June 25, 2015

"Little Girl" Day 2

Its... BLUE! So much blue! I really have no idea what pigments Mary Cassatt used in this painting (I guess I might be able to find out if I really tried...), so I'm doing my best to reproduce it with the colors I have. I even went to the store and bought a couple of colors I didn't own - Turquoise Blue and Phthalo Turquoise. But I didn't even try using them today. Today my goal was to make a "first pass", and cover all the white canvas. I didn't quite succeed, but I covered a lot of it.

Today I mainly used Prussian Blue and Phthalo Blue, with white. These are colors I rarely, if ever, use. They are just so strong. I've occasionally used Phthalo in a really blue sky on a beautiful sunny day. And they may just be a little too much for this painting.

My impression of the blues in this painting were that they were So Bright! But after working on this for several hours today, I saw that this is an illusion. Just as a bright yellow flower or a lemon is really mostly a dull green with just a little bit of pure yellow, so these chairs have a lot of brown in the blue. You don't notice it at a glance, but when you really look, you see how dull most of the blue actually is. That is what makes the relatively small areas of pure blue really POP.

Here is how much I had done when I stopped for lunch:

And here is a view of it from across the room, so you can get a feel for where I was standing in the gallery.

After lunch, I plugged away, trying hard to get everything covered. But it's hard to get a lot done when you stop to talk to people every few minutes. I don't mind (usually); it's all part of being there. And I really enjoyed chatting with people today. But I ran out of time, so I didn't get all the white covered up. That's fine, I'm a bit of a speed demon anyway. 

In two weeks (I'm working at the library next week and so won't be copying on July 2nd - just as well, since the museum will probably be mobbed), I'll finish making the first pass over the little girl. I did get something done on her legs, shoes, and skirt today, and one arm. To tell the truth, I am leaving her for last because I'm scared! But I'm always scared... always. I just have to work on it, little by little, until it develops and I forget that I'm scared. The trick is not to let the fear stop me from trying.

(click on the images for a larger view.)

June 11, 2015

"Little Girl in a Blue Armchair" by Mary Cassatt, Day 1

Day one on a new copy! My goal for today was simple: bring in my new canvas and get the composition drawn onto it.

Here is a photo of the gallery before I got set up. The easel was not in there, but they brought it to me pretty quickly. You can see my paintbox on the little cart I use to bring my stuff up from the locker room, and also one corner of my canvas. That whole back wall is Mary Cassatt paintings, with the one I'm copying in the very center.

The original painting measures 35 1/4"x51 1/8". I stretched a canvas 27"x39", which is the same proportions. (I use a great Excel spreadsheet that my husband Hal designed for me to compute the size of my copy.)

After I got the canvas stretched and gessoed, I divided it into halves and quarters at home. I printed out the image of the painting from the National Gallery's web site, and I also divided it into halves and quarters by folding it. (You can see the small printout on my paint box in this photo, and if you look closely, you can see the pencil lines on my canvas.) I considered using this little printout to enlarge the composition onto my canvas, but I wasn't sure if the image I got from the web site was the entire painting. If it had been cropped, then simply blowing it up might result in a distorted image. I decided to wait until I was face-to-face with the painting to draw it onto my canvas.

Having my canvas gridded out made the work go much easier, and seeing where the centers were on the little printout made it go much faster. It turned out that the image on the computer had not been cropped, so I could pretty confidently rely on the divisions of the picture plane being the same proportions on the little print and on my canvas. I mixed some raw umber with white, which made a pale beige color. With a brush, I made tiny marks to indicate where important points in the composition hit these divisions, and then I connected the dots. I relied heavily on the shape of the negative space of the floor that is between all the chairs. It is a very specific shape, which I thought looked like a bird facing left (kind of like a cartoony seagull.) Thinking of the shape this way helped me see if I was getting it right. Also, as I got the little girl sketched in, I kept checking against the printout to see if everything was falling within the correct spaces on the grid.

After about an hour and a half, during which time I was blissfully uninterrupted, the drawing was finished, and it was time to stop for lunch. My friend Leigh came to have lunch with me, and I didn't work on the painting any more today. I feel good about the drawing and think it's just about right. If not, I can make adjustments as I go. I'll be back to work on it again in two weeks!

(click the images for a larger view.)

June 4, 2015

Cézanne, "Still Life with Apples and Peaches", Day 12 (final)

I knew today would be the last day on this painting. I just had a little bit to do... 

I started my day as I always do, by mixing several piles of colors. I mix all my colors from a limited palette of white, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red light, alizarine crimson, ultramarine blue, burnt and raw umber. I like to have as many pre-mixed colors as possible, so when I pick up the brush and start painting, it's almost like choosing from a box of pastels.

First thing, I tackled the pitcher, because it looked much too rosy in color. After about an hour, I was satisfied that I had gotten it more into the right color family.

Next I worked on the fruit, mainly the large peach that is front and center. Mine looked too blotchy and bruised. I painted on it for awhile, and then I felt better about it. I also touched up the rest of the fruit.

After a nice long lunch break (one of the best things about copying at the National Gallery - they have a GREAT cafeteria, and a wonderful book store to peruse), I went over the hanging tapestry with an almost-dry brush in a neutral light-brown color. (That's where the raw umber came in.) It really helped, adding texture and toning down the bright colors. In the last half-hour, I quickly added some lighter browns to the dark background on the right, and then it was time to clean up.

After I cleaned my palette, of course I saw more that I could have done. But it was too late. So I turned in my permit and will take this one home next week. Next week I will start my next copy, which will be Mary Cassatt's "Little Girl in a Blue Armchair". I'm looking forward to painting all that luscious blue fabric with its almost abstract-impressionist scribbled patterns. Stay tuned!

(click on the images for a larger view)