Monthly Archives: June 2010

Early Stages – Genesis

I got about four hours of painting in tonight, most of it was accompanied by thunderstorms.  It has been raining incessantly the last few weeks.  I imagine most of the farmers are sitting idly watching their crops wash away.


Well, several days have passed since I started these new paintings, I meant to get back to my narrative but I have been busy this last week with the family.  I did manage to get two good nights of painting in, which amounts to about ten hours.  It is still not enough to satisfy my output goals, but it is better than nothing I suppose.

Liquid Gladiators’ is a follow-up painting to ‘Studio Snack’, which I did about a year ago.  The image is part of the same photo shoot I did when I was working on the first still life.   I’m going to move away from wine bottles after this, though I still have a few ideas for another painting or two.  I’ve also been re-reading some of my earlier posts on this blog and I have somewhat strayed from previous ideas I had just a few weeks ago… e.g., working smaller and moving towards more personal things to paint.  I’ve been told my work doesn’t convey anything about me, and this comes from accomplished artists whom I respect a great deal.  This goes back to my earlier notions of being a sell out, but I’m not going to beat that horse again.  Well see where this goes eventually, for better or worse I’m still going to keep painting, and hopefully something internal will click and people will begin to see more than just a good mechanical rendering of something.

Back to the paper and pigment.  So I outlined the imagery onto a piece of 16” x 20” cold press, taped it off and sat thinking how I would start.  Usually I tend to wander around a painting as certain worked areas dry, I’ll move off to another corner and start in.  The rule of thumb for me is to paint light to dark, preserving the white paper as needed.  So that is how I look at anything I paint, I see the light first and work around it with value and color.   Another method I have seen used is to section off shapes in a painting and paint them to completion then move onto another area. It is sort of like painting white puzzle pieces already assembled and finishing each before you move on to the next.  This helps break the complexities down into shape and form and helps focus on getting details right.  So this is what I thought I would try with these two new paintings.  Instead of wandering around waiting for sections to dry, I work a specific area up and moved to the other painting, rotating back and forth until I have finished puzzle pieces.

In Progress #2

The first pigment to touch the paper on ‘Liquid Gladiators’ was a wet on wet wash on the left side of the entire painting.  I used scotch tape and lined down the bottles edge then masked the top curving section off.  I took an extra minute to kneed down the tape real good and laid a few clean paint rags over the rest of the painting just in case my diluted brush dripped anything as I was coming across.   I started with some Naples Yellow at the bottom and added in some Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Orange just above it.  I had to wait a little bit for the paper to dry some so the bleeding would not overtake the Naples.  I worked towards the top, with a little more diluted Cadmium Orange and dropped in some Ultramarine Blue and then flooded the top with Payne’s Grey.  I waited for the first layer to dry, and repeated this two to three more times until I got the values where I wanted them.  I also dropped in a clear water wash to unify all of it with a 2” flat brush, and that pretty much finished the section off.  I removed the tape and masking and took a long look at that edge.  I did notice a few imperfections so I used my handy x-acto knife to tidy up the edge by scraping the paint off.  I call it my watercolor eraser.  It too has some drawbacks, in that it tears up the surface of the paper, but it really is a useful tool I find myself relying on more often lately.

Next I worked on the lower bottle and started under painting the colors I wanted to show through what would ultimately be the Indigo and Payne’s Grey surface.  I laid down some Winsor Blue-Green Shade, a touch of Ultramarine and Alizaron Crimson to cover the lighter parts of the bottle.  The orange reflections that would be preserved were a base coat of Naples Yellow and a few layers of Winsor Red, Cadmium Orange and more Alizaron Crimson.  Some of this was done wet in wet to soften the edge up.   Overall this section has about ten layers of paint on it.  In the past I’ve gone too dark to fast and ruined a few paintings.  I prefer to drop the value down in stages so as not to go too far.  In watercolor, you can’t paint over things like you can in other mediums, so what you put down for the most part you have to live with.  Pulling up Indigo or Payne’s Grey is nearly impossible.

Lastly I moved to the right of the stem of the wine glass and worked wet in wet.  The first wash was Raw Umber I think, or maybe it was Yellow Ochre.  While the paper still had that damp feel to it, I put down some Neutral Tint and worked that transition over several layers to keep the gradient smooth.  I used to be impatient on my washes, which is something one learns over time.  If you just wait until the layers are totally dry, you have a lot more liberty in glazing over the top.  The pigment will work in your favor and not against you.  A sure sign you’re not waiting long enough is when you start in on a wash and it starts pulling off under layer pigment.  You will see these wonderful water blooms that spread out like shock waves across the paper, carrying away the pigment like a glacier ripping off topsoil, causing all kinds of color distortions, to my annoyance.  Better yet is when the paper starts to look like mud; which drives me to keep adding more and more pigment to fix it.  The best thing I’ve found is to just let it dry and work over it.  I have had some success in using a wet sponge and just washing the area out and pulling up everything, but again if you’re in a tight area that has good paint on it, you will find it challenging to use a soaking wet sponge like a surgical instrument.  Hell, you may have a better shot if you can tape off the area you want to pull paint up from, much the same way I have done to create those fine lines.

Alright, I’ll get off my painting soap box, my coffee is cold, and my laptop is about out of juice, so I’ll head back upstairs, take a few more progress photos and hopefully get another ten hours in today.  I’ll resume with the book painting and try to provide more photos of both tonight or tomorrow.

In Progress #2



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Self-Imposed Deadlines

Have I gone commercial before really opening my doors ‘officially’? Some would argue yes, “John you’re a sell out.”

Sometimes I feel that my desire to be a successful artist has pushed the cart in front of the horse.  For the most part art has been an expensive hobby, though I admit I have seen some successes, yet with the taste I have had I know for certain it’s far from where I would need to be to walk away from my 9-5 job.  I’ve really only had one career in life; so far, and I have enjoyed the field I work in and the people I work with. Yet I don’t love my job, nor do I live to work.  I would like to live as an artist some day soon.  Without self-imposed deadlines and goals, I don’t think I could ever achieve that end.  I’m 40 years old already, and I should have come to this realization when I was 20 but life took me in other directions.

To date, I’ve painted about ten serious watercolor paintings and approximately an equal amount of graphite illustrations since deciding art was something I wanted to pursue.  I’ve been through 27 hours of higher education art classes spanning from community college work to masters level classes, collectively spread out over three different educational institutions.  I’ve found a master painter whom I’ve had the good fortune to learn from and I have built up a wealth of knowledge about the industry in the last four years.  I’ve sought out the advice of other artists, read books, subscribed to magazines and have had a lot of encouragement from my family and friends.  Yet with all that knowledge and support, it comes down to the time commitments required to keep painting watercolors.

You might ask yourself, where the hell am I going with all this, so it comes to this:  the art festival season is about to go into high gear and in order to really get my feet wet and find out whether this hobby has some financial merit, I need to be prepared professionally to present my wares to the public.  The next show is a mere 23 days away, and it’s the hometown show.  A lot is riding on it, as it will be my first real display of work to the public.  Sugar Creek Arts festival, which is run by the McLean County Arts Center is a great art venue.  It draws 1000’s of people annually and is a quality juried show.   Presently I have but seven originals, my tent and prints to sell.  I want to have three additional new paintings done in the next 20 days.  That leaves me a mere seven days for each and little to no time to get prints made let alone the framing taking care of.  Despite this I think I have a good shot at it but I need to focus.

Another caveat to all this is the mounting expense of operating a working art studio.  I quickly out grew my basement and have been working out of a 2nd floor, well lit studio space for a few years now.  I had anticipated being open to the public long ago but I just didn’t pull things together.  I’m out of time now and the art really has to start providing income to cover my desire to remain in the studio and participate in the festival circuit.  If opening the studio up in the evenings, or participating as a vendor in the three festivals I have scheduled for 2010 produces little to no return on my time or investment, I must abandon the studio and return home and figure out how to work out some space to paint from.   I’ll remain vigilant to the festival circuit and expand this to about eight to ten summer shows in 2011.  I’ll know for certain by then whether this would be art career was launched precipitously.  In the end, I’ll know at least I gave it a good try and will have done so without regret.    I was planning on publishing two new images of the two paintings I’m working on, and explaining the process but I need to get back to the painting instead of typing.  So it will have to wait until my next update.   I will post the images I guess so you can at least see the early stages.



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In Between Paintings

Cleaning between paintings is something I usually do.  It seems as my paintings progress, the area around it digresses into a clutter.  After I have pulled the finished painting off of my board and table I wipe down the area, run some water over my porcelain palettes, add fresh water to all my jars, add some paint, clean the brushes and re-organize the table so I can find my notes, mail and have an area to eat lunch at while I’m working.  After all that I finally get to sit down the next blank sheet of paper and start working.  Before I actually put the first drop of water down on the paper the logistics of stretching paper has to happen.

I figured since there is a handful of people reading my blog, I would explain some of the things I have learned outside of the technical mechanics of my art.  Often I have found myself staring at photos of other artists work areas.  It is almost like a puzzle that tells me a little bit about the artist that isn’t often gleaned from their work or some how to book. Often and artists work area is scantly covered and the photos in books or on their websites leave a lot to be desired.  Alas I digress, back to stretching…

Stretching paper seemed easy enough back when I first started doing it in 2007.  Since then I have gone through several generations of how I do this.  I remember the first time I stretched a big painting, I used this brown packing tape that had glue on one side.  All you needed to do was add water and lay it down.  Well that was a one-time mistake I’ll never make again. Getting it off was impossible and I think I tore a layer or two of paper off in places and left most of the brown tape down in others.  It more or less ruined the picture.  Next time around I used painters blue tape, which worked great but when it got wet it came up and I lost my edge, but I’ll get back to that.  Next I tried masking tape, which had much more tack to it than blue tape but it too would pull up paper if you are not careful removing it.  Better yet, masking tape if left down long enough will leave a residue of glue on the edges of your paper, which made it sticky.  I’ve been told using a heat gun or blow dryer to warm up the tape before pulling it up takes care of the glue residue problem, but I have yet to test that theory.

After much trial and error I have come to a solution of using both 3M blue painters tape & masking tape and it has worked very well so far.  Before I can actually stretch anything it has to be soak and wet.  Spraying your paper down with a water bottle isn’t good enough, especially if your using heavy weight paper.  I take a big Arches 30” x 40” 270LB sheet into the bathroom and lay it down on the floor of the shower and turn cold water on it for about 2-3 minutes then flip it over.  Then I’ll pull the paper out carefully, trying not to put any creases in it and carry it down the hall, dripping wet into my studio.  I lay the wet paper down on one of my boards face up. Face up for this paper means the Arches logo embossed on the corner is readable.  Then I’ll use my hand and just flatten out the paper as best I can from the middle to the edges trying to push out any air pockets.  Inevitably they form and can be problematic if they are large or elongated.  90% of the time these surface bumps and waves flatten out nicely once the paper is dry, so don’t worry if you are seeing them when the paper is still drying.  Next I use a staple gun with ½” staples that have the pointed tips on them and I go around about 1”-1.5” in from the outside edge and drive in staples around the perimeter of the paper every 4”-5” inches.  That is about it for stretching, I don’t bother taping yet since the paper is wet.  The staples are important and it’s their job to hold the paper down until its completely dry.  If the staples are not driven in all the way or are loose the paper will pull up and you will have a ridge or better yet a curling outside edge to your paper, or both.  Trying to tape down curling edges is difficult and it’s a slow battle that 270LB paper usually wins.  Besides, taping off the edges so they are completely flat against the board and covered is a waste of good tape.  Leave the edges of the paper exposed and slightly raised will avoid adding surface tension against the staples and to the inside of the painting, which can cause the middle of the paper to bow up.  All you really need is a nice clean edge to contain your pigment.

So once the paper is dry I take it over to my painting table and lay it down.  Some things I also think about is the actually picture size.  As an artist it is good to make artwork that fits into standard frames: 11” x 14”, 16” x 20”, 24” x 36” etc.  So what you tape off here will be filling the hole of your matting once framed.  If you want to put your picture in a 24” x 36” frame, then one must account for three to four inches of matting and probably a two inch frame on all sides.  If you don’t your matting won’t be equal on all sides which may not matter to some but it does to me.  If I have 24” on the short side of a painting, I will lose or plan on losing a total of ten inches, six for the matting, three inches per side, and two more inches per side for the frame.  So now what I tape off should be 14” wide, not 24”.  This will make a huge difference in cost to you if you don’t do all your own framing.  Custom framing is expensive and I personally can’t afford it.  So my short side is done by taping off 14” (top to bottom).  Next I’ll figure on losing the same distance on the wide horizontal side, so instead of 36” I’m down to 26”.  So now my painting is 14” x 26”.  Seems like a lot of real estate gone but in the end if you mat and frame it up, that picture will be quite large on a wall.

Finally back to the taping part.  So I have my measurements and I begin to lay down some 3M painters blue 1” wide tape to form my outside edge of what I paint.  I ensure it is square and I take a minute to knead it down real good onto the paper.  Next I use a piece or two of masking tape per side and go right over the top of the blue tape all the way to the papers edge leaving about a ¼” of blue tape showing.  This give the blue tape the added strength it needs to stay down yet I don’t have the problem of leaving glue down that masking tape often does.  I also try to ensure that the blue tape is on the inside of all the staples, so it lies perfectly flat.  After I drop down the masking tape I’m ready to go.

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