A painting a day: #16, Diced Carrots

If you haven’t kept up with this project, here’s a quick summary: I did the first 12 paintings all on the same big sheet of paper. Those were all fairly realistic still lifes. For the second sheet of paper, I’m doing more free/abstract reworkings of all the paintings from the first sheet. The idea is that since the first sheet gave me practice in rendering objects accurately from life, the second sheet will be practice in painting freely, without so much care for the way things really look.

I said the day before that I was enjoying my little dalliance with simplicity, after a run of intricate paintings. Of course, given my penchant for complications, that couldn’t last.

If you remember my original painting of carrots, the background gave me a lot of woe, so this time I wanted to try something that wouldn’t require so much careful painting around curved details. I thought it would be easier if I eliminated almost all bent lines… but I chose to do so in a way that was even more fiddly and time-consuming. To be blunt, it was brutal on my hands and it ended up taking an hour longer than the original. I actually had to stop, just when I was nearly finished, and take a rest from all wrist-requiring activity for the rest of the day. I finished the painting the next morning.

animation of carrot painting in-progress

I didn’t expect this painting to be so hard on my hands, but filling in small areas just seems to be tough work, regardless of whether they are geometric shapes or meticulous calligraphy. Watercolor is very unforgiving when your aim is precision. Too little water and the brush won’t move smoothly. Too much water and you lose all control over the placement of your marks. Speed is fatal, but go too slowly and the paint will dry on you, creating hard edges where you didn’t want any. It is a tricky dance. I worked so carefully, I felt as if I were making an illuminated manuscript.

In the end, I think it looks cool: “like stained glass,” Erik said. More so than with any of my other paintings to date, I had no idea what the finished product would be; I couldn’t visualize, when I was drawing the pencil lines, just how those shapes would appear when filled with color, and when I was putting in the colors, it wasn’t possible to calculate just how many shapes I should fill with each color, nor how to place the colors in relation to each other. I relied on instinct and, as usual, I think it served me well.

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The only thing I don’t like about this piece is the lack of tonal contrast: everything is the same darkness/lightness. I think that actually adds to the resemblance to stained glass — since even the most beautiful stained-glass windows I’ve seen are usually all the same tonal value — but for a painting I think it’s a drawback.

Side-by-side comparison with the original. They’re so different!

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Hanging out with the other paintings:

BTW, I think the addition of Diced Carrots makes the turnip painting look a lot better. It needed something above it, so the pale top edge wouldn’t look so unanchored.

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Music: I put together a playlist of female singer-songwriters for this session. Some selections:

  • Fiona Apple, “Regret.” I first heard this song live just a few weeks ago, and had to come home and download it. It has a melodic-mechanical feel that perfectly suits Apple’s mellow, and then increasingly impassioned, vocals.
  • Joni Mitchell, “A Case of You.” One of my favorites of hers, even if I can’t quite decide what the chorus means (their love isn’t strong enough?).
  • Lhasa de Sela, “Love Came Here.” So sultry and strong.
  • Mia Doi Todd, “Under the Sun.” I used to bring playlists for my life-drawing group at the RAC, and the time I included this song, several of the artists sighed, “What a beautiful song.” It’s a lovely statement of devotion.
  • Tracy Chapman, “Almost.” An anthem for the pain of so-close-yet-so-far.
  • Shawn Colvin, “84,000 Different Delusions.” People know the album A Few Small Repairs, if they know it at all, for Colvin’s 90s hit “Sunny Came Home,” but nearly all the songs on it are great.
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