Painting 101: Creating a distressed background — part two

The evening had been spent studying all three canvases when I decided to see how many different words I could come up with to describe not only the creative process but also the visual interpretation of creating a distressed surface that would be part of an intended painting. By the time I seemed to have exhausted all my possibilities, I noticed a number of words conveyed an element of rationalizing the intellectual elements of such a painting, including a handful reflecting my own mythology.

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 20 x 20” (50.80 x 50.80 cm)
Stage 2, layer four-five of newsprint before sanding

The words are in the order as I wrote them down on a piece of paper and though a few may seem redundant or have too much similarity with another word or phrase, each line represents an idea, a thought and as such should not be dismissed.

    Textural environment
    Recasting found ephemeral
    Timeless iconic treasures
    Time weathered environment
    Recycling- reinventing reality
    Exposed to natural elements
    Deconstructive- reassembled
    Dynamic syntax
    Emotionally driven on a visual and intellectual level
    Ambiguous metaphors
    Juxtapositions is instinctual
    A conversation with memory
    Fertile landscape
    Reexamining fundamental social mythology
    Organic qualities
    Social and environmental consciousness
    Cultural heritage
    Day-to-day observations
    Obliterate subtle chances
    Ornate tapestry
    Topography of landscape
    Multitude of experiences
    Influential encounters
    Pilfered assemblage
    Intuitive limitations
    Collaboration of materials
    Story telling
    Found objects
    Esoteric assemblage
    Artistic carnage
    Worn, tattered debris

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 16 x 16” (40.64 x 40.64 cm)
Stage 2, layer four of newsprint before sanding

My two favorites from the list are ‘pilfered assemblage’ and ‘artistic carnage’; the first describes the general collection process like removing bits and pieces from telephone poles in Berkeley for when I created ‘Orderly Confusion’ to ‘Pangaea’, material gathered from billboards and eight foot walls around a construction site in San Francisco after a rain, while ‘artistic carnage’ reflects the destructive and assemblage nature of this style of art. The word symbiosis cannot be defined as having absolute meaning simple because each painting or artwork that makes use of the destructive and assemblage defines its own meaning of symbiosis.

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 12 x 12” (30.48 x 30.48 cm)
Stage 2, layers four-five of newsprint before sanding

Some of the other words like ‘tapestry’ reflect the process weaving of the various pieces of material into a ‘topographical landscape’ that is based upon a ‘multitude of experiences’ and these ‘influential encounters’ are entrusted into the hands of the artist. Who like the ‘alchemist’ of the Middle Ages performs ‘cross-pollination’ in the hope of achieving ‘believability’ while understanding his own ‘intuitive limitations’.

It is a ‘journey’ through a ‘fertile landscape’ of the ‘vernacular’ that continues to undergo a ’random’ ‘evolution’; ‘recycling- reinventing reality’ with each new work of art. In the end, it is ‘manipulating our ‘cultural heritage’ by ‘reexamining [the] fundamental social mythology’ until a new ‘dynamic syntax’ becomes the new ‘authenticity’.

In part three we will see stage two having been distressed and I will detail further my thoughts on each canvas and what I might be planning next, as I carefully thread forward exploring my own potential and overcoming doubt by chipping away at the limitations of fear that I have imposed upon myself.


Painting 101: Creating a distressed background — part one

A few days ago my daughter asked if I would create a small painting that she could take to hang in her dorm room and since I have had this itch to try out an idea of mine on distressing a surface to paint on, I am most happy to comply. In the meantime my other recently started painting is on hold until I can resolve a technical issue and this iversion will actually assist me in resolving that problem. In part it is new territory I am venturing into, because I am building multiple layers of newsprint, distressing each new layer before adding the next pieces of paper, and after having a suitable visual texture, will I be painting what I have contemplated.

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 20 x 20” (50.80 x 50.80 cm)
Stage 1, two layers of newsprint after sanding

What is different from any of my previous paintings is that I am deliberately building several distressed layers upon which I shall paint, as opposed to incorporating the process painting and distressing on equal terms, and instead of using a ridged surface as hardwood panel, which is preferred, I am employing canvases that I have on hand. Also instead of just starting one new painting, I decided on three. The largest is 20 x 20 (50.80 cm), followed by 16 x 16 (40.64 x 40.64 cm) and 12 x 12 inches (30.48 x 30.48 cm).

There are a few ideas for a subject matter I am considering, while I also believe that it is best to remain open minded and see what the layering reveals. I am being deliberate with my individual pieces of newsprint, not only where it is placed on the canvas, but what is printed on the paper. Keeping in mind that the chances are good it will be covered in later stages, while there is equally a good chance of being uncovered during the sanding process.

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 20 x 20” (50.80 x 50.80 cm)

The day before each canvas had received two heavy layers of gesso, filling in the dimples of the cotton weave and thereby creating a more even surface, afterwards I had gathered all my supplies to be ready for the next day.

With my breakfast cup of tea in hand, I started to select pages of newsprint which would have something in common with the subject matter to be painted and setting side the best ones for last stage. In the meantime the entire canvas is covered with regular gel medium and a single uncut page is placed down after having been dampened with water using a spray bottle. Any pieces extending beyond the canvas edge can be cut with either a scissor or a sharp knife before a thin layer of medium gel is added covering the entire surface area.

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 16 x 16” (40.64 x 40.64 cm)
Stage 1, two-three layers of newsprint after sanding

While the surface is still moist with gel medium, smaller pieces of torn and cut newsprint are added over those areas where visual interest is lacking. Once this is accomplished to ones satisfaction, the new area is covered with gel medium and the canvas is set aside to dry overnight or for at least six to eight hours. This now concludes stage one with layers one and two of newsprint.

In the evening I kept studying the results of stage one and not wanting to wait, proceeded sanding the surface of all three canvases. Since I had covered the top layer of newsprint with gel medium, I needed to use a coarser grade of sandpaper than the 80 grit I had planned on working with. Using 60 grit removed the coat of gel medium that had sealed the surface, then begin distressing the newsprint, when I realized that with stage two, I would need to thin down the gel medium with some water. This would permit me to remove the layer more quickly while also protecting the areas that are to be left untouched.

Untitled — in progress
Newsprint on canvas, 12 x 12” (30.48 x 30.48 cm)
Stage 1, two-three layers of newsprint after sanding

Once I had achieved the desired distressed look using 60 grit sandpaper, the next step is to smooth the entire surface area with 150 grit fine sandpaper, finishing the area using a soft cloth to wipe remove any paper dust remaining from the sanding. When you are at this point I suggest that you set aside the canvas in a location that you pass frequently, so that when you come upon and glance at it, your mind registers only the essential information needed to identify any problem areas or those you wish to keep before moving on to stage.

The next blog entrée will show stage two, when I start adding the next few layers of newsprint, covering areas which need further work while holding back where I have achieved the desired appearance. Until then, enjoy each day and try to realize your full potential.


Painting 101 — Priming a canvas

One of the plans I had for this blog was not only share an artist’s daily routine and challenges, but the knowledge and experience in the field of painting and photography that I gained over the years. With summer pretty much over and school back in session, I figured it is time to begin conducting classes and start by discussing what I do to prepare a canvas for painting. Though one may think it is rather an elementary process, I have found it to be most important.

You might be asking yourself that I should start with how to stretch a canvas onto the stretcher bars, to this I reply that most individuals purchase ready-made canvases. I also believe, most consumers are convinced that since these canvases have received a factory spray of two coats of Gesso, that no further treatment is necessary and that this is adequate as a base for their painting. I on the other hand feel it is most insufficient as a foundation for ones painting and will go as far as to say, that by not undergoing the ritual of preparing ones canvas, the artist loses out on an important psychological benefit, which binds the artist with the canvas on a spiritual level.

The process of priming a canvas takes a couple of days and with each careful application of Gesso I have found the mind engages in a thought process that is linked to what I am planning to paint. So by approaching the method of priming as if painting, we begin to reap numerous advantages and before one can begin to describe the procedure of these ceremonial steps, I should tell you we need to take into account the style and surface of ones intended painting, as each method employs a different approach and technique.

Before uncapping my bottle of Gesso, I seal off the sides of my canvas with Scotch-Blue painter’s tape so that the sides remain free of any Gesso or paint when working on the canvas. Using painter’s tape is not necessary when working with traditional canvases, only those whose sides are 1¾ inches wide and are not going to be framed.

There are three main surfaces, canvas, linen, and hardwood panels. Linen is the only one whose approach greatly differs, since classical artist mostly uses it with classical subject matters in mind and though hardwood panels have increased in popularity and availability, linen is still considered ‘king’ for the time being.

Linen comes in various grades of weave and so far I have only used ‘fine’. Though it is rather smooth from the start, I discovered that after each application of Gesso, I use either 100 or 150 grit fine grade sandpaper to smooth out any brush stroke marks. When it comes to linen and the traditional subject matter, especially portraiture, the desire is to achieve a glass smooth surface upon which one can lay down thin layers of oil paint and this is only achieved with sanding between each application of Gesso.

Searching for longitude along the coast of the Red Sea,
O/C 36 x 36 inches (91.44 X 91.44 cm), 2002

Regardless of the surface, each application of Gesso is applied in the opposite direction of the previous and since there are five layers applied to the surface, the first one is always in the horizontal direction of the paintings final position. Yes, I said five layers of Gesso, especially for cotton canvas and hardwood panels! In regards to linen, I discovered that three appears to be the minimum; four is even better, while five coats gives linen a real sumptuous baby skin feel and good rigidity.

Since I primarily paint abstract subject matter, I find this process of applying Gesso critical just as with classical themes, especially since a number of my paintings consist of multiple thin layers of oil paint mixed with Winsor & Newton's Liquin. This technique has a habit of revealing the surface texture beneath and because oil paint mixed with Liquin removes any traces of brush stokes, the five layers of Gesso allow me to create brush patters that are visible in the final stage, while the paintings surface remains mostly smooth.

A painting to which this technique of Gesso painting has been applied, displays not only a greater amount of brush work then was actually painted in oil or acrylic, but also has a visual depth, especially when the Gesso brush stroke goes in one direction and the paint layer in the opposite direction.

By taking into account the subject matter, the artist is able to control how much of their brush marks will show through the painting, as well as to the pattern and the width of the brush marks. The first layer of Gesso is a little thicker than the others, in order to establish a bond for all other applications. Once this has been accomplished it is time to begin making a spiritual connection with the canvas, if one has not do so already.

Symphony Nr. One — Red Dawn
O/C 36 x 36 inches (91.44 X 91.44 cm), 2007

Select a brush whose width you feel is appropriate for the results you’re aiming for, then work the arm and hand as if actually painting. Though I have used the very same brush the intended painting is being done in later, I have mostly used a cheap bristle brush purchased from a hardware store, because it leaves a more defined brush trail than a refined artist painting brush.

Painting in Gesso while building up the layers is what connects one to the canvas, it is the sanding, and careful layering of Gesso for a smooth surface that has the same effect in bonding as painting the undercoats.

The reason for my building up several layers of Gesso is all about establishing a surface that is worthy to paint on, regardless of the material. It was only a few years later when I began exploring creating subtle brush marks to compliment the artwork because of my extended use of multiple coats of oil with Liquin and it was during this time when I also noticed a spiritual bonding with the art work taking place. I strongly believe that by approaching the canvas with greater reverence, more of the artist personality becomes imbedded into the artwork.


Obscure objects of desire

Over the year’s cherished treasures that have been hidden or accidentally misplaced, end up lost without explanation. These obscure objects of desire have a memory that lingers on, seemingly forever, surfacing unexpectedly just as in a recent conversation, when the memory set into motion the hands of time reversing the hours with a steady swiftness. Going back into the early years of my childhood, when at the age of ten or eleven we visited England, almost fifty years ago. Though I faintly recall Piccadilly Circus, the London Bridge, before it was dismantled and moved to Arizona, the underground and of course the Queens Palace with the changing of the Guards. However it was a British copper penny that I treasured most and for many years the coin was kept safe in various places until it finally was no more to be seen, yet I never forgot the beauty and wonder the coin imparted upon a very young mind.

In those indelible years I probably believed the penny possessed mysterious powers that I would have garnished from it, believing these to have made me invincible whenever I must have felt threatened from real or imaginary evil forces. On the other hand, memory faintly recalls the penny and other foreign currency to have been my secrete stash, a pirate’s bounty, kept with stamps and other perceived valuables in a small cigar box.

Yesterday I received a light brown envelope, upon which were affixed two British Revenue stamps, contained within was a package of about one hundred foreign stamps, a cigar package wrapping, and a 1939 British copper penny. These items my friend Ian had sent me from England after I had told him about the penny and how much I have missed it all these years. Now that I held the coin in my hand once again, it appeared much smaller then what I remembered, only realizing later that after almost fifty years my hand has tripled in size from that of a child.

Yet as I look at the penny, I cannot help but think about the many hands that it has passed through these last seventy-three years and the history it witnessed during that span. The detail of the coin has little wear, absent are also any visible nicks and scratches, that I begin to wonder if this penny might have been kept by a child who also had it part of his pirate booty. But as the years passed, the coin was lost to him, finding its way through other hands, eventually arriving in my hand, through the intervention of a friend. In regards to the stamps, that story is saved for another time.


Simple pleasures and Frogard’s roses

Though it was rather over cast with a cold steady breeze, the balcony sliding door was open for fresh air and while I was making the bed, the television was on in the background. Briefly glancing up at the screen, I noticed a young girl of ten, looking out of the vehicles windshield and while her pupils were growing more sizable so too was her smile. Stepping out of the car the camera followed her and we witness the young girls pace quickening into a steady sprint, moving across sandy dunes until she stops just at the waters edge. We finally see why the girl was beaming with excitement when we see the ocean surf fanning out before her feet. It was then I had asked myself “when was it the last time one looked at the ocean and saw it through the eyes of a child?”

As the thought took a grip upon the mind, I decided to Twitter the question for others to contemplate while I further pondered its significance for it had caused such a distraction to my routine in the morning.

Frogard’s roses

In the past I have taken a moment to observe a hummingbird dancing with almost invisible wings from one blossom to the next or followed with my eyes a disappearing garden friend, the bee, entering into the flowers carpel tunnel to collect pollen. These stolen fractions of a moment always have brought a smile and briefly placed everything back into a proper perspective.

So when my friends from the East Bay Artists Guild came to the house for our board meeting, in walked Frogard, handing me a pickle glass jar filled with freshly cut roses from her garden.

Their colour ranged from a deep dove ruby red to a slighter lighter shade of medium red. The roses gave off a compelling perfumed fragrance that filled the room with an intoxicating wonder and though the pickle glass jar was simple to keep the flowers fresh, it was to be the absolute perfect container, anything else would have just not complimented this climbing English antique rose variety.

This simple gesture by Frogard had me beaming just like the little girl upon seeing the ocean and as I kept looking at the roses throughout our meeting, I found myself in a favorable disposition.

We are primarily too busy multi-tasking, juggling duties that leave little to no time for one to slow down and even stop and take in a moment of undistracted silence. We have mostly forgotten that sometimes we need to look at life as a child sees it, so that when we view a stream of puffy clouds floating above us, we can imagine all sorts of mythical creatures.

It is not escaping our daily responsibilities; it is simple remembering the little pleasures and learning to appreciate them once again.


Blogging and to follow ones heart

June 10th I started this blog and though it has not been two months, I see by the statistics that the average visit is about 50 seconds, with the shortest time recorder at less than 5 seconds, and the longest being 14 minutes and 23 seconds. I have also studied from where my traffic is coming, including how a visitor has found Four Seasons in a Life, was through a notice on FaceBook, a referral from Twitter, or did it come from a link at a friends site?

Once all the nerdy statistics are absorbed, the realization begins to sink in that in our busy lives we seem to settle for glancing at images and maybe reading a few lines before moving on to the next blog or Twitter post, at least so it seems.

I am a newbie, so why am I gripping about or am I?

Every evening for more than a month I have spent randomly looking at blogs to see what is out there and to also educate myself, when I realized there are only four kinds of blogs, the business blog that wishes to inform, sell and have a better relationship with the consumer, this includes blogs of private organizations and groups, to the family blog sharing pictures and adventures of their children with grandparents and other families and friends.

The other kind of blog is by individuals how are very passionate about their profession or hobby, sharing their love and expertise with us. The last group belongs to those who think they have something to say but really are just rambling on about anything that comes to their mind.

Which of the four types does my blog belong to? Let me be honest and say that as I stride for category three, the passionate professional, I have a long way to go and so it must be category four.

The problem is that I have too many interests. From painting, photography, collecting ephemeral objects to wanting to write stories and up to now, I have not discovered the right mix to express what lies within my heart. This is further complicated by the statistics collected from both of my blogs, including my own observations that most blogs have short entrees, followed by a couple of images.

So have we settled for snippets of information sprinkled with photographs? I cannot answer that, nor shall I, even if I could, why should I answer this question for you? Everyone who has a blog needs to follow what he or she believes in is right for them, not what appears to be the norm. If we begin to follow what everyone else does, we are settling for less and we might as well just not even bother.