Now that I knew how to shade, I figured the world was my oyster (and hey, the world was just a ball — and now I could paint that! ). So despite Jim’s admonitions for having gotten ahead of myself with my last rogue painting, I thought I’d dive in and try a still life. After all, I now had all the tools (including this handy-dandy Proportional Divider – how do I love thee!). Also, I’d been reading the highly motivational “Daily Painting,” by Carole Marine, and was inspired to try to fit painting into my life, well, daily.
Luckily, it was a Saturday, and Olive had a friend over, which meant she was entertained and I was free to have a marathon paint session. (Carole Marine talks about finishing small still lifes [lives?] within 1-3 hours, but I’m a very slow painter at this point.) As you may be realizing, I have a tendency to want to rush ahead (and that’s a GOOD thing), so I didn’t want to paint no stupid apple. Instead, I chose something a bit more challenging, but with very little color, so I wouldn’t be distracted (and wouldn’t be wanting what I just…couldn’t… have):
Until a couple of years ago, we lived in a house with a garden, and I was always digging in there and finding the coolest things: a marble foo dog; ancient farming equipment; two super-creepy iron sculptures which have nothing to do with this post but which I just have to show anyway; and the aforementioned slightly less cool…high school art project?…that I decided to use as my model.
Until this point, all of my paintings had been copied from another painting — working with a grid and very systematically plotting each point. I wasn’t even changing the scale or the positioning: The original paintings were the exact size we’d be painting them — we just created our paintings in the same corner of the canvas where they’d appeared on their clipboards, and taped off any overhang. When I’d sat down to paint a still life, I hadn’t thought about how big a leap it would be from our class assignments. After all, I knew how to shade now, and I already knew how to tone my canvas, and how to draw out my subject matter (and how to hold my paintbrush!). How hard could it be?
Turns out, very. Working without the grid, I found myself relying very heavily on my proportional divider. This is a tool that looks like an off-center X — on one side is a small pincer that you hold in front of your object to determine the length of a line or the width of a segment; on the other, a larger version of the same that opens or closes to show how that width would scale up or down, depending on your settings. It allows you to more easily scale up an item and still keep everything proportional, and is a godsend for those of us whose brains don’t work that way. But it’s slow to measure every little thing (as I’m always wont to do) and not always accurate, as a tiny miscalculation of the width on the small side can be a huge shift in width on the large side.
The other thing I found difficult was the lighting in my “studio.” Since I live in a small condo, my “studio” is really just a section of my living room. In attempting to make my painting more “daily,” I’ve carved out a period really — insanely — early in the morning, before anyone else is up and before I need to start work. This means I’m usually painting when it’s dark outside.
I wish I had a dedicated space in which to paint, but I can’t see it happening until, say, my daughter moves off to college (and unfortunately she’s not the next Doogie Houser). I’m loving learning to paint, but I’m not committed enough to, say, install florescent lighting in my beautiful public space.
Instead, I’ve been trying to make do, and my efforts have either been too minimal (where I can’t see my canvas or subject very well, and end up with little halos around everything) or too much (where I have a florescent bulb perched on a bookcase over my shoulder, making everything shadowy). I can’t seem to get it right.
This first still-life shows my struggle. Since it was a Saturday, I was able to start in the afternoon, and the body shows that. But look at that weird dark face! By the time I got to that area, the sun had gone down, I had turned on my florescent, and the entire thing was in shadow, with my florescent spotlight dramatically illuminating the eye sockets and upturned nose. That would be fine it was consistent throughout the entire composition, but it’s completely out of place.
Likewise, I need to train myself to get up and take a break when I start to just. want. to. be. DONE. I’d reached that point before putting in any of the details in the stomach region, and it shows. Instead of the swirls of plaster, I’d basically just thrown in a mix of lighter and darker brush strokes, which looks cloudy rather than solid and scratchy.
Things I did well:
Top arm/shoulder shading and top boob
Crack in plaster around neck (though the larger crack/hole is a bit much)
Shadows under the body
Proportions are reasonably accurate
Things I could improve:
Bottom boob looks like she has a skin disease
Lighting on face
Texture does not look rough enough (especially on stomach)
Composition: Just plopped there, centered and floating in space.