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!”

Across the Lake

_2021_10x8x0.5_Acrylic and oil on canvas
©2021, Emma Pittson, “Across the Lake”. Acrylic and oil on canvas, 10 x 8 x 0.5.

Remember the scratchy stretched canvas from two posts back? By the time I realized what I was dealing with, it was too late to gesso the entire image, but since all I had managed to put down was the value study, I did something that (I think) was very clever: I just gave the canvas a few coats of matte medium. Instead of completely covering up all the work I had already done, the transparency of the matte medium allowed the value study to show through AND help to fill in all the little nooks and crannies of this extremely rough canvas.

And it worked! Granted, this is not how I would want to approach every painting. My art-making time is limited, so adding an extra step to store-bought, stretched canvases can’t really fit into my schedule. On the other hand, while researching the viability of painting on matte medium, I came across some artists who say they actually PREFER working on a coat of matte medium over gesso because the paint doesn’t get absorbed into surface as much when you use medium. Food for thought…