After living with the photos of my set-up for a week, I decide I’m happy with it. The next step is for me to do a full-sized detailed drawing of my composition. First, I decide what size I want my finished painting to be. As a rule, I like to paint life-size. Especially with still-life, this gives the viewer a sense of immediacy, as though the painting were real. In this case, however, I find that life-size yields a very big painting, so I decide to down-size a bit. I draw a rectangle of the decided-upon size in the proportions of the view-finder I used when setting up the composition. Now, I draw!
I establish the vanishing-point so that my perspective is realistic. The vanishing point is at my eye level and directly in front of me. I mark this on the paper (or on my easel, if it’s off the paper!). All parallel lines will converge to this point. Circles in perspective are drawn as ellipses. The closer the circle is to my eye level, the more shallow the ellipse, the further down, the closer to a full circle. To draw these accurately, I have to find the circular object’s angle below my line of sight. To do this, I run a string from a post at my eye level to the circular object in my set up. I measure the angle the string makes with the post with a protractor.
Armed with this number, and the length of the major axis (the diameter of the circle in the drawing), I can calculate the correct ellipse. This I do using string, two pins, and a pencil. (I’ll explain in more detail how to do this in a future post.) It’s low-tech, but it works!
Using tracing paper, I transfer the correct ellipses to my drawing.
Here’s the finished drawing. My next step will be painting a full-size black, grey and white study.
I just began a new painting, and I thought I’d document the process, from conception to finished work.
I bought an old waxed cardboard portfolio at an antique market recently. I thought it might serve well as a background for a still life set-up, or as a base, or both. Here, I’ve placed it on a table, opened up, shone a spotlight on it, and gathered a few objects that might work with it.
My first guess
The things I chose seem to be fighting each other for attention, so I selected some quieter, smaller ones. I wanted some more contrast in textures, so I decided to use a blue glass bowl and a rough rock. Also, I felt that the setup needed some detail, so I added the gold jewelry. I liked the way the jewelry was reflected in the blue bowl. I rearranged one of the straps of the portfolio to echo the curve of the shadow cast by the blue vase.
Setup with Two Small Cups on Crate
Here, I experimented with a tall vase to replace the small cup sitting on top of the crate, and then with a black cup. I thought that the black cup was more harmonious and didn’t detract from the jewelry and blue bowl, which I decided would be the focal point.
Tall Vase on Crate
Black Cup on top of Crate
I’m pleased enough with the composition to proceed to do a detailed drawing.
One of the hardest things I ever have to do is get myself into my studio to begin working. Once work commences, I’m fine, and the time flies by. I’m absorbed. I’m having fun! I don’t want to stop. I think, “How can I ever think that this is hard?” And yet, when it’s time to return, after lunch, or worse, several days later, I’d do any dreaded household chore just to avoid entering my studio. Knowing that I’ll be okay once I begin doesn’t help.
Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies for dealing with this feeling of dread. One of the most effective techniques is that before I leave my canvas, I plan the first thing that I’ll do when I return, and write it down. This has to be a very specific, easily do-able thing, such as, “make this shadow darker with a bluish glaze’ or ‘add some light paint to this onion stem.’ Planning this way enables me to contemplate returning to work without thinking I have to be brilliant. I don’t have to accomplish anything great or difficult- I just have to do this simple thing. Once I’m back in front of my easel, and I’ve done the thing, the work just flows.
Another thing I’ve discovered over the years is that I don’t have to feel like painting to paint. If I always waited to feel like it, I might never go in my studio again! I simply (or not so simply) have to just do it. This is so hard, but at least I’m not a slave to my emotions. Just making myself work puts me in charge.
I’ve also learned that the more often I work, the less hard it is to get to work. The weeks that I paint 4 days are much easier than when I’ve just painted once. I feel more in touch with my painting and what I need to do.
People often ask me where I get my ideas for paintings from. I usually reply that ideas come from many places- a new object I see, a combination of colors (ie: in nature, or on a theater set!), the composition of an old painting in an art book, or simply from choosing some objects, putting them on a table under a light and observing if there are any interesting relationships or light effects.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter where the idea comes from. It’s just a hook- a way to begin. Sometimes, the idea occurs to me easily. Other times (like now!), ideas are elusive. Yes, there are colors I like, but I don’t always have objects in those colors! I could pick some objects in my studio to work with, but I’ve painted most of them before! I could look at art books, but I’ve looked through them so many times. I want something new!
Of course, starting from “I want something new” isn’t very helpful. That phrase creates a lot of pressure to make something brilliant out of nothing, with no specifics to go on. I need to figure out what qualities I want the new work to have. Why am I bored with my existing way of composing? What’s missing? Is there some method or technique, subject matter, format, color scheme or lighting situation that I’ve never tackled that I would find satisfying and challenging?
It would be easy to put together a composition like one I’ve done before. I don’t have the heart to do that right now. I need to take the time to evolve.