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May 21, 2015

Second in the bottles/ painting series

Second in the bottles/ painting series

This is the second oil painting in the series inspired by Rende’s photos of bottles against one of my previous still life paintings. See this post for the first one and some background info.

As I mentioned in the other post, painting something that is already beautiful is not my usual choice. But the richness he captured in the glass against the colourful painting spoke to me. I hadn’t worked with such saturated darks before, and I loved using them.

Nicholas Wilton’s latest post about colour is full of good practical information, a sort of Colour 101. And I appreciated that even though he gives workshops, he is generous about sharing his insights and knowledge for free as well. Basically he breaks down colour theory in painting to 3 main choices, and they all have to do with contrast. Are you going to use a dark or light colour next to your existing colour? Will it be saturated or diluted/toned down? And finally, will it be a cool or warm colour?

All these choices are going on instinctively while I paint. Even though I have a photo as reference, and this dictates my choices to some extent, effects, transparency, back and foreground can all be influenced by the 3 principles Wilton mentions. I’m starting on the third one now, a bit more ambitious as far as complexity. And it really does help to be more conscious of how the colour is going to work in the painting. Here are 2 previous phases of the finished painting above. In this one, after sketching in the approximate colours, I worked from dark to light and slightly more painterly than in number 1.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting

an in- between phase

an in- between phase

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Bottles and stillife, oil on canvas board

Bottles and still life, oil on canvas board

I’ve been concentrating on developing my oil painting for nearly 5 years now. Having a long career as a fine artist, graphic designer and calligrapher up until then, I already had a good foundation of drawing and composition. So I didn’t have to start from scratch, luckily. It has been mostly about learning the medium, and I’ve shared that process here fairly regularly. This is my first painting after a several months interlude of copying the work of some other artists. I learned a lot from that process, mostly about paint application and relaxing a little.

Basically I’m satisfied with this painting, it is another step along the way. What I am sure of, though, is that this isn’t my destination- ie perfecting realistic representation. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. Meanwhile, this has a nice story behind it.

Awhile back, I took a photo of a bowl of nectarines at my mother in law’s home and did a few paintings from it.

Tanny's bowl

It eventually landed downstairs near where Rende’s computer is. We moved my bottle collection out of our show window and they ended up in front of this still life. (You may recognise some of my first paintings of this collection from several years ago.)

So the bottles against the still life caught Rende’s magic eye, and he made several photos, they were so rich and juicy and deep, they nudged me out of my uninspired period- I had to paint them.

Painting something that is already beautiful is a major challenge! The question is, what can you add? The painting all the way at the top is a response to the richness of Rende’s photo, but it is also about mastering technique to capture what moved me. I liked the sharp clarity of the glass against the fuzzy background; a special challenge was muting the fruit still life behind the glass to make it look out of focus as it was in the photo.

But technique is never the end goal, it is simply a tool. My journey in paint is away from rendering to suggesting. But I don’t know how to do that, so I have to keep doing one piece at a time and let the work teach me. I don’t know if anyone can see the steps made since the first glass paintings, but I am moving closer to painting the way I feel.

Also important to me, not quite achieved in this last painting is letting go of form to the extent that the canvas surface becomes interesting in itself. The rhythm of the brush strokes, the layers of paint, the texture of thick and thinly applied colours all are more interesting to me than depicting a real object perfectly.

I want to paint that way NOW. But take it from me, this process of discovering your own vocabulary of marks can’t be rushed or forced. In ‘Art and Fear’, by Bayles and Orland, (super book by the way), I remember something about how important it is to develop pleasurable working habits, and that these somehow also help you to find your work.  I think even the set up of your palette could influence how you use colour, for example. One person might place the cadmium yellow closer and another  might place it at a far end, so it is less easy to reach- so you just end up using the colour closest to you.

I watched a video of David Hockney painting one of his landscapes from his show ‘a Bigger Picture’. All his years of daily work just flowed out of his brush like a guided dream.  He did one complete painting a day, and it looks so easy! But watching him taught me about working from back to front (sky first, then branches) in a landscape. It completely changed my thinking, so this is the set up for the next painting, same subject slightly different crop. I’ve sketched in the masses in the background and foreground, and am aiming to suggest more and work even more loosely.

Set up for second painting

Set up for second painting

 

Getting back to whimsical

February 19, 2015

I think this is the last painting (scroll down to end of post for image)I will be copying for awhile. It is by a contemporary artist, and it feels a bit trickier than copying someone who is long gone and would never know you were using his/her work for study.

I’m only going to show the original this time, realising that the point isn’t whether my copy is good or bad. It turned out quite well actually. It was the painting process which was important. And copying a whimsical subject helped me to reconnect with that side of my own work.

First, here are a few small selections of work done over the years in oil pastel, oil pastel collage and oils. They all have an element of play and humor which somehow went underground when I began to do still lifes in oils.
(If you look back through this blog at my oil paintings from the past few years, you’ll see that they are mostly realistic.) That was what I wanted to do, I needed to learn the medium better, and paint rather than draw. I’m still learning this.

Moon village oil pastel

Moon village
oil pastel                            (all by S.Zoutewelle except last image)

Encounter   oil pastel

Encounter oil pastel

And finally, the work below is ‘In Shining Armour’ by Susan Bower. What made me want to copy it was her casual handling of the greenish background areas, and the wonderful perspective going back to those pastel houses and terracotta rooves.  I love the sketchiness of her painting and the looseness of the forms.

Susan Bower, 'In shining armour'

Susan Bower, ‘In shining armour’

So my next painting will probably be inspired by this last period of concentrating on other people’s approaches, but will be more my own choice of subject.
By the way, I read that Van Gogh copied madly during his development, and destroyed those attempts during his life- there were more than 400 drawings and paintings that were copies of other artist’s work!

Oh just go ahead and copy!

February 8, 2015

Hitchens stillife, first sketch in watercolour crayon

Hitchens stillife, first sketch in watercolour crayon

What gets me painting is a tingling sensation, a momentary lifting of the heart when struck by something visual- a slant of light, two colours juxtaposed, the beautiful rounded form of fruit nestled in a bowl.
Though there has certainly been enough visual inspiration around, the drive to paint it has gone underground.

So I keep alert for that pinging, when my souls’ sounding has hit on treasure. Recently that has been happening with the work of other artists, so I follow where it leads.

First it was to the Isaac Israels portrait I did a few months ago. I just wanted to have the painting, not having 115,000 euros to buy it, I copied it and learned a lot by doing so.

Now I’m fired up by the more realistic work of Ivon Hitchens who worked in the middle of the last century. His abstracts are interesting, but it is the still lifes I gravitated towards. I saw my first one in ‘Flow’ magazine here in Holland (see below)  and have had it up in the studio for awhile.

Flowers, oil on canvas, Ivon Hitchens

Flowers, oil on canvas, Ivon Hitchens

I’m attracted to artists who somehow capture and release form simultaneously. I feel myself moving in that direction, and have been working that way in oil pastels for ages, but as soon as I pick up a brush things start having to be ‘right’. It is fine as a learning stage for these past 4 1/2 years of concentrated work on my painting, but slowly, I’m pulling out of that restriction and trying to find my own vocabulary.

So I really liked one of Hitchens’ still lifes, and made a spontaneous sketch of it with watercolour sticks (see opening image on this post). I bought some Caran d’ache ones in France and they are luscious.

Photo source

 

 

 

 

You draw with them and then go over your strokes with a brush and they dissolve into watercolour washes. I chose this medium because it was inexact and sketchy and would help me approach the feel of the original Hitchens painting below.

Still life by Ivon Hitchens

Still life by Ivon Hitchens

Then, after that preparatory watercolour crayon work, I did my own oil version below.

My copy of the Hitchens in oils

My copy of the Hitchens in oils

I love his greys, his greyed down greens, and the lovely warm orange pot. I also was charmed by the wonderful blue grey shadow shape running along the bottoms of those 3 white cups and the lighter grey negative shape it makes.

It was so nice to do, such a change from my usual way of working. So free and sketchy and painterly.

My next painting is also a copy. Giving myself permission to copy my favourite paintings is an unexpected gift. It gives me a chance to immerse myself in the world of some of my favourite artists, and to paint as if I were they. It takes away that yearning when I see a painting I wish I’d done, just to do it even though it is someone else’s style and discovery!! I know this is an important phase for me, opening possibilities in technique and content, so I’m going with it. It is also a lot of fun.

The breathing in the painting

November 18, 2014

‘…it is fairly easy to imitate his technique.’  Famous last words! (See previous post)

I’m in the completion stage of copying in oils, an Isaac Israels painting.

There are various ways to copy a painting. If you want to reproduce the subject perfectly, you can meticulously fake the paint strokes by using small brushes to get the desired effect. That is basically drawing.

But my intent was rather to learn how to paint the way Israels paints; to get inside the process and as spontaneously as possible, imitate his ‘handwriting’. Calligrapher,typographer Jovica Veljovic speaks of the ‘breathing in the writing’- the sense of rhythm, spirit, pressure etc, contained in the way the pen makes marks on the paper.

I used to do an exercise with my calligraphy and drawing students: sign your name quickly without thinking about it too much. Now, slowly copy that rhythmic, spontaneous form, trying to duplicate all the little twists, curves and changes of pressure of the original. You’ll see that your result looks awkward, it is almost impossible to capture the flowing unselfconscious feel of the original.

Trying to paint like the artist did is like finding the breathing in the painting. You are forced to be there, with him in his studio, at the moment he was confronted with this model, the lighting, the colours on his palette. And to understand how he was thinking, why he used the colours he did, what order were they put on, rubbed out, reapplied?

Working this way, you enter the search with him, because every painting is a journey of discovery with lots of wrong turns, and a lot of painting is simply correction. My husband saw a recent stage of my painting and said it looked to him ‘better’ than the original. By which he meant, perhaps, neater, less ‘splotchy’.  But that isn’t the point of the exercise at all! It is to try to get into a mode where I understand the artist’s ‘handwriting’, and though the aim isn’t to reproduce his signature, it is to ‘write’ in the same kind of rhythm.

To start, I prepared the canvas board with a layer of acrylic the same colour as untreated linen canvas because this shows through in places on the original painting.

I drew the figure freehand in charcoal, using a horizontal and vertical axis for reference (first having traced the magazine picture and added those same axes to the tracing).

First oil washes

First oil washes

The next one blocks in the colours.
blocking in color

A later stage develops this further, trying to keep the painterly strokes.Deepening colour

As I got deeper into the process of painting the face, I started to see what I had taken on. One way a painter works is by applying paint and then modifying it on the paint surface. So what I am trying to capture is often a brushstroke with either an adjoining colour on the edge of it, or one that picks up underlying colour. That’s why exact rendering with one brush and one colour at a time wouldn’t teach you anything about how the artist painted, nor would it give an alive result.

In the next images, you’ll see the limited palette I chose for this painting (details upon request); the brushes- in the end I had 12 different brushes going, with about 5 of them for just the flesh tones; and the skin tone part of the palette. This last one is important,- I found it easiest to mix a warm light, middle and dark skin tone, and a cool range of the same before I started painting. I almost never used them pure, but usually mixed a bit of cool and warm, or whatever I thought I needed at that moment. It helped come close to the streaky, painterly effect I liked so much in the original.

Here is a detail from the original photo of the painting,(I have to go see the original original sometime!)  It is hard to see here, but the dark strokes in and above the eye are mixed with the flesh tones surrounding it, and there is also blending and reflection of the daylight blue hitting the nose and the  burnt sienna defining the hollow area below the eyebrow. Also, when painting in the hair, you can see directly to the right of the eye, how the strands of hair also pick up some of that warm flesh tone on the cheekbone.

Close up of original

Close up of original

So here below is where I ended up a few days ago.

starting to look like something

starting to look like something

Even though the face is a bit blotchy, it captures the feel I wanted.

I worked on it more, and where I am now (below) may be closer in surface appearance to the original, but I feel it loses some of the spontaneity of the paint application.

201418nov_2425

Current version

 

Here are my two recent versions next to the original.

There are still a few things I want to work on, but this is more or less what I want to share of the process.

 

 

 

Woman in front of sunflowers, by Isaac Israels

Woman in front of van Gogh’s sunflowers, by Isaac Israels

I first came across this painting several years ago in a magazine. Attracted by its simplicity and the freedom of the brushwork, I cut it out and put it up where I could see it daily. It has migrated from downstairs where I once had my little shop, to upstairs in my studio, and has survived any number of cullings and rearrangements.

At first,  I wasn’t that crazy about the subject matter, (although it was fascinating to find out recently that Israels had borrowed several of van Gogh’s sunflower paintings to study them, and had used them as backgrounds for several of his paintings beside this one). But it has grown on me to such an extent that I’m making a copy of it to learn as much as I can by reproducing it.

Slightly frustrated by having only a magazine photograph and a web image to refer to, I was longing to see the original.  It is in Holland at a well- known auctioneer, but at the moment it is too long a trip to make for one painting. Instead, I went to visit the Groninger Museum’s collection  in the hopes that I could find a similar painter from the same period to study.

I was delighted beyond words to actually find an Israels in the current display of part of the Groninger musem’s permanent collection. It seemed so coincidental, but I’m almost ashamed to admit, not being a great art history scholar, that I hadn’t realised that Israels was Dutch and a respected figure in the Amsterdam Impressionists group. The painting was a rather drab portrait of Aletta Jacobs, a well known Dutch doctor and feminist, but it was a prayer answered to be able to get up close and see the real colours and actual brushstrokes.

Copying a painting, for me, can be a spiritual experience of actually inhabiting the soul of the artist. By trying to reproduce the essence of the painting, you have to get inside the painter’s head and metaphorically strip layer by layer of time and pigment down to the beginnings, where he set it up, adjusted the light, and made the first sketch.

With Israels, this has been relatively easy. His work is so honest and transparent and somehow close to my own sensibility, not necessarily in technique but in intent,  it is fairly easy to imitate his technique. I’ll be showing the whole process soon.

 

 

Yellow almost done

Yellow   almost done

On one of my walks I stayed in a B&B which was a rebuilt farm. It was beautifully done, preserving the farm’s former character. Some of the walls were more than a foot thick – I shot this sunlit china collection in a recessed (ex-) stall window during breakfast. Next is the underpainting and a first tentative sketch. What I wanted to capture was the yellowness of everything, the walls, the teapots, the sunlight streaming in. (The title refers to a song by my current favourite band, Coldplay.)

Early stage

Early stage

Below is the final, I actually like the lightness of the former stage at the top of this post because it comes closer to what I wanted to do. But I like the juiciness of this last version as well.

Yellow done, oil on canvas board

Yellow done, oil on canvas board

For the next painting I revisited some photos of still lifes. I wanted to paint the white cloth and capture all the colours in white in different lights. I struggled with various versions of this one. They say that a painting is never finished, it just stops somewhere interesting.

Acrylic underpainting

Acrylic underpainting

Sketching in first oil layer

Sketching in first oil layer

Apple and lemon, oil on canvas board, many versions later

Apple and lemon, oil on canvas board, many versions later