It began in one of the workshops I’ve been teaching at Gage Academy in Seattle. It’s a big jump to go from learning about the paints to doing a landscape, even from a photo, so I’m always looking for ways to bridge that gap. One day I brought in a few items out of my fridge. I asked each person to pick one, place it on a white sheet of paper and point a small desk lamp at it. Then I gave a demo:
There’s something humble and unassuming about some leaves of kale.
I’m fond of saying that often people draw the Platonic “class” of an object instead of the “instance” that is there in front of them.
Or, as fellow vegetable-loving painter/instructor Lisa Goren says, “I always use chard for my teaching. I use it because, unlike flowers, [students] don’t have as fixed an idea of what it looks like in their heads. So I think they look more carefully and are more focused on the task rather than the outcome.”
Our correspondence about this shared pedagogy made me think hard about why I am finding painting vegetables so liberating.
There are relatively few examples of “Great Vegetable Works from Art History”—whereas try to paint sunflowers and a whole famous field’s worth is glaring at you!
It’s hard to get to over-invested in painting a vegetable—compared to, say, a beautiful landscape you’re sentimental about. Since you don’t have so many hopes and expectations attached to it, you paint more freely and the results are fresh. (Mind you, they still require careful observation!)
Or maybe it’s a jolie laide or underdog thing? Even in the foodie world they’re usually not the star of the meal…
Perhaps it’s also my own semi-conscious interest in getting people to look at what isn’t conventionally considered “art worthy.”
Plus I get to eat them afterwards… Or at least most of them:
Update: this page on my website has more of the series.
[Note: a number of these small paintings were in a solo exhibit at the Food Art Collection opening July 14, 2019. Rather than traditional framing and glazing–which just didn’t feel right when I hope they end up in people’s kitchens–they are mounted on panels and coated with epoxy–so the spatters from frying up those potatoes can be wiped off!]