225. Life Cycle of the Pomegranate

Well, I’m back!  I’ve spent the last 2 weeks dealing with all the little sticky bits of paperwork and choices for retirement, from choosing a supplemental Medicare program to whatever.  It’s a lot of drudgery, but has to be done.  I’ve everything except one card – the prescription card – but the rest is in place.  Besides that, I have also had the time and desire to focus on conquering some software issues, now resolved but only to have another pop up.  Thus, back to painting – so much more enjoyable and fun, even when things go wrong . . .

Here, the life cycle of the pomegranate, from flower to fruit to food for birds when it bursts open.  The local botanical garden has several of these lovely trees, now in the stage of bloom and setting fruit.  Large, ripe fruits come later in the year, of course.  I don’t know why I thought of doing a life cycle, but it seemed like a fun thing to do – maybe a mirror of my own life cycle?  Done with the weekly commute and such?

224. Loquats for the Picking

A couple of weeks ago I took a photo of loquats, not really ready to be eaten, but certainly not too much sooner!

The loquat is a fruit tree indigenous to southeastern China. It is frequently grown in California gardens for its fruit and decorative qualities. The fruit is a pale yellow to a golden color, and the leaves are stiff and dark green. The contrast of the roundish fruit with the wide, pointy leaves makes for an interesting painting subject.

The photo from which the drawing evolved:

Painting the loquat has a bit of cross-cultural history behind it, too; ink painting tradition honors the loquat in Asia.

It would be easy enough to paint a loquat in watercolors, without ink, as well.

221. Lichens on Tree Branches

I have finally gotten out to the local botanic garden after a month long hiatus.  I went a couple of days ago on a bright sunny day.  Today, in the foggy gloom, I went again.  Both times, camera in hand.  The sunny day I was accompanied by a friend while this morning one of my dogs came along.

In today’s gloom, the bright green lichens on this tree caught my eye.  I’ve photographed it a number of times, in different seasons, under different lighting conditions.  There are spots of green, white, and dark grey.  Textures range from smooth to rough.  In the textures of the garden – leaves, flowers, critters, stems, branches, – it is easy to overlook the subtle beauty of a couple of branches.

218. Detail and Edges, i

Moving on from Phil Metzger’s studies in atmospheric perspective, we now begin considering details and edges, and how they portray depth and dimension in a painting.  Essentially, as with a photograph, areas of interest are generally in focus, and areas of lesser interest are out of focus.  In painting, this becomes detail and edges – how much of each, where to use them, and why.

In Chapter 2 of The Art of Perspective:  The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium, Metzger points out that in painting, perspective is portrayed (in addition to color) by the amount of detail and sharpness of edges.  Areas which are not of interest, or further away, have less detail.  Edges are softer.  Areas of focus, whether in the foreground or middle ground, will have more detail and sharper edges.  He begins this with a pencil sketch, with areas of light and dark, in between which are medium values.  His drawing is wonderfully detailed and is done with hard, soft, and medium pencils on bristol board.  I have no bristol, and worse, I cannot find my drawing pencils!  Thus, I was stuck with a bit of old drawing paper and a #2 pencil.  Nonetheless, his points were clear.

The depth of field is found in the values, details, and edges.  Varying shades of graphite indicate if something is in front or in back of adjacent branches.  The tree bits in the foreground are more detailed than the ones in the back.  Light and dark work together to create depth, and medium tones help as well.

My drawing is quite lacking in much of what Metzger shows in his book, but the point is made:  edges and detail indicate the point of interest.  Additionally, by doing this study, I am beginning to realize the importance of value studies.  I don’t like swatching for knitting, nor doing toiles for sewing, but in painting, I think the value studies are becoming more important if I want to improve my abilities in watercolor.

Now we move from pencil to paint.  Metzger demonstrates his points about edges and detail with egg tempera and watercolor.  Egg tempera is a natural for great detail, while watercolor is more suggestive.  Even so, there are people who can paint incredibly detailed watercolors that look like photos – I am not one of them!

To emphasize his point about detail and edges, the exercise is to paint a still life apple and pear.  They should be fairly detailed – mine are not especially so, but do show highlight and shadow areas.  Then, this still life is cut out and set against different backgrounds.

I painted 3 backgrounds, which you can see below in the slide show.  Click on each to see what I did.  One of the backgrounds I used twice by flipping it; the red one I only used once, and the one with the stripes I did in two directions and then added texture to the stripes in the form of thin lines and chevrons.

Below is my somewhat detailed study of a pear (with its stem) and an apple (also with its stem) on a lacy cloth laid over a darker surface.

After painting this, I cut out the lower part of the painting.  I cut around the cloth, surface, and fruit – but I chopped off the pear stem in the process!  From there, I affixed the cutout onto the first of the above three backgrounds.

This background is the most subtle of all of them.  There is a sense of depth because the fruit and cloth have detail whereas the table and the background do not.

Using the same background flipped 180 degrees, we now get this painting.

The background of the above is more complex than the other; I feel as if I am seeing the fruit against an open sky.  Consequently, I have a sense of the background more so than I do of the pear and apple.  Good?  Bad?  It would depend on what I (the artist) want to express.

From here, we move into a bright red background.

Certainly here the background overwhelms the fruit.  I think the apple pops rather nicely, but the pear is quite anemic.  The red background is too much if the fruit is the picture’s focal point.

Next, the simpler striped background.

The stripes in the above painting are subtle enough not to destroy the focus of the fruit as subject matter.  Additionally, the eye considers the foreground and background along with the middle ground, but the middle ground is more important than the others.

The same background, flipped over, is a bit more intense as the upper left looms over the fruit.  Still, both are acceptable, but the first one is the better of the two.

Finally, I added thin lines and chevrons to the stripes.

Before you say “nice wallpaper!” let’s consider what occurs here.  The fruit still is of interest, but the complexity of the background makes my eyes jump around – fruit, background, fruit, background.  The foreground just vanishes and I don’t even look at it.

Some Thoughts

This was a totally fun set of exercises, especially the one with changing backgrounds.  The pencil study, though, was an eye opener for me – those pencil value studies really are useful.  Edgar Whitney also emphasized the importance of those value studies . . .

Okay, so here, what I learned was to see a painting a bit like a photograph.  Areas of interest are focused upon with detail and edges.  Areas of lesser interest have less detail and softer or more blurred edges.  I did this with the edges of the cloth upon which the fruit sits – the fruit is the area of interest, so more detail and clearly defined edges.  The cloth and surface upon which the fruit sit is softer and less detailed; the cloth has greater detail than the table, but less than the fruit.

Finally, the amount of detail in the background varies, and it has a direct affect on the fruit.  The more detailed the background, the flatter and less 3-D the painting.  And the less interest the viewer has in those delectable pieces of fruit!

Whew!  It’s gonna take a bit for this to sink in . . .

 

212. An Afternoon on the Patio

We headed out to San Diego for the last several days, to see the zoo, to walk around, to explore a bit of the city, and to just get out of town.  It was really nice, but no painting or drawing got done!  Lots of photography and fine dining and hiking all over.  It was a very welcome break from the daily routines.

Now, back in town, everything is caught up and time to play!  I moved out to the side patio where we have peppers, flowers, herbs, and sundry plants for our pleasure.  We have a few resident lizards, too; they dart around and sometimes we find them in the house.  When we do, they are gently moved outside.  They are a lot of fun to watch as they do push-ups in the sun.  And that is what we begin with below – a 5 minute ink and watercolor sketch of milkweed and a lizard that flitted in and out of the picture.  Rather a stiff picture – amazing what you lose when you don’t paint or draw every day.

From here, I looked toward the fence facing the front of the house.  Here we have a jasmine, bulbs, and mint.  Behind them are the blue tomato cages, sometimes used to support tomatoes, and sometimes peppers or vines.  Another ink and watercolor sketch; this time, 10 minutes allotted.

Finally, just watercolor.  Lavender is a lovely plant, and this one is making me so happy.  I believe it is English lavender, as opposed to French, as it is shorter and more compact.  I could be wrong.  I could look it up on the internet.  But I don’t feel like it!  Okay, I did.  I have no idea what kind of lavender it is!  There are so many kinds . . .

As an aside, I bought some Holbein water-based gouache when we were in San Diego.  There was a Real Art Store a few blocks from the B&B we stayed at.  And a bookstore.  And a lot of good restaurants.  So, expect some adventures into gouache in the future.  Meanwhile, it felt good to pick up a pen and colors to just diddle around on a sunny afternoon, enjoying retirement.

 

 

209. Miner’s Lettuce

Yesterday I went out for a bit of a hike, through one of my favorite trails, the Chumash Trail.  Last year we had massive fires, and what I saw was the remnants of that fire.  Burnt mountainsides, devoid of brush and the usual cover (like poison oak!).  Bare and burnt oak trees, rocks.  So many things were revealed by the fire as plants were burnt away.

Sounds pretty awful, doesn’t it?  Here in California, much of our landscape and plants are fire-dependent, meaning that fire is a normal part of the season.  With the drought and firefighting measures – like not letting entire neighborhoods burn down – brush becomes overgrown.  With a drought, you have kindling.

Now, with everything burnt away, new growth is beginning to emerge.  Flowers, weeds, leaves on the oak trees.  I was able to hike into an area that I normally avoid – too much poison oak and a lot of rattle snakes.  It is along a creek into a narrowing canyon.  And, sitting on a rock, listening to birds and the sound of water, I looked around.  That is when I found the first-ever Miner’s Lettuce I have seen in this area.  I took a picture, and this is what I painted.

A perfect spring morning!

208. A Matter of Perspective

Still working on my buildings!  And in the process I realized I am dreadful when it comes to both depth of field and perspective.  If you look at the roof of the building centered in the sketch, the line for it is much, much steeper than the building adjacent to it.  The same with its door.  It was that steep angle of perspective I was trying to follow – and failed.  I have a few books on perspective – time to dig them out and study them quite seriously.  I don’t think it will be that difficult, but I need to learn a few tricks.  On the other hand, I am rather pleased with the sense of shadow and sunshine . . . there is still hope!