Orchid and Chopsticks, the painting which got accepted into the 17th juried show of the IAPS, (the International Association of Pastel Societies, do go and see the fantastic entries and the awarded paintings, it is really a treat for the eyes, these artists are very good), so, yes, this painting is painted from real life, as are all my still-lifes. The human eye sees so very much more than what a camera does, even a good camera. In its turn, the good camera 'sees' and records so much more than what a printer can print, which is why printed photographs are not the best material to work from -- if you want to depict the effects of light. (Photographs work well for other manners of painting, but not for the impressionist tradition.)
This blog-post is for you who are interested in the whole painting process, and for you who are fascinated by this particular way of painting light and colour.
Nothing goes as planned, which this painting proves. I had originally thought to paint orchid blossoms against a light olive-green background, featuring only the flowers. As I was working with the set-up, the idea grew and changed. Light olive became a dark olive (note the old t-shirt serving as a backdrop). I had some laquered Japanese chopsticks I thought of, and then the idea of flirting with elements from the Far East coalesced in my mind. Not a painting trying to imitate styles of other cultures, but a little dalliance with it. Stone gardens, blossoms, bowls, chopsticks. As I was moving the elements around, I decided the composition would be basically circular, or oval to be more precise, so after this photo was taken, I changed some things. The main colour scheme is pinks and greens.
To the left, above, you see a little bit of the setup behind the painting on the easel. As you can see, the photo and the painting (which is not colour corrected for the yellow indoor lightbulb) don't look the same in colour. That is because a camera does not record colour right. The actual painting is much closer to reality than the photo of the items, I have witnesses!
A good tip is to always take a photo of your set-up. I studied variations on the screen of my computer, tried different crops, made changes virtually, which were then made in real life, by moving objects. For example, to get the right curve of the blossoms, which sagged by their own weight, I had to tie them up with a piece of string. Another reason for having a photo of your final setup is that catastrophies can happen. What if you knock it all down, accidentally? It is much easier to re-create it with the help of a recording.
Here's how I paint:
First I do a contour drawing, placing the elements of the composition on the picture plane. The 'action-oval' sits rather high, and the tablecloth dropping down the front serves as an area of little action, a space to rest.
1. (In picture below.) Usually, often, I work on white or a light creamy or sandy tone, in order to let the light reflect better. This time, as the painting was to have many dark areas, I chose to paint on a terracotta coloured piece of Pastelmat. The large masses are blocked in, in the colour of the light, and the colour of the weaker light in the shadows. All light masses get warm colours (direct light is warm), and all the shadow masses get cool colours (the reflected light of my working light is a cool daylight, therefore slightly bluish). These are not local colours (or rarely so), but the colours of light reflected off the surfaces. The background is a dark blue, I hardly ever use black. Stage one is an underpainting, setting the stage for what is to follow.
2. (For you who follow this method, this is the start of stage two, not the finish of it.) Here the relative values are corrected, if needed. In this case, it was needed, as I needed to push the lights lighter (a white or light paper usually does that job, but this paper was darker than the lights). The layers of colour are also built up, to come closer to what I see. But, what about the missing flowers, you ask, didn't you plan for them? Yes I did, but here's a trick: That which is important and which you want to catch attention, that is roughly blocked in at the start, in stage one. That which is to be subdued and hinted at is treated as one mass at the beginning, and added only later as details, in order for it to 'melt into' the background or surroundings. Picture 2, to the right, shows where I stop to evaluate stage 2, and I notice I've painted three equally spaced fold in the cloth, and that is boring, and also detracting, so I paint over the middle stripe of light, as well as deepen the tone of the background, and the drop of the tablecloth.
3. Here is where I start to build volume, making it all three-dimensional looking by adding bands of colour variations. You who know this method will see that I've rushed past stage 3 in the flowers, and nearly finished them. I had to, as the hot halogen light started to change the living flowers too rapidly, for example opening the bud that is the center of interest. I had to respond to the real situation, but as the foundation was solid, all the relationships of the major masses were correct enough, I could do that. Here is where I add bigger details as the flowers that are to be subdued and in shadow.
4. Nearly finished stage four. More colour variations create more 3D. The easiest seen is probably the pinkish reddish band following the left curve of the bawl, which is the reflection of the lit tablecloth. The far right shadow of the chopsticks is added, as it is a small detail, as well as the bright reflection inside the bowl. Here is where the quality of the edges are finalised, too. Some are sharpened, some are blurred. Some edges may need to be more lost, others more found. The final check is for drawing errors that inevitably happen in the process of painting.
See a larger version of the finished painting in the Works section of this site.