Sunday, November 29, 2009

Moment by moment progress of a painting

When I was at an opening last week, someone asked me how long it took to paint the painting I had on display. I was a little bit stymied to answer her.  First of all, I couldn't really remember how long it had taken.  Secondly, I found myself curious about why she wanted to know.  I told her I wasn't sure, but she could look at my blog and see it happening if she was really interested.  I thought it took about 2 weeks.  She nodded and said, "Oh, that's good."  I wish like heck I had asked her what she meant!  I've been puzzling over it ever since!  Is it good that it ONLY took two weeks?  Or good that it took a full two weeks?  Or did 2 weeks make it seem like it was then worth the purchase price?  What was there about the time it took to approve of?

I was particularly curious about this exchange because I had recently read an article by someone who took offense at being asked that particular question.  He said he would answer it by reeling off the years he'd gone to school to be an artist then the years he has worked as an artist then the particular time it took to set up and paint that painting, then the time it took to market it.  I found that answer a bit defensive (albeit truthful), so I tried not to respond like that.  I just wish I'd had the presence of mind to find out why she wanted to know!

In case you're wondering the answer to that very hot question, now that I've told you all about it...  I will give you a blow-by-blow sequence of the piece I'm working on currently.  I photographed this model several months ago and have already done one painting of her - Woman in a Chair. It's hanging at Crossroads Art Center where it won 2nd prize.  This picture has a similar feel, but I decided to do it anyway because I love the model's expression and the beauty of the light on it.

1.  9:31 AM - I decided to do something I haven't done before in starting this piece.  The whole picture has a purple/green undertone to it.  I want it to be more complex than just putting purple, green, and brown paint, so I decided to do an underpainting in glowing yellow and quinacridone red.  This is right after I painted those colors on.

2. 9:43 AM - I used a paper towel to smooth the brush strokes and make them a bit more exacting.

3. 11:07AM  - I had to mix up the paint for the canvas before I could begin with the final colors.  That process usually takes about an hour.  Then I painted in the shadow and covered the background with paint.  The areas between the bars on the back of the chair are too light, and I don't like the darker color of the shadow.  I'll work later to unify that color better and to darken the spots between the chair back.

4. 11:19 AM - I darkened the areas between the bars of the chair back.  In that brief time, the light moved such that it fell across the canvas.  It was very beautiful, but distracting as heck!  Most of the year, the light doesn't come in from the south because of the overhang, but the architect designed the building so that it could come in during the winter so I could have more light and more warmth.  I'm not usually in the studio at this time, so I'd never experienced it like this before.  I love learning more and more about this beautiful building!

I decided to take a break for lunch to let the light move away.

5.  1:22 PM - After lunch I decided to tackle the dark parts, so I painted the chair and the part of her body which is in extreme shadow.  In the photo I'm primarily using, I can't really see any distinction between the dark parts, so I printed out a copy that is much lighter so I can make some distinctions so the forms look better.  I also worked to unify the shadow more.

6. 2:38 PM - Foot, leg, more breast.  I swear, feet and hands are SO hard!  I am aware that portrait artists charge more for portraits when hands are involved - probably for feet too.  They are so individual, so unique, so complex.  You can't imagine how many lines and curves and patches of different colors are on this one foot!  Plus she's wearing toenail polish so I had to match that color too!  The close up is not the most finished shot of it, but it'll give you more of a feel for the complexity of it.

7. 4:32 PM - After working on the feet for a while and starting on the hands, I took a break for a few minutes then realized how gorgeous it was outside, so I helped Chris blow leaves with his brand new leaf blower!  Good tools are so much fun!  After an hour of that, I was ready to paint again.  I had definitely needed a break though - my back was hurting and my mind was wandering.  I was feeling tired AND weary.  Not a good combination.  Here's what the hands were looking like at this stage.  Her right hand was starting to look half way decent, but I was definitely struggling with the left.  Ugh!  That's when a break is a GREAT idea!

8. 5:26 PM - I worked on the hands a lot more and got the left one looking somewhat better.  It'll be easier to continue it tomorrow when this layer is mostly dry.  Then I'll be able to get it to do what I want it to do better.

It's been interesting working on this canvas with the bold yellow paint all over it.  I don't particularly like the purple opaque next to it.  I know I'll like it when the whole canvas is covered, and I think I'll like the glow the yellow will cause, but it is distracting to paint with the yellow next to the colors.  I'm curious to see if I'll chose to do this again next time.

So that's the process so far.  She is slowly but surely appearing out of the canvas, semi-complete, though once the whole canvas is covered, I'll do lots of revisions to make things look better and more cohesive.  I'd like to be able to cover the whole canvas at once, but this image is simply too large to work that way.  I do that when it's smaller, but this one is 40"x60".

Stay tuned for further progress!  Hopefully I'll have a good stretch of time to paint tomorrow!  Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving!

1 comment:

  1. This is a fabulous idea, posting your time and progress in diary form. I too am asked that same question ( how long did it take?) and I vacillate between "I don't have any idea" and "all my life."
    Both are usually correct.
    I don't know why people are fascinated with the time, rather than the talent or study or effort put into painting. I laughed when the person said "oh, good." Huh? Indeed, what DOES that mean? ah, well, I think sometimes non-artists simply want to engage in conversation and don't know quite where to begin. I wonder if "how long did it take?" is the equivalent of "how are you?" to get a conversation begun.
    At any rate, I admire your response and thank you for sharing this experience. You are so open with your daily time in the studio. If you haven't been told, YOU are beautiful.