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On Painting

A Small Still-Life - Step By Step

by

Clinton T. Hobart
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Copyright 2013 by Clinton T. Hobart All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system - except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper - without permission in writing from the author. All Images 2013 by Clinton T. Hobart Dedicated to my grandfather - I edited this book down three times and its still too short. To visit my website:

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New paintings posted each week on my Blog.

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On Painting by Clinton T. Hobart

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Acknowledgements I work hard, really hard, but I also had a lot of help from some fantastic teachers along the way. I wish I could thank all of them by name, but I have to limit myself to those whose teaching directly influenced the look of the work in this book. I would like to thank James McMullan, John Quinn, Mike Mattesi, and Stephen Gaffney for teaching me how to draw. I know it wasnt easy for them. I would like to thank Daniel Greene for the many things he gave me over the years, including the easel on which I paint. His words, in one form or another, are all over this book. Special thanks to Beth and Jane at Scottsdale Fine Art. I would like to thank my editor for her time and patience. I would like to thank my family for all of their help and support. Lastly, Id like to thank everyone who has ever bought a painting, no matter how large or small. Without you I could not do this everyday. A sale is the highest compliment. Without sales, this is a hobby, not a career. When you buy a painting, you do not just get that painting, you give me the chance to make another. I thank you all.

On Painting by Clinton T. Hobart

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A Six-Hour Black-And-White Demo? I would suggest that every painter, amateur and professional, try this exercise at least once. I know many that already have. I frequently see drawings and black and white paintings made from plaster casts. One of the most common questions I get asked from people who want to learn how to paint is Where do I start? My advice is always black and white. I see so many class lists with twenty-five colors, a huge expensive palette, and every medium made. The students endup spending three hundred dollars and they dont even know if they enjoy painting yet. In colleges, I have seen time and time again a still-life set-up that is eight feet long. It has two incomplete skeletons, six empty bottles of Irish Creme, a stuffed peacock, some plastic fruit and flowers, drapery of all sorts of colors that clash, and dozens of other non-related items thrown in there. First of all, it would take ten years for anyone with any ability to paint this thing actual size. Second, whats the story? A taxidermist and a bad decorator got drunk together on Irish Creme and died leaving their remains in room 302 of the University of Blank... I dont know about you, but I prefer a painting that makes some sense. First Things First In order to paint well, you first must be able to draw well. If you cant draw, take the time to learn that first. You can teach yourself how to draw in about two years. Dont panic, it goes by faster than you think and you will be better off for it. If you desire to be a great painter someday, learn how to draw, and more importantly, learn how to draw the figure. When I was in art school, I went to three figure-drawing classes a day, five days a week, and the zoo for a few hours on the weekend to draw animals. Carry a sketchbook and draw, draw, draw. Draw everything and everyone. Leave a sketchbook in the bathroom, bring it to the coffee shop and dont stop for two years.  do not take pictures of a still-life and then trace the photographs. Too many modern realistic I paintings made today have been projected, or traced, or made with some other shortcut. Aside from a small handful of painters who are skilled enough to make it work, most of the time you can spot it a mile away. To me, finding out an artist traced a work is like finding out a ball player used steroids. Painting should be a reaction to life. Its about capturing a moment. Itsabout having an opinion. Its about honest skill. That is not to say I do not work from photographs. I use them for my wave paintings, I just dont trace them. In my opinion, the only reason to work from a photograph is if the subject is too difficult to paint from life. The words are still-life. Think about it, still and life. A painting of a basket of fruit made from a photograph is not a still-life painting. It is just a painting. If I entered a landscape I painted from a photograph into a plein-air competition, it would be unfair. The point of a still-life is that it is painted from life.

On Painting by Clinton T. Hobart

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Early On I was drawing long before I started painting. In fact I was well into my twenties when I began. What I found out quickly was that I was terrible at painting - not kinda bad, really, really bad. Impressionism was big where I was and everyone was telling me, bigger brushes, more paint. I was making very loose, impressionistic, bad paintings. Like most beginners, when I started out, I thought the problem was color. My colors were all muddy and weak, and overly blended together. Realizing this wasnt the look I was shooting for, I decided to start over and come up with an approach that would work for me. I realized that color wasnt the problem at all, The problem was that I had no idea what the paint was going to do when it hit the canvas. I knew I didnt need all twenty-five colors on the palette in order to figure that out. I never encourage anyone to use another persons approach to painting other than as a starting point. The important thing is to study several different approaches and build your own. I had been drawing for so long that I was used to a pencil. I put away the big brushes and bought some short handled watercolor brushes that came to a point. I purchased a tube of black and a tube of white and decided to make black-and-white paintings until I figured out how the paint was going to hit the surface of the canvas. Simply knowing what the paint will do is very important in learning how to paint. And so I began painting in black and white. At the time, I was mostly painting portraits and figures. I worked in black and white for about six months, but I was getting bored with it. Knowing I still wasnt ready for the twenty-five color palette, I moved from two to four colors. After I got used to those four, I added one color at a time as I got familiar with how the addition of each new color mixed with the others. By reducing the amount of colors, I was free to work on drawing and values and worry about color later. When your drawing is solid, and you know values well, color gets much easier. The reason for the time limit is that it will increase speed and confidence. I would say that until you are a very confident painter, it is far better to do one still-life a day for a week, than it is to spend a week on the same painting. The six-hour time limit forces you to learn and make decisions and it will make for bold confident paintings. If you are an insecure painter, you can work on it for ten years and you will still have a very, very detailed, insecure painting. I suggest to every student to start out very simply. Painting can be extremely challenging, and there is no point in making it more difficult than it needs to be. If you start out with black and white, you only have to buy two tubes of paint, a canvas, some brushes, thinner, and a palette.

On Painting by Clinton T. Hobart

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Before we begin, we need the proper supplies and tools. My supply list for this painting is: Acrylic Polymer Gesso Acrylic Black or Black Gesso Oil Titanium White Oil Ivory Black Gamsol Brushes Jar Paper Towels Palette Objects to Paint The polyurethane varnish is only necessary if you plan to make your own palette. Most of that is fairly easy. The palette is the thing that gets confusing. I make my own palettes out of cut pieces of masonite. I know of several painters who are selling their custom made, superpalettes, guaranteed to make you paint better for $80.00 to $150.00 each. My palettes cost about $3.95. I go to the hardware store and buy a piece of masonite. I have them cut it to the size I need. I then coat it with two to four coats of gesso. After that I tone it with acrylic paint. The color of the palette doesnt really matter. I would suggest that it not be a recognizable color, but rather a neutral color, a greyed tone. After the tone is put on, I put two to four coats of Polyurithatne Varnish (See photo). The brush is called a chip brush and costs about a dollar at the hardware store as well. ...And you will never have to buy another palette again. If you do not feel like making a palette, I would suggest buying a grey-toned paper palette. I always have one of those around in case I run out of room on my regular palette. Paint: I am using alkyd paint for this demo. In order for this approach to work, the painting needs to be dry the next day. If you prefer, you can use a speed drier in your paint. If your painting is even slightly wet or tacky, you cannot work on it the second day.

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Brushes, Panels, And Mediums: The brushes you use dont really matter as long as the brush you choose fits the job and is high quality. Using a number 12 fan brush to paint the eyeball probably isnt a good idea. Using a number 2 liner brush to paint the background of a six foot canvas isnt really a good idea either. The panel I will be using is a piece of masonite or MDF with four coats of acrylic gesso. I buy the masonite in large sheets at the hardware store and have it cut into whatever size I need. I usually prepare many different sizes and shapes at the same time because making the panels is a lengthy process. Making the panels myself has many advantages. I can decide how rough or smooth I want them and I can select the size. I do not suggest anyone work on canvas board. In my experience it can warp and bubble. Making the panels like this will cost just about the same amount of money and be far more permanent. The painting I am going to work on is a 6 x 8 so I can use small brushes without it being a roblem at all. Currently I am using Princeton brushes. I like the 4050R in numbers 1,2,3,4 short handle, and the Umbria 6200F which are soft brushes with long handles. I also have one medium-sized soft fan-brush. I have many different brushes of all different shapes and sizes and I am always willing to try a new brush. Also pictured is refined linseed oil, which I will be using later. and Neo Meglip which I use but wont be explaining here. I use Gamsol, which I prefer to regular mineral spirits or turpentine, because It is the safest. The varnish pictured is Gamvar, which I like because it comes off with Gamsol even after it has dried. I have experimented with many different surfaces, brushes, and mediums from many different manufactors. Its important to keep trying new things even after you have found an approach with which you are comfortable.

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Mini Model Stands: Because I like to make small still-life paintings that are 6 x 8 inches, I built small 6 x 8 model stands. I can instantly judge size and proportion just by looking at the set-up. They are made from two pieces of wood glued together. If you are skilled at things like this, you can use nails and corners, sand them, etc. If you are not familiar with doing this sort of thing, you can just glue the two pieces together. Once you start adding the gesso, it will make the bond stronger. Unless you have a habit of throwing them across the room if the painting isnt going well, they should last many years. Objects: The next thing on the list is to get the objects that are going to be in your still-life. The blocks are wood and can be found at most craft stores or hardware stores. The cylinder is made of a toilette paper roll. I made the lids out of two cardboard pieces and glued them to the top. I then coated everything with three coats of gesso. Lighting: I use spot lights to light the subject. I like the drama that they create and I also like to work late at night which is difficult when working from sunlight. My spot lights are two heads and two tripods. If you cant afford professional lighting, you can buy clamp-on heads at almost any hardware store for about ten dollars. You will need two, one light for the subject and one for your canvas or panel. Make sure both lights are directly next to one another, or you will get multiple light sources on your subject. When you have strong shadows on one side, the lighting is good. I suggest strong shadows from the lighting because it is the easiest light to paint and draw. I also try to make the shadow shapes interesting. If you are working in direct sunlight, or a dark room with limited light, and the shadows are too large or too soft, it increases the difficulty. Although it is great to try a difficult lighting set-up, I would suggest starting out simply for this approach.

On Painting by Clinton T. Hobart

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OK, we have our lights on, paint out, palette ready, brushes, and paper towels, toned panel, still-life all set up. Looks like we are ready to start painting. Since it is a black and white painting, a value scale might come in handy... Oops, no value scale? Below is a standard value scale. If you are a beginner, or if you have never made one of these yourself, try it! You will be amazed at how much you will learn. Dont just buy one and stare at it, actually make one. I have made dozens of these over the years and just made these recently. I still learn something from doing it. Both are painted on scraps left over from when I cut down the panels.

I painted one of these on a toned panel and one on a white panel. Look at how much easier it is to see the lights on the toned panel. This is exactly why I suggest to begin working on a toned surface rather than a white surface. Even if your plan is to work on a white surface, it wont hurt to do a few value studies on the toned surface just to gain the experience. My plan was to break this down into the easiest approach I could, and then slowly make it more difficult as I gained confidence. If you set your goals too high and fail, you will lose the desire to keep painting. Keep it simple, succeed, and then raise the goal just a little higher.

On Painting by Clinton T. Hobart

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I start with a quick sketch. Normally I would start drawing directly with a brush. I only use pencil when there are precise shapes which need to be drawn. I did the first sketch freehand. It is just a quick gesture to capture the mood of the painting.

I took one of the balls and just checked to see if it fit nicely into one of my templates. It did! I sketched that in pencil over my other drawing. I used a triangle as a straight edge to draw in the cylinder and cube.

I then begin to paint. I start with a color just slightly darker than the tone of my canvas. I make each drawing a little darker until the drawing is accurate. I  dont map out the perspective, I just check the angles by holding my brush up to the subject.

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After I complete the first drawing, I fold a paper towel so that it is flat. I then gently wipe off some of the excess paint so that I can draw again. If you press too hard, you will wipe off more paint than you want to.

I mix a value that is a bit darker than the first one, and make a second drawing. If I need to, I will make a third and sometimes a fourth. I very rarely use any mechanical device besides a straight edge. I like paintings that feel alive and organic.

Whenever I paint anything, I like to include the direction lines. It is not very important in such simple objects, but I find them very useful when drawing a pear or something with bumps or changes in direction. This is the finished drawing stage. It takes about an hour total. Because we are keeping the whole painting to six hours, it is a good idea to keep track of the time. I feel that this is the most important stage of the painting. A good drawing usually means a good painting.

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After the drawing is complete, the first thing I do is paint the deepest darks first. Then I slowly get lighter until I reach the highlights. This is the approach that I learned from my teacher, Daniel Greene. I leave the first color on my palette and paint the following colors next to the colors that are already there. The result is that my palette will begin to look like the value charts we talked about earlier. The most important thing to know in order to paint a successful still-life is how to make things round. Everything that turns does so by changes in the value from the darks, to half-tones, to lights, and then to the highlights. I like to think of them as value strips. If you look closely you can make out the five strips on the cylinder. I try to view each new painting as a study or an exploration. The point is to learn. If you view your paintings as product, they will probably not get any better. I always say in my classes that a painting isnt finished when it looks good, it is finished when you have learned everything you can from painting it.

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The same rule of making things round applies to the ball. It does not apply to the cube because it is not round. I generally like to work on one object in the painting at a time. The other way to do it would be to work on the entire painting at the same time. All of the shadows, all of the half-tones, and then all of the lights. Many painters like to put the background in first, which if you think about it makes sense. There is no right or wrong in myopinion, which is why I am presenting how I do it and encouraging everyone to make their own decisions. I painted in the shadow side of the cube a solid shadow value. Even though I know it has reflected light in it and a shadow from the ball, I will save the details for later. I constantly squint my eyes at my still-life. This separates it into basic values and shapes.

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This is how the painting looked at the end of the first sitting. It was a total of three hours of work. My goal for the first sitting is to get all of the objects in the painting completely painted. I know through experience that a 6 x 8 painting will take about three hours for me to get that far. At this point, everything that is round must be round in the painting. When all of the objects have the first layer of paint on them, I stop and put it on the covered drying rack so that it can dry without getting dust in the paint. If you do not have a drying-rack, just put it on a table with a cardboard box-lid over the top of it. While this painting is drying, I begin another. Since they take three hours each, I usually try to work on at least three per day. Because I use alkyd paint, my painting is completely dry the next day. At the beginning of the second day, I coat the surface with a thin coat of oil, a process called oiling out. This only works if the painting is completely dry.

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After I coat the surface with the oil, I wipe it gently with a soft, lint-free piece of cloth, or foam, or paper towel. Too much oil on the surface will not be workable. It could also yellow and crack. I now start over and go back to the deepest darks first and work my way up to the lightest lights. As I put the background in, I have to pay careful attention to how it effects the objects. For example: the dark value on the left of the cylinder is now too dark because of the light background next to it. As I continue to paint, I will keep making the darks darker and the lights lighter, constantly making adjustments as I go along. When making the value strips, I put them down rather boldly so that they are visible. I can now mix values in between each of the strips that are already there. If you look closely at the cylinder, you can see how the amount of strips has increased.

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Even though the background is white, I am painting it slightly darker than I see it. The highlights are the brightest light in the painting so everything else has to be darker than the highlights. If I were to paint the background with straight white out of the tube, it wouldnt look right. For me, the technique is not what the painting is about. Even though we are talking about technique, and this book is about an exercise designed to increase skill, it is not what I think makes for a good or interesting painting. Exercises like this are just practice, a rehearsal for the real thing. In my finished paintings, I think of my subjects as actors on the stage. I create characters and give them personalities. I try not to worry about how they look, or if they are realistic enough. Those thoughts are counter productive. If I think about the subject, the painting is usually more fun. This is why I dont trace or mechanically copy my drawings from photographs. I draw freehand so that the painting has a chance to develop a personality.

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The area where the shadow meets the light in the background is tricky because it has to be soft. I put in the dark first, and thenthe light. I then mix a value in between the two. Sometimes I use a clean, dry, brush for blending. I will also leave out one brush for the lights, and one brush for the darks. It is easier than cleaning a brush every ten seconds. When painting the background, I sometimes will paint over the objects that are already dry. If this happens, I will either wipe it away with a Q-tip or use another clean brush to remove the excess paint. I love acting and drama. By making the lights lighter and the darks darker, you increase the drama. It creates a very different look from that of soft natural light paintings. Painting should always be fun and rewarding or you will stop doing it. Sometimes that can be easy to forget, especially when working on a difficult area, or painting a commission. I always try to find something to grab on to, some fun in each painting... A spoonful of sugar I suppose.

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I have started to paint in the reflected light from the ball onto the cube. The darkest part of the shadow on the cube is actually at the top corner closest to the viewer. The darkest dark in the entire painting is the shadow underneath the cube. I am quickly running out of time on this one. Remember, it is better to stop at six hours and try another painting, than it is to continue working on it for several weeks. If you try this exercise and you feel it could have been better, you can rearrange the objects and do as many of these as you like. You can even find or make different shapes: a pyramid, for example, or even irregular shapes of cut wood painted white. Now that the background is completely filled in, it is time to check and make sure that all of the values are as correct as they can be. At this point, I have about a half hour left.

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I have heard dozens of students come into a class and say Im just having a problem with color. I look at their work, and the drawing is clumsy and the values are all off. I have never met anyone who actually had a problem with color. If the drawing is right and the values are right, the painting will usually be right. I have seen wonderful paintings where the painter used lime green or bright purple in the face of a portrait and it worked because the value was right. When you get the value right, you can pretty much use any color you want. Color is the most important part of the painting, and the last thing the painter needs to learn. Drawing,Values, then Color. There are plenty of painting approaches that involve trying to do all three at the same time. That approach isnt for everyone, neither is this one. Try as many as you can until you find one that works for you.

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Well, since we are out of time, I guess this one is finished. As I mentioned earlier, personality is a big part of my work...and lets be honest, this one doesnt have much personality so far. At this point, I just decided to give the background a little personality. I gotta be me...

Study In Black and White

6 x 8 Oil on Panel 2013

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Here are a few of the Minnies I have painted using the same approach as in the demo. I put in some of the drawing stages so that the direction lines may make more sense. They are all painted from life and all of the objects in the paintings are actual size. I call them studies but they are really character studies. I keep these limited to six hours so that I can sell them for less then the larger works. All are 6 x 8.

The drawings were done with a brush directly onto the panel.

I loved the character in these peppers.

The creamer and the candlestick took more then six hours to paint. I made a short video of the process which is on YouTube. There are also process photos of this one on my Blog.

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I try to keep my approach the same for each painting. This lets me concentrate on the characters or the story. I dont call it a system, which implies doing the exact same thing each time. Every painting is different and what works on one, may not work on the next. For the wave paintings below, my approach had to be completely changed. I was not able to draw first the way I normally do...but we will have to save that story for another time. The waves are 6 x 8 but take longer than six hours.

It all started with figure drawing, and it is still the most important element of my work. There are things I learned from figure drawing in every painting I make whether it s a still-life, a portrait, or a wave.

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I suggest painting as many portraits from life as you can. I like keeping the time on them to six-hours as well. Both portraits to the right were six hour studies. I prefer to work from life, if possible. Its just more fun for me.

The Jester was my way of combining still-life and portrait. I hung the mask on a large panel at my eye level so that it is looking at the viewer. Ive been told it is creepy.

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I dont copy exactly what I see. I try to make an interesting painting, one with personality. The apples to the right are from my demo series. The first two are drawn. The second two are one day of painting. The last two are finished. These three are also still-lifes. They are part of my mask series about relationships. They are much larger and took far more time to paint. They are completely painted from life and the objects in them are actual size, or very close to it. Almost and Reels took over a year to paint each.

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About The Author


Clinton T. Hobart was born in Philadelphia, grew up in New Jersey and studied Illustration and Figure Drawing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. After graduation he moved to Scottsdale, Arizona and began teaching classes at Scottsdale Artists School. He has been teaching consistently ever since across the United States and Australia. Clinton has always been a fan of the movies and acting and often imagines that the objects in his still-lifes are actors on a stage. The story behind many of my paintings is that the objects are finished with their performance and are taking a bow, which is why they are lined up on stage. He believes that character and personality are the most important part of the painting. His work is currently being shown in many private collections, both national and international. He has been in over twenty gallery and museum shows and is represented by Scottsdale Fine Art in Arizona as well as several other galleries. His collectors include CEOs, actors and actresses, several well-known artists, prominent businessmen and women, and government officials. He was featured in the February 2009 issue of American Artist Magazine. Clinton loves to travel. He has lived in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Arizona, Massachussets, and France. He currently lives in Florida so he can walk on the beach all year round. He hopes you have enjoyed this book.

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