Friday, 14 February 2014

Escaping to the Studio

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” Twyla Tharp

I’ve always loved this quote because art truly does provide the means to escape. This week I have been busy in my studio painting oranges. My little heater and daylight lamps give me all the warmth and brightness I need, and an excellent audiobook The Luminaries, has captured my imagination and transported me back in time to the 19th century whilst I paint. 

My warm bright studio... a haven from the wild wintry weather outside
The little oranges have helped too- such a sweet little fruit. I find them so evocative of the warm Mediterranean climate. Apparently there are over 35 million orange trees in Spain alone! 

However my little calamondin oranges (Citrofortunella microcarpa) , like most citrus fruit, orginated in Asia where they were first cultivated in 4000 BC. By 200 BC, the Romans, impressed with the nutritious fruits and fragrant evergreen trees were growing them in their gardens. The health benefits of the fruit were so well known that Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and Arab sailors planted citrus trees along the trade routes to help prevent scurvy. Christopher Columbus is said to have brought citrus seeds with him on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493, and considering that Brazil is now the world’s foremost producer of citrus fruit, it’s fair to say that they thrived in their new habitat.

The Garden of the Hesperides, c.1892 by Sir Frederic Leighton
  I've always liked this painting of the nymphs, languishing on a warm day beneath the mystical orange tree
Even in mythology, oranges have played a role.
Hera, the Greek goddess of Women and Marriage, and wife of Zeus, had a beautiful garden near Benghazi in Libya, in which grew a tree whose fruit had the power to bestow immortality. They are often referred to as golden apples, but later believed to be oranges. Three nymphs called the Hesperides were tasked with guarding the tree, along with a multi-headed serpent named Ladon. However one day the goddess of Discord, Eris, slipped into the garden and stole a golden fruit. She inscribed the golden fruit with the words “To the most beautiful”, and threw it into a wedding party from which she was excluded, and in the ensuing chaos, the Trojan Wars were started. You can read that story here


Linnaeus obviously believed that the "golden apples" were oranges too, as he originally gave the name Hesperide√¶ to the order containing citrus fruits.  All citrus fruit are are still known as hesperidium- a type of modified berry with a tough leathery rind which contains volatile oil glands. The juicy interior is divided into segments called carpels, each containing fluid-filled vesicles that are in fact, specialized hair cells. I bet you never realised that you were eating hair!
Aside from the numerous health benefits, oranges are also fun to paint. As you can see, I decided to paint the three oranges first and then paint the leaves, which are still causing me problems. 






The trick seems to be to take time to build up the colours. Using the reflective silver paper helped bounce light back onto the fruit. I started with cobalt violet, permanent rose and a touch of cerulean (Schmincke) in the cooler areas, before tackling the warmer areas with new gamboge, winsor orange, winsor orange red, scarlet lake, quin red and purple lake. I kept the colours quite clean, but towards the end added a tiny bit of the green into the mix to create the darket shadows. I built up the layers in small circular strokes to help create the dimples. At the end, I really looked closely at the dimples to get the tiny highlights and shadows. I think it's this final touch that makes all the difference.

Happy oranges, bad leaves

 The leaves continue to drive me demented. I spent a whole day painting leaves, and then made the mistake of fiddling. Vellum does not like to be fiddled with, and bits of paint began to lift, until the whole leaf became a horrible patchy mess. I fixed it as much as I could and decided to leave them  unfinished and move on instead to the third orange. Dianne suggested using another piece of paper to wipe the excess paint off before I put brush to vellum, and this seemed to help. I keep forgetting that vellum does not like wet paint at all!


I think I am finally getting the hang of those leaves, although this is unfinished
So next week I will be tackling those leaves once more, and "escaping" the bad weather. I'll leave you with the wise words of Henry David Thoreau 

“Maintain a kind of summer in the midst of winter, and by means of windows even admit the light, and with a lamp lengthen out the day.” 



8 comments:

  1. Great post Shevaun, the oranges look wonderful and I'm sure you will get the leaves righ. Your studio photo and your description make it very cosy and inviting. I love greek mythology and enjoyed the story very much. You are not only a good artist you are a very entertaining storyteller. Thank you :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Maria! I hope your course going well

      Delete
    2. The oranges look delectable ... the story was entertaining and well told ... actually I don't hate the leaves so am wondering what you are seeing that I'm not. Anyway, lovely drawing and thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  2. This is looking really good. I love the fruits - the colours are marvellous - so rich and they look so 3D. I hope the leaves are kinder to you for the rest of the week. I heard somewhere that you can lift off paint from vellum using the pounce. It might leave a slight stain, but the majority of it will disappear and this might help you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Jess. You're right, I can take most of the paint off with the pumice powder, and then lift the remainder with a wet brush. I've already removed a few leaves as I wasn't happy with how they looked. I think it will start to come together more if I work on the leaves as a whole, rather than individually. It's trial and error, I suppose! Thank you for the advice though!

    ReplyDelete
  4. The background story on the orange is fascinating and I agree they are a wonderful fruit to paint. It doesn't look like you're having issues, but I know different surfaces have different needs and reactions that make or break us.

    The detail is exquisite.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The oranges look so succulent that they actually make my mouth water! I like how the peel looks slightly translucent where the light hits it at a certain angle. Good luck on the leaves--they can be sooo hard! I've heard that smooth surfaces can be very challenging to depict on vellum...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks Janene. This is one of those paintings which seemed a great idea at the start, but I only realised afterwards that smooth surfaces can be a nightmare on vellum, and dark shiny leaves are the most challenging! I think (fingers crossed) that I've finally worked out the method but I've grey hair from this painting!!

    ReplyDelete

I love the feedback so please feel free to comment. Thank you!