Decided to do a series of paintings based on my theme of the uncleared breakfast table. However, the husband has said this seems a depressing subject, I don’t agree, but there may therefore turn out to be more ‘proper’ objects and less detritus.
My canvases are 50×50, two 50×60’s and a 50x70cm.
The idea is to use the studies and experiments I’ve done so far, so I surrounded myself with my sketches and earlier colour exercises. I wanted to adopt some of the practises of Richard Diebenkorn, Elizabeth Blackadder and William Hunt, creating my own synthesis of these influences, so I and set up a library of their paintings, I could constantly refer to while I was working.
There are two strands to why I find these artists, who are so different in many ways, so appealing. Firstly their use of colour is interesting and inventive, at first sight simple, but on closer inspection subtly nuanced in tone, hue and intensity. Secondly their compositions could be described as ‘minimal’ – they emphasise the importance of blank space, simple shapes and, in the case if Blackadder and Hunt, manipulation of perspective to suit their pictorial requirements. Thirdly they all combine paint with other media, as I’d enjoyed doing in my sketchbook studies.
Having done quite a lot of preparation, I now realised I still hadn’t actually made practical decisions, and here were four blank canvases – I needed to decide what I was going to put on each one. I had to organise my thoughts, so I started a worksheet on which I worked out in small thumbnails my four favourite compositions, and their basic ‘colour envelopes’. I continued to use the worksheet while painting, making notes, jotting down reminders and ideas etc.
I drew the bare bones of my ‘designs’ in charcoal onto the canvases, and started to block out in acrylic paint and gesso a few large, simple areas of colour, aiming at this stage simply to state the table, the tablecloth and the background.. Each subsequent layer modified slightly the earlier ones; paint was applied thinly in glazes, scrubbed on roughly with rags; squeezed onto the canvas straight from the tube and spread with palette knives; brushed on with big decorator’s brushes, dry and wet, until I was happy with them. (Click on the images to enlarge. The first two are different stages of the same canvas).
Canvas by canvas I started roughing in my still life arrangements with willow charcoal. The outline objects can be seen in the fourth image above. To draw them I roughly set out the objects on the table by my side, apart from the yellow canvas, which is an imaginary arrangement based on some actual objects.
Starting with the yellow canvas (‘Breakfast with a Fig and Olives’), first of all I added a dark complementary magenta border to the table – the contrast was to frame the still life. I began adding my breakfast objects. I collaged a torn paper napkin and a piece of paper torn from a magazine, and painted a plate, a bowl , some figs and olive stones. I mixed up the perspectives of the objects – the plate is seen from above, the bowl is at eye level. I placed the objects where I fancied, to achieve a pleasing composition. It looked too neat and lacked interest. The solution eluded me. I played around with the image digitally and decided to ‘spoil’ the pretty picture a bit with a scrawl of complementary Magenta over the napkin and a smear of white above it. Onto the magenta I collaged a small square of painted watercolour paper I found in my scrap box. Then with an ink brush pen I drew a glass water jug I’ve studied many times before, and an olive branch from the garden – coloured with soft pastel (the torn magazine extract also has a drawing of an olive branch). This was all done over several sessions interspersed with working on the other canvases, and time for reflection.
Ass 2 Breakfast with a Fig and Olives
The indigo / mauve canvas (‘Breakfast with a Pickled Walnut’) is arranged and painted in a more realistic way. I planned to use a limited number of harmonious colours, but first I added a layer of muted khaki -yellow over the mauve table – I liked the contrast with the tablecloth – then added the objects on the cloth. The composition looked ok, but again there was something missing – I took time out to work on another canvas and returned to this one after a day or two. It was just too sparse – again, there wasn’t enough interest – I seem to be too tentative as I feel my way into this painting lark – time will make me more decisive. Then I had inspiration, lay the canvas down and placed a napkin and my half-eaten simit on it (in this canvas at 50×60 cm, the foreground objects are more or less life-size). It looked good – I painted them just as I saw them, and found they add to the dynamics and lead the eye in, pointing to the other objects and the way through to the jug in the background.
The first two paintings described above were feeling to me too carefully controlled. I decided to try to be angry as I approached the next one, the blue / pink canvas (‘Breakfast with Tomatoes and Watermelon’). By this I mean in the way I physically applied the paint. It went well – I started off painting the coffee pot and water bottle in the background, and I liked how they look quite expressionistic and rough. But I couldn’t sustain it, and soon found myself slowing down and painting carefully again.
I had trouble with this composition – never realized how tricky it is to paint circular objects convincingly – you can get away with inaccuracies in objects seen in ellipse, but not in a circle. I had several goes at the plate, and at a second plate in the bottom left corner of the composition. This last one was painted out eventually, as it felt like a Stop sign right in the foreground. Anyway the composition didn’t need it – the group of food is the focal point. I added the streak of dark blue to the cloth to indicate a fold in the material, and to lead the eye to the bottle and coffee pot which felt a bit isolated – the foreground objects are painted in so much sharper focus.
Work in progress
Ass 2 Breakfast with Tomatoes and Watermelon
The orange canvas (‘Breakfast with Three Simits’, or ‘Three by Three’) is landscape format, unlike the others. Like Breakfast with a Fig and Olives, its also a bit imaginative. It was the quickest of the four to complete. The objects (all done in soft pastel and charcoal – no paint) are simplified. Some are left as simple outlines, some are roughly coloured, with a minimum of shading. I avoided the pitfall of the less-than-perfect circle by drawing the plate and saucer with distinct planes to their circumferences – makes them visually more interesting anyway. Everything is in groups of three – this was unintentional, but works. I gave the eye a road to travel through and around the objects. I’m pleased with how the composition turned out – although on reflection I would have liked the objects overall to be a bit larger.
As in Breakfast with a Pickled Walnut I used a few harmonizing colours, plus touches of their complementary. There are three blue objects in the background on the left – I don’t know what they are – their colour is repeated in the foreground cup and again under the table.