Sunday, August 12, 2007

Big canvas

With all the traveling and jewelry making I've done this summer, there hasn't been much painting going on. Then K, whose staff just moved into a new set of offices, asked if I'd like to make some very large paintings for a 30 foot long wall in one of their reading rooms. Not exactly a commission, but an expression of support that provided a much needed kick in the pants. Yesterday after the bead show I hit Pearl Paint, aka heaven on earth, and bought 6 yards of primed canvas, some large jars of acrylic paint in my usual colors, and a few other sundries. Then on to a hardware store for some rollers, wallpaper brushes, super-sized scrapers, drop cloths, and anything else I thought might be useful.

This morning, in spite of the fact that it's Sleep-in Sunday, I popped awake early, anxious to get started. I set up shop in the empty garage, thus furthering my ultimate goal of taking over all the space in and near the house for my art and jewelry-making. I lined up my pots of paint and gels and matte medium on some chairs that are stored along the wall of the garage. The big door was wide open and sunlight streamed in.

My paintings have always been smallish - I think the largest was something like 36 x 40. One time a woman who was at our house for some reason I forget asked me if all my paintings were this "comfortable, human scale." She was, of course, from Manhattan. Perhaps I imagined the patronizing tone, but in the spirit of those Gary Larson "what we say, what they hear" cartoons, what I heard was "Are all your paintings this bourgeois dilettante size?" Things were about to change. I tore off 5 feet of canvas and the rrrrip gave me shivers. Laid out on the floor it looked huge and I wondered where to begin.

One thing I sometimes do is put down a layer of matte gel for texture, so I decided to start there. As a first step it was perfect: I could start to get the feel of working on the canvas without making any color commitments. Twenty minutes later I had used two-thirds of the big jar of medium and I was pretty happy with the result. I figured I'd let it dry for half an hour and then start laying on washes of color. I didn't reckon with NJ humidity: after half an hour it looked as wet as it had when I put it on. I decided to work on jewelry. I strung a necklace, worked out a design for a fused wire pendant and cut up the silver wire, re-strung the necklace, took pictures of a new necklace, listed said necklace on Etsy, noodled around in various forums, and finally, in desperation, did a variety of chores I would really rather not have done. Four hours later it was finally dry.

By this time I knew that I wanted to work mainly in blues and greens on this canvas and I was rarin' to go. I used the roller, the wallpaper brush, scrapers, sponges, and balled up newspaper. It was great. After half an hour, I and everything I was wearing, including the ugly but very comfortable Teva sandals I had bought in Greece when my old sandals blew out, were covered in paint. Apparently, big canvas = big mess. That layer dried more quickly, being quite watery, and I was able to put on two more before the light gave out and the mosquitoes set in.

Working on a large scale is definitely different. It made me realize that I have characteristic gestures that work for the scale of paintings I'm used to making. How to translate those gestures into the larger size? A larger implement is just part of the solution - the gesture itself has to be larger or else it has to be broken down into smaller component parts. Or maybe the old gestures just aren't right for this scale. This painting may end up being a "do over" - thank heavens for gesso - but that's ok. It's thrilling to have a new problem to work on and to be painting again. It's also pretty great to have a partner who's as excited about this process as I am.


Helen | Pepperina Press said...

Fantastic. I love reading about the process, and about having the courage to "go big".

Ann said...

Isn't it fun to work in different mediums? I painted a cloud mural for some friends last year on the ceiling of their nursury. It was fun to give up my hammers for a paint brush for the week.