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Don’t those two words go great together? You can imagine my pleasure when an establishment with such a name recently popped up minutes from my home. Book and Bar is a book store/coffee house/bar, and is located in a beautiful, historic building in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I recently spent a quiet weekday morning taking in the lovely ambiance with a latte and my paints. My goal was to be intentional about painting something – anything! I had realized that I had unintentionally taken a several month break from painting (and from blogging about painting, oops).

My first subject was the barista/bar tender:


I tried to do several things with this quick painting. I wanted to get the person “right” – the positioning of the body, the arms, the head. My first attempt placed the head above the beer taps. It’s funny, I got quite a long way into the sketch before realizing how giant the person would have to be for her head to be that high. So I erased it and started much lower. I also wanted to get the hands right (hands are always a challenge for me). I think I got the hand on the tap right, and I got close with the hand holding the beer, but the fingers aren’t quite the right length. I do like how the curve of the hand holding the beer defines the curve of the glass she’s holding.

Second, I wanted to try my hand at painting the rounded, silver structure to which the taps are attached. Frankly, I think I rocked it, if I do say so myself.  You can practically feel those metal cylinders. 🙂 I used various shades of gray (ultramarine blue mixed with burnt umber) and painted the reflections on the metal, leaving some strips white. I really like how the color and shape turned out, but the angle is off – the horizontal bar should be parallel with the counter. I think this is a case of drawing what I thought I saw rather than what I really saw. Perhaps it’s really the counter line that’s off. Either way, counter and horizontal bar should be parallel.

I like how the taps came out, as well as the glass of beer. It’s a fun subject, isn’t it, with those cool shapes and colors? I quickly painted a dioxazine violet background to give the scene a little more interest.

For my second painting, I tried to capture the couches and patrons sitting in a corner:


I like how the couch turned out – I feel like I captured the mottled and worn look. But the outside scene (through the windows) is confusing. That violet square is an awning on the window of Book and Bar, and in retrospect, I think I should have just left it out of the picture. This is an example of when you should take artistic license and leave something out of a painting if it’s too hard to make sense of. When Ellen first saw my painting, she thought that whole window was a large funky piece of contemporary art hanging on the wall of Book and Bar.  It’s possible it would have worked if it had been more muted, making it feel more like the view through a window (which looked out over a fun little pub called the Rusty Hammer). Good lesson learned.

Funny, when Ellen edited this post, she noticed all the negative critique and judgments of so many details and it gave me a chance to verbalize that I’ve been a little down on my painting lately. I’m not sure how much I like the style that’s emerging consistently across my paintings. As an artist I wonder how much one deliberately guides/steers toward a desired style as opposed to letting it simply emerge.

Speaking of details, she thought that the lamp, wall, and chest are all great – that the perspective and colors are believable. She also liked how I captured the postures of the patrons, especially with the tiny hint of a tilt in the blue guy’s head. She likes how both of these paintings convey the energy of this place, and she said she can almost feel herself there. Those are high compliments for a painter. I guess that goes to show that it helps to share your art with an audience!

I went with faceless people on this painting (see my Sunbeams and Faceless People post).

Perhaps the biggest technical lesson from this painting is the books. I painted each book individually using about 6 different paint colors. The effect is that the bookshelves end up looking more like a carnival. I think I should have tried to capture a predominant color and then perhaps painted some details, but not for every book. Not sure… Does anyone have any advice about how to capture a book shelf like this?

Regardless of how the paintings turned out, mission accomplished. I enjoyed a latte while being fully in the moment through sketching and painting. And that’s a good morning.