Monday, 15 June 2015

notes from the airing cupboard.. Oranges in oils

So, I mentioned that I moved my workspace up to my small spare bedroom, and felt the benefit of being away from the general living space of the rest of the house. After the first painting, of an orange, which I'd set up in  shadow box, on top of a chair on top of a table, I decided it would be useful to have some shelves, to vary the height of my subjects. And then I remembered that the other wall is a set of cupboards, with lots of shelves! Da-naaa!!

So I turned my easel and lamp around, moved a few towels, placed the shadow box on the right shelf and set up the next arrangement. Oranges in the airing cupboard. Perfect...
Fruit in the airing cupboard..

One of the important factors in using the shadow box is the ability to control lighting, or to prevent more light than you want, on the subject. I lined the edges of the cupboard with black fabric, and used the cupboard door to block external light. Yes - a lot of time is spent preparing and setting up. This is so important. Composing, arranging and lighting your subject  is the making of the picture. It has to look delicious, or there's no point in painting it. So all this faffing about isn't a waste of time, it's the creative part. 

One lamp on the subject, another on the canvas. 

I did my preparatory drawing in my sketch book - I love this stage. This is a step which so many students leave out. Why? Drawing is information gathering - we draw information from the subject, to gain understanding of spacial and tonal relationships and to get the balance right. 

Something magic that happens when we draw before painting. Familiarity with the subject, an intimate getting-to-know it better. Then, at paint stage, we've already observed it, we kind of FEEL it, and the NEW decisions we are making are about colour - we still have to make the spacial and tonal decisions too, but we're half way there with those by then..

Underpainting, over a burnt sienna base colour
I painted the white canvas with a layer of burnt sienna, as a good base to paint on.

I propped my drawing up as additional refrence material next to my easel. Sometimes looking at the drawing helps, even though the fruit is still right there!

With this painting, I was trying out glazing techniques, and trying to be a bit looser. The canvas was one that I'd already opened, from my pre-Milliken Brothers days, and it was horribly rough and textured, which at least helped to restrict any over-tight tendancies. Sometimes though, it can feel like we're battling with the materials, which is not a good thing. I stuck with this painting till I couldn't stand the rough canvas any more, and moved on to the next one (making sure it was a nice fine linen).

For me, painting really is about the doing of it, rather than the completing of it. The hope is always that the next one will be better, and the next and the next...

Up and coming workshops: Oils weekend, Belfast. For info email

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