You can see now that the general scheme here is a progression of the leaves on a diagonal from bottom right to upper left. This wasn’t obvious in my last post unless you enjoy squinting at faint drawing lines to guess where things are going.
The neat thing about progress so far is you can see how the images get more transparent and let more “light” through from the background as they enter the brighter space. For the next chunk I will turn the canvas upside down to continue painting. There’s no ulterior motive here, it’s all simply practical because I haven’t used an easel in decades–I always paint flat on a large table. I am also a short person with not even a semblance of gorilla-length arms. So in order to comfortably reach the upper levels of a large canvas and not end up with a kink in my back, I turn the canvas upside down on the table. There’s also a benefit to this. I can easily see where things are about to go wrong and fix them as I compare my drawing to my original source material. My eyes always calculate better when my brain doesn’t get in the way trying to tell my eyes what it thinks they’re supposed to see. Plainly, I see exactly what’s there. It’s an ancient artist’s trick which has always worked well for me.
If you’d like to have some fun with upside down, find a photo of a famous face (one you know you would easily recognize) and turn it upside down. You will probably easily see that if you didn’t already know who it was you would have a difficult time recognizing it. The same thing goes for lily pads. I can concentrate on the actual shape rather than what my brain is telling me it “should” look like.
This one has been sitting around with its background done for quite a while, amid various vague promises from me that I would be doing something with it soon. So yeah, it’s got the early stages of subject matter started.
I usually paint a thin layer to start with, then go over it several times until I get all the shading right. I decided that since I couldn’t see the drawing very well in a lot of areas I would just work on it in sections, completing (or nearly completing) one section before moving on to another. If I tried to lay in the whole canvas at once I was afraid I wouldn’t pay attention to decisions I had made way back in the earlier stages. That would mean an invitation to more than my usual number of mistakes.
In case I forgot to mention it, my motto is that every painting will have at least one mistake. Sort of a trademark. But no need to up the ante!
Hopefully the next chunk of subject matter will appear soon.
I went ahead and posted an “inaccurate color” photo of Sky Pads 32 yesterday because I was in a hurry to finally get it out there. I loved the fake gold-orange tones (created by bad lighting) floating down from the top left side but that wasn’t the reality. The reality was that the white areas looked stone cold, and not nearly as soothing or inviting. I soon decided that gold-orange had to be the reality if I could find a way to make it happen. It had to be transparent paint, but I couldn’t just paint it (the underlayers would be disturbed–no varnish yet) nor could I pour a color layer over it (too little control). However, I did have a very fine-mist spray bottle handy so I decided to take a chance on a water-consistency mix of oil paint and turpentine.
The first pass laid down such a pale layer it appeared almost invisible. However, there was enough there to notice that the spray had gone down without any unwanted splotches or bubbles. I was puzzled at first because I expected to see spray dots. Then I realized that way back last March (!) when I poured the original background I had decided to use both white and blue paint so I could have better control over where each one landed than using only blue on the blank white canvas would provide. It turned out that the white paint, which was my main interest in transforming to gold-orange, was absorbing the spray and flattening it out nicely. The process, however, would require several more layers of spray, letting each one dry in between layers so that the existing background would not get runny and spoil everything. I’m happy to say that IT WORKED! I’m not posting a new photo because the present painting now looks just like the original photo. The things artists will go through to get what they want…
So here’s what you’ve been waiting for. As promised yesterday, here’s the background paint pour for Sky Pads 33. I have also drawn in the pattern for the lily pads over the background. Parts of it are barely visible in the photo, and barely visible in real life too. But it’s visible enough to work with. And that’s what counts.
Sky Pads 32! It only took a little over half a year to finish 😯. Can’t blame my commission for Menemsha Harbor for that—it was only about a 2-month interruption. Pandemic delay??!! Covid fatigue??!! Paint shortage??!! Take your pick—I’ll go with any excuse at the moment.
Sky Pads 33 is waiting in the wings. Photo coming soon.
The SO (Significant Other), who has been camping out at my place in Michigan since the inception of the Great Pandemic, had occasion to make the trek to Chicago for some business so I tagged along to our other campsite aka the Chicago pied-á-terre. On Saturday morning we took a 1.5-mile walk to one of our favorite places, Hoosier Mama Pie Company for a decadent (in my case) and healthy (in his case) breakfast. It was a stupendous day for a walk; here’s a look at Lake Michigan on our way.
In the afternoon we hopped on the El for a trip downtown to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the most incredible exhibit in a long, long time–quilts by Bisa Butler. Quilts, you say? Since when do quilts qualify for a months-long exhibit at one of the top museums of the world? Well, here’s a little history for you and I hope you end up even half as amazed as I was after taking in this mind-boggling work. Below is the Museum’s summary of the artist and her work:
Bisa Butler’s vivid portrait quilts bring to life personal and historical narratives of Black life. She strategically uses textiles–a traditionally marginalized medium–to interrogate the often overlooked histories of her subjects. The sale and subtle detail of her portraits convey the complex individuality of the people represented. Together, Butler’s quilts present an expansive view of history through their engagement with themes such as family, community, migration, the promise of youth, and artistic and intellectual legacies.
Although Butler’s finished works are exclusively fabric, her methods remain interdisciplinary: photographs inform her compositions and figural choices, she layers fabrics as a painter might layer glazes, and she uses thread to draw, adding detail and texture. The artist’s extensive range of influences includes family photo albums, the philosophies of AfriCOBRA (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), Romare Bearden’s collages, Faith Ringgold’s quilts, and Gordon Parks’s photographs.
Butler made her first portrait quilt, “Francis and Violette (Grandparents)”, while earning a master’s degree in arts education at Montclair State University, New Jersey. Trained as a painted at Howard University, Washington, DC, she shifted to a textile-based practice to add vibrancy and dimension she found lacking in her paintings. Fabrics also offered her a practical way to pursue artmaking during her pregnancy and after her daughter was born, when oil paints and thinners proved too toxic. In turning to textiles, Butler was also connecting with her family history; she had learned to sew at a young age from her mother and grandmother. In revisiting these early lessons and joining them with her formal studies, she found her artistic path and has created a body of work that resonates across media and time.
Below are descriptions and photos of some of the pieces I liked best, although every single one of them was emotionally moving and loaded with insight into Black life experience. She references music in every one, which is noted in the description. These are each separate “galleries” containing the description and the photo. Click on the left-hand image to start the gallery for each one and read the complete text of the description.
If you have the luck to be in Chicago before September 6 2021 do your best to take in this exhibit. You won’t regret it!
Because it took me an exceptionally long time to complete this commission, I’m going to attempt to give you as many details as possible so you can suffer along with me. It all started quite innocently when a long-time friend of mine somehow brought to my attention a photo of Martha’s Vineyard. I looked at the photo and thought wow, that looks like something I painted 30 years ago, back when I didn’t care all that much how accurately my paintings portrayed reality. So I sent her this:
She got all excited and wanted to know if I would sell it because she knew somebody (boyfriend, it turned out) who would love to have it and his birthday was imminent. Unfortunately, scrupulously honest person that I am, I said I couldn’t sell it because I painted it from a photo I didn’t take and I respect copyright laws (of course I do–I’m an artist, right?). That prompted her to ask would I do a commission from one of her photos? In the meantime I looked up the photo source of this painting which I still had from those 30 years ago, and it turned out to be Menemsha Harbor on Martha’s Vineyard, the very place she had been talking about. I got a slew of emails with more photos of “MV”, and proceeded to Photoshop™ them until my eyes turned red, trying to get a good composition that simultaneously wasn’t ridiculously complicated. We both agreed on one particularly attractive version (after I digitally tore down a few houses, sank a couple of boats, rearranged some trees, and demolished the gas pumps on one of the piers). To make it even more interesting, we both agreed that a winter scene would be a fun thing to have since almost every depiction of Martha’s Vineyard is of summer and tourists.
So to let you know just how complicated and detailed a task I set myself up for, let me say that I spent an inordinate amount of time gridding out tiny details onto the 24″ x 36″ canvas, including a bunch of houses that measured maybe 1″ wide. I have photos to prove it. Here we go (click on a photo to see in gallery mode):
If you made it this far, I hope you aren’t as exhausted as I was by the time I finished this painting. Without a doubt, it is the most intricate, detailed painting I have ever done. I’m happy with it, my friend loves it, and…who knows, maybe someone else with a cottage on Martha’s Vineyard might some day decide they would like a personal painting of their own little piece of heaven on the island?
I am a patient person. This blog post should prove it. Never one to nag, just suggest…and it finally happened. My promised Christmas present from two Christmases ago finally took an actual physical form:
What finally got the designer (I claim no credit other than constantly questioning the actual designer’s wisdom) to get the project underway by agreeing to devote one day a week to the project. Paintings had been accumulating over the years and were stacked against the walls to such a depth that to reach any particular one required moving and relocating several others. A big pain in the patooty, if you ask me. Which you didn’t. But anyway, I think he (designer and promiser of grand Christmas present) had been dragging his feet because both he and the artist (me) thought this would be a way bigger undertaking that it turned out to be. We managed to knock out the actual assembly in a few hours over two days.
What isn’t evident in the photos is that the room itself now has a lot more space in the center of it, and the corners of the room are now accessible. All the small stuff has been removed and/or rearranged so I can just walk right up to it. Not a problem anymore to get my 6-foot tall canvas rolls out of the corner. Christmas in April has made me quite happy!
The previous owner of the barn where I board my horse stopped in yesterday to say hi.
ME: You look GOOD!
HIM: (after a sly pause) I’ll pay you later.
ME: (with a sly smile) I don’t come cheap.
HIM: (with wicked smile) I’ve heard you don’t come cheap.
Anyhow, those weren’t exactly the lines I had in mind before yesterday, but rather these. The background for Sky Pads 32 finally “evaporated” its paint thinner medium enough for me to draw on it. So here’s what the game plan looks like now.
I was thinking about using a fixative to hold the background in place because it’s not quite dry enough yet to paint over it. But then I decided to leave things as they are for the moment because the fixative might “fix” things that didn’t need to be fixed. We’ll see how it goes in the next few days.