We had 7 days left to pack all of our belongings and move to another state. With a swarm of mess surrounding me, I heard myself say, “yes” to this commission. Was I crazy? I still don’t know (although my husband might). Against every practicality, I took on the challenge of painting in 2 days the largest still life I have ever attempted. Before I knew it, 16 pieces of exquisite yellowware, a few apples, and some fresh daisies were facing me, ready to be reproduced on a 16″x36″ linen canvas. In the 20 hours of painting that followed, I wrestled with all the doubts, fears, and frustrations that artists face when brush meets canvas.
What is Yellowware?
I thought the same thing when Elisa commissioned a painting of her yellowware collection. Here is the skinny on this handmade kitchen fascination taken from Martha Stewart’s website. “From the 1830s until the 1940s, when Pyrex and plastics took over, yellowware was ubiquitous in American kitchens. Yellowware is a ceramic fired from the fine yellow clay that lines riverbanks from New York to Ohio. Its color ranges from butter yellow to deep mustard, and it was popular due to its low cost and durability — it could even withstand the heat of a woodstove.” Each lovely piece was a unique gem with a story to tell. My hope was that this would come through in every brushstroke.
By the brilliant suggestion of my husband, we took my table top off its stand and placed it up on top of my art supply chest in order to get a straight-on perspective. After this photograph, I sent him out to fetch some bright white daisies to break up the yellow of the dishes and darkness of the table. I also added a white table cloth to give an area of soft edges. By God’s help, it only took me about 30 minutes to arrange all the pieces. The apples were an easy choice for the purpose of breaking up the yellow, and to also bring out the deep brown stripes on some of the pieces. It is difficult to tell in the photograph, but there are many varying shades of beautiful buttery yellow. The pieces are arranged not only by shape and composition, but also each piece is set beside, against or in front of a piece with a lighter or darker shade in order to create as much contrast as possible.
The thing that made my New Jersey studio so beautiful and enjoyable is also what caused much difficulty in painting: three walls of windows. A day of bright sun and fast moving clouds makes for a near impossible painting situation. Back and forth the light and shade went several times each minute, making it quite impossible to accurately paint anything. It had to be painted today or not at all. I was close to accepting defeat until my husband once again saved the day with another brilliant idea.
It would be difficult and nerve wracking, but we had to do it. We cleared out our second bedroom, covered the window with cardboard, and very cautiously lifted the tabletop and carried the entire setup – dishes, apples, and flowers from the front porch, all through our cluttered half packed house, into the bedroom, and onto the dresser. Amazingly it was the same height as the other one, and I had just enough room to achieve the same distance and angle from the still life.
Please excuse the packing clutter.
And please notice the wonderful lighthouse painting on the wall.
It is my husband’s handiwork.
It was also a great help to me in that, I could now paint at night with consistent lighting. This also would be a huge factor in the completion of the painting, as I was not guaranteed continual sunny days.
Enough with the prep, lets get to it and see how this painting came to be.
My usual wash and drawing.
Pieces on the right are blocked in and will be adjusted and corrected later.
I believe it was at this point, late at night that my dear husband brought me a milkshake. I love him.
I paint to finish as I go, and find this to consistently be the best way to avoid an overly tight painting. It also helps keep it fresh and spontaneous looking.
Elisa’s variety of pieces made for a very interesting arrangement.
Simple highlights and some indications of detail were given to the outer crock to engage the viewers mind to complete the image, to avoid a tangent at the edge of the painting, and to bring the viewers eye back into the painting.
Sometimes the quickest objects to paint become my favorite. The daisies had clear light and shadow, were a refreshing contrast to the object of focus, and were playful additions to the painting. It was the most enjoyable half hour of this commission.
With all of this yellow, it was important to seek out those colors that one might not expect to find, and perhaps accentuate them a bit to create some interest and contrast. I punched in some pure red cadmium in the apples, added some cool blue splashes and deep reds to the yellowware’s shadow side, and allowed some of my burnt sienna under drawing to show through in select areas.
The finished painting, Yellowware Collection
. After over 20 hours of solid painting, it was finally finished. The painting then spent another day and night in front of a fan to be sure the piece was dry enough to send home with its teary owner.
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