With the arrival of Spring, has come the arrival of experimental new ideas to try out. My mind stretches out and warms up with the weather.
This particular experiment begins with someone else’s artwork.
To whomever painted this 4’x2′ monochromatic landscape some 50-60 years ago, thank you. It graced my bedroom for years as a teenager, then years more in my own downstairs family room. My newest work will express a concept that requires a lot of space–at least 48 inches. After months of fruitless shopping around for a large enough canvas or frame, I realize I actually have what I need already, in this oversized painting.
This project will be another ambitious stretch…both figuratively and literally. First, there is a deadline. I need to complete it in time to join a display of artworks sized over 4′ which will be hung in a regional airport.
Second, before I can even begin my work, I must first undo someone else’s work. The prep on this one is a painstaking multi-step process. The nails holding the painted masonite board in the frame must be pried up, the board popped out, then hours are spent on my least favorite prep activity: sanding.
I feel a little twinge of regret at sanding this small detail I added myself as a teen, a shadowy tiger looking out of the monotone “forest”. (My room was jungle-themed and I couldn’t resist.)
The idea for this piece, which I plan to call “Ersticken”, originated several years ago when I participated in a “sketchbook project”. Blank sketch journals were given out by a local gallery to be filled by area artists, then returned and mailed to a massive library of completed art sketchbooks. The project was great fun and inspired several ideas with potential for full-sized works. Sadly, my journal was stolen from the gallery before it could be mailed out. However, it had been scanned prior and the idea from this particular spread I drew has stuck with me.
While I prep the board for painting, I also need to address the frame. Without the board inside, it’s a bit unstable, so I attach strong metal corner braces. The frame has been either knocked around then repainted several times, or it’s been intentionally “distressed”– it sports multiple nicks, gouges and a couple of chunks are just missing. I carve pieces of wood to match the missing chunks, glue them in, and carefully whittle them down to the frame’s shape. Smaller nicks are treated with fine wood filler and sandpaper.
After many hours spent on prep, the frame is in beautiful shape: ready for primer, then a smooth matte paint. Unfortunately, this is May in Missouri, which means a solid week of rain coupled with temperatures around the 60s. Typically I spread a drop-cloth outdoors and paint frames out there, but there is no dry place to do that–and the humidity is preventing the paint from drying. Eventually I manage an awkward setup involving tape, a back door and sheets, and the frame is finally painted. Next, I apply an untold number of coats of gesso over the masonite board laid out on my living room floor. (I don’t even have pictures of this particularly mind-numbing process). This is then sanded to a smooth matte white finish, meant to emulate a sheet of paper or a primed canvas.
With the board and the frame prepared, I can begin the real fun.
This piece will be unlike any other I’ve made, incorporating oil paint, cut canvas, and oil pastel in one painting. The left side contains a large, organic flowing shape, which I have cut from primed canvas. I affix it to the board with matte medium, taking care to avoid the areas I’ve cut out within this shape.
The right side will have the oil-painted elements. There are three “metal pipes” which come into the picture from the top and the bottom, leading to an antique faucet. Rarely have I worked with oil paint in the past, but this piece requires it. I spend several days observing my reference photos and practicing painting the pipes. When I’m satisfied with those results, I mask off the area I’ll be working in and block in a grey base coat for each pipe. (Seen above)
After several days of setting the picture in front of a fan, in a hot car, and over a heat vent… the pipes are finally just barely dry enough to add in highlights and details.
Next, the part I’ve been most looking forward to. I add freeform swirls of color to the canvas shapes, using oil pastels in vibrant primary/printer’s colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow.
This part is especially enjoyable, as I jump in without a set expectation and simply go wherever the “flow” takes me.
The following steps are much fussier. Once the colors are roughed in, I need to smooth and define the edges of each color so that they are separate and do not bleed into each other. To accomplish this entails using a rubber brush to paint literal yards worth of edges in oil pastel, which has been thinned into “paint” using turpentine. During this process I make a delightful discovery: misplaced oil pastel can be erased.
Because this piece will be framed but it will not be glassed-in and matted, I will need to protect the oily texture of the pastel from smudging on the frame or whomever needs to handle it. First a particularly ridiculous masking job isolates the pastel sections, then several separate coats of a specialty oil pastel fixative spray protects the pigments.
I’m getting very close to finishing this piece, but it’s not complete yet…and the deadline is a literal day away. Still left to be done is the white background. I need to remove any smudged paint and pastel bits that may stain it. I’m up late on my last night cleaning it up and sanding it to a matte finish again, then sweeping the sanded bits off the painting.
When I brush over the oil painted pipes, I’m suddenly reminded that they are not really dry, they are just pretending to be (again, it’s May in Missouri).
Next morning, every spare minute is spent carefully addressing the resulting scuffs, framing the piece, and praying that I make it before my noon deadline.
I do make the deadline, at exactly 12:00 PM, with a piece I’m particularly proud of.
Ersticken means “stifle” in German. I enjoy letting the viewer interpret the piece, but I can say it marks the start of a new series using color to break out of boundaries.
I’m excited to see where this series will take me.
Til next piece, Ciao…