Sunday, August 17, 2014

Last Week in the Studio: Part 2 - August 17, 2014

In this post, as promised, I show how I got more ruthless.

Last week I made the decision to put aside one painting and make another one (Part 1). In this post I show you how I dramatically changed one painting to go with another. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. (By the way, these are all iPhone photos and they will expand if you click on them.)

This was last Monday. 

A black gessoed panel (Evans Encaustic black gesso) and a new box of tacks - what more could a girl want? On the wall is the painting I want to pair with the new one.

First of all, I have a plan for what I intend to do. I measure and draw it out on the panel and get ready to roll. Assembly proceeds pretty quickly because I'm practiced at this. I have stocks of elements sorted by color. If I need more, I cut them from various supplies or make paintings in the colors I need that I can cut up. I lay out one section at a time. In works like this where I'm organizing by closely-related color, I have to carefully select elements to achieve an overall color tone but still provide some punch from hits of other colors here and there.

In addition to choosing color, I am looking for text (that I usually place upside down), interesting marks, pattern juxtaposition and humor. I want to make the painting interesting on an intimate, close up level as well as from a distance. My overall context is making works that reference memory in some way, but sometimes the layout hints at other things such as architecture, maps, landscapes from overhead, walls, and other geometric constructs.

Looking into a new box of tacks with one package removed. Each pound of this size tack contains
about 1150 tacks. It will take about 1200 tacks to make one 48" x 36" painting.

The way my weeks are scheduled, I work at a day job Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This gives me a block of four days, Friday through Monday, that I can spend in the studio. Most weeks I take Sunday off unless there is something pressing, so I consider Mondays my days to accomplish a lot but still leave plenty to work on during Friday and Saturday. This makes me get right to work as soon as I walk into the studio.

Layout on Friday. In this photo, the orange sections have not yet been tacked in and there's
a blank channel running down the center.

Here's a side view of the piece under construction showing the way I position tacks before
I fully commit to the composition. Of course, even after I commit, I might change my mind. 

You may wonder what is going into that narrow, offset space on the panel where the black gesso still shows through. The answer is copper - used a bit differently than in previous paintings, and that's good. I'm always trying to stay within a series but push it a little bit forward.

Here is the copper laid out in the narrow channel between color blocks. Note the difference in
color of the copper strips. I usually treat the metal I use with various chemical solutions and I
make it a point to never (well, usually) throw anything away. So some of this copper dates
back to paintings made and cannibalized long ago.

Here's a closeup after the copper has been nailed in. Note that the colored elements on either
side of it have not been nailed in completely but just enough so that I can put the panel
up on the wall and study it.

I was fortunate enough to study for two semesters with Rob Moore, a wonderful teacher at MassArt who passed away much too young and with too much knowledge, insight and enthusiasm for painting still to communicate to his students. Although much of what he said when I studied with him went right over my head at the time, one thing I understood then and still recall is that seeing your work instead of seeing what you hope to see is one of the hardest tasks artists have. We become so invested in the making of it that it's hard to take an objective view. I guess that's why we hate to let a work pass out of our possession too soon before we've had time to really get to know it with some of the intimate attachment dissolved.

Two panels as originally finished. But, wait, that's not all.

The reason I bring up looking is that when in the studio, looking can lead to revision. I was going to say "usually" leads to revision, but that doesn't always happen. When making a pair, I think I can use the usually because there's always some back and forth that has to take place to make them contrast, agree or complete one another. In the case of the pair above, I didn't think they were really complementing each other, so I decided to make some changes.

The first change I made was to separate the deeper blue from the lighter in the new panel.
 I thought this corresponded better with the deep blue section in the second panel.

Here's the pair after I revised the blue in the left panel. I thought that panel was much more interesting
than the one on the right, so, even though it meant a LOT of work, I went for it.

Trying out placement of another dark blue section in the right panel using tarpaper.

I thought the pair looked imbalanced because of the darker sections and that the right panel could use a horizontally-placed dark. I had a few ideas of where the new section could go, but I decided to just try out a couple using a piece of tarpaper to give me a visual. The image above is not right: the dark section is too low and too narrow.

Once I decided where the section should go, I had a lot of work ahead.

Or - Well, I thought it was completed! Since the right panel was fully tacked and painted, I had to dig out each tack one by one, remove the elements and then scrape the wax off the panel. You can see the ghost tracks of elements I took off and my implements of choice. In the plastic container are tacks with wax on them. But that's another story.

The final panels - except that the one on the left needs to be fully tacked and painted.

What I was looking for in the final revision is a pair that went well together but were two strong panels individually. They needed to balance when combined and also balance on their own. Adding a strip of copper to the one on the right tied in the two, I thought. Now besides having to tack in and paint the left panel, I have to add some occasional copper elements within the color blocks. I also need more interspersed copper in the right panel. You know that saying about a woman's work never being done?

I hope you'll find a post from me.


  1. Amazing process. Thank you for sharing.

  2. So helpful to see your process! Now I understand what I am looking at!