainbows they have in Ireland. I 'm gonna have to look up that statistic.

I wonder how many rainbows they have in Ireland. I ‘m gonna have to look up that statistic.

We garden until the weather says we can't. How's that for commitment?

We garden until the weather says we can’t. How’s that for commitment?

After a while, we were able to return outside and do some more work. We dug rows and holes and planted the back section of plants.

Did you know that earthworms breathe through their mucus? Or something like that.

Did you know that earthworms breathe through their mucus? Or something like that.

But we were not outside for long before the storm clouds thundered back in and chased us from our garden. We had to go inside for the evening, but we were not to discouraged. We went back to work the next day.

Planting the lettuce.

Planting the lettuce.

So many cute little plants.

So many cute little plants.

We got almost everything planted before the sun went down. With the help of porch light, we were able to set the arbor in place before calling it a day.

Setting up the arbor.

Here’s a pic from the day after.

As I type this, tropical storm Andrea is beating down outside and the garden is looking nicely watered. However, all the rain we’ve had the last few days has prevented us from planting the grapes, setting up the fence, and finishing the garden. I will have to update next week with the a picture of the finished project.

I enjoyed working on the garden. I felt no pressure to rush through it. Even with the rain, I was relaxed and at ease. Plucking weeds, digging holes, packing dirt…it is all soothingly methodical. It truly is a change of pace from my writing and painting. I have a tendency to rush towards an ending. Often when I write, I have to hash out a basic progression of my story (exposition, conflict, conclusion) so I have something I can call sort of finished. I constantly have this urge to push faster and faster as I write, and I have to physically remind myself to slow down and take it one step at a time. The same goes for my painting. All I want is an ending. A painting I can revel at. But when I garden, there is none of that pressure. I think it’s because there is no foreseeable ending to gardening. It’s a cycle. And perhaps the slow growth of the plants forces me to slow down too.

2 thoughts on “Paintbrush and Trowel

  1. Pingback: A Return to the Past | Oil and Pen

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