Thursday, December 8, 2011

Vanitas in progress

Posted by: Kate
Wanna see some photos of my Vanitas in progress?

This is an early manifestation of the set up.  I find it neat how still life objects come together in paintings, and how they recur in painting after painting.  The turquoise table top is actually an old rotten shutter that I found in someone's trash while they were performing an illegal home renovation in Toronto.  I figure if they're already doing something illegal, how illegal is it for me to go through their garbage?  These same shutters appeared in my "Bottle Fly" painting and in Dave's Vanitas painting.  Which means that while Dave and I were purging furniture and kitchen ware to save money on our move across country, we decided it was necessary to keep a bunch of nasty old boards.

Here's a quick colour study.  It's kind of pointless.  I think I was trying to look busy or something so that I didn't have to help Dave with dinner.

Transferred skull.  This is a lovely panel that Dave made.

Wiped transferred outline away a bit so that it's easier to paint over.  The burnt sienna contrasts the turquoise and is going to make a neat underpainting.  I did this with my Bottle Fly so it's pretty much guaranteed to work.  When I apply the turquoise paint colour, I will do so with scratchy brush strokes and a palette knife so as to allow the underpainting to shimmer through.  The most important thing though, is to make sure that this underpainting is exactly the right value.  If you are tone blind, the monochrome setting on your camera can help you out.  But really, if you're tone blind, take up macrame or ice-sculpting or something.

If you look really close you might be able to make out two giant arrows that are pointing at two gobs of paint.  The gobs of paint are turquoise that I have mixed up to match the still life set up.  I have smeared them onto the still-wet underpainting to see if the values sit right.

Start of ébauche.

More ébauche.

I knocked back the underpainting for the wood a little bit.  There is now a motley of grey and red which I decided would work better.  It may not look like it because of the exposure of this photo, but I maintained the value when I scumbled over it.  The skull has been painted again and the flowers and shells are in place.

The skull was painted, oh, a couple more times.  For the final pass I switched to lead white.  As you can see I fudged the table top to make it about three times as thick as in the set up, and for interest's sake I added a keyhole, so ta-da, it is now a chest that the skull is resting on.  This is the first still life that I have completed from natural light and I finally have the warm-cool balance that I've been trying to achieve.  Time to go smash all my fluorescent light bulbs.

Not sure if these photos really show the full range of colour in the whites.  There's a lot of bouncing around from blue to yellow to red, which I think it kind of cool.  But that's the beauty of showing work online.  I get to say, "Oh, my camera doesn't really capture it, my work is so much better in real life," and you have to take my word for it.

Here are the pre-mixed colours I used to paint my "whites."

So the painting's done now.  Or is it?  I have this dead dragonfly just lying around, all like, "So is there a reason you've been keeping me in a tupperware in the freezer for six months?  Nah it's cool.  Don't immortalize me if you don't want to.  I'll be here the next time you go digging for frozen tater tots."


  1. Kate,
    Great post, thanks for the details. It really helps to see the close-up of the wood. I can see the nice effect from laying in some of the turquoise with the palette knife. The grey scumble over the burnt sienna really added depth and authenticity to the old wood but it doesn't really reveal itself until the turquoise was added and the fine detail accents were put in.

    Artist in Disguise

  2. Lovely Kate, The purity of the natural light is beautiful.

  3. Terrific post!
    again, thanks for sharing
    the details are marvelous
    the work in the wood is quite impressive
    (and love the "whites"!)

  4. This is one of the best things I've come across on the internet lately. That, and finding out that Nitram charcoal came back while I was living in a cave or something. Anyway, I've come back to visit it and think about it a few times in the last couple of days, so I figured I should say hello and thank you for the pleasure. Post more stuff so I can waste more time. Thanks.