I serve as the Artist in Residence for the monthly Red Bank New Jersey Public Library Adult Artist Workshop. As part of this function, I bring still life materials and reference photos for the folks to choose and work from. Several months ago the workshop was approaching and I wanted to bring some new photographic reference material. The participants like animals, so late one afternoon I hustled off to a farm which is part of the local park system. When I arrived, I discovered that it was feeding time, which at first seemed to be limiting my photo ops. The problem with this was that instead of wandering around posing for pictures in the proper lighting, all of the animals had their heads down and rumps up at the food bins!
I finally was able to find a group of sheep, and although the lighting did not seem to be right, i finally got one of them to look at me for an instant. This happy accident introduced me to the beauty of back lighting, and resulted in the painting, "Hello", pictured below, As I painted this picture, I was chuckling with delight as this friendly fellow came to life on my panel. I will discuss the process of this painting in detail in another post.
Back in my studio, having been tuned into the delight of back lighting with the sheep painting, I began to look through my photographs for another painting. Below is the initial reference image that caught my eye for the back light mule. I also noticed the beautiful back lighting of the warm fall foliage, which nicely complemented the cool blue light reflected from the evening sky.
I will discuss the three phases of developing the Dinner Time painting, namely, Composition and Initial Drawing, Base Painting, and Finishing Painting. Following this, I will describe the unique properties of Golden OPEN Acrylic paints and a number of the painting techniques used in executing this work.
While the initial reference photo, depicted above showed promise, clearly this image needed some processing. The first thing i did was to straighten the image and do an initial cropping, which is shown below. At this point I decided that I would do a 16 by 20 inch painting of the scene, so I cropped the image with a 16 x 20 aspect ratio. However, when I considered this version of the image it was still not quite what I wanted. It was not a pleasing composition, wrong head position, wrong tail position, etc., as depicted in the photo below.
Using the above references, my final gridded drawing is depicted below. I only drew in the most critical items to insure accurate size and spatial relationships of the key elements of the painting. You will notice that added two chickens in the shadow of the shed to add completion to the composition and to the story line, the chickens are also having dinner! I used other reference photos that I had of chickens and appropriately scaled my rendering.
BASE PAINTING PHASE
My first step in painting was to block in the major simple color shapes to begin to work out a sense of color harmony.
The work on the wall of the shed was also done in conjunction with establishing the hue and values of the chickens in the shadows. They are supporting actors, so I did not not want them to compete with the mule but to blend into the background, with the head of the right hand chicken being the brightest point. I will say more about the methods use to paint the wall in the Techniques section below.
The blue wall also played a key role in establishing the sense of light in the painting. These are two types of lighting in this scene. There is warm afternoon light coming from the left and filtering through the colorful foliage. There is also a cool blue light reflecting from the sky overhead. I used the same hue as the shed wall to characterize this light. You can see it reflected in the surface of the mule, the shed roof, the fence, the foreground wall and the shadows on the ground. More on this in the Techniques section.
I also spent a great deal of effort on the image of the mule to establish the warm and cool backlit fringes of the face, ears, back and tail, the to develop the sense of volume in the body, and to capture the reflected blue light from the sky.
The finishing phase of this painting was perhaps the most challenging and interesting. The finishing process turned out to have two steps. The first step progressing beyond the Base Painting is depicted below.
Another point I want to make about the finishing phase is that your reference material is of less use. What is important is to decide what you are trying to covey by the work and to make any changes required to integrate all aspects of the painting to achieve a self consistent realization of you goal.
My major objective for this work is to convey a uniform sense of light integrating this peaceful motif.
Two initial problems were identified. First, my wife pointed out that the foreground wall did not read quite right. Was it made of logs or what?? Once she pointed this out i realized that I had been so preoccupied with the mule, trees and shed that i had not paid much attention to the wall.
Second, I started to photograph the painting to put it up on my website. As I started to "photoshop" the image I realized that the lighting in the painting was not consistent. Particularly, the lighting on the foreground wall and the shadow on the blue wall of the shed. If I adjusted the reflection on the wall to the desired value, the shed shadow would be too dark. Similar problems were uncovered when adjusting the values of the mule, wall and ground cover. For example, when I adjusted the shadows to the desired level the subtle shifts in value and color that defined the form of the body of the mule would saturate and the mule would look like a cut out! These findings lead me to redo the various value relationships in the painting.
This use of photography to understand the consistency of my painting was a fascinating revelation to me. In this case, this was particularly important to me in that i wanted the painting and the image to accurately reflect each other, since I intended to submit the digital image to an art contest through the internet.
This new process lead to weeks of changes to the painting, new photographs, and more modifications to the painting! All of this was aimed at bringing the lighting on the wall, mule, fence, ground and shed into a consistent relationship.
Achieving the consistency of the lighting involved adjusting the hue, value and intensity of each of the components of the painting.
Having completed this, I put the painting back on my mantle for further review and got other fresh eyes to take a look at it. This lead to the Final Painting Step 2. The final final painting depicted below.
FINAL PAINTING STEP2
The roof of the shed was modified to so that it s slop receded and its value and intensity placed it clearly in the background. Note the lost edge at the peak at the upper left.
A warm halftone was placed at the edge of the ground shadow that matched the warm glow on the edges of the mule's tail and ears.
The foreground shadows were strengthened, and a missing shadow from the right front leg was inserted.
Finally, I feel that I achieved what I was striving for. This has been a fascinating project. As a final assurance, when I processed the photograph of the the final painting, all of the lighting was consistent and needed no adjustment. The photo read as intended.
Properties of Golden OPEN Paints
I used my Golden OPEN Augmented Color Pallet, which I describe in detail in the My Painting Methodology section of my website. The following describes of few of the techniques that proved very useful in developing this specific painting.
Controlled Drying Time
I worked on this painting over a two month period. I can not over emphasize the beauty of working with Golden OPEN Acrylic paints with their slow controlled drying time. The same pools of mixed colors stayed workable on my pallet throughout the several month period. This is great for being able to maintain color harmony throughout the painting period, in that the same paint mixtures can be reused, modified or augmented for each stage in the extended painting period.
The following photos depict the three physical pallets that I used, with the paints and mixtures remaining workable and useable through out my extended painting interval.
Support for Color Pool Painting Techniques
I also included an image to reference the Golden OPEN colors that make up my Augmented Modern Pallet set. These are pure high intensity colors which mix without becoming muddy and can realize a very wide range of both intense and muted colors. This provides an amazing capability of realizing a very wide range of hue and chroma. It also helps maintain color harmony in that all of the mixed colors are made up from the same limited set of paint colors.
The upper right hand pallet contains two primary color pools. One composed of an orange composed of the warm yellow and warm red, mixed with various blues to give various muted blues, purples, warmer browns and burnt sienna like colors. This pool contributed heavily to the shed, fence and wall.
The other pool consisted of a orange composed of the warm yellow and the cool red, mixed with the various blues to give a wide variety of cooler colors. This pool contributed heavily to the mule body and shed roof, along with spots in all of the other components.
Note that the muted color of blue which appears in the wall of the shed became the unifying color of the painting. It was used to represent the reflection of the evening sky in the body of the mule, the roof of the shed, the fence, and the foreground wall. You can also see specks of this color in the ground representing the shadows in the uneven surface strewn with strands of hay. The notes of a muted cool blue contrast nicely with the effects of the warm evening light filtering through the colorful fall foliage.
Key Painting Techniques
Wet in Wet
The slow drying times of these paints allow for wet in wet painting and blending. These techniques were used extensively. They are particularly evident in the blue wall of the shed and the body of the mule.
A key aspect of the drying properties of these paints is that when applied thickly, they dry very slowly. However, if applied thinly they firm up quite quickly, in that you can gently layer additional paints over the thin film without them mixing with the under layer. However, these thin layers can also be worked back into for a matter of hours and blended with the new paint if you use more vigorous brushing techniques.
These techniques were used extensively in the layering of the colors in the foliage. The over layers sometimes were applied opaquely and gently blended at the edges, or not. In other cases the over layers were somewhat transparent, and there would be subtle optical blending with the lower layers, similar to the velatura technique of the old masters.
These layering techniques were employed to obtain the subtle colors of the foliage. However, another layering technique was used to achieve the few brilliant highlights of the the light shining through the yellow leaves. These are the yellow highlights that you can see in the foliage of the final painting above.
First let me say that it is not possible to obtain the brilliant yellow high light that I wanted by adding white to the paint. Adding white to a color tends to give it a chalky characteristic, while fine in many application, who not convey the brilliance of light that i wanted to achieve.
The technique that i used is based on the fact that that the yellow paints are somewhat transparent. Therefore, as depicted in the following photo, I painted the spots of highlight with a heavy application of opaque white paint. When these spots are dry, I then gave these white spots a coat of the somewhat transparent yellow paint. As you can see in the image of the final painting shown below, the spots created using this technique successfully achieve the brilliance of the light shining through the transparent leaves in a few key places in the foliage.
Glazing is achieved through the application of a transparent layer of color over a dry layer of paint. Generally the generally the paint is mixed with a medium to increase transparency. In the Dinner Time painting, I used glazing extensively to glaze the color of the sky reflection over the roof of the shed, the fence, the mule, the ground, and the hay bin.
In areas such as the fence, it was used as an even application. Whereas in the ground cover it was used in small spots to simulate the shadows in the rough ground cover. These are small spots in the lighted area and larder areas in the shadowed foreground.
The blue hue mixture that I was using was somewhat transparent. However, I thinned it with the Golden OPEN Gloss medium to achieve a smooth and very transparent layer. I varied the amount of medium, depending on the transparency that I desired for the various portions on the painting.
Zinc White Paint
I mentioned previously that adding opaque white, such as titanium white, to a color tends to give the resulting mixture a somewhat chalky characteristic. Where this is not desirable, there is an alternative, and that is the Golden OPEN Zinc White paint.
Zinc white is a very transparent white. It can be added to a darker color and increase its value, make it lighter, while preserving the hue of the color without adding a chalky pastel characteristic.
This was very important in this painting where I was trying to convey the subtle lighting of late afternoon. I used zinc white extensively in the blue wall of the shed, the modeling of the body of the mule, and the fence.
Velatura is a technique of the old masters of applying semi transparent paint over a generally darker surface in a mottled fashion, sometimes using their hands i understand.
I finally used this technique to achieve what i wanted for the highlights of the reflected light from the sky on the foreground wall.
Looking at the wall in the final painting, the reelections had to be brighter on the upper part of the wall as you looked up toward the sky, and significantly less as you looked at the lower parts of the wall near the ground.
As I discussed previously when I described my use of photography to balance the levels of the lights and shadows, the level of the reflection on the foreground wall was key to achieving this balance. In addition, this reflection could not be too prominent so as to distract interest from the focal points of the painting.
I went through many iterations of the color and value of the wall. Finally i felt that I had a color and value that was harmonious with the rest of the lighting in the motif. However, I had no reflections!!! What to do??? This is where velatura came to the rescue.
I mixed two colors; muted version of the blue sky color, and a very muted almost grey version of the sky color. These mixtures were not very transparent, so I mixed in some of the OPEN Gloss medium to give a semi transparent mixture.
I applied the less muted version to the lower edges of the upper wall boards, and used a rough brush to gently mottle the mixture up toward the top of each of the wall panels. I used less of the grayer mixture on the lower boards since they were to be darker and reflect less of the sky.
As you can see by studying the final painting, this achieved a subtle and natural distribution of light over the wall.
Pallet Knife Painting
Pallet knife painting was used for the hay in the feed bin and to give highlights to the hay strewn ground cover.
Golden OPEN acrylic paints work very well with a pallet knife application. I discuss various techniques for using mediums to control the drying times for heavy applications in the Pallet Knife Painting section of the My Painting Methodology tab of this website. However, this painting utilized a very simple application.
the hay was achieved with simple small strokes of the side of a pallet knife. the paint was used at its regular consistency. It was a thick application, but i just let it dry by itself over a number of days.
The pallet knife was used in two ways in the ground cover. the edge of the knife was use to apply little thin strips of light paint to simulate random pieces of hay on the ground being hit by the evening light. if you look at the ground cover in the final painting, you will notice that it contains small dabs of many colors, many of which appear elsewhere in the painting, such as reflections of the colors of the foliage in the evening light, the blue of the sky in the shadows, the various light and dam colors of the hay, ground etc. Many of these small dabs were placed with the flat tip of the pallet knife, and contribute to the rougher texture of the ground.