Skip to content

Experiments are confusing

For the last few months I’ve been moving in and out of a variety of painting techniques: wet-on-wet on raw canvas, wet-on-dry on raw canvas, wet-on-wet on gessoed canvas, pure paint on gessoed canvas, watered down paint on gessoed canvas… I could go on, but I think it’s obvious why experiments are confusing.

Of course, I’ve been approaching this as an artist, not a scientist. I haven’t been trying something, then changing one variable and trying that, changing one more variable and trying that … and keeping scrupulous track of the results. In fact, the only track I’ve been keeping is looking back at what I’ve painted and trying to remember how I did it. And the answer isn’t always obvious, unfortunately.

But I’m an artist, not a scientist, so I think I’ll just continue with the experiments, maybe writing on the back notes about how I did whatever I did. Better than nothing.

So here are two very different experiments, and I happen to remember how I did them.

Blown 12×12

I started Blown by gessoing over a previously awful painting and leaving some texture in the brush strokes. After that dried, I wet the canvas with water and brushed in the basic colors with watered down acrylics. Once that dried, I intensified the colors with fluid acrylics (I recall being frustrated with the recults and thinking that next time I would use tube paint). Once that dried, I repeated the step with tube paint. And, finally, when that dried, I created the brush strokes for the wind using a very scraggley bristle brush (and watered down tube paint).

Many layers, a variety of techniques. I’m not sure how I should categorize it.

This next one is somewhat easier to categorize.

Intense 14×19

I simply squirted, poured and brushed wet (fluid or thinned with water) acrylic paint onto dry raw canvas (oops, after first laying down white paint thinned with water and letting it dry). I wanted to protect some of that white here and there, but there was too much paint swimming around. Tilting the canvas moved the paint around and I kept having to mop it up with paper towels around the edges.

As it dried (very slowly), I added yellow here and there. It was a labor of love with precious little control, which maybe reflects all the pictures of the California wildfires I’d been seeing. And there were certainly more variables than I initially thought.

The lack of control reminds me (a little) of some experiments I did a couple of years ago pouring fluid acrylics mixed with a pouring medium on gessoed canvas. The paintings then had a lot of hard edges, whereas this has none.

I’m glad I’m not a scientist. Trying to control for just one variable at a time would be difficult, not to mention boring. Somehow, even when I think I’m repeating an experiment, I end up changing more than one variable. Each painting is different, making its own, unique demands.

So it’s confusing. What else is new?

Experimenting on my experiments

As the pandemic continues and getting art supplies is not as simple as it used to be, I continue to experiment (using the supplies I already have). But my experiments are all over the place. I’m experimenting on my experiments.

I kept trying to achieve the loose effect I used to get with watercolor and then later with acrylic on raw canvas. So first I took a canvasboard, flooded it with water, and then dropped in some acrylic. When it dried, it WAS nice and loose … but kinda boring. So I tried to define the sky a little more, added the ground and had the white cloud overlap the tree tops. Voilà: my fantasy landscape:

Fantasy 12×9

I didn’t want to repeat the watercolor attempt, so I just tried to blend the acrylic paints directly on the canvasboard for a new sky and then added darker colors on thickly for the ground. More like a “normal” acrylic painting. Smoothing white on top made an interesting sky and then I made the water more active to balance it out: Ghostly.

Ghostly 12×9

My third experiment was acrylic on stretched canvas. I blocked in the basic colors using fluid acrylics and then stroked in the details using a bristly house painting brush: Moonlight. So far so good.

Moonlight 12×12

Last, but not least, I gessoed over a stretched raw canvas with a disastrous painting from last year, and then tried again to block in the major color areas. After that dried, I added the brush strokes using fluid acrylic: Ghost Light II.

Ghost Light II 18×24

I don’t know how many of these — or even which ones — I’m going to love when a little time has passed. The goal is not to produce paintings I love (although that’s okay if it happens), but rather to decide what technique I like enough to continue … or come back to.

Global Expressions

The new exhibit at The Blue Door Art Center is aptly named, Global Expressions – A Celetration of Cultural Heritage. It includes 4 of my paintings based on my memories of various overseas trips and my reactions to COVID19. Here are two of the four.

Ghost Light, 18×24

When theaters are closed and dark (as in a pandemic), they keep a “ghost light” on. I suppose it’s to make it easier to find the things that have to be turned back on when they reopen.  Somehow the phrase “ghost light” stuck in the back of my mind after reading the NYTimes article. I didn’t want to paint a real theater with a real ghost light, but did want to convey what the words meant to me, the hope that everything would get turned back on.

Hwange Sunset, 24×30

Although my trip to southern Africa was almost a year ago, I continue to be captivated by my memories of spectacular African skies.

The Blue Door Art Center, 13 Riverdale Avenue, Yonkers, NY is open Fridays 3-6, and Saturdays 1-6. The work in this exhibit is quite remarkable and well worth the trip.

Thank God for my son!

I really don’t like to burden my son with all my computer problems. He’s very tech savvy, works for one of the big tech companies in Silicon Valley … but he has a job, a wife, a new son … in short, he has a life. So I usally get my tech support from the Geek Squad. They’ve been pretty good in the past, but this last time drove me crazy. Three days and no answers. I couldn’t use the computer and I was so frustrated I couldn’t paint. Well, one quick email with my son and I’m back in business. Thank God for my son!

And now I’m trying to make up for lost time. I’ve gessoed over a painting I hated and couldn’t finish. And I’ve also added some light molding paste to give it some texture before I start to paint. It’s a new technique I’ve been wanting to try and I had to cover over some of the texture from the previous painting. So, double whammy!

And now I’m starting to paint again. And here’s the first layer…

Feel the Wind Blow

It needs work, but that’s okay. I’ve got nothing but time.

Lord, it’s frustrating…

And I’m not even talking about the pandemic. I installed a new operating system (Catalina) on my MAC (at Apple’s suggestion, I might add) three days ago and nothing’s been the same since. A bunch of software programs I use all the time (Word, Excel, etc.) now don’t work and my calendar won’t sync and won’t let me add anything. Lord, it’s frustrating!

I’m not exactly tech savvy ( you might call me a Luddite) and I thought Apple products were supposed to be easy.

The real problem is the Best Buy Geek Squad support I signed up for ages ago. Three days later and I’m still waiting for the advanced person to contact me.

I think I’ll ask my son…

I’ve got to lose

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I’ve got to lose the dreaded Covid-15 (15 extra pounds, that is). My painting pants have been feeling a little snug lately, but that’s not it. I actually looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. Haven’t weighed myself, so I don’t know exactly how bad it is, but the exact weight doesn’t matter. I just have to lose.

Suddenly I said to myself, “Self, what have you been doing with all that extra time you have?” And Self answered: “Not much. A little painting. A little shopping. A little cooking. A lot of eating. A lot of sleeping. And very little exercising.” … [You see what Self and I are getting at.]

Something has to change. Actually, somethings have to change. Exercise three times a week (already started). No snack with my 6:00pm dry vermouth (already started). No more cookies (aww…). Walks at least once or twice a week (not started yet; can’t do it in 90 degree muggy weather). More painting (already started). [The list will grow.]

In fact, the one good piece of news lately is that I have been painting more, trying new things (new for me, that is). And painting more means that I feel better, which helps with the other things that have to change.

So, to cut to the chase, some new paintings:

Storm’s Coming

This isn’t finished, but I think I’ve captured the feeling.

Storm on the Rocks

I thought this was finished, but now I’m not so sure. See how I feel about it tomorrow.

In both of these, I like being able to see the brushstrokes. It’s very different from painting on raw canvas.

Might as well keep experimenting …

Well, there really must be a backlog of orders for stretched raw canvas, so I might as well keep experimenting. And actually I kinda like working with acrylic on canvas board or gessoed canvas (which is fortunate, since that is what I have available).

And the really great news: if you don’t like the result, you can just gesso over it and start again. In fact, I’ve actually gessoed over a couple of my acrylic paintings on raw canvas that I didn’t like, thus giving the canvases a whole new life. As that obnoxious commercial on tv says, “Who knew?”

So, continuing my blog about experiments from almost exactly one month ago (Experiments can be tricky… ), here are my latest two experiments:

Ghost Light 2020 18×24 Acrylic

When theaters are closed and dark (as in a pandemic), they keep a “ghost light” on. I suppose it’s to make it easier to find the things that have to be turned back on when they reopen.  Somehow the phrase “ghost light” stuck in the back of my mind after reading the NYTimes article. I didn’t want to paint a real theater with a real ghost light, but did want to convey what the words meant to me, the hope that everything would get turned back on.

Stormy 2020 9×12 Acrylic on canvasboard

There was a storm brewing over the Palisades, but I wanted to change it up a bit.  I kept the sky, but modified the Palisades and the river. Everything else seems to be changing, why not my view?  And this is my still relatively new experimental technique, so that is changing too.

This new experimental technique arose due to my running out of raw canvas, but having plenty of gessoed canvas and canvasboard. Once my raw canvas orders materialize, I’ll have to figure out which I want to use. Decisions … decisions. It’ll be nice to have a choice.

Playa Langosta Beach Colors

In the middle of the pandemic shut-down, waiting for raw canvases to arrive from Amazon and searching for something to do with my other gessoed canases, I keep thinking about my favorite Costa Rican beach, Playa Langosta, and more importantly, my favorite beach colors.

Turquoise, teals, all kinds of blues, yellows, ochers, burnt sienna … an embarassment of riches. And I’m tired of standard beach paintings; I want to do something more abstract, something focused on the colors.

Playa Langosta Acrylic on canvas 2020 11×14

Okay, so it’s not the best thing I’ll ever do, but it’s pointing me in the right direction (I hope). Beaches, sunsets … lots of memories and photos to work from. Anyway, I think I’ll do more of these. To be continued …

Collage to Painting

Okay, while waiting for some raw canvases to arrive from Amazon, I had done a collage version (an artistic rough draft) of my favorite view: the sunset over the Palisades and the Hudson River. Now it was time to try and convert that into a painting. Collage to painting: easier said than done.

My collage had been all about flat color and hard edges (see my previous post). I decided to try to create a watercolor version, which would be all about soft edges (or no edges) and fluid color changes. Still an experiment though, since I wanted the final painting (which I could see in my mind’s eye) to be acrylic on raw canvas. Watercolor would allow me to test and practice the shift from collage to painting.

I ended up with three attempts (it’s been a long time since I worked with watercolor) and one of them gave me the idea I was looking for:

wc sunset

Lord knows, it wasn’t anything I wanted to brag about, or even really acknowledge, but it was the start I needed.

So I moved to acrylic on raw canvas backed with gesso. [Technical aside: you can buy canvas pads which are gessoed only on one side. I simply opt to paint on the back, or raw canvas, side.] It’s not the same as working on stretched raw canvas, which is NOT gessoed on the back, but it IS the next best thing.

So ended up with two versons of my sunset on canvas, only one of which I will post:

Acrylic canvas pad sunset

Now we’re getting somewhere. Not my final destination, but closer.

Next step: wait for delivery of the stretched raw canvas and then tackle the painting. Depending on how long that takes, I may do a few more canvas pad versions. To be continued …

I KNEW I remembered collage…

While I was flailing around trying to figure out what to do with my gessoed canvases and generally making a mess of things, I KNEW I remembered collage … and I thought I knew where I had put all my colored papers, construction paper, glue stick, etc. Lo and behold, I was finally right about something.

And it also was coming back to me how much easier back in 2015 it had been with collage to experiment with planes, shapes, composition, push/pull … all the things you want to be mindful of while painting.

Every night, the spectacular sunsets over the Hudson River and the Palisades are displayed in all their glory and make me want to paint them. So while waiting for my raw canvas supply to be replenished, I decided to experiment with collage.

So I experimented …

Sunset Pieces 2020 9×12

Well, that wasn’t too bad. It took three or four tries to get the sun, the clouds, the Hudson River, the Palisades and the composition to all work together.

Now, this is starting to feel like it should be a painting. To be continued …