When in doubt, start small.
As I continue to explore the Ordinary in Nature, I can't get past leaves. Perhaps this is because I have been hesitantly building up to painting this particular piece. Because it comes from a very personal place, I really wanted to do it well. So I've been taking my time in getting to it.
This painting is referenced from a photo that my sister took many years ago, which I have always admired. She shared a real love of the outdoors and nature, and some of her creative leanings emerged in photography and gardening.
Placed about her home were small collections of seed pods and gum nuts, pebbles, shells and driftwood; appealing, tactile discoveries from travels, bush walks and family adventures.
My sister really could spot God’s extra-ordinary offerings in the everyday, natural world around us.
To do her photo justice, I decided to be brave and paint large. I went out and bought a 12x16” (roughly 30x40cm) piece of gesso board and propped it up on my easel. It was more than twice the size of my usual paintings, and I’ll confess that when it came time to putting paint into action, I choked.
To keep moving forward, I opted for doing a small rough copy, at a size I was accustomed to, first. (Master artists would call this a ‘study’ - but with my fledgling skills, ‘rough copy’ seems more accurate.)
The first change in my usual process was the way I under-painted. Instead of toning the panel with diluted Raw Umber oil paint, I used a crazy fat brush and painted in the rough shapes and shadows with blue acrylic paint. Then, feeling that some definition would probably help me to decipher things down the track, in came some charcoal:
(Using acrylic under oil paint is okay, because it dries quickly. Using acrylic over oil paint is an act of self-sabotage, because the oil paint underneath the acrylics will dry at a much slower rate, and the top coat will crack faster than a child being bribed with a jelly bean.)
To stop the charcoal from smudging and mixing in with my colours, I applied some fixative and then started mixing my paint while I waited for it to dry. In a first, I mixed most of my major colours and shades all in one hit.
It wasn’t too long into the painting that I felt myself start to get less loose and more precious. Maybe if someone offered me a jelly bean for every unnecessary brush stroke I chose NOT to place on a painting, I would achieve the painterly look I am striving for in my work sooner…
It certainly changed shape over the course of its time on the easel, but regardless of how precious or painterly this ‘rough study’ did or didn't turn out to be, I like it.
It is by no means an exact copy of my sister’s photo – I have cropped it and altered parts of it for compositional purposes, and may yet make a few more changes – but it is on its way to recalling something of that sun-touched moment she captured amongst the gum leaves on that day.
I have made a start on the larger painting this week, and can already see the benefits of having made this smaller piece first. But that’s a post for another time.
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