So this (grisaille painting) turned into that (coloured painting)
I’d intended some colour from the start. I thought I might make this an egg tempera painting, but I wanted to add colour with some texture. Egg tempera is very smooth. I thought I might mix oil or powdered pigment with cold wax medium. Cold wax is a mixture of beeswax, damar resin and solvents. It makes the oil paint very thick and it dries matte.
The thing is that given the fine detail of this painting, I found it difficult to add thick paint to such small areas in a concise way. In the end, I used oil paint and a thinning Alkyd medium to glaze the colours on.
Painting is like life in that way. Sometimes you do what YOU want. Other times you do what the painting (life) wants.
I must add that I stole the title of this post. Artist Laureen used it in an Instagram post. She’s a very wise lady.
When I was a kid, making my own art with left-over paint-by-number paints, it took a long time to get a painting done. Not only because I didn’t know what I was doing (I didn’t) but also because the things I painted were detailed and required a lot of work. I wish I could find one of those paintings for you. I know that somewhere there is a painting of a deer leaping through water, fear in its eyes. On a cliff above lurked a mountain lion. Only the mountain lion was beyond my abilities so I didn’t paint it in. I was working from a photo from one of my father’s Field and Stream magazines. It was slow work.
Fast forward to my thirties, I went off to study studio art-painting at university. The Canadian prairies had a whole lot of art envy going on and we were particularly smitten with the Abstract Expressionism coming out of New York City. Most of our professors studied in America and the university had an off-campus camp at Emma Lake where guest artists came to lecture. Artists like Barnett Newman, Stanley Boxer, Kenneth Noland and Donald Judd along with critics like Clement Greenberg.
The focus was on abstraction and if you were going to paint something recognizable it would be best if it was in an expressionistic style.
Expressionistic work was all about quick lines, by its nature quick and you didn’t labour over an abstraction for weeks either. In fact, we didn’t labour over any one painting. Part of that was the school schedule was heavy and no student had the time for work that took weeks or months to complete.
I loved all of it, the quick, quick of expressionistic work, the pouring and splashing of paint. But the need to go slow found me. I began to make large paintings made up of small bits of paper. The process took time. First the gluing of paper, and then the pouring of paint and more gluing of paper.
I think my recent fascination with making highly detailed paintings of flora have some of that same process and quality my paper constructions had. The abstract underpinnings are still there.
Flora #2 isn’t quite done, but you know, slowly, slowly.
I also managed to find time to write the last half of a short story I was stuck on. It’s still in first draft, so who knows what flaws are lurking in it, but fixing them is working for another day.
Some time ago, someone gave me sheets and sheets of fabulous d’Arches watercolour paper. This is seriously expensive paper: deckled edges, cold pressed texture, and thick. It has to be at least a 250-pound paper. Bond paper, the kind you use in your printer, weighs about five pounds per ream (500 sheets). This paper is 56 x 72 centimetres. If paper weight is measured is the same with all papers, 500 sheets of this paper would weight 250 pounds or more. The paper does not buckle or wrinkle when you get it wet.
And did I mention, that it is very expensive?
The thing is, I don’t like it. I don’t like how it takes water mediums. And I don’t like its rough texture. It’s been kicking around for ages. I’ve moved it from one studio to another and used very little of it. It occurred to me, recently, that if I gave it a good coat of gesso I could practice oil painting on it.
Years ago I painted in oils—when I was a kid really—and I didn’t have much of a clue on how to use oils. It seemed like a good time to learn.
The gessoed paper works well for this purpose.
I’m continuing with a foliage motif in my egg-tempera paintings, but on this paper, I decided to do portraits of old women. Above you have portraits of two colourful ladies whose photos I found on Pinterest.
When we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) we were fortunate to see an exhibition by German modernist painters. It was a delight to see the work of a particular favourite, Anselm Kiefer. These paintings are BIG. “Big paintings” are a particular hallmark of modernist art. I’m talking about physically big paintings, and not the quality of the work, though in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, those two things were often conflated.
Seeing these paintings kicked off a desire to make large paintings ,again. When I was a student in the 1980s I created some very large paintings. Big Red, below, is 8 feet tall by 4 feet wide. The piece was created entirely of bits of paper and spills of acrylic paint. These paintings had no backing and you can imagine what a nightmare they were to hang.
When I began to paint in encaustic, my work became smaller in size. In Progress, 2013, encaustic on panel is about 40 x 30 inches.
This week I finished this egg tempera painting. It is bigger than the sketchbook, and alterbook works I’ve been showing you, but nowhere near as large as In Progress.
One more thing. A loyal reader, Regine, commented that the altered book paintings I posted last week made her think of quilting. I don’t quilt, but I’ve long recognized that my work has an affinity with quilting. Here are two collage paintings from the 1990s that show a strong link to piecing quilts.
You know what’s funny? Size doesn’t matter with digital work at all, at least not in the three dimensional way. If you have enough pixels you can see the work any size you want. Think of an iMax screen and your cellphone screen.
I’m sorry to leave you with so little today, but I’m about to leave the frozen north and I have very little time to write.
I want to you know that I haven’t a clue how to write poetry, but I do know that a certain ambiguity and wonderful words are part of it. This week I created another altered book page, and I “Austin Kleon’d” it. Austin Kleon is a young writer who, among other things, writes poetry by redacting newspaper or magazine articles. Look him up. He’s a very wise young man.
Lord Johnnie, the adventure novel I’m altering was published in 1949. The language is florid in comparison to our current tastes, and somehow I ended up with this rather dark bit of writing. Since the images I’ve made have taken on a dark tone, I decided to go with it.
It’s not yet the end of January, and I’m already feeling a little behind. Yes, that’s right, we’ve barely begun the year and I’m out of control.
I write this in all seriousness, and then I think for a bit and laugh. When is a creative ever in control? Creative people scale high in the trait for openness. Everything is always negotiable until the painting is hung or the poem published, or the music played, and even then, we think: “What if we’d done this, maybe this, and…”
Now, add to that bit, the usual January goal setting. Yes, I know, I told you that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions and I didn’t, but for me, there are two times in each year—January and September—when I can’t help thinking, “New beginning.” And with that thought, I’m flooded with delight at all the possibilities. Soooo many possibilities, so many things I could make.
Three weeks later, I’m overwhelmed and out of control.
What to do?
You can make lists, calendar plans, take webinars on how to better manage your time, and so on, but the single best thing I do is to take a big breath and hear the word STOP in my head. Then I let my shoulders fall. It’s amazing how relieved I feel.
For creatives, out of control is who you are, embrace it, take the day as it comes knowing you’ve been here before and you did okay.
(I’m not sure why I named this painting as I did. I’m a big fan of the sun.)