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 Needlewoman – Diego Velazquez

The Needlewoman, in copy
The Needlewoman, in copy

The Needlewoman by Diego Rodriquez de Silva y Velazquez (1566-1660), Spanish, was the second project attempted in the Copyist program.  Because The Needlewoman was an unfinished portrait with little detail, the copying process took only 4 Tuesdays to complete, about 20 hours.  The head of The Needlewoman was modeled in light and shadow and is the most fully realized part of this painting as opposed to the remainder of the painting including the arms, hands, etc., which are sketched in only briefly.  The resulting painting displays the Velazquez facility to portray gesture and his ability to suggest the subject melding into the background.  It is believed that The Needlewoman was not completed by Velazquez.  The painting was found upon examination of the inventory in his home at the time of his death.  The Needlewoman is very similar to several of his other works.

The Needlewoman, after D. Velazquez
The Needlewoman, after D. Velazquez

I participated in a workshop entitled “Painting in the Manner of Velazquez” with Robert Liberace in the summer of 2011 at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia. I was intrigued by the Velazquez style and therefore welcomed the opportunity to copy an original at the National Gallery of Art.  During the workshop I used authentic paints as were used in Velazquez’s time.  I prepared my linen canvas according to conventions of the period.  I felt transformed back in time.  Many of Velazquez’s paintings were dark compared to other more colorful painters of his time.  However, he put down paint beautifully, very thin paint, almost nothing at times and yet in chiaroscuro style achieved a luminosity that made his work glow.

I learned a great deal from the study of Velazquez.  How much? You be the judge.