Monday, February 6, 2017

Fooling the Eye with Paint

I've been fascinated by trompe l'oeil paintings forever. The fire was fueled during a workshop at the John F. Peto Studio Museum and I finally decided to try my hand at a composition typical of this genre. "Trompe l'oeil" literally means "fool the eye" and the idea is to create a three dimensional effect with objects that are arranged in a shallow depth of field. Overlapping elements and careful attention to shadows help create the illusion. It can also be a play on reality vs illusion. But not in my composition. Reality is hard enough!

Old Souvenirs ©1881 John F. Peto
Here's an example of Peto's work, Old Souvenirs, 1881, which hangs at the Met Museum.

A classic trope of trompe is the letter rack. These paintings feature an early version of a bulletin board where ribbons or leather straps secure items. Often there was political commentary or some other personal agenda hidden within the objects. The example below is by Edward Collier and was painted in 1696! I love fragile edges of old, browning paper, so this is right up my alley.
Trompe L'Oeil Letter Rack ©1696 Edward Collier
To make the "rack" I used the top of a wooden wine box, found leather strips found on Etsy and secured them with tiny copper nails from our local, old-school hardware store.

creating a letter rack
Below left is the letter rack set up with a variety of vintage papers, assorted writing materials and office supplies. At right is the first pass of color over most of the canvas.

Set up and early work in progress
I've been asked how long it takes to do a painting so I'm trying to pay attention to my studio time. The initial set up (deciding on elements and composition), original drawing, transfer to canvas and beginning to lay down color took the better part of one day.

The following day the first pass of color was completed and some details of objects were added.

Then I left town for a few days. But that's OK because I got hugs from this sweet chickadee. Heavenly.

back home and back in the studio, I worked for three days, probably 4-6 hours a day and I thought it was done.

Sometimes painting is like baking bread. You just have to let it "rest".

A few days later, I realized it wasn't quite finished. The diagonal shadow in the lower left wasn't clear. Some of the small cast shadows needed to be refined to help describe objects. Finally, I signed a scrap of paper, tacked it lower left, and painted the signature. It added to the composition - and was just plain fun to do!

This 12 x 16" painting took about 6 days to complete, which seems pretty quick for such detail (the folded pink and yellow papers below center are receipts - they actually have rule lines and invoice numbers!)

trompe l'oeil painting, still life, illustion
Noteworthy ©2017 Dorothy Lorenze, 12 x 16" oil on linen
The key is starting with a thorough drawing. And X-ray vision might have helped. But lacking that, it was important to check that all the edges of the papers were aligned, creating rectangles rather than trapezoids, overlapping corners that were hidden because the angles are accurate. So the challenge is to use comparative measuring to create realistic details while keeping a sense of artistry and poetry overall.

I don't know if I totally achieved the realism/poetry balance on this one but I really enjoyed trying and plan to do more. Possibly with specific themes ...or hidden meanings?! We shall see. Stay tuned, and let me know what you think.

Thanks for joining me on my art journey.

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