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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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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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In the Spirit of Fall

Crash course in high school English: The Birthday Party – Brush, The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World – Marquez, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Alexie, The Dome – Millhauser, 1984 – Orwell, Brave New World – Huxley, and Feed – Anderson. I’ve been working with these titles for the first quarter of my internship. Some of the stories I’d read a while ago, but many were new. I’ve been busy reading and grading and researching and planning. In my free time I’ve been working on a new oil painting, but it’s not quite done yet. In order to keep this blog alive and prove I’m still interested in the arts, I took a snippet of free time on Saturday and painted out a gourd in gouache.

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Before heading north to Maine for a murder mystery party, my girlfriend spent an hour or so making an appetizer to bring and I plopped down at the kitchen table to hash out this 6″ x 3.5″ painting. Small gourds are wonderful to draw and paint because they have distinct angles and planes. I have a couple other gourds and pumpkins floating around the apartment. Hopefully they’ll feature in my next oil painting.