thumbs up – more increments

today, the baby was off with the other side of the family, and i could sit and work – or sit and not work – to my heart’s content.  so i spent happy hours sitting there staring at my painting, drowning in cups of coffee.

i started on the front cake plate.  that represents my hardest bit, and i like to get that out of the way first.  but really all i did was to put in an line representing the left side of the cover where it bisects the waiter’s head.

then i moved to the front of the counter and got the receipt and rolled up silverware.  then i got the coffee maker some, putting in the red highlights and painting in the cover of the filter box.  and kept on with the red, splashing it liberally (see how small those threadlike reds are?) over the counter underneath the coffee warmer.

i had a particular problem, one i’ve encountered a few times in this painting.  between the edge of the coffee warmer and the stack of bread is a white thingie, and there’s what looks like a milk steamer arm that you’d find on an espresso maker, poking into the white space with its hard-edged metal nozzle.  so i spent quite a while trying to resolve that.

this makes my eyes hurt.  i really should use a tripod…

i had originally left a white space at the right edge of there the stack of bread is, because i read the white thingie into the drawing twice.  i do that.  and i know at the time that it’s only going to have to be redone – at a cost – later.  a co-employee, many ranks uphill from me, once told me that my attention to detail sucked.  he was right, of course.  i should have been an abstract expressionist.

you can see the spout in the picture above.  i had to restate the shadow under the breadplate, and put some burnt sienna into the wooden bread board (further defining the cloth that hangs over the edge (but i can see now that it’s wrong and will have to be redone)).  then i went a little nuts with the red, like i said.  but suddenly i could see red all over the reference photo, and it’s when i start to paint what i see that i paint well.

there are two schools of thought on this.  the one says you have to forget what something’s supposed to look like, and just paint what you see.  and the other says you have to inform what you see with what you know is there.  i have learned from bitter experience that i really should follow the latter path.  but i love the flowing feeling when i paint what i see without thought.

after that i went back toward the middle of the painting, and mostly finished the creams and things in the front of the painting, and got the bottles and jars in front of the waiters to the left.  and then i noticed another problem, and got out the toothbrush to carefully scrub the place underneath the left-hand waiter’s left arm, because i just now figured out what it represented.

the area under the one waiter’s arm is actually the other waiter’s two hands, one holding a ticket and the other writing something with a white pen.  it fills the space under the one waiter’s arm, but i had drawn it in about half that size.

the scrubbed area didn’t get very light.  in fact, it’s pretty dull.  and so the highlights have to be very dull as well.  so i just outlines the fingers with red and put a few dabs of sienna on the planes of the hand and left it at that.  it’s good enough, and i probably don’t have to do anything more to it.

then the last thing i did was to put some color on the waiter on the left.  burnt sienna, and some red on her face and neck.

in this way i’ve whittled down what needs to be done to finish this painting.  it’s going nice and fast, mainly because i’m trying not to overwork it, and soon i will be done.

and then – what to do with my palette?  it’s a giant plastic palette with wells for a couple of dozen watercolors, and each well is filled with as much of a tube as i could squeeze out.  i’m running out of burnt umber, it’s true, but when i’m done with this painting i’ll have this massive palette full of paint, and no real desire to use it again.

i’ve moved to making my own paints, and i don’t want to use someone else’s mix that is anyway many years old.  i want to make my paints every day, or every painting, or at least every time i run out of paint.  so i’m thinking maybe i’ll give my palette to my kid, along with my entire collection of watercolors in tubes.  this is an important step.  she already has my travel watercolor kit, which my dad gave me when i was her age.  maybe she’s not enough of an artist yet to use it, and maybe it’d be better in the studio where jim and i can watch over it (instead of it getting pitched in a hurry when she ducks rent and leaves town, kind of thing).  we’ll see.  but the next watercolor i do is going to be all made from scratch from dry pigments and gum arabic.  i’m looking forward to it.  it’s going to be a learning curve, but i love a challenge.

thumbs up – slash and dash

looking at the unfinished painting, my eye is distracted by the top and bottom of the picture plane.  the stools and counter are only under construction, and the ceiling is a few major shades too light, and these incompletenesses make it difficult to see how to proceed.

so, where i would normally save the large washes of darks for the end, to tie everything together, i’m finding that i have to do a lot of the slashing and dashing at this point instead.  i’m sure i’ll have to do more in the end, but right now it’s kind of anticlimactic because you want the flash and dash to make an impression on your audience – a how did she do that – and at this point it’s just one more area of darks that you can’t really tell has been worked on.  oh well, so much for drama.

today’s (yesterday’s) work just gave me more millions of tiny things to do.  here i’ve refined the reflections on the kick panel and the shadows on the stools.  i’m trying to retain the highlights on the vertical slats of the counter panel, but you can see how little luck i’m having over the top of the reds.  i’m still going to have to scrape those lines white and then tone them back down before i’m done.

after filling in more of the details of the counter kick panel and stools, slow incremental work, i got to take out my large squirrel mop, wet down the ceiling, and start charging in color.  i wet the right half first, using clear water, and then put in lots of burnt sienna, then into that i charged a bunch of burnt umber, and then a little ultramarine blue (which darkens unbelievably well), and then some moonglow.

it’s hard to see it in the shot above, but the dark mess in the middle is just about as close to mud as i can come and get away with it.  it doesn’t show well here, but when pigments turn to mud they get a heavy, lifeless appearance that really detracts from the painting.  this means i have to stop now, in this area at least.

over on the left side, i did the same thing, but a heavier application of burnt sienna and nowhere near as much blue and black.

one interesting thing here.  you can see some splotches in the left hand part of the ceiling that i just painted.  they aren’t paint spots, they showed up when the paper was wet and didn’t go away when it dried.  that means they’re some kind of damage or contamination of the paper.  since this painting has been variously in my portfolio or thumbtacked to my studio wall for the past six years, it’s been exposed to everything from grease to smoke to mold, and this is the result.  stained paper.  mold spots.  areas that once wet, won’t dry, like the little circles of what should be white on the right side of the ceiling.  they were supposed to be recessed lights shining out of the ceiling, and i carefully painted around them every time, but with the paper in the condition it’s in, the wetness spread into the dry area, and the pigment followed it.  this also happened around the bottom of the light fixture in the middle, and i had to seriously sponge and blot to get the burnt sienna to fade back out.

this is a conservation problem.  i can’t find the reference at amien.org right now, but these little spots are why you keep watercolor paper in a quiet, dry, dark place away from contaminants.

anyway, in this case they’re just going to add some texture.  but the tendency of the water to crawl into dry spaces is really annoying.

here’s the whole thing at this stage.  by filling in the whites and lights in the floor and ceiling, i’ve managed to show just how much work the middle needs.  in fact, all the details that will make the painting are in the middle of the painting, and they are all the things i’ve been avoiding by doing the periphery first.  so now i have to go back and tackle them.

the first things, i think, will be the cake plates, because they’re the things that’re going to give me the most trouble.  then i can finish the cook’s stove and the counter behind kavanique next, and the stuff on the shelves to the right, and then get the stuff on the counter in the middle, then finish the stools and tone down the counter kick panel, and find somewhere to sign the damned thing.  the frame will probably have to be rather massive, and with this kind of complexity it’s going to need a wide mat.  i’ll be gluing and varnishing it as i have been with my watercolors, but i think i’ll frame it behind glass at first, because i’m planning on hanging it in the diner itself, and seeing if anyone wants to pay loads of money for it.  they won’t, of course, but they’ll probably be happy to hang it for a few months.

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.