The evening of the day I finished the drawing, I couldn't resist going in with a few washes and colors, working for about an hour more, and then went to bed. Boy, was I sorry the next morning, when I saw that the color choices that looked good in low artificial light were not quite the right tints in the light of day! So I spent some time correcting those, and then took the painting object by object, moving around to let one part dry while I worked on another. This is a big painting for me, with a lot of detail, kind of ambitious. About four hours in, I thought I was going to have to scrap the whole thing--it looked like a giant paint by numbers disaster. But…I have felt that way before and pulled it off, so I kept going, hoping my commitment wasn't misplaced.
I took a lunch break, and then painted for a few more hours, until I just couldn't sit in the chair any longer. I was mostly done with the objects, but still needed to introduce some darks, and to put in all the shadows underneath the objects. That had to wait for tomorrow--I made some dinner and binge-watched Dexter season 2 for the evening.
Next day, I did all that, and then it was time for the background. And...I froze. I usually start with the background, but this time I thought it was important to see everything finished before choosing what atmosphere to give it. But after all this work, what if I chose the wrong one and ruined the whole thing? My first idea was a plain smooth wash of some neutral color, but then I thought, it's Steampunk, it's Victorian, why not do something daring?
I consulted a few artist friends about my striped wallpaper idea, and everybody said go for it, but they also wisely said, Test it on another piece of paper and hold it up to the painting to see if it works! Smart friends. So I found a cool vine pattern, I painted a series of wide and narrow stripes in peach and burgundy, and then put the vine in, and…it looked terrible with the picture. Also, the tape bled along the edges, the vine was surprisingly hard to paint, and I was done with tedious and fiddly. So I went back to the wash idea. I then made washes in about eight colors. I hated them all. And at this point it was 2:00 in the morning, and I had to get up at 6:30 for work, so I delayed the decision again.
Tonight I went poking through my paintbox and found a tube of Daniel Smith Shadow Violet. It's a beautiful dark smoky purple, but transparent and granular, with a weird kind of turquoise after-image. I did a sample swatch and decided that was the one. So I did the wash.
My paper must have had uneven sizing on it (or oily handprints--it was the top sheet of a new pad of paper), because it soaked up the color on half of the background, got splotchy in the middle, and the other side was three shades lighter with the paint sitting on the surface! So I resolutely turned my back and walked away (almost impossible for a "messer" like me), waited for it to dry, and then went back in with another two layers on that part.
Before I did the wash, though, I did one final touch-up and had a little bit of fun. One of the book covers had gold lettering on a deep blue-green cover, and the title wasn't reading at all, once I painted around (or tried to paint around) the gold with the blue. So I got out some metallic gold Twinkling shiny paint and went in with that to make the letters sparkle a little, the way they do on some book covers that use foil on raised type. Then I thought, why not move the sparkle around the page? So I put tiny hints and touches of it on the gauge, the goggles, a few little strokes on the bubbler box and the candlestick. Very subtle, but there will be a sparkle when light hits it.
Then I thought, Oh, what the hell, and I gave the skull a gold front tooth. Hey, it's Steampunk, maybe he was a sky pirate.
Here is my finished painting--a combination of the real (the candlestick was my mother's, the books were from my shelf, although with different titles), with the stand-ins (gourd for skull, box and toilet paper tubes for the bubbler, vase for the beaker, my reading glasses for the goggles), and the two-dimensional models from the internet (photos of the goggles, the skull, the pressure valve and tubing). You can click on it to see it bigger.
The paint did a really cool thing, all on its own--that cloudy part coming up from the candle, like someone had just blown it out and there was smoke? That was completely accidental. What are the chances?
This painting is larger than I have worked for a long while (18x24), is drawn with pencil to make it more realistic, and is probably a lot more complex and involved than Daryl ever expected (I think he figured on a pen sketch with some watercolor detail, which is the kind of thing I have given others of our friends), but I don't regret it--this was a great challenge, albeit an exhausting, tear-out-your-hair one. Thanks, Daryl, for helping me to push myself. I hope you like your painting!
As it happens, Daryl is leaving his part-time gig at Burbank Public Library to become a full-time librarian at Los Angeles Public Library, and TODAY was his last day--so this also serves as a going-away gift!