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Posts tagged ‘experiments’

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.

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.

Alcohol Inks Are Liberating

With alcohol inks, I simply decide what colors I want (Maroon and Yellow) and then it all gets out of hand. I put them down, add some alcohol, blow on it with a straw, and the results are so unpredictable … it’s liberating. I add color, and blow some more, I add alcohol and blow some more. Slowly (VERY slowly) I learn how to get the effect I want. If I needed to be immediately successful, it would be excruciating. But I don’t. I’m free to experiment … and I love it.

Finely Tuned

With Finely Tuned, I wanted to see what I could do with combining a variety of circles, some open, some closed. When it was finished, it reminded me of the inner workings of a clock.

Cool Blue

Cool Blue was clearly an experiment with color: blue and yellow with green as the combination. I experimented with softening the outside edges while maintaining the inner intensity. Lots of blowing through a straw, but I’m clearly starting to get the hang of it.

Wave

The combination of red and blue (and only the tiny little bit of the combined purple) make this a fascinating experiment. I had NO idea this would be the end result.

Summer is my time to experiment. I don’t think I will want to stop these experiments when I go back to my classes at the League in September. Of course, those are experiments too…

Experiments are still fun

Experiments are still fun, even though the learning curve sometimes seems awfully steep. I briefly went back to watercolors (my original love) but this time I wanted to see if I could use them on gessoed canvas (I just happen to have a supply that I didn’t want to waste).

Someone on Instagram mentioned using watercolors on gessoed canvas with two coats of Absorbent Ground on top. Golden says Absorbent Ground is “opaque acrylic primer for water media” so nothing ventured nothing gained. I decided to give it a try.

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Distant Trees 8×8

My first attempt turned out reasonably well. A lot of playing with it later, I discovered that it is really hard to get a smooth wash, unlike watercolor on watercolor paper. I liked Distant Trees, so I decided to try another one.

Tried again to get a smooth wash, and failed again. I like the final result, Moonset, even though it didn’t turn out as intended.

Giving up on smooth washes, why not just see what develops?

Sunset 8×8

Clouds don’t necessarily require smooth washes, so … not bad. I have a lot less control than I’d like but, hey, story of my life.

I had one more 8×8 canvas board with Absorbent Ground, so what did I have to lose?

Memory 8×8

Well, a lot, actually. The purple on the bottom was way too strong, so I tried toning it down with white. Didn’t work. Since it’s watercolor, I then tried running it under a faucet and rubbing the purple off. That worked better (you can’t believe how strong the original purple was) and then I added more white on top.

So none of these are disasters, but working with watercolor on Absorbent Ground was much harder than expected. The whole time I was saying to myself : “This would be much easier on watercolor paper.” But I didn’t really want to do that. What I really wanted was to get back to using acrylic on raw canvas.

So that’s what I’m doing.

Experiments are such fun

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.

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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.

On Yupo

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.

Alcohol plus, still on Yupo

And then I decided to try adding alcohol inks to those tiles from the League.

On tile

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.

On 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!