|"Let the Beautiful Stuff Out"; 18x24 inches; acrylics|
I choose both color scheme and focal point ahead of time based on the size and shape of the blank canvas. Since I present all these pieces together, I also consider how the new piece will fit into the show as a whole (Do I need more small canvases? Have I painted enough birds? Do I have too many blue pieces?) As far as subject matter, I am working under the show title "The Motley Menagerie" so all my work features an animal or bird of some sort.
When doing the background, I choose about 3 to 5 colors and just play willy nilly. In the back of my mind, I keep an eye on where I will place the focal image so I don't create some overly obnoxious doodle right where the head of my creature will be. Most canvases have dozens of layers of painting and doodles and stenciling and text. Frequently, I will work for hours on a background only to cover the entire thing in another layer of smeared paint to begin again. I like to wipe off the paint in places so previous layers show through. Sometimes I work reductively, painting out the focal point from the background I've completed and sometimes, I simply paint the critter right on top of the background.
While the background work is very rapid, serendipitous and large motor, the work on the focal point is very much about slowing down and intimate detail. I look at preliminary drawings and layouts I've done in my sketchbook and then sketch the image onto the canvas with either white charcoal or erasable colored pencil. I fill the entire image with an initial layer of white paint which makes subsequent colors brighter. Typically I paint the final images with a quarter-inch angled brush, blending the acrylics as I go. Most importantly, I frequently stop and let the painting "rest," putting it up where I can look at it from a distance and evaluate my progress. I've learned to do this the hard way; I've ruined too many pieces trying to work nonstop from beginning to end.
Once the focal point is complete, I go back into the background, adding and subtracting details. I get rid of things that compete with the painting's subject matter and add stuff around the edge of the canvas to keep the eye contained within the painting. I work on the sides of the canvas as well. Once I reach a point where I feel the painting is complete, I let the painting "rest" again for a day or two, displaying it prominently in my home where I can again look at it from a distance. I only sign a painting once I've lived with it for a while and feel that it is really, truly finished.