I was in the bathroom last weekend watering the lettuce I’m growing in the window when I got to looking at the way the light fell on the wall sconce. The glass body diffused the light while the golden base reflected it sharply. It was a nice contrast. And since I haven’t done an oil painting in a while I thought the lamp would make a good subject for a new painting. Plus I have a lot of 16″x 20″ canvases that need to be used up. I grabbed one and got to work immediately.
Last time I tried drawing in the bathroom I ran into a space issue with my easel. There was no reason to deal with that again so I just took a picture and worked from that. I kept the painting simple at the start to prevent it from becoming a replica of the photograph. After that I started every session by reminding myself not to get too focused about details. Keep the painting painterly. That was my motto.
Recently I have been watching videos of how other artists paint and I’ve also spent a good amount of time looking over paintings at museums and galleries. Analyzing the work of other artists has helped me pick up a few tricks. One revelation came while I was visiting the Museum of Art at UNH. It was the end of the semester show where the professors present their recent works. I stopped in front of a landscape painting by Brian Chu and checked out how he dealt with the background. The majority of the painting was clouds and sky and though the clouds were the focus, Brian Chu put an immense amount of effort into the empty sky. It really made me realize the importance of backgrounds. Keeping that in mind, I worked heavily into my background, making sure it helped my lamp pop forward.
Like usual, I began the painting with large shapes of color and then broke them down. You can see how I distinctly divided the reflections in the gold base.
Once I got the lamp base to a point I liked, I scraped it down. This prevented me from overworking it. I then left the painting to dry.
Here you can see I focused on the background, smoothing out the large shadow shape and working in some overall darker tones. I realized I was painting the wall too light and it needed to be darker in order for the lamp to appear as though it was jutting from the wall.
The body of the lamp was difficult to paint. I struggled to make it “turn” in space and appear rounded. The most difficult part was painting the crenelated top. The edges were a balance between darks and highlights and I fought to keep the shadows from getting too dark. I used my palette knife to scrape it down a lot.
Throughout the painting I went back and forth between slapping on decisive strokes of paint and smoothing out the transitions between tones. If you compare the above picture with the previous one you can see this seesawing battle take place on the lamp body.
By now you’ve probably notice the little winged dot below the lamp. That’s a hole in the wall with flaps of sheetrock. It wasn’t the easiest thing to paint, but I think I got it down okay. It pulls together towards the end. But I included the hole because it gives the painting an extra bit of character. It helps prevent the lamp from just being a lamp. The hole gives the viewer a little more information about where the lamp could possibly be and the physical state of that location.
To give the painting more depth I darkened the lamp shadow considerably.
While the lamp base gives off the overall appearance of being gold, I used mostly green and brown to paint it. I would mix the green with a decent amount of white until it was quite light and then I would mix in some brown to give it the yellow color it needed. Of course, I used cadmium yellow when this combination could not get me the proper color.
Painting the base demanded that I measure and remeasure. The slightest inconsistency or straight edge ruined its roundness and threw the painting askew. I stepped back often to see where I was going wrong and where I needed to make adjustments.
Here you can see I added white to the right side of the hole and that helped sell the idea that the sheetrock was being pulled off and away. Also, I’d like to mention here how much I like the reflected yellow light right above the hole. For some reason I got so happy when my eye caught that detail and I joyfully included it in the painting. It does a good job of demonstrating the reflectivity of the lamp base.
And done! I think. While writing this post I noticed a few things I’d like to fix, but I probably won’t go back and adjust them. I’m ready to move on. And now as I stare at it, it’s starting to look wobbly and funny. Oh dear.
I don’t often name my paintings, but I thought of one for this painting while I was working on it. I think I’ll call it View from the Toilet. Cause after all, that’s what it really is.