This month, in the dead of winter, we cheer each other up by giving flowers, candy, and sweet words. So, I used my new floral painting as the image on my calendar for the month of February. I cropped the image of my original painting for the calendar to be less busy and to fit the size of the page better. At the end of this blog, you will see the complete painting.
This painting was a commission, so its story is a little different than those that come from my own experience. To begin, I was contacted by a local gentleman who was looking for an artist who painted in a specific style. He had first contacted our director of Arts Monongahela - Arts Council of Greater Morgantown and was referred to me. Right here is a good place for me to pause and put a plug in for all of the wonderful local arts councils. These groups work hard to promote the arts and to support artists in many ways. If you’re an artist, I hope you are active in your local council, and if you’re not an artist, I hope you will consider supporting your local arts council by donating and volunteering. They are valuable resources for the well-being of our communities. I had participated in an invitational exhibit that was curated by Beth, our local director, so she was familiar with my work and had gotten to know me personally through the process, and I was certainly grateful for her referral.
Initial conversation revealed that the client was looking for classical, realistic painting in a rather French Baroque style. What was interesting to me was that he had a frame that he loved and wanted a painting to fill it but was still searching for an idea. What creative fun this would be! He found a black and white image that we used as a starting point which consisted of an urn filled with flowers and flanked by dancing figures. We would change the flowers and make the urn and figures look like old stone. In changing the figures which had non-descript faces, I thought it might be fun to have them represent the men of the house to personalize it more. They liked that idea and I had fun “sculpting” their facial likenesses with my paint.
I will back up here for a moment and talk about what you see in the first set of photos. I always paint on a toned background. I’ve used golds, browns, purples, and grays depending on the painting. After that paint dries, I draw on it with a pastel crayon – similar to chalk but softer, then I begin painting. For this painting, I needed the structure to be certain before I began the flowers, and since it didn’t have a variety of colors in that part, I just started from right to left. On other paintings, I might do all of one color first, or start with the sky or background of a landscape. However, since I’m left-handed, I do try to work from right to left so I’m not resting my hand on wet paint and smearing as I go.
After I got the stone urn in with a first pass of paint (I would end up going over it several times to build up the form and the stone effect), I roughed in the flowers. The clients wanted the types of flowers changed from the original photo and for it to be more overflowing. Some of the kinds they had mentioned were peonies, hydrangeas, roses, and tulips. I had picked up some real-looking artificial flowers as reference and also used some photographs. For longer, flowing fillers, I added some wild flowers, using very thin paint to give an idea of where they would be. The clients came to my studio to check on it and had different ideas instead of the wild flowers. I’m glad oil paint dries slowly so I could easily wipe off the thinly painted flowers that didn’t belong. We talked more about exactly what other flowers and berries to include. Throughout the process, there were changes made in the sizes and orientation of some of the flowers. My client is an award-winning, artistic florist so I learned quite a bit about flower arranging as I worked on this. The arrangement grew and ended up flowing off the top of the board which gives a rich, abundant-to-overflowing sense of celebrating flowers.
The last step would be to give it the golden glow of an old painting. I did a couple of experimental studies to figure out what color to use for this step. In traditional oil painting, a process called “glazing” is used to create depth and reflect light through all of the layers. For glaze, a color with transparent properties is thinned with a transparent medium and quickly and thinly brushed on. I was going to do this over the whole painting and wanted to be sure the original colors would not be too obscured. So, I painted a canvas with stripes of all of the colors that I had used in the painting, let it dry, then brushed four different colored glazes in opposite stripes across it to see what effect they had on the colors. That was a little hard to get a good idea, so I then used the same colors of paint and splashed them around on a board. Then, I chose two of the glaze colors that I had liked best from the previous trial and brushed them, one at a time – drying in between, to see how it affected that little abstract painting.
I ended up using a gold tone first and then a very thin brown tone over the whole painting. It was interesting to see how the glazes not only gave the painting an aged look, but also unified the whole piece under the same tone.
Coming up with a title for a painting is sometimes difficult and sometimes they just pop into my head. As I looked at this painting with vibrant flowers and the happy faces on dancing figures that look like they’re preparing for a party, I thought “celebration.” But what are they celebrating? Oh, of course, they are celebrating flowers! I somehow felt like it should be in French because of the style of art and the frame, so I used my good ol’ translator app and came up with Célébrer les Fleurs.