Demo of Venice Stillife

Philip Howe Fine Art
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 This was an unsual painting for me. I usually don't do still-lifes but concentrate more on creative, inventive pieces that move me spiritually or contain figures that are fun and interesting to paint. However, this proved to be an interesting piece with some underlying meaning and a light effect that I feel was worth attempting. After I drew out the piece then projected it onto a blank wall, I started to get into the work a bit more just by playing with the sizes, seeing the drawing at different sizes. This is a good idea to do now and then, just take some rough sketches and size them up to see how they might look larger. It has certainly helped me to get into work that I might have put off for a while, thinking it too boring to paint. After all, the process of painting is no easy thing and often time consuming. Artists most often work on the piece that excites them the most It's one of the hardest things to understand for non-artists, but pushing yourself to go into the studio everyday and work day after day on each new piece is self motivation that can only come from inside each artist's soul. For some it may be the money to be made, but that gets old really quickly and the work always suffers and looks commercial, which, of course, it is.
 I admire those artists who consistently produce high quality work and continue to grow. I try to, but I don't know if I always succeed. My goal with each piece is to try and do a bit better job, technically, than the piece before, so I am constantly thinking of what I need to do here and there as I work on the piece, but it really comes down to content for me to initiate it, and if the work is not interesting enough, I never seem to get around to it. I have dozens of sketches that start off with a lot of drive and determination, but I choose those that inspire me most and some just never will get done. For me, it's much easier to work on subjects that I enjoy, and often feel compelled to do, so I find ways to push myself, if needed and on this piece, once I saw it upsize from my drawing, I felt it was worth going to color. It's funny how you can talk yourself out of doing a piece that, just months before, you were dying to get to. I know a lot of artists who talk about future work, then when I hear from them again, they are off on some new direction. It's a big learning process and probably why I spend so much time experimenting.


 I'll call this piece a story of Venice. I know I wanted a brown tone overall and tried to keep the warm glow in mind as I began color over the thin pencil line drawing. The map background came first, going very quickly as I knew I could move it out of focus so that the edge of the antique box popped right away and set up the whole piece for the focal point. 




 The stain of color for the wood, above, was enough to set up the paint for thicker passages as I build up heavier tones that help make the box look solid. It should work- I have the box set against a dark red background on the right, and a cooler gray tone on the left that I will let dry and then glaze warmer in the end. Knowing this ahead of time takes a moment to think about before I ever put the first stroke of color down. As an illustrator, I always figured compositions out and color harmony ahead of time so I was sure I could do each job, and I have done thousands, each and every time without changes. With commercial work, you don't get time to redo things, so you train yourself to just get it done. With fine art, however, I can play a bit, but my thought process is still to get it on right the first time and then tweak it as I see fit. It's so much more satisfying to work on a piece until it's really done, or feels done, and I have to caution myself to not overdo it. If I feel I am close, I will sometimes have a friend come by and see what they think- is the piece done and if not, what areas seem to need work? A good artist's comments sure open my eyes and I am always my own best critic.

  Below, you can see how the wood box is becoming more solid. Wood is very easy to paint, just stay with the browns and accent the highlights. I leave highlights overstated until I can come back in and glaze a golden tone over some areas. Any glaze is more effective with a lighter undervalue, as you will see in a few shots below. 



 Above, the box is coming along well, and the highlights are set up so I can color over them when completely dry, which should be in a day or so, after I make my way around the rest of the piece. Right now, they look cool white because opaque white next to the warmer tones is naturally opaque and reflective. Without the warm glaze over the white, it will look a bit off until I get back to it. 

 Below, the books are blocked in quickly, then I used a heavier stroke, pulling it from a side angle, to drag across the canvas and suggest more texture in the cloth material binding. They won't look quite finished until this base coat is dry and I get a chance to glaze the shadows in darker and highlight areas. So, again, the idea is to block in the base tone, fuse edges for focus, then leave it to dry until I get to the final stage of tweaking the color. 

 I block in the white of the foreground book's pages since I know it will take a day or so to dry. I could use Alkyd here, since I have not used any oil, to this point, except for the initial thin wash with mineral spirits and a little Liquin medium. I used to use Alkyd a lot for highlights, to get them to set up much faster than oil, and from what conservationist have told me, it's archival, but I like to stick with one medium if I can and the Alkyd is a little harder to control than the oils. It's good, however, for underpainting detailed work. 




 The big whole where the mask and red rose will go would have really stood out had I not started the painting off with a stain of raw sienna. For the moment, just to see how the rose will push forward from the area around it, I dropped in a base red and move on to the interesting cloth in the foreground. The 3 stages are clearly seen below-1-block in, 2- highlights worked out, 3- made up shadows glazed and color tinting and shading added with thin paint. The final stage was a color glaze seen in the final shots. This is an excellent way to paint material overall, but here, where the warm light was cascading across the soft cloth, it seemed the best way to shoot for the effect of light on the form. Everything we see is light on a form, it's what gives the visual sense of something we see as 3-dimensional. It's how each realist artist interprets it that makes most paintings interesting. I saw a lot of golden color with reds and a wash of light, so my interpretation, even with reference, was still personal and inventive, or as inventive as I get with still-lifes. 


 At this near final stage, the painting looks pretty solid and is all set up for some final color glazes over the soft, almost airbrushed looking white that I leave here and there. You can see it below in the edge of the rose and especially on the top front edge of the wood box. I did try airbrushing oils a few times and it does work, but you have to really have a lot of air pressure pushing heavier paint thinned with turpentine. The effect is nice, but very mechanical or superficial looking, a little too perfect compared to the handpainted quaility of the work I enjoy. Still, if you want atmospheric effects, like fading back a mountain or adding an overall tone to the work, it might be worth trying. I caution against any airbrushing, though, as it leaves a toxic mist in the air, like sprays do, and who wants to spend their career painting in a mask and goggles.



 If you compare this stage to the one two images above, you can see where the rose and the wood now have a thin glaze of red, some golden color here and there and the white tint is gone. You would have to see the actual effect in the original painting, where the patina like coloring glistens and adds a depth to the canvas that is rich and suggests quality. It's similar to how I sometimes glaze over skin tones, adding red, blue, green and gold tones here and there to liven up the skin without overpainting it. I really don't know what technique this is called, or from what period as I have not studied classic painting periods, for example Vermeer, or Rembrandt, although I have certainly seen a number of their originals. I think the idea or technique may be closer to Whistler, in that he often built up texture with heavy paint first, then scraped it off and color tinted it as a final pass. I just know I am after a certain depth of realism and a mood. If the painting tells me what I wanted it to when I started, then I guess it's done and has the overall feeling I am trying to get across to the viewer, or to myself. Sometimes it's a real mystery until I am done with it, and that, too, can be an exciting discovery.


 The last three shots are from the final. You can see the golden coloring now, coming through and over the white I had left in those areas, or repainted in. The brass and wood glisten a bit more. For the golden coloring, I used translucent colors made by various paint manufacturers. If anyone is interested, I can send them a list of my favorites. I've had a lot of interest in the past and experimented quite a bit with several brands, but there are a few tubes that really stand out, especially in the warmer tones, like the red used to glaze the edge of the rose petals. 

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