Still Life

Still Life, as Illustration

A bit of speculation, interesting but relevant even if it’s not what happened:

A humble token card

A humble token card

A year ago in late October, I scheduled a week of time during which I would work on some Still Life painting. I had a guest staying for a few days from out of state that we wanted to spend some time with, so Still Life was a good way of being able to stay productive without requiring long studio days, and I wouldn’t have to leave problems unresolved one day to the next. You can read more about that week at this post here.

In any case, on the Monday that I began doing these, I received an email asking about my availability for an upcoming Magic set. I responded back indicating my interest and my schedule availability, and continued working on the still life pieces. There are usually a few days during which the Art Directors collate responses then figure out who is going to do what in a given set.

Each day in the meanwhile, i was live streaming my still life painting on Facebook (the videos are still up and you can find them in my photo albums). It was a lot of fun and I was happy with what I’d produced. Each day I streamed one painting, done alla prima in one sitting.

Well, imagine my surprise when I was assigned a “Food Token” illustration for what would eventually become the Throne of Eldrane expansion set. It was really out of left field as a type of illustration, and I sat wondering if my prior week’s work had influenced Art Director Cynthia Sheppard assigning it to me. I know she’s active on Facebook, after all, and being an artist of considerable skill and talent herself, it did not seem odd that she might see me enjoying those paintings of fruits and vegetables, have a particular assignment requiring similar, and so hand it to me. I don’t know if that was the case, but bravo if so.

Food token illustration study 6x8” acrylic and pencil on toned paper Sold

Food token illustration study
6x8” acrylic and pencil on toned paper

The commission was indeed for fruits and vegetables, but all with some kind of magical twist, and in the case of the bananas, maybe an actual twist! For this commission I actually did a couple of really unusual things, as my illustration work goes, including painting from life, exactly as I did for the small paintings I’d done earlier. I went and purchased some fruit, split a pomegranate, and used some unfortunately mundane bananas. I did this after thumbnailing my composition out, and then laid out my setup next to me. I did a black and white study for submission and submitted it. I was only asked to remove the tendril-y bits from the pomegranate seeds so the food wouldn’t look harmful; I opted to make seeds glow instead.

I utilized the tight-but-loose method of painting I incorporate in those paintings and largely handled this just like a traditional still life painting. For the watermelon, wanting it pyramidal, I printed out large color sheets of watermelon skin texture and glued them to a foam core pyramid, then placed that behind the other fruits.

In the live streams the week before I mentioned that a few of them had been painted in modified limited palettes. Because Throne of Eldrane was supposed to hearken back to classical paintings, including 19c works, in terms of its color space, I opted for a Zorn palette of White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red, and Ivory Black. These colors stayed on my palette for a bit and I ended up doing a few paintings in a row using them, or with maybe single color modifications.

I’m not gonna lie, this was as much fun to paint as it looked. Because the Zorn palette does have a limited chroma, and the glowing apple was supposed to be a bit punchy, I did add a bit of Photoshop sweetening to it. In the end, it sat next to other Food illustrations in the same set by Steven Belledin, Donato Giancola and Lucas Graciano, excellent painters I am honored to stand side-by-side with, who handled other types of food still life pieces for the same set.

I said it didn’t matter too much if I was wrong about the speculation: if it was totally by chance that I got this commission when I did, it still remains that having spent a week on still life paintings the week before, I was ready for this in a very unique way, and it was still a great prelude to working on this.

Food token illustration 11x14” oil on panel Original available this week

Food token illustration
11x14” oil on panel
Original available this week

Donuts and Red Onions

Red Onion 8x6" oil on canvas

Red Onion
8x6" oil on canvas

I hadn't painting any still life paintings in 2018 through now. This was disappointing, but it has been a plenty busy year and it is really difficult to divide up my time among my different genres. But, as soon as I found an opportunity, I jumped in.

One thing I love about still life painting (and this applies to my Hearts for Hardware series, as well), is the way that beholding an object in paint causes you to look at it formally, detached from your usual context of seeing the thing. A donut appeals the eye only insofar as it excites the appetite. A red onion appeals to the eye for the way it signals that it is in good shape, fit for cutting up and cooking or adding to a meal. But the objects themselves aren't usually behold for their own visual properties: their colors, textures, contours and so on. It takes removing the item from its original context, and placing it in another.

Painting is great for this because even apart from photography, paintings are meant to be beheld. The strokes and texture of paint overlay and cue to the mind that this is something that is supposed to be looked at for itself.

And since these particular visuals of a donut and a red onion cannot be consumed or chopped up for stew or whatever, you can behold them without temptation.

Chocolate Cruller 6x8" oil on canvas

Chocolate Cruller
6x8" oil on canvas

The Same, But Different

While my work has shown changes over the past few years, notably in a spreading out of subject matter, it is also true that I tinker a lot behind the scenes. Most of these experiments are not game-changing ones, and most are not even really intentional. But sometimes, at the start of a piece I'll just decide to do something different for no reason in particular.

"Pine Cone" 6x8" oil on panel Sold

"Pine Cone"
6x8" oil on panel

The last time I did a couple of still life paintings, I did them in a limited palette, as discussed in the videos that resulted. I don't always work in limited palettes, but have done so more often in the past year or two.

When I painted this still life at the very end of 2016, for no particular reason I decided to choose a limited palette: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Perylene Red, and Ultramarine Blue. I hadn't used that Red much, and wanted to experiment a bit more with it.

Happy with the result, when a few days later I did another small painting, and my first of 2017, I took my palette out of the freezer (where I store it between sessions) and, noting that I had quite a bit of paint left, decided to just continue using it, albeit with a very different overall color cast.

"Concha" 6x8" oil on panel sold

6x8" oil on panel

So this second piece uses the exact colors as the prior one. It's been fun to do this from time to time. I don't know if it'll stick long-term or just remain a way of working on occasion. What I do know is that following this piece, I then worked on a larger 18x24" landscape piece for my Times and Seasons series, and what do you know: I just kept on working with that palette, although in that case I did add Cadmium Yellow Pale because Medium did not have the punch needed for some of what I was doing there. I look forward to sharing that with you soonish.

From there, I took a few days away from the easel to do an event and start working on taxes and stuff, so that paint won't be usable anymore next time I sit to paint. So it's off to a different thing.

Two New Still Life Paintings and Videos

One of the things I like about still life painting is painting seasonal things, so, a couple weeks back I sat and painted two still life pieces appropriate to the season.

"2 Pumpkins" 6" x 8" oil on canvas

"2 Pumpkins" 6" x 8" oil on canvas

A friend of mine has some small kids tending a little pumpkin patch in the backyard. These still life paintings are usually small, so I needed some small pumpkins and theirs were perfect. I purchased them from the boys and brought them home. My main intent was to carve one or both to paint, but before I potentially ruined them, I figured I should get at least one painting out of them. So I set them together and got to work.

That night, I carved up one of these with a traditional jack o' lantern face. These were small pumpkins, about actual size as portrayed on the panel. Carving small pumpkins is a bit tricky, but it was a simple pattern. My wife got a kick watching me carve this tiny pumpkin with an Xacto blade--we have never carved pumpkins together since we don't really acknowledge Halloween in our home. Therefore, I hadn't carved a pumpkin since the 80s. I kept the second pumpkin as a back-up in case I demolished the first.

The next day, I sat and painted a very different still life painting using just the one pumpkin. It appears larger than life on its canvas, owing to wanting it to fill the space more and having it closer to me as I painted so it just looked larger, too. 

"Classic Jack" 6" x 8" oil on canvas  Available at Every Day Original

"Classic Jack" 6" x 8" oil on canvas
Available at Every Day Original

In addition to painting these two pieces back-to-back, I decided to film the painting of them. Adding some narration to them, they make nice little inexpensive painting demos. I think of it this way: buy me a fancy coffee and in the time it takes to enjoy it, I'll talk to you about art and you can watch me paint. There are two videos, though some of the concepts in each build on what is said in the other video.

You can see all my demo videos on my page at Gumroad.