We happened upon these spectacular pinkish-red–flecked beans this summer. I was told they were a kind of French beans, or French Horticultural Beans. From what I later learned on the Web they’re also known as Borlotti—the same as “cranberry” beans sold in America—and supposedly popular in Portuguese and Italian cooking. Only the beans inside are edible (they are tasty simply boiled, then sautéed in olive oil with garlic).

The biggest challenge about painting these was their hellish patterning.  I mean it was almost overwhelming to me, some of the shells being more pink, some bluer-green in undertone. But I figured that, like with the striped eggplant I painted last year, if I took slow steps—making small notes, keeping my eye on the overall color masses and the value relationships between them—the patterning would evolve nicely. I’m not a painter that can convincingly alla prima simulate a speckle pattern with juicy dabs of the brush; I need to fake it gradually. I wanted to spread this painting out over several sessions, and in the end it took ten. I had to stop after the first 45–50 minutes—though I should say this was just after it had taken me that long or longer to get the damn things to sit right.

In the video it might also correctly say that the underpainting and dead-color stages are one and the same—the “dead” part being the monochrome nature of the sketch. Ernst van de Wetering, in Rembrandt: The Painter at Work, writes that painters of Rembrandt’s time would keep in their studios a stock of “provisionally completed” monochrome paintings “which were only to be worked up when ordered by a client.” But dead-coloring also meant simply underpainting in color, i.e. filling in an area with a usually flat, washy single color to approximate the final one. This is what I tend to do except that I begin to elaborate on the colors a little, or at least I had to begin making notes within local areas because of the pattern on the beans. And often, as in this painting, I throw color around well before the whole composition is sketched out properly. So it could be more accurate to say that I combine the sketching and preliminary-color stages. I suppose it doesn’t look like much when I give up sooner than I really wanted to:

Borlotti Beans, 1st session
Oil on linen on panel, 8×10 in.

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