Being a fledgling artist (!) I have been sharing my painting experiences with friends and colleagues alike over the last year or so. Great was my pleasure when a colleague asked me to paint two works to hang in the corporate university of one of the biggest breweries in South Africa – SAB. I was overjoyed that my work will be displayed in a public place for the first time. Woohoo!
I immediately set out looking for suitable photographs as an inspiration. I found a couple of great photographs taken for SABMiller (the holding company) by a photographer called (OneRedEye) and obtained permission to use them. This is the original photo for the first of two paintings.
I titled the first picture ‘Supporting South Africa’s finest’ – because it shows both our national soccer team’s colour as well as the best-knows beer brand, Castle Lager. The Soccer World Cup was hosted by South Africa in 2010 and it was a BIG DEAL! The country really rallied around our soccer team and everyone was in the grip of national patriotism – something that is fairly rare in a country where poverty and crime are two biggest issues. For a couple of weeks the whole country pulled together towards a common goal, and by all accounts hosted the World Cup in an exemplary way.
I started the painting on a 24 x 30 inch canvas. The focus points were great – I liked the contrast of the yellow t-shirts to the blue background of the shipping crate, and the man on the right added life to what could otherwise been a very ‘dead’ picture.
I started with the shirts and used Zelcol’s Chrome Oxide green, with shadows done by mixing the green with Payne’s Grey. The light yellow shirts were done in yellow and white. To obtain the shadows I added a little bit of Van Dyke Brown and Yellow Ochre. The dark yellow shirts were done in Yellow Ochre, with the shadows in Van Dyke Brown. The towel on the right was done in Payne’s Grey.
After that I put in the background of the blue shipping crate. I used Zelcol’s Cerulean Blue Hue straight from the tube and put in the shadows. Then I filled in the rest with Cerulean blue and white. To create the corrugated iron feel of the crate, I did the shadows on the right with a dark cerulean blue and used a lighter shade of blue contrasting with a white to create the 3-dimensional feel. The imperfections of the crate like the holes and damage, were important to create an illusion of realism. The shadows of the shirts and the man was done in Payne’s grey, which made a beautiful dark blue straight out of the tube. I love Payne’s grey – it is so versatile!
When the background was dry, I made up a very light version of the blue with lots of white and dry brushed over it to make it look like scuffed and flaking paint. I used pure white on only a couple of the really light areas. At the bottom of the crate I crated a white edge framed with a darker edge to make it look three dimensional.
The man was done in Van Dyke Brown for the darker bits of skin, Burnt Sienna and flesh. The red of the sienna give the skin a beautiful warm tone, without it the man would look grey. The highlights of the skin were done over 3 consecutive layers of paint – I had to wait a couple of days in between for the paint to be touch dry. His t-shirt was done with a light mix of white and Van Dyke Brown and this, together with a little bit of burnt sienna, was used for the trousers as well.
The red crate was done with Louvre’s Primary Red straight out of the tube. It took three thick layers to really cover the canvas because the paint is a bit thinner than the others in the same range. The white writing had to be done very carefully with a 000 brush, and I used two layers of white. The shadows on the crate were done with red mixed with a little bit of black and the writing was done in grey. His shoes were done in black (2 layers), and when it was dry I dry-brushed white over it to create the reflection of light.
The face took a lot of time. I had to ensure that there was more detail on the painting than what showed up on the photo – it had to look real. I put in more frown lines on his forehead and more detail on his eyes. The white of the eyes were done in grey so as not to stand out too much.
The ground was done in a combination of Van Dyke Brown and white, with a little bit of black thrown in to create mounds and ‘valleys’. I created stones (which weren’t on the photo) to make it look more real using Yellow Ochre, Van Dyke Brown and then with black for the shadows.
The grass was difficult. I’m used to painting in a very precise way and the grass had to be very rough. I used Yellow Ochre, green, Van Dyke Brown and white and the grass took about 30 minutes to get right. I did a bit less grass than was evident in the photo. The paint was very thin (with turps) and I went over it with a small line brush (0 and 00) a couple of times. The key was to ensure that the background of the crate doesn’t show through the grass.
The washing line was done in white, but I added a grey shadow at the bottom of the line. This made it look deliciously 3-dimensional. The pegs were also very important and the detail on them had to be exact. Because the sun is so bright on the photo, it made the shadows stand out quite a lot. The shadows around the t-shirts, the man’s clothes and the washing line had to be done very darkly to get that effect.
What did I learn?:
- Look at every detail in the photo and try to get it right. This will ensure that the painting looks real.
- Take your time. It took about 2 months to finish this painting – I spent between 3 and 5 hours a week on it.
- Keep building up the layers and blend, blend, blend!
- Keep to the same colours e.g. the same blue and the same yellow. This creates harmony in the painting.
- Don’t just copy the photo blindly – add details that would make it look real.