29 May 2015

Commission! Part II

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!

24 May 2015

Commission! Part I

For the first time ever, I have been commissioned to do a piece of artwork. Not commissioned in the typical sense, i.e., I'm not getting paid, it's a favor for a friend. But my co-worker Daryl saw the paintings I had made and given to several of our mutual friends at the library, and asked me if I would paint something for him, too. Since I am looking to expand my skills and I enjoy a challenge, I said sure.

The difference here is, every time before this that I have given art to someone, it has been something I chose to paint and then gift to someone afterwards. Sometimes the paintings were for a specific person, but I always chose the subject matter and composition.

This time, however, I let Daryl request what he wanted--with some specific limits. Daryl is a big sci fi fan and wanted something thematic, but I told him: No superheroes, no Star Wars or Star Trek, and no copying of other people's artwork. I also told him that I'm much better at still life than I am at either portraits or landscapes. So within those parameters, we agreed that I would make him a Steampunk still life, and started looking at props.

The problem, however, with composing a still life from disparate elements that only exist in photograph form--elements that you don't own and therefore can't photograph for yourself--is that they aren't in the right scale to one another, they aren't in the same lighting on the same surface with the same cast shadows, and you can't move them around or look at them from different angles. So for instance, this mad scientist's "bubbler" Daryl liked is sitting on a table, lit by candlelight, with a neutral background:

while these goggles, being advertised for sale, are silhouetted on white, with no discernible surface or shadow...

...so combining various elements together, sitting on the same surface in relation to one another, is tricky. I puzzled over this for a while, and came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution: a tableau. Probably many people before me have used this method, but when I solved the problem for myself, I was pleased!

I went around my house looking for things that were approximately the same size and shape as the items I wanted to combine. I assembled them on a table whose surface I liked, in front of a wall, in the composition in which I wanted them to appear in the final painting, and I photographed them.

Some items were easy--I had a box the approximate size of the "bubbler," and I placed cardboard toilet paper tubes on top of it to simulate the height and proximity of the glass tubes. I laid my reading glasses on the table as a stand-in for the goggles. I used real books, but with the intention of changing the titles, style, and lettering of the spines. I added in a cool metal candlestick from my collection. For a lab beaker, I substituted a glass pitcher--they aren't identical, but I can extrapolate size and positioning.

I probably crossed a line, however, with my search for a stand-in for the human skull. I went to Trader Joe's and poked around in the selection of gourds for sale. I finally found one that had not only the approximate size and heft, but also somewhat mimicked the shape of a human head. But I wasn't absolutely sure this was "the one," so I stopped a "crew member" in the aisle and asked him to stand still while I held the gourd up next to his head, so I could see if it was the right size to correspond to a skull. If there is a secret "do not help" list at the Encino TJ's, I am now on it!

The bottom line is that there is no substitute for working from life. I now had the sizes and shapes of all the items, laid out in the correct proximity, on a surface I liked, with the shared lights and shadows they would present if they were grouped together. I make rough outlines of the shapes, and then refer to the internet resources to refine my drawings for the specifics of the individual objects.

Here is the refined drawing I made today:

The original top on the "bubbler" was way too tall/out of proportion for the rest of the picture, which is decidedly horizontal, so I chopped off the top and moved the pressure dial down--I hope it works for Daryl.

I'm thinking of giving this painting further depth and complexity by also making up some striped wallpaper for the background, just for some added vertical interest. It would also give it more of a Victorian feel. I could mask for stripes, and then maybe paint a vine pattern into the broad ones. Too busy? Not sure. Maybe I will wait until everything else is painted and see.

I'm hoping to paint this tomorrow, but it may take a few evenings this week as well. More to come!