Take Brush, Put to Canvas: Day 4, Nov. 4, 2009

I went altogether too long without painting. Sketching doesn’t substitute. Thinking isn’t adequate. Looking at scenery only makes one’s fingers twitch. So today I painted. Not well, not finished, but I got that brush in hand:

First I did an acrylic-painted sketch on some sketching paper I taped together (Note to self — there is no such thing as too much tape):

acrylicSketchwThis is as close as you’ll get to seeing the acrylic sketch.

And note the toes of my rattlesnake stomping boots. Actually they aren’t for stomping rattlesnakes; they are for stomping the ground to make vibrations that tell rattlesnakes you are coming. Apparently that serves notice to most snakes¬† that a terrified human is approaching and they are courteous enough to slither away. Only the Mojave green rattler turns and confronts the vibration. The Mojave green has both neurotoxic and hemotoxic venom and, according to Richard, who dropped by to bring me my mail the other day, is the only rattler to maintain its neurotoxic venom into adulthood. He killed one on the steps outside the side door to the red barn for the artist who preceeded me.

I walk mindfully. And open the side door carefully. Actually, I open all the doors carefully, scouting them out before I confront anything under-foot. Thus far, it’s just been friend tarantula.

But back to the primary point of the day: having mucked about with acrylic, which went dry on me faster than I could spit, I pulled out my very cheap oils. I mean so cheap that I could afford to buy about 20 big tubes (120 ml) for only a little more than 2 small tubes of the real stuff would have cost. I figured for a first coat, cheap wouldn’t hurt.

I like to use transparent oils for my initial blocking out of the shapes. They disappear readily when the blocking doesn’t work. So here’s my palette, in the cheap oils, for today:

FavStartingColorsRaw Sienna, Zinc White (not transparent but essential, even early on), Payne’s Gray and Terre Verte — later I added Alizarin Crimson and cerulean blue and a bit of ultramarine. So … I got a bit excited about color…..

I had a short-in-height but longish-in-length bit of canvas on the back wall, the end of the roll, and had divided it so it approximated the scale of the big canvases (I’m not going to go into my mathematical workings for ratios — challenged is a generous way to describe what happened to me. And “approximated” is my operative word for the day.)

Anyway, here are some tools that I began with (note the painting glasses — I’d forgotten how much I need them and how often I have to take them on and off), and the back wall painting, first draft, blocking out the whole scene.



I am always shocked at how bad the first drafts are. I’m unaccustomed to painting on canvas, which eats up the paint and leaves scarcely a trace of color (and it’s doubly bad with cheap paints that have too little pigment). And the blocking isn’t right — panel number two from the left should be below the horizontal center, not above it, with the others rearranged accordingly. But this is why one does these studies, right? I think I know how the blocking should go now, so I’m less ignorant at 9 PM than I was at 10 AM.

By the time I got a bit of paint to show on the dark beige linen, it was about 3 PM — too early to quit, too early for Jer to show up. But the sun was westering nicely, which meant I could bear to be near the open doors again (the midday sun is for mad men only; I try to work away from it at that time).

I needed to sit down, so I decided to play with one of the 12 x 16 inch masonite boards and my small plein air easel. At least the boards don’t gobble up the paint. And they are ungessoed, so they mimic the dark beige of the linen of the big canvases. Here’s the set-up, and yes, it’s hard to see what you are painting when the light outside is so fierce. But I did it anyway. I could see the furthest end of the valley (panel #2) from the door; that’s what I painted.


Panel2BoardDraft1wThis first draft feels like a watercolor to me. The 12 x 16 (3×4 ratio) is a bit taller than the 4 x 5 ratio of the big canvases, but at least I got the horizon almost in the horizontal center. I still need to move it down a bit.

I want to do these small boards as studies, matching the larger canvases. It will be fun to see how they match or don’t match. So tomorrow I think I’ll sling some paint at the big canvas. Even the small back wall one called for a bit of a dance: I’m eager to see how the big one goes with my toes.

And lest you think I did nothing but gaze at paint and surface all day, here’s my 3-part Obo in one corner of the studio. I gathered it today. The rocks in the desert are fantastically colored; I feel like I’m seeing treasures all ’round when I take my morning stroll. So I have the outdoor spiral, one rock a day, that I’m working on, and this little obo, which might grow larger as I find an irresistible chunk of earth to bring back and admire.

StudioOboIt can’ t get too big; it’s sitting on a small folding table. Maybe just two more rocks to accompany me on this six week¬† journey.

Reported from Beatty, Nevada, where we had avocados in our salad for dinner and found the cheese grater. Life is good.

One thought on “Take Brush, Put to Canvas: Day 4, Nov. 4, 2009

  1. We have a cheese grater? The house, like the program, continues evolving and improving with every residency.

    Don’t let Richard scare you about the snakes. Their season is about over and he actually killed that snake who told you about way back in May (remind me to tell you the story).

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