Friday, June 12, 2015

Painting figures / Painting still-lifes

Since my undergraduate years at university, I have mainly painted figurative paintings in oils.  My nudes and portraits often take hours of continuous concentration and months to complete, and need many days of distraction-free work. 

With the growth of my art and music instruction business, full days just for painting have become scarce. Five years ago, I started off with just two students, one art student and one piano student, leaving plenty of days free for painting, but now, with nearly 100 weekly students, my days have become very busy.  Painting large works has become a difficult task because of the loss of continuity when dividing painting time into small periods with lengthy breaks in between.  However, I still need to paint.  I always feel fitter and more well if I paint regularly. I definitely need the sensation of putting paint on canvas or board to make the day seem complete.

As an alternative to my figurative works, then, I started painting still-lifes.  For ages anything other than figurative work seemed dissatisfying.  I would start off with a still-life or a landscape and they would ultimately turn into a figure.  And if the format was a small one, that figure would become dissatisfying as I needed the figure to be life-size which, in turn, would become one of those problematic large works.

Recently, though, I have started again with trying still-lifes.  And my still-life work has taken a new turn.  Being small in format (6" x 6" to 8" x 10"), and fruit, flowers, bowls, saucers etc. being small in size, my still-lifes solve two problems: they can be painted life-size, and they can be completed in a few hours without a loss of creative continuity. 

In addition, painting the skin of the fruit, and especially the roses have become very similar to painting human skin.  I can use the paint in the same way and thus develop the same level of appreciation for the still-life subject as I do for my human subjects. 

I am also fascinated with volume, and with the challenges of creating volume in a meaningful and tactile way.  Not with just illustrating the light and the dark, but virtually sculpting the form of the subject with the illusion of painting.  Almost like the putting on of paint is handling and holding the objects. My still-lifes offer me this challenge.

Painting the little still-lifes is intellectually-satisfying, and fits in well with my busy teaching week.  I always keep my painting out in the busiest part of the house (rather than tucked away in a room likely to be forgotten about), so I can see it and think about it and paint it as it inspires me to.  I will post more about the tactile qualities of painting shortly.


Shaun G. Day said...

Hi Thomasin,
Loved re-reading your post, again. It is about picking your battles. For all the reasons elegantly stated in your piece, acceptance of the working environment definitely shapes the kind of work that one can produce. Had a big problem with this, myself. But, you seem to have quickly hit a groove with your painterly description of materials. It's taken me years (and am still not 100% sure that I'm on it.) Anyway, thanks for the writing, been admiring you work from far for years, please continue s it is very inspiring

Thomasin Dewhurst said...

Thank you, Shaun. I only discovered your comment now (a year later!), but thank you for your kind words. Your still-lifes are great BTW.