Red Rhododendrons - Jim McVicker: A Master's Process
One of our favorite contemporary artists and certainly a master of oil painting, Jim McVicker, forwarded to us this series of images of the progression of his painting, "Red Rhododendrons" along with a description of his process while painting it. To learn more about McVicker, read our 2014 interview with him here: Voices of Experience - Jim McVicker. Our thanks to him for providing this inspiring glimpse into his studio.
This first photo shows the setup and me in the mirror with the first painting marks laying out the basic design. I usually do not spend more than an hour on a large piece like this establishing the placement of my subject.
Here I’m laying in the shapes and some values and color, giving myself a clearer picture of where the painting may be going. I remain open to any changes I might decide to do.
In this photo I’m really getting stronger with my values and defining shapes. I’m starting to add more structure and color to the red rhododendrons and leaves. That part of the painting will change the most so I really focus on it for at least three days or more. This was very complex, so I kept in mind that I wanted a sense of seeing through the rhododendron to all the objects and space behind. Space and air in the room are maybe the most important thing I strive for in my still life works. I really pay attention to the values and light as I progress, keeping in mind I want everything to relate and not feel like separate elements in the painting.
Still more development on the plant as well as defining more of the objects and space. The painting on the wall I decided to use was a self-portrait which I painted and repainted many times. It was very hard not to make the portrait draw too much attention.
More development of mostly the rhododendron. As you can see I have put a lot of focus into it but also bring up the rug and the objects along with it. I find it very important to see and try to paint the things behind the plant at the same time so I am really seeing a true sense of how the values and shapes read against the plant. I continued to do a lot of work around the plant even after its blooms had faded. It's so important to have the relationships well established, so that when continuing to work around and behind the plant, my values and colors are not being changed when I no longer see the fresh blowers on the rhododendron—how does the rug read against the intense red or how does the wall work in relationship to the red flowers and green leaves. Everything needs to connect and feel harmonious.
This is getting near completion. You can see I changed the self portrait to one of my still life paintings. This photo is really on the very cool side and doesn’t show the true tones and values. To get to this point I keep studying the light and values as well as the color I see. I’m really feeling the space and my eye can move through the rhododendron. I kept the objects on the yellow table with a softer focus to help keep them back in space. The oranges were added to the basket. I knew all along something would go in the basket. The orange color seemed to be the right color note.
This is just a detail of the flowers and leaves to show the brush work and the painterly quality. One can get a wonderful sense of realism without making everything perfect and smooth. I prefer imperfect as that is how I see life. So much beauty but I do want it to feel real and not glossed over. At least that's how I see it. We all have our path.
Here is the final painting shot by a pro. This really represents the work. You can also see that I changed the painting on the wall. I have a Cezanne print in my studio and it just seemed to be the right image for the painting. Cezanne is probably my favorite still life painter—someone I have been influenced by. I look at a lot of great work from the artists of the past and learn something from all of them. We take what has meaning to us, run it through our senses and put it on canvas. I also think working from life is the best way to find our voice.
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