Katharina Gifford | All Chalked Up
Contemporary Maine Realist Portrait Painter
Maine portrait painter, Portland, Maine, contemporary realist painter, oil on canvas, drawings, portraits, still life, figurative art
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All Chalked Up

I finally finished the painting that I incorporated chalk into. I’ve been reading Tad Spurgeon’s website about different types of painting materials and it’s incredibly informative.

Using marble dust simply purchased at the nearest art supply store, I added it to the paint I was using, along with a little linseed oil.  Here is the still life set up I was working from.

Unfortunately I didn't use the awesome purple flower things in the final painting, although they still served an important purpose, as will be explained below.


I was so excited about fall, so I had to get some fall veggies to paint, the colors were just too great. Plus I still had an apple from the last still life I did (might as well use it, apples keep their shape for a long time, great for still lifes, although I can only imagine how un-tasty it was!). I was looking at N.C. Wyeth’s work recently, and I love his use of lighting, so I decided to try out something dramatic a la The Opium Smoker.


N.C. Wyeth, "The Opium Smoker"


Here is the underpainting, done with a mix of turpenoid, french ultramarine, and burnt umber (my preferred wash).



This next image shows that I blocked in part of the apple and squash. The pumpkin was blocked in using an amalgam of cadmiums, and I used a pre-mixed pile of titanium/flake white mix with the marble dust and linseed oil molded with a palette knife to create pumpkin-like texture. I decided to do this on the pumpkin only, and the squash I would try to glop on the putty mixture without mixing it with any other colors to first form the texture, and paint over it with color when it was dry enough. This squash slop experiment can be seen ahead as well, although the adventure was only just beginning:


Everything blocked in: partial apple, pumpkin with paint/goop mix, and squash as normal. Glowing white spot of straight white paint texture for the linen table cloth.


Creamy goop in the middle is marble dust and linseed oil. The goopy is then added to the pile of flake white/titanium on the right.


Same block in as the previous photo, only this time with white paint/goop mixture thrown on the squash on the spots that I would form later once it was dry and more moldable. Excuse the yellow tint of the photo!


Also as another type of texture test, as can be seen in the images above, I used both  straight up flake and cremnitz white paint (with no dust or oil) to make the texture of the linen table cloth. I’ve had accidental success (is there any other kind of success?) with making brushy texture with white and later going over it with a thin golden glaze, then wiping it out and leaving a golden glow. So, I thought I would try it on purpose this time. The criss-cross texture was what I was going for, I had no proper brushes that created this sort of look, so I used one of those dried flowers that were in the initial still life set up above. The tops were stiff enough to move the thick paint around, and the separate “bristles” were symmetrically spaced so as to create the look of woven linen. Improvising in the studio can’t be beat.

So as far as the rest goes, unfortunately I didn’t get images of the squash experiment, as it went slightly ary when the goop didn’t dry quickly enough. Such a downer. I set up the goop on the painting to dry over the weekend, and I knew I would be gone for a few days for a family wedding, and thought that I would be able to come back fresh on Monday with a goop that was set and ready for me to shape it before it was dried completely. I come back, all excited to form that squashy texture, feeling so proud of myself and thinking “Wow, Rembrandt would be proud”. But oh no, the goop was still as wet as when I put it on 4 days prior. I could blame the lack of air circulation in my small studio, or for the air conditioning that might have been blowing in there while I was gone. But I have a feeling that it was either a) the type of paint I used or b) the type of oil I used.

Anyways, cranky as I was I waited a few more days, molding it as much as I could, until the following week when it was finally set and dry enough for me to paint over (or I just became too impatient, either one). Luckily while the waiting was killing me, I was able to work with the linen texture I had created, which of course was pretty much dry two days after I set it up. So every day I added a new thin layer of glaze and wiped it out, letting it build up in the crevices of the textured surface. The first day I did straight up yellow ochre, next was a mix of burnt umber and sienna. Next I did a thin layer of titanium white and ochre, then final layer was burnt umber, burnt sienna, and the yellow ochre. The apple worked itself out, I had previous practice under my belt. The pumpkin worked out the best I think, the texture was appropriate in most places, and I was doing thin glazes of more cadmiums and yellows over the right spots.

So all in all a visual success, and I learned quite a bit, and will keep chalk in the repertoire absolutely. I’m absolutely confident that I could have taken it further, as with any painting one hardly knows when/how/why to stop, but I felt it had served its purpose in teaching me something. And really, to me a painting used for practice where one learns something means more to me than a boring painting that is done by a boring old formula and was boring as hell to make. Here is the finished not-so-boring  Fall Drama. Happy Halloween!


Fall Drama, 14 x 18




1 Comment

  • Daryl J. Leblanc

    10.11.2011 at 20:12 Reply

    This is actually really cool. Always wondered how Rembrandt did that. Thanks a lot and keep up the good work!

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