Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cassell's French Dictionary

9/21: Cassell's French Dictionary, oil on canvas panel, approx. 6x8 in.

We found this at a thrift store for a couple of dollars, and many people I'm sure have a copy at home. This one is from 1962, very outdated. There was something that felt real good about mixing the dark grey-browns and how they look lain over warmer browns ... very old-school. (Click to see "all sizes" - I've started uploading some of these wide pieces slightly bigger.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Old English books #2

9/20: Old English books #2, oil on canvas panel, 3.5x7in.

This was about an hour and a half, on a canvas panel that I cut to 1:2 proportions. Somewhere on the palette I discovered a terrific blue-grey so I tried to play with greys more than usual, but it's probably not very apparent. The books are a couple more by Henry Sweet, First Steps in Anglo-Saxon and the Anglo-Saxon Primer, from 1921(?) and 1931. I thought I'd share some interesting bits of text from the first book - because that's really why people come to look at this blog - but it's too much typing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Magnolia leaf

9/19: Magnolia leaf, oil on canvas panel, approx. 6x4 in. SOLD

At first this seemed easy. I felt I understood the twisting forms well enough and didn't think the foreshortening would be hard to deal with, but of course it turned out to be quite a little challenge. While painting these leaves I kept Bruegel in mind - in a few places I thought I had managed to touch on that simple quality that he had, but most times not.

Sometimes I imagine how Bruegel would approach something, he and his thin paint. For him it was a matter of delineating some shapes and filling them in, which is maybe why many of his great crowd scenes are just complex arrangements of simple shapes (or simple arrangements of complex shapes). This is after all what kids do, before being taken in by brushwork and paint build-up and various other art school pretensions. Now, Rembrandt is a god and I love a thick brushstroke as much as the next guy, but "lean to fat" doesn't have to mean "lean to obese" - that is, paint build-up doesn't have to be the goal of all oil painting just because Rembrandt showed us his way. How many painters are out there who can do a good job and are totally unconcerned with brushyness? In my humble opinion, the simple falling of light on the cap or the sleeve-folds of a bagpiper in Bruegel is at once earthly and sublime in a way unmatched by Hals and Sargent and their wannabes, or even Rembrandt and Velásquez.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Work in progress: Leslie

9/18: Leslie, oil on canvas, 16x20 in.

This year and last I found the motivation to at least start a few paintings of family members from digital photos. This is my sister-in-law Leslie and the reference photos I'm using were taken two(?) Christmases (or Thanksgivings?) ago. When I set the painting aside I had done just enough to grid and layout the image, and begin to mass in some local color and model the shirt sleeve. I'd been meaning to go back to this for a while, and decided last night to spend a couple hours and lighten the skin tones, adjust the color of the background stripes, and basically try to unify the colors overall with the colors on my palette currently. Also I painted over part of a table that was on the right. (The painting wasn't lit properly for this photo, so the upper corners are very bright.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Magnolia leaves #2

9/17: Magnolia leaves #2, oil on canvas panel, approx. 4x6 in.

While painting the dry, brown and nibbled-at portion of the leaf, I was reminded of the Old English riddle I revisited the other day. The challenge of translating is similar to that of painting from observation, in that an attempt to "literally" restate what's presented to you isn't usually the best way (I am still learning this). Of course, all subjects get simplified in a painter's own peculiar way, even subconsciously, but invariably there are sections that have to be more dramatically edited in order for them to make sense. That section of the leaf was challenging enough because of the complexity of color and pattern on the surface, but made trickier by the small working area. I took on the challenge instead of changing the leaf entirely to avoid it, and worked and reworked that small part until I felt it was both simplified enough and yet had enough of that quality I found interesting to begin with. I don't know how successful I've made it, or how I would have done it differently. But the nice thing is that no one but I would know for sure what the leaf actually looked like.

As I worked on the riddle of the swan I liked the specificity of some of the Old English words and kept them literal. But a few lines were more demanding. "Flóde ond foldan" is literally "flood and earth," or, flow/tide/sea/stream/river and dry land/soil/ground/country. In my mind the literal approach seemed the simpler one, but the more I thought the more detached it felt from the sense of the poem. The challenge was to find a better way and one that wasn't an attempt to outdo the well-crafted original with something I had just crafted. I'm not the first to suggest "field," though that has its word, feld (but they are probably related). And even though the whole riddle speaks symbolically of the swan as a "ghost" traveling between worlds, the specific ideas of field and stream make more sense to me in creating a picture of the animal than weightier symbolic terms like earth and flood.

More of a challenge was "oþþe þá wíc búge" in the second line (or third half-line). It literally says "or the dwelling(s) inhabit" - it's not clear to me if it's plural. That is, occupy/dwell (in) a dwelling/house/village. Wíc survives in some place names as -wich or -wick and so I took license and thought of it in a broad sense, unspecific like "ground" and "waters," hence my pick of the word "place."

Before starting to write this I found the blog "Brave New Words" which talks about translation. It seems interesting and I'll have to read it when I have more time.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Magnolia leaves

9/16: Magnolia leaves, oil on canvas panel, approx. 4x6 in. SOLD

Well, we think they're from a magnolia - I collected a few leaves from around some saplings we saw by the water behind the apartments on a neighboring street. As well as an exercise at foreshortening this was at one point a more deliberate color experiment, with the blue-green of the background (mainly cerulean and ochre) much stronger, but that became very distracting so I softened it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Half a cauliflower

9/15: Half a cauliflower, oil on canvas panel, approx. 4x6 in. NFS

Same cauliflower. It looks at first like a closeup of one little floret, but it's the whole head! - that is after half was chopped up and cooked with some Mrs. Dash Garlic & Herb. I wanted to get some practice with my shorthand, and this was about an hour's work.