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A Succulent, A Bridge, A Sketchbook Too

August is here! And my birthday has gone by and I’m officially 28! Very crazy that I’m just a couple years away from 30. I can’t believe it!

I’ve been doing a decent amount of painting recently. In particular I have been working on a landscape plein air painting of a pond down the road from my house. I’m three sessions and about 7 hours in. I think two more sessions should finish it up.

I also completed a tiny 5×5″ still-life painting of one of Sarah’s succulents.

I was initially inspired by the blooming stalk. It appeared early in the summer and so I brought the plant inside and set it up on a box and did a quick sketch. Loose and gestural, it was a good start to the painting.

Before my second session, I scraped down the entire panel to smooth the surface and remove thick blobs of paint. This gave the painting a weathered look that I enjoy. At the conclusion of this painting I realized I was going to have to do some editing. The flowering stalk was growing too long and I could not fit it in the composition.

Succulent
5×5″

In the final session I shortened the stalk and reddened the flower buds in order to provide a complementary contrast to the green body of the succulent. Working so small gave me the opportunity to really rework the surface in ways that I often neglect to in larger paintings.

Last Friday I began the painting of the pond and then feeling the plein air bug, I went out on Saturday to do a coastal painting.

I wound up at Hilton Park in Dover, NH. I’d never been before but it provides a great view of the Little Bay Bridge into Newington. It was also decently busy for a park that doesn’t allow you to swim. There’s an incredibly fast current that races beneath the bridge. I watched several fishing boats motor beyond the bridge, cast their lines, and then be swept down current in ten minutes and have to do it all again.

With so much blue to work with, I began by toning my entire canvas in ultramarine. The bridge was my eventual focus, but I spent the first half of the session fiddling with every other part of the painting. With that out of the way, then I could focus my attention on the play of lights and darks along the bridge’s beams.

I’m glad I started the bridge by putting in the darks and greys. This established the back side of the bridge and allowed me to easily drop the lights in.

Little Bay Bridge
10×20″

Before I called it quits, I went around the entire painting and tried to harmonize everything. I also reworked the water, trying to replace white tinted colors with saturated colors.

Finally, I did a sketchbook tour of my latest Moleskin. Check it out!

In the video I talk about all the paintings and artwork I’ve drawn inspiration from during my museum visits. I thought it would be interesting to post the originals below and provide a little commentary on each one.

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Portrait of a Lady in Pink
William Merritt Chase

I have wanted to do a large seated portrait for a while. So I am often drawn to those paintings. This one had me contemplating how to deal with so much pink.

Arrangement in Flesh Color and Brown
James McNeill Whistler

Whistler’s Symphony in White is one of my favorite paintings of all time and when I saw this painting, I instantly drew the connections. Simple and strong.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens II
Anders Zorn

I know Zorn is one of the greats, I just haven’t seen too much of his work. However, this etching caught my attention with its ability to convey shadow and light.

Lake O’Hara
John Singer Sargent

It’s Sargent. I think I stared at the logs in the foreground for ten minutes. It’s such a perfect scene. I want to paint sunken logs now.

Bust of an African Woman
Charles Henri Joseph Cordier

The hair, neck, and cloth combo on this bust is amazing. Very regal.

Portrait of Fräulein Maria Wüsthoff
Wilhelm Trübner

I really do like mono-colored portraits. I was most intrigued by the translucency of the dress around the neck and collarbone.

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Self-Portrait in Tuxedo
Max Beckmann

Though he looks like a blockhead, I love the way Beckmann organized his facial structure. And the five o’ clock shadow comes off nicely through his use of greys and greens.

Negro Soldier
Robert Smullyan Sloan

I was really stuck on this egg tempera painting. It’s so delicate and precise. It reminded me of a Northern Renaissance portrait.

The Yellow Dancers
Gino Severini

Though I tend to like paintings that are more realistic, I do love the way how the impression of the dancers is conveyed through simple shapes.

The Hangover (Suzanne Valadon)
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

The woman in this painting has such an attitude that fits well with the title of the piece. Great facial expression.

Racehorses at Longchamp
Edgar Degas

I marveled at the horse legs in this painting. And then because it’s such a dark painting, I really appreciated the pops of color in the jockey jackets.

Women of Paris: The Circus Lover
James Jacques Joseph Tissot

The sheer amount of work that must’ve gone into this painting is incredible. There’s a great balance between looseness and exactness that is not conveyed well through this photograph.

Well, that’s all I have for today. Until next time, when I hope I have my pond painting finished.

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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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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.