Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Indian Trunk - Furniture as Art

Indian Trunk
30 x 18
Acrylic on Wood

Usable art or functional art, whatever you want to call the trunks, they are a pleasure to paint and one more has just been delivered to a client, how I hated to give it up.

I've been asked for more details on how the trunks are painted, my procedure, below, is similar to that of my commissioned illustrations for books, magazines, wine bottle labels, or any other product requiring this kind of art. A piece of wall art done in this style would be done in a similar manner.

Thumbnail Sketches

1. Depending on the subject matter I do lots of research online and in books to understand my subject matter. In this case the topic was India, my creative designer and art collector friend was particularly interested in the embroidery of the Indian women and the animals of India. After researching I have a pretty good feel for my topic and I draw pages and pages of little thumbnail sketches, somewhat to scale. They are called thumbnail sketches because they are tiny. I make colour notes etc.

Sketch-Tiger-Front Panel

2. I refine the sketches which at this stage are about 1/4 of the actual size but to scale, and email them to the client to review.

Colour Sketches-Photoshop-Trunk Top and Side

3. Once we are all satisfied with the design I open the sketches in Photoshop where I add colour, it's a bit rough but it allows me to make changes easier than if I were doing a coloured sketch in crayon, water colour or qouache. I can try different colours to be certain that what I'm planning will really work. This colour sketch of the elephant shows it when it is only partly done. When using so many colours and patterns I need to find ways to keep it all pulled together and not looking like a cacophony of unrelated colour. I solve this problem by repeating colours and patterns. After the client approves the colour sketches I transfer my sketch on to the trunk which comes to me already built and primed. The wood is somewhat rough and rustic and while it's a bit hard to paint on it lends a nice texture.

Transferring the Sketch

4. I use a projector to enlarge my coloured sketch on to the trunk. This is a huge time saver. I do my oil painting very differently, the drawing is done right on the canvas with oil paint and no preliminary sketches, no projector. When it comes to still life much of the creative work is done when I set up the fruits, flowers or objects. Compositional issues, colour and lighting are planned during the set up and I am free to paint what I see, for the most part. Creating the stylized designs and patterns that I do for illustration and the painted furniture requires a different way of working and planning since it all comes from my imagination.

Block in Colour

5. Notice my cat who immediately claimed my chair as soon as I got up to take a photo. Oh, the attitude! After the drawing is transferred I start blocking in the background and basic colours. Once all the basic colours are blocked in ( no shadows or details yet, just flat areas of colour) I start to layer on colour on colour to lend richness and variety. For example. I painted the tiger a flat orange, then added yellow in key areas. Once the animals were painted I started on the background pattern. This took some trial and error as the colour I was using was transparent and took a steady hand to go over the lines time and time again to make a line opaque enough to show up against the background. I experimented with lighter, darker brighter etc. till the background pattern showed up well but did not compete with the animals. Most colours need 2 coats others 3.


6. Finally it's time for the glazing which pulls it all together. I use brown for my shadows not because shadows are brown but because using the same colour shadows for all of the different coloured elements helps to unify them. In addition it tones down any harshness, softens, warms all the colours, and adds depth, richness and texture.

7. Once the glaze has cured for a day or two I put on a clear water based isolation coat which is a barrier between the varnish and the paint. After 2 days of curing I can give it a coat or two of synthetic resin based varnish. The varnish serves 2 purposes, enriches the colour and protects the paint surface. If this varnish becomes very dirty from smoke, grease or pollutants it can be removed while the isolation coat protects the paint.

8. Deliver!

Spring & Pussywillows - Oil Painting

Jade Spring
8 x 10
Oil on Canvas

While winter is having a hard time letting go the tulips and poppies have pushed up their heads and the pussy willows have been out for some time now. The sun is getting stronger and I can practically hear the snow melting. I'm inspired to paint spring. The pussy willows in Jade Spring were picked along the roadside just a short walk from home.