I’m back to market still lifes this week. It’s an pleasurable and easy way to get the paint flowing when I’m feeling stuck on another project, and I do enjoy the feeling of continuity with still life painters through the centuries. Pieter Claesz is one of my favorites, and several early women painters were flower and still life painters, Rachel Ruysch and Clara Peeters among others. It was a genre women that was “acceptable” or women to do at the time, and they did it beautifully. And made lasting names for themselves, which is amazing given the patriarchal society they were born into. I also think it’s a gift to the world to simply paint beauty occasionally and remind people of the joy in the everyday things that surround them. Still lifes often get marginalized in the same way as genre fiction, but I’ve always been drawn to them, both in viewing and execution.
This week it was sunflowers, which I discovered are harder than they look. I’d done some years ago, but in a very simplified way. I’m drawn to the size and robust presence they have. I started off a little fussy with them, but then the tomato and carrots went in largely one pass. While I painted the flowers likely ten times. So it goes.
You can see the chalk marks I use for my initial drawing in the early views. I used NuPastel either light yellow or light gray to lay the shapes down where I want them before diving in with paint. Nothing very detailed, but a road map.
The end of the first day below on the left. I was largely happy with it, though I ran out of steam before I finished the second set of hydrangeas. There had been a different flower there that I wasn’t happy with, so I did a little rearranging near the end of the day to bring another hydrangea blossom around to the visible side. The next day I finished that and also decided the sunflowers were a bit fussy, so I simplified them down a bit. I think it’s finished now. The background is pretty uniformly dark, but it’s hard to get a snapshot without glare. The dark background feels to me particularly in an almost apostolic line with the Dutch painters of the past, and it really makes the lighter objects in the foreground pop. Feeling happy with this one is making me reconsider the previous still lifes in this series. A follow up blog post will show you work I did on one of those.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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