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Art Masterclass   

                              November 2006

Each month presents a feature from either The Artist or its sister publication, Leisure Painter.  

Art masterclass  

from The Artist, the monthly magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters, giving practical instruction in painting and drawing in watercolour, pastels and oils, as well as news of art events, exhibitions and competitions open to leisure artists;

This month: an  'Artists  of the world' feature from the current edition of The Artist, the magazine for amateur and semi-professional painters.



Free Associations

Sandra Carpenter talks to American artist Daniel E Greene about the striking compositions he creates for his still lifes in soft pastel





There’s a playful sense of incongruity to Daniel E Greene’s still lifes; you can tell that he enjoys staging
his compositions. He takes typical still-life subjects and elevates them beyond the ordinary by presenting them with a twist, leaving us with more to look at than immediately meets the eye.


“I try to create a certain mood in my paintings; often a very ambiguous feeling because I like putting objects together that don’t necessarily exist together in real life,” says Daniel. “In doing so I can create an unusual feeling of sense of presence. I want the scene to feel real and like it to depict a moment in time. I do that by controlling the values and colours.”

Still lifes allow you to compose and invent a design, explains Daniel. To achieve a perfect likeness in a portrait, you have to collaborate with the sitter, do exact measuring and have a good knowledge of anatomy. “But with still life you are free to select the objects, their sizes, shapes and colours and put them all together in interesting compositions while you control the lighting. The possibilities are endless. You are the director overseeing actors and actresses on the stage.

“I’m always on the lookout for interesting objects to paint and my wife and I love to go to antique shows, auctions and fairs,” says Daniel. “I have numerous things in my studio that I use over and over again to explore them in different ways. There’s so much material that interests me that I often explore a subject in a series. The inspiration is in the arrangements of the subjects.

For three to four months I did 15 to 20 paintings featuring the bricks and gourds. I found the gourds to be extremely beautiful and great fun to paint, but they deteriorated quickly. Lately, I have enjoyed painting orchids. The flowers last long enough to put in the time to do a still life in two to three weeks.”

Making a scene

The first step in creating the composition itself is to determine the objects and experiment with them to find a composition that is exciting. Typically, Daniel places the objects on a table on a wheeled model stand so that he can move the set-up around, seeing it from different angles and exploring different lighting. While arranging objects, he looks at their colours and selects a general background.

“I determine whether I want the colour scheme to be harmonious or complementary. Often I make a quick sketch before beginning a picture.” He does what he calls a ‘marathon of arranging’ by shifting the positions of the objects, adding and eliminating, determining variations of sizes and other possibilities until a design begins to evolve. Much of his work is designed asymmetrically using the concept of opposite thrusts or opposing directions.


In Self-Portrait and Gourds the gourd on the bottom left points right and the stem on the magnifying glass points left, while Daniel is looking to the right in his self-portrait. In Fenton, Gourds and Dutch Shoes, there is an abstract shape in the background that points to the left, the gourd on the right points to the left, the spout points to the left and the handle to the right. The gourd on the extreme left suggests the spokes of a wheel and that is repeated in the gourds on the top right.



Daniel also deliberates about colour use. In Red Onions, Garlic in a Bucket and Asparagus, right, the rubber band colour on the asparagus repeats the colours of the onions, while the garlic colour is also in the stalks of the asparagus. Every aspect of Turban Gourds and Pomegranates, was deliberately arranged in terms of shape.

“Fundamentally, there are seven outer circular elements and then one central circle of the gourd, plus the circular mirrors,” says Daniel. “A great deal of composition has to deal with the contrast of rectangles, circles and other basic shapes. When I compose a still life on a tabletop I normally think of it as skyscrapers of asymmetrical staggered heights contrasted with the horizontal line of the tabletop — the road. It’s a contrast of asymmetrical levels against a straight line. In terms of the contour of the arrangement, I try to make a deliberate contrast, with one part active and another calm.”

One reason that Daniel likes pastel is because he is able to work much more rapidly than in oil, as there is no drying time.

“Since pastel is a matt material, it leaves no reflection on the surface — unlike oil — and you can work in pastel in less than perfect lighting conditions. There is a splattered, grainy immediacy in the strokes of pastel that is not something you can achieve in oil paint very quickly. Because pastel sticks are pre-mixed in a sequence of gradations of values, it is easy to duplicate precise colours and values.”



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