Friday, November 11, 2016

Limiting values

Woman in White
14 x 11
I was thinking of Manet's portrait of Victorine Meurent when I painted "Woman in White".

Manet was masterful at simplifying values; eliminating half tones, and grouping everything into either shadow or light.  It made his work powerfully modern and it expressed strong light perfectly.  There are colour changes within each of the major values, but, if you squint, they maintain a simple,  graphic separation between them, reminiscent of the flat, Warhol portraits of 100 years later.

I painted "Woman in White" with a 4 colour palette of blue-black, white, yellow ochre and terra rosa. It's a modified Zorn palette which replaces a high chroma red with an earth red.  The resulting colour range is deliberately muted to stop me from splashing out into colourist territory.  I wanted this to be a purely tonal piece, almost monochromatic but without the sense of an academic exercise that monochrome sometimes projects.

Perhaps my favourite part to work on was the lost edge between hand and chin.  Squinting showed me that they were close in value so I put them together and used the gap between cheek and palm to make sense of the area.

I enjoyed this experiment in limited value and colour.  It makes highly dramatic paintings that have a lot of presence.  I'll carry on noodling with it for a while until colour calls me back and I load up a full palette again.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Meyer lemon still life

Meyer Lemons (resting stage)
30 x 30
Still life has called to me again lately, as has a larger canvas.  Small canvases have the attraction of a speedy output and they allow me to experiment without feeling as though I've lost a lot of time and paint if they don't work out, but they aren't as interesting or challenging as a big surface.  The lessons I learn (and relearn) from these are rich.

This painting has undergone a lot of changes as I've tried to capture the backlit, autumn leaf influenced lighting.  The set up is against a north facing window, but the foliage in front of that window has heavily influenced the temperature of the light making it more warm than expected and creating quite cool shadows.  A lot of cloud cover has acted as a diffuser and created soft edges.

The inspiration for the piece was the intense orange of the meyer lemons.  For some reason, while I don't enjoy painting actual oranges, orange-coloured lemons are great subjects for me.  Probably it has to do with texture; the lemons have a smooth, gleaming surface that catches light beautifully.

At the moment, I'm calling this piece done-ish.  (so decisive!)
It has been on and off the easel often and my lemons have browned and shrivelled, but yesterday, the last piece fell into place.  That background at the top was a muted blue and quite dead and heavy, having been many other colours and values from dark to light over the past couple of weeks. Yesterday, I realized that changing the colour to the greenish shadow colour in the lemons was a better call, and it immediately put some much needed air into the piece, as well as increasing the colour harmony.

But I won't call it done for sure until I've lived with it for a good while, and it won't leave the studio till I'm certain.  The revisiting is the fun part and the most challenging.

Happy painting!