thumbs up – progress

i thought i’d show in more than usual detail all the myriad little details that go into a watercolor of the type i used to do.  and a little about why i no longer do them like this.  i mean, i think it’s self evident why i don’t do them like this any more.

i’ve chosen sloppiness over anal-retentiveness, the artistic lifestyle over the corporate, being a prophet rather than a priest.  and it’s a stretch going back, even for a short time.

this painting needs so much work, and it’s all subtle except for the splash of darks at the end, which is where i have to screw up my courage to let go and let the fairies paint it.

unlike  my bar paintings, i had to take a million photos of the restaurant and go away to paint it, because it’s too busy a place to sit and paint during the not-busy times.  there just aren’t any.  it’s a lines out the door kind of place.  here are a few of the photos.  you can see that they’re from all over the front of the restaurant, all sorts of different angles, all sorts of different perspectives.  no wonder i drew it with two different vanishing points, with reference photos like these.  but you do what you can with your materials, even if it means ripping a half-finished painting in half in order to complete it at all.  better than tossing it in the garbage, even half-finished.

kavanique is the star of the thumbs up, and she’s got a unique style.  it’s absolutely important to get her likeness, and i was so amazed when i got her face right the first time that i stopped working on the painting and left it lying fallow for the past six years.

when i came back to the painting a couple of weeks ago, i noticed that kavanique’s hair is way small for her head, and so i went in with a pencil and extended the white space reserved for her hair.  you can see it as a dark line to the left above the white space of her hair.

this detail gives you some idea of how little it takes to make a readable gesture.  i’ve got a bunch of splotches on her hands, and from a distance it reads like fingers fumbling with change.  the artistry of art.  it’s all fake, all symbol, all metaphor.  that’s why i like it.

there’s not that much to do to this painting on the face of it, just a million little tiny things.  so i sat there for awhile dithering about the huge amount of work, and then suddenly noticed a spot that was way off, reached for a brush to correct it, and i was off.

first i put the patter of red bricks on the kitchen floor by dumping a glaze of burnt umber over the red that was already there.  that worked okay, so i decided to put in the dark foreground behind the stools, and used burnt umber and ultramarine along with some moonglow, a mixed black.  i only used black in the lower left of the rightmost area.  i also painted in the waiter’s jeans.

and then i noticed the reflections in the apron around the counter.  because of the funny way my eyes focus, i never saw the reflection of the metal sides of the stools until i turned the reference photo sideways, so the lines ran up and down instead of horizontally.  held sideways, the photo shows a wonderful distorted reflection of all those seats, as well as the front door, and the red carpet on the floor.

but, of course, when i went to start the painting some six years ago, i just put them in where i thought it was best, and completely missed the likeness.  it’s frankly better to paint the damned thing upside down so you DON”T KNOW what you’re looking at.  i make huge glaring mistakes whenever i think i have it figured down and aren’t letting the fairies paint it for me.

here you can see everything i did over the last few days.  it’s not really noticeable.

i put in the hair on the woman on the left, and on kavanique to the right.  i laid in the floor on both sides of the counter, and penciled in the reflections on the metal counter apron.  i drew in the stools and their reflections.  i put red reflections on the counter apron, softened with clear water.  in some cases these reflections are at odds with the reflections i stuck down some six years ago, and that’s tough; i’ll go over them with dark washes anyway.

when i was done putting in the red on the counter apron, i had to go back in and try to erase the vertical lines where there will be lights when i’m finished with it.  there’s supposed to be a white reflective line going vertically right next to those dark lines, and as you can see there’s no white lines.  they didn’t lift when i hit scrubbed them with my kolinsky sable brushes.  the lines are too small to scrub with a toothbrush, so i’m going to have to figure something else out.  perhaps scratching thru the paper once all the darks are in.  it’s a crude technique, and i’m not very practiced in it.  but the idea of putting on white paint is breaking one of those rules that i believe in wholeheartedly. anathema, i say, guache is ugly.

one place where i could lift the color was kavanique’s hair.  i had painted it a solid mass of black, but when i looked carefully at the source picture under extreme magnification and after having lightened the hell out of the scan, i noticed all sorts of light and dark streaks where one strand of dreadlock crossed another.  so i took the blowup down to the studio and used my smallest sable brush, water, and a blotting towel, and lifted the black where i needed to.  and then i took the toothbrush to the dark shadow behind her head, because it’s the same black as her hair, and that needs adjusting so it doesn’t look like she’s got big hair as well as dreads.

in all, a million little changes, and no really big changes visible – meaning only i can tell.  but these are the changes that finish a painting, and they need to be done.

except, following jim’s advice, i’m looking constantly to make sure i’m only doing the minimum needed to finish this painting.  i left a bunch of stuff undone on marie’s fountain, but that’s okay because it looks good as it is.  i’ll probably know when i can stop messing with the thumbs up.  but it won’t be today, as the baby is loose and i’ve got to watch him.  that means more sitting on the computer and less wandering around the studio.

such is life.  and it’s a good life, too.


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