My Blog About Art

Almost finished with "Hope of Transformation" December 26, 2016 14:18

Hope of Transformation, work in progress, acrylic on wood panel, 18 x 24" by Harold Roth This painting has been harder than the last three or four. First, I've had so much to handle in my personal life for the past couple of weeks. But second, I've been having a very difficult time doing fine detail on some of my paintings. Last night I realized that I could remedy some of that issue by resting my entire forearm on the painting. Good thing I paint in acrylics so I can do that. It has really helped. But also good that this is a wood panel. Although I can rest the heel of my hand on a canvas, resting my whole forearm to steady my hand just doesn't work on canvas. For that reason, I'll be using up my wood panels for this series, which has a certain amount of detail. When I use up the panels I have, I'm going to splurge on gessoed wood panels, because I am just a slob when it comes to gesso. And as I mentioned last time, we hates it. Since I "grew up" painting on paper, I got used to using the support for a support. I love the feel paint-wise of a well-gessoed canvas, but the bounciness I hate.

I still have a bunch of canvases, so I'm going to use them for paintings that don't require the same amount of detail. I've got some ideas, most especially a series on the various moons and another on all sorts of water.

Vials Series: The Black Crow December 07, 2016 10:43

My next work in the series is "The Black Crow" (sometimes also called the Black Toad) which is based partly on the alchemical idea of the first stage in alchemy, which involves, yes, rotting or putrefaction. The Black Crow means the decaying of all the gunk that is part of the Prima Materia ("A formless primeval substance regarded as the original material of the universe"). What's left is purified. I wanted to combine that idea with some of the images from vanitas paintings (yep, still on the vanitas thing--that's what the image is in the corner of this paragraph): an hourglass, most importantly, although I am thinking about including a tipped-over glass and skull and perhaps a pipe in the foreground around the hourglass. I'm not so sure about that. But I know the hourglass will be there, along with a black butterfly and a piece of lead, the quintessential Saturn metal. Saturn rules this stage of alchemy.

Saturn is dry and cold, like the Dry Valleys of Antarctica, which I thought would make a great background for the hourglass and crow. So I started that landscape on canvas. Then painted over and started it again. Then decided to put the Milky Way in the sky instead of just blueness. Didn't like it, painted over it, and painted the Milky Way again in another way. Painted over that and found it had too much texture to paint over so I had to trash that canvas, something which I almost never do. I always reuse a canvas, but I pretty much never paint with texture. Thing is all the dots of the stars stuck out like warts. So I stuffed it in some cardboard and put it in the dumpster. <cringe>

I started again on a wood panel, but after just putting the ground on, I didn't like the feel of it and put it aside. Felt like I was really spinning my wheels. 

I dug around in what I have on hand and found a pre-gessoed Ampersand panel I got a long time ago. I forgot how slippery they are! I don't like how bouncy canvas is, but I like how the paint glides over a well-gessoed canvas. 
The Black Crow work in progress, sketch inAt any rate, I started over yet again on the panel. Then again. That time was the winner. And why? Because I went for some colors I really like to use together, pink and light blue. I just love the sort of shimmer they give. This is a strong pink from anthraquinone red and zinc, and the blue is anthraquinone blue and zinc. Then together I made a violet. This is not the best photo, since I took it at night, but it gives an idea. I have been having good luck with doing drawings on my paintings using Faber-Castel pastel pencils. These erase great with a wet paper towel and don't make dents in the paint. I painted the crow last night but still have more work to do on it.

Speaking of canvas, I've been thinking of switching to panels instead because of gessoing. I usually add about 6 layers of gesso to the pre-primed premier canvases I get from Blick to make them as smooth as I like, but I hate doing it. I make a big mess and I never get the gesso layer perfectly right. I often don't have a gessoed canvas ready to go when I am ready to paint. So I am going to try something else. It's much easier to gesso a wood panel, so I'll try that, and I also would like to try some pre-gessoed linen canvases that Jerry's has. I've heard that linen is stiffer than canvas, and this brand is supposed to be pretty smooth. It would be great to not have to gesso things ever again. Because we hates gessoses.

Finally Here! September 06, 2016 10:01

My Blick Light-Duty EaselI moved from Elmira, NY to Pawtucket, RI on August 18/19, but it's taken me all this time just to get sort of settled in. I still have stuff to unpack, but "only" about 15 boxes, mostly kitchen stuff, clothes, and more importantly, all of my art stuff. I love my new place--a loft in an old fabric mill. This space is filled with light from ten windows and has more room than my former house. And I can walk to all sorts of things and take the bus to others. It's fab.

I did take some time the other night to put together the easel I bought from Blick a couple months ago. I'm still missing the bit that holds the top of the canvas, but I remember putting it in a box and so I just haven't gotten to that yet. Meanwhile, the easel is there to spur me on.

Someone on FB posted that Blick is having a canvas sale, and even though I've got 5 or so 18 x 24" wood panels and one 16 x 20" canvas on hand, I bought 6 18 x 24" canvases. I've gotten used to gessoing the canvases and how they feel with a lot of gesso layers that allow me to paint without any "bounce" but still leave enough flexibility for me to press the canvas against the scanner glass so I get a good image for reproduction. I didn't want to deal with gessoing the wood panels and then trying to photograph them correctly right now. So they are going to wait until I have enough time to do that. 

I have a lot of ideas for new paintings. I still want to work on water images and have a raft of reference photos I took on my last trip up to Seneca Lake, my favorite of the Fingerlakes. It was a great day for photographing--the water had that sort of oily quality it does sometimes when there's no wind. So I look forward to trying that out on canvas as well as doing some little wavelets against the rocks and some nice contrast between surface reflection and weeds and rocks below. I love those sort of palimpsest type images. Layers on layers! 

But I also downloaded a bunch of reference photos of all sorts of industrial buildings, inspired by a photo of a very foreboding prison, now abandoned, that stands in a town I lived in as a teen. That photo sent me down a rabbit hole about industrial buildings which in turn gave me all sorts of ideas for new paintings. I would like to move toward more complex images on larger canvases that allow for that a bit better, so I will try it on one of the new canvases as soon as they get here. I'm planning on two series, neither of which is about clouds or water, although they might be included in these images.

I've got notes about color and two reference photos ready for a basis for a sketch for the next painting--not on the actual canvas but on a sheet of paper I can in turn use as reference for the illustrations for my forthcoming book on herbal magic. I got the idea from the way I used notes in grad school--the very act of writing down the information was enough to sort of fix it in my mind. I thought drawing might work the same way, and it did for the plant illustrations, so I'm going to try the same technique for paintings: Put together a drawing based on arranging and aspects of various reference photos and imaginary stuff to come up with a drawing that I use as a reference for the painting. I'll take photos of the process.

The Intimidations of Canvas June 05, 2016 10:49

Rabbit not wanting to give up its skin for gessoYears ago, a fellow student asked me if I wanted to learn how to prepare a canvas from scratch. I did, and I remember watching her as she stretched the canvas and then gessoed it with real rabbit-skin gesso. She sanded it between each coat. I was so intimidated by the whole complicated (and messy) process that I decided I would avoid painting on canvas. And I did, for decades.

When I switched from watercolors to acrylics, I considered painting on canvas--the readymade stuff that comes all stretched and gessoed (with acrylic, not rabbits). But since I did not do brushwork or impasto, which would rule out using paper, and since I was still intimidated by canvas, I ended up continuing to use heavy cold press watercolor paper. It was familiar. I did try painting on panels too, which I actually liked, even though it meant basically relearning how to use acrylics, since the absorbency of the paper was gone. But the slick surface encouraged me to change my technique, and I knew that I could go a lot farther in terms of what I wanted to paint if I kept working in that technique.

The only problem was that much as I wanted to, I could not get the hang of photographing my works and kept having to use a scanner for photos. It was quite the hassle to find a reliable, more-or-less simple way to stitch scanned bits of the painting together (Photoshop Elements was the answer). Scanning a painting is fine if you are painting on paper, but with my scanner, the beveled edge around the glass kept a panel from being in touch with the glass and so any scan was out of focus. Sheesh.

I went back to painting on paper, feeling a bit defeated. Then I saw a sale on canvases and decided to give them a try. This is what I bought.

When I finally got around to actually using the canvas, I practically howled with dismay. First, the canvas was so fricking bumpy that there was no way I could do any detail on it, and I like me some detail--a LOT of detail, most of the time. Second, the canvas was bouncy. It was like being drunk or in outer space or both. I HATED it. I couldn't see how anyone could have ever painted anything. 

So I went back to painting on paper again, feeling a bit more defeated.

Thank the gods for the internet. I stumbled across someone describing how they did not like the bumpy surface of canvas and would go through all these stages to get a glassy surface. through multiple coats of acrylic gesso. I knew so little about canvas that I didn't even realize that such a surface was possible. Various methods for achieving this surface were described, but I decided to try using a soft brush.

Well, that was a huge messy FAIL. All I got was a canvas full of brushmarks. And gesso all over the place.

Now I was getting mad. There had to be a way to do this. There were paintings out there with plenty of detail on canvas. Was it because they were on linen? I looked at the prices of linen canvases with dismay. Plus I already had all those canvases I'd bought on sale. 

So more prowling around the internet. I decided to try two methods. One involved spreading the gesso with a credit card (I used an AARP membership card, lol). It left edges that I had a hard time getting rid of.

Clay scraper thingThen someone described spreading gesso with this thing, which I believe is actually a clay shaper. By that time, I was a bit aggravated and was pressing the canvas firmly with the shaper, which helped surround the bumps in the fabric and make it smoother. It worked. And it worked well. I made about ten thin coats with the shaper on two canvases. They weren't perfectly smooth, but they were much improved. I liked it so much I even wrote a positive review about using the shaper thing to spread gesso. 

There was still a bit of a give, so I decided I'd put a book under the canvas to act as a support while painting. I do like to stretch out over my canvases and can do that thanks to acrylics drying so fast. 

When I finally decided to take one of these prepared canvases for a test drive, I was so shocked. This is the perfect thing for me to paint on. It doesn't have the absorbency of paper, but it doesn't have the drag, either. It feels just right. And I can indeed create plenty of detail, although I actually do even more coats now to make the surface smoother. I was surprised that I actually like some of the texture showing through and even some of the gesso unevenness on the first canvas (I'd just gessoed right over the brush stroke fail). 

Since then I have gotten much better at making a smooth gessoed surface with the clay shaper. Now I'm almost at the end of those 10 canvases. I want to gradually work on larger supports, so I checked around for 18 x 24" canvases and instead found birch panels on sale. I got five of those. Not being able to lean on the surface still is a bit of a problem for me, and that's not an issue with birch panels. But the thing about panels is they are way more expensive and worse, heavier than canvas. That can be very costly when it comes to the larger sizes. And I do want to experiment with large paintings. I've got five 24 x 36" primed canvases (also bought on sale) for when I use up the panels, but eventually, I want to try going larger. 

Then I found out that using Golden's GAC 400 on unprimed canvas as the first couple of coats beneath the gesso will make the canvas nice and stiff. Sounds like a win to me. When I use up what I've got, I'm going to stretch my canvases myself so I can use this canvas stiffener. I've gotten a lot better at photographing my work, so I'm hoping that's not going to be an issue.

It's more than 40 years ago that my friend tried to show me how to prepare a canvas. It feels neat that all these years later I will finally be doing it myself.