Daily Painting Challenge, January 2015, Day 27

January 31, 2015

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Brown onion

oil on canvas panel, 6×6″

 

Graphite underdrawing (hard pencil, not soft!), followed by acrylic underpainting in complementary opposites (red for back wall, green for floor, purple for onion). Normally I try to preserve as much of the foundation drawing as I can. The acrylic underpainting eliminates the white canvas and allows me to re-assess the relationship between figure and ground. The acrylic underpainting never looks “beautiful”, nor should it: it’s simply there to establish a reasonable-looking blob of a figure against a ground. In this particular case today, I reduced the size of the onion considerably when I started painting it in oils. The capsicum I painted a few days ago suffered from being overly big for the space it contained.

I include the geometry of the main tonal areas in my underdrawing, but most of the attention goes to the contour of the upper half of the subject. What will make it “read” as an onion is the roots at the bottom (here on top) and the shoots at the top (here at bottom right).

I keep the paint on the back wall as thin and sketchy as I can. I am not averse to the ground showing through and if any serendipitous palette knife strokes seem okay, I will leave them rather than constantly working over the top of them. I don’t paint the entire back wall in a single colour any more. I start with the darkest areas and then progress by making subtle changes in lightness and darkness, and colour. Each colour spot really only amounts to a palette knife stroke or three.

I ever so slightly exaggerate everything: the contours and the colours. The photograph below doesn’t do justice to the range of colour in the onion skin layers, or to their broken edges. The area most prone to overworking is, of course, the shadow at the base of the subject.

If I wanted to amaze Sydney with my onions (just as Cezanne wanted to amaze Paris with his apples), I’d work much more deliberately and less spontaneously.

Only by looking at the photograph AFTER the event do I notice a fundamental error in my painting: the roots are not directly opposite the shoots.

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