Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Julia Child and an Orange

Back in the '60s I used to watch Julia Child on TV. She made cooking look easy. Each week, in just half an hour, she would effortlessly cook up some complicated dish. After watching her one week I thought, "Hey, I'll make a Salmon Case for my new husband. It won't take too long." After all, I'd just seen Julia do it. Result: I spent hours and hours in my kitchen. The Salmon Case was edible but, with the skills I had at the time, it wasn't easy and it didn't look like Julia's.

I learned the hard way that the pros make things look easy because, after lots and lots and lots of practice, they know what they are doing.

I recently decided to learn to paint in oils. To start I signed up for a workshop with landscape artist Marc Hanson. How hard could it be to transfer my pastel painting experience to oils? All the concepts I preach in my classes about having a firm idea about what you are trying to "say" in the painting, good value structure, a strong composition, etc. were stresssed in the workshop. So far, so good. But when I got to putting the paint on the canvas I felt like I was painting with my elbow.

So, what's with the orange painting below?

It is the first in a series of back-to-basics practice pieces I am painting. Last week I did several little landscapes in black and white--just to keep things simple. Working in black and white I could concentrate on values and forget the issues that crop up when color is introduced.

But the brush handling was still tripping me up. The Hanson workshop was invaluable for the demos he did. Just watching how Marc used the paint was huge. Before the workshop I'd been practicing with the oils but, in retrospect, had been using paint much too thickly.

Ever the font of good advice Roz Stendal suggested I take a look at some YouTube videos of Duane Keiser (the orginal Painting-A-Day guy) painting. Viola! He made it look easy.

Well, like my experience with Julia, it is easier than it looks. My first mistake was to make a thin Ultramarine wash as an underpainting. I wiped off the space for the orange and mixed up the various colors in the fruit, the background and shadow. Had I let the remaining blue dry thoroughlyI would not have muddied the orange background and I would have been able to have bits of the blue show through. Other frustrations came with not being able to paint in the fabulous pinkish purple shadow. Or even get the value of the shadow directly under the orange right. It is so easy with pastel!! The above photo (taken inside) doesn't capture much except to show I did attempt a simple orange. I actually painted the orange outside in the shade. The warm orange fruit against the cool orange construction paper was really interesting. The reflected blue from the sky made that great shadow color.

I'll paint another orange tomorrow.

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