Tag Archives: #stilllife

A Delayed Plan for 2022: Portrait, Still Life, Landscape and More

2022 for me is not only moving on from the beloved Zorn palette, but also a broadening of the subject matters. The plan is to keep practicing portrait and still-life, with an emphasis on loosening up and becoming more gestural. Meanwhile, I will add landscape and later figures to the learning schedule. For medium, oil is the focus for now, but I’d like to do more watercolor sketches with or without ink.

Here are some my recent homework from Watts:

Oil painting of orchid flowers and a Buddha statue with drapery, realism
Orchid and Buddha, 11 x 14, oil on canvas board, Dec. 2021
Pine trees in front of snowy mountain, oil painting, landscape
Pines, 11 x 14, oil on canvas board, Jan. 2022
Oil painting of crashing waves and rocks, seascape
Waves 1, 11 x 14, oil on board, Jan. 2022
Oil painting of an old man, gesture portrait, realism
Old man, 11 x 14, oil on canvas board, Feb, 2022

A few notes:

  • Landscape is not a particular interest of mine, but for years, I used it as a check-mark to see if I have made any progress in techniques. After doing other subject matters for a while, I would attempt a few landscapes to see if I feel more confident and comfortable. It never did!
  • It took me some time to figure out that apart from value control, the key to a successful landscape painting is shape design. To deliver a believable tree, on surface you have more leeway than doing a portrait, but the lack of definitive guidance (the shape of an eye, a nose etc.), you need to come up with your own. That freedom can be a curse.
  • Looking above, it suddenly hits me that before doing trees, it might be a good idea to practice more bearded and hairy portraits first! 😉

More Limited Palettes and Moving on …

Zorn is not the only limited palette used by artists. Well-known landscape artist Scott L. Christensen stayed with lemon yellow, cadmium red, ultramarine blue and white for many years, and his method has many followers. Presidential portrait artist Mark Carder teaches a palette of 5 colors, permanent alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow pale, french ultramarine, titanium white and burnt umber. Karen Blackwood painted her award winning coastal sceneries mainly with alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow pale, ultramarine blue, titanium white and viridian.

It’s not hard to see that all these are some versions of the primary colors. Replacing Zorn’s ivory black with Ultramarine and yellow ochre with a brighter yellow allows a more chromatic and less muted approach to painting.

Using a limited palette doesn’t mean you can’t use other colors. The above mentioned artists, Zorn included, all supplement their palette whenever necessary. Limiting color choices is to create harmony and in training, helps us focusing more on values. Eventually, we need to listen to the painting itself for what color comes in.

I have been staying with Zorn for months now, and it serves well for portrait painting. As I moving on to more still life and floral paintings, I began adding more colors to my palette. Zorn is still my starting point and foundation for each painting. Here are some recent exercises from my Watts classes:

Oil painting of sunflowers in bronze jar, realism
Sunflowers, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, 2021
Oi painting of Irises in a blue vase, drapery, realism
Irises, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, 2021
Oil painting of pink roses in a bronze vase, drapery, realism
Roses, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14 in, 2021

Something Seasonal … :)))

Oil painting of skull, side view, burnt umber
Skull – side view, oil on canvas board, 9 x 12, 2021
Oil painting of skull, quarter view, burnt umber
Skull – quarter view, oil on MDF board, 11 x 14, 2021
Oil painting of skull, front view, blue
Skull – front view, oil on canvas board, 11 x 14, 2021

A few notes:

  • Still homework from Watts, burnt umber pick out, burnt umber and white, phthalo-blue, black and white respectively.
  • I like MDF board covered with canvas better than MDF board with gesso, because it’s more absorbent. On gessoed board, the paint takes longer to settle which can be frustrating. However, if you like the super smooth and realistic look, board it is.
  • I need to learn how to take photos of oil paintings. 😉
  • Happy Halloween! 🎃 👻

Busy with the Basics

After some deliberation, I signed up for Watts Atelier‘s online program in July. The program has a drawing and a painting part, and both start with the basics. There are video demos, handouts, and homework to turn in. It is probably good enough for the money even if you just watch Jeff Watts doing the demos, but you don’t want to skip anything to do it right. That is to say, it is not a small commitment.

Here are a couple of paintings from the Phase I Portrait and Phase I Still Life homework:

Still Life, burnt umber pick-out, August, 2021
Cast Quarter View, two color, August, 2021
Still Life, 3 colors, August, 2021
Skull Front View, 3 colors, August 2021

A few notes:

  • In Phase I, the painting routine starts with a single color, burnt umber, progress to two colors, burnt umber and white, and then 3 colors, phthalo-blue, black and white.
  • I will go back to Zorn in Phase II.
  • I sometimes wonder if I will become one of those forever learners: keep taking classes and never become a standalone artist. I feel so comfortable following a routine and not to think what to do next. On the other hand, it’s not like I have nailed the skill part already. So this is an experiment. Let’s see if the intensive training at Watts would eventually set me free by building confidence through skills.
  • Watts has some gouache courses but no watercolor. Jeff once said many amateurs started with watercolor, but it is actually a most challenging medium to excel in. I do feel I see value better and have more control over shape and edges with oil. I still hope to apply whatever I am learning to watercolor. It is such an expressive medium.

Autumn Colors – A Throwback Series

The rich colors of the season remind me of a series I did years ago. It consists of four still life paintings, done in watercolor and ink pen. It was the first series I ever did and was done before I had any appreciation of doing things in some sort of consistency. My natural inclination is always jumping around among different things.

As I have better understanding of the creative process, I start to see the benefit of staying for a while with a particular technique, a color theme, a subject matter, a design concept, etc. It reenforces your strength, challenges your thought, and often leads to new discoveries.

Anyways, here they are:

Watercolor and ink pen, squashes, pumpkins and flowers, Autumn colors
Autumn Colors 1, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 16 x 12 in, 2015
Watercolor and ink pen, pumpkins and flowers, Autumn colors
Autumn Colors 2, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 12 x 16, 2015
Watercolor and ink pen, squashes, pumpkins and sun flowers, Autumn colors
Autumn Colors 3, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 16 x 12 in, 2015
Watercolor and ink pen, squashes, persimmons, and sun flowers, Autumn colors
Autumn Colors 4, watercolor and ink pen on paper, 12 x 16 in, 2015

The things that connect this series are techniques and subject matters. I set up some “fall” related objects and chose four settings. They are parallel to each other in terms of relationship. Another way to develop a series is to derive new pieces from the old one. I am in the process of an experiment of that and hope I will be able to show it soon.

Show News and Some More

I recently became a member of the Pacific Art League and joined their 99th Anniversary Exhibit, “Beyond 2020.” My painting “Sail” was selected into the gallery show, and will be on view at their Palo Alto gallery till January 2021. Here’s the piece:

Abstract acrylic painting, sail
Sail, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 in, 2019

The painting was inspired by a still life study I did before:

Acrylic still life painting, bowl, block, bones
Still life, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, 2019

My still life study was focused on how to paint white with color, but I found the way the lines curved, meandered and crossed very intriguing. After the painting was done, I kept looking at it and tried to follow those lines in my mind and in my sketchbook. The objects gradually disappeared and the lines and shapes led me to new ideas, and eventually, a new painting.

More on Monochromatic and Morandi

As I mentioned before, the paintings of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) often have a monochromatic look, even though he used a lot of colors. The result is a very restful and understated effect – something I always find difficult to achieve. Usually the more time I spent on a piece, the more colorful it becomes, as if keeping quiet on canvas or paper is against my nature. The same goes with details and edges. The more time spent, the more definition, and the looseness and gestures are lost.

So I tried a couple with limited time and clear goals. 1)No more than 2 hours per piece; 2) limited palette to create near monochromatic effect; 3) less definition; 4) lost edges; 5) be quiet.

Still life, acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 in, 2019
Still life, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2019

I think goal setting with time restriction is an effective way of practicing. Right? :))

Color Studies (2) – Monochromatic

Of the three components of color, hue, value and saturation, I personally find value the most difficult. Colors are attractive and distracting, and it could be difficult to discern values accurately from all the colors in front of us. Monochromatic painting is a great way to train your eyes this way.

In traditional Chinese brush paintings, many of which are monochromatic, it’s the value changes through the control of water that create the art. I took a few lessons of Chinese brush painting one summer, and lessons were mainly copying old masters. This is one of the paintings I copied:

After Qi Baishi, ink on Xuan paper, summer 2018

Monochromatic is a good strategy when time is limited. In life painting, it saves the trouble of finding the right skin color and allows me to focus on value and shape.

Woman, ink on watercolor paper, 9 x 12 in, 2018

In landscape scene with overwhelming branches and leaves, monochromatic approach simplifies the view. This plein air was done in burnt sienna. I included some of the visitors I had during the painting – out of proportion, I know, but a lot of fun.

Fox and Caterpillar at West Valley, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2018

More than often, monochromatic painting is used as underpainting. It serves as a value map, but also allow some color strategies. (I found this post by Mitchel Albala very helpful.)

Another approach is to do a monochromatic underpainting, and glaze over it with transparent colors, often times many layers. For acrylic, that means adding quite some medium to the color. My selfie is done this way – dozens of layers. I have to admit, I doubt I will ever use this method again. Too tedious.

Selfie, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in , 2018

I think in theory it could be done with watercolor too, for watercolor is transparent in nature. Even the opaque ones, with enough water, become transparent to some extent. From what I heard, to glaze in watercolor, the key is to wait for the underpainting or the previous layer really really dry, bone dry. Maybe someday I will try it.

Color Studies (1) – Complementary and Temperature

A most common way to practice complementary colors is simple choose a pair and limited your palette to those two (plus tints, shades, mixtures maybe). Like this:

Pastel drawing of a horse(?) skull
Skull (horse?), soft pastel on paper, 18×24 in, 2018

Whichever pair of colors we choose, it is most likely one warm and one cool. In a painting lesson I took years back, we used the complementaries a bit differently. We create a painting in cool colors, and paint the warm complementaries on top. Here’s the result:

Still life, acrylic on canvas board, 16×20 in, 2018

Unfortunately I failed to take a picture of the cool painting underneath, though I did let the cool colors showed through here and there. The colors were not strictly restricted to one pair of complementary colors, but it is within certain range.

I’d say the result is quite different than if I started with these topical colors. There’s a solidity and unity unique to this method.

Morandi (2) and Pairs (III)

This was a class assignment – choose an artist to study, and then paint in his/her style. I was very into Giorgio Morandi at the time (still am now), and he became the subject of my study. To my delight, during my research, I found out that Morandi was very much influenced by another favorite artist of mine, Paul Cézanne; and he in turn, heavily influenced a contemporary artist I admire, Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920). Have I found my “art parents?” (A term I learned from Draftsmen Podcast, S1E5.)

So I set up a still life scene and gave it a try:

Acrylic painting of clothes hanging
Still life 1, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, Spring 2018

I know, there’s nothing Morandi about it (see my previous post about his style). The objects are asserting and the colors are singing. I don’t dislike it as a painting, but it’s definitely not the reservedness and tranquility I was after. So I gave it another try:

Still life 2, acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in, Spring 2018

Well, this is still not Morandi. It’s still me, and it’s very hard not to be me. I understand I will never be Morandi, and that’s not the point of studying a master. If every painting is a self expression, every study of other’s style is a self reflection. I have a lot of passions that I don’t know how to control, and observations I don’t know how to choose and let go.

For sure, I am not done with Morandi yet.