Monday, November 17, 2008

Still life "Bells" - Part 1 of 2

'Tis the season! Well not quite yet – I hate the fact that Christmas marketing creeps earlier and earlier every year as much as the next person, but by this point in November some Christmas carols start creeping into my house somehow. It occurred to me that I have a dearth of seasonal works – it's actually a bit late for me to be doing this, however my motto is 'better late than never' so I'm trying to get at least a few pieces done by mid-December.

I've been wanting to paint a still-life with pastels, and (Christmas theme aside) one of the objects that I've been planning is the string of 'jingle bells' I still have from the days when I owned draft horses. To play into the Christmas theme I set up my still-life on a red, satiny fabric.. like so:

Today I'll take you through the first phases of the piece - and I'll follow with another entry when I'm finished. I was able to get in a good right-brain R-mode last night and got a lot done in about 6 solid hours of work. I hope you enjoy!

Stage 1:

This piece is pretty small - about 6 x 11" on Wallis sanded paper. I 'primed' the paper first with a yellow-orange pastel stick, rubbing it in to change the background color from a cool grey-brown to this warm color. I sketched out the image with vine charcoal and did a quick upside-down check. I admit I was getting impatient to put down color, and at first I intended this to be a quick study, so I may not be spot-on but I was satisfied. At this point I have added some base color - it's a warm red (almost bordering on deep salmon).

Here is where mindset takes over. I just love surfaces like metal and glass - the reflections and distortions of color are amazing! They seem so complicated at first - but the key to painting these is to stop looking at the bells and only look at it as blobs of color. Note that I did not start by working on the background, then moving to the bells. I just laid down * all * the places that were red, then all the dark shadows. In some places the color on what will be a bell is exactly the same shade and value as the color of the cloth - this is called a 'lost edge', and it's keeping faithful to bits like that which makes a painting look real and believable. Our eye really wants to draw lines around everything - but there are no outlines in real life!

Stage 2:

So I'm getting well into R-mode by this time - I'm no longer seeing bells, just gentle curves of color and value! I start adding some deep browns to for shadow (I'm trying really hard to minimize my use of black), a little cool green in the deepest shadows of the red cloth to tone it down, some warm yellow highlights on the cloth, and I've started laying warm grays on the bells themselves.

Stage 3:

Now, magically, they're starting to look like bells - with depth! It's hard to not see bells now, but because I've been in R-mode for hours my left brain seems to have wandered off to do something else. This is why I like having a large block of time to work on a piece (and incidentally, I slept like a rock last night after this!). You'll notice how I keep circling all over - I don't want to have to think about my pencils too much (ie I don't want to work in one area then have to go back and sort out which pencil colors I've used when I move to the next). By working 'all over' I use the colors evenly over the surface and don't have to 'break stride' (I have to say this is much easier to do in a small piece like this!).

R-mode is still important here - there's such a strong pull to think of one quadrant of one bell as a distinct object. The key to these bells are the reflections - note where the reflections cross quadrants of a bell, those details are what will make them look 'real' at the end.

I'm also trying to preserve the fine detail - but not getting too hung up on it. An important place for this is on the cut edges of the bells - at this stage I'm trying to observe the colors (note how those edges are a combination of mid gray, light gray, dark gray, orange, red and light yellow - no edge is a single color it's whole length). It's important to realize that in pastel a fine line is often not created by drawing a fine line (jeez - why would you expect that?). Instead I draw a sort-of fine line and refine it further by adding a sharp edge of adjacent color - in pastel it's easier to get a single sharp edge than a thin line with both sides sharp. See the 'fine' red and gray lines in the middle of the leftmost bell? Look at it up close...

The bell's really taking shape now! I'm working the whole piece over as I go - adding highlights and shadows in the cloth, filling in the leather strap with layers. The oranges and yellows and salmon-reds need to be in the cloth (the only actual 'red' object), the bells and the leather - this is a very saturated image and the objects have to all relate to each other to make it ring true (oh dear, I didn't even mean that pun, honest!!).

Stage 4:

This is where I stopped for the night - the leftmost bell is close to done.

I'd like to point out what I found the most challenging so far - the interior of the bells! Clue #1 - they're not black! I used a very dark gray in the initial stages to mark out the place - but if I'd left it like that it would look flat. So looking very closely at the ref photo I see that there are subtle highlights in there - probably secondary (light bouncing of other parts of the bell) rather than a direct beam shining in through the slit (that looks more like the interior highlight you see in the middle bell). A light scumble of a deeper, gold color over the dark gray adds tremendous depth - now you can see the shadows inside, giving the impression of a concave surface.

Also, even though these bells are silver - I used a really warm light source for the ref, so adding a light yellow-orange around the highlight, blending it with the grays I'd already laid down, gives more 'shape' to it. And my favorite part - the bright white highlight! This is the first I've used pure white - again, white and black need to be used sparingly for the brightest highlights and deepest shadows (I learned that the hard way!). I usually put all the highlights and deep shadows in at the end - but after 6+ hours I just wanted a glimpse of how the whole piece will look when it's done!

Well I hope you've liked this little stroll-through-a-still-life!

I'll follow up with Part Deux once it's completed - now I have to get some real reds, as you can see It's more orange than red right now - part of that is intentional (I really want the final picture to be WARM, so using lots of orange and yellow underneath will make it shine!) but part is that I don't actually have any true reds in my growing pastel collection. Oh dear, a trip to the art store, what a chore! (LOL!)

1 comment:

kaslkaos said...

Nice demo of your work. It's fascinating and instructive to see a piece from start to finish.