Limes, Figures and the End of Fall

(Featured image, Etude in Green, 8 x 10 oil on canvas board, available)

Five weeks have passed since the end of the Randy pose and, because (cruelly) progress is not linear, it has been one unsatisfying figure painting experience after another but the limes were truly a joy.  Randy was a step forward for me in terms of flesh tones and completing a successful figure painting process all the way through. I turned form, I shifted value and temperature to better effect than usual — all these things I have been attempting to juggle since beginning to paint in color. With the Randy pose everything came together easily, it was strange. Like a glimpse into the future that I haven’t quite earned yet. I felt in control of the process the whole way through, albeit it was only a four day pose. Of course this success might have been repeatable if I had continued to work small (Randy was 11 x 14″).

But our instructors are pushing us to work bigger as the poses become longer throughout the year. The final two poses before winter break were going to last two and three weeks. This creates two major problems in my workflow: coverage and surface. In the time warp of painting, doubling the time doesn’t mean you can double the size. Every square inch added increases the time it takes to cover the canvas exponentially, and ideally you want to go over the painting several times.

In terms of surface, I tend to work on cotton canvas boards for smaller studies, ie. Randy. But for the next few weeks I was going work at 17 x 20″ and then 18 x 24″, so I would need to stretch canvases and this would drastically change the surface I was painting on. That’s because the roll of professional-grade oil-primed linen canvas I use for stretching is so much nicer than the student-grade acrylic primed cotton used for small studies. If you’ve ever used a better quality tool that was also more complicated but could potentially yield far better results, then you know this struggle. Like a fancy camera with all the bells and whistles that makes you want to run screaming back to your old point and shoot.

The nice linen is so smoothly primed it’s like painting on glass. It requires a build up of paint over time to overcome the slickness so that the brushstrokes lay exactly as placed. Otherwise it can be like trying to write on glass with a marker. But it’s this same pain-in-the-neck smoothness that defines a high quality surface and makes a finished work look fluid and luminous.

You can see where I’m going with this. In life room time is of the essence. I was being asked to work bigger but just switching to this better quality surface was going to take up more time whether or not I was adding inches to the canvas, which I was, lots of them.

The model for the two week pose was Anny. I know, I know, her face looks a little like mine and she has dark hair and bangs. But Anny is a gorgeous, graceful swan and a jazz singer when she’s not modeling. I’m looking forward to watching her sing Christmas jazz standards in a holiday show soon. It’s always fun to get to know the models!

Here’s the poster study I made to plan the painting (left, 8 x 10″ on linen mounted on board) and the full attempt (right, 17 x 20″ on stretched linen).

What to say about this? The night before the final day of painting I sprayed it with retouch varnish after working on the background elements all day. Retouch varnish is a very thin varnish you can paint on top of. It provides the benefit of making the surface look wet instead of ashy so you can see how the painting will actually look when finally varnished and you can retouch or finish the painting more accurately. However this time…it made all of the still wet paint slide right off the canvas like so much runny mascara! It was horrifying. I had to wipe off all the streaks which took off even more paint and muddied what was left. You can see the legs and hands got the worst of it. I wasn’t able to recover what was lost the next morning during life room. C’est la art school y’all. Full of gut wrenching disappointments. I should have let the paint dry longer before spraying it. I might hire Anny to sit for me again over winter break so perhaps I won’t count this one as a loss yet. I’ll keep you posted.

Next, Tami sat for us. This was supposed to be a three week pose but we lost two days to Thanksgiving. We are making up two days next week even though the pose has officially ended. Perhaps there is time to fix the chest and portrait on this figure painting.

Again poster study on the (left,8 x 10″), the graphite drawing on paper (center, 18 x 24″) and the mostly complete attempt pending two more days on the right (18 x 24″). You can see I did not put retouch varnish on it this time so it is only shiny in areas where it’s still wet.

And last but not least, limes! The color studies continue in the afternoon studio hours. What a different world, where I can work as long as I want and have time to make full grisaille underpaintings. I stuck to the same process I used with the painting of lemons. Green was trickier but also more fun to work with. Right now I have a big green pumpkin, a smaller orange one, a red cabbage and a pale parsnip wilting in my light box. I’ll follow up on that one soon.

Here’s the underpainting for the limes. I like to share this because I think it’s an interesting little-known part of the painting process and because I think underpaintings are really beautiful yet once you paint over them, they’re gone forever.


Etude in Green, 8 x 10″  oil on linen mounted on board. Available, contact me if  you’re interested.