After I graduated art/party college in the mid-eighties, I experimented with these french crayons on canvas board, they were water soluble so you could blend the colors by just wetting your finger and rubbing. They were these abstract landscapes with exaggerated color. This was a real crash and burn time for me, I ended up destroying most of these pieces out of total frustration, stink, stank, stunk.
The number one source of frustration was that I didn’t have the artwork all worked out first, I would just have it in my head, sort of worked out. Sometimes I would try to recreate something that I dreamt about, that looked so incredibly mind blowing in my head, that I would have to get it down on canvas. This was always a fools errand, memory fades, changes, I’d wake up dumbstruck the next morning and be like, ‘uh, I think it was magenta, not purple” I can’t really remember”. So I would be in the middle of one of these french crayon cadavers really frustrated, and I would get this ‘lost in the woods’ type feeling, because I had to ‘make-up’ too much stuff, and the composition of the artwork would always suffer because of this, too much guess work, too many elements conflicting, too many ways to go, too many things to think about. It really was just too overwhelming, I didn’t have a real plan going in, I would just figure, I’m good, I’ll figure a way to make this thing look cool as I go along, well, um nope. There was also a tendency to want to change direction in the middle of one these drawings too, one day I would want to go more abstract, the next day I would be, that’s not working how about more realistic. I was not the man with the plan, and I paid the price, a trip to the garbage can. I have a great deal of admiration for artists who can whip one off just out of their heads, I wish I could be that footloose and fancy free, maybe someday.
I work out all my painting in Adobe Photoshop first now and use this final comp image on my monitor as my reference. It’s like making yourself a map so you won’t get lost on your way. Just knowing that if I keep pretty close to what I have on my ‘map’ I am going to be in good shape. I can still have fun too, the painting always has a life to its own, better than the original layout. So even though I have the overall look down first, the emotional quality isn’t there yet, so the anticipation of bringing that on makes it challenging and fun, mostly challenging.
You won’t fall back to earth as hard if you have it figured out first. And there is less drama in your head too. I mean if you are going to paint something special, your brain is going to be in overdrive as it is, you don’t want to waste your precious thoughts if you don’t have to. My greatest fear as an artist is to get that lost feeling again. I mean I didn’t attempt any type of fine art projects for seventeen years because of those experiences, I hid like one of those cicadas that crawl in the ground.
The second part of working it out is to make sure that your original layout is accurately transferred to your canvas before you start getting the brushes out. I cannot emphasize this enough. Don’t sort of sketch it out, it is very important to have as much information as possible worked out on your canvas first. This way you won’t have to do all that measuring, guessing, squinting. You know, you are like “Um. I think this tree is 3 thumb lengths from this rock?” or “Er, his head is too big and his eyes are too close together. . . ” You can just avoid this unpleasant pondering. A lot of painters are starting to have their layouts printed on canvas first, then paint over them, this way, you avoid all that unnecessary guesswork that just strains your brain and chews up a lot of your time. I mean in the end, the printed layout is always covered with all paint anyway, they are 100 percent paintings in the end, so what the hey? give yourself the best advantage before going into the battle. I played around with do this in my early days, but now I trace an exact size color image on my canvas with a dark 6B pencil rubbed on the back making sure I transfer as much detail as possible. Make sure you have all your spots are picked.
Having all the details worked out before you start to paint should give you a firm foundation going in. It also frees you up more so you can focus on the more emotional qualities of your artwork, this is where you can start to work your magic.
February 15, 2014