Friday, January 27, 2012

Watercolor still life demonstration: Gardenia in a glass vase

For our first class in Still Life Painting in Watercolor, the assignment was to paint a glass vase or bottle, in order to study transparency and reflection.  My demonstration painting is below, shown step-by-step.  In this first class, I wanted to emphasize that, before painting, you need to ask yourself, "Why am I painting this subject and what do I want to convey?"  In this case, the main point is to show the beauty of the flower and internal reflections and incredible smoothness of the thick glass vase, so I wanted to emphasize those qualities.

Here is the original photograph, taken of a gardenia picked from our plant in June and place in the vase on a white denim sofa in the sunlight:

Below is Step 1.  The painting was done on a quarter sheet of Arches 140 lb cold-press stretched on a Homasote board.   The image was traced onto the paper using graphite transfer paper.  Then the entire flower and vase were masked out with Daler-Rowney masking fluid.  I have discovered that dipping the brush into a 50/50 mixture of household ammonia and water before dipping into the masking fluid prevents the masking fluid from sticking in the brush.  This is because apparently the solvent for masking fluid is ammonia.  (My science background came in handy here...).  What I love about Daler-Rowner masking fluid is that it can be peeled off in a big sheet.  So there are two very useful tips for you!
Also in the above photo you can see the background that I laid in wet-in-wet.  Using a mixture of Winsor & Newton ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, plus a smidgeon of W&N Permanent Violet, I flooded in the large shadow on the right on already wet paper.  That way I got a soft edge on the left side of the big shadow.  Then to do the small shadow, I dried the paper and just painted it in with the same combination on dry paper so that it would have a hard edge.

Here is Step 2:  Now I started examining my reference photo very carefully.  I decided to apply masking again to the brightest highlights in the vase.  Then, observing that the next lightest color was a faint gray-blue like the background shadow, I used the same combination to do a light wash over the entire vase.  Also, in order to start getting the streaks and bits of light and shadow on the white sofa, I used a stencil brush to lift out a little paint.  For the streaks in the cast shadow of the vase, I used drafting tape on either side to get a hard edge. 
Also I painted the lightest color in the stem.  Basically I am working from light to dark in this picture.  And I painted the lightest color on the leaves, using W&N Perylene Green.  The greenish color you see around the left edges of the paper is an artefact of the photography...

Here is Step 3:  Again, observing the photo very carefully, I started painting the middle values that I saw in the vase.  I simplified them a little, and painted them precisely but not in all their glorious detail!  Here are all the colors I used in this painting:  ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, permanent violet, perylene green, thalo blue, leaf green by Holbein, and aureolin yellow.

Here is Step 4:  Now I have added some of the darkest values in the vase.  Strong value contrasts are very important in this picture, and will give the look of the smoothness and transparency of the glass.  The thickness of this glass vase is really concentrating the light and causing beautiful patterns.  Where do these dark colors come from if the vase is sitting on a white sofa?  They may be somewhere in the surrounding room, and are being refracted to our eye as the vase acts like a lens...

Here is step 5, the final photo:  Since I was doing this as a demo during several classes, I sometimes forgot to take photos along the way.  Sorry about that!  The previous photos were taken with a different camera under halogen lights and not the best conditions.  This last photo was taken with my professional photo equipment and correct lighting.  Huge difference.  The colors are more correct in this last picture than the others.
As for the painting process, I worked on the flower, using the same grey color mixture, along with some yellow in the crevices between the petals. I added more darks to the vase and refined it all over.  I added the darks to the stem, and painted the very dark part of the leaves.  You can see in the original photo of the gardenia that the leaves are much darker than the background.  This is important because it makes the sofa look white, even in that dark shadow.  I lifted out some thin veins on the leaves by using the "wet and rub" technique:  stroke on a tiny bit of water for the veins, blot with a terrycloth towel, then rub hard with the towel to wipe off the softened paint, and voila:  you have some faint veins!
Also, I decided to add soft rounded shadows in the sunlit area of the sofa by wetting that half of the sheet and stroking in lightly some of the gray mixture plus a tiny bit of yellow.  
"Gardenia in Sunlight"   watercolor 9x13"   Susan Avis Murphy, AWS

Now for a little self-critique:  I think the flower could have been handled a little more delicately, perhaps using non-granulating colors so that it would be smoother; you can't tell what the vase is sitting on--maybe I should put in the crease of the sofa; the background shadow divides the composition in two and could be a better shape...

My students are going to be painting this, or a similar image of their own devising, during the next two weeks.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will respond as soon as possible.  Hope you enjoyed our first lesson!

Susan Murphy,  ARThouse,  Friday January 27, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

Still Life class with Susan Murphy starts next week

Our class Still Life with a Difference starts next week.  You may have been wondering, What is the definition of Still Life?  Well, according to Webster it is "a representation chiefly of inanimate objects".  So to me that would include many possibilities, including the inclusion of flowers in a vase, which are alive but the definition says chiefly of inanimate objects...  Which, by the way, makes it hard to understand why they are called Still Life!!!

Still Life as a genre has had a long history in art.  The still life paintings done prior to the 20th century were mostly very "academic" looking, to my mind.  They are a fascinating view of objects that people felt were important or interesting, and provided insight into those times.  Also, they were usually painted meticulously in oil, and often looked a little stilted or mannered, again in my opinion.  I prefer the fresh, lively still lifes of contemporary art, with often off-beat compositions, bright color, and a semi-abstract feel.  In this course, we are going to emphasize that more modern type of still life painting.

However we still need to learn about rendering the characteristics of objects: their solidity or transparency, their dullness or shininess, their form and texture, and the way light and shadow fall across them.  Trying to capture these characteristics in watercolor can be challenging but very, very rewarding.  The fun of still life is making something look very real, either with a few carefully chosen strokes and an economy of means, or with the painstaking application of many layers.  Whatever is your preferred method of working, we will accomodate you.  In creating art, there are never any absolutely correct ways of showing things, which makes it rather difficult to teach.  Ultimately the question is whether the results work.  What makes a painting "work" will be a constant subject of discussion in this course.

We have 36 people signed up for this course.  By now most of you have signed up to receive the blog by email, which means you get an email copy of each posting, including photos, but not including comments.  To leave a comment you have to go to the blog itself.  At this time, your comment will appear immediately.  If you do not have a Google account and "avatar" (picture that represents you), then you will not show up among the "blog followers", but if you are signed up by email, it doesn't matter.  I will be communicating with you mainly through the blog, so that your fellow students can see your comments and everybody can benefit from any questions and answers.

We have nametags for everyone in the five classes, and will go around and introduce ourselves briefly when we start the first class.  In the first class, we will discuss setting up still lifes and taking photos.  I will have several still life photography stations set up around the room for you to play with, so please bring your camera to the first class!!    That, along with a notebook, is all you need to bring.  Also, I will start a demonstration painting of one of the photos shown below.

If you have any questions, please post them on the blog!

Sue, ARThouse, January 20, 2011

Friday, January 6, 2012

Approaches to still life taken by various well-known artists

Now I would like to show you some different approaches to still life that have been taken by various well-know artists, mainly in watercolor.  Here are numerous examples, and again, please express your opinion about which ones appeal to you most.  Please respond by commenting on the blog itself.  Your comment will appear immediately.  I will be in Florida from Jan 8-15, so I may not get a chance to comment on your comments until I get back.

These are certainly more complicated that what we will probably tackle in class, but they are all examples of still life paintings that I have seen in recent years and admired.  Some are from AWS and BWS shows.  A few are oils, and are very enticing.  Many are tightly rendered and very precise.  That does not mean we are always going to paint that way, although we will at least once.  If you have any images on file that inspire you personally, please email them to me and I will put them in the next post.  Also let me know if there are any still life subjects you are just dying to paint, and we will see what we can do!   

--Susan Murphy, ARThouse, January 6, 2012

Keiko Yasuoka  "Just Polished"
Jean Uhl Spicer

Shirley Travena  "Arctic Poppies"

Shirley Travena  "Large Plate of Fruit"

Shirley Travena  "Still Life with Yellow Cloth"

Christine Lafuente  "Strawberries and Bottles"

Christine Lafuente  "Lemon with Eggshells and Teacups"

Christine Lafuente  "Sink and Bottles'

Linda Baker  "Woven Patterns"

Denny Bond  "Rotary"

Keiko Yasuoka  "Beautiful Morning"

Chris Krupinski  "Pears and Distortion"

Kim Poole  "Spice of Life"

Dave Maxwell "Her Royal Majesty"

Judy Nunno  "Identity Crisis"

Irena Roman  "Shadow"

Leigh Murphy  "Morning Light"

Barbara Fox  "Blessings"

Raymond Ewing  "Bings in a Silver Bowl"

Nancy Stark  "A Supporting Role"

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Favorite reference photos for Still Life

Hi Folks,
Many of my students have "voted" for their favorite reference photo to start off our Still Life with a Difference class in late January.  The photos were posted in the December 31 blog article.  Here are the results so far.  You can still post comments to the previous article, though, if you haven't voted yet.  When you have to choose how to sign your name you can "comment as" Name/URL.  You only need to put your name, not URL (website address) if you do not have one.  This is turning out to be an excellent way to find out what you would like to do in class!

14--rooting tulip bulbs
3--white Mellita pitcher with Ikea cups
2--cappuchino with heart
7--watercolor brushes
3--Twinings tea
8--gardenia in glass vase
5--apples in bowl
3--glass ball
4--roses and pink teapot
1--quartet of veggie still lifes
2--pencils in a mug
1--egg shells
1--Chinese food
0--coneflowers on a table with salt and pepper
4--wineglasses and candles
0--black-eyed Susans in a round vase
0--coneflowers on a table with orange juice