Archive for July, 2013

Catnap in Positano, part 4 – Caught Napping

Monday, July 15th, 2013

In this final part of a 4-part series, I’ll have to seriously evaluate several aspects of my painting.

An artist colleague challenged me to state my original painting concept for “Catnap in Positano.” By not writing down and clearly stating what had appeared obvious to me at the time, I realized I had missed the boat! My intention had been to illustrate the cat’s cool respite in the heat of the brilliant Mediterranean sun. However, the lighting did not appear harsh and hot but soft and diffuse! The shadows should have told the story, but I had not controlled them adequately, so they weren’t telling the story I’d had in mind, as you can see in the illustration shown in my previous post, “Catnap in Positano.”

Sharpening up the soft-edged shadows, increasing contrasts, and adding more detail and missing shadows went a long way in correcting this problem.

130314  Catnap in Positano

This same friend also questioned me about the repeating diagonal lines leading toward the upper right. I wasn’t too concerned about it, feeling that the oblique lines were counterbalanced by the line of the front lip of the planter and its continuation along the shadow’s edge on the wall, the roughly horizontal lines of the cat, and the counterbalancing implied oblique sweep of the mass of geranium heads.

What didn’t disturb him but caused me increasing discontent was the high-value background. After considerable internal discussion I finally concluded that the need to improve the contrast was worth the risk of changing the texture and inadvertently destroying the painting in the process. So, working quickly to avoid unnecessarily disturbing the underlying layer, I rewet the entire background and laid in a strong top glaze of indigo. The deeper value of the background allowed the higher value foliage to convey the sense of sunlight as it hadn’t when the background value was closer to that of the foliage. The result was well worth the risk I had taken. “Catnap in Positano” (#130314) is a better painting for the revisions applied as a result of my wrap-up evaluation.

From this I learned two lessons: 1) I should always write down the initial painting concept to refer to as the painting progresses; and 2) Although I should consider alternative approaches to a problem I should never lose sight of the ultimate goal.

Will there be more changes? Perhaps. A painting is always subject to reevaluation and revision as long as it remains in my studio. What do you think?
I received a wake-up call when an artist colleague challenged me to state my original painting concept for “Catnap in Positano.” By not writing down and clearly stating what had appeared obvious to me at the time, I realized I had missed the boat! My intention had been to illustrate the cat’s cool respite in the heat of the brilliant Mediterranean sun. However, the lighting did not appear harsh and hot but soft and diffuse! The shadows should have told the story, but I had not controlled them adequately, so they weren’t telling the story I’d had in mind, as you can see in the illustration shown in my previous post, “Catnap in Positano.”

Sharpening up the soft-edged shadows, increasing contrasts, and adding more detail and missing shadows went a long way in correcting this problem.

Catnap in Positano, part 3 – Developing the Painting

Monday, July 1st, 2013

In the past two blogs, I tried to illustrate the preliminary work that went into planning and preparing for a new painting, and then showed how I approached the initial stages of the painting. In this third of a 4-part series, I’ll continue showing how the composition developed, explaining some of my reasoning as the work proceeded.

I wanted to use minimal detail in the foliage, just enough to suggest color and texture, so I used a multi-color wash of sap green, Winsor green (both blue and yellow shades), indigo, and new gamboge, later adding touches of burnt sienna and brown madder for richness. A few leaf edges were picked out by painting the negative shadows around them.

Using a similar approach for the blossoms, but consciously reserving white gaps to provide sparkle, I layered smaller areas of brown madder, permanent alizarin crimson, sap green, and indigo, finally retouching with new gamboge to suggest sunglow.

A dark background would allow the foliage to appear to best advantage, calling attention to the sunlight shine through the leaves, and would balance the shadow area in the lower right corner. So I began to lay in a dark wash of indigo. As I worked in the smaller areas around the leaves and blossoms, however, I noticed that it was beginning to develop cauliflower-like “blooms,” so rather than fighting with it, I chose to make the most of the situation and sprinkled water on the entire indigo area to encourage the texture to develop. The inevitable side effect, however, was that the additional water raised the value of the hue until it lost the contrast I’d initially been striving for. I decided that that might not be such a bad occurrence in this case, though, as minimizing the contrast rather than heightening it retained the viewer’s focus on the cat in the foreground. I decided to leave the background pale and reevaluate it later.

Catnap in Positano

Although I had incorporated variations of red (particularly through use of the very pinkish brown madder) throughout the composition, the vibrant reds of the flowers weren’t evident in the lower half, so I painted in the red petal next to the cat. Based on the principle of repetition with variation, I continued the color thread by scattering a few more petals by the farther end of the planter. It was at this point I also dropped touches of red into the cat’s dark fur.

I usually don’t consciously think too much about the mechanics of composition. Instead, I plan the general composition ahead of time and then, to please my own eye, balance and adjust it as I proceed, to compensate for the vagaries of the brushstrokes and the sometimes unpredictable behavior of the paint itself. If an “oops” turns into a blessing, I consider leaving it and continue working with it rather than fighting it. That happened several times with this composition. As it neared completion, I knew I needed to evaluate it objectively, both in light of the unanticipated changes in my original plan and as an overall, completed composition. Was it really done? Or did it need further work? Could it be improved? Or was it a complete failure that I should simply discard and begin again from scratch?

Join me next time to read about my evaluation and the decisions I had to make.