Posts tagged ‘Art_Students_League’
This waterfall has been two years in the making (started in 2019 and finished 2022). Was it a labor of love? Or something else?
In 2019, I went on a safari trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana and came back incredibly impressed with Victoria Falls and enamored of waterfalls in general. Based on some of my many pictures, I started painting. At first, two small paintings, which were okay but more representational than I wanted. I thought of them as practice … getting the kinks out.
With them behind me, I was ready for a bigger waterfall. My biggest canvas (at the time) was 30×20. Vertical, it seemed perfect for a waterfall. Ahh, hubris! My first attempt was fortunately lost(I didn’t take a picture and barely remember what it looked like). My second attempt (painted on top of the first) went from the rack at the Art Students League to my easel at home during the Pandemic, where it languished, untouched, for about a year. I had no idea what to do with it. It was okay. It even looked like a waterfall … just not the one I wanted.
When the League reopened, it returned along with my hope that I’d figure something out. Two months later, I decided the solution was to paint the underlying rocks first and then the falling water on top. So I painted the rocks.
The middle of June, I added the water.
But everything was vertical (look at a real waterfall…it’s not just vertical). It needed a diagonal somewhere.
Fast forward to early July (I’m skipping a few steps) …
Skipping a few more steps and putting the finishing touches on at home, et voila! The final version, or The Nth Waterfall.
So it was definitely a labor of love. Though in the middle there was a lot of frustration and certainly a lot of temptation to gesso over it and start fresh. But the waterfall in my mind just wouldn’t give up.
I’ve been fascinated by water for years: water flowing around rocks in a stream, waves and ocean currents, foamy water alongside a boat … and ever since my trip to Victoria Falls in Africa in 2019 … waterfalls. But none of my waterfall paintings are satisfying to me. The effects I want continue to elude me. Why should waterfalls be so hard?
I started with a fairly representational painting of Victoria Falls in 2020:
Next came a bigger painting of Victoria Falls, more abstract, just focusing on the movement of the water itself. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never took a picture of it and it has undergone several iterations since then. It’s still not finished.
Then I decided to test some different techniques in smaller paintings, just to see what might work. In one, I put the rocks down first using a palette knife and molding paste, then added the “water.”
That didn’t quite do it. It wasn’t clear if it were snow or water.
So I tried again, and this time it looks more like Victoria Falls, more powerful, but still not abstracted enough, still not what I wanted.
So I decided to try to really paint a more abstracted waterfall, more like the beautiful ones I saw in Iceland. Having used most of my creativity for the painting itself, I simply called it Falling Water.
This is much better, but still no cigar.
And, of course, the 3rd (but not final) version of my 2020 waterfall painting is still sitting on the rack at the Art Students League waiting for me to finish it. One of these days (months? years?) I’ll know how to do that.
In the meantime, I don’t have the answer to my original question: Why should waterfalls be so hard? (shrug) They just are.
This painting has had many iterations. I’ve thought it was finished twice before. It started as a reaction to the devastating forest fires in California and slowly morphed into a view of Mt. Etna, first on the left side of the painting, and then on the right. You could say it’s been a struggle.
First, the California fires …
True, it was mostly about the smoke and the red glow in the sky, but it needed a focus.
Next, Mt. Etna on the left …
That was better, but I still didn’t like the divisions in the sky.
So… finally …
Now, instead of just emphasizing the fiery sky, I beefed up the mountain on the right, pushed it back with the smoke and emphasized the fading light with the title.
It took two months start to final finish. What a struggle!
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.
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.
By definition, experiments are things you don’t normally do as an artist. Lately, I’ve been producing very atmospheric paintings using acrylic on raw canvas (that’s a bit of a simplification, but okay, good enough for now). Doing anything different, experiments can be tricky … very tricky.
And now with Covid 19 causing a shortage of some of my basic supplies (like raw canvas), well, experimenting is becoming more common (but still tricky). Fortunately, I have a home studio equipped with a number of gessoed canvases in varying sizes purchased before I became enamored of working on raw canvas. Unfortunately, I really don’t know what to do with them anymore.
So I remembered a technique used by another artist at the Art Students League: big thick brushes, fluid acrylic paint and gessoed canvas, with the brush strokes clearly visible. For some reason which I still don’t understand, it seemed like a way to continue to produce atmospheric paintings, just differently. Most importantly, it seemed do-able.
Started at the League before everything shut down, my first attempt at that castle on the hill I remembered from living in Germany years ago wasn’t exactly a success. So I gessoed over it and started again. This time, in my home studio, it worked.
Of course, that was only my first gessoed canvas. I have a number more. Ever hear of “beginners luck?” Well, Almost Clear is the epitome of beginners luck.
My next attempt was so bad I’m not going to post it. My instructor at the League suggested a different technique for the next attempt. He reminded me that I’d fixed part of a painting last year by using a cloth to rub in a mixture of acrylic medium, water and paint.
While I eventually might gesso over my current disaster/experiment, I’m going to experiment first with using this “new” technique on some smaller canvases.
Having been painfully reminded that experiments can be tricky, I don’t really have a choice but to try something new. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up liking one of these experiments. Afterall, painting on raw canvas was once an experiment too.
Experiments are such fun! I just spent two afternoons playing with alcohol inks, trying them out on gessoed canvas, Yupo and some kind of square tile given to me by the Art Students League in exchange for feedback on how well it worked. Well, the results are mixed but I’d forgotten how much fun experiments could be.
First, on canvas. I had trouble getting the ink to move around the way I wanted. I kept blowing on it with an angled straw, but all I got were these fingers of paint blowing randomly out from the center.
Next I tried the alcohol inks on Yupo, because I thought the inks would move around more smoothly. Well, they sorta did, but I still ended up with those fingers of paint. So far no cigar.
So I spritzed it with alcohol and started tilting the paper and blowing on it with the straw. Well, parts of this I love, but other parts are just interesting. Still no cigar.
And then I decided to try adding alcohol inks to those tiles from the League.
Well, I’m starting to learn how to get what I want: those lines moving upwards in the upper right corner, the blurring of the yellow in the middle right. Spritzing alcohol on after the ink is down creates those lovely little dots. But overall, this isn’t thrilling me. I couldn’t get that yellow sun in the upper left to blur out (like a wet-on-wet watercolor) to save my soul.
Okay. So let’s try again on another tile.
Finally, it’s starting to look like what I want, like wet-on-wet watercolor. To get this effect I have to spritz on a lot of alcohol, so the ink swims in it. I’m already forgetting the details: I think I put the alcohol down first and then added the ink. But I’m not sure, so I’ll certainly have to do it again. And again. And again. The hair dryer certainly came in handy.
But this is giving me some ideas for the work I’m doing at the Art Students League with acrylic on raw canvas.
Experiments are such fun!