MPS Signature Member Rosalie Nadeau joined us at our spring general meeting on April 16th to talk about her work and give us an entertaining and informative still life demo. The thing that struck me the most about Rosalie’s working method was the utter freedom with which she approaches her subject. As the product of classical training, where I learned to carefully draw the still life objects before rendering them in paint, I was amazed to watch her spontaneous and highly intuitive approach. She began by making a viewfinder with her thumbs and forefingers to assess her set-up. She then made a small value thumbnail - a notan - executed rapidly with a dark purple-brown pastel on a taped-off area of her painting surface, which had been prepared with orange “Pure Pigment,” a water-based, highly saturated medium that produces a luminous underpainting. (She also uses thinned oils and acrylic.) She used a large paper stump to move the pastel around until she was satisfied with the notan, and then used the same stump to lay in a series of loose and gestural marks on her surface indicating the placement of the various still life objects. Her goals at this stage were to ensure that her composition made use of the entire surface, from corner to corner (“no desk-blotter corners!”); to establish and emphasize diagonals that would lead the viewer’s eye and give the painting a sense of movement; and to establish strong relationships among her shapes, making sure no objects lined up and creating varied and interesting intervals in both positive and negative space. To achieve a balanced composition, she is quite willing to shift objects and move them around on the painting surface as she works, without feeling a corresponding need to move the actual objects in front of her. She starts with her darks to position the objects and scrubs them in with the stump, but from there she does not proceed through the mid-values to the lights last, as most of us do, but instead jumps around, painting across the value spectrum, comparing and adjusting as she goes, letting her marks show without blending, constantly asking whether a given object is darker or lighter, warmer or cooler than the object next to it, and paying close attention to edges and to the unity of her masses. She selects a pastel to use based on its value and temperature, not on its hue or degree of hardness. As she nears the finish, she evaluates the focal point, making sure it has the sharpest edges, the brightest colors, and the greatest value contrast. She wants to “surprise the eyes” and avoids being too explicit: she wants to leave some information to be supplied by the viewer. She is deeply affected by what she calls “the glow” – the brilliance of light falling on objects or shining through transparent objects -- and successfully uses this glow and strong contrasts in value to convey this drama to the viewer.
Rosalie remained in Maryland following the meeting to give a two-day still life workshop where her students had an opportunity to see her do another demo, to practice her painterly approach, and to learn some guiding principles. These included the importance of taking plenty of time to set up the still life, trying out different arrangements of the objects and different ways to light them and seeking the maximum effects of light and shadow.