Bass Tentacle by Meg Lyman
Gouache and ink on ACEO paper
To accompany the Treble Tentacle, here’s the Bass. It has patriotic colors sort of, so happy Independence Day for USAians!
Bovid I by Meg Lyman
9×12″ oil on board
When I ordered this super awesome cow skull someone on Etsy found in the desert, I was excited. I was not, however, prepared for the sheer size of the thing. I pulled it out of the box, said “WOW,” and cradled it in my arms for an hour. I love it way more than I should. I wanted to paint it as soon as I laid eyes on it.
Note: larger than it looks
I set up to paint it on a cloudy day, with no lights on, just the nice north light overcast coming through the window. This limited my time – good practice for plein air. Plus I procrastinated and started after noon, but that’s neither here nor there.
Daylight… almost… gone…
I paid special attention to values on this, which is something I’ve always eyeballed, to the detriment of every painting I’ve ever made. I dusted off the value finder card and actually matched my paint to the values coming off the skull. I was surprised by the things I learned doing this, as is often the case when I actually pay attention.
The first thing I noticed is that the lightest value coming off the skull wasn’t the lightest value on the card, and ditto with the darkest. I would have painted it with the full value range if I hadn’t known that.
I have four tubes of Vasari paint – I love them very much – and I wanted to use them all on this, so they drove my color choices. I set up an orange cloth to get some nice, warm reflected light in the shadows. Then I laid out some color strings, matching them to the skull with the value finder.
Color strings being born
My colors were Vasari Raw Sienna, Naples Yellow Extra, Silver Point, and Cerulean Blue, plus some Blue Ridge Turkey Umber for the darks and some titanium white. The first three values of light blue I mixed were 9, 8, and 7, out of 10 on my value card. I tried to follow the very subtle shifts in value on the light side of the skull, which were totally obliterated by the camera shot above. And the one below.
bad photo, sorry
So I know the photo is washed out here, but you can still see some of the value shifts if you squint. And you can see the second thing I learned today – the light blue values that looked pretty dark on my palette look absolutely white on my dark blue toned board. I’m certain the toned board would have caused me to push the value range too far on the light side of the skull if I hadn’t measured.
This stuff fascinates me! I bet that when I’m painting on a white surface, I do the same thing with darks – lose the subtlety of the value range because of the contrast with the ground. No wonder classical painters and the old masters toned their boards and did ebauche and all that fancy stuff. I had read about all that stuff but learning it the hard way really makes it stick. It also makes me excited to try it again next time.
p.s. this is one of those studies I was talking about – practice still life, plus skulls, will feature in a future larger scale painting. I promise.
Apple by Meg Lyman
6×6″ oil on board
Varnished on top; unvarnished on bottom
I’ve always simply imagined lighting for my cephalopod paintings – since I don’t have an actual octopus to paint and I’m idealizing them anyway, it seemed the best course. I have a good general idea of light and shade principles from life drawing – good enough to get away with anyway. But when I got it into my head to paint an apple octopus (like you do), I figured I should give the still life test a try.
Painting the apple still life was hard enough, but then incorporating imaginary bumps and nooks made this extra challenging. The apple part looks serviceable, but without an actual applepus to paint, it’s hard to get the lighting down. Maybe next time I will sculpt eye nubs out of play-doh or spitballs or whatever and stick them on the apple. Either way, I am reasonably happy with the result and I learned a lot from it. That means the painting was successful, right? Right.
I also did some interesting color mixing for this one. I made up “color strings” – a James Gurney term meaning different values of the colors I planned to use. I need to work on the whole “changing value without changing chroma and hue” thing, but that’s another post.
My tube colors for this were, left to right, Quinacridone Red (M. Graham), Golden Barok Red (Old Holland), Cad Yellow Golden (Michael Harding), and Nickel Yellow (Williamsburg). I used white and black to mix the bottom 3 piles of varying values of grey (OK OK, bluish grey), then used those plus titanium white to darken or lighten the tube colors. The hue shift with Cad Yellow and black is very green, and fun to play with. The Quin Red strayed into blue territory and I didn’t use much of its mixes. I have so much to learn! I feel like I’m at a stage in my learning where I’m going way faster than I realized. That is good but kinda overwhelming.
Aside: the board I started with was some amalgam of leftover colors that I slathered on with a palette knife months ago. I have no idea what they were, but I chose my apple colors so they’d work well with it. Gives a nice texture, too, no?
A final note: see how sunken in oils can get when they dry to the touch? Especially the darks. Varnishing makes them look all rich and shiny again. Magic!
5×7″ oil on board
4×4″ oil on board
Cat practice! I’m still fumbling about for my personal “style” with oils, and I’m trying to utilize techniques from other artists that I admire. These two are inspired partially by my class with Qiang Huang, particularly his emphasis on edges and brushwork, and by Karen Mathison Schmidt’s fantastic pet portraiture, particularly her wonderful use of color. I love emulating the styles of other artists- it very clearly highlights
1. how difficult it is, this thing they do and
2. the things I love and the things I don’t love about painting in that style.
Sure, it looks fantastic when they do it, but I am not (obviously) practiced at it, and also maybe it’s not for me. It’s so much fun to try new things and learn how to make your art your own.
La Ofrenda by Meg Lyman
11×14″ gouache on paper
This one was a labor of love. It taught me artistic patience, and that I will forever need extra tubes of M. Graham’s “Gamboge” gouache because I am maybe a little obsessed with it. In honesty, I am very pleased with parts of this and very displeased with others. I suppose that’s always how it is when you’re trying new things… but I bet you can’t tell which parts are which. If not… success!
Here’s a bit of a WIP: I drew it out on 11×14″ paper, transferred it to this glorious cold press paper, Strathmore Aquarius II. So velvety. I underpainted a sort of grisaille of magenta to help me remember light sources. It helped but I didn’t stick to it religiously.
I chose a limited palette simply by picking only a few tubes of paint to use. Then, paint! Some of it is opaque and some transparent. The sugar skull was painted in opaque, and looked awful, so I scrubbed it with a paper towel and got this lovely transparent, textured finish. Also it didn’t buckle but a little bit, which was fixed by wetting the backside (once it was all done) and pressing it overnight. Paper love!
Cat Ghoul by Meg Lyman
1.25″x2.5″ oil on board
October has to be my favorite month. Cloudy, blustery, beautiful colors everywhere… and Halloween. Skulls! Graveyards! Haunting! I’ve been doing some skull still life paintings for practice, so I’ll share them with you this month. This one is trying out three new oil colors I ordered and it’s on a teeny tiny piece of Stampbord. I really like the sturdy surface in those small sizes – they come as small as 1″ squared! It’s not necessarily made for oils, but it works quite well. The only thing I noticed is that it was pretty absorbent… but that could also be the new oils I was using.
On the recommendation of a WetCanvas forum, I decided to sample Williamsburg Nickel Yellow, Blockx Green Earth, and Maimeri Bitumen. All three brands were recommended as high quality oil paints. I honestly don’t feel experienced enough to say that I can tell a huge difference in the quality, but I do like that none of them were all stiff like some of the cheap ones are. The Bitumen also has a very weird quality to it… when you squeeze it out, it’s got sort of a thick, sticky core surrounded by thinner, more oily paint. It is reminiscent of tar and delightful to play with.
Brocctopus by Meg Lyman
1×2″ oil on board
I got some new tubes of oil paint and a grab bag of teeny pieces of Stampbord. Playtime!
Stitch by Meg Lyman
Postcard size, gouache and ink
Any other gouache gurus out there have a tough time getting the lighter blues to play nice with white paper? They do fine for me on toned paper, and the darker blues (ultramarine, prussian) do fine on white paper. But the lighter blues (cerulean, cobalt, and turquoise somewhat) just don’t want to smooth out. They tend to look blotchy, and get looking kinda chalky when layered. I’ve tried several brands of each and it’s repeatable across brands. Anyone?
I feel fairly good about this one, but I got the effect after much fiddling. I ended up laying it down out of the tube, evenly over the entire blue area. Then I scrubbed most of it off with a paper towel… and repeated the process over and over again. The paper took a beating well, so I got lucky. I guess that’s the way a lot of paintings work, isn’t it?