Sunday, June 24, 2018

Picking up spice from my palette

Multi-colored tomatoes from the farmers market at Muscoot were a fitting subject for my first painting of the summer. Colorful and juicy, they whet my appetite as I worked. So maybe that explains why I started to think of my palette as a... spice drawer.

This one was meant to be a return to "alla prima" which essentially means all at once, painting wet into wet. For me, it meant jumping in with brush and paint, not taking the time for a preparatory drawing and transferring it to canvas. But truthfully, it was not "at one go." It took me three days. 

For me, alla prima can feel scary - there's no time spent observing the subject while drawing. I tend to rely on the structure of a refined drawing as a road map for what goes where.

    My worry was missing the classical technique that I rely on.
    My hope was finding a fresher finish for these bright, luscious tomatoes.

Below is a sphere painting that was done as a classical exercise in creating form with light and shadow. A good practice, and it clearly applies to tomatoes!

Correctly articulating how light interacts with an object is what makes it believable as an object in space. Color and texture is what differentiates objects - these are tomatoes not apples.

I found myself dipping into piles of paint thinking, "too dull, it needs a bit more spice." Experimenting like we do in cooking. But you can only ad lib a recipe if you have some experience and know the benefits of cumin or cayenne.

In studying color we talked about saturation (vibrancy) and how to soften (neutralize) a color. Sorting through which reds, for example, were warmer or cooler, vibrant or dull. All of that was in my repertoire as I dipped my brush, finding ways to match the reds of different tomatoes.

Some artists soften the vibrancy of a color by adding it's compliment, like purple to tone down yellow, but I was taught to look for the closest color on the color wheel, moving in the direction needed. So, maybe neutralize cadmium red with some yellow ochre. Nothing dramatic, it's the beauty of subtlety. Just like cooking, this process draws on prior knowledge. When is it best to sweeten with sugar or honey or molasses.

In the end the tomatoes look pretty fresh, I think. And it was slowing down just enough to observe and use classical techniques that got me there. That, and studying with Todd Casey and many hours at the easel!

alla prima, tomatoes, oil painting
Fresh off the easel (no name yet), 6x8 ©2018 Dorothy Lorenze

There's a two-day workshop coming up with Todd. If you'd like to learn this approach to painting check in with Todd (

Details are -
  • July 21 & 22
  • 10am to 4pm (30 min break for lunch)
  • $250 for two days
Topic covered include -
  • Proper Lighting
  • Constructing Form
  • Light & Shadow
  • Transferring a Drawing
  • Value & Color
  • Edges
  • Working a narrative into your painting
It's such an enjoyable and informative artistic experience.

Meanwhile, Happy Summer and thanks for joining me on my art journey.

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