I’m often asked if I know what I’m going to paint before I begin. The simple answer is…never! I really mean it when I say that every painting begins with play and experimentation. The one firm choice that I do make is deciding which size wood panel or canvas to paint on. Even colour choices in the beginning are pretty random. It really doesn’t matter, to echo the words of Nicholas Wilton, the mastermind behind the incredible Art2Life Creative Visionary Program. It truly doesn’t. I will often grab a few of my liquid acrylics because they are easily squirted onto whatever surface I choose, blending colours directly on the canvas. The bigger the canvas, the more likely it is that it’s going to come off the easel and end up on the floor, with me hovering over it like a mad scientist, wielding paint in one hand and various application tools in the other. If it’s near me, I’ll reach for it. (our cat has learned to keep his distance)
Here is a brief walk-through of a recent piece that I’ve been working on. This 24″x30″ canvas began its journey very quickly, almost effortlessly, looking like this:
I really enjoyed this start because the paint flowed freely, the brushstrokes stayed nice and loose, and it all happened fast, with little thought of design, value, or anything other than the feel of the paint on the canvas. This was fun, but clearly, not enough. Onto the next phase.
It was time to get serious. As I often do, I flipped the painting in a different direction and started blocking in large areas of darks and lights, making more decisive colour choices, knowing that nothing was carved in stone and that anything was up for the chopping block. I also started incorporating lots of vigorous marks, finding a sense of direction and movement by using pencils and my favourite sharp pointy tool directly on the wet paint. Mark-making of this kind happens throughout the painting process. I feel like I’m getting to know the surface better when I’m drawing on it, developing a more intimate feel for where the energy needs to go.
I decided that I liked the horizontal format, so I continued to look at my canvas this way, occasionally flipping it upside down to change the weight of the design. I also started to paint out areas that I didn’t like, eliminating many of the large dark shapes, changing the feeling of the painting into something far simpler, more primitive. It was important to stay loose, so I abandoned commitment to my colour choices and layered on the white, covering up many of my marks, but creating lots of invisible texture in the process. This was becoming more of a struggle, morphing into what’s known as the “ugly stage” of a painting. Putting some distance between myself and this piece was imperative, so I focused on another painting I had started. Many artists work on more than one painting at a time, so that nothing becomes precious. Everything is wreckable.
Here is where my painting has landed. I can’t explain precisely how or why things change so dramatically, they just do. Horizontal became vertical, and this evolved into an urban-inspired abstraction. The texture created in the early stages really informed what happened on the surface as the painting took shape. I could feel a cityscape emerging, full of hectic energy, directional lines carved into scrubbed on paint, a minimalist palette of essentially primary colours, plus black and white. This felt right. This is what the painting was meant to be.