Lately, I have been working on a new gouache dinner party painting. It's for an art show with the theme of food and love at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles. Since I love food, I had plenty of ideas for the show. The one idea I knew I was going to carry out was a dinner party viewed from above. I equate food and love with cooking and eating with those dear to me. I wanted the painting to feel personal, yet relatable to others. The final painting combines two memorable meals: a dinner party I hosted with 7 others and a spontaneous dinner in Cadiz, Spain. I'll explain in further detail, but let's start at the beginning.
I knew I wanted the table to take up the whole composition. I knew I wanted a table runner so I added that early. After I had some of the bowls and plates drawn in, I photographed some models (myself and Bryan) to get the hand gestures right.
Bryan made a great model. I shot him from above my home work area. You can see I was antsy to lay down some paint, so I started painting in the wood salad bowl and servers.
I had a lot of figuring out to do. After I realized I wanted to reflect a specific dinner party with myself and 7 friends (4 couples) I had to include 8 people eating at the table (4 women, 4 men). Painting a dinner party created some challenges. Had dinner started already? Were they on the first, second helping? What is each person doing? Eating, drinking, pouring, serving, slicing. I had to create a little scenario for each person at the table. The initial sketch took a little time to plan out. It wasn't highly detailed, but I did have to lay in the hand positions, plates and bowls.
I was again antsy to get some details in so I started working on the food. I decided to darken the wood grain so the table runner and other details would stand out. You can see here how I taped the watercolor paper to a scrappy piece of foam core. I often write notes in the tape. I noted whether they were male or female and what might be on their plates. I also had to think of where their knives and forks were: resting on their plate, in their hand, etc.
Here you can see I removed the napkins next to the plates that I had in the initial sketch. As I worked, I realized if they were eating dinner, the napkins would be on their laps. I really wanted to show the napkins because I thought the rectangular shape next to the plate would make it more interesting, but I did want to keep it realistic so they were left out.
I mentioned the two memorable meals that inspired this painting. The dinner party I had at my house with seven good friends (more than a friend Bryan, Anabella, Cortez, Nate, Lucia, Dave and Misa) and a meal in Cádiz, Spain. In Spain, between my apartment and art studio was La Plaza del Mentidero. Although Cádiz has many plazas, this one was really special to me since not only was it convenient, but the restaurant owners quickly began to know me as I popped in for tapas or walked by and said hello. Two particular restaurants were my favorite: Mmmm! and La Mentirosa. They were across the plaza from one another and the cooks and owners were good friends. One night when I was at Mmmm! (often called Silvio's, since he was the owner), the cooks and servers came over with a pan of fish and potatoes. I was sitting by myself in the corner and they made me come over and join them. They were such a generous group, so welcoming and kind even though I had only been there for a month.
Here is my version of the pan of fish and potatoes, to reflect the meal in Cádiz. I love the way the fish came out with the tail hanging off the plate, simple lines to shape it and the shadow. It is my favorite way to paint: intuitively and without thinking, diving in and doing what feels right. I used some cross hatching, a technique I have not used for awhile.
When I'm not working in my studio, I paint at home. When I paint at home, my cat Oscar inevitably walks across my paintings.
You can see the different personalities and appetites here. For example, the woman at the lower left corner is a vegetarian. I wanted it to feel somewhere between the first serving and second and the fish just came off the grill. Everyone either has their mouth full or they are talking and laughing.
I still have other food painting ideas. Like the time a group of friends and I hiked up to Mission Peak on a full moon and picnicked at the top. Or when my dad makes arroz con pollo or gallo pinto. Or when my mom would make tea and snacks for us in the garage on rainy days when we were kids.
What's a memorable food experience you've had? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.