Interview with Ania Mohrbacher
Changing Style and Handling Fan Mail
News for August
ReflectionsBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
I don't do still-life's enough. They can be great fun, though. You have complete control over the subject matter and the composition. You can control the lighting. You can play around a great deal with contrast: smooth against rough, matte against shiny, lines against curves... the combinations are endless.
So for subject 'reflections', several ideas popped out at me. I wanted to use a mirror, I knew that. But I also wanted to play around with reflected light and color.
I decided on a black and white (any white subject is great for learning how to work with reflected color), and added in a tomato I had lying around to add some color. Then I began to play with the pieces.
I needed two light sources because my studio is very dark, but I kept them pointed in a similar direction so I would have some nice shadows. Besides, the mirror is throwing enough reflected light to help build shape.
Then I started painting. With my acrylic still-lifes, I rarely draw the composition first. Acrylic is opaque (well, not all paint colors, but that's a conversation for another day: in short, you can generally think of acrylic as opaque), enough that I can fix my mistakes if I need to. I simply do my best to measure and compare shapes and angles while I work. This is good practice in any project.
I scrubbed in a base coat made primarily of payne's grey, some ultramarine and raw umber. The brush strokes are still very obvious, but that doesn't bother me. I'm going to cover most of them up eventually. I used a big brush. It's painted on a piece of illustration board. Illustration board is a mixed blessing with acrylics. On the one hand, you don't have to deal with the texture of canvas. On the other, the initial base layer is a pain to lay down; the illustration board soaks the water right out of the paint, so you almost end up dry-brushing. This problem can be solved if you decide to gesso first.
Using some acra red (a very transparent acrylic paint, and a cool red) to roughly block in the tomatoes. I decided to crop the edge of one in the foreground. I felt it anchored the painting. I roughly measured the position of the other tomato relative to that and painted it in.
In the next step I concentrated on blocking in the shapes and values. I used a smaller brush than before. I did work on the colors, but value was more important at this point. I used more opaque colors than transparent, but there was a little of everything. Acra red, hansa yellow and ultramarine are all transparent, while cadmium red and titanium white are opaque, and raw umber mixes beautifully with all of them.
I have very warm lights in my studio (I will have great studio lighting one day, sigh), so I intentionally toned my whites a little cooler than I saw them. I roughed in the blue of the mirror's frame, and the very darkest darks of the folds in the black towel.
If you look between the last image and the next one, it looks like there is a huge difference, but it's less than an hour's work. The colors used in this stage were cadmium red, hansa yellow light, titanium white, raw umber, and ultramarine blue. Any mix that has a cadmium or titanium white in it will be opaque. If I need a more transparent touch, I used a dry-brushing technique to soften the color.
In some areas, I used a smaller brush than before. I paid careful attention the colors, and the values of those colors in relation to each other, as I tweaked them little by little. I warmed up the composition in general; this is especially notable in the areas of black cloth, where most of the very cool base coat was covered with more opaque paint.
There are other small things that make this work. The folds in the black cloth move the eye in a zig-zag pattern back and forth, keeping the eye moving between the two main light areas (the eggs in the foreground and their reflection). The reflection shown in the mirror is less tightly-painted, has less detail, and less contrast. This helps to push it into the background. The mirror is very simply done; it is basically a strip of dark blue with a highlight, and the hinges get a similar treatment. Because of its dark color and lack of contrast with the black cloth, it almost escapes notice at first.
I found working with the mirror to be very interesting and I can't wait to try it again, perhaps with more mirrors and lots of shiny objects. Wouldn't that be fun?
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