June 15, 2010

Red Swoop

Red Swoop, egg tempera on vellum, 6 5/8 x 5 inches

This painting was a struggle to get right; I had to paint many layers of color, going from lighter to darker and back again, making the hues of shadow and light warmer and cooler, brush stroke upon brush stroke, until the color and value became convincing as light on a surface. Part of the difficulty is with the color red; because it is a dark color, as opposed to yellow for instance, it's a balancing act to have it look sunlit while still being clearly red, or in this case, red-orange. If I add too much white to the color, it would become pink. An important key is the color and value of the shadow; if not dark enough, there wouldn't be enough contrast to make an illusion of light. I went through many stages of shadow being too light, too dark, too warm, too opaque. But finally, it worked. I decided to paint the green grass as a subtle texture, toning down the dramatic large blades of grass in the photo, so that the red shapes wouldn't be upstaged. For me, Red Swoop has an amusing personality, laugh lines in space.

This is my worktable, which should give you a sense of scale. I find reading glasses essential for clear viewing of the work in progress. The needle stuck into an eraser is a tool I use for picking out hairs and bits of dust from the painting while I'm working on it.

I thought I'd take a photo of the painting at an angle to the light so that you could get some idea of the surface of the painted vellum. There is a sheen to the paint, and the brushstrokes are more visible. So often a photo flattens a work that, though precise, has a subtle sense of touch, and the presence of the artist's hand.


  1. I so enjoy your work, Altoon. You have a remarkable way of capturing the beauty of small thing that it makes me look more closely at things.


  2. Thanks so much, Cronesense. It means a lot to me that I can encourage you to look more closely, and what a wonder that we can all share this online.