Now that I’m getting my studio in order, I’m also finding a few unfinished projects, so last night I decided to reacquaint myself with this painting and with acrylic paints and techniques.
Normally, I’m pretty linear with working on something, focusing on one clear idea at a time. When I’m learning something new I hit points where I’m not skilled enough to do something and need to either work it out there or outside of that piece, or just stop and let the lessons I’ve learned sink in and get back to it when I’m ready to move on. This is the third time I’ve worked on this and a fresh eye has led to a few decisions.
I began this painting in January 2008 from photos I took of Namir in 2005, I think, soon after I’d gotten the acrylics, but hit a learning wall at one point and put it aside to work on commissions. I pulled it out again in April of 2009 when Namir, at 15 with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, was having increasing trouble with congestive heart failure, kidney failure and related health issues, and I know we didn’t have much time left. I wanted to work on the painting when he was still with me. He died in July 2009, and again I left it where it had been at that time.
Namir is gone but I love to remember him in any way I can. The area where I keep this windowbox is too shady for the colorful geraniums and petunias and marigolds I’d always grown in it, and the pleasant memory of him at the window with the flowers is a treasure to spend time with.
My changes this time
Where before I wanted to get the reflection in the window so it didn’t “t look like a big black hole in the middle of the painting”, get “a little more detail on the shutter on the right…”, I’ve decided there is too much background that isn’t necessary. I originally liked the “cottage-ish” look of the shutter and windowbox, but they aren’t interesting enough. If there was, or I could add, something of interest there, I’d do that, but I think what I’ll do instead is crop the painting, literally.
I want it to show what I remember most and what I feel is most important, and I don’t need to show the whole scene to do that as I first thought. It’s a canvas stretched on cardboard, not stretchers, so all I need to do when I’m done is cut out the part I want to use and frame that. I’ve done that with other paintings in other media including other acrylics (see below). For now, I just won’t work on that anymore. That’s kind of freeing!
I also adjusted the color of the lace curtain. There is a screen in the window that tends to tint everything that’s not sunlit with brown, and even though it’s lighter than it is in the original photo it makes more sense. I’ll also add more texture back into it, now that I have the shade right.
I had also wanted to change Namir’s so “he looks less like a grey coyote”. He does have big ears, an angular face and a prominent nose, but I had painted the curtain around his face and overlapped a little too much, taking too much away from the edges of his face and head and working his ears out too long. I adjusted his forehead, shortened his ears and added a little more to the back of his neck. His coloring isn’t right yet, but I’m still working him out against the background. And while he was very slender I may add a little more roundness to his lower torso.
Also, his eye in the photo is barely apparent, a fluke of a leaf shadow that crossed over his face when I took the photo, but it didn’t work in the painting, so I’m working that out from other photos. It’s amazing what our eye will accept in photos but not in a painting. Not there yet, but definitely an improvement.
Acrylic painting and me
Acrylic painting is a challenge because I’m most accustomed to pastel for color work like this, and I use my fingers for much of pastel, holding it directly in my hand and blending with my fingers. Pastel is also very patient and waits for me to do something, remaining exactly as I left it for indefinite periods of time, where acrylic paint has an annoying habit of drying right away.
The work above began as an 18″ x 24″ painting of a view I see all the time—one neighbor’s laundry hanging in front of their neighbor’s huge old white garage, which was at one time a carriage house and stable. It was the barn, not the laundry, that initially made me want to paint this on a summer morning because I loved the look of the colors reflected in the white paint from all the green, the blue from the sky and so on.
That was one time where I wasn’t skilled enough in acrylic to pull it off (though I did in pastel–I actually did the same painting in pastel just to give myself some guidance), and I totally overworked the barn. I learned quite a bit about acrylics in that one, but had no intention of showing it to anyone, much less enter it in “Carnegie Painted”, the annual art show it was destined for.
But I loved, loved the laundry. It was exactly what I wanted, and the green of the grass and the dappled leaves behind. I had a frame on hand so I cut it down to fit that, 14″W x 7″H. I thought I’d kept the rest because I keep everything and I also might want to use it in teaching some day, but I couldn’t find it. Nor could I find the pastel drawing. I sincerely doubt that I tossed them because I had a purpose, though in a moment of desperation for space in this house I may have. Probably they are safely packed together somewhere.
I’m not sure I like acrylic paints generally because of the drying issue, I like the more glossy finish on oil and the colors resemble my pastels a little more closely, but two friends gave me unused acrylic paints and canvases and brushes, so I’m getting all the practice I can and I’m sure I’ll get used to it. What I love about acrylics is the brushwork I can do that is difficult in pastel, and it’s not just about the shapes and colors on the canvas, but the 3-D texture of paint. I also love working with a brush, choosing the right brush for the task, loading it with paint, sometimes several colors at once, it’s a very different way of thinking than my pastels. I just need to do more acrylics and see how it works out!