January 10, 2012

A New Painting: "Blades"

Blades, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 6 x 7 inches.

This painting went through more changes, more uncertainty, than is usual in my painting process, and I'm still not completely sure if it works. I usually follow the composition of my originating photograph fairly closely, but in this case I discovered that I had to leave out a couple of elements, and change the value structure of the image. When I came close to finishing the painting, I thought to myself that it would have been a good idea to take photographs at each stage so that I could illustrate my thinking, but: when I make a change it's often impulsive and I don't stop to think, "gee, I should get my camera and shoot this before I wipe it out". Zoom, it's gone, and I'm on to the next thought. So because I don't have step-by-step photos, I thought I'd show you my reference photo, something I usually hate to do because the photograph is at home on the screen, while a painting is not; a photo of a painting seen onscreen is dimished, while a photo is as fresh as the day it was shot. Also, I am not trying to reproduce a photograph; I am not a photorealist.

Here is my source material. I think you'll notice at once that I left out the sweep of rust moving down the blue-green blade; I left out the fitting on the red one. Here's something of a timeline of my decisions:
  • When I began the painting, the value of red and blue-green were much lighter. I put in the rust sweep, took it out, put it back in. The composition felt pretty uncomfortable to me.
  • I then had the thought to darken the red to the color you see now. Which meant I had to darken the blue-green for balance. That immediately gave the light area at the top left more presence and the whole composition felt more dynamic.
  • I worked for a long time on the curved area of orange rust but never felt quite comfortable with it. There was also a light band of shiny metal that I had painted along the bottom of the upper blade. When I began to work more carefully on it I started to have that oh-no feeling, that it just wasn't right.
  • I had one of my impulses and painted out the light band by painting the orange to the the edge of the blade. I breathed a sigh of relief; it looked much better.
  • But then, it looked like I didn't need the orange curve in the middle of that blue-green, so I painted it out.
  • Okay, it looks like that works. (maybe)


  1. Altoon; the colors and composition of this work with its wide diagonal swathe of deep teal and red seems like a shift. The colors appear velvety and present quite a wonderful contrast to the original photo (thanks for showing us that). The combination of the photo and your step by step process also helped me to understand and appreciate the origins/inspiration for the tempera work.

  2. Altoon - I can't stop gazing at this painting. Because of inexperience, I struggle with words to describe my reaction, but the rich color and shapes strike deep emotions. Thank you for outlining your thoughts and for including both reference photo and close up shots of the paint texture.


  3. It works beautifully!

  4. Thanks so much for the supportive comments.

  5. I so appreciate your exploration of words about your process. Photo and painting have both their own individual way. Rich values on many levels.