Head and Shoulders
The title of this painting is a simple pun. Not only is there a triple self-portrait (featuring basically head and shoulders), but the middle creamer towers – head and shoulders – above the other creamers. Taken together, they form a pyramid, which is the simplest and most stable compositional design. The reflections of the smaller creamers in the larger help reinforce the idea that this pyramid exists in 3 dimensions, not just 2.
This is the second painting done in the new “open” still life setup area next to the easel. The big challenge – and it turns out real pleasure – of this new staging area is that light is not carefully controlled as it is in the shadow box. Rather than a solitary beam of light coming from a single direction, this area has light coming in from at least five distinct sources.
As this is the corner of the studio, there are 2 windows to either side, which is most clearly reflected in the silver creamer to the right. There are rows of halogen track lights, which can be seen as the bright pinpoints reflected in the creamer on the right. Finally, there is another light somewhat to the left of this setup, which is pointed directly at the ceiling and bounces a softer light downward. This was indicated by the soft, diffuse shadows cast on the cloth.
Traditional aesthetics and practice suggest that there should only be one clear light source. This helps artists design compositions around patterns of light and shadow. This is almost always the case with landscape paintings (the sun), but is actually unusual indoors, where we generally have multiple windows and lightbulbs. A shadow box can create a single light-source situation in the studio, but it does so in a staged, theatrical way – and that is entirely appropriate for certain kinds of paintings.
The open setup shown here leads to a more naturalistic, “slice of life” feeling. The trade off is that there are no clear patterns of light and dark to help structure the picture. Instead, this painting relies on the strong patterns in the fabric, and the clear reflections in the metal to help give it order. It also relies on alternating bands of warm and cool tones:
Although subtle, this helps to organize the picture in the absence of clear areas of shadow, and also gives it a vibrant quality.
The Technical Side
“Head and Shoulders” 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 11×14 inches (28×36 cm). It began 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 “Head and Shoulders” to your collection, send a message using the “Connect with Me” section on the sidebar to the right. Please bookmark this blog and watch for posts about this coming week’s painting.