Monday, March 25, 2013

Personal Piece Update 9

So, a lot's been going on behind the scenes of late, and I'll be able to talk about the biggest and most important aspects of that fairly soon (still not pregnant or getting a divorce). In the meantime I thought I might discuss where I'm at with the personal piece.

First and foremost, I've finally gotten all of my reference ducks in a row. While I may or may not end up using some of the reference, I've finally got all the pictures I need to finish this thing. What I don't have is a canvas that's as tight as I'd like it to be. And I've been working on that.

Prior to The Weight of Mid-World, more than a decade had passed since last I worked on stretched canvas. Given how positive an experience I had working on that piece, I decided that canvas was the direction I'd head for the larger personal piece that I was brewing.

Unfortunately, between the assembly of the materials and the moment I finally started laying paint down, almost a year had passed and the stretched canvas had endured a move from Boston to New Jersey. Unbeknownst to me, the house we now live in is a much less humid environment. As it turns out, the drier the air the looser the fabric. Humidity actually tightens the stuff. Lacking the humidity as we do here, the canvas had become looser and looser. I consulted the internet and trolled for answers to this dilemma on Facebook and overwhelmingly the water trick was recommended (though not without its detractors).

The water trick is simply the application of water as evenly as possible in order to dampen the back of the canvas, followed by ample drying time (or in some opinions the application of a blow drier or exposure to the sun's radiation). In theory this would shrink the fabric and tighten the whole thing up. I did this several times, and while it did actually improve the situation, the surface is still not quite as tight as I'd like it to be. Rather than continue to find a means of stretching it further, however, I have decided it a wiser course of action to await the more humid summer months and see if that helps things naturally. Also, I fear that were I to tighten it any further myself, added humidity might cause the canvas to tighten enough to tear.

If the painting never reaches a level of tautness that I find satisfying, I may end up purchasing a board on which to mount the canvas. At the moment, that's my last resort. In the meantime, I've chosen to push forward, but I doubt I will ever use stretched canvas for such a large piece ever again.

In attempting to tighten the piece and giving it ample time to dry, I lost a few days. Still, I did manage to make some progress, as you can see below:

You're correct in saying that while progress has been made, it isn't hugely substantial. However, there's more new work there than you might realize. I am starting to lay down glazes to build up some darker tones at top and bottom. Shadows are starting to be worked out and I'm finally finding ways to articulate the ware and decay of the environment that satisfy me.

Of the changes made, the more obvious ones can be seen in the window, which now sports broken panes of scummy glass as well as leading. More subtle changes include shifts of proportion and tweaks to thigh and calf width, as well as some facial value nudges.

Struggles include the shadow that the hanging leg creates and the mass in the lower right corner. The leg shadow is now wider and more accurate to the lighting of the body, but I dislike how it lines up with the end of her shirt and the underside of the thigh. I'll probably end up breaking up the line of that shadow when I introduce some ivy into the equation.

As for the dark mass in the lower right, initially it was meant to be crumbled building debris. Then, a about two months ago, I got the idea that it might be cool to have rusted and broken armor there instead. Right now I'm not so sure and am beginning to wonder if my initial instincts weren't more "right." Fortunately, I have a lot of other work to do and can continue to ponder that decision. At some point, I'll likely just go ahead and mock both options up in Photoshop and see which I end up liking more.

Besides this personal piece, I have begun work on an illustration for an album cover. I'll include all the details for that tomorrow, and will continue to provide updates as the piece progresses. So, check back then and I'll set the stage for that piece.


  1. I feel like this struggle is something we all experience, but I've never seen an artist share it quite like you do. Thank you for that. I see a lot of, "Hey look at this cool thing I did. It was pretty easy, you just need to sit down and get it done."

    Was it a painting you had already started before you realized the looseness in the canvas? I recall hearing that the benefit of stretched canvas is that it could be removed entirely from the frame and restretched as needed.

    1. My hope for this blog early on was to share more than most of my compatriots do and professors did in college. The apparent ease of everything is sometimes an illusion. For me, it's an outright lie. I'd rather be more honest and up front in how much I actually struggle to pull things together. While I consider this job to be the best in the world, and something I enjoy to my very core, it can sometimes be frustrating and disheartening. It's important to me to discuss that in hopes that someone reading this might realize that their own struggles are, in fact, normal.

      Canvas, in general, tightens and loosens with temperature and humidity. While there might be benefits to being able to remove it, there are also serious down sides. Removing the canvas could potentially harm the painting (depending on how thickly the paint is applied to begin with). The surface I'm working on had gotten looser over time due to a very dry environment. At least that's my suspicion. When I started, it was fine, but it got noticeably worse as I got deeper into the piece. I tried a few tricks that seem to have made a difference. I unboxed the piece yesterday (it was in a box from my recent move) and was surprised to find it pretty tight again, so I have hopes that I can move forward without any drastic measures being implemented.


I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.