“Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
So true. Although it’s not like that when it comes to making art. A blank sheet on the art table stirs a thrill in me akin to that moment of free fall on a roller coaster. Whether it is a fresh, bouncy canvas or a crisp sheet of watercolor paper, there is something exhilarating about starting a new piece.
That beautiful blank surface urges me on. I think about the brush dragging across the surface, the paint pooling, the smell of sizing as it’s released by water.
The excitement is killing me. But I don’t give in to the temptation. First, I visualize the subject on the surface and consider placement. Do I want to push the focal point to one side or the other? Higher or lower? What is the mood I want to project? Am I feeling soothing green or high-energy orange? How will the surface texture affect my painting?
When I start to twitch then it is time to draw the subject onto the surface. With watercolor paper, you must have a fairy-light touch so you don't spoil the pristine white of the paper. You have to KNOW your subject before you make a mark, for this surface is unforgiving. Get carried away and go too dark with your pencil—or misjudge your position—and it’s all over. You’ve destroyed a beautiful, innocent, expensive piece of virgin paper. (I love paper, by the way. In case you haven’t noticed, I kind of have a paper fetish.)
With canvases, it’s a little less critical with the drawing because acrylic paint covers better. Although it still requires a light touch to avoid muddying the first layers of color with smears of graphite.
Then, the moment I’ve been waiting for arrives. The first layer of paint goes on. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. There is nothing like that first disturbance, breaking the surface tension and sizing with just the right mix of pigment and water. I lay in transparent color to create the under painting, the texture and light of the white surface beaming through the pigment in these first moments is exhilarating. The best, most exciting thing in the world is if some of these initial layers are left to shine through the final painting. It’s magic.
What is all this gushing about surfaces? I must confess I am in love with a new canvas. I haven’t been this excited about a surface in a while (well, there was that fling with gelatin plates, for which I still long). This new canvas is beautiful and supple and bouncy; perfectly stretched over wood strips that aren't warped or splintery, not a pucker to be found. Most of the canvases I’ve bought in recent years are dry and scratchy like an old cracker—though crackers tend to be more square rather than parallelogram shaped.
On my new love, the paint flows on the surface, the rhythmic texture of the canvas enhances without overpowering. It takes the colors softly, allowing me to build gentle layers of subtlety. It’s heavenly painting on this surface. Pure heaven!
And it’s all because we decided to go back to a place that I wasn't even sure still existed.
Last weekend, in desperation to find good frames, we drove out to a shop where I used to have most of my work framed. I hadn’t been there in 10 years and I can’t believe I ever stopped going there. Aside from the great selection of frames, awesome service, and reasonable prices (can you tell my day job is writing marketing propaganda?), I’d forgotten about the beautiful stretched canvases he makes—excellent, supple, inspiring canvases.
I can’t even begin to express how the surface stimulated me. Yes, I know that sounds wacky, but working on this surface is so…arousing!
I hope to finish this painting over the weekend. It’s 18" X 24", so it's taking a bit longer. I’m truly enjoying the journey with this delightful canvas.
For those of you wondering about this shop, I want to give them a plug: Leon Picture Framing in Anaheim, California. The owner is a great guy who believes in quality and giving his customers great service. I’m so glad he is still around and doing what he does so well. See Tim and tell him Susan sent you.
I can’t wait to go back and get more canvases. Oh and, while we were there, we picked out a couple frames too. The pieces look great. I can’t wait until you see them!