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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!