Pastel art with still life paintings. Three award-winning still-life artists – Kari, David Francis, and Kathy Hildebrandt – use their imaginations to take the viewer on a delightful, detailed visual stroll through the Boulevard of Memory with their lifelike paintings of toys, books, and other objects from the past. Child’s play has never looked so good.
When Kari began painting in a graphic style, she took a lot of information from well-meaning and more seasoned professionals. Most of them told me to relax, says the artist from Gig Harbor, Washington. And I’ve tried. But I get lost in painting pretty quickly, and I enjoy painting all the details. From time to time, I toy with the idea of creating a series of loose works and trying them out in one of my galleries. I paint so slowly that it is tempting to get the job done faster.
But painting differently is not true to me. And it matches more like the product, and then I’m not too fond of it. That’s the bottom line. Even when I paint roughly, I find that my work is a little generic. I’d rather be just myself – and maybe unpopular – rather than a clone.
Being true to yourself also means focusing on objects that Tirrell likes. I like to paint funny things. I like things with character: old, used and damaged. Reflections, different textures – it’s fun to paint them all. After he has selected his objects, he begins with his configuration. I am self-taught, so composing is intuitive for me. The composition does not seem to be right.
If it’s one of my favorite paintings, like the Saturday Night Puzzle, there is good color stability. I pay attention to where my eyes jump and make sure nothing sticks out and attracts unnecessary attention. I’m very picky about composition, so it’s always a time-consuming process.
Lights, camera, action
Tirrell’s compositional work is mainly based on photography and Photoshop. I fancy getting the work correctly as I want it through the photographic process. I take my time, but sometimes I have to make changes while painting. A critical factor in Tirrell’s composition is the lighting. I take everything into account, like the texture, the line, the value, and the color. But I think the lighting is probably the most important thing. Any object can create interestingly with the right lighting.
A couple of springs were enough. Different lights. When an entire canvas needs to be packed with organization, Tirrell works with his Terry Ludwig pastels from one end of the Sennelier La Carte surface to the other, creating finished areas as he paints. She relies on pastel pencils for shading and edging but isn’t particularly picky about branding; she is more interested in color.
Patience makes perfect
Tirrell strives to maintain accurate colors and values when painting. Since the painting is essentially done, it has to be as perfect as possible. With all these details, it would be a nightmare to adjust the value or the color after completing the painting. Usually, I don’t have a problem, but there are rare occasions when I’ve worked halfway through an image and found a color scheme that I like better than something I’ve used before. I’m not too fond of it when it happens.
People often say that to work like me, I have to b. Patient. I understand that some of my compositions could be overwhelming to some people – they are sometimes overwhelming to me too. But I don’t create it to torture myself. I actually like the challenge. Like everyone else, I just need patience when I don’t enjoy what I’m doing. If you don’t like the process, what’s the point of creating art?
A little tip
Painting convincing realism requires great appreciation. Sometimes it is helpful to photograph and desaturate the painting so that the structure of values develops correctly regardless of the color. If your values are correct, painting in grayscale will work just as well.
Story of a toy
What I find fascinating about vintage children’s items is the feeling of a simpler and easier time. I like it when someone looks at one of my pictures and says to me, I look at your work, and it makes me smile. Best compliment ever.
Francis’ argument actually found it rather than the other way around. A friend of mine gave me some old toys and I loved the way they looked played on, says the Hudson Falls, New York-based artist. The seed began my search for older toys, many of them from my early 1950s, some of which I can remember playing.
I am fascinated by many of my motifs because they came from childhood when the image was just as imp came as the stories often spurred on anything else image. Reading the Big Little Books [see Flash Gordon Big Little Book, below] sparked the imagination, and the toys helped improve the experience.
The right angle
One factor that Francis finds fundamental to his still lies is lighting. I usually play with different angles to get exactly what I want. After he was satisfied with the composition and lighting, he made a cute girl drawing with graphite on Bristol paper the size of the picture area. He solves any problems on the Bristol before submitting the picture to Ampersand Pastelbord, where he does most of his work.
After transferring the design, you usually start painting in the upper left corner and work in the lower right corner. I’m right-handed, so that keeps my hand out of areas already covered in colored pencil. I work from the experience to the front to keep my edges sharp and clean when necessary. I’ve also gotten pretty good with a homemade grind stick that allows me to return to finished areas when they need to be reworked.
Always on the hunt
One of the different requests Francis challenges when painting the beloved retro toy is capturing the dented, often rusty surfaces and showing how good these old toys are. Francis discovers that there is no shortage of concepts to explore. Nowadays, I get ideas every time I pass an antique shop or flea market. Sometimes ideas come to mind while working on a piece, and then I start looking for the elements that go with those new ideas. I think bringing back those fond memories of people’s youth is one of the very satisfying parts of the painting that I do.
Francesco’s aha moment
As an artist who works almost every day, I make a lot of little discoveries. But then there are moments when I look at a freshly finished painting and ask myself the question, how did I do it? At that moment I realize that I’ve just taken a big step forward.
A play on words
Many of Kathy’s still life is based on proverbs or sayings, mostly with toys and memorabilia from her youth. I often hear a well-known saying out of the blue, and the wheels turn in a visually interpretable way, says the artist from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It happens so often that I started writing it a long time ago. For example, if you look closely at Slap Shot, the title’s meaning becomes clear from the objects in the foreground: the clapping comic characters, the tequila, the lime, the salt shaker, and the shot glass. Put them together, and you’ll be slapped.
I’ve been where a few times to see that aha moment on a beholder’s face when they’re looking at a title, and the objects in the painting suddenly make sense. Hildebrandt discovers that she is drawn to still life because I can tell the story as it suits me and in the time that suits me. Painting toys, candy, and memorabilia is perfect for me and makes me smile. I have enough ideas and props to hold out for a long, long time.
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