Extreme Makeover

Still Life with Silverware
by Vicente Collado Jr
Doha, Qatar
Thu 27th October 2011

Experienced painters are often confronted with the problem of what to do with their early works whose originally unnoticed flaws have become more obvious with the passage of time.

Some professionals suggest the slash-and-burn option which consists in carrying out literally what the words mean. One should get rid of anything that could blot one's otherwise brilliant portfolio. Some artists already held in high esteem find this a sensible solution to avoid damage to their reputation or a plunge in their market-value. But, in this age when the dividing line between mediocrity and excellence in art no longer exists, this suggestion seems extreme.

The majority, of course, recommend keeping them as is. One should not be ashamed of one's humble beginnings. If anything, early works are testaments to the artist's hard-fought struggles to achieve perfection or are fitting preludes to a story with a happy ending. This is fine as long as one is willing to be reminded constantly of one's previous mistakes.

Still Life with Silverware
Oil on Canvas
(50cm x 60cm)

A few propose a third option: extreme makeover. Old paintings need not be discarded and one need not be stuck with past mistakes for the rest of one's life. Defective paintings can easily be improved with minor retouches or can be rescued with a complete paintover. Houses are renovated, articles are rewritten, and wrinkled faces are ironed out; there's no reason why paintings should not undergo the same corrective measures.

In my opinion, it is all up to the painter's choice, a matter of taste, if you will. Personally, I wouldn't consign an old artwork to the bin no matter how imperfect it might be, but, neither would I just sit idly by if I have the time to rid it of its shortcomings.

Lately, as I was sorting my collections in preparation for our impending repatriation, I couldn't help but notice the glaring defects of some of my early paintings. At the time of their completion, I considered them masterpieces, but, having gained more criteria during all these years, I now feel like locking them in the closet forever.

At some point recently, while waiting for inspiration for a new painting to pop up in my mind, I decided to reanimate these lifeless paintings instead.

Original painting needing facelift

This still life with silverware is one of them. I painted this in 2003 in The Netherlands using some household items as main elements - yellow-blue throw pillows, a silver jug, a sugar holder, a salt shaker, a mini-vase, etc. The small ceramic white houses with dark green roofs were KLM freebies with liquor content.

I really find no major problem with this piece. Likeness is not an issue. It's in the composition where the uncertainty creeps in. My goal then was to portray some neutral metals against a backdrop of colorful fabrics, hoping the contrast would make the silverware stand out. It's now doubtful whether this is indeed what happens when this painting is viewed. I now feel the yellow background is so intense that there is no way the observer's attention will not be trapped in there from the very first moment.

A change of background and slight modifications in form and perspective will certainly remedy the situation.

The following are some of the stages of the transformation.

Stage 1

Initially, I got rid of the bright yellow background and replaced it with a neutral one. This not only creates atmosphere but also contentrates the more eye-catching pure colors in the main subject. The dull effect is achieved by mixing my palette colors into gray. Then, I added the wine bottle to shift the tip of the imaginary triangle enclosing the compositon closer to the center; it was too far to the right. Finally, I decided to include green in the color gamut, with the leaves and the bottle, to provide a colorful but non-dominating contrast to the colorless silverware.

Stage 2

Since there was too much negative space, I added more grapes overlapping them with the other objects for greater physical unity. I then started defining the forms of the silver items, giving them a preliminary coating. In so doing, I completely covered their original engravings but they can be placed back again later as the last strokes if needed.

Stage 3

I scumbled the thin layer of frost on the wine bottle and then painted over it some highlights and reflected lights. I corrected the errors in perspective in the little houses. I also brushed in another coating on the table cloth adding more folds to it. I began working on the glasses of wine, painting their transmitted lights with a mixture of yellow ocher and red. I realized there was too much activity already in the main subject so I decided to make the drapery more plain by removing the busy folds. I then focused my attention on the table, darkening it with burnt umber.

Stage 4

I continued refining the grapes. In some, I brushed in red in the area of the transmitted light to mirror the color combination of the wine. I intensified the colors of the tulips and coated the sugar with another layer. I then worked on the background for the second time; in this photo, I just finished laying down the different bands of colors that would be blended in one continuous gradation. Note how all the colors in my palette were all incorporated in the spread; this will give the image greater color unity. The background can still be colorful even though it's dull. I also eliminated some leaves in the small silver flower vase to make it clear that it forms the vertical that intersects the left tip of the triangular arrangement, thus preventing your eyes from sliding down out of the picture.

Stage 5

With a dry brush, I blended the background into one smooth gradation. I then repainted the leaves disfigured during the blending. I also added the reflections of the leaves and fruits on the silver objects and brushed in a sticker on the neck of the wine bottle, after retouching the main label.

Final Stage

Once the paint laid down in the previous session dried, I painted the wine glasses. Because of their transparency, glasses are the easiest to paint; basically, they are mere outlines with highlights. But, they should be painted last when the scenes behind them are finished. Then, I took my time adding the highlights on the grapes. I made minor adjustments on the silverware and the wine bottle and its labels. I lightened the highlights on the table cloth and applied another coating on the table. I signed my name and with this, the makeover is complete.

The focus of this still life is the circular area enclosing partions of the silver jug, sugar holder, glass of wine and wine bottle. After the makeover, there is a stronger chance the viewer's attention will gravitate more to this main center of interest. The other items are also interesting but not so much as to compete with the focal point. And, there is greater harmony, unity, variety and balance in terms of form, color and perspective.

Despite the makeover, I am sure this painting still has hidden flaws that will be revealed later upon closer scrutiny. This should not be cause for worry though since I can always subject it under the brush once again and give it another facelift if need be.


Still Life with Silverware
Thu 27th October 2011