Variation on a theme

The best thing about doing multiple versions of a piece is that you can try different methods and approaches with each iteration. I’ve been working up the gumption to explore non-realistic colour, and I thought that a tiny work on paper was the best place to start. Boy, was I in for a surprise! It turns out that imaginative colour is a LOT harder for me to wrap my mind around than I’d bargained for. I aimed for a flat, cell-shaded look, but in the end, I couldn’t resist putting in all kinds of detail in the face.

To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed in myself because the “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” sequence from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie is something that my 4 year-old brain latched onto as a Life-Altering-Work-Of-Art, and it’s an aesthetic that I want to incorporate into my current work. I honestly thought that mimicking that look in my own art would be a cinch, but alas, it looks like I’ve got a ways to go before I unlock my inner Heinz Edelmann. Let us consider this a First Draft, and as Neil Gaiman says: “Your first draft doesn’t count”. All it has to do is exist.

©2022, Emma Pittson, “Not Stripes”. Acrylic and oil on paper, 5″ x 5″.

Messy Bun

©2022, Emma Pittson, “Messy Bun”. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 14″ x 11″ x 0.5″

Here is another contender for the title of “Painting That Has Sat For The Longest Amount Of Time On My Easel While I Contemplate How Best To Approach It”. I believe it clocked in at about one full year. While I’m not completely sure why I lost my courage for so long, I suspect that I hesitated partly because I worried that the whole “portrait of the back of a woman’s head” thing had already been done to death. To me, it seemed like a cheap and easy way to add some mystery to an otherwise very pedestrian image. But artists steal ideas from each other all the time, and when you get right down to it, how many of us can say that our work is 100% original? We are all influenced by each other, and if you’re waiting for a truly original idea before putting paint to canvas, you’ll be waiting a long, long time. Life’s too short!

Original Reference Photo

I also wavered quite a bit on what medium to use. Acrylics are odor-free but difficult to blend, while oils (even water-miscible oils!) give me a headache. In the end, most of the painting is acrylic, with only the hair and certain details on the clothing are oils.

This piece also went through a few digital iterations prior to – and even during – the painting process. You might remember this earlier post where I played around with various background colours on a first pass of digital painting.

The winning background colour!

Once I’d decided on the background colour, I put down a first layer of acrylics then painted a second digital pass on top – just to reassure myself that I was going in the right direction after all.

And finally, here are some more process shots as I moved from acrylics to oils.

And now this painting sits on my piano – which I also haven’t touched in forever, btw – where I can see it every day, and it fills me with a sense of enormous well-being, and also a healthy dose of “Took you long enough!”

Re-Visiting My First Painting

©2022, Emma Pittson, “Lake Wanaka in Blue II”. Photoshop.

After my self-portrait, I had a little spate of bad luck art-wise. While January was a really productive month, February has been one failed art experiment after another. I’m also trying to pep-talk myself back into picking up an actual paint brush and committing to a decent-sized canvas, but it’s slow-going for now. I’ve had this digital re-paint of my very first acrylic paint from 2016 on the back-burner for a few months now, and because it’s good for morale to actually FINISH things, this seemed like the perfect time to wrap it up.

When I look back on the original painting, I’m struck by how every single brush stroke looks nervous and hesitant. I had internalized so much negativity from my time at art school that it’s a miracle I’d managed to paint anything at all. I may not be as productive, nor as consistent, as I’d like to be, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come since this first painting.

Lake Wanaka sunset in blue new Zealand
©2016, Emma Pittson, “Lake Wanaka in Blue”. Acrylic on panel, 10″ x 8″.

Tremblant Sunset

©2021, Emma Pittson, “Tremblant Sunset”. Acrylic on canvas, 10″ x 8″ x 0.5″.

And I’m right back to that same spot on the shores of Lac Monroe that I love so much! I could paint a million variations of this one view, which is very convenient because I happened to take a metric ton of photos while I was there, so I have reference material for quite some time to come. Last summer’s visit was particularly important because it was our first outing since the beginning of the Pandemic. We were so happy to get out of the city, and so cognizant of the fact that it was probably going to be our only getaway for some time.

Two things I learned with this painting: 1) painting clouds is more challenging than you’d think, and 2) DO NOT rush into overlaying those clouds until you are completely happy with the gradation of the sky behind them. I might tweak a spot or two later on, but for now, I consider this piece done.

First Painting of 2021

©2021, Emma Pittson, “Laurentian Lake”. Acrylic on canvas, 8″ x 10″ x 0.5″.

I have made some New Year’s resolutions – although not many because, let’s face it, 2020 was an abysmal year, and I think that, on a certain level, it’s enough just to keep going every day. So with that in mind, and with the bar at a very low and comfortable level, I have vowed to devote 15 minutes a day to making art! And it can be anything: digital art, painting on canvas, serious studies, doodles, original work, fanart, commissions, prepping a painting surface, or gathering inspirational images for a future piece. As long as I’ve done something, I can check that day off my calendar. The goal is to have an unbroken line of check marks for the entire month. And so far, so good!

Thanks to the pandemic, I have been permanently ensconced in my dining room since March while my husband has taken over the office/studio. I really hesitated to break out the paints because the only space left in the house for artmaking was, well, right back in the dining room, and I felt that I was already spending enough of my waking hours there – not to mention the slow and insidious breaking down of the boundary between work and home that is a feature of Life these days. Mentally, how would I make the separation? If I’m sitting down at my easel, would I feel guilty and be unable to work if I heard that tell-tale “ping” from the computer letting me know that a Teams message has just arrived? If I crack open the water-soluble oils, will the smell of linseed oil (which I’m not a fan of) linger long after I’d done a final clean-up and make it harder for me to concentrate on my job the next day?

Thankfully, none of this has turned out to be a problem! Windows can be opened to clear out the smell of the linseed oil, and computer speakers can be turned off to ensure a peaceful studio (it helps that my co-workers also want to reclaim their lives outside of work, so the threat of urgent e-mails at 9pm isn’t really a thing after all). If anything, I find myself turning away from the computer every now and then throughout the day and looking longingly at my easel! (If any of my co-workers are reading this, you now know why I occasionally turn my head screen right and gaze wistfully into the middle-distance…)

Here are some progress pics…

Values
Colour Blocking

Progress!