Back in November, I thought I’d finally finished a fiery painting prompted by the California wildfires and a recent visit to Sicily: Afterglow. There were hours and hours of painting reds, and blues, and Payne’s Gray. And then I finally added many more layers of gray and white to make the mist. I liked it. I thought it worked. It hadn’t turned out as I originally intended, but that’s often the case. I thought it was done. Shows you what I know!
Here’s the original painting.
I took a picture of it and posted it on my website. But every time I looked at it, something was bothering me. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Plus I was really tired of working on it. So I shrugged and put it away. And started working on the next painting: Misty Morning.
Whenever I come back from a vacation trip I always return with hundreds (thousands?) of photographs and lots of ideas for new paintings. My recent trip to Sicily was no exception and the slopes of Mt. Etna were inspirational. Misty Morning was started. I liked the colors in an earlier Mt. Etna painting (Before the Rain) so I decided to repeat them (sorta). The slopes of Mt. Etna were a purplish black with patches of drying yellow oxide grasses showing through. In Misty Morning, the black and yellow oxide were more evenly balanced and hard edged. And therein lay the problem: it didn’t look like something in nature; it looked like a graphic poster, too stylized. I tried softening some of the edges, but I couldn’t seem to make a dent in the overall effect. (Have I mentioned recently that watered down acrylic on raw canvas is very unforgiving?)
The only solution I could think of was to intensify the mist to soften most of the edges. (BTW, I’ve spent many hours studying the mist that often partly obscures the Palisades Cliffs outside my window in the morning.) And, many many layers of watered down titanium white later, it worked.
Now that’s what one of Etna’s slopes looked like on a misty morning. Success!
But that success made me go back and rethink my previous painting, Afterglow. And I suddenly knew what I had to do: make the smoke more prominent, more like the mist in Misty Morning.
Easier said than done, of course. But many layers of thinned titanium white later, the smoke in Afterglow pulls it all together. Whew.
And I had thought it looked finished before. … Actually, I’m not sure it’s finished now. Shows you what I know.
Lord knows, I’m not a scientist … anything but. But when I wasn’t sure how to paint the image I had in my mind, I knew it was time for an experiment. I’d been painting with watered down acrylic on raw canvas to achieve a misty, atmospheric effect. I knew that was what I wanted for this image, but for some reason was uncertain of how it was going to work. So I decided to experiment and try it on a smaller piece of raw canvas…
As I’ve done many times, I tore off a sheet of canvas from a canvas pad. One side is gessoed and the other is raw; I simply paint on the back, or raw, side. When I taped it down to the foamcore board, I had to check to make sure I was taping the gessoed side down. And then when I put down the first water wash, it wasn’t acting like raw canvas … but I shrugged it off.
Since the image in my mind was almost monochromatic shades of gray, I decided to mix my own gray from Ultramarine Blue, Naphthol Red and Cad Yellow. Tested on paper, it looked good. I could make it lighter or darker by adding water (or not).
My first few strokes of gray on the wet canvas told me this would be a whole new experiment. Obviously, this wasn’t raw canvas. The paint was simply swimming around too much, like watercolor on Yupo. Clearly the manufacturer had gessoed both side of the canvas. To make matters worse, as I watched, the gray paint started to separate into its component colors. Was that because of the smooth gessoed surface? Was it the water? No clue.
I also had no clue what to do with what I had done so far. So I let it dry. Well, nothing ventured nothing gained, I picked it up the next day and tried to continue the painting. When I painted on top of the initial strokes, the paint didn’t swim around so much … and also didn’t separate so much.
Watercolor on Yupo years ago yielded some wonderful effects; this I wasn’t liking so much. About to write it off as a failed experiment, I had to reconsider when two artists whose opinions I value, said the painting “worked.”
Bottom line: It’s never going to be my favorite painting. And, though it was an experiment, I’m not sure what I learned, other than to avoid putting water-thinned acrylic on gessoed canvas. Oh, and to double check the surface itself. The self-mixed gray? I may try it again, next time on raw canvas, to see what happens.
This is a “waste not want not” story with a vengeance. Not only am I sporadically trying to use up the gessoed canvases I bought long ago before I became enamored with raw canvas, but I actually grabbed a canvas that an unknown artist at the Art Students League had thrown out (it sat next to the garbage bin for hours). Somehow I just couldn’t let it go to waste.
At home, I gessoed over the other artist’s work (it was pretty bad, so I understood why it had been tossed) and decided to paint something so it wouldn’t go to waste (and also so I wouldn’t have yet another white gessoed canvas with nothing on it to look at).
So the “gift” canvas painting turned into a memory of white water rafting down a fast moving river with a lot of big rocks. Fun. Scary, Exhilarating. I miss that carefree adrenalin rush.
I was on a roll, so I decided to tackle another gessoed canvas, one of my own raw canvas paintings I had hated and decided to gesso over so it didn’t get wasted. This time, I was reminiscing about my recent California trip to see my new grandson over Thanksgiving and the summers I spent on Fire Island. (There really is a connection: the balmy California weather made me think of summer on Fire Island, and the weather reports from New York of snowfall added snow to the beach scene.)
In both paintings, I use tube acrylic and fluid acrylic with a bristle brush to convey the wind. What started as an experiment at the beginning of the Pandemic is now almost my usual approach to painting, at least when I am home, working on gessoed canvas. It always takes me a little time to shift gears from working with watered down acrylic paint on raw canvas (at the Art Students League) to painting with a bristle brush on gessoed canvas (at home).
My first week back at the Art Students League and although I returned with a locker’s full of supplies, I still managed to forget a key paint color (or two). Now, back at home getting ready for a two week vacation to Sicily (getting Covid tests, deciding what to pack, packing, throwing out stuff I’d forgotten I had), I was getting twitchy because I wasn’t painting. All my stuff was at the League. Somehow, it’s never where I want it.
Except of course, for the tubes of paint and palette knives I’d left at home. Oh, and among the things I’d forgotten I had were some 4×6 and 5×7 blank cards left over from a long ago printer. Well, waste not want not. I decided to use what I had.
Three little minis later …
By now you’re starting to figure out what tubes of paint I had left at home …
Maybe waste not want not isn’t such a bad idea. And who says everything always has to be where you want it?
There’s good news. Not only did our massive rainfall only last one day, not only did the flooding in our basement only come from ground run-off (not the City sewer system), not only were our elevators out for less than one day… There’s really good news: the Art Students League re-opens next week for Fall classes (Yay!), AND I’m back to painting on raw canvas (for awhile stretched raw canvas was hard to come by).
Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and it turns out that I had forgotten some hard fought lessons about how to paint on raw canvas. Basic lessons like always check the jar is tightly closed before shaking it up to thoroughly blend the paint and water mixture (mistakes are excrutiatingly hard to correct on raw canvas). Basic lessons like keep your canvas horizontal until the paint is completely dry (unless you DO want those drips).
I’d expected to have to remind myself how much water to use, how long to let it dry before adding the paint for wet-in-wet, and what to do when you do make a mistake. Ah well, if this were easy, anyone could do it.
So here are the two paintings…
Painting Peaceful was anything but peaceful. I propped what I thought was the final version on my easel to take a photograph, and then forgot that it was still wet. Hours later I had two dark blue drips that took many, many efforts to fix. And, of course, every time I looked at the latest version, something else had to be adjusted. But the end result does look peaceful and reminds me a lot of my early childhood winters in Canada. Whew!
Whenever I used to get on a plane, I’d try to take pictures of the clouds out the window. A few years ago I did a series of paintings of those clouds. This is the latest one. Unfortunately I ended up with a decent sized drop of Ultramarine Blue right where it didn’t belong. Blotting it up didn’t work, of course. And just painting over it was doomed to fail, though I did try. A thin layer of matte medium and then more paint did the trick, though I’m making it sound far simpler than it was.
But all’s well that end well, and next week I’ll be back at the League painting on raw canvas. That’s the really good news.
Just as I was about to feel good about dodging another climate change bullet, a major storm hit our area: tornado warning, thunder and lightning, rain and wind buffeting our windows. AND, we just found out that for the second time in two months the city’s sewer system backed up, we have flooding in the basement and we have no elevator service (I am on the 16th floor). So, even though I just finished a painting (Flying High VI), we are decidedly NOT flying high. A once in 100 years massive rainfall in a very short time frame just hit us again.
There IS actually some good news: we don’t live in Louisiana (Hurricane Ida); we still have electricity; the new flooring (to replace what was damaged in the July flooding) has not yet been installed; and all my paintings had already been brought upstairs, so I won’t have any more damaged by the water. Yay!
So, just for the hell of it, here is my painting.
I’m glad I finished this painting today before the storm arrived. Otherwise it might have looked much different.
Shelly is a good friend who just happens to like photography and takes some very good pictures. A recent picture, Shelly’s Trees, provided the inspiration for two quick sketches, one on paper and one on canvasboard. Both small.
Sunset Tree, shows the three trees silhouetted against the sunset, with the sky showing through and some branches lit by the setting sun. The actual photograph was taken during the day; no sunset.
Another experiment using the same tree(s). I wanted to get away from everything being so horizontal. But I loved the colorful sky showing through the branches.
Sometime in the future, I may try a much bigger version of Shelly’s Tree.
I don’t know what I was thinking, but sometime last year during the worst of the pandemic, I bought five 10×20 gessoed canvases online. Not only did I not need so many gessoed canvases (I had been painting on raw canvas and preferred that), but 10×20 was way too long. So it’s taken me a year to figure out what to do with what I’d bought.
Actually, it took a friend sending me a picture of a sunset he had taken in Chatham, MA.
It was a looong photo … and I finally knew what I could do with at least one of those long canvases. There was enough of a diagonal, that I didn’t mind the long straight-across horizon line. I took out a lot of the details in the foreground and enlarged the tree several times. I picked up the sky sunset colors in the middleground, even though it was more blue in the photo.
10×20 is still too long, and I have four left to go.
The past two weeks in California visiting my son, his wife and their new son, were wonderful. It was good to get out of my small NYC universe, travel by plane, and finally see my new grandson. I believe in traveling light, so the only art supplies I took were a tiny travel watercolor set, a few brushes, a small (5×7) watercolor sketch pad. Definitely minimal. That’s the good news. The bad (sorta) news is that I had to paint with watercolor, something I haven’t done in years. So the six paintings I produced, well, they’re throwbacks … sorta.
I won’t show the first ones at all, since they really just count as practice. Funny, when I was transitioning from watercolor to acrylic years ago, all I could think was: “This would be so much easier in watercolor.” The last two weeks, all I could think was: “This would be so much easier in acrylic.”
The first one was California skyline seen from a car on a highway on the way back from somewhere. I made a few artistic modifications here and there …
The California hills are very brown and dry looking (my son says they look like that most of the year), so that was the origin of my second painting.
Again some artistic license.
I liked these last two enough that I may try turning them into larger acrylic paintings. Which is what I sorta wanted to do while I was in California.
Now that we can start traveling again, I may have to get used to turning initial watercolor sketches into larger acrylic paintings.
I seem to go in spurts. It’s been almost a month since I last posted but it’s not like I haven’t done anything. Actually, I’ve been busy.
From an artist friend (who also happens to be a cousin), I accepted a 10-day challenge on facebook: post one image a day for 10 days, starting with the oldest and ending with the most recent. You would think that since I didn’t have to paint anything new for the challenge, it would be easy to do. But you would be wrong. Rather than just bragging about my best work, I decided to use the occasion to review my progress over the last 20+ years, and my conclusion: not bad. Starting with my very early watercolors, I gradually learned composition and technique. A little over 5 years ago I moved to acrylic and had to start all over with technique and learning the materials. Two major take-aways: my paintings kept getting better (although not always in a straight line); and no matter how happy I was with a painting, I would later always see some way in which it could be improved. So the 10-day challenge was both encouraging and sobering.
And I’ve done 7 paintings in the last month, most of them small sketches often on canvasboard, some in preparation for larger work later. During the Pandemic, I’ve mostly been painting on gessoed canvas or canvasboard (it’s what I had available), so my paintings have been experiments.
Lately, I’ve been focused on sunsets. They are beautiful and it’s what I see outside my window every night. Living in a high-rise apartment overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades offers constant inspiration.
Just a few examples …
The process of creating the 10-day challenge has influenced how I look at my work. I’ve always been critical, but now I look for progress in a more specific, intensive way. The next time I paint this subject but larger, what do I have to change and how. Will I paint it on the same kind of surface or will I do something different, like going back to painting on raw canvas? Each painting has it’s own requirements and I’m still learning.