Friday, November 9, 2012

David Gray (b. 1970): Still Life Demonstration

Below is an example of a still life painted by contemporary representational artist, David Gray (see previous post).  It is typical of his process for painting a still life:  unlike his figure work, his still lifes are never painted from photographs.  The working surface is an 8x10 acrylic primed panel.


Vine charcoal. Just getting a feel for the shapes and where they go. I'm flying by the seat of my pants here
by not taking a few careful measurements. My eye is still traveling all over the composition to see shape relationships...
so in a way I am measuring, just in a different way.

After dusting off that first scribble I now block in the shapes more completely. I'm being fairly heavy
handed here. Still eyeballing height and width relationships and how forms overlap.

This is an example of a positive shape. This is what we typically look for. Try to isolate this shape and
duplicate it on your panel or canvas. I like to simplify my shapes into blocky forms using only straight lines.

Don't forget about negative shapes! They can tell you just as much about where things go sometimes.

So, again, I dust off the previous step and refine. I'm now ready to start my underpainting. I do not spray fix
this drawing. I just dust it off a little. The remaining charcoal does not interfere with my painting.

Where to begin? Well, this is just the underpainting so to me it doesn't really matter. I just start painting
form by form. I try to get the basic colors and values pretty correct. But I don't get too picky.
This is just an intermediate step between the blank panel and the real business of the painting.
I keep the paint fairly thin and loose, but controlled. I also use this step
to refine my drawing where needed.

...form by form...

...and a little more...

Here's my palette. From right to left: Stiff mixed white, Titanium White, Naples Yellow,
Hansa Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Cadmium Orange, Venetian Red,
Quinacridone Violet, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, Ivory Black, Cerulean Blue,
Ultramarine Blue, Chromium Green Oxide, Pthalo Green. I don't always have this
many nor need this many colors on my palette. But I'm presently working on my color sense
a little more and am seeing if it makes a difference having a few more pure colors available.

Finished underpainting. When you see the finished painting (to be posted later) you should look back at
this image. You will then notice how simple I'm keeping things here. Just feeling out the forms, solidifying
the drawing, starting to feel out the color.

The color temperature difference is due to a different white balance setting on my camera. I just bought
a new Canon D50 and am dickering with what the proper white balance setting should be in my studio.
I think this is a little better but maybe a smidge cool.

Notice I paint a little of the background around the objects I am trying to complete. This will help to
ensure a smoother transition between old work and new.

Next form...

Carefully block it in and "finesse" it next (next image).

Notice inside the silver bowl -- there are a lot of reflections in there. The way I handle it is to block in
the darker shapes first as shown.

I didn't actually nail the values inside the silver bowl. It needs to go a little lighter in places and also
needs higher chroma in places. It's OK. I'll leave it for now and correct in a final pass at the end.
I'll show how I do that at that time. I might need to dicker with the white teacup a bit as well.

Never forget to stop drawing. Even in this stage I correct my drawing as necessary. I discovered that my
spoon was a little "off" and fixed it as I finished it. Later you may notice I shortened the little glass
goblet on the right. Keep your drawing chops working throughout the whole process...

I usually paint the form first and then the background around it, but in the case of my glass goblet my
decisions about the background color needed to be established before I painted it. I have made the
mistake of painting my clear glass objects completely before nailing my background color choices.
Usually it leads me to have to do some corrective repainting on my glass objects.

That little strip of background I painted around each object really made it easy to come in behind
and fill in the background. It looks like I did it all in one go instead of feeling "patchy". The same
will be true when I paint the table cloth on which the objects are sitting.

These are the brushes I've been using on this project. I started out using the Daniel Smith brushes,
which are synthetic ("faux mongoose", they call them) but switched to the Robert Simmons
Sapphire (natural hair/synthetic blend) because they are a bit softer and can lay down the
paint a little more delicately. I've been enjoying Blick masterstroke Red Sables lately also.
For the price I don't think you can beat them. But for my technique they are more suited to work
on canvas (this project is on panel). The tube on the left is the alkyd gel medium I like to use.
I just add a little to my mixes to help things dry faster. I also really like it because it doesn't
alter the character of my paint much, if at all. It also helps my colors not to "sink in" so much
when dry. It's also a fantastic glazing medium. It's also virtually odorless and safe to use.
So, basically, it's perfect.

The overpainting is now complete. I will let this dry for a day or two and then do some final glazing
and retouching as needed. It will be good to get a break from this piece and then come back
and think about what it needs. ...more to come...

OK. Now I'm getting back to finish this sucker. This piece is dry to the touch. In preparation for oiling in
and glazing the first thing I do is dust it off with a dry house painter's brush.

I turn the piece and tilt it so the light rakes across the surface showing me all the dust particles.
Turn the painting each way so as to see dust that catches the light differently.

Now I oil in using a soft brush with 1:1 walnut oil and odorless mineral spirits. The goal is to recover the
freshness of the wet paint and create a "couch" in which to lay in the glazes or any other adjustments
that need to be made.

After brushing on my oil mixture I mop it up with one of these foam makeup wedges. I learned that from
Douglas Flynt, a great painter and teacher.

I like to position the painting so I can see a light source bouncing off the piece. That way I can see
how much I am mopping up. I try to leave just enough. This is a useful technique. Just be careful not
to do it too many times or you will be adding too much oil to your paint film; not good for longevity.

I just made some minor adjustments to most areas of the painting. Miniscule, really, but important to
me in my communication. Once this is dry I will oil in and adjust one more time.

Final. I don't see much change from this photo to the preceding one, but in real life there is a difference.

I like to show these details because it shows the character of the paint more. The little jpegs can mislead one
to think there is a photo-like quality to my work with no brushwork showing.


Additional examples of David Gray's still lifes.


David Gluck said...

Dammit Gray, stop hogging Underpaintings.

Claire Feng said...

Thank you for sharing!

Mona Diane Conner said...

What a great demo, and I love David's work. A question comes to mind: why walnut oil instead of linseed oil for the couch mixture?

Mona Diane Conner said...

Okay, p.s., just found the answer to my question, so here is David's post on 'why walnut oil' (and what a stellar teaching blog!) Thank you David Gray, and thanks Matt for posting David's beautiful work. I am learning and being inspired by both of you now:

Paul Corfield said...

Mona - Walnut oil is more resistant to yellowing and cracking than linseed, I'd guess that is the reason.

Mick Carney said...

Brilliant post. I'll return to this time and time again for the information and inspiration. Thanks.

DG said...

Thanks, again, Matt. Gluck, you're such a goof!

riki jorden said...

Very excellent ideas and process to make awesome canvas.Thanks to share your knowledge.

canvas art painting

dr hassan waqar said...

david you are a brilliant painter with super talent but almost all have some glass vessel or white bowl which should not have been there,if its a warm painting,let it be,dont cool it down,if its a game of metals let it be so,think about your use of glass vessels,in almost all the paintings they were not needed.