Demo of Yellow Rose

Philip Howe Fine Art
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Life Drawings (Figure drawings)
Early work_ 1980's, 1990's
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I will be putting up a full demo of this painting soon.
With realism, we try to paint a three dimensional object onto a flat surface and give the illusion of real form, so any effects I can use to push that sensation that the mind of the viewers says 'that looks real' helps me convey some of the intent. The rest, of course, is design and concept and emotion, all, I feel, are much more important than the realism, but without being able to convey something that is interpreted then a lot of what I would like to say is lost. I think that's true of most painters. The ability or craft to be able to do this is simply learned along the way, its in the desire to convey something that the whole process begins.
This rose had a lot of subtle coloring and inner light and since I have never painted a real flower before or wanted to, I thought it might be a good idea to try my hand. When I do enough commercial work or my spiritual imagery, I get a little exhausted from the design and concept, which I spend more time on than the actual painting process. With flowers, landscapes and everyday things, I don't have to think much to bring it to the canvas, and that in itself makes it a fun experience and very fast to execute. I try and balance my work so that I have a few pieces going that are simple, like this one, against much more thought provoking and complex ideas. Life is like that and I found after years of doing this unconsciously, I was just setting things up that way without really planning it. It's like taking a vacation after a lot of hard work- the simple subjects are my vacation time. It's so much easier to look at something or reference of it and follow it than to make up something or create a complex design, so I just go with my desire to do whatever comes next. In this case, the rose was calling and I was curious enough to see if I could get it onto canvas before it dried up on me. That in itself is a curious paradox of life, something this subtle and beautiful that ages so fast, and while I could never capture all its rich color and life, I tried to get a reasonably realistic facsimile that retained some of nature's character.


 Want to know an easy way to get some very vertical clean lines? This 't-square' I made is simply supported by the top ledge of the easle's holding clamp. Put a level on the top of the stretched canvas or panel so you know it's setting level to the floor. Then set a level on the top easle clamp, the wood part that holds the top of your canvas in place. Now both the canvas and top clamp are level, so by dropping a right angle down this support, you get an accurate vertical that you can use to support your arm as you drag vertical strokes down the image. Some people use plumb-bobs, or a weight on a string, to see true verticals, but that won't guide your hand. With the T-square approach, as I have built here with a 2x4 and horizontal bar, you can rest your hand on its flat edge and draw down any stroke as many times as needed. Another way to do this is use a ruling pen, a small instrument that opens to accept paint in its reservoir, but the problem with oil is that the ruling pen will scratch off any other lines that are wet beneath its path. With acrylic or gouache, however, the ruling pen can give you some beautiful thin lines.

Here is the problem with accurate lines, however, and this may not make much sense at first- but when you drop in accurate lines, like doing architectural renderings, the accuracy of the tight line strokes look somewhat out of character to the loose strokes around them. Some artists like to keep the entire painting loose and the lines suggested, but for realism, tight, clean linear rendering is often needed to sharpen some edges. I also like using this vertical T-square to hover over the wet paint when I'm doing portrait details, etc. It's similar to placing your hand directly on your work to use your finger pressure to get more detailed strokes, something larger sweeping strokes would obliterate with their innacuracies. I use this same strategy in life drawing, by the way. A big sweep is nice and a way to show off, but when it comes down to detailing, like the highlights in the eyes, you don't want to blow it by missing the mark, if you are concerned with accurate realism. Getting close with your hand is the way to drop in highlights and a bridge or this T-Square approach over wet oil allows the hand to float close enough that you can easily hit the mark or add soft blending effects without putting too much pressure on the wet paint. It's worth a try and only takes a few minutes to build one or you can use a store bought one, but I would reinforce it a bit to keep it from swaying or bending.

Closeup detail of final, approx 6" of actual size

 In this closeup, above, from the final, you can see where the slight subtle glow around the rose edge is now glazed slightly with a golden coloring that gives it a feeling of soft light. This also helps to push the edges back, softer, so that the background plane is diffused slightly into the edge of the light from the outer petals. Its not what I saw, but what I felt would work better and it took a little experimenting to get it to this point. Now that I understand it, it makes sense. In the same way that hair, for example, is softened around the top and outer edges because the round planes of the head melt into the background. A spherical object has a softer edge as it falls away from the viewers direct line of sight and the color and value will change according to the light falling away from it- or rather the lack of light as it falls into shadow, as in the case of this flower. Since the petals are curved, they enhance the effect. You can see it again where the dark of the leaves hits the dark of the background. I could see this clearly but by pushing this with a diffused effect, I got a bit more realism out of it- or a sense of realism. (For the leaves I simply repainted around the ones I wanted to soften, matching that purplish background tone, then softened the edge of the leaves into that area, darkening them into the dark behind them). If they were straight edges, like blocks of metal, then I would have played up that edge- softening the background even more by throwing it a bit out of focus, then making the hard edge even sharper by visual contrast. As a painter I take liberties with what I can push. This flower was an experiment, not much thought went into it, and so it was really easy to execute, unlike my spiritual work or more creative imagery where I have to use the same principles to make up a lot of the images. But I have to say, I have more respect for flower paintings and those artists who excel at this genre. The subtle coloring and inner reflective light is tricky to capture with paint and they are easy to overdo. Watercolor or more transparent oil may be a more logical approach, but I did learn a lot on this one that I can apply to other things.


Yellow Rose final 24x18" oil on canvas

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