BETSY LEVINE - My Process

Every Wednesday after I pick up my Winter Green Farm CSA I select a few veggies and fruits that I am particularly drawn to paint.  For this project I am looking for subjects that can stand alone in a painting successfully and that don't have a bazillion little tiny details that will take hours and hours to paint (although that is not ALWAYS the case).  From there, I:

1. Do a photo shoot.  I use a basic Cannon EOS with the zoom lens that came with it.  I have a table on my porch that I found on the sidewalk one day outside of  a restaurant on Alberta.  The wood is kind of warped but it has such a beautiful grain that it's hard for me to consider ever getting rid of it, even if it's not the best for eating on....I love it as a background for my photos!  I take lots of photos from many angles, then pick my favorites and upload them to my computer.

 2. Edit photos in Lightroom.  I took a basic 'how to use Lightroom' class from Newspace, which taught me how to edit and organize my photos in Adobe Lightroom, and I love love love it.  When I edit I don't change much, just play a little with color and contrast.  I often boost the color to what I like and then de-saturate it a little, because when I translate it to paint in later stages the colors come out looking much brighter than they do on the screen.    

Here is a photo of a tomato before and after editing:

3. Sketch the image onto my pre-gessoed wood panel.   I'm actually the one gessoing it, I purchase my custom-made panels from Art Substrates and I recommend you do the same.  They're beautiful and sturdy and locally made.  I then purchase acrylic gesso and apply two layers, letting them dry and sanding in between.   Then I pull up my edited photo in Lightroom and draw the image on by eye and in pencil, lightly.  I use only one layer of paint so if I draw the sketch too dark it will show through.  On this panel I, um, spilled something.  As is my tendency.  It'll be fiiiiiiine.  (Seriously, it won't show through).  

4. Paint the image. I am probably an art teacher's nightmare because I don't paint in layers at all.  I do exactly what they taught you not to do in art school, probably because I never went to art school.  I usually start somewhere in the upper left corner of the painting, unless the focus is very obviously elsewhere.  I do that partly for practical reasons....I'm a righty, and I wont have to contort my arms into crazy positions to make sure that the paint doesn't mistakenly smudge.  I think radiate outwards from my starting point (or, in the case of this tomato, I radiate in a spiral because that's the natural shape the tomato makes). I use tiny little brushes and very little paint, compared to most oil painters.   Yogurt container lids for palettes, hooray for saving money and recycling at the same time!  My hands are in gloves while I paint these days because I've got a little baby in my belly and there are heavy metals in the paint, so I want to protect my skin and therefore my baby (and don't worry, I'm not using any solvents at all.  I use Water Mixable Oil Paints, which is an oxymoron I cant explain but I can take advantage of.  I learned on them and love them, they clean with soap and water.   

Here is the progression that this tomato made in about three hours (most paintings aren't this quick, but the tomato is particularly lacking in minute little details that take up the most time)

I haven't finished that painting yet, but I do tend to paint the background last, another no-no in art school (I'm obviously a huge rebel).  I do take great pains to make sure that the foreground and the background look natural together and blend into each other well.  Otherwise the painting looks really fake, which is a problem for many artists who paint from photographs.   They look flat.  Hopefully mine don't?  I've been told they don't. 

This is a different tomato that I painted, but I wanted you to see what a finished tomato painting looks like: