A Journal of a Painting – Part 2

As I mentioned earlier, This is a series of articles that document the progress of a painting that I worked on for the 2013 Artistic Excellence Competition for SouthWest Art Magazine. The painting as of now is long done and was sent right at the deadline. Now where were we?
I need to apologize up front if this article comes off like I’m in some type of funk, because I am. I’m simply going through a brief slump in life. But I’ll live. I always do.

Since Last Time…

Final value study of Kitten in Pot
Final value study.

When we last met, I had just knocked out the value study/under painting. The cat’s head was a little wide, but I was alright with that. Like any good painter, I started with the background. More specifically, the wall. The wall is some type of siding with cheap box-store paint that has amazingly only worn and deteriorated, giving it a splotchy look. At the time, my eye wasn’t particularly focused. Instead of a dim, tealish-blue within the area of shadow, most of the shadow area of the wall was a flat, dark-sky blue. (It’s a bad description.) What’s suppose to be painted is on the right-hand side, behind the kitten, is mainly (as the cheap bottle of Ceramcoat paint that I used describes the color) an ocean reef blue. The rest of the shadowed area is a mish-mash of ocean reef blue, tealish-blue, and white with a tinge of blue. I know, it sounds horribly confusing, but allow me to illustrate:

A rough break down of the shadow area of the wall.

In the shadow area, I painted in strips of blue and blueish-white in a rough manner. My first attempt at matching the colors was too much like the ocean reef blue. Having realized this, I layered in a lighter shade with some phthalo  blue to make it look more tealish. I also dry-brushed some layers of white and white tinted with blue. I honestly wasn’t completely happy after the third or fourth time, but I was pressed for time. (I know. Another cheap excuse.)

The portion of the wall that was bathed in sunlight seemed a lot easier to paint. I laid in thin layers of a bright light blue. The layers were able to play off the under-painting, enhancing the crevasses in the siding and leaving a warmer feel. The shadows created by the pot and the kitten utilizes a painting technique that contrasts cool colors again warm colors. I layered in burnt umber, and in certain areas around the cat I mixed in some blue into the burnt umber. I used this concoction for the large crack behind the kitten’s head.

painting during the Ugly Stage

The concrete panel or slab (I can’t think of the correct term for it) that runs across the bottom of the wall, I used a swirl of different browns, beiges, and grays. On closer review, there are also some greens found in the photo. I tried to follow the pattern the panel gave me.

A closer look at the concrete panel running across the bottom of the wall
A closer look at the concrete panel/slab.

Some of you maybe wondering about the noticeable jaggie. That was a result of my used of PhotoShop’s content aware feature while adjusting the size of the photo.



Where Do I Plug In?

The wall socket is metallic in nature. But it’s suffered years of being exposed to the elements. It’s collected some rust, dirt, and all sorts of filth. When painting metal, you can’t get away with using one color to represent it. To represent the surface, I used a combination of grays, some blue from the wall, burnt sienna, and burnt umber. To create some of the texture, I used a combination of dry-brushing and a light dabbling. I tried not to give the wall socket too much attention since it’s not the focus of the painting. Keeping it rough was perfectly fine in my eyes.

A comparison of the wall socket
A comparison of the wall socket from the photo (left) and my painted version (right).

Pot and Plants

Even though the flower pot is technically in the foreground with the kitten, I chose to paint it first. In a certain section of the painting, the pot sort of merges into the deep shadows behind the cat, which blends into the plants. For a while, I wasn’t sure where the kitten ends and the plants began. That forced me to play around with that area.

The flower pot was painted in a similar fashion as the concrete slab, but I blended in some yellows and whites.This involved more dry brushing and trying to blend colors on canvas. Unfortunately under a hot lamp, acrylics dry in a hurry.

The plants directly behind the flower pot were obscured in shadow, making it difficult to distinguish the shapes. With a little straining, I was able to make out most of the shapes. Since the plants weren’t the focus and due to the fact that it was so dark back there, I was able to get away with just rough representations of them. I try to avoid using black whenever I can. (This was a tip I picked up off the back of an old Marvel trading card.) The main reason for avoiding the use of black is due to the unnaturally flat look. I’ve heard it recommended to mix in some purple or blue if you do use black. Plus when you study subjects in nature, you’ll notice that shadows have color to them. I think to get such a dark color for the plants I mixed a green with burnt umber or raw umber. You could also mix hooker’s green with dioxazine purple. For the highlights, used colors pulled from the flower pot. I used a few browns and yellows. The aloe vera plant was painted using similar colors. I used more yellow to bump up a contrast between cool and warm greens on the aloe vera.


My Kitty-Cat

This was a source of frustration. I think it was due to a lack of time, and the number of times I screwed it up. From what I can remember, the correct way to paint fur is start with your darks. Paint your base color. Then paint in your highlights. I honestly botched this all to hell.

There’s a great deal of variation throughout the kitten’s fur. In the areas lit by the sun, you’ll find yellows, dirty oranges, and beige. The shadow areas have a cooler range of oranges, greys, browns, and beiges. I made an attempt at using my under-painting as a map of sorts.The problem was that the map had a few errors, so I had to make corrections as I went along. Another stumbling block were the differences between the printout I was using and what I saw on my LCD screen. The printout from my inkjet printer was much darker, drowning out the shadow areas, loosing some detail around the cat’s back-side. When painting, I used a combination of titanium white, burnt siena, perinone orange, burnt umber, and cadmium yellow. Darker areas have blues and grays mixed in. Touches of pink were used throughout the face, around the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The left ear (to our right) was a pain in the ass to paint. I tried painting the inner ear without glazing (to avoid any dramatic changes to the colors while scanning.), but the paint dries too quickly and the best that I could do was to try to dry-brush transitions. I also glazed a bit.


Scanning Trauma

It was the home-stretch, and I was down to the wire. Since the painting is a little big, I intended to scan it in halves and use PhotoShop’s Photomerge feature to seamlessly stitch it together. No big deal, right? Then this happens:

a scan of my painting withe the background colors shifted.

If the picture wasn’t enough, my major issue were the flat, dull, blue colors that weren’t matching what I was seeing with my naked eye. After violently swearing at VueScan, my Epson scanner, and my iMac, my first assumption was that my settings in Vuescan need to be fixed. A little tweaking later, I used different color profiles in VueScan. My colors were still wrong. Then I said to myself, “I’ll fix it in PhotoShop!” Realizing that I wasn’t that good at color correction, I got desperate and digitized my painting using my cheap Kodak digital camera. Thank the Lord, it  worked. I brought it into PhotoShop and fixed any distortion using the Crop Tool with Perspective checked.


Why Surprises Happen

I really hate surprises. But I have two theories as to why this happened:

Theory #1 was that the color-shift occurred due to my glazing habit. I earlier had some issues nailing down the colors for the shadow area of the wall. This resulted in having to reworking it a few times. During the last round of rework, I did some glazing to build up some variation and texture. Since scanning requires using lots of intense light, that light flooded through the layers of transparent paint and f***ed-up the colors.

Theory #2 occurred to me when I was playing with my new [amazon asin=B001GIP2X0&text=OttoLite&chan=amazon default] lightbulb. My initial reaction to the OttoLite was that I just wasted $11 on a worthless, dim, spiral piece of mercury-filled environmental garbage. I though of a great idea for a post and placed different types of art and images underneath my OttoLite. When I placed the painting under the OttoLite, I immediately noticed that same shift in colors that I was getting from the scanner. When painting, I was using a [amazon asin=B000VQDAUK&text=GE Reveal lightbulb&chan=amazon default]. The Reveal bulb is supposed to use special glass that filers out harsh yellow rays and allow for clean vivid colors. Comparing the Reveal bulb to the OttoLight, I had found that the GE bulb still gives off a yellow cast. I can only assume that the bulb in my scanner and my OttoLite are using similar glass, giving me similar results when it came to my painting’s colors. If I wish to get consistent color when scanning future paintings, I will have to paint under a OttoLite to reduce the likely hood of any major color shifts.


Judging the End Result 

The final scan of Cat in Pot

Overall, I think I’ve made progress as a painter, but I’m still very unhappy with the end result. In fact, I’ll be shocked if it wins any prize at all. I guess I can blame the lack of time, but that’s just an excuse. Or it seems like one. Maybe I should had taken more time to plan each step, instead of just “winging it”. I’m thinking I should had done a color study in Corel Painter 11. Simulating the process digitally usually gives me a better feel for how things will turn out on the drafting table. The kitten’s head still bugs me. Maybe it’s too wide. I also notice even more errors I made as I tried to rush through this piece. I guess I’ll have to chalk this one up to the never-ending learning curve. Thank you for making it this far.

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