Have you ever had to make a speech? What about an interview? You know you have one shot to make an impression. You want to be prepared and confident. A lot may be expected of you. What do you do when you ain’t got nothing?
I think of the old silent movies. A scene shows a merchant demanding payment from the scamp drifter. The drifter pulls his empty pant pockets inside out and shrugs. The merchant protests, arms waving and fingers pointing. Then, “ah-HAH!” an idea comes to the drifter. Some sort of solution is manifested and somehow all is well again.
Sometimes the harvest from the field of ideas is abundant. Other times, it is like the empty pockets of the drifter. The moral of our drifter’s story is often about faith and perseverance. The drifter’s attitude is one that offers the sunny side of the street, and that you may be down but you’re never out. Something will turn up so long as you hold out for it.
That is fine but being at a loss for what to say or do is a feeling of predicament. How does one generate ideas when nothing seems to come? The ticking clock only seems to make things worse. The longer the wait for an idea the less likely it seems anything will spark.
Here is a painting that relies heavily on the compositional arrangement of the objects. I was doing some research into academic painting and the arrangement here was developed from some simple studies in formal composition. I set up the objects according to some of the basic principles suggested from my readings. This included a backdrop and a steady source of light from a large window.
The process was different from “direct painting” where the rendering of the objects is created by directly applying paint onto the canvas and resolving the image without drawing or preparation of underpainting. Instead, this one was “brought up” with a charcoal drawing and fixed in place with a fixative. A thin under painting was made with a light raw umber to describe the basic lights and darks and to put a first layer of paint onto the canvas. Over the course of a few days, color was added layer by layer in what is considered and older or more “academic” method of working, until the last thicker highlights were placed.
Afterword, I found that the formal compositional strength appears to play against the airiness of the diffused light as it is softly rendered. So it seems, that one of the nice aspects of painting in this very “traditional” manner is its ability to allow the most subtle notes to harmonize and have a particular loveliness, particularly in a serene arrangement such as a still life.
Note: Tap or zoom into the image to get a good view of the subtleties. This painting belongs to a private collection.
Flowers are an attractive subject, but they are also one of the most difficult for a painter. Why? One reason is in translating flowers into a painting. There are so many ways to approach an arrangement of flowers. The attraction may be the variety of color or the “prettiness” of the subject. Maybe you like the challenge of so much detail of every leaf and petal. Often the intention at the beginning of the painting turns into something very different as the process goes on.
I had no idea I would be spending my Sunday afternoon painting inside. There was no plan to do this. This was a spontaneous set up. I was not at my studio, but there were some materials laying around, so I simply worked with what I had.
Getting the Afternoon Started
My wife wanted to read her book. She was leaning back in the day bed near the open window. A breeze was gently blowing in and the air was fresh. Immersed in the book she was reading at the time, she agreed to let me do some studies of her, so long as she could rest. No problem. I laid down a sheet, set up my small easel, put out three colors on my palette with a white and started working.