Something Right From the Start

I love trying new things: new techniques, new approaches. These are ways to stimulate creativity, working off the roadmap. When I began the elasmosaur painting, there were a few technical hurdles to jump. My usual method of starting a painting is to lay the panel flat and underpaint with thin wet paint. That worked fine for the megatylopus, which was only 8 feet by 5 feet and could be laid flat, but the elasmosaur was three panels attached end to end and measures 8 feet tall by 15 long and was secured vertically with clamps to a heavy steel easel. No question about laying it flat or using washes. So I ended up doing a drybrush technique with 4″ house-painting brushes, one with paint, and one dry, clean and fluffy to feather out the paint.

Today I meant to start a couple more of the little “Field Marks” paintings, and I spent a good deal of time doing designs and layouts and not liking them much. Today I switched gears. I’ve got two panels mounted in beautiful oak and ash wood cradles 3″ deep. They’ve been prepped with gesso and toned a gentle sage color and have been staring me in the face. And when I was going through old design files I came across a pair of flying magpies that would fit perfectly on one of the panels.

First I went back to my inspiration for the bear painting: Robert Motherwell, an artist who places shapes beautifully in space, a calligraphic design approach. I turned the magpies into a silhouette, with a golden background.

Next the drawing was projected onto the panel and redrawn to size.

Then, even though this painting is small (24″ x 12″) and can be laid flat, I went ahead and did a drybrush underpainting, using burnt umber mixed with ultramarine blue acrylic and thinned considerably with plain water. It makes a very good dark neutral gray. A stiff bristle filbert brush, about 3/4″ wide, was dipped into the mix and blotted and wiped until nearly dry. This was brushed lightly across the surface, just barely touching it, and leaving a light trail that could be darkened gradually with every pass. The benefit of this is that you get very very soft edges, very soft and gentle gradations of tone. And some nice accidentals here and there. No tight controls allowed. And a chance for the imagination to look into the shadows and see possibilities that wouldn’t be easy to plan. I love those accidentals. As Gustave Moreau said, “Art does not live by will alone; everything depends on docile submission to the inrush of the unconscious”

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