March 28, 2008

Process of an Oil Painting

This painting, although relatively small, just 18" x 24", was painted during several separate sessions. I began by laying in the foreground and mid-ground and setting in the meandering stream.

in progress

While painting these parts, I developed a pounding headache and knew I wouldn't be able to complete the piece, so I roughly brushed on the upper background parts in the toned down colors I was working with, then quickly cleaned up my brushes and paints and left my studio.

My headache turned into a fever and head cold and it was two weeks before I was able to return to this painting. Often when I am working on a painting, it takes on a life of its own, dictating what is needed next. I get totally caught up in the creative process, time flies by, while the image slowly emerges.

Here, all momentum and flow was lost. So I took a digital photo of the unfinished painting and printed out a copy. The print on plain copy paper is always quite faint, but works for sketching with charcoal or pastels.


On the printout, I sketched with charcoal possibilities for finishing the composition. These sketch marks are very rough and minimal, but often enough for this purpose. I find it very helpful to sketch out different design possibilities on a printout of a painting in progress, determining how I want to proceed before committing paint to the canvas.

18" x 24", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

Once I decided that I would place two small trees on the far bank of the stream, I mixed up more paint and continued forward, developing the stream, adding details to the main part and finishing up the background.

March 12, 2008

Show at Simmer Grille

"Sunset Glow", 16" x 20", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

Many of the new small oil paintings hanging in my spring show at Simmer Grille in West Hartford, CT are not yet up on my website, so I put together a page that shows all of the paintings. Just click HERE to see all twenty-eight paintings in the show. They will be hanging through the months of March and April.

March 05, 2008

Spring Fever

"Flowering Meadow", 18" x 24", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

Tuesday morning I drove down to West Hartford, CT to hang a show of my flower paintings at Simmer Grille, an elegant up-scale restaurant on LaSalle Road. Nancy Price from Nancy Price Gallery in Jamaica, VT has begun curating art shows at Simmer Grille, and chose my work for the months of March and April.

"Joyful Morning", 16" x 20", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

We hung twenty-five original paintings as well as three of my giclée reproductions. Most of the paintings are an exuberant display of flowering meadows. We may be in for another two months of mud and rain and bare ground, but I am thinking forward to spring.

I had brought down more paintings than there was room for.
While I was packing a few back in my car, a man arriving at the restaurant started looking and asking questions about my art. He purchased one painting before I had even finished setting up the show, an auspicious start for a new exhibit.

"Hidden Brook", 12" x 16", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

I think it is wonderful for restaurants to rotate original art. It keeps their space fresh and new, and gives many people a chance to see new and exciting art even if they don't have the time to visit galleries. My only regret with Simmer Grille is the low lighting level. The restaurant is lit for mood and ambiance and a good dining experience, not to showcase artwork. The main focus of my art is color, and in the restaurant's interior it is hard to get a good sense of the colors. At least with the smaller pieces, they can easily be carried to the front to be viewed in brighter light.

So if you are in the Connecticut area, stop by Simmer Grille and see the profusion of spring blooms.

March 01, 2008

Layers of an Oil Painting

"Meadow Flowers", 24" x 30", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

This painting was finally completed this past week. It was actually begun more than a year ago, started as pink and purple flowers with scratched in marks for some of the foliage. It was then set aside. The next major layer placed red blooms over the pink and purple, the background going in as fairly neutral yellow, golden and green colors. Each time a new layer goes over, parts from the previous one are left peeking through. I love the depth and richness this adds to my oil paintings.

In its final state this reads as mostly a yellow to orange/red piece, but when viewed up close there are purples and blues and greens showing through that add such a complexity and interest to the painting.

"Meadow flowers", detail

I haven't often used a shaper to scratch marks into the wet oils, but I always like experimenting with new techniques. I loved how those marks continued to show up with each successive layer of oil paint. They add such an extra dimension that can really only be seen in person.

I like to use thick paint in some areas so that you can see the brush strokes. I know one artist who uses thinned oils and strives to keep the surface totally smooth and even. I feel just the opposite. I want to see my brush strokes and marks. For me, I get a sense of the energy that went into making the painting when I can see the swirling brush strokes, the dabs and the slashes.