Virtual Open Studios Stop 1: Sun hats

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I’m working on a series of blog posts about some of the paintings I had been hoping to show at Somerville Open Studios this year. We’ll start with this newspaper collage of my kids at the Public Garden.

This painting is very special to me for several reasons. Last summer, I had a day off and took my kids down town to the Public Garden to ride the swan boats. It was a really special day, and I took some photos that I love of my kids standing by the pond in the Public Garden. I decided to try painting this one, since I enjoyed the combination of tree, water, and buildings, and I’ve been wanting to do more Boston skyline paintings, but I wasn’t sure whether to actually include the figures of my kids or not. I’ve never been able to successfully incorporate figures into a landscape before, and so I didn’t want to mess with something good.

But I took a risk on the figures and it came out so much better than I had hoped! I love the interplay of the shadows and sunshine, and the clear distinction between foreground and background. And I’m super proud of myself because I managed to get the shading on the kids hats right just by using lots of tiny pieces of paper in different colors.

Here are a series of photos of my process.

First, I filled in the sky, which is usually how I start my paintings–somehow it feel very grounding. Ha!

I also decided to try to keep the pieces of paper all a similar shape (triangles) and size, which was some feedback that I had received from other artists that might strengthen my work.

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With the original photo for reference:

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Added the Hancock tower and other buildings, trying to match true colors more than I usually do. Next, filling in the grass, the leaves, and the shadows in the water.

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Oops I ran out of paper in the colors I needed, better prep a bunch more!

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Very tentatively adding the first figure, ready to cover it over if it ruins everything. But maybe it’s not ruining everything??!

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Figure number 2–hey this is kind of working!

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Almost done! Adding in light and dark patches into the background to increase contrast and depth.

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Feeling triumphant! I was able to incorporate a number of things I had learned in other paintings and also take some risks, but in a way that felt really satisfying. Some things that worked: Making choices about my paper texture (cutting with scissors rather than tearing) and size and shape and keeping those consistent. Choosing a color palette in which I am very strong–mostly blues! Keeping it small–this canvas is only 12 inches by 12 inches. I think it also helped that I have already done a few different paintings of the buildings in the background, so I didn’t have to kind of learn new material there. Also it helped incredibly to not have to try to convey faces in a non-distracting way with paper–just doing the back of their heads was a good choice.

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In some ways this painting reminded me of an oil painting I tried to do, from my imagination, of my brother and myself, back when I was in college. It was supposed to be kind of symbolic; I was trying to convey this sense of, “we’re siblings so we’re a team, we get each other, you and me against the world”. But the painting was basically a terrible failure (eh, I’m being dramatic, it was just kind of lame) and since then I’ve always shied away from subject matter that was too personal, it seemed that caring too much suffocated the painting. But this collage painting of my two kids, also a brother and sister, somehow felt like it completed a circle a little bit, and healed a little bit of something inside me that was always telling me I couldn’t do it; couldn’t paint things or people if I loved them too much. I struggle to put it in to words–this is why I paint, I guess. But yeah it felt so good and I feel so grateful.

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