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.

1 comment:

Ian Foster

Thanks for the inspiration and information Egmont, I am about to start a new canvas and this gives me new ideas. Ian