Sunday, March 31, 2013

Putting Canvas on Board

Just a week left before our journey to Algonquin for early spring painting.  I enjoy taking boards and canvas on board on these ventures.  They are light, compact, and sturdy.  I make my own.  This trip will see 6x8, 8x10, 11x14, 12x16, and 16x20 along with a few stretched canvases in 12x20 etc.  I expect to work most on 12x16 and 16x20 with a few 8x10s in honour of Tom Thomson.  We will be along the Oxtongue River where he painted Northern River (sketch for).

Here is what I do to make my boards.  First, I cut hardboard or Baltic Birch to the sizes I wish.  Next, I cut canvas (primed from a roll)  or linen to the same sizes but about one half inch oversize on both dimensions.  Then I apply zero ph glue to the board.

Board, Glue, Roller, Plastic Trowel In Water

After you do some of these you figure out how much glue to use.  With the hardboard this application worked with the trowel.

Glue Spread Out

Canvas Rolled On

It is important to roll the canvas to eliminate air bubbles.  Primed side up.  This particular canvas is cotton from the local art source.  I prefer oil primed linen and use it on the larger boards.

Weighted Boards

I flip the boards canvas side down and then apply a heavy weight to keep them flat.  Here I used granite.

Trim Operation

Next day after a walk but before I squeeze out I trim the canvas to size.  If there happens to be an unglued corner etc. I apply some glue and put a clothes peg on the repair.  To this stage the cost of a 12x16 canvas on board is about $0.75 whereas linen would be more than double or triple that.

After this I apply an oil ground to my preferred smoothness.  I have tried quite a number of oil grounds.  My favourite is lead white but I also enjoy, Gamblin Oil ground and flake white replacement.  For me this final stage is quite messy so I go at these in batches.  Then I wait before going out to paint.  At least a week.  More is better.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Split Complements, Structured Colour

Most of the time I paint with a regular palette based on the primaries and secondaries.  Once in a while I like to revisit colour schemes that are more simple.  Recently I decided to paint in a split complement.  I was outside in strong sun, facing into it.  I chose Cad Yellow Light, Cad Orange, and Cad Red Light along with Ultramarine Blue Deep.  Titanium white to lighten.

Outdoor Palette

You can see where my regular palette pigments usually go.  The clear space is my mixing area.  I try to keep it clean.  Without the other colours on the palette I was restricted to what you see.  This forces you to determine what basic hues will go where as opposed to what you see.  Hence a structured approach.  Forces design decisions.

Split Complement on the Pigment Wheel

Here you can see the colour gamut available.  Along the side of the wheel is the value scale.  So with this choice of pigments I can get a dark and I have white to lighten (and the canvas if I choose).  If I happen to choose a split complement scheme that does not allow me to get a dark value I can darken with Black or I can mix a black and use that to darken.  Interesting options.  Try them.  I can mix the true complements Ultramarine Blue and Cad Orange and get colours both warm and cool.  A great array of warm and cool greys are also available.  In this case I chose not to show the red and yellow tilted towards blue.  Here is what I mean.

Analogous colours plus a Discord - Another Name

The application gets interesting.  On my shape and value thumbnail I made a note of what colour and value goes where, making sure to vary the amounts.  Here is the painting that came into the studio from the morning painting session.

Over My Head, 12x16, Oil on Canvas on Board

This image is very red on my screen.  The camera had a hard time with this one!  The value intensity scale is off what is really there.  In any event the question I am now facing is how far to take this one, and how to proceed.  This is good training.  Another option is complementary painting and yet another is monochromatic.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Style, Development and Being You

I was reading some interesting articles on art.  My memory flood gates opened wide.  I remember the likes of "so you want to be and artist?  Are you sure? Or do you want to paint Mickey Mouse?"  Then when I was thinking of showing a painting "are you ready?"  But after a long period of reflection, perhaps my favourite was "people will buy any kind of ...  crap."  The truth is both tough to take and hard to find from someone who actually knows.  But it is invaluable if you are truly interested in developing your art.

The article I was reading referred to Monet being rejected from the Salon for being "too Monet".  That is what Monet strived for his whole life.  When he painted for another purpose he went off the tracks, but was still too Monet.  Here are two paintings.  One for the Salon, one painted in his "own manner".

The Seine at Lavacourt

The Seine at Lavacourt - Monet Mode

Monet was not alone. Mary Cassatt, refusing an award said words to the effect "I must stick to my principle - no jury, no medals, no awards - no profession is so enslaved as ours."

Robert Henri of Art Spirit fame taught that growth is the entire payoff.  "Making pictures is what we do when submitting to juries."  There should be no emphasis on production.  Painting marks are a by product of seeking to be who you already are.  This theme runs through from Corot to the Impressionists to Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso.  Picasso famously said "it took me 4 years to learn to paint like the masters and the rest of my life to paint like a child."

My mentor explains "distractions like that rob you of development"  - from becoming who you are.

The living masters have their version as well.

David Leffel; "Painting pictures is confining.  Learning to paint is limitless."

"So many paintings, so little art."

Richard Schmid;  "You and your mind are ultimately the real subject of your art regardless of what you paint."

"Do not ask yourself, What do I see?  Rather ask, What do I see?"

It takes time to internalize these words.  Some of them I have struggled with for years.

Here are a few ways to develop as an artist.

1.  Avoid the goal of making a successful painting.  Think of periods, such as childhood, when your self understanding grew and you became more of who you are.  With such a freedom we realized the payoff was growth.  Making art should be this way.  Paintings are just a series of events that happen along the way.  Let them go.  Keep moving.

2.  Make many starts.   As soon as the freshness evaporates, stop.  Picasso lectured eloquently on this.  "Finish is the death of our work because it means we are painting an expectation and that puts the brakes on painting to see and feel more deeply.  Every beginning is a new prompt.  Begin everything, finish nothing.  Also stated by Cezanne.  Paint some everywhere, don't finish anywhere.

3.  Ignore non artist authorities (many painters few artists).  Juries, grantors, facebook likes, the gallery, the direction from "them" are just so many fingers in our pie.  These measures push us to performing and not creating.  Their sense of worth takes over our own.  This is precisely what Parisian artists fought against (think Salon).

4.  Let the world see who YOU are.  It is so easy to hide behind others expectations, seek sources of praise that we can count on by pleasing our audience.  We cannot be free to be who we are if we are not risking who we are in front of others.

A "career?"  The painters of Paris made their big career move, as it turned out, by biting the very hand that fed them.  The assembly line to the great gallery opening is the painter's kiss of death.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


On a recent visit to the Parry Sound area I had the opportunity to paint in the late afternoon.  This painting was done at -20C in a small corner near the Bowes River in the James Bay Junction area.  In this painting I worked the elements of brushwork and paint quality.

James Bay Junction, Oil on Canvas on Board

After composing and working through my concept I started massing with my #14.  I started with the background wall of trees.  Brush loaded but not gobbed up.  The inherent value of the paint in the brush was darker than my target - on purpose.  However, with careful strokes I was able to let enough light from the underside to show through with the correct value as a result and with interesting texture - you can see it and feel it.  I was able to do this with all the darks.  Massing cuts the time helping with the conditions in this case.  About one third of the painting was developed this way.  Most of this was transparent paint.  Another paint quality was used for most of the rest of the painting.  In the sky and the frozen area surface of the lake I used a dry brush and then dry brushed over top of that.  So that gives a broken colour and an interesting surface texture.  Again this was done with a large brush and it took very little time.  Opaque and translucent paint.  The remaining small surface was done more carefully finishing off with drawing adjustments and shade and light.  In the zone you aren't aware of the snowmobilers or the cold.