Sunday 7 February 2016

Cow's eyes and when to call it quits

I held a workshop at my studio yesterday for the participants to execute an animal portrait, I chose a cow from a photograph I had taken on the farm a couple of years ago. I have painted cows many times before and felt confident that this one was not going to pose any problems....mmm, funny how even a slight change in the order of a painting can throw you off. Previously, I have always used a side on view of the animal and this one was very obviously straight to camera - how much of a difference would this make? It turns out, quite a lot, so much so, that I've delayed putting out this post as I've been staring at this cow painting for the last 24 hours trying to decide if I like it or not. In fact, the jury is still out but this is a really good lesson (trust me to put a positive spin on it) in that, sometimes, you've just got to quit and move on. Read on with me and I'll explain:

1. I sketched out the cow on to Saunders Waterford paper, in a normal pencil, leaving lots of paper around the animal for a vignette.

2. I added two different mediums to the piece - Pebeo modelling paste for texture and white gesso to repel some of the colour when it's applied. You can see here that I used a palette knife to make 'sticky' marks to represent hair.

3. I added masking fluid to the hairs on the perimeter of her paying particular attention to the nose and whiskers.

 4. Using two of my favourite watercolour paints - Amethyst and Sleeping Beauty Turquoise - I popped in a soft background, wet in to wet and rag rolled it with kitchen towel to diffuse the colour.

5. I then worked on the cow 'all in one', in other words, using strong colour (Hematite) together with Cerulean and a little Quinacridone Rose in varying strengths to build up the shadows, tones and features. After removing the masking fluid with a Maskaway and stepping back from it, I started to use Inktense pencils and a little gouache to build up the parts of the study that were important.

So now you have reached my dilemma, my students all pushed their pieces much further along the road than I had taken mine and we had some excellent work produced. Some had never tackled an animal before, some hadn't explored the wonderful world of mixed media and all of us had a wonderfully fun day. Usually after class I complete a piece (I rarely do it in a class due to the participants pieces being more important than mine, I had shown them everything they needed to know to finish) but yesterday I just wasn't feeling it. Should I push through the wall? Should I make myself diligently work at it? Or should I practise what I preach and just 'step away from the cow' and leave on the easel until another day?
I've opted for the latter. I'm not a machine, I'd rather finish it at another time when it is calling to me to do so, or learn from it and try again another time. Lots of students ask me 'How do I know when a painting is finished?' and there are too many answers depending on the circumstances but this time I will pop her on the easel, turn off the lights in the studio and have a look at her another time. Happy Painting everyone...

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