A lot of people at the Hunter Gallery opening last night wanted to know how my paintings begin. It was hard for me to verbalize that process spontaneously. So I have decided to start a blog and see how that goes.
January 7, 2017 How I Start:
The other day I saw these beautiful marks on the sand, from where the waves came in and pulled out over a period of time.
In my head I am drawing it- broad stroke of soft charcoal on its side, pull down through it with fingers, erase white lines into the black, ghosts of previous wave edges. When I get home I go into the studio and do that- get out the thick soft charcoal, record the line patterns, use my fingers to pull down through the black charcoal, make marks with hard charcoal, the edge of a pink eraser to make white lines through the black. And I have a note, a sketch that is the beginning idea for a painting, or a series of black, white and grey paintings, rectangular not square, suitable for winter studies.
So I already have decided the painting will be on small, 20"x24" canvases and the skeleton of the composition will be these lines and marks of waves in the sand which also has stuff on it.
Next, I am mixing the under painting in my head- definitely a cool grey, or blue or maybe even violet. I pick up a very red piece of seaweed on the walk and a neon green remnant of a sponge- top -accents that help me determine the underpainting “family”: definitely cool, definitely pale, not dark, definitely transparent- as opposed to warm, hot, thickly applied, vivid.
Next I start coming up with the tone, value, shade of a cool grey blue for my underpainting- I might make a series of dabs and strokes on a big piece of paper and label them with the paint combos: Ultrmarine with a tad of burnt umber?; pale grey + pale violet? mars black diluted? the trick being cool transparent pigment or pigments with no white because this underpainting tends to set the tone for the whole piece.
I draw in the skeleton of my composition with paint and when it is dry, I wash or pour onto the underpainting, establishing the next layer of the skeleton in the lines and edges of poured glazes: wave lines, darks and lights, drips, poured on to do what water does when I tilt, raise and move around the canvas.
So then I am off and begin to apply layers of glazes alternating between warm and cool, vivid and muted etc. and things start to resonate. The canvas is laid horizontal on sawhorses, on the floor, outside on the ground. I tip and tilt it so that the paint does what water does.
As the layers get thicker I start to add in the scraps and shards of things I’ve found, adding them by color, shape, line, or written image, dropping them randomly or placing them in a specific way. My current question is whether these objects are submerged, attached to the final layer, or enclosed in plastic detail boxes- are these plastic boxes blended in with plaster wrap and then painted? this is my latest idea, or do they remain dioramas attached to the surface?
I continue to add lines and marks, details, and the process of adding, subtracting, changing the basic skeleton goes on. I like the accidents of paint, and the layers of poured latex gloss and texture that start to come in.
It is very easy to get lost in this process, though, so I keep the focus of the painting on my original intention of “wave marks”- ok that’s the title- and the skeleton drawing that came out of that little view I noticed.
At a certain point I worry about overworking the painting, hoping to get the painting done with less indecision so it doesn’t look that way, trusting my instincts to stop when I know its done. I frequently go back into a painting later to fine tune or change small details.
Early in the morning on 3rd Beach I found a line of Styrofoam beads which had washed up onto the sand, tangling with seaweeds and plastics, obviously the remains of a stryfoam cooler dumped or dropped overboard. It went along the edge of the water almost all the way down the beach. Sandpipers were rummaging in the tideline. It was a very beautiful thick white wavy line, with bright green lines of seaweed strands mixed in. So I scooped up the Styrofoam beads along with the seaweed. This was mixed with polyeurethane and poured directly on to the canvas at a later date.
I pick up the Styrofoam beads and add them to my painting because I really did see that, find them, despair over them. Keep needing to want the viewer to see the reality not the illusion of shoreline-seascape-landscape in the Anthropocene.