Back Away From the Hydrangeas

15 Nov 2012

It is such a treat when you see an artist's work and you like it. Then you talk with the artist and you like him or her. And then you see them in action as an instructor and you fall for their teaching in a big way because everything they say makes sense. That's what happened to me when I first saw Quang Ho at a still life painting workshop a few months ago. I just stood there like a lump on a log and absorbed everything he was saying--not just to me, but to everyone--because it all made beautiful sense.

Roses by Quang Ho, 16 x 16, oil painting.
Roses by Quang Ho, 16 x 16, oil painting.

His main still life art lesson revolved around a painting of white hydrangeas, a silver pitcher, a few pink roses, and a couple of lemons. Suffice it to say, the scene was lovely. The colors were in harmony, the textures where interesting, and the compositional shapes were dynamic.

But when the students painting the still life got to those dratted hydrangeas the workshop went on the skids. Those flowers are really hard to capture. So many little petals, but you can't paint every single one of them, yet how else are you to capture their shape and form without giving in to all that detail? It was troubling--and it is a challenge that crops up when painting most types of flowers.

I saw more than one still life painting student in crisis over those lovely flowers. Until Quang Ho stepped in and gave one bit of advice: "Back away from the hydrangeas." We all laughed, and I could see everyone loosening up over this challenge. But he built on his joke with a great still life art lesson: put down your brushstroke and then leave it.

Quang pointed out that the problems with many of the still life art being created in the workshop started when the students went back in and started fussing with it. They would lose their shapes and mess with the architecture of the stroke. So he told everyone to assess the scene, load the brush, make the stroke, and then don't touch it again.

Giant Peonies by Quang Ho, 38 x 48, oil painting.
Giant Peonies by Quang Ho, 38 x 48, oil painting.
I've turned "back away from the hydrangeas" into an artistic mantra because when it comes to still life painting, I have all the time in the world but I think that I use that as an excuse to keep working and reworking. I have to learn when to leave well enough alone, and so I think of hydrangeas! A little weird, I know, but it works for me!

If you want to enhance and evolve your still life painting abilities, you can definitely start with 500 Acrylic Mixes and 600 Watercolor Mixes. These are both great resources to keep at your side in the studio for those times when you hit a snag when it comes to finessing color in a painting. I've just about worn out the spines on my copies because they are great quick references to have when you are in the midst of painting. I hope you enjoy yours like I have mine!


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Comments

dgcasey wrote
on 16 Nov 2012 3:27 AM

I've come to that realization myself.  After taking a Daniel Keys workshop last year I saw it in action.  Daniel will lay a stroke in and MAYBE touch it one more time.  Then he moves on to the next stroke.  I, on the other hand, will lay in a stroke, then hit it five to ten times, moving it all over the place and losing any semblance of spontaneity.  One exercise I love to do once in a while, to get over that is to paint an apple, or a pear, or whatever, and give myself only twenty strokes to get it done.  Counting the stem and a couple of highlights as three, that leaves me only seventeen strokes to lay in the apple itself.  You better know what you want your stroke to look like before the brush even touches the canvas.  That takes some thought and those twenty brush strokes might take fifteen minutes or more to put down.

mlayman wrote
on 16 Nov 2012 8:52 AM

I love this mantra, Courtney!!

on 17 Nov 2012 12:17 PM

Quang Ho has given one of those most important brushstroke advices to people.  In impressionism the dots and dashes of colors laid perfectly or spontaneously next to each other is what causes the vibrato in the painting.  I did that yesterday with a large rock jutting out of the sea yesterday with a wave hitting it.  The plein air piece has more movement to it and allows for participation by the art viewer to complete the shapes and visual perception.