2

The Muted Tones of Cupcakes

The cupcake in today’s painting lasted over a month in my still life set-up. Yeah, that’s a little gross to think about. But it was great for my art. I first painted it in gouache for Tilted Cupcake and noticed it was still holding up, so I put it together with a coffee mug. I wanted to focus on the purples and pinks while keeping everything fairly muted.

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I started with a blue-gray background and tried to keep the colors tonally similar to that starting gray. From there I was able to deviate into darks and lights.

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I spent a good amount of time rendering the cupcake and its frosting swirls. It became the basis for my lights. Nothing could be brighter than it.

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Muted Cupcake

8″ x 8″

With the cupcake started I could branch out tonally and with color. My goal was variety from that point on. I introduced complementary colors into the shadows. You’ll notice that the perspective is also from my other still-life set-ups and that was because this was my last one before I moved. I wanted to try something new before I had to put together a new studio space.

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The Energy in a Sugar Jar

Summer is here. It doesn’t feel real. A couple weeks ago I graduated with my M.Ed. and now my internship will be done in a week. It’s hard to believe I’ll be teaching in a few months and being paid to do it. Really the reason it feels weird is because I’ve been so busy with work. I was able to get a little reading done in my free time, but my art progress slowed. Occasionally I got to paint. And because I wasn’t able to devote large blocks of time to making art, it to took me several months to finish one painting.

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Sugar Jar

9″ x 12″

I started this painting right after I finished my Blue Winter Self-Portrait. I was inspired by the color variety I was able to explore in the shadows. Hopefully the pinecones are still readable as pinecones. Here are the progress photos:

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And the final photo once again:

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I’ve been finding and following a bunch of artists lately. Many of them have mentioned the difficulty of taking the energy present at the beginning of the painting and maintaining it until the end. I loved the looseness and playfulness of the self-portrait and wanted to replicate it. I did bring an energy into this still-life but I’m not sure I carried it through. I think I got caught up too much in the exactness of the sugar jar. Edges are my new focus. I have a feeling the movement and energy of a painting can die there.

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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.

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  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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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   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:

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

Harvest – $600

Blue Winter Self-Portrait – $300

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Two Gourds

I tried a couple new things last week. First I attached my GoPro to a selfie rod, taped the rod to my easel, and videotaped myself painting.

I’m preparing for my next still life, which will focus on the secondary colors purple, green, and orange. This was a sketch to get a feel for gourd colors.

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In order to prevent my easel from shaking considerably and ruining the footage, I premixed the majority of the colors. The painting took three sessions, each around an hour, and I mixed a 24 color palette each time. This is a new technique I will be doing in the future. Premixing helps me concentrate on color and value differences. Early on in art school we spent time premixing, but it is a tactic that fell out of use for me personally. Time to bring it back.

By starting this next still life, I begin my third in a 10 painting series. At the point of conclusion I hope to have a consistent enough portfolio to submit to galleries.

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Forty Ounce

It’s been almost a full month since I posted the first few sketches of my forty-ounce painting. Though I’m disappointed I haven’t been able to post as often as I’d like, I understand my pace will have to fluctuate depending on the time of year. I’m in a teaching internship now, so my current time usage is probably similar to what it’ll be when I’m full-time. But I’ll have summers off! And I fully intend to capitalize on that. For now, I work with what time I can get.

I feel like I begin with that statement every other post.

For a few months after I took a class with Numael Pulido, I was painting using medium. First I used a mixture and then I switched to liquin. My paintings took a leap forward at this time. Then I began painting on smaller canvases, trying to get faster. I stopped using medium and went back to using oil straight from the tube. This was also partly because I’d read that the use of liquin can yellow a painting over time. But it seems from what I read now that most anything can yellow a painting over time. Recently I’ve been trying to improve my technique by addressing issues like canvas texture and varnishing, so naturally I decided to readopt the use of medium as well.

For my latest painting, 45 and Bulbs, I prepared the canvas with five or six watered down coats of gesso. I sanded the surface to give it a very slight, varied texture. I’ve grown to hate the uniform tooth of factory canvas. I did everything I could to counteract it. After the gesso dried, I toned it all in a medium blue-gray.

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I started off taking progress pictures but became frustrated with the lighting. The days are getting depressingly short and I struggled to get good pictures with the dying light. After three or four attempts, I gave up.

I sketched out the general shapes with burnt umber. I didn’t spend too much time on the preliminary drawing since I’d spent so much time sketching the setup already.

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40 and Bulbs

I wonder how other artists view the process of painting. To me, it’s like building a pyramid out of blocks. The largest blocks go on the bottom and every following layer uses slightly smaller blocks to build towards the pointed top. I lay out blocks of color in my paintings and then come back around searching for the next smallest blocks of color. Rinse and repeat.

Though I struggled with the reflections in the lightbulbs and the foreground shadows, the most difficult task was keeping everything level and straight. Even now it seems the angles are off.

The background and foreground are two different beach towels. I’m trying to use patterns in all my still life paintings. Soon I’ll be digging through the bed sheet piles at Goodwill.

45 and Bulbs is 12″ x 16″ and on sale for $500. If you’re interested in purchasing this painting contact me at thewritingmann@gmail.com.

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Patterns

Several weeks ago I started at Exeter High School as an English intern and since then I’ve been swept up in the start of the school year. At the beginning I was spending most of my days mentally planning out what to say to the students. Since I teach the last class of the day there is plenty of time to build up some anxiety. But I’m relaxing now and don’t get too nervous until ten minutes before the class begins.

Though I’m teaching English, I’m still spending my afternoons painting. I set up a still life in the spare bedroom right before the school year began and I’ve been whittling away at it.

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In the past I used canvases straight from the factory. I’d tone them and then paint. The woven threads, or tooth, of the canvas often showed through my paintings. I didn’t like it. The tooth was too perfect, too symmetrical, and pulled attention away from the actual painting. To remedy this problem I gessoed my canvas several times, sanding between coats with 80 grit sandpaper. I didn’t create a perfectly smooth canvas, and nor did I want to. I left the brush strokes barely visible in the gesso so they would later show through a bit. This would make it appear as though I was applying my oils over other layers of paint. The imperfections would help create a more painterly finished product. After gessoing the canvas I toned it in a mid-tone of blue-gray.

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The idea for this still life stemmed from my acquisition of a black, metal teapot from my parents. They’re cleaning out their house and found it hidden in a cabinet. The hammer and vase were added as I developed a theme, which wound up being: black. It’s hard to paint the variations in the darks and I wanted that challenge.

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Since the canvas had been toned blue, I decided that I would use something orangey-red as contrast, allowing the blue to peek through in places and give the viewer’s eye some nice visual stimulation. I found my girlfriend’s old tapestry in a bag and used that for contrast. I stacked up a few boxes and draped the red cloth over them

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Much of my inspiration for this piece stems from the work of David Cheifetz. Particularly The Experiment. I also borrowed his technique of putting a two-way fold in the cloth to give the painting more depth. You can see an example of this technique in Prosperity. I used it in my painting to give the teapot more height so it would balance out with the vase.

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The most fun I had was putting in the rough patterns on both the vase and cloth. I did not try to get too exact or particular. It was a bit like sketching. I was trying to just figure out where everything needed to go.

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After one full paint through for each object the painting started to come together. I fell in love with the vase and spent many early sessions devoting attention to its gold patterns.

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Once I had everything mostly laid out I began tackling the background. Here I went with a flat brown and then realized it was too dark. Something need to be remedied. It needed more light.

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The setup was lit left to right so I decided I should echo that flow of light in the background. I spent an entire four hour session working it out. I pre-mixed dozens of colors in order to give the background a speckled, multi-colored effect.

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Next I had to lighten up the cloth. I explored different mixtures, seeing how cadmium red would develop when mixed with burnt sienna, cadmium yellow, and cadmium orange. I brightened the top right tremendously and slightly brightened the bottom right.

 

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Patterns 12″ x 16″

After adding the lights and highlights, I had to work on the darks. The left sides of the teapot and vase needed darkening to make them appear more round. My last session was mostly spent tinkering here and there to see what more I could do.

The final photo left the cloth appearing a little more orange than it is in life, but it’s a good representation besides that. I’m excited to start the next setup. I already have a plan.

If you’re interested in Patterns, it is on sale for $650. To purchase, send me a request at thewritingmann@gmail.com!

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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.

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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.

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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″.

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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!

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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.