Chapter Two, 16 x 20 inches, oil on linen
This painting just came back from a show, so I thought I'd talk about it a little bit. It's one of a series of paintings depicting a figure reading a book. I noticed that when someone is reading a book, they really can't stay in a contrived pose. Soon they all get into a comfortable position that they're accustomed to. And these poses tend to be very natural looking.
The color scheme is pretty simple. A blue couch, white dress, flesh. And none of them have tricky variations.
I did make an effort, however, to integrate the hues from the three main colors. For example, the blue of the couch is used in the shadows of the dress, and in the flesh tones as well. You can see it in her thigh, and it's also mixed into the shadow colors of the flesh, which gives her face a slight blue-violet tint. The white of the dress is obviously used in all the lit areas, and in darker colors too, for the most part. The flesh tone has red and yellow in it (makes for a peachy color when mixed with white). You can see the yellow in the warmth of the light on her dress, and red mixed into the blue couch, which makes it a little bit violet.
All this is in the interest of creating unity through color harmony. It's reasonable to define harmony as two (or more) colors containing a common denominator. The more they have in common, the more harmonious they are. So in theory, and in practice, if you have a very limited palette like I did with this one, and make sure every mixture contains at least two of the tube colors on the palette, all mixed colors will have something in common with all other mixed colors. It's very difficult, in fact, to get out of harmony. I probably had the following tube colors for this painting;
- Titanium White
- Ultramarine Blue
- Cadmium Lemon
- Yellow Ochre
- Alizarin Crimson
- Transparent Oxide Red
One blue, two yellows, and two reds. The darkest darks are a mixture of Ultramarine and Transparent Red Oxide, and these are kept very thin and transparent, and for the most part, on the warm side.
I tried to use a full range of values, from pure white, to the darkest color I can make with my limited palette. Turns out, Ultramarine + T.O.R can get very dark.
The textural treatment creates a lot of visual activity in an otherwise large flat areas where not much happens. It also contributes to the overall sense of unity because it becomes another common denominator throughout the picture.
How I get the textures vary, but the actual texture of the linen plays a big part of it. (I use Claessens No.66 oil primed linen.) I may drag a loaded brush lightly across the surface of the linen, like dry brush, or paint an area with thicker application and then scrape it off with a palette knife or a squeegee. I sometimes use a rubber brayer, or may be press textured paper towel into a wet surface. Anything is fair game.
There are a lot of lost edges in this painting. The seat of the couch connects with the shadows in the dress, the dress in light (stomach area) connects with her forearm, her hair connects with the dark background. The one area where I went back and forth between losing and keeping the edge was that of the hem of the dress against her thigh. Not only did I decide to keep the edge, but I chose to emphasize it by giving it a sharp edge, essentially making it the primary focus.
To shift the focal point from something predictably important – the facial features in a figure painting, or the book, in this case – to something that seems to not have any relevance in the narrative itself, is something I do often. I think it can make a more compelling design, and a lot of the times it implies that theres more to the narrative than the obvious. I'm not sure why that is, exactly. But it's kind of like noticing something that's easily overlooked and what if, this insignificant thing, actually was important? It changes the narrative entirely, and takes it in a completely unexpected direction.
....or not. I don't think the viewer necessarily contemplates what that narrative is, but I like to think that this shifting of the focal point somehow contributes to the sense of mystery, and invites the viewer to linger a little longer.