What Have You Done? – A Journey

IT BEGINS 12/12/2020

I drew this on an evening lost in ‘Mr Jones and Me’ and melancholy loneliness as we approached our ‘Pandemic Christmas’.  I never did put any ink on that sketch, which seems a damn shame, so I may pick it back up and ink it some night soon.

Visually, I knew I wanted something a little stark, a hard surreal horizon where the emptiness had a kind of presence.

I had this red background finished and waiting and the texture of it really is quite nice.  I debated (and still debate) if a smoother finish would have better captured the Dali-esque surreal horizon I’d been imagining.  And yes, that’s Naples Yellow, my favorite yellow, my boo, my friend.

Listen, those blues are amazing.  I’d already decided I wanted to use zinc white and raw umber for my highlights and shading on the figure.  The red is so very warm and I didn’t want to over encourage the warm tones, so raw umber was the go to.  My thought process was to see what would happen if I kept my mixing colors simple and consistent and just changed out my blues.  

I used Prussian blue for the internal robe and phthalo blue for the cape (the hat is the same phthalo blue combo with a little more zinc white worked in).  I was so surprised how well the different tones of blue ended up working together and I do think keeping the mixing white and the umber consistently with them really went a long way to give them some cohesion.

I did end up strengthening the yellow pretty significantly, wanting a less muddled coverage.   I’m really happy with the flesh tones, not because it looks like a natural skin tone (I don’t really think it does) but because it’s just close enough to be okay and just far enough off to give you pause – which tickles me.

The only think I was still dissatisfied with was the horizon itself, the break line there lacked the drama I was wanting.

I thinned some raw umber with linseed oil and put in a line at the horizon that really pleases me.  It seems dramatic and definitive and pleasing.  You’ll also notice that the red is SIGNIFICANTLY more vibrant in this picture.  

I’ve noticed that some of my Lucas oil paints I bought waaaay back seem to encourage some sinking in .  That red in particular.  Essentially, the oil in the paint sinks into the lower layers causing some pretty serious dulllness.  This is pretty easily dealt with when you varnish a piece but I’ve always been curious about oiling out a painting, where you brush on a thin layer of linseed oil to restore the vibrancy without varnish.  Odds on I will varnish then when it’s done as well, but it was pretty fun and phenomenal to see the difference the oiling out had on the perception of that red.

I’m not entirely sure where I will go next.  I do think she’s close to done and I’m close to having achieved what I set out to do.

-UPDATE – 03/15/2021

Well … here’s what I learned. When you oil out a painting DO NOT hang it on a wall to dry. Or I didn’t put my oil on thin enough. There is some drippage.

I’m adding that on my phone so don’t know how clear the image will be, but there’s very clear pooling of the oil in a few spots that really impacted the clean background transition I was going for.

Given the issue I abandoned the notion and decided to flatten the background with some black work. I’ve had this hut parade in action a few times in the studio already and I decided to add a strong black silhouette behind her. I’m not sure I love it but I do like it. There’s something compelling and, curiously, adding a flat image like that seems to pull her into the foreground. I inadvertently created some depth. Who knew?

My lord what will happen to this one next?! I’ve contemplated a heavy black line a few inches down from the top, maybe an inch wide … just to give the background a sense of patterning … but I’m not convinced. She will sit and stew for a bit. Stay tuned.

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