Our repatriation to the Philippines a couple of years ago had one big casualty - my painting momentum. It was simply difficult to keep my creative enthusiasm rolling while in the midst of hunting for a temporary home, of building a house hurriedly, and of relocating in between. Forget that I had no idea in which box my painting equipments were packed.
Still Life with a White Vase
Oil on Canvas
60cm x 50 cm
Now that we are finally settled, starting all over again should be as easy as turning on a switch. Unfortunately, I underestimated how inertia of rest could keep one motionless unless pushed by an outside force. After a considerable time of artistic inactivity, I decided the external nudge needed to break the inertia should be an easy project that required little effort but produced immediate results. A makeover, that is. What else could it be? One more of them, I guess, and hopefully the last.
Actually, the idea of another makeover occurred to me when I discovered this old painting while unpacking my collection. I remember I copied it from an art book years ago when I just took the plunge into this painting adventure. This artwork did not come out exactly as I wanted, not even close to the original. That's why I never displayed it on our wall nor posted it online. The Greek urn did not have the shade of white I aimed for and the overall colors especially of the flowers were dull. Maybe, while in the process of painting it I didn't realize my colors were getting muddy and losing all their brilliance. Also, the composition is too 'busy' to my liking; the positive space is disproportionately large in relation to the negative. But, above all it wasn't original, so I decided to let go of it if only to open the valves that let my creative juices start flowing again.
At the beginning, it was clear to me that I would have to come up with a new composition but retaining the urn and the goblet as the base. So my first move was to create three big areas of white (left photo above) - the third being the white flowers on top - that would form the corners of the triangular arrangement, a form commonly accepted as artistically sound. I then enlarged the background to establish a more balanced proportion between positive and negative space. And to mitigate the original chaos in the composition I replaced the cluttered foreground with a plain table, getting rid of the melons, plums and apples and replacing them with just grapes to keep things more simple. To be able to apply the base coating for the urn more comfortably, I temporarily removed all engravings with the intention of putting them back later.
At this stage, I decided white would be the dominant color, and green and a little bit of red would be the supporting palette. Once the placements of these colors were determined, I started developing the forms. In the left picture above, I just finished applying the body tones of the grapes, leaves, flowers and earthenware. To get rid of the big blank space in the middle, I painted a dark green bottle that blends perfectly with the background and remains virtually invisible. To reduce the impact of the red masses of grapes, I placed their halves in shadows. In the right picture, I concentrated on the grapes working on their highlights, body shadows, reflections, transmitted lights and haze in some of them. I also coated the vase and the goblet with another layer mixed with a hint of green. I further darkened the background throwing in dull tones of red and green.
The successive stages consisted in putting in the details of all objects in the composition. In the left photo, I refined the roses and leaves and added more white flowers to the top to round off the composition. Here, the vase and the goblet are now sufficiently primed to get back their original engravings. But, I decided to forego of them and keep the earthenware plain and simple. The engravings would just intensify the riot, and whatever pleasing contrast between noisy and quiet areas would be lost.
But, at this point, the vase and the goblet looked like cutouts pasted on the canvas. In the right photo, I tried to solve this problem by covering a significant part of them with more foliage. The eyes are still drawn immediately to the white vase because its smooth plain surface stands in strong contrast with its elaborate surrounding.
To finish the painting, I strengthened the highlights and accented the shadows of all the objects in the composition. I replaced the bunch of big leaves above the goblet with smaller ones and flowerets. I used these small leaves and flowers to connect all the main objects into a harmonious unity. I retained the sharp edge of the vase and placed the darkest dark and lightest light, in the focal point - the circular area enclosing the part of the vase where the highlight falls and the roses leaves around. I added hints of embroideries in the table cloth and then placed my signature.
In this makeover, my main concern was creating a cohesive composition. Thus, I had to ensure balance, unity, variety, harmony, visual hierarchy and all other elements of a good design were carefully established. Equilibrium is achieved through a planned and even distribution and placement of colors and forms. Unity is maintained through the use of a semi-limited palette and through the overlapping arrangement of all items to form a continuum. Variety is achieved by including several kinds of flowers and leaves and showing them at different angles. Surrounding the hard flower vase with soft foliage makes it the dominant object that guides the viewer through the composition.
Of course, I am not really sure if the idea of making the smooth surface of a vase as the center of attraction is artfully sensible. What can possibly be interesting in a virtual blank space? None that I can think of. But, it is the necessary consequence I have to live with after deciding to keep the elaborate arrangement of flowers, leaves and fruits around it. At any rate, the purpose of this short exercise is to regain my painting momentum, and should the composition also turn out to be acceptable then that would be a welcomed bonus.
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