Sunday, January 07, 2018

Starting a New Painting

I haven't done much of anything in the studio for the past three weeks or so.  When our dog came down with vestibular disease, that took all my attention through the holidays.  I mean, I have my priorities, and my dogs are a very important part of my family, and I needed to take care of the little girl.  Over the past week or so, I've been able to get into the studio three times, so things are starting to move again.

Being out of the studio for a while may have a benefit that I didn't expect.  For the past couple of years, I've been working on figures and experimenting with ways of capturing an individual's character on paper or canvas.  This has included mark-making that is more energetic, exploring how much to "finish" a work vice leaving parts of it "unfinished", and trying to be a bit less literal about what goes into an artwork.  In the back of my mind, there has been this idea that the next level is to put those figures into environments and situations where there's more of a story or metaphor.  Now, after being away for a while, it seems to be time to go to that next level.

I've had an idea that I wanted to take one of my charcoal and pastel works and blow it up in oil on a much larger canvas.  The specific piece is this one:

Astrid #7

There are many things I like about this work: the strong focus on the face, the unselfconscious and slightly awkward pose, the overall composition of light and dark, the unfinished nature of most of the work, the mystery that comes from the eyes being in heavy shadow, and the confrontational and challenging nature of Astrid's gaze directly at the viewer.

One reason that I hadn't translated this into an oil on canvas earlier is that I wasn't sure how to capture the looseness of the charcoal and pastel.  Oil painting is a different beast entirely and I have not been able to get the same effect in oil that I can get in charcoal.  But now I think I have an idea about how to move forward with this image.  No, I'm not going to try to duplicate it.  Instead, I'm going to use it as an inspiration for a very different work.

So that's what I started yesterday.  The first thing I did was to lay a piece of tracing paper over the original and grid it up.  A grid is an old and low-tech way of enlarging or shrinking a composition.  You build a grid over the original, build a new grid on the canvas where you want the image, and draw the outline on the corresponding grid marks.  Here's the original with the tracing paper and grid over it:


Some artists use a projector to enlarge an image onto a canvas.  I don't.  One of the reasons is that I like the grid system.  It's low-tech and ensures that there are human errors incorporated into the image.  That's an advantage to me because human errors are the big difference between art and photography.  The original of Astrid #7 was done freehand and you can see some of the "errors" if you look closely.  The chair, for example, is a little lopsided, which is fine by me.

The next step is to draw a corresponding grid on the canvas and then transfer the composition onto it. Here's how the canvas looks:


Okay, sorry, it's a bit hard to see, but you can barely make out the gridlines and some of the drawing.  I use vine charcoal because it erases easily.  And yes, the canvas really does have a slightly greenish sloppy tint to it.  I had started a painting on it four years ago, but it failed, so I painted oil primer over it and then toned it again.  The canvas has been waiting for something new ever since.


And here's my painting setup.  The original is 25"x19" and the new canvas is 50"x40".

This afternoon, I started on the canvas.  I wiped out all the gridlines then laid in a cool dark as basically one large shape.  I'm trying to use a limited palette as much as possible, so I've got ultramarine blue, cad red, cad yellow medium, and Flemish white on my palette.  I'll let this dry a day or three before starting to develop the figure.  So here's how it stands right now:


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