The brief was to set up and paint a still life with surrounding context demonstrating colour, tone, composition and the development of your technique in your chosen medium. I guess this just about scrapes by as a still life… it is a scene in the holiday house we rented this summer in Somerset – candlesticks on a tall fire place surround with an ornate mirror over. I noticed the reflection of the window opposite in the mirror and the chandelier and it grabbed my attention. There was strong light coming from a window on the right as well light from the window behind.
As I knew I would almost certainly paint this scene at some point, I took plenty of high res photos from different angles and in good light. They were a good resource to have. I have no issue about painting this kind of interior scene from my own photos… landscapes however are another matter as the camera lens flattens the view.
I also explored some alternative still life set ups in my sketchbook using my collection of Delft cow creamers but they didn’t grab me in the way that this scene did. I may have been influenced by the quiet interiors that Andrew Wyeth sometimes paints as I looked a lot at these while doing the interiors research project.
- I’m satisfied with the composition. It is simple but quite pleasing, and balanced. I’m glad I opted to include the alcove and doorway to provide context.
- I spent a lot of my prep time mixing colours and developing a colour palette, which I stuck to. It is a relatively quiet palette which suits the tranquil mood of the scene. It uses complementary colours in a loose way. I mixed my own grey from the three colours used (permanent light green, cadmium yellow and alizarin crimson) and used this to adjust tone as well as in the fireplace itself. I think this has helped to pull the colours together into a cohesive whole.
- I used the fireplace beige as the ground colour. I experimented with the yellow-orange ‘gilt’ for the ground but this made the ‘duck egg’ blue of the walls look green and a bit sickly.
- The texture created by lightly sanding some areas so that the ground colour and white of the gesso show through has helped to avoid flat blocks of colour.
- Because the top edge of the mirror is not shown it is not immediately obvious that the ‘chandelier’ is a reflection and I quite like this.
- The light and shade works… but it could have more density. I was aiming for one side of the mirror to be much more brightly lit then the other . I haven’t made a complete hash of this but there’s room for improvement. The gilt didn’t reflect much light and certainly not a white light.
- This painting is A2 and all my acrylic work until now has been A3. I chose the larger format so that I could use bigger brushes and not get too bogged down with detail, on the the mirror frame in particular. This was the right decision. I used a credit card edge for some of the sharper lines and this gave a slightly broken, blotchy line which was fine, it contributed to the painting and helped to stop it looking too architectural.
What doesn’t work so well
- The mirror isn’t entirely convincing – it could do with more light bouncing off it but I’m not sure how to achieve this and advice will be welcome.
- The chandelier is imperfectly drawn.
- Some of the shadows are a little blotchy but I didn’t want to correct by darkening them further so I left them alone.
- I wondered if the door is too white..? I’m still wondering and would appreciate feedback on this Is it too distracting or is it an interesting feature that invites the viewer to consider what or who is in the adjoining room?
Despite the faults, I feel this painting demonstrates considerable progress when compared to Assignment 1. I’ve learnt an enormous amount in Part 2, particularly about colour, and hopefully managed to apply some of it.
I experimented in my sketch book with two possible compositions:
(1) portrait – looking up at the mirror from very close
(2) stepping back and including less of the mirror and more of the surrounding context.
The decision regarding which viewpoint to develop was an easy one as the additional interior space better fitted the brief and also created a more interesting scene.
Next I mixed colours until I had a palette that felt right. I was aiming for a quiet, muted palette using complementary blue and yellow. It is a more complex colour palette than might immediately meet the eye….
I used all these colours in my painting. Having established the palette early on helped me a lot as I was able to mix a reasonable quantity of the core colours and then use these to mix the additional colours when I was ready for them. I was particularly pleased that I mixed my own grey – it was a good colour with a dash of warmth and very versatile.
Then I experimented with the ground colour by painting various colours from my palette under and over. Had I not done this, I think I’d have made the wrong decision about the ground.
I arrived fairly quickly at my chosen composition but put a lot time into developing the colour palette – using newly acquired learning about colour mixing – and this I feel paid off.
In terms of the painting itself – the mirror with its reflections and the frame are the two elements which were most challenging as discussed above.
Stages on the way