Friday, September 07, 2007

Ceramic Owl Family

I've had a pretty bad itch to go outside and paint some landscapes lately, but the weather has been way too hot. Still, I wanted a break from illustration work and to do something in oils. I then realized that I've been neglecting one aspect of art nearly my entire artistic lifespan: Still lifes. Problem for me is that while there are many benefits in studying from them, they can be very boring to look at. I wasn't interested in a standard composition either, so I went with an arrangement that resembled a family of owls.

Now I know the basic premise of a still life is to study it from, well, life, but in this case the arrangement was photographed in Peratellada, Spain. They were sitting in a shop window display. I could have bought them to bring home and paint, but it was the siesta hour so the shop was closed.

I found a canvas I primed a while back with gesso and sand for texture. Here, I've initially laid down a flat wash of transparent oxide red mixed with flake white. In the past, I let the tone dry, but here I've gone straight into the composition, blocking in loose shapes using transparent oxide red mixed with ultramarine.

I'm always hesitant to start in with color, especially if the tone drawing underneath is pretty well rendered. So I try to avoid getting precious or committing to any hard edges in the beginning. I also try to limit my palette so that things don't become a mess. Here, I'm just introducing some warm grays on the crests of the birds, and some local color for each piece.

By now, I've established most of the loose forms, plane changes, and edges. I can't ignore color much longer. So first, in order to better interpret any reflected lighting on the ceramic owls, as well as to establish temperature relationships (cool versus warm colors), I quickly lay down the color of the base they're resting on with a palette knife. This is sometimes the funnest part, where I get to loosen up a bit... so I'm glad that in this case that there's a large open area for me to go nuts.

I've rendered most of the colors, brought out some highlights, and refined hard and soft edges. This is the last stage before having to call it a night. It's close to finished after three or four hours, but I need to pick Alex up from an evening class, treat myself to a cheeseburger (it's been a week for comfort food), and go to bed so I can return to the painting with a fresh pair of eyes in the morning.

Ceramic Owl Family, oil on canvas 16" x 20".
All that was really left was some tightening up on details such as the beaks, eyes, and highlights, some color corrections especially in one of the cast shadows, and the background. Oh, I'm sure there's plenty of other things to work on, but I feel at this point, I've succeeded in creating the mood and image I wanted, while managing to avoid overworking the painting (a rare victory). Here are some detail shots:

Unfortunately, none of these photos do the colors any justice. That's the sad thing with oils; they're extremely difficult to reproduce. Once the painting is dry, I'll scan it in and see if it's any better.

I'm off to wash brushes and heat up some ramen (definitely not a comfort food item).


Matt Berger said...

Wow, mate. Really beautiful work there. I am dabbing into acrylics now days and it is more exciting each time I attempt them!

Keep up the great work! Cheers. ;)

Tom Scholes said...

This is really great, always good to see more art from you in general. Thanks much for the process!

Bill Ferguson said...

These Owl's look great but you have some beautifull watercolor pieces as well!

singinghawk said...

Yes, I understand how you feel about still lifes. I haven't painted any in years...probably since college days. I do find them quite dull to paint. But I love the way you've treated this still life! That it becomes a little family of storybook owls sitting on a very charming. And the colors are beautiful. I enjoyed seeing the progress as well.