When I went out to the studio to pick out a board and some paint to get a ground slathered on before the art battle, I noticed that my sister-cousin-friend had a book set out next to her studio space. It is titled, Creative Paint Workshop for Mixed-Media Artists: Experimental Techniques for Composition, Layering, Texture, Imagery, and Encaustic by Ann Baldwin. I looked at the opened pages and thought about the fact that the book made a terrific effort to explain a process that, for me, feels always so spontaneous. I wondered what it would be like for me to slow down my process and analyze the goings-on as I painted for the evening.
Wasn’t to be. (insert laugh here) Had I not left my camera at home for the evening, this might have been a ‘go’ and I DID capture some of the decisions while applying my ground. Then, I had to abandon my archive until next time.
Given that the LIVE ART battles are an intense two hours in length, I have discovered that it’s important to sort something…anything…out, in my head, prior to arriving at the Gorilla House. The concepts are often so bizarre, that one really never knows what subject matter might be relevant, but I make certain that I have a few things in my toolbox before I go…things other than the regular art supplies. I carry along a whole collection of references that are of interest to me or images/magazines/photographs that have recently sat with me, occupying a space in my head, agitating and delighting me, both. I’ve noticed that several artists who are more objective with their work, pull out their phones and use references from the internet. I don’t have that sort of phone. So, I tend to drag junk down to the house with me.
Next, I carry along sources of text…quotes, biblical passages, books of interest to me. I have no idea what I might access until I hear the results of the spin.
Before attending, I commit to a colour scheme. I have found that if I don’t have a palette in mind before heading down, I have become very wound up once I begin to paint. Under such a time restraint, there is little opportunity to mull over ideas. So…then, the application of a ground.
I think I’ve written before about the fact that it’s easier for me to work on a surface that has been activated. I apply a ground of gesso initially and this leaves the surface white, and seals the piece for a healthy tooth (this provides a surface that the paint can literally grab on to). When I make reference to ACTIVATION, I simply mean that the white surface is a blank page…intimidating to some degree because there is no interaction between the surface and my mind…it is saying nothing back to me. I activate the surface, knowing full well, that the statement there, through the course of my painting, will disappear/evolve and become an underpinning for something else.
It used to be that for every painting, I would apply five coats of gesso, alternating the direction of each coat and usually sanding and perfecting as I went. Now, I apply my gesso in a very free form manner, in the hopes that some of the valleys and mountains remain to inform other layers. This has been a huge progression in my work and makes, for me, a very entertaining process.
A ground, then, is simply that colour or texture that is added to the surface and provides a place for a painting/collage to happen. For this week’s LIVE ART, I chose to use ultramarine blue, mars black, gloss medium and because we’ve enjoyed two days of remarkable hoarfrost in the river bottom, I decided to attach a layer of printed tree images…cheap paper…cheap ink…Here are some images and my very brief remarks.
In this case, I used an old paint brush, an inch and a half wide. I dipped randomly into the blue and black squeezed out onto my palette, not concerning myself with mixing on the palette or where I would apply it to my panel. I do notice that my marks went in a horizontal journey, arching slightly. Notice that bits of the panel are still evident, uncovered by the dry coat of gesso. Choosing ultramarine blue, instead of pthalo, I had pretty much determined that I would not be including in my painting, very much in the way of yellow…yellow and ultramarine blue don’t make an exquisite green like pthalo and cad yellow medium do. The drips tell you that I was, indeed, being generous with water. Water added to acrylic paint, creates both transparency and fast coverage. Again, I don’t add a set amount and mix…rather, I dip here and there…and back and forth I go. My blue is purchased by the jar, but is also available in tubes. Notice that I use a number of cottage cheese lids for palettes. I like that this way I can keep my colour families clean and separate of one another. Imagine what would happen if I had a blop of red on this particular palette. Would I be able to find a dollop of pure red to apply to my painting? Nopers! It would be a puddle of brown before I knew it. I use a cadmium red medium/bright red…and because it is WARM on the spectrum of reds and because blue is the complement of orange/orange-red, the two colours, together, create a warm brown….not so good if you are looking for a nice red and a nice blue. I use a student grade rather than professional artist grade paint…some artists really disagree with this and that’s ok. Some artists love a particular type of brush. This is very personal and you learn this by using lots of paint and lots of different brushes. I have a favourite sort of brush…never use fan or round…always flat. I can get a consistently thin mark with my brush…and a wide mark as well. Most of the time, I use a rag to apply paint in huge and random marks. This is great for variety. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to capture one of those marks as a photo archive until the next piece.
This is gloss medium…it also comes in matte. I use this for application of collage elements and I’m very generous with its use for a variety of things. I only like this sort…it’s viscosity is perfect.It is easy to tell that these marks have been made with a brush…how? It is a good practice to make a collection of marks in your sketchbook. While some folk become compulsive about making a single type of mark, the more marks you have in your toolbox, the more dynamic will be your art! This is a close-up of my palette. The yellow and other colours are dried pigments from other painting experiences. They won’t be a bother at all.I begin to apply the collage bits…random…undecided…intuitive. I don’t worry about what may appear to be a mess…drips…changing values. I do, however, pick out dog hairs. It’s just a thing I do. If your work is very fine and smooth surfaced, you may wish to always keep your surface clear of little flies and dog hair and such. Given my experiences en pleine-air painting, I gave that up some years ago. Gloss medium appears to be white when you apply it, but dries as a clear coat. I don’t smooth it to a consistent surface…but leave it in interesting medallions here and there. You should be able to see the bubbles here…these are not good. I use the edge of my hand to push these outward, until the air/extra medium squishes out from under the collage. I use my brush, with paint in it, to tint and move pigment through the collage bits as I apply them. Up to this point, I had worked on the panel for about fifteen minutes. If a big bubble persists, I literally, rip it open…apply some medium…and seal it up again. I like the cracks and lines created in this process.Bits of collage will tear away and land somewhere else. Good! leave these bits! They will eventually contribute to the overall interest of the piece at some point. Then, I fixed some dumplings and let this dry…knowing I had to head to the core from the burbs in no more than 30 minutes.
Once I arrived, I was so grateful to reconnect with the folk who have come to mean so much to me. I got my easel set up, did a bit of dancing, a bit of visiting and then it was time for the spin. The three concepts for the evening were…First, from Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman, “time to clean up the mess before my parents come upstairs.” Second, from The Lazy Intellectual: Maximum Knowledge, Minimal Effort by Richard J. Wallace, James V. Wallace, “His plays were representative of Greek Old Comedy, in which cutting invective, personal attack, absurd situations, and extravagant burlesque were important.” And finally, from a book, The Circus, Venuses of the Age.
I had been thinking about my daughter…her recent move to Vancouver, a dance production titled Bloom and her classes in burlesque. I thought about her exploration of the ocean views and her discovering of nature. I found this quote, in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass…To Old Age and included it in my painting.
“I see in you the estuary that enlarges and spreads itself grandly as it pours in the great sea.”
I am grateful to Belinda Fireman, my painting buddy, who generously purchased this at auction. It was good to meet you, Rose. Congratulations to Karen on a beautiful exhibit and gratitude to Elijah who has done such a professional job with the exhibit space. Thanks to the public…when we come out of our painting frenzy, it is such a warm and wonderful thing to see all of your faces!