A painting a day: #7, Fallen

I went out yesterday afternoon in search of my painting subject. I knew I wanted some autumn leaves, but I felt bad plucking them from the trees (senseless, I know, the leaves are about to fall anyway). Then I spotted heaps of them, still fresh and clean, along the sidewalk on A Street. I collected nine of them (a couple of extras, just in case), stuck them in my purse, and then Erik and I continued on our way to run errands (grocery shopping, bank — you know, those things that wizards do).

Hours later, as I was arranging the leaves for painting, I decided almost immediately on an overlapping cascade shape, inspired I think by Miyoko Shida’s amazing balancing act. I set everything up, made my pencil sketch, and then started painting the shadows. I did all the shadows, sat back, and then — thank goodness — realized I had made an arrangement of six leaves, not seven! What the heck? Did I forget how to count in between gathering the leaves and arranging them? You can see the hastily added seventh leaf in the below arrangement (but not yet in the sketch or painting):

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Fortunately, the last leaf fitted just fine into the composition, and it turned out to be the first one I colored. I used the same coloring technique as with the carrots on day four, though these colors came out even more vibrant — they actually make the carrots look pallid. In fact, my painted leaves even make the real-life leaves look a bit washed-out. Watercolor is good for that; it’s so luminous.

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Just as with the garlic painting, I knew I would lose some clarity by adding a background color, but it had to be done for the overall composition. I didn’t want anything that would compete with the leaf color, so I chose a faintly purplish grey — rather like rain-washed sidewalk, I thought.

I cut corners a bit on the wash and it shows. There is nothing a watercolor wash needs more than patience, but I was tired and didn’t take the necessary care. I ran out of color partway through and had to re-mix, which is why the bottom half is more purple than the top, and I didn’t apply enough water with each stroke. Check out the dark smears, the weird purplish blotch, and those hard edges in the bottom half. A good wash should be so smooth that you can’t tell how the color was applied; among my daily paintings, the garlic background comes closest.

Also, even though I outlined the borders in pencil, my wash has that ridiculous diagonal side. Part of this is just tiredness, although it’s also the basic problem of making your hand do what your brain wants it to. That may sound silly, but if you’ve ever tried to draw a perfect circle (or even a perfect square), you know what I mean: just because you want your hand to trace that shape, doesn’t mean your hand will comply. Sometimes it simply can’t, because your ability isn’t up to that level. But if you can do it — as I can most of the time — and you don’t, then you’re just being lazy, or rushing yourself, or you need some sleep.

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Anyway, that’s why I’m doing these daily paintings: so I can learn these things, and get practice in trying to do them right. (Patience is a practice, too, no?) In spite of the botched background I like this painting best of the seven I’ve done so far. I guess I’ve really FALLEN for this one, ha ha!*

Music: I made a playlist particularly for this painting session. I felt like listening to Savage Garden but I didn’t have any and didn’t feel like using Spotify, so I pulled together a bunch of songs with a similarly nostalgic, sorta-R&B, sorta-pop feel. It’s funny, my playlist came out to an hour and fifty-one minutes of music, and I painted for an hour and fifty. Such a pleasant little concordance. Some selections:

  • Alicia Keys, “If I Ain’t Got You.” I got this album in grad school and it always takes me back to driving around LA at night, singing along and feeling as mildly badass as anyone can while studying for a history PhD and tooling around in her parents’ Honda minivan. More Alicia Keys on the playlist: “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart,” which makes me think of stretching after workouts at Hipline.
  • Janet Jackson, “If.” Not as mellow as the other songs on the list, but perfect for a dance break while the paint was drying! (I admit, after linking the video, I watched the whole thing because I’d forgotten about the ‘Asian nightclub’ theme, and I wanted to decide if it offended me. I think not. It’s walking a fine line, but — and I could write a whole post on this, “but I won’t” as the song says — I think it is okay. Just. And also ‘cos it’s Janet.)
  • Des’ree, “Kissing You.” Thanks to Romeo + Juliet, this song makes my heartstrings swell with romance. I get chills just re-watching bits of that scene (even though the video chops it up). Be still, my 14-year-old heart!

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*That is not why I named the painting that.

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