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I believe that art enriches and informs our lives everyday in many positive ways. Sharing those experiences, whether as an artist or as an appreciator, is part of the pleasure. I welcome your comments and hope you find something of value: a laugh, an insight, a new idea or just a happy moment. Enjoy art!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Warming Up


can paralyze an artist!
a great big blank canvas readied with white gesso

It happens to a lot of us.  We literally dream of the world's most gorgeous masterpiece.  We take pleasure in readying the canvas and selecting the brushes, gathering the paints and positioning the easel.  Then.  Nothing.  Nada.  Time to alphabetize the spices or scrub the toilet.  Delay tactics.

Fear?  Loss of confidence?  Why is it so hard to make that very first mark?  I think it is because we are afraid of a commitment that can't be undone.  Or we realize how much we have invested ($ wise) even at this early stage.  Whatever.  That first brush stroke can take hours.

I've tried several approaches to ease this stage fright and every artist has their own technique (just ask them).  But lately I have been trying to do more prep work before that first brush stroke in the hope that by the time I face that pristine acre of white I will be confident enough to leap.

Above is a resource photo of a vineyard with the grandfather mountain silhouette behind it.  It is in black and white so my paint choices will not be influenced by the local color.  It is not the best composition but I have an idea (or two).  

On a recycled 8 x 10 canvas I try some layout with the main post and the two rows of vines beside it. I really hate the dark mountains behind the vineyard and nearly abandon the whole scene.  yuck.

Several days later I try again with acrylics on paper.  I have no intention of finishing this, I'm just playing with the composition and the game plan.  I'm still not hung-ho but not totally discouraged...yet.

Several days later I took some blank newsprint exactly the size of the intended canvas and started with a pencil drawing.  Shifting the mountain relative to the vines (using my artistic license), I gave the middle ground, a large bank of trees I had dismissed earlier, a bigger role to play.  The eraser enabled me to re-size things and correct the perspective.  Pencil is the most forgiving tool!

After I was satisfied with the pencil composition (which doesn't photograph well) I made some notes on the paper about possible color choices...just so I wouldn't forget the combinations I had imagined.   I purposely decided to work in spurts on this piece so that the failures (which I anticipated) did not sum up my entire day in the studio (that can really kill one's confidence).

I put the pencil drawing on top of the blank canvas with some transfer paper between and made marks on certain areas so I could accurately move the composition over.  This was to lay a framework.  To transfer every line of the drawing would box me in and force me into a "paint by number" look which I wanted to avoid.

Now we are off and running!  There is nothing on this canvas that I can't tweak, adjust or change but I had no hesitation in putting color on once a few guide marks had already broken the white space.  I realize that the chin of grandfather will be changed in future sessions but hey, it's in a good location.  And I know I have left plenty of room for an in-your-face front pole while the "path" of the other rows will guide the eye back and over.

There is no guarantee that this piece will emerge a "keeper."  There is still a lot of room for error but I feel like the warm ups took away the fear of the unknown and helped me start confidently.  I hung my pencil drawing up to refer to and if I want I can lay it back onto the canvas and make additional marks for guidance.  

Almost everyone teaches students at some point to draw a "notan" or a sketch of possible compositions.  Traditionally these are thumbnail sized.  And while I find these of great value (if I would consistently do them) I always fail in trying to replicate such a tiny diagram on to a larger canvas.  I suddenly found confidence in sketching it out using paper of the same size. 

So.  I will keep you up to date on how this piece progresses but I am also going to try a few more large pieces with the same process.  When one is first learning, it seems like a whole lot of foreplay and unnecessary dancing.  "Show me the paint," we want to shout.  But a lot older and a little wiser, I am learning that intentional time spent prior to touching the actual canvas is actually a very worthy investment.   


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