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.
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…
I recently had a relaxing weekend at home and was able to get a good amount of work done. The final projects for my M. Ed. are due in a couple weeks, so I spent most of my time on those, but when I needed a break I did some reading and worked on my presidential sketches. I finally finished Harry Ammon’s James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, after picking through it for two months. Perhaps it’s time to turn back to fiction for a little while. I think I’ll dive into Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Somehow I’ve never read that classic.
For my sketches, I worked my way from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt. Looks like our presidents used to sport some awesome facial hair. I had too much fun rendering President Arthur’s mutton chops.
I included Grover Cleveland twice because he came before and after Benjamin Harrison, even though only the first portrait is official. But the second was painted by Anders Zorn and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to study one of his paintings. My goal is to finish all the sketches and then paint over them in Photoshop. This’ll give me an opportunity to experiment with the digital medium, but also a chance to study the color and brush work of the original artists.
Perhaps when I’m done I’ll upload all the portraits in a single collage or poster.
Way back at the start of the summer I vowed to read the best rated biography of each president. Why? Well, we kept getting stumped on presidential questions at bar trivia and I was tired of ignorance. I used bestpresidentialbios.com as my guide and started with James Thomas Flexner’s four-volume exploration of George Washington’s life. I read two of the four on a road trip to New Orleans and once I’d finished the series I decided to adjust my plan. I would read the best ONE-VOLUME biographies. Flexner’s work was amazingly comprehensive, but the sheer word count almost drove me to insanity. But I finished and moved on to John Adams: A Life by John Ferling, and then Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham, and then James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham. I’ve taken a break since Ketcham’s work to read a bunch of fiction, but when I resume I’ll be turning through the pages of James Monroe: The Quest For National Identity by Harry Ammon. Basically, I’ve been president obsessed this last year.
The other night I was listening to The Washington Post’s great podcast Presidential and decided to do sketches from the official presidential portraits. I used a brush pen in my moleskin sketchbook, spending about ten minutes on each portrait. Look for more to come! And if you like founding fathers and also happen to like musicals, check out Hamilton.
Yesterday I dropped a couple paintings off at the New Hampshire Art Association for next weekend’s The Art of the Landscape show. While I was there I picked up a prospectus for next month’s 16th Annual Joan L. Dunfey Open Juried Exhibition. I’ll probably submit my most recently finished painting and the one I just started today.
Here are a few sketches from the development process:
I wanted to see how the lightbulbs and the forty ounce would work together. After a trial and error period of arrangement I finally decided on a setup that clicked.
With graphite and charcoal I sketched out the still life. I think this process will greatly help my painting. I learned a few things about the way lightbulbs are shaped. Now time to paint.
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.
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″.
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.
When I’m browsing the submissions on RedditGetsDrawn I try to look for photos with interesting lighting first and then photos of pets second. It seems that people are less critical of the likeness when you paint their pet. In contrast, a strong resemblance is wanted when you’re drawing a person. Take the Tom Brady courtroom sketch incident that occurred just yesterday, for example. The artist has been publicly shamed because their depiction wasn’t perfect. It made me a little grumpy knowing how hard it is to draw and capture a scene quickly and then seeing the hate the artist is receiving. Anyway, today I worked on a gouache painting of user jdmb3641’s dog.
It took roughly two hours to complete this 2″ x 3.5″ puppy. It was even smaller than my last gouache painting. I’m starting to realize how hard it is to push the darks on gouache. I may need to invest in a black so I can mix it with other colors to get some solid darks.
For my birthday I received a Dick Blick gift card from my parents. I immediately put it to use and filled out an order. Five or so days later I had a box of gouache paints and a new 8 1/4″ x 5″ watercolor sketchbook in my mailbox. Gouache is a type of watercolor paint that can be used opaquely. Last night I sat down and started my first gouache sketch.
It’s been a bit since I visited RedditGetsDrawn, but I decided it would be a good place to practice with my new paints. After some deliberation I decided on user vicecaptainvince’s photo.
I started with a sketch because I’ve noticed on YouTube that James Gurney and Jeff Watts begin that way with gouache.
My girlfriend made delicious seafood shells while I sketched for an hour. Thanks Sarah!
With the sketch complete I went head first into painting, occasionally referencing Jeff Watts’ videos. It took a while for me to adapt to the way the gouache bled into the paper. Too little water and it was like working with gel, too much water and the paints acted like thinly glazed traditional watercolors.
Since I spent so much time experimenting last night, the painting went slow and I was forced to finish the piece this morning. The process was fun and I hope to crank out a couple more portraits today, since the rain is keeping me indoors.