Posts Tagged ‘working large’

Cloud Shadows

It looks like not much has changed since the last post. Besides the clouds, I also worked on the leafless trees. The painting still has the clarity of light that I was afraid to lose. I love it, but I’m tired of thinking about whether there is anything else to do. I’m getting it out of the studio… at least for a while.

When is a Painting Finished 2

I looked at the painting in the mirror, as I often do, and it just worked! There were so many details that I wanted to straighten out, but I was afraid to continue because the painting was working as a whole.

I have been working on this rescued painting for a little over a week. It has been a nice process. I haven’t gotten uptight about it and have proceeded freely, with a sense of experimentation and have been pleased with the results. The last thing to tackle was the sky. The blue needed to be unified and even though I liked the play of shapes in the clouds, they felt, and to some extent still feel, contrived. (Anne informed me, as went out, that they look like floating turds.)

Today is a beautiful spring day. It is about the same time of year as when I took the original photo and started the reference painting. The clouds today are like the ones I wanted to paint, so that is auspicious, but when I finished with the blue I had to stop. I looked at the painting in the mirror, as I often do, and it just worked! There were so many details that I wanted to straighten out, but I was afraid to continue because the painting was working as a whole. Any little change could take away from that magic.

I think that I will have to forge ahead and trust that I will be able to keep the “whole” in mind while I adjust the details. Still, I had to at least stop for a little while, take this photo and write about what was going on. Have you had similar painting experiences? Let me know. Also visit again and tell me if you think I was able to finish work on the details without losing the overall light and unity of the painting at this moment.

Saving an Abandoned Painting

After finishing “Rooftop Dancers,” I wanted to continue with another large, figurative painting. I had an old canvas that was the size I wanted. It was a piece that had been sitting unfinished in the basement for several years. I was going to take the canvas off the frame and re-stretch it, but I couldn’t quite do it. I had to give to painting another chance.

I started the piece in winter from a photograph and a smaller version of the same scene. I was a bit stuck and was having a hard time with color, so I painted the whole painting with white paint, bringing out the image solely through texture. The plan was to bring in delicate, translusent color glazes, but I have no experience with glazing and it didn’t work out the way I had hoped. I wished that I had left it white, because it was quite nice at that stage.

I decide to go back into it and just paint leaving the underlying texture as I could but not worrying too much about preserving it. I took this photograph after playing around with the sky and a few other areas. I am also including a close-up to show texture.

The smaller version of the scene was published last summer in Shambala Sun Magazine.


Risk Management

Art is about taking risks, right? Of course it is, but there’s no need to be macho about it. There are times when you feel confident and want to dive right in, to take your painting forward or make drastic changes, and that’s exactly what you need to do. Other times you might be less sure of where you want to go. It is easy to just stop there, do nothing, and loose momentum. Or you could develop a “risk management strategy”. This could be a way of working on the painting without actually working on the painting (if you know what I mean). In previous posts I discussed pausing work on the large canvas, and creating smaller versions in different mediums (the watercolor and the monochrome acrylic). Here is the techie version of that process.

I photographed the painting, opened it in Photoshop and proceeded to sketch in changes on my Bamboo drawing tablet. I added layers on top of the original layer so that I could draw and erase without affecting the painting itself. The “Clone Stamp Tool” was handy to cover over the old arms so that I could paint them from scratch.

Tom Hopkins, an accomplished, Canadian painter who recently passed away, demonstrates similar ways of working. In a video, he cuts out one of his figures, evlarges it and moves it around the painting to see how it would look in different places. It was just to get ideas for how he wanted to continue the painting. “It’s kind of like cheating in a way,” he said, “and whenever you feel but if you think you’re cheating as an artist, you’re probably on the right track.”

Painting Big

I worked steadily on this painting for the last two days. It is the first large painting that I have started in almost five years. (I had to think to come up with that time frame and it blows my mind; I can’t believe that It has been so long.) The painting is 3 X 4 feet while my previous two oil paintings were 12 X 12 inches. There is a huge difference in how I work with materials, but what I hadn’t expected is that there is a huge psychological difference as well.

The Psychology of Painting Big

Working on a large canvas is freeing. Your motions can be grander. The spaces that you paint are on a similar scale to your own body so you don’t have to shrink yourself into a tiny space. In order for this freedom to come through, however, you have to engender a grandness of spirit, an openness that can accept all of the expense, the uncertainty, and the mess of working large.


A pre-stretched, 3 X 4 foot canvas is around $50, not so much really, but enough to make you feel a bit precious about it if you let yourself. By precious, I mean giving rise to thinking along the lines of, “this is a big investment and I have to make it count – this painting needs to turn out right,” rather than, “this is exciting, let’s see what happens.”

With a 12 inch canvas you can squeeze out a tiny spot of paint and enjoy hours of creative entertainment; with a 4 foot canvas you squeeze half the tube onto your pallet and before you know it you are reaching for the same tube again. In order to paint with a sense of freedom it is necessary to overcome any stinginess regarding use of paint. I don’t condone wasteful practice, but you cannot frugally eke out the minimum amount of paint fretting all the while about how much it costs and that you soon have to buy more. Spreading paint as thinly as possible to cover the maxim area feels terrible, whereas the smooth glide of working with a fully loaded brush is like eating a good meal.


If you are not used to working large you may experience a certain amount of uncertainty or anxiety. You also may not. I really don’t want to put that idea in your head; it’s not like its something that you’re supposed to feel. I just thought that I would share my recent experience in case it has relevance to anyone else.

I started working on my large canvas a week ago with washes. It was very free and fun. Then I began to work with a smooth but substantial layer of opaque paint and for the next two days I experienced a sense of uncertainty not just about my painting but about my career choices, the seeming fragility of my life circumstances, an uncertain future, bad past decisions, etc. I can’t say that this stemmed entirely from my painting but last night after I brought the painting to its current stage I started to feel much better about everything.


Mess is mess. Oil paint is messy. When you work big you get a big mess. Again, this is a matter of not being stingy with your process. You have to be willing to accept the mess and work with it. Some painters feel happier letting things get extreme, but I find it important to clean up often, to reorganize my pallet, throw away rags that are too messy to be fun, clean my brushes wash my hands, and get back to making some more of a mess.

Working Strategies

Here is the monochromatic version again with a few changes, and below is the watercolor. I now have enough information to go back to the 3 X 4 ft. oil painting. I have tried the more traditional technique of painting over a monochromatic under painting, but it just didn’t work well for me. Instead, I use the monochrome to deepen my feeling and understanding of the picture’s values. Watercolor works well to inform me of its colors.

Getting Un-stuck!

I like the feeling of finding my way through unknown territory. Trying new things is exciting and important to an artist’s growth, but I’ve noticed when I have no idea where to go with a painting I tend to stop. That’s one way I get stuck.

I recently embarked on a new direction in my painting. I’m working on figurative pieces almost completely from imagination. It’s both exhilarating and challenging and I’m adapting my whole creative process to accommodate this new wave of work.

Like most artist, I have realized the importance of showing up, just getting into the studio, but rather forcing myself, I am developing processes that keep me moving with confidence. Often it involves starting a new version, working certain things out, and then coming back to complete the original.

This evening I was working on a painting that I started yesterday. It is based on a graphite drawing below. I reached the point shown in the second photo,  just a general sense of the figures and background. I started with a yellow ochre wash and the moved to rose. I rubbed them out with a rag wet with thinner and repainted. At this point I got stuck and didn’t know how to proceed. After a bit of hesitation, I simply switched to a new piece of paper and started working with acrylic burnt umber and gesso. It is a quick way to get a feeling for values and it is very easy to rework.

I will play with the acrylic version a bit more because I’m having fun with it. Then maybe I’ll do a watercolor to work out color ideas. When I feel inspired to jump back into the oil painting then I will. I’ll keep you posted