Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In the twilight, I continue to search for Vincent

Hello, all!

This week, I will be attempting my first landscape painting (ever!) by emulating  Landscape at twilight, which Van Gogh painted very near the end of his life, in June of 1890.

(For those who might prefer a first hand link/look - http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/van-gogh-museum/artwork/landscape-at-twilight-vincent-van-gogh/5734954/ )

In this masterpiece, Van Gogh was trying to capture the colors of dusky early evening, one of his favorite times of light.  The painting was done "plein-air," which means that Vincent painted it directly from nature, while standing outside at the scene.

The painting depicts an area around Auvers sur-Oise (near Paris); Van Gogh selected a view of two pear trees on the side of a road, with an old castle in the background  (It kind of shows you what he thought was important).  There are stands of verdant corn growing in the mid-ground of the painting, and the sun is setting at the horizon in a brilliant impasto (built up paint) of oranges, yellows, and reflected greens.

Although he had painted many landscapes before, in this painting, Vincent tried something new that he had begun experimenting with:  The support he selected to paint the scene on was exactly twice as wide as it was high.

Daubigny's On the Oise

This panoramic framework is something that he probably copied (borrowed?  homaged? - there it is again!) from a renowned landscape painter named Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878); a fine artist well known for exceptional exterior scenes.

Link to the man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles-Fran├žois_Daubigny

Link to his painting of the Oise area (above): http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/indianapolis-museum-of-art/artwork/on-the-oise-daubigny-charles-francois/403133/

Vincent greatly admired Daubigny's work, and had come to Auvers sur-Oise because the great artist (that many considered to be a father of impressionism) had a lovely home with gardens nearby.  Daubingny's widow still lived in the house she had shared with her husband (before his passing 20 years earlier) when Vincent came to the area to paint.

Chavanne's Between Art and Nature
Daubingny had used "double canvases" for his landscapes, which incorporated linen stretched across the equivalent of two full sized side-by-side painting frames, and Vincent was anxious to utilize similar panoramic canvases.

The effectiveness of these large supports in presenting big ideas was further reinforced by Vincent's discovery at the Paris Salon (A big, annual Fancy Pants showing of all of the best art of the year) of a painting (Between Art and Nature, left) by Puvis de Chavanne, a famed muralist.

Link to the man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Puvis_de_Chavannes

Link to his painting that inspired Vincent: http://uploads0.wikipaintings.org/images/pierre-puvis-de-chavannes/between-art-and-nature.jpg

Vincent felt that by using the panoramic double canvas, it would allow him to achieve an "enveloping pictorial world" [foot note #1 - please see my "book-link" at the bottom of this blog entry.] 

But there was a practical and physical element that Vincent had to carefully consider, as well.

No matter how big his idea, or the image he was trying to paint, he had to be able to carry what he wanted to paint on out to a field (or up a foot path to the top of a hill or vista), set it up on an easel, and then carry it, undoubtedly still wet, back to his room.  The logistics of this exercise limited just how big his canvas could be; consider your own level of enthusiasm for carrying on foot what was essentially a three and a half foot wide "sail" and painting kit (including easel) a couple of miles, then up the side of a hill, set it all up, work in the heat all day, clean it all up and put it away, then carry the painting back (butter side up) without your touching it to anything or dropping it.

Modern painters have it easy.  When I realized that I needed a panoramic canvas, I just pulled one off of an art supply store shelf and took it to the register to pay for it. Thanks to a handy counter and helpful staff, I didn't even have to juggle or hold on to my canvas as I slid my plastic; the greatest effort I had to expend was deciding if it would fit better in the trunk or the back seat of my hybrid (sigh!).  If I decide to paint outside, I can just hop back in my car and drive to wherever I want to go paint. Except France.  Can't drive there, even in a hybrid.

Contemporary artists have a vast array of supports that they can choose to paint with.  For the Vincent project, I am selecting primarily canvas covered boards, known as student panels.

These student panels are very inexpensive, quite sturdy and can take wet applications without bending, warping or falling apart.

They are made by gluing sturdy canvas cloth (tightly woven cotton or linen fabric) onto a cardboard panel, and then are finished with a paper backing.

These thin panels come ready to peel (their protective plastic wrap) and paint, and are lightweight and very stackable.

So what about other types of supports?

Look around at most any museum (other than strictly contemporary collections or sports museums, etc.) and you will find that people have making and responding to visual art for as long as there have been people.  For mystical, religious, aesthetic, communicative and many other reasons, we human beings have always done things to "improve" the objects in our lives, both by engineering them and by enhancing them as decorative objects.  Even today, I would say that most people find it more pleasurable to use an object that is deemed to be attractive; why else does Apple keep changing the look (as well as the capabilities) of the iphone, or Starbucks switch from a brown logo to green?   Why did you buy that particular car, or tennis shoes or pair of glasses?

I would contend that we make art everywhere, so everything in our lives is either a support that was utilized or a wasted opportunity for expression; but I digress - and shall now reel myself back in to the subject at hand -  

The first wall decorations were paintings that were left on the insides of caves.  Those early efforts evolved into the decorative and religious paintings of ancient Egypt and the frescos of the early church.  Eventually, Art Patrons realized that portability might be a good quality in the paintings they were paying for, and boards were introduced as the support of choice.  Wooden panels were (relatively) easy to move, and it was their embrace of these supports that allowed the old masters to achieve the photo-like realism we still see in their paintings today.  When sanded and polished smooth, the wood panels allowed artists to start with an extremely flattened surface upon which to build up the translucent layers of paint, giving depth to the images painted on them.  But the artists who used these boards were limited in how big they could make their paintings; boards were very heavy, and trees grew only so big - 

Modern boards are made of manufactured hardboard (trade name: masonite), so they are much lighter in weight and are offered in varying sizes.  Many contemporary artists use this type of board to paint on today, particularly those who paint in the old master's style.

These masonite boards (right) come from the manufacturer already smoothed, then coated with various types of surface preparations. They are available finished with different  textures, including super smooth, medium textured and more roughly textured surfaces. Masonite boards are suitable for painting, collage, pastels, and other media.  Like the canvas panels, they come in a wide variety of sizes.

 It was the great age of sailing that got people thinking about what else they could do with this sturdy fabric called canvas (from the same word root as cannabis; canvas was originally made from hemp).  Canvas was lightweight, rollable, and could be woven on looms (or woven together in a way) that allowed for almost infinite sizes to be produced.  Canvas could be stretched onto boards then removed for transport; the ability to roll up finished paintings has preserved many great works of art through wars and similar turmoil.  But canvas was not perfect.  Oil paint would bleed directly through it, causing the color to not set properly as it did on polished boards.

Eventually, a solution was engineered: Gesso.  Gesso is a paint like substance (there are different oil and acrylic formulations) that is applied during manufacturing to the surface of the canvas - rendering it sublimely paintable.  The gesso is the bridge that allows the best of all worlds - the paintability of a board combined with the lightweight, infinite size-ability of canvas.

Most modern boards and stretched canvases come pre-gessoed, so artists don't even have to bother with that step.  I have lately seen pre gessoed canvases in black for artists who are so inclined.  Those who enjoy extra steps can gesso their own canvases, which opens up the option of coloring the gesso in whatever hue you fancy.

Two examples of prepared stretched canvas supports are depicted above and at right.  Please note that on both, the canvas material is wrapped around the side of the stretcher and stapled onto the back.  This is a vast improvement over the upholstery tacks that had been common; you would have to be an octopus to manage a taught canvas by nailing in tacks onto the slender side of a board.

The support above has a deeper stretcher; this is a more modern finish that is often used in contemporary (style) paintings, as it does not require framing.  Both examples came pre-gessoed, and the only effort required to use them is finding the dang scissors because my fingernail is never quite sharp enough to vanquish the plastic wrap.

The photo at left shows the back of the canvas depicted above.  The things hanging from the side are little "stays" that can be shoved into the corners after the painting is finished to keep it square.

Of course, you can paint on most anything that will absorb and hold the paint.  I just finished painting a ukulele as a gift for a recent high school graduate.  I offer some images below:

OK - here is the "book-link" foot note as promised.

1.  From Van Gogh, The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith; published by Random House, New York. page 835.

This book is incredibly interesting for anyone who wants to learn about Van Gogh's life or work.  I will be telling you a lot of the most interesting details as I read it over the next year, including a most fascinating account of his final days (was it suicide, or something much more sinister?) along with insight as to why he became so famous, with his art rocketing from zero to hero within just a few years after his untimely death.  I cannot recommend it enough.

And again, it is time once more to shut up and paint....

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Camille and I play hide and seek. Vincent wins.

The Portrait of Camille Roulin is our project this week.  Thanks again to everybody who is reading along!

Camille Roulin was 11 years old at the time this portrait (one of several by VvG) was painted.  Camille was a relatively young man when he died in 1922, at 45 years of age.

I wanted to make sure that I had selected a canvas that was close in size to the original, because I thought I might have a problem if I chose a support (fancy art community word for "the thing that you are painting or drawing on") that was too big or too small.

Vincent's painting was 32.5 cm X 40.5 cm, which translates (very roughly) to 13" X 16" - the closest canvas I had to that size was 14" X 18", so that is what I used.  (Fear not, mathphobes!  This conversion was googlable.) Next, I pulled up the original portrait on the GAP, and enlarged it to be as big as my computer screen would allow.  I then hung my t-square on the top of my mac, centering it vertically on Camille's face.  I taped two small clear rulers on either side, to designate the center point of the canvas.  I then drew corresponding lines on my support, so that I would know approximately where to place the features in my pre-painting sketch.   To my surprise, I found that the center point of the image is just above the bridge of his nose, just to the left of his left eye (the eye that appears on the right side of the canvas).

That placement was not what I was expecting.  I figured that the middle of his nose would be the middle of the canvas.  I could not have been more wrong.  So, I was glad that I started by measuring.  The hat was a lot bigger than I thought it would be,  and had to be redrawn many times to get the proportion correct.  Initially, I made his face far too small, and little Camille ended up just looking like an elf in search of Christmas.  Notice at left how many times I drew and redrew his mouth, nose and chin, and just how far off I was - you can see the hint of the nose at the top of the image, and the corresponding early chin just below the lips.  I was glad that I started this in pencil, rather than the charcoal I had initially thought to use - there was a LOT of eraser sacrificed on this drawing, and, had I used charcoal, I would have ended up with a smeary mess.  Although I did spend a lot of time correcting the drawing, I think it will save me considerable effort in not having to correct the painting.

Now,  where to begin with the color?  I think, given the subject, that Van Gogh must have painted this portrait quickly.  The blue cap appears to be just two main colors of blue, with accents of black, brown, white and yellow.  The eyes are the same color of lighter blue - so, I think I will just start with two shades of blue, brown and black.

Cue Adele - it is time to paint!

As Adele agonized over her breakup, I joined in her blue mood - mixing together cobalt and light blue until I had a base shade for the cap.  I got out my trusty filbert and began to paint, roughing in the shape of the cap and leaving plenty of space for me to add in the darks.  I was trying to paint quickly and decisively, not only to emulate Vincent, but because acrylic paints, once out of the tube, can dry like cement on your palette while you are still looking for where the color should go.

I moved the brush in the direction that I thought the weave of the fabric would go as it folded over his head into the cap shape.  Therefore, most of the strokes went from the crown to the face, with a wave over the top of the skull.  At the point where the cap curved under from the top to the sides of the head, I curved the brush strokes to follow, as well.  The eyes were simple circles,avoiding the area where the pupil would go.

I kept working on the cap and the eyes, adding in some dark lines with burnt umber (a medium dark brown) and ivory black (not ivory at all, just black).  Next were the lighter blues, which I pushed into the highlighted areas of the cap.  Following VvG's painting made it both easier and more difficult - he gave me a guide as to where to put each color, but the closer I looked, the more I appreciated that it wasn't just "a couple of blues."

To make the lighter blue, I mixed in this transparent mixing white, which lightened the color without clouding it.  I will speak in a later blog post about what transparent, translucent, opaque and semi opaque mean on the outside of the paint tubes, and how and when to use and even alter these different paints.

Next, I opened up more colors: (from left to right starting at the top left) titanium white, cold grey, cadmium yellow (lemon), prussian blue, cadmium yellow medium, and ultramarine blue (red shade).  These were the colors that I thought would be the base for the colors that I would find in the hat.  You can see that I still had a bit of the original blues left.  The red is from another project - I was just reusing my palette paper.

So the hat was starting to tweed up a little bit.  I was happy with the rounded parts and wrinkles outlined by the darks on the far right, and I thought the shading was getting me where I wanted to go, but my little lines looked like swimming blobs when I compared them to Vincent's precise and so much more evocative placements.  My colors were also much more saturated (bright) than the ones on the screen, but who can be sure what the actual colors on the "real" painting are (when viewing through a computer screen)?

 As I examined Vincent's version, I saw colors that I thought I recognized - alizarin crimson on the mouth and around the left eye - burnt sienna (not burnt umber as I had guessed) on the eyebrows, and chromium oxide green on the face, eyes, and jacket.  I could also guess where VvG had intermixed these colors and others - one nice thing about the fine painting system of naming colors is that the good old basic colors have been those very same good old basic colors for hundreds of years.  This continuity of names and formulations allow us, as modern artists, to produce the same colorations as the old masters - but, again,  I suspect that the older paintings may have been somewhat altered in color (no matter how well conserved) by the march of time.

So who is to say that Camille was not bright and saturated with rich color as Vincent originally saw him on the canvas?

The blurry photo above (I was holding the camera and my paintbrush while I took the shot - lesson learned!), and somewhat less blurred image to the right show my many guesses with regard to color as I looked for Camille's face.  At this point, I was very concerned that the best I would be able to do was a portrait of a very dirty faced, crookedly smirking little boy.

 I began adding in yellows on the background, mainly to conserve my yellow paint (by using it to make progress on the canvas rather than allowing it to dry on the palette) and clean up the yellow paint that was blobbing up my brush.  With acrylics, the paint dries so quickly, that if you are not going to waste it, you have to get it up on the canvas rapidly, and sometimes that involves slapping it somewhere other than where you are doing (perhaps) fine work (such as on the face).   Vincent, who had so little money, also had a strong motivation to preserve and utilize every squeeze of his paint.  The oil paint that Vincent used (acrylics had not been invented in his lifetime) takes much longer to dry out (than acrylics), and can often be revived by the addition of more diluent (paint thinners), but once it is out of the tube, it can't really go back in.  Did Vincent start out with the sunny yellow background, then "clean his brush" with strokes on the face, or did he start with the face, then clean up his brush on the background and jacket, or did he care about this aspect at all?

 If you look really closely at the original VvG on the GAP, (image at right) you will see some very thinned very faint green strokes on the edges of the background, just above the shoulders.  It looks to me like Vincent wanted to bounce some of the green (as a reflection?) up above the jacket, and he started with bolder strokes on the right side of the painting (see right), then added very faint strokes just above the left (side of the painting as you are viewing it) shoulder. (Not pictured.)  These strokes appear to be very thin and floating on top of the yellow.  I think the addition was deliberate - I don't thing that there are many things in any of Van Gogh's works that are not... But it looks to me like he had a limited pool of that particular (probably already mixed) green left to work with and he thinned it and thinned it until he used up every molecule.

So, I kept on painting, adding stroke by stroke (not fluid, even, smooth strokes, but chopped, on and off, contoured strokes which were very challenging to do!) to the face, jacket, and hat until I got a jaundiced, cat like boy looking out at me.  Always with the good eye, Bryan pointed out that his hat looked too cut off on the right, giving him a lobotomized appearance, and that the chin was too narrow to actually hold a jaw bone.

So, I incorporated those corrections, as you can see at left.  I outlined the new edge to the cap and added to the left (side of the image) lower portion of the chin to provide more surface area.  I then filled in with the appropriate color.  Those two changes helped a lot, as did the addition of the highlights and lowlights on the jacket.  The eyes, also were not quite right, and were muddied in pools of yellow with little definition on the creases.  That was corrected with some lines of prussian blue (the ivory black was too heavy) applied with a very thin, very small brush. My final count of colors that I used in the painting was more than 20.  And I started with the premise that it was basically just four!  Four!  I would mix in a dab of this or that until I had what I thought was a match. Often it was was a match, just not to anything that Vincent had put into his painting.

  My boys' nose remained quite troublesome, and I could never get it to have the  rounded, tough guy, "future stevedore's nose" quality of Vincent's portrait.  My modern version of Camille's mouth was also a little too pretty and perfect (and by perfect, I mean not perfect); it was a great challenge to try to replicate Vincent's version.  I tried and tried to get the pursed lips right, but much of what I put on the canvas ended up looking like Jack Nicholson's Joker's mouth from the Batman movie. Before I laid down my brush, I did cover quite a bit of the yellow that I had placed around the eyes and cheeks, and that helped a lot.   Below is the finished portrait.

Is it an exact copy of Vincent Van Gogh's original?  Absolutely not.  Is it a successful painting?  An utter failure?  Somewhere in between?  You tell me.

When I finished with the painting on Friday night, I put it on a little easel that I have next to my T.V.  As I watched the late news coverage of the ugliness of the Jerry Sandusky trial and the righteous, albeit "what does it fix?" verdict, I kept on glancing over at my meta version of this sunny, adorable little boy, who was born, lived, and died, all before World War II.  Eventually, the awful Sandusky story (and all of the other stupid news, T.V. shows, gossip and snookies, hatred and hard times, and all of the other 2012 distractions)  will go away, but my painting shall live on, at least for a little while here in my house.  It made me happy to see this painting on my easel, and it made me really happy that over the next 50 weeks, I will make 50 more "Vincents" to look at and enjoy (or not - I am open to whatever the outcome of this process).

I hope that you have enjoyed reading this, and I welcome your comments - including requests for any of Vincent's paintings you would like for me to attempt.  I hope that my work this week will inspire you to make some art of your own to enjoy...

Until next week.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I become a copy cat (herine)

The subject this week is Van Gogh's portrait of Camille Roulin
(1888, Oil on Canvas).  The GAP link follows:

(fist bumping myself!  I figured out how to add the links!)

Camille Roulin was the middle child of VvG's postman in Arles.  At the time, mail was delivered two or more times each day, so Vincent became very familiar with his mailman, Joseph Roulin, and was friendly with Roulin's family, as well.  Vincent could not afford fees to pay models, but the Roulin family agreed to sit for him in exchange for some of the paintings that were produced.  Camille was 11 at the time this portrait was made.  I am posting a link (below) where you can find out more about the Roulin family and their relationship with Vincent, and see many of the paintings of the family that Van Gogh produced during that period.

That Camille Roulin - what a cutie!  With his blue eyes and jaunty cap and that impish jut of his chin, you know that Camille must have been just the kind of kid who always had ants in his pants.  Vincent captures him leaning forward, ready to spring from the chair.  What was this boy thinking about as he tried to sit still for this crazy red headed man?  Had he any idea what Vincent was doing as he smashed his sticks into colored blobs then squished the blobs together onto to a frame of stretched tablecloth?  His gaze is independent and certainly is not directed at Vincent; you wonder if he was looking at his mother or father admonishing him to try not to move.  One of the most charming aspects of his face are his lips, which are permanently pursed in an expression of being ready to blurt!

His simple green coat is accented by a single red button, and, like the clothes of many middle children, the jacket looks just a little too big for him.  The background of the portrait is a soft, lemony color, and Vincent also deploys a lot of yellow in the boyish little face.  Speaking broadly, only four major colors appear in the painting: yellow, blue, green and red.  If they sound familiar, it is because they are the primary colors - what an appropriate choice for the portrait of a child!

Unlike the clogs/velvet loafers paintings, I will attempt to copy this painting as exactly as I can.  This will be a real challenge for me because it will force me to do things that I don't really enjoy doing, like staying within the lines, and painstakingly mixing hues to match.   

Many art classes assign a project of copying an established artist's work of art.  Sometimes instructors will assign all of the students in the class the same painting, and sometimes the teachers will leave it up to the students to pick a painting from an artist that they like.  The idea behind this copying is for the students, by studying the established work closely enough to reproduce a facsimile of it, will learn at least a little bit about how the artist made the work.

My first blog post featured my student painting of a chair that I had copied from one painted by Vincent - please note the differences in the color selection (I was not trying to match exactly) and composition.

At first this seemed like stealing - the "real" artist painted it first, and copying (even loosely) a painting that someone else has already done does not seem like the most creative endeavor.

But there is a long history of established artists copying other artist's paintings, styles, techniques, subjects, and pretty much everything else there is that has to do with the making of art.  The difference is that established artists do not call this copying - they call it by many other very french sounding names like homage, Parody, Reprise, Imitation, Adaptation, Derivation, and Detournement...

(for your linking pleasure:)

There does seem to be a line, however, which you must not cross. Those works are known by an equally frenchy sounding word: Forgery.   And, you don't need for me to tell you that this type of activity can lead to yet another word in our french vocabulary lesson - incarceration!

I started really thinking about "copying" and "homaging" and "borrowing" and "honoring" and all of the other ings involved in "recycling" other artists works when I saw an exhibit recently at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  They had a gallery in their contemporary wing that was devoted to works that were "re-imaginings" of other paintings, fabric, mirrors, furniture, sculpture, photographs and all manner of weird and unusual stuff.   The atmosphere and vibe of the exhibition was absolutely thick with deja vu.

One of the pieces in that show which particularly intrigued me was (pictured at left) "Dialogue with Myself 1," 2004, by Yasumasa Morimura - When I saw the image, I immediately recognized it as an almost exact (yet really strange) replica of Freda Kahlo's "The Two Fridas," (1939) a double self portrait that she had done in response to her divorce from Diego Rivera (right).  Morimura is a Japanese artist who makes photographic replicas of famous portraits, inserting an image of himself in place of the original subject. Copy?  Homage?  Parody?  You be the judge.

What struck me was this: the idea that, what was, essentially, a copy, was hanging in a major museum along with a bunch of other copies.  That means that curators must not really think that they are copies... I think that the curators, because they chose to display them, think that these copies are a way of advancing a new layer of the idea of the original work.  These copies make the original work newly relevant for a modern audience.  I think that is an interesting thing to think about.

Feel free to divert to google images for a look at more of Morimura's work - it is really amusing!

The two Fridas can be found at:


And now a little housekeeping: In my first blog I indicated that I would be publishing the Wednesday blog by noon.  What was I thinking?  I am not a morning person, and like the owl, I hoot at night!  My new (and improved) deadline shall forever be Wednesdays at midnight.  Until I feel like changing it again.  It's my blog, so deal.

Again, thank you to those who are reading and following - I appreciate your interest!

OK, it is time to shut up and start painting!  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

I begin with a black velvet painting...

Hello again!

First of all, I would like to thank all those who have viewed and subscribed to this blog - your support is so encouraging!

And now, on to this week's project, "A pair of leather clogs".

I could see that Vincent had been inspired by a pair of well worn, hard working and obviously typical peasant shoes.  The shoes look comfortable and ready to slip right on, or as if they had just been kicked off at the end of a good day's work.  As you would expect, Vincent did an excellent job conveying the contours of the leather as it conformed to the wearer's feet, and the shoes are firmly rooted onto the floor with a strong shadow to the right of each.  With just some simple brushstrokes and variations in tone, Vincent captured the interior and exterior textures of the shoe's leather.  The heels depicted in the painting look appropriately worn down and scuffed in all of the places that you would expect.

With that in mind, for this week's project, I was inspired by Vincent's Clogs to paint some well worn, hard working shoes that had belonged to my son, Duncan.

Like Vincent's clogs, Duncan's shoes were working shoes, and he had logged many miles on his feet while wearing them.  Duncan's shoes also had seen hard service - they had been stepped upon, and were scuffed and broken in so hard that they were in danger of becoming broken out.  I know he had worn them in all kinds of conditions day in and day out for as long as it took him to get done with his high school job, which required a lot of standing.

However, unlike Vincent's clogs, which were made of sturdy leather, Duncan's shoes were made of black velvet.  Duncan's working shoes were the tuxedo loafers that he wore as a singer in his high school choir.

The "velvets," as he came to call them, became Duncan's favorites the moment he realized that they were made with tennis shoe technology hidden inside very standard looking, hard soled formal shoes.  Those shoes, he claimed, could be worn all day or night (or both) with nary a pinch.  The velvets carried him to New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and more, and in them, Duncan sang his way into one of the top college vocal programs.

But even the velvets had limits.  After two years of tramping all around cities, climbing risers and being tossed wet or dusty (or both) into suitcases, the velvets were starting to come apart.  The stitching on the sides was starting to unravel, and the tongues of the shoes were curling and shrinking like an old apple collapsing in upon itself.  The soles were  nearly transparent, and the toes no longer met the ground, but instead had started to stretch, jester-like, toward Duncan's knees.

I don't know why Vincent chose to paint the clogs, but I figure it was because he wanted to honor both the sturdy, well made shoe and the wearer (Vincent himself?) who shaped them.  I wanted to do the same by trying to capture for Duncan these shoes which had meant so much to him.

I started with a "cartoon" of the shoes, which I did in charcoal on a cotton covered artist's panel.
Charcoal is nice because it is easy to erase by smudging it with a paper towel, but it can be a challenge if you are painting initially with light color, as it will bleed into your paint.

So I could refer to both the original and my own photograph as I painted, I also set up the project on my computer, which I can see easily from my easel.  The image on the left is the screen from the Google Art Project (GAP) which was discussed in last week's blog.  Duncan's shoes were captured with the camera on my iphone.

I set up my palette with the paints that I thought I would need to get started.  For this painting (and all of the other paintings I will do for the Vincent Project) I used Artist Grade (heavy body) acrylic paint.  (The "heavy body" just means that there is more pigment suspended in the acrylic than in a student grade paint.)

Because I wanted to paint in the rapid fire Van Gogh style, I was generous with the amounts of paint I squeezed out of the tubes, but I (thought I had...) limited the color selection initially.  The charcoal cartoon led me to begin with the darks, so I started with  black, purple and blue, filing in the dark sides and the tops of the shoes.

I kept the right sides of both shoes clean, because I knew that I wanted to add in the highlights that would, hopefully, make for a convincing "velvet in a spotlight" texture.

I used two of my favorite types of brushes on this painting, a filbert and a shader.

The filbert, on the right, is cut so that it is arched on the top and the bristles meet in the middle like the edge of a knife.  This brush is excellent for filling in with precise control.  Just below is the shader, which is like a tiny, long-handled angled-edge house painting brush.  And I typically use it just like a house painting brush - to cut in along edges.  It can also be used for creating shadows.

I try to start with the smallest brush I think will do the job - the smaller the brush is, the easier it is to control.  I also try to start with my newest brushes when I need precision - older brushes can be ornery at times.  But enough about equipment - now back to the painting!

I proceeded by adding in the lights - including not only whites and creams, but also light blues, violets and silvers.   I then roughed in the shadows, checking to make sure that they were opposite where the source of light was coming from (the upper left corner of the painting).  The magnificently lit right interior sidewalls of the shoes were painted with authority and confidence - and of course, (look back up at it now...) they were painted completely wrong -

I wanted to contrast the coolness of the tones on the uppers with some warm colors on the lining; I painted these in, trying to mimic VvG's broken line technique, which is MUCH harder to do than it looks.

The background was next.  Again, I was trying to paint in the VvG style, with directional brushstrokes that added texture and color to fool the eye into thinking that there was a flat floor beneath the shoes.

What I did not think about was checking back on the VvG painting to see the color choices he had made.

 In Vincent's original, the tone of the shoes was very close to the tone of the floor, which was very close to the tone of the wall behind.  Although it appears that many colors were selected for his painting (and really, there are), the image could be described as mainly ochre, moss, black and cream.

I, on the other hand, went radically off of the reservation here.  I had some awesome bright colors on the table, and dang it, I was going to USE them!

This color selection by the "whim of a mad woman" contributed a cascade of problems with my painting.

First, the warmly colored background was too close in color to the linings of the shoes, which gave the effect of the bodies of the shoes "floating" without any lining or soles.  I changed that to a more camouflaged color scheme, which was slightly closer in color to the actual caramel color of the lining (but ended up just looking like bad, well used carpet pad, I think).

Another problem was the cushiony part of the lining of the shoe was black, which was very close in tone to the (now corrected) interior sidewall of the shoe in the painting.  

My husband pointed out an additional issue - the cushion showed only in the left shoe; the one in the right shoe was (in actuality) obscured by the right sidewall of that shoe.  He said that my leaving out the right shoe pad (that I could not see) resulted in left shoe pad looking like nothing more than a shadow, with no corresponding shadow shown in the right shoe.  Stay tuned for the resolution: This will be corrected in the final image by my finally just going with the flow, and slapping a shadow directly on that left shoe pad!  Sometimes a second pair of eyes and a loose attitude about exact accuracy is very helpful...

Next, I shifted the lining from khaki to blue, just to keep it contrasting from the very warm red floor I had laid down.  I made the wall blue for much the same reason, just to lay cool on top of the warm.  None of these decisions actually enhanced the painting, but it was a struggle to figure out what to do.  I asked myself again and again, "what would Vincent do?"  Well, obviously, Vincent chose a more cohesive color scheme in the first place.  (Or maybe in the second or third or fifth or twenty fifth place - we will never know...)

What I finally went back to was Vincent's unified color scheme and simple composition.  Worn shoes on an appropriate floor.  Simple.  I spent some time thinking about where it was - exactly - that Duncan's shoes were.  I had taken the photo with them sitting on my dining room table.  This was done because the light was good there, but painting the velvets on the table did not seem particularly appropriate, and my apologies to any future dinner guests with regard to this potentially unsavory revelation...

Taking Vincent's direction, I laid down a lot of grays, blacks, creams, whites and dark neutrals to try to get the floor color moving closer to the color of the shoes.  I decided that the shoes were on the stage floor of the high school auditorium, which, in my mind, made it OK that there was a lot of wildly colored paint still peeking out of the dark neutrals.  I kept on adding more browns, blues and grays until I got it pretty dark, but it still looked odd.

I repainted the wall an institutional paste color (pretty much the color of the actual auditorium), and let the underlying greenish blue bleed through in parts.

These were only minor improvements. (Which I, unfortunately, failed to photograph - sorry)

Then it hit me.  If the light was falling on the right side of the shoes, then the light had to be falling in the same way on the floor!

I got out a new paint that I had purchased but had no idea how to use - It was called interference blue.

On my finger, it looked very light, shimmery, and was a purply/pinky/very light violet color.

I had some old paint on my palette and tried a dab of the interference blue on red, brown, blue, and a black/grey/blue mixture.  On the red, brown and blue, it dried looking much like what was on my finger:

(The samples look much more iridescent in the photos than they do on the actual red and brown paint blobs - upper right - and the blue paint streak below.)

But on the black/grey/blue mixture, the interference turned a brilliant, sparkly blue - it was the color of some fireworks; shimmery, electric and crackling with light!

And that lovely, weird, iridescent paint just might turn out to be the solution to my problem.  That shimmer could be the effect I needed to convey strong light without looking washed out or dull.  So, I pushed the interference to come from the imaginary direction of the light on the shoes, and then darkened (with a thin wash of more gray and blue) the opposite side of the painting.

So now, I'm calling it done, or, as Duncan would phrase it: Doneski!

Please let me know what you think - of the painting, the blog, the experience that you have had in reading this, or anything else that is on your mind.  Please also share this with anyone you think may be interested in reading it.  I have certainly enjoyed both the painting and the writing, and am excited to continue on with the next 51 weeks of "The Vincent Project."

Tune in tomorrow for the announcement of next week's subject, along with a discussion on why it is actually OK to copy the work of other artists (or is it?).