The story behind this week’s painting has less to do with the painting itself than with how I make paintings.
I arrange most of my compositions in a shadow box positioned to the right of my easel. It works well, and I’ve used it for years. But, it limits me to a certain type of painting; fairly dark backgrounds with dramatically lit areas in the foreground.
For some time, I have wanted to have a second area to arrange compositions without the limitations inherent in the shadow box. My studio is fairly compact, so I don’t have room to create a separate working area without completely rearranging the entire layout. However, there is about 10 square feet of available space to the immediate left of my easel, which I’ve been using as storage until now. In the interest of maximizing space, I’ve decided to use that for my new arrangement area.
First, I cut and fit a sheet of plywood to cover the space at about 45 inches off the floor. This gives me a surface to the left of the easel that’s level with the rest of my working areas – my palette at the center, the shadow box to the right, and a general working area to the side. I was able to reclaim the space beneath the new surface for storage. This panoramic image shows the new arrangement:
To the left you can see the new area with this week’s composition set up on it. I’ll be able to set up compositions directly on the surface itself, or make shelving that provides a raised surface closer to eye level. I’ve done that this week in a crude way by building risers with a few pieces of spare lumber. In the upcoming weeks I’ll construct some more solid movable shelving for this purpose.
This new arrangement suits me well. It’s bright, airy, and open, with plenty of light from the studio and direct natural light as well. To the left of this space, there’s a west-facing window, and directly behind the easel there’s a north-facing window. I normally keep the curtains drawn on the north window since I mostly use artificial light in my studio and want to control glare. Now, however, I can open those curtains and take advantage of the beautiful north light for at least a couple hours a day.
Of course I will continue using the shadow box, but I’m also excited by the new possibilities – brighter paintings filled with more light. It also offers the possibility of working on two paintings at once. In the panoramic image, you can see the composition for next week’s still life set up in the shadow box; I was able to begin work on it concurrently with this week’s project.
Which brings me to this week’s painting. The title is Latin for crystalline, or describing objects made from crystal. Nothing in the painting is made from crystal, but I was thinking instead of the lighting available to me now. It is much brighter than I’m accustomed to, so with this painting I was feeling my way around the situation and getting used to the new possibilities of the light.
One thing I notice already is the need to be more sensitive to color temperature – how warm or cool a color is in comparison to its surroundings. In the shadowbox, I can rely on value (degree of light and dark) for a lot of the contrast I achieve. However, with a much brighter painting, there isn’t so much room for manipulating the values, so I found myself thinking of ways to create contrast using temperature.
A good example is the background. To make the cooler tones of the porcelain creamer stand out, I painted the background behind it a warmer tone. I did the opposite for the silver creamer – the background to the right was painted a cooler temperature so the warm tones reflected in the metal would contrast well with it.
The Technical Side
“Crystallum” was done entirely from life (without use of photography). It is painted with oil on linen, which is mounted to a hardboard panel. The dimensions are 8×10 inches (20×25 cm). I worked with a straight-forward grisaille (black and white) underpainting. This was followed by a mixture of opaque paints and glazes on top of the underpainting.
If you’re interested in adding “Crystallum” to your collection, send me a message using the “Connect with Me” section on the sidebar to the right. Please bookmark my blog and watch for posts about this coming week’s painting.