Monday, April 17, 2017

New Still Life, Blue Bottle With Fruit

Hello, everyone.  I hope everybody had a nice holiday week.  I'm glad to be back here.  Unfortunately, I've been very under the weather for a few weeks and I had a crazy mishap and ended up fracturing my finger.  Needless to say, typing is difficult, but I hope to be back to blogging more regularly.

About two weeks ago, I finished up a new still life and luckily was able to get a signature on it yesterday.

This was the set up.  I had not done colored glass in years, so it was fun to try something different.

The placement went very smoothly, which is usually a good sign that the painting will go well.

Here is the original block in, as well as a side by side (or top and bottom in this case).  As you can see, the bottle is already starting to look like colored glass.  It is simply Ultramarine Blue with some Ivory Black added in the darker areas.

I believe this was after the fourth painting session.  This painting really didn't have too many difficulties, it just needed a lot of layers to achieve the effect I was going for.  At this point I was happy because the vase was looking like porcelain and the bottle was looking like glass.  There was one element that was driving me bonkers though:  the oranges!  They made me absolutely crazy.  I cannot tell you how many times I painted them, scraped them down and then painted them again.  I had the shadows and the colors right, but could not seem to get the bumpy skin that these small oranges have to look realistic.

In the meantime, I put in the pattern on the vase and did the cutout on the lace cloth.  I also added in a few of the folds on the background fabric.  I felt that the right side of the painting needed something as the blue bottle was so strong on the left.

The lace and the blue pattern went in very easily, but I was still struggling with the oranges.  They really drove me nuts.  That was one of those situations where you just have to keep going.  You don't want to give up on the painting all together, or, even worse - settle for something that is not quite right.  When you are sick to death of dealing with something, put it aside for a bit and then come back to it.  My regular readers know that I usually have two or three paintings going at once and this is one of the reasons why.  When I'm fed up with one, I just work on another.

And here is the finished painting.  I took this right on the easel.  It is seriously in need of a varnishing, but that is a few months away, and I wanted to show you the finished piece.  I'm still working on some hydrangeas, and lilacs have started appearing so I'll probably be starting up a new floral soon.

I'm hoping to be blogging on a regular basis, but in the mean time, I'm still active on Instagram if you would like to see what I'm up to.

Monday, March 20, 2017

More Painting Updates, Empire State Building and Union Square

Happy first day of spring!  Here in New York City, we are still digging out from last weeks blizzard/ice storm and it feels nothing like spring.  Our insane weather is actually what led me to redo these two paintings.

The Art Guild of Port Washington is having a show celebrating America and I want to enter.  Back in February, my plan was to go down to Battery Park and paint the Statue Of Liberty.  Of course, in February, it was 65-70 degrees every day.  Since March started, it's been nothing but rain, snow, blizzards and freezing temps.  Battery Park is on the cool side most of the time.  There is no way I was going to hang out there for hours painting.   I took these two photos today.  There is a snow mountain at 13th and University and cars all over the city are stuck in blocks of ice.  I knew if I were going to do something for this show, it would have to be done in the studio.

I was about to give up on entering the show, when I remembered that I had two paintings I might be able to use.  One of the Empire State Building, and another of Union Square that happened to have an American flag in the background.  The only problem is that these two paintings were not among my best.  I had worked on each of them twice on location.  I'm not a landscape painter, so two passes are not nearly enough for me to complete a canvas.

I decided to tackle them in the studio.  I figured the worst that could happen would be that I would totally ruin them and would skip entering the show.

This was the original painting of the Empire State Building.  I always thought this painting needed a bit more work, but never got back out there to do it.  It was a little too gray for me.  It was a gray, rainy day when I was there, but I thought I would take a chance and try to brighten it up a bit.  After two sessions in the studio, I'm much happier with it.

Empire State Building, 11x14, oil

 Here is the updated version.  I feel like this one has more life in it and I'm now happy with the painting.

The second painting was done in Union Square.  Unfortunately, I do not have a before photo for you. I neglected to take one when I began my painting frenzy and the originals were lost in the iPhoto to Photos transition (the worst thing Apple ever did, in my opinion).

Anyway, here is what I ended up with.  If you are familiar with Union Square, I entered the park at 17th and Broadway and I was looking across the park toward Beth Israel.

Union Square, Summer 11x14, oil

Now all I have to do is enter these in the show!  Even if I am not chosen, I'm still happy that these paintings are now officially finished.  I'm on a big clean out and every thing that is not suitable for framing and hanging is either getting an update or getting painted over.  I'm glad that these two were able to be saved.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Painting Update: Brass Teapot With Grapes

So, I've been at it again.  I've updated three older paintings in the last few weeks.  I don't know why I get in this mood sometimes, but I've learned to just go with it.

I originally painted this a few years ago.  As usual, I thought it was good when I finished it.  But, over time, certain things about it started to annoy me.  I repainted the background a few months ago and then kind of forgot about it as I got busy with other things.   A few weeks ago, I was feeling frustrated with my current works and decided to pull this one out.  I decided either I would make it work or paint over it.

I started by putting another coat on the background.  With these Innerglow Boards, you have to make sure you have enough coverage and I clearly did not.  After the background was done, things started to perk up and I focused on the other things that I did not like.  Namely, the fruit.  There was not enough fruit to fill out the canvas (it's a 16x20) and it was not done very well.  Actually, the only things I did like were the brass pot, which I did not touch, and the cloth.

I started with the fruit.  The oranges needed more work and I was never thrilled with the arrangement of the grapes.  There were grapes on three quarters of the painting, but nothing over on the right side. It felt a little unbalanced to me.  You want the viewer's eye to travel from left to right, and I didn't have much action happening on the right side of the canvas.  Also, I was not feeling the red and green grapes.  It just felt like too much, so I figured, why not take the leap and get rid of the green grapes.  I painted them out and was already happier with things.

I also added an orange to the blue and white bowl.  Things already felt more balanced to me and I continued on with the oranges.  To perk them up, I lightened the lights and darkened the darks.  With the darker shadows and highlights, they started to look like round, juicy oranges.

However, something was still gnawing at me and I could not figure out what it was.  I was very close to just taking a rag full of black paint and wiping out the whole thing when it hit me.  The cloth was the problem!  While the color and pattern were good, it needed a few adjustments.

The issue was that the whole cloth was painted the same.  The front edge needed serious lightening up and the front plane needed some light under the edge.

Once the cloth was completed, things finally started falling into place.  Of course, I then decided that I was not happy with the white bowl.  Luckily, that was a pretty easy fix.  I just painted it out with my "fake white" colors and let it dry for a day or two.  I then painted in a new blue pattern that I made up as I went along.  The reason I had to make it up is because except for some oranges and grapes, I did not actually have any of these pieces in my studio!  This was one of those times when having years of painting under my belt really helped.  I knew what had to be done and was able to do it, even without the props in front of me.

Brass Teapot With Grapes, 16x20, oil

Here is the finished piece.  I'm very happy with it now and so glad this all worked out.  I'll soon have a post up detailing the other two reworked paintings.  If you have any questions about reworking an old painting, leave them in the comments.  I'd love to talk about this.  Does anyone else redo their old work?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

New Still Life, Blue And White Vase With Oranges

I'm happy to report that I finished a new still life painting tonight.  I started this one a few weeks ago and I thought I was done with it last week, but after looking at it the last few days, I realized that it needed some work.

This is the original set up and the block in.

This is the end of the second session.  As you can see, the canvas is covered and the lights and shadows are done.  At this point, I just kept adding layers of paint.

After a bit more work on the vase, it was time for the pattern.

After I finished the pattern, I thought the painting was done, but after looking at it for the last week, I realized that it needed a few tweaks.  First, the background needed one more coat of paint.  It was not as smooth as I wanted it to be, so I knew I needed to go over it one more time.  Second, I realized that there were six leaves on the stems coming out of the pot.  Odd numbers always look better, so I added one more leaf and stem.  It had the added benefit of balancing out the left side of the painting.  And third, the back piece of the top of the vase was far too prominent.  Since it is behind the front piece (obviously), it needed to fade out a bit.

I decided to take care of all of these problems today as I was ready for this painting to be done.

Blue And White Vase With Oranges, 12x16, oil

Here is the finished painting.  I'm glad this one is finished as I'm also in the middle of a large floral.  I'm hoping to have that painting finished in a few days and of course I'll have a full recap here.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mary Cassatt, Lady At The Tea Table (Metropolitan Museum Of Art)

On a recent visit to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, I came across Mary Cassatt's painting, Lady At The Tea Table.

I'm sure I must have seen this painting before, but this was the first time I really paid attention to it.  Of course, you know what drew me in.  The blue and white tea service.

The lady in the painting was Mary Dickinson Riddle, the first cousin of Cassatt's mother.  The tea service was a gift from Mrs. Riddle's daughter to Mary Cassatt's family.

According to this article in the London Review of Books, Mrs. Riddle did not care for the portrait as it did not do justice to her reputation as a great beauty.  Since she was a cousin of Cassatt's mother, I'm assuming she was of a certain age and perhaps did not care for being portrayed differently than she saw herself.  (I totally get it :)

In any event,  Mary Cassatt ended up holding on to the painting until Louisine Havemeyer, a collector and friend of Cassatt's,  persuaded her to donate it to the museum in 1923.

But that's enough of Mrs. Riddle.  Let's talk about this blue and white tea set!  It is just fabulous.  As you know,  I'm always on the lookout for blue and white pieces, but I have never seen anything like this.

These are some close ups that I shot of the painting.  I just love it and predictably, I have developed an obsession with getting my hands on a set like this and using it in a painting of my own.  I have several blue willow pieces and could probably set something up, but I am going to attempt to find a complete blue and white tea service.

By the way, I took the two close up photos, but the photo of the entire painting is one I downloaded from the Met website.  Recently, the Met made 350,000 images available for digital download with their new open access policy.  This is pretty amazing and something that is really helpful to me personally.  There have been many times I would have liked to discuss a work of art from the Met, but was unable to get a decent photo on my own.  Now it is so easy.  Just look up the work you are interested in, and if it has the "public domain" symbol underneath the photo, you can download it to your own devices and use it as you see fit.  Of course, I will always link back to the artist and the Met, but I think this is a great idea.  The Met has been great with allowing photos in the museum and now they have taken it to the next level.

Now that we are free to download images, I plan to talk about some of my favorite paintings from time to time.  If there are any works you would like me to post about, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wine And Fruit, Updated

You may remember that last summer I posted a new still life, Wine And Fruit.  I considered it done and signed the canvas and made a blog post, but there were a few things that were nagging at me.

This is what I thought was the finished painting.  So what was annoying me?  A few things, starting with the size of the wine decanter.  After staring at it in my studio for a few months, I realized that the decanter was just too big.  Gregg always tells me, if you think something is too big, that means it is.  If you look at the top of the decanter, it is nearly at the top of the canvas.  Not only is it way too high, but it takes the object away from everything else in the painting.  And that was another problem, everything in this set up looks like a bunch of different objects rather than a cohesive group.

I also did not like the background.  Though there really were the light and dark stripes on the fabric (from the sunlight in summer), they were not reading well on the canvas.  And a viewer would not know that the sun did that, they would just think I painted some stripes on my background.

Last week I decided this needed to be fixed or painted over, so I chose to take a shot at repainting.  The first thing I did was to repaint the background.  I just used a simple dark, mid tone and light.  While I was doing that, I painted out the top of the wine decanter.  I then spent several frustrating days getting the correct size and shape for it.  While I immediately got the height, getting the shape of the bottle was very difficult.  The dimensions were right, but this decanter starts with a long neck and gets progressively rounder, something I was having trouble capturing.  Finally, last night, I got so annoyed that I just started throwing paint on to the canvas, and that is when I finally got it!

Once the decanter was properly sized, I moved on to the next problem:  the fact that everything looked like a bunch of separate objects.  Everything was in the right spot, so I just needed to get it all to work together.  I did this by adding color to everything.  I pumped up the green highlight from the pear on the blue and white bowl, then I lightened the grapes at the front of the bowl as well as on the little bunch next to them.  Next, I fixed the green highlight from the pear on the glass decanter.  I added a little more color to bring them together.  I also put some of the wine color (alizarin and black) into the background.  Those steps helped the glass decanter fit in with the rest of the painting.

When you fix anything on a painting, you then spot everything else that if off.  The next thing I tackled was the pear on the far left.  In reality, it was that light, but because it is in the darkest part of the painting, it just didn't make sense.  I darkened up the pear using the shadow and mid tone colors, as well as darkening the shadow underneath it.  I felt like it was still a bit isolated, so I added a few extra grapes to the bunch in front of it, and that really helped bring it into the rest of the painting.  I also put a bit of the wine color on to the pear on the left side of the decanter, as well as putting a dab of the pear green on to the left side of the glass.

My final act was to pump up the white on the edge of the lace, and then add some of the colors of the fruit and wine to the top plane.

Wine And Fruit, 16x20, oil

And here is the finished (for real this time) painting.  I am much happier with it now and have no qualms about sending it out into the world.

As it is so often with painting, the moral of the story is: don't give up!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How I Built My Collection Of Still Life Props

Recently, I've gotten a few questions about how I built up my collection of still life props.  While I will paint the occasional portrait or landscape, I am a still life artist, so that means I need vases, objects and fabrics in addition to fruit and flowers.

When I got my studio a few years ago, I started on the hunt for objects to paint.  The vase in the painting above, Lilacs, was the first piece I bought.  I got it in a vintage shop near my house.  It was very overpriced, but I liked it and have used it in several paintings, so it was worth it.  

My next big score was a lucky find on Craigslist.  An estate sale was being held at the home of a serious blue and white collector.  I didn't know about the sale until a few hours after it started, so when I got there, the seller was happy to make me a deal.  I got a bunch of items for less than the price of the vase above.  

These are some of my small pieces.  Many of the items here came in a box I won on Ebay.  I got very lucky and searched "blue and white porcelain" and came away with a box of blue and white odds and ends.  The whole box was only $27.00 and I've used the pieces in it many times over.  Ebay is a great resource for still life painters.  The search terms I use are "blue and white porcelain", "vintage blue and white", "vintage blue transferware" "vintage silver (pitcher, footed bowl - whatever you are looking for)"  "vintage delft" "vintage blue and white Chinese porcelain".  I could go on, but you get the idea.  I prefer vintage items for my paintings, so that is what I search for.  I also search from the lowest price to the highest.  Many times I will see similar items with vastly different pricing.  Why pay more for the same thing?  Especially when it is going to be used in a painting studio and has the potential to get paint on it.  

I have my larger pieces on a cart in my studio.  The items here came from all over the place, which is part of the secret to my success.  I'm always looking for props.  I look online, in thrift shops, retail shops, and my latest discovery, Amazon.  In this photo, two vases are vintage, the large vase in the middle is from The Enchanted Home Shop, the wine decanter was an engagement gift and the small vase in the back was $7.99 at the Whole Foods in Chelsea. 

So let's break this down a little bit.  I'm always popping my head into vintage or thrift shops to see if there is anything I can use.  You never know what will be available, so just pop in any time you have a chance.  Here in NYC we have Housing Works, Good Will, Junk and tons of thrift/vintage/antique shops as well as the flea market.  It helps to know what you are looking for before you go in so you don't get bogged down.  I look for vintage silver and blue and white porcelain.  I scan the shelves for those two items and if I don't see them I'm out and on to the next thing.  Also, if you have any friends who like to go thrifting or to garage sales, have them keep an eye out for things you may like.  

I mentioned that the vase in the middle was from The Enchanted Home shop.  The Enchanted Home is a design blog started by Tina, a lover of all things blue and white.  She had so many inquiries about items in her home, that she ended up starting a shop.  Though her items are new, they have that lovely vintage look about them.  These pieces are beautiful, so they go back and forth between my house and the studio.  

Both of these paintings feature porcelains from the shop.  If you keep an eye on The Enchanted Home website, you can get great deals when a new shipment arrives.  There is a pre-sale happening tomorrow morning and I will definitely be checking it out.  

Wedding/engagement/home gifts.  These are things I already owned that have made their way over to the studio.  I've been married long enough that they are in the vintage category at this point, so it made sense to use my own things rather than buying more stuff.  And it is not only my own cabinets that I raid.  I have many things that I have pilfered from my Mom's china cabinet as well.  

The candy dish and the embroidered napkin in the painting above came from my Mom's house.  If you have a still life painter in your life, nothing is safe!

I mentioned above that I got the small vase for $7.99 at the Chelsea Whole Foods.  I bring this up because you never know where you will find something you can use.  The small round vase as well as the cylinder above were bought when they were getting rid of some of their glass vases and I got these for a steal. I think the glass cylinder was round ten dollars.   Even if you don't use something right away, if the price is right, grab it.  If you paint as many still lives as I do, you need a large amount of props to rotate through out your paintings.  

Check out Amazon using the same search terms as mentioned for Ebay.  They have a nice selection of blue and white and the prices are good.

The other part of my still life set ups are the fabrics.  While we have a ton of fabric stores here in New York City, many of them are chaotic and require hunting through a ton of fabrics to find what you want.  That is not my thing at all.  I use muted red, gray and green backgrounds and I'm not interested in taking all day to find them.  I happened upon a store on Long Island, Carle Place Fabrics, where they have all their items displayed.  I was able to immediately point out to the sales woman what I wanted and have the fabrics cut into one yard pieces.  

Check out the local fabric shops in your town and don't forget about quilting shops.  They often have a good selection of fabrics at decent prices.

I hope this was helpful to any of you who are looking to start a still life prop collection.  The most important thing is to know what you want and always be on the lookout for it.  If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments.  I'm happy to expand further on anything mentioned here.  

* My usual caveat.  I paid for everything mentioned here.  I was not given any perks by the shops listed.  I just wanted to pass on all of my sources in case anyone here can use them.