Learning to Paint Loose (Part 1)

Why am I painting this?  My painting style right now is very “tight”, meaning very detailed and attempting to replicate the photograph.  I’d like the freedom of some “looseness” to relax more about the details and introduce expression in my style. 

I suppose I should start by defining what I think “loose” is, or what I’m shooting for.  If you read Alla Prima: Everything I know About Art (Richard Schmid), he does a very good explanation of how to keep the focus of the painting “real” while loosing the surroundings that are distracting as seen here.  Richard Robinson has a similar style in that his paintings look “real”, yet are achieved with more careful application of fewer brushstrokes in bold colors.  “Helping  Hand” is a great example of this.

Fortune turned my way in the previous grape and pear workshop and Richard reviewed the study to give a hand in helping me learn to loosen up.  He urged to start from what I know: finish a painting in my “tight” style, then go back over and “loosen” it up.

The goal: Two parts: 1) Do a challenging still life I’d be pleased with and then 2)  “loosen” it.  Here’s my notes:

Part 1: Do a Challenging Still Life

Find a new arrangement that will take research to complete.  Different textures? Orange (dimpled surface), stainless steel salt shaker (bushed steel on bottom, smooth on top), grapes, wood semi-shiny plate and green towel backdrop.

Photo of the still life (pic is overly yellow, the shaker actually looks silver, not gold)

Starting off: Cropped photo to find good balance in the scene (rule of thirds). Sketched arrangement.  Blocked in colors of orange, plate, grapes and left salt shaker alone (what color is it?). Painted background. A comment was made to not detail the background of last still life, it’s a distraction.  Good point.  Simple blue gray back, green bottom. I’ll fill the background when loosening it up.

Painting the orange: How do you make a dimpled surface??  This goofy guy made a good still life video on painting oranges showing that dimpling in the highlight makes it “real”.  Jean Pierre Walter had great realism in still life oranges and lemons at dailypaintworks.com. Rather than use a small brush, I used a old bristly brush to lay the color in there. The dimple effect comes naturally.  Orange, then green for a dimpled shadow, then yellows for the upper-left reflection and lower plate reflection. For the direct highlights ( right side), I made a semi-wet (semi-translucent) mix of white paint and dotted in the highlight area, then repeated another time just in a center light area to add that extra kick of light. This took a day to learn, but absolutely worth it!

Painting the Stainless Steel shaker:  THIS was a challenge!!  Surprisingly, there aren’t too many videos about shiny steel surfaces.  This one is good, but has no instruction. I pillaged Jean Pierre’s work again which helped.  Mostly, I sat and just painted what I saw. Many times. Many. Times. Brushed steel look: paint reflections blending into each other. Then, use dry bristle brush to go over it –>put light grey on the bristle brush and brush across a paper towel until dry and barely any paint coming off, then make rounded stroke over surface to add the appearance of miniature blending lines.  The “dark” areas of the brushed steel were always lighter than the smooth top.  For the smooth shiny top, I just painted in smooth strokes with fine definition between light/dark and made sure the highlights defined the round shape.  I’m not sure why, but painting in the dark area of reflection of the smooth surface seemed to require a bit darker color than the actual reflected object. Paint what you see… day and a half.

Painting Wooden plate: Pretty easy here. Matched color and didn’t worry about wood grain lines.  Not focusing on the plate itself too much.  Light reflections of the objects, especially the white line in the shaker makes it look “reflective”.  Make watery reflection mark, take finger and pull down to extend the reflection across the plate. If it’s too dark of a reflection, wash over it with a plate-color wash.

Grapes: Ah, like finding a good friend among strangers… paint grapes like the previous still life.

Finished enough to be “tight”?: the plate edge is undone and background as well, but this will be a part of getting “loose” to mostly ignore these. The goal is to work on the main objects with large brush strokes and still keep them “real” looking. Part of what I see in video of loose painting is blending some edges into the background.

"Tight" painting 11x14 Acrylic on paper. This was kept unvarnished.
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