Snowed-In

Soup's On
Soups  On

Like many in the eastern part of the United States where snow measurements were 25 to 35 inches when all was said and done, I was snowed-in.  But, the silver lining was that all that white snow inspired me to paint a “fantasy in white.”

I study Portrait and Figure painting at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia, with a well known portrait artist and teacher, Danni Dawson.  Danni is a fantastic teacher who feels that in order to achieve the necessary skills to be a good portrait artist, students need to paint everyday and paint everything and anything.  We have a weekly assignment, often a simple color study and sometimes complete paintings.  Coincidentally, our assignment for this past snowy week was to paint white objects.  One was to be done in natural north light and the other under warm studio lighting  using every color on the palette for both assignments.

Have you ever studied a white object carefully or taken a good look at the snow?  It is amazing how many colors you see.  You may see warm colors, yellows, oranges, pinks, greens, or you may see cool colors, blues, violets, greens, browns, depending on the time of day and sky conditions when you make your observation.  Painting with studio lighting will tend to warm the subject you are painting and can also pick up many reflective colors that surround your objects.

I have a north facing window near my easel so for my homework assignment I arranged a set-up of white dishes in front of the north light window.  I painted “Soups On”  each day at the same time, about 1:30 pm until about 5:00 pm in order to keep the light the same.  I didn’t want to turn on any artificial lights so by 5:00 pm I was pretty much in the dark.  I was able to observe not only the variations of cool colors in my set-up  but in the snow outside the window as well.  Although the light was not strong as the sky was cloudy, I managed to pick up a variety of colors on the objects.

Dessert Anyone?
Dessert Anyone?

To prepare for the study under studio lighting, “Dessert Anyone?”, I first had to bake a cake because I wanted to use my cake holder which I thought would add interest to the composition.  Luckily, I had all the necessary ingredients on hand.  Although natural north light is the preferred lighting for most artists, being able to paint at any time of day in the studio is an advantage and the lighting was much better.  Observing the warm colors on the dishes and the cake frosting was an interesting study.  Even though both are white, the frosting seemed to reflect a stronger, brighter white.  Perhaps because the dishes were picking up the reflective light of their shinny surface or I was eyeing the cake with more concentration because I couldn’t wait to eat it!

Being snowed-in is not so bad if you can find interesting things to do that you love.  I love painting and after two sessions with “Dessert Anyone?” I was able to eat the cake…..not a bad reward after a good day of painting.

“The Harbor at Lorient” after Berthe Morisot

Copy in progress
Copy in progress

I’m back in the Impressionist gallery, #85, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.  I spent a couple of months in the American Gallery painting “Right and Left” after Winslow Homer.  I love the excitement and activity of the Impressionist Galleries.  It’s a bit noisier than other galleries but even some of the guards like it best for the same reasons I do.

The “Harbor at Lorient” is a little jewel that I’ve wanted to paint since it came into the gallery.  But because paintings are often sent out on loan to museums around the world, I had to wait for it to come back from tour even though I had previous approval on availability.

Berthe Morisot is the first female artist whose work I have copied, although we have many wonderful paintings by women artists. The “Harbor at Lorient” was painted when Berthe visited her newly married sister, Edma Pontillon, in the summer of 1869 while she was living in Lorient, France.  Edma was married to a navy man and did not have children.  Since both girls were interested in painting they were free to spend their time painting outside.  During this period Berthe was experimenting with a highly Impressionist style.

The “Harbor at Lorient” draws the eye to the sky’s refection in the water and expresses both movement and the future.  The boats in the background are leaving from the port and moving to another location,  a symbolic reason to create this work as she moved into Impressionism.  The harbor is lit from the right hand side which is clear from the line of shading that runs across Edma’s body.  Her parasol protects her face from the sunlight but the bottom of her dress is radiant in sunlight.  The tone of this work is merry and positive.

When Berthe returned home she anxiously showed her painting to artist friends and colleagues and it was declared as one of her best works.  It found it’s way to the first Impressionists showcase. Unfortunately, the  “Harbor at Lorient” received a critical reception, deemed painted too spontaneously and casually for the time period and with an unfinished feel.   However, after her death, the painting was displayed in a large number of countries and has been well-received by its many viewers who today acknowledge it as one of her foremost Impressionist paintings.

Berthe was influenced by Carot, Manet and Monet.  She was very close to her sister Edma, who was the model in many of her paintings.  Berthe Morisot was a copyist at the Louvre.  She is fast becoming my favorite female artist.

New Works

Strawberries
Strawberries

Spring term classes are over at the Art League School in Alexandria thereby allowing me to focus my energy on creating new works for exhibitions.  Not having to work on assignments for my portrait and figure class will give me time to be more creative and experiment with different media, perhaps trying my hand at some abstract and impressionistic work.  Copying the Impressionists at the National Gallery of Art has inspired me to move away from the classics to a looser format, at least for a little while.  I’d like to do a series of paintings perhaps with just a palette knife and see where I can go with a thicker, imposto style. The excitement of being an artist or painter is the ability to have the freedom to express what you see in any form that comes to mind.  It can be in the style of Monet, Van Gogh, Rembrandt or Vermeer.  I guess you can say I have not found my personal style yet.  Galleries look for a cohesive collection of work before they will consider giving an artist a solo show.  For me, that will have to come later.  I am satisfied exhibiting on a smaller scale.  Right now I plan to have fun doing whatever comes to mind, an advantage when it comes to commission work as I feel confident I can do whatever the client desires. The above paintings were painted from life.  Lucky for me the beets stayed fresh long enough to complete the painting.  By the way, they tasted delicious after I roasted them.  The strawberries had to be painted quicker, almost “alla prima”.  I backlit the setup in order to create a glow coming from behind and may try doing a series in this manner with different fruit. I promise to keep you posted on new creations.