Heirloom Tomatoes Still Life Painting

When it comes to painting there are artists that have a plan and those who don’t. I’m more of a don’t have a plan kind of guy. It probably stems from my inherit dislike of painting or drawing something more than once. In fact it’s rare that I will repeat a subject, except for maybe people, but that’s another post.

My plan for the heirloom tomatoes, if you can call it a plan, was, “Those suckers are going to rot, so I better paint them first.”

With such a detailed plan it was clear that I was going to have to paint in a window-blind fashion. But instead of a normal window-blind method where you start at one side and work your way to the other side rendering everything as you go, (like watching a scroll unreel) I thought I’d paint each individual tomato and throw in just enough background to help me find the values.

With my highly refined charcoal under drawing to guide me, I started to throw paint until I had something that resembled a tomato. Well, I wasn’t actually throwing paint, but I tend to practice what I call brute force painting where I just keep putting paint on the panel until what I’m painting looks like what I want it to look like.

I find it much easier to not have a plan while painting still life, since it’s easy enough to just move one of the objects if you discover your design for the painting looks like a crazed Capuchin monkey half way through lobotomy surgery directed the arrangement.

New Painting Heirloom Tomatoes

I’m frequently amazed at how the grocery store doubles as a prop closet. I was with my family at Whole Foods and as often happens they point at something and tell me “You really need to paint those!” I have to admit that their instincts have been more often right than wrong. I was in my grumbly mood so I wasn’t too sure, but I’ve always thought heirloom tomatoes looked awesome. (I am not a fan of the texture of fresh tomatoes, so my appreciation for them is mostly visual.)

I grudgingly agreed to take some home, with the caveat that if I didn’t feel like it I didn’t have to paint them. (Don’t worry tomato lovers, they didn’t go completely to waste.)

So, I put them up on my still life table and looked at them. I wasn’t happy. But at six dollars a pound I didn’t want the expensive little buggers to just rot, so I did what I always do. I went on a search around the house for Stuff. Stuff (with a capital S) is very important to an artist.

While looking for Stuff I thought that the tomatoes needed to be raised up, and somehow tied to something. (As previously posted, I’m obsessed with tying things lately.) I grabbed an antique canning jar off a shelf and another jar full of dry cookie ingredients with the recipe still tied around it with plastic ribbon that someone had given us at least two Christmases ago, and thought all I needed now was some sort of platform.

I remembered an old wooden produce box that was taking up space in my closet and thought that one of the sides would work and began to tear it apart. (In the process I managed to hit myself in the eye with the handle of the hammer I was using to pull nails.)

After cutting down the wood slat to size (and making sure my swollen eye was still functioning) I proceeded to come up with a design that I liked. This usually means setting things up, and then moving them around for an hour to find the best arrangement.

After a couple tries, I knew I needed at least one more piece of Stuff to make it work. I somehow remembered an antique mill bobbin, (or whatever it is) that I had kicked under my easel a couple weeks (months) back and thought “Why not?”

Well, it worked perfectly and so I finally sat down to draw.

Oh, as a side note, while we were checking out, the cashier said how much she loved heirloom tomatoes and asked what I was going to do with them. I told her I was going to paint them, and she looked at me real funny. It took me a second to understand she thought I was going to actually paint them, instead of painting a picture of them!

It also made me realize how many times I’ve told someone I’m going to paint various objects, and how many times they must have thought I was a nut.

Painting the Redwood Road Barn

Surprisingly I found this barn right next to a bank on a busy road. It was halfway through rush hour and I knew I would only have two, or three hours of sunlight if I was lucky. I was sure I would get much done and it would probably turn out to be one of those paintings you hide in the closet, but I had to paint it.

Redwood Road Barn Oil Painting By Brady Allen

Redwood Road Barn 12×16 Oil Painting By Brady Allen

As I was tromping through the unclaimed field in front of the barn the man and woman who owned it came out of a nearby house and stared at me. I was holding my hands up making a rectangle with my fingers as plein air painters do, when I heard the woman shout to her husband “He’s holding his arms up doing this!” as she pantomimed my actions. I guess they decided I was mostly harmless as they didn’t come over and tell me to get lost.

So, after I was set up and had a good start painting I was surprised to hear a man with an asian accent “Oh, you paint good. Me love art!” A man and his family had pulled over on the street behind me and him and his daughter had walked halfway out into the field. I smiled and thanked them, and he told me he liked my painting and had to stop and tell me. After that he said he had to go and they got back into their red minivan and drove off.

I thought it was cool that he had stopped and went back to painting, when a few minutes later a woman’s voice said “That’s nice!”. I looked to see a woman who had obviously been riding hard sitting on a bicycle on the sidewalk. I thanked her and she told me how she thought it was neat that I found something beautiful in the middle of the city. She had a few miles left to get home and asked for my business card before riding off.

Evening was coming on, and I was deciding whether to pack up or paint a few minutes more, when I heard a third voice. “You’re awesome, man!”

Behind me decked out in red riding leathers was a kid on a red bullet bike.

“That’s a cool painting” he said.

I said “Thanks. Do you paint?”

He said, “I do a little art. You’re awesome, man! See ya!” and drove off.

I knew at that point that it was time to pack up and go. It’s always nice to get a boost from others when out painting, and who knows, maybe it helps make better paintings too?