Family Treasures

Family Treasures

Always on the look for interesting articles to paint, I raided my mother-in-law’s cupboard the other day and what interesting stuff she had!  She gave me an earthen jug (which weighed a ton!) as well as a silver beer mug with an interestingly shaped handle.  Back home, I compiled a still life incorporating “treasures” of my own – my silver candle holder and my red Chinese server.  Coupled with some green bottles, a golden pashmina as a backdrop and a white rose it made quite an interesting picture. 

The photo was taken with only the three candles and no artificial light to get a golden glow in the painting.  I used a terracotta pastel pencil to draw the design onto the canvas because it doesn’t stain the paint like graphite does.

I started the painting with the background and focused on capturing the folds in the cloth.  I used Burnt Sienna and Yellow Ochre for the dark bits, Yellow Ochre and Orange for the medium colour and Yellow Ochre, Yellow and white for the highlights.  I realise that I made the dark bits too dark by using Burnt Umber (bad idea!) and re-did it later with Burnt Sienna – it looked less harsh.  

On the second layer I focused on blending the colour better – usually on the first layer the canvas is very “thirsty” (most of the oil paint gets sucked in) and it’s not possible to blend enough.  For the dark shadows I use Burnt Sienna (Burnt Umber in hindsight was too dark) and the highlights were done in Yellow and White.  Notice the form of the draping on the right and the sharp corner.  It was imperative to get this shape correct because it adds such interest to the painting.  I also focused on ensuring that all the folds had a “logical flow” – that is, every fold has a beginning and an end – it cannot stop in mid-air! 

The next step was to block in the main areas of colour in the painting and to ensure that all the white canvas was covered.  I focused on getting the shapes correct and started putting in the details on the bottles and the glass.  The bottle on the left (big green one) was tricky to get right because the left and the right sides have to be symmetrical.  When painting man-made objects in whichever style (photo realism like this, or impressionistic) it is crucial to get the shapes correct otherwise it will look odd.  The left side of the glass was also too round and I had to fix that.  The bottle on the right (small green) was also too round on the right hand side and I had to bring that in.

I kept on changing the angle of the red table and it took a couple of tries to get it looking right.  This was imperative for the perspective because it impacted on the angle that the viewer will see the painting.  I added the reflection of the bottle on the left and the rose onto the second layer of the red table.

 The rose is one of the focal points in the painting and I took a good hour or so to put in the details of the petals.  The shading is very important to make the rose look real.  I used Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre and white just to block in the main areas of colour.

I also blocked in the candelabra just in grey (with a couple of darker accents around the shape.)  The candelabra is NOT grey and with the next layer I added the reflection of the cloth and the objects around it.  However, I wanted to get the shape correct, which makes it easier to put in the details.  I also had to ensure that the shapes of all three the candle holders were the same and to achieve this, I measured it.

I dry-brushed the glow of the candles in white with a little bit of Yellow Ochre, but realised that it will need a lot more yellow on the next layer.  I always take pictures of the painting rather than just relying on my own vision – it tends to show things that you might not otherwise see.  My husband is also a great source for feedback – he is brutally honest and usually shows out errors and inconsistencies that I cannot see.  It’s a good idea to ask someone you trust for feedback throughout the painting in order to improve it.

 The highlights on the bottles needed to be done next.  I used yellow and white to create the highlights.  The candle holder I painted exactly as I saw it – using a lot of black, yellow, burnt sienna and being generous with the white highlights.  The rose’s second coat used light green and yellow, the dark shadows were grey and the highlights white.  The shape of the wine glass was a bit wonky (the right hand side was fatter than the left) and painted over it with burnt umber.  The green bottle on the right got a second coat.

 The earthen jug looked a bit too smooth while in reality it is quite rough.  I used Burnt Umber and white and with small circular motions on the canvas “roughened it up” a bit.  On the beer mug I made a thin wash of Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Orange and used a very rough brush to create the marks on it.  The final highlights were done in white and voila!

 

Anyone can paint

I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I’ve often imagined hosting a fancy dinner and a guest pointing admiringly to a masterpiece on the wall asking who the artist is. I would then (modestly) confess that it’s me… :-) This became a reality this year.

Old woman with cigarette, graphite on paper

I’ve never been able to draw. This is what I was told in primary school, when the apple I drew in art class more resembled a red baseball than a fruit. The art teacher patiently explained that an apple is not round and that was the first time that I realised that the appearance of things wasn’t actually what I thought it was. It took me another 34 years to muster up the courage to try my hand at another apple. At the end of last year I was stuck at home for the holidays with 2 boys under the age of 5. It was great spending some time with my kids, but towards the end I thought I was going out of my mind. I just needed something new and creative to allow me to feel human again. So, I borrowed my sister’s book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Dr Bettie Edwards. I painstakingly did all the exercises in the book and was actually quite surprised at what I managed to achieve. Instead of thinking about how something should look and then trying to draw it (which is nigh impossible), I really looked at an object and drew what I saw. The outcome was rather amazing.  I drew the likeness of an old woman holding a cigarette in her mouth.

Protea in ink, charcoal and chalk

Encouraged by early success I then set out to find an art teacher. I found a studio close to home that offered classes on Tuesday evenings, covering a variety of mediums. On the first evening the art teacher, Isa, set us up with charcoal and chalk and told us to choose a picture from a magazine and draw that. The result overwhelmed me so much that I seriously thought of framing it!

I tried to learn what I could from both the teacher and the classmates and had a thoroughly good time. We learned how to draw without stylizing (that is drawing what you THINK it should look like instead of drawing what it ACTUALLY LOOKS like!) and although I still struggled every now and then, I found myself improving. A couple of months later I created an oil painting over a photo printed on canvas. This I did frame and it’s hanging in my corridor. It’s one of my favourites.

Photo printed on canvas, oil

But I felt frustrated. I wanted to work with oil paint and the classes were focused on exposing students to various mediums. I dropped out and bought a book called “Oil Painting for Dummies”. Sounds like it could teach me a couple of things, right? It did! It covered the basics around materials, mixing colours and creating a picture. Again I didn’t cut corners. I did all the exercises – still lives of vegetables, cans and bottles. I tried different techniques and brushes. I painted from life and from photo’s. Some paintings came out better than others, but I learned something with every effort.

Still life of vegetables, oil on canvas paper

Again, I found myself frustrated. After I worked through the book, I had even more questions. I set out to find another art teacher, one specialising in oil painting. The one I found (Carien du Preez from www.paintitblack.co.za) specialises in creating realistic paintings in oils and acrylics. I started weekly classes with her. First I chose a landscape because I’ve always wanted to do landscape. It wasn’t my favourite picture in the world, but again I learned about painting in layers and using the contrasts in the painting to your advantage. The result was given as a Christmas present to my mother. She professes to love it!

Kirstenbosch aloes, oil on canvas

All throughout this, I would check out painting tutorials on YouTube, read articles on About.com about painting and practise, practise, practise! After the landscape scene, I wanted to do a still life. I found a beautiful photo and Carien and I started working. I did cheat a bit – I traced the picture onto the canvas from a projector to keep the perspective and the proportions correct. For me it’s the outcome that matters and not so much the journey there. Is that wrong? The still life came out beautifully! My best work yet. I was overjoyed that I managed to create something so awesome!

Still life with jug, bottles and glasses, oil on canvas

 

It has been framed and hangs in my dining room, just waiting for that dinner guest to point out how beautiful it is. What have I learnt from the experience? Anyone can paint. If you can hold a pen with enough dexterity to sign your name, you can create a masterpiece. Sure, I won’t be the next Van Gogh or Picasso, but I don’t have to be. The satisfaction of creating something that is beautiful and can be admired is exhilarating. It does take time and effort, but if you are focused on the outcome and willing to put in the work, it will happen. My next goal is to actually “sell” a painting!

Keep on checking my blog for updated pictures of my art work.