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Paintings in progress

April 26, 2012

Painting in progress

This painting is just being started. It is in acrylics and painted much more loosely than the previous ones- I’m getting closer to my goal of working as spontaneously in oils paint as I do in oil pastels.

Before this one, though, I started one in oils, it is going well, but I have to wait for it to dry before going further. That’s why I’m using acrylics on the one above.

I’ve got some tips for working with acrylics which might be useful, I’ll make a short post of those, (scroll down to the post below this one).

Here is a peek into the process of the oil one. By the way, these are, for me quite large- 50 x50cm or about 24″x 24″.

The study below is in acrylic and is only about 20c x 20cm, 8″x8″. I purposely limited my time working on it to about 25 minutes and didn’t correct or improve.

Study for painting, acrylic on board

Below is the underpainting in acrylic for the large format oil painting.

Acrylic underpainting

I wanted to catch the colors that still glow out of the bottles when their real colors are added.

Here is this one in progress:

Oil painting in progress

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van Gogh still life taken by me standing in front of the original

No, sadly enough the above image is not my new still life. It is an early van Gogh.

I treated myself to a midweek excursion to a museum I’d wanted to visit for years, – the Kröller Müller  in the Veluwe area of Holland. It is a 3 hour train journey from up here in the north. I found a good hotel deal and took off on Thursday.

It is a lovely museum, if you are into museums. I don’t know what was wrong with me that day, but all the glass, white walls and modern art were oppressive. (Whereas in England and Scotland, the often historical buildings which house their art museums are magical just to enter.)

I went mainly for painting inspiration. I wanted to be taught by 19th and 20th century masters how to handle paint in a more spontaneous way. Well, the only moments of awe or magic I had were in front of the van Goghs.

Helene Kröller-Müller started collecting his paintings early on, and these less known works are just so beautiful. (Amazingly, this museum allows you to photograph the art as long as you don’t use flash. I think they just gave up the fight, how can they take everyone’s iPhones away?!).

So the photo above was made in front of a real van Gogh, the canvas bearing the marks of his hand and eye and heart. It was extremely moving to be in the presence of this work, it is so sensitive and full of love for the object, for life, for colors.

The way of working is delicate but strong, and the strokes, though stylized have not yet evolved to those whirling impasto strokes characteristic of his later work. I must say though, that some areas of some of the paintings were so thickly applied, they looked sculptural. This is completely alien to my way of working,  I really have to get my head around it before I can experiment with it myself.

Luckily I just signed up for a full day workshop on how to handle paint more spontaneously. I’m looking forward to loosening up!

Glass collection painted

March 24, 2012

Sarah's bottle collection,oil on canvas board

Inspired by friend sandi’s collection of glass bottles which I have been painting from photographs the last few months, I began browsing second-hand shops for my own bottles to paint.

They look lovely lined up in the sunny window sill in my studio. I tried photographing them because at this stage it is easier for me to work from photos, but my shots didn’t capture the incredibly beautiful transparent colors.

Enter Rende, the Real photographer, and voila.

photo by Rende Zoutewelle

Some of the bottles are from our kitchen, some from second hand shops. And the lovely amber bottle on the left (just a humble beer bottle) and the small flask with the black cap I found filled with dirt, buried in a field. They cleaned up nicely and are now two of my favorites.

Don’t you just love that jewel-like clear blue!

This was an interesting exercise for me because up until now I’ve not been inspired to paint any of my husband’s beautiful photos. My reasons being that he had already made all the aesthetic decisions and there wasn’t much for me, as a painter to add.

But in this case, it was my vision he photographed, and his expertise made it possible for me to then take it a step further as a painting.

I like the result, I’m still aiming for a less finished, more painterly look.  For me, the amber bottle at the far left comes the closest to that ideal.

charcoal drawing early stage

I was preparing an exercise for my drawing group by doing the assignment myself.  I find that this helps to expose any unclarity or unexpected things that may crop up for my students.

Teaching always inspires me to get drawing myself, and my students’ fresh approaches often open doors of perception for me. Plus it is just a pleasure to see people unfold, take leaps, make discoveries.

I set up a simple still life of a pear on some cloth and covered some paper with a layer of charcoal, rubbed carefully out with some tissue. Then , working between line (using charcoal) and light areas (using a kneaded eraser) , I picked out some contours. The idea in this is to try to see in light and shadowed areas rather than line.  Here is a next stage.

Dark areas worked into and highlights picked out

This was only a demo for my class, so for a change I didn’t overwork it, here is where I left it:

Charcoal pear

Then, I liked it so much I did an oil painting of the same subject:

Pear on cloth, oils

Well, the painting of the song board is completed. Johan came to pick it up this past week.

The etalage is incredibly empty. It was like having a friend there, a real presence,  waiting every morning. I’d look at the work of the past day and plan what the steps for today would be- and by some miracle, flower by flower by flower, it all got done.

It took close to 80 hours spread over 8 weeks, not counting the planning and design. Those hours aren’t all painting time, they also include drawing, transferring, some research,  and reworking some flower drawings.

I always have a bit of resistance to adding the final blue arabesques, those clumps of curls and swirls around the edges. I’d prefer a more streamlined look. But the blue decorations are trademarks of these Ruckers Flemish instruments from around this time (1638), so they are not optional. They are fun to do, and the artist can hide all kinds of inside jokes in the complicated strokes. You may be able to spot a few that are not just designs but contain figurative elements. Once I hid a bike, a mermaid, and even a boxer (dog).

The lines, scallops and arabesques are done with an applicator so that they will be raised in relief. Originally this was done with a mixture of cobalt glass and casein binder. I use gouache and casein with a smidge of acylic gel for elasticity.

Here are Johan and I, Johan has just finished playing air harpsichord, Bach’s flower concerto I think.

And now the instrument is back with its creator, Matthias, who will add strings, keyboard and base, several layers of paint (on the outside!!!) and  other finishing touches. All of us involved with the birth of this instrument are enjoying seeing it come alive as each person does his/her part. It is one of the most rewarding (and intense) projects  I’ve worked on. I’m so grateful it is safely back in Germany in Matthias’ workshop.

Lemons

February 20, 2012

White bowl

I was having a discussion with Kristina and sandi (from ‘sandi’s bottles’ fame)  about lemons in paintings. And how, for me, avocados and those dark purple plums hold the same appeal, especially when combined with that luminous lemon yellow.

The painting above was one of the first oil paintings I did after seeing the Elizabeth Blackadder show last August, and it was the first one I felt good about. The ones that came after didn’t have that same sponteneity. It is as if this one was given (it really was- first I made a tiny thumbnail of it in oil pastel and then cranked this out in one sitting) as a sort of beacon to paint toward. And everything that came after that for awhile fell short.  I never recovered that same certainty about where it wanted to go until recently.

 

Lemon and plums

This one is quite small and came much later. It was the first one where I started to see the potentials in leaving part of the acylic underpainting showing as in the bottles on the top left and the shadow of the lemon. And it led to the recent bottle series. (But bottles figure in a lot of my work, look at the top half of the top painting in this post for instance).

I can’t say that the composition was intentional, it just sort of grew.  I love the colors. They really do capture what I liked best about my oil pastels, the light airy blues against the rich aubergines and greens. And then that sunny lemon yellow shining. And all of it set off against a foil of burnt sienna.

So these two are more about where I want to go in my heart, rather than the super realistic last bottle one. These have the element of play that I want to enjoy while I’m painting.

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All photos by Rende Zoutewelle

Well, it is an all-consuming project. I do have a life….I think. But I basically wake up and go to sleep thinking about which flowers fit where, color balance, leaf size contrasts etc.

Rende’s photos have captured some of  the atmosphere of the étalage (aka shop or oil painting studio) where I’m working on the instrument. It is a small space – not even enough to walk completely around the case. A new instrument like this needs to be kept at an even temperature and humidity to prevent drying out, so it is on the chilly side – about 15 degrees centigrade. I wrap up well before I go to ‘work’.

Despite that inconvenience, I do like having it all concentrated down here, the previous ones took over my entire attic studio. That meant I really couldn’t do anything else.

Johan said that with the sound board being painted, the instrument is starting to come alive.

As soon as it was brought here, I felt it already had a soul from the amazing amount of love and care that the builder, Matthias, had put into it, and from all the thought that had gone into it even before the case was built. Now that I’m adding my part, there is such a strong visual emphasis, it is hard to remember that

the real soul of this instrument lies in the sound it will make.

Anyway, it is a really cool project to be involved in. I have to slow down to paint each plant and animal portrait as if it were the only one. And one by one they are forming a whole painted songboard.

woodpecker attacks songboard

Definitely connected to the long tradition of songboard painting, and yet also belonging to the 21st century in the choices we’ve made, both visually and in content.  For example, Johan had requests for various flowers and other elements to be included which are personal symbols connected to his own life. For a few people, beside the aesthetic quality, there will be added layers of meaning to the things painted on the instrument.

When it goes back to Germany at the end of the month, Matthias will make the keyboards (there are two) and attach the strings. And then it will be able to sing.