1

Week Old Cupcake

We had a friend over for food about a week ago and she left a cupcake for me, but I wound up not eating it. I forgot about it, honestly. Before bed that night I told myself to take it in the morning to work and then four days later I realized it was still on the counter and the icing was hard and the cake was starting to sag to one side. While I’d lost a chance to eat it, I’d gained an opportunity to paint.

Gouache Cupcake

Tilted Cupcake, 8″ x 5,” Gouache

I started sketching the dessert at the kitchen table this morning. The sun eventually moved and I was forced out onto our porch to chase my light. I set up at an old painting table surrounded by freshly potted plants. Still the sun was moving fast and I had to constantly push the cupcake back into the moving light. After a couple hours I wound up with the above sketch.

I’ve been having trouble retaining the lights in my gouache paintings. With that in mind, I purposefully started working in the midtones and shadows without touching the lit side of the cupcake. I follow Benjamin Bjorklund on Facebook and he’s posted a lot of interesting watercolor paintings lately, so I tried to keep his technique in mind as I worked. Not to say I was as successful as him, but I turned out a pretty decent sketch I think. Still not entirely comfortable with gouache. Nothing seems to beat the opacity oils can give me in the lights. Which reminds me that I need to return to that oil painting I let sit a couple months ago…

Advertisements
2

Tulips and Portrait

Last weekend I was transitioning from April vacation into the last work-heavy week of my internship. I needed a breather. An unbelievable amount of my free time had already been spent doing projects. Though I suppose since the work needed to be done, it really wasn’t my free time to begin with. Anyway, I took the weekend to do a little gouache painting.

BookScanCenter_1

Self-Portrait in Gouache, 8″x 5,” Gouache

On the 30th we were waiting to go for some beer tastings and I decided to paint a self-portrait. The end result came out pretty decent. Even though gouache is opaque compared to regular watercolors, it still does not have the ability to reclaim lights and highlights as well as oils. Therefore, I always struggle going too dark too early. Here I used the white liberally to dig into the tan tones and pull out some light. Despite those struggles, I think the portrait came out well. The forehead needs to be a little warmer, but it was only a 90 minute sketch.

The next day we went to a tulip farm down in Rhode Island.

BookScanCenter_3

Wicked Tulips, 8″x 5,” Gouache

It was beautiful but gray that day. I set up on the far end of the pick-your-own field and painted the farm buildings and the flowers together. I only had forty-five minutes or so to work and I’d love to go back and paint with oils for several hours on a sunny day. The sketch was fun though and I like the contrast between the bold, saturated colors in the foreground and the grays and browns of the background.

Got all my internship work finished, so I should be able to turn my attention back to art again! Just gotta apply for some jobs first!

1

Blue Winter Self-Portrait

 

Back before Thanksgiving I purchased two decorative gourds at the local Market Basket. They were a buck a piece and I thought their shapes would be interesting to explore in paints. I did a gouache painting of one and then put them both together to do an oil study. As I’d hoped, they were fun to work with. I then decided to include them in a larger still life.

I’ve been trying to improve several aspects of my art. First: my eye. I’ve been focusing on really visually understanding color and value, for example: not just assuming that a blue cloth is dark blue in its shadow. Second: technique. There are so many ways to work with oil paints and I’m still finding my niche. I’m trying to use more medium now to keep my paintings oily and alive. Third: color theory. Several recent visits to museums has made me realize how important color theory is. Van Gogh’s paintings really do sing in person because he understood what colors play off one another. So for the larger gourd still life I decided to focus on the secondary colors of purple, green, and orange.

The gourds served as my orange and I had a bed sheet that worked as my purple, but I was unsure of what to use for my green until I was once again walking through Market Basket. Pickles! They’re so strange and otherworldly, floating like museum specimens in a jar. It’s gross, weird, and despite all that, truthfully mundane. They’re only weird when you take a moment to think about it. I suppose that goes for most things.

Once I had my pickles I found that there was still something missing from my setup. It lacked balance. I don’t have a lot of orange things around my apartment, so I went with a NERF gun and bullets.

IMG_0095

  Harvest               9″ x 12″

I tried to balance the warm purples of the forefront with cool purples in the background. That may have worked better than the incorporation of the NERF gun. It seems too yellow and not enough orange. Overall, I’m happy, though I think the contrast between light and dark could’ve been stronger.

For a change of pace I turned the next day to self-portraiture.

blueselfie - 1

I used another 9″ x 12″ canvas washed in burnt umber and began with a blue gray underdrawing.

blueselfie - 2

Remembering to work in simple shapes, I kept my first paint through focused in one light, one medium, and one dark. Then I speckled in a few halftones.

blueselfie - 3

With the basic forms distinguished, I worked around trying to refine them by using warmer colors. Originally, I wanted to begin with cool blues and then paint over with warmer flesh tones, leaving the shadows cool, but as I worked I kept it generally cool all over.

blueselfie - 4

I managed to maintain the cool tones despite bringing in lots of warm colors. This flickering contrast really worked to sell the plane changes in the face.

blueselfie - 5

I don’t often paint the figure, but when I do I like to start at the nose when I’m refining shapes. Noses have so many wonderful plane changes and vary greatly in every manner, making them instrumental in creating a likeness.

 

blueselfie - 6

With the face mostly worked out, I turned to my shirt. I used green blues to separate the clothing from the blues in the skin.

IMG_0092

   Blue Winter Self-Portrait             9″ x 12″

You may recognize the background from my Patterns painting. I do like that fabric. This painting was mostly a sketch and color trial, but I like the way it turned out. One of my most successful paintings in a while. I learned a lot about color while working on it that has influenced my decisions in my upcoming still life.

And I would like to thank my lovely mother for taking the final pictures of my paintings. Thanks mom! And I would like to thank my lovely girlfriend for letting me use her belongings in my still life. Thanks Sarah!

Here’s an animated gif of the progress:

output_bgIqVX

Both paintings are for sale. Contact me at thewritingmann@gmail.com if you are interested!

Harvest – $600

Blue Winter Self-Portrait – $300

0

Peabody Essex, Neptune, and a Sold Painting

A couple weekends ago we traveled down to Salem, MA and went to the Peabody Essex Museum. I’d never been inside, but a little less than two years ago we were in town for a variety of activities (ghost tours, boat tours, house tours!) and we walked past the museum a few times. I’ve wanted to visit since then.

Sarah and I met up with my parents at the museum. We had few expectations. We just wanted to see what was inside. While buying tickets for general admission, the Yin Yu Tang Chinese House, and several local colonial house tours our admissions man found out that there were no more tickets for the house tour he’d promised us. He felt bad for misleading us, even though it was no setback, and he gave us all free tickets for Yin Yu Tang. We hustled over there to catch the next tour.

Yin Yu Tang is an 18th century Chinese house that was imported bit-by-bit to Salem and reconstructed at the Peabody Essex. It is breath-taking. Now I know superlatives and exclamations are overused, but not when applied to this house. This is a building heavy with history from a culture I have little experience with. I stepped through the front door into the courtyard and it was impossible to know Salem was outside. It was total immersion. I listened to all the stops on the audio tour. Even if we had seen nothing else that day, Yin Yu Tang was worth the trip.

After seeing the Chinese house we explored the rest of the museum and wound up at the special exhibit on Thomas Hart Benton. Here are a few of my favorites from that exhibit:

Self-portrait with Rita

Self-Portrait with Rita

Negro Soldier

Negro Soldier

Kentuckian

The Kentuckian

Benton was strongly connected to Hollywood, producing posters for many films throughout his life. He also created many pieces of anti-Axis propaganda during WWII. He liked social commentary for sure.

It’s hard to see how visceral and strong his style is from these photos. From his first paintings I knew I’d found a new inspiration. His figures just pop. They’re muscular and sculptural. Comparing his paintings to the photos I’m reminded of my first time seeing van Gogh’s work in person. Five or six years ago I went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and was really overcome by his paintings. The posters I’d seen in art class didn’t hold up to the real thing. There’s so much life in every van Gogh brushstroke. While not done with as much impasto as van Gogh’s, Benton’s brushwork evokes the same sort of feelings.

I’ve been thinking about Benton off and on and the power of his figures. And perhaps subconsciously that came into play when I chose a subject for my plein air painting this Wednesday.

I went to Prescott Park to meet with the NH Art Association, though I didn’t see most of the other painters as they were on the other side of the park in the gardens. I was posted up in front of the Charles Hovey Fountain, which depicts a young Neptune catching a fish.

IMG_3364

I was umbrella-less that day, having accidentally left it at home, and when the sun peeked over the trees I had to end the session. I couldn’t see the canvas and my neck was melting. When I came back on Thursday the park was covered in a dense fog. This changed the lighting slightly, but surprisingly not too much. Though the highlights were not as strong on the figure I could exaggerate them in my painting to match the previous day.

IMG_3369

Neptune’s Catch   9″ x 12″

My favorite part of working on this painting was the pedestal. On the first day I had painted everything below Neptune that dark green color  When I finally worked on the pedestal on the second day I simply cut out its shape by painting the water lighter around it. Then I added a few shadows and highlights. It left the pedestal loose and impressionistic.

I wish I could’ve spent more time working on the background. I was held back. After two paint throughs of Neptune I realized I’d made his head too big and that was throwing the perspective off. I had to chop his head almost in half and repaint the whole face. That was a bit of work.

While I was working I talked to a man who told me the rod Neptune holds is a trident and that the triple-pronged end was stolen several times.They kept replacing it until they submitted to the thieves and just left it off.

On the first day, Wednesday, I was walking back to my car when I caught a good view of an old colonial on Court St. I set up in the shade of a tree and hashed out a quick 5″ x 7″.

IMG_3358

Two thirds of the way through the painting I met a nice woman who expressed a great interest in the piece. We agreed on a price and exchanged info. I delivered it the next day!

IMG_3362

Mustard    5″ x 7″

I almost forgot to snap a photo before I delivered the piece. This one was a little rushed and doesn’t show the depth of the yellow on the right.

I enjoy painting 5″ x 7″s a great deal and I’m contemplating building a body of fifty or so of them and then renting a booth at a large art or craft show.

2

Portrait of Pippa

Yesterday was a day without art. Or at least a day without visual art. I spent the majority of my time finishing up the last volume of James Thomas Flexner’s four-volume biography of George Washington. It was a long grind through fact-heavy prose. At last I’m finished. Today I got back to portrait painting.

IMG_3352

Looking through RedditGetsDrawn I found a nice photograph of a pitbull that seemed the best candidate for a portrait. It’s often hard to find photos with lighting I like. Not to mention photos that aren’t ridiculously small or grainy.

IMG_3354

After sketching out the dog I covered the drawing in thin washes of gouache.

I really wish I could find better gouache tutorials on YouTube. I’m certain there are little techniques that could simplify my process. From what I’ve experienced so far, I need a way to keep my paints from drying out so quickly. Additionally, I need a larger surface to mix paints on. The small travel palette I use is just too limiting.

IMG_3355

Next gouache painting I’m going to push myself to start off very dark and work in the lights. I’m still playing around with the way gouache mixes and dries.

This portrait is 2.5″ x 5″

0

Portrait in Black and White

Had to get in one more portrait before the weekend. We’re going to be hiking Mount Monadnock and going to a birthday party, so there won’t be a lot of time to paint.

IMG_3341

Grabbed another reference from RedditGetsDrawn and drew out a 4″ x 4″ sketch.

IMG_3342

I’ve been putting in the backgrounds first to establish darks to work from. As I work I move back and forth between the background and the figure.

IMG_3344

Though the photo is in black and white, I did not stick strictly to a tonal painting. I brought in a few warms, though by the end I was using mostly cool colors.

FullSizeRender (11)

I’m in definite need of an actual black. It’s amazing how light the darks get when they dry. Thankfully I’m going back to my parents’ house this weekend and my mom has a tube of black she’s going to let me have.

The perspective on this drawing was surprisingly difficult. I kept having to address the height of the subject’s forehead. I had it too foreshortened at the beginning. My hands and neck are starting to cramp from working so small. Time to work bigger.

2

Portrait of a Disgusted Daughter

Only two weeks left until the school year and my internship. I’m trying to make the best of my time until then. That means paint, paint, paint.

IMG_3331

I found time for one more Reddit portrait, choosing user Hotnonsense’s photo of her grumpy daughter. Spent about forty-five minutes on the sketch before moving to gouache. This one’s 2.5″ x 4″.

FullSizeRender (10)

The face came together piece by piece and I never felt too lost. I think I created a good likeness. Unfortunately my success floundered as I moved into the hair. I got caught up in the individual strands. The solution? Simplify. I took off my glasses, pushed back in my seat, and there they were. The shapes. That’s all I needed. Shapes of color solved my problems. I feel as though it’s almost beneficial to be a painter that needs glasses. I don’t have to purposefully blur my eyes to simplify the subject. My eyes already naturally do that. In the past I’ve caught myself unconsciously with my glasses halfway down my nose so I can quickly glance back and forth between seeing the subject in-focus and out-of-focus. I look like an old man when I do that. But it makes things so much easier.