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).