Friday, May 18, 2012

From a Sketch to a Painting - Out of My Comfort Zone

If the idea of plein air is to develop field studies and to culminate in the use of them to create a studio painting, I have done my first developed work in my new studio. The studio is workable, though not finished. There is water, but no sink. I have a skeleton of a counter and the order is in for a custom built counter top. I still need to paint the counter. The sink is bought, thanks to my sharp-eyed husband and a garage sale he just happened by that had a sink (?) out for sale. I can picture him driving home on his motorcycle, balancing that sink!  Maybe they will just hose things/dishes down in their yard now that their sink is gone. Oh well, not my problem. We do need to get the plumbing issues resolved before fall and winter. Pipes can freeze here. But I can already paint in there.

Plein air loosely means "in the open air". Even more  loosely  translated, it can mean worked from life. The French were mostly concerned with the visual translation of light and how it illuminated the world around them. How to make the mind see light when all the eyes really see are pieces of color. They used broken color, or color laid down adjacent to each other to give the impression of light and the Impressionists were off and running. To say that the movement was popular since its beginning, is not true. The critics thought it an abomination. Today, impressionist works carry a pretty hefty price tag and  the movement continues to influence artists the world over. So much for critics.

But it is not the only way to work. I am pretty comfortable with picking up my stuff and schlepping out to a place and painting. I love the immediacy of it the immersion into place and time. But sometimes the weather is just plain foul, or you cannot, for whatever reason, leave the house. What to do? A day is precious. There is no excuse to waste it. As I sat thinking about this and watching the morning news show, I noticed some magnolias I had put out the day before on the coffee table, and decided to put in an old brass teapot that I had and just see if it worked. Then the tangerines and oranges joined the flowers and teapot, and before you knew it I had a sketch as I watched Good Morning America. 
Ink outlined sketch = Cartoon
How to proceed? It was obvious that I had started this in a way that was totally opposite to my normal sit down, think about it, and paint directly approach. I already had a sketch outlined in ink.  So I had to decide what to do with it. I could still do an alla prima (painted in one shot, all at once) painting of the teapot and magnolias. But was that the right direction with this??  The sketch had decided some major composition issues. 

I had long wanted to try an approach that used transparent glazes on a prepared wood board. You build the values from the overlay of pure color washes on a pure white board. All this is in oil with medium as the suspension vehicle for the glazes. Obviously it takes time to do this as each layer must dry before the next is applied. So I had started this piece from life but to finish it would have meant picking up a pretty hefty glass coffee table and relocating it to the studio (across about 1/4 acre) and rebuilding the setup. There was no guarantee that the lighting could be replicated.  Instead I opted to do a small color sketch and use that to develop the painting. So after the line cartoon, I did a loose color pencil study and brought all this reference to the studio along with one picture that I took. 

Teapot and Magnolias
Background In
The first installment was to get the background in. It needed a really dramatic one - so I mixed viridian, alizarin crimson and prussian blue to give me a chromatic black. I did the background, upside down so that I would not drag anything over that precious white. The photo was not used during this phase of the painting. In fact, the color study was the primary source of information.

As the painting developed I realized that I had never painted glass or brass before. Nothing like putting roadblocks in your way! The whole process was foreign, and I had never painted these textures before. But the glass was so abstract, that it was totally freeing, in an otherwise very tight and controlled painting. The loosest strokes are in that area.

Just starting the glass, with base layers in
You can see its not really black as the blue reflection shows.

The more I painted, I played the push/pull and pushed back the horse. He just wasn't that important to the whole. But man that glass was fun. I need to figure out a way to do another painting maybe in alla prima that uses glass and its reflections. Talk about seduction!

Teapot and Magnolias - Finished
Unframed and Available

This was a way to do something outside my comfort zone, and hopefully learn something. Its partially plein air (the beginning) but it was completed in studio. I have to think about this process. Its got some good aspects.....but developing patience now is sorta late for me. I do like the immediacy of alla prima. I know they'd be calling the men with the white jackets that have long sleeves if this were the only way I worked. This painting took months to do. I wonder if it was worth it?

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