Four years ago I posted a description of one of the process for one of my paintings, followed by a short video showing its evolution from start to finish. I thought it might be a good time to revisit it as there are many new readers who may not be familiar with how my work comes together. I paint in two distinctly different processes, one being a reductive process where I put paint on the surface then remove much of it and this process that is additive, with layer after layer of paint building up. Here’s what I wrote in January of 2011:
I worked on a new piece the last couple of days, a large canvas that is 24″ by 48″. I had already gessoed the canvas with a distinct texture and applied a layer of black paint. I had vague ideas of where I thought the painting might go from a composition standpoint but knew that this was only a starting point in my mind. Like most of my paintings, the finished product is often drastically different than what I imagined at the beginning. As I paint, each bit of paint dictates the next move and if I don’t try to force in something that goes against these subtle directions given to me by the paint the piece usually has an organic feel, a natural rhythm in the way the different elements go together. A cohesion of sorts.
Knowing I wanted to use a cityscape in this piece, I started in the bottom left, slowly building the city with geometric forms and rooflines in a red oxide paint that I use to block in my composition. I like the red oxide because ti gives a warmth under the layers paint to come that comes through in small bits that are almost undetectable at a quick glance.
At this point I still am unsure where the painting is going. I have thoughts of filling the canvas completely with the cityscape with the smallest view of the sky through the buildings but am not married to this idea. The paint isn’t telling me enough yet to know. But it has told me that I want a path of some sort- a street or canal- through the composition. I make room for one near the center before starting on the right side with the buildings there. I go back and forth between the right and left sides as I build the city, constantly stepping back to give it a good look from a distance to assess its progress and direction.
At a point where the city is nearing the halfway point on filling the canvas, I decide I want this piece to be less about the cityscape and more about how it opens to the open sky beyond it. I extend the road that started at the bottom and twist it upward, terminating it at a bend in what will be now a field beyond the city edge. The sky, though still empty, is pushing me ahead, out of the city. The piece has become about a sense of escape, taking the street from the cityscape and heading upward on it towards the open fields and sky. Painting faster now, another field with a bit of the road appearing is finished beyond the first lower field. I have created a cradle in the landscape for the sky to which I now turn my brush.
There’s a certain symmetry at work here and I decide I want the central focus of a sun in this composition. I roughly block in a round form, letting it break beyond the upper edge of the canvas. I pay little attention to the size of this sun except in its relationship to the composition below it. My suns and moons are often out of proportion to reality but it doesn’t matter to me so long as it translates properly in the context of the painting. If it works well, it isn’t even noticed.
I finish blocking in the sky with the red oxide, radiating the strokes away from the sun, and step back. The piece has become to come alive for me and I can start to see where it is going. The color is starting to fill in in my mind and I can see a final version there. This is usually a very exciting time in the process for me, especially if a piece has a certain vitality. I sense it here and am propelled forward now, quickly attacking the sky with many, many brushstrokes of multiple colors. working from dark to light.
There are layers of a violet color in different shades that are almost completely obscured by subsequent layers. I could probably leave out these violet layers but the tiny shards that do barely show add a great depth to the flavor of the painting for me and to leave them out would weaken the piece in a way.
I have painted several hours on the sky now and still have a ways to go before it reaches where I see it in my mind. There are no shortcuts now. Just the process of getting to that final visualized point. But it’s dinnertime and my day is now done. I pick up and step back to give it one final look before I head out into the darkness. This is where the painting is at this point, where I will start soon after I post this:
In the blog post with the final version I then wrote:
I will say that the final version is much different in many ways than I first envisioned with the first strokes of red oxide that went on the canvas. Each subsequent bit of color, each line that appeared, altered the vision in my head just a bit, evolving the piece constantly until the very end of the process. Even the last part, where I inserted the treeline that appears on the farthest ridge, was not seen in my mind until just before the decision to proceed with them was made. I decided to go with this treeline to create a final barrier for the road to break past on its way upward toward the sky. A final moment of escape.
And here’s the video, only about a minute long, that shows how the piece came about.
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