Feb 2011

Runaway Lab

Our Labrador Retriever just turned a year old. If you have ever lived with a Lab puppy you’ll understand where the germ of this one came from.
Sketched in Painter.

The Inspirational Doctor Who

A Change of Season is my most recently completed personal work. The genesis of the painting is unusual because it actually began life as a black and white study done in carbon pencil on Stonehenge paper. As a drawing, the work stood on its own as a very successful piece. But I wasn’t satisfied to leave it at that. It felt like there was more to be said, only now I wanted to do it in color, not black and white.

To be honest, the change of heart was brought on in large part after watching an episode of Doctor Who, the long running/recently rebooted, English sci-fi staple. In this particular episode, the Time Lord and his companion travel back in time to question Vincent Van Gogh about the alien he has rendered in one of his paintings. Now I love the show in general, but having a plot line involving one of my favorite painters, and then constructing a story around his depiction of an alien within a piece, well what could be better?

Van Gogh of course is considered one of the art world’s greats and the appeal of his work is widespread and varied. For my money, he is such a compelling artist because when he paints he doesn’t nibble along the edges. He flings himself right at the target, body and soul, holding back nothing. I hadn’t looked at any of his painting for some time but seeing them again on the screen, with their wild brush strokes and direct color, lit a spark. I had been working with limited color pallets for some time, and lots of earth tones. But now I wanted to go in the opposite direction, use some brighter, rawer colors, blazing sunflower yellows and warm reds.

To work on this piece in color in my usual style, would mean mounting the drawing on a stable support. I work almost exclusively in acrylic, lots of glazes with rapid execution. There was no way I could do that without ruining the paper. I could of course use the existing pencil drawing as the basis for a new work, redraw the figure on a gessoed board and paint over that as usual. But whether impatience or a desire to stick my neck out ruled, I opted to use this piece. I’ve mounted paper on hardboard in the past, but always before drawing on the surface, not after, and yes, the odds of smearing the existing work are pretty good, so you have to use some extra care.

Armed with a cup of matte medium, to adhere paper to board, and a large brush, I began by covering a primed hardboard’s surface with the medium, then gently laid the paper in place. The board had been precut to the 16 x 20” finish size so exact placement of the drawing was critical. Over the pencil drawing layer I placed some waxed paper for protection. Then a larger sheet of plywood was gingerly set on top and large weights placed on top of the plywood. (Ah! Finally getting around to using the weight set in the basement. Scratch that New Year’s resolution off the list.) The stack was left to dry overnight. The next day the surface was coated with two passes of clear gesso and as per the manufacturer’s directions, left to dry for a 24 hour period. This topcoat of clear gesso sealed the paper, preserved the carbon pencil drawing and prepared the surface, adding a nice soft tooth.

Finally I could begin to lay on multiple glazes of color. Those hot yellows, warm reds and acid greens that I had in mind since being reminded of Van Gogh’s work. Eventually the color layers were built up creating deeper tones all the way to the blue/black of the subject’s jacket. A nice break from the siennas and umbers I had been immersed in before.

A Change of Season 16”x20” Acrylic on Stonehenge paper mounted on hardboard.

A Change of Season detail.

Where inspiration comes from and what we do with it is a subject broad enough to fill books. For my part, if nothing else, I now have a great excuse not to miss a single episode of a favorite tv series. After all who knows where it might lead? I’ve thought about trying my hand at sculpture. Maybe the Doctor will inspire me to give it a go. I can see it now; The centuries old mystery of the Venus di Milo’s missing arms is revealed when Doctor Who travels to ancient Greece, meets the sculptor behind the iconic statue, and accidentally breaks it’s arms off while saving the earth from a Dalek invasion. Now where did I leave those chisels?