Skip to main content

Story of a Painting


This video clip has audio of me giving a brief description of how this large painting evolved over time, and was finished quickly while glancing at a small oil sketch.

What I couldn't say in 60 seconds: the painting began as a completely different image, possibly not even of a giant bird shape with hands reaching for it. The first version was painted in early 2019.

Then I overpainted that one so much that the surface became too clogged with paint, so I ripped the canvas off the stretcher frame and stretched a new, blank piece of primed canvas.

The next stage was a bird shape across the bottom of the canvas, and four arms+hands reaching for it. That version stayed more or less the same until a month ago.

Why did I change it again? Because it looked too much like an outline drawing, something waiting to be filled in rather than looking as if it had been brought to a final stage with any authority.

So, this is what I did:

  • I took one of the small oil sketches I made at the start of 2020.
  • I mixed up three colours (white, payne's grey, and yellow ochre) and made them very loose and runny.
  • I picked up a big brush, and decided to make big broad gestural marks, using the oil sketch as a guide.
  • I didn't copy the sketch, but used the shapes as the basis for the gestures on the big canvas. A lot of the time, I didn't look at my hand, so that it made automatic or "blind" marks.
  • Finally, I did a few gestural marks with a thinner brush and some indian red for the hands.

After a bit more than an hour, I stepped back. And it looked done.

Would it have been better or the same if I had just painted the blank canvas in the same loose and quick manner? Maybe. But sometimes you need all the hours of work, and the failures, to act as brush clearing before you finally find the right tree to plant.

To paraphrase Picasso: a painting can be made quickly, but with thirty years' of though behind it.

Popular posts from this blog

Restoring my Printing Press

I've just finished restoring and assembling my large etching press -- a six week process involving lots of rust removal, scrubbing with steel wool, and repainting. Here is a photo of the same kind of press from the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative: And here is a short YouTube video of me testing the press, making sure the motor still works after nearly seven years of lying in storage:

Brancusi in Plastic

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau is showing these columns made from recycled plastic cartons and lids in the window of the Columbia College bookstore on Michigan Avenue. They are a playful homage to Brancusi's "Endless Columns", with a serious environmental message for our times: Image copyright and Mary Ellen Croteau Mary Ellen also runs a wonderful experimental art gallery in a window space in west Chicago, called Art on Armitage . I will be exhibiting a mixed media piece there during August 2012.

How to etch a linoleum block

Linoleum as a material for printmaking has been used for nearly a hundred years now. Normally, you cut an image out using special gouges similar to woodcut tools, cutting away the lino around the image you want to print. This is called relief printmaking, because if you look at the block from the side, the material that remains stands up in relief from the backing material. You then roll ink with a brayer over the surface of the block, place paper over it, and either print by hand or run it through a press. You can do complex things this way (for example, reduction linocuts), but the beauty of the process is that it is quick, simple, and direct. Incised lino block, from Etched lino block, from Steve Edwards A few years ago, I saw some prints that were classified as coming from etched linoleum blocks, and I loved the textures I saw in them. In the last few months, I've been trying to use this technique in my own studio, learning about it as one does these d