Anatomy Of A Painting

Before The Painting Starts:

I have come across some very cool information that has enhanced my joy of painting. The anatomy of a Painting or my process has developed and adapted along with the new information. Finding the “Golden Rectangle” was a lovely surprise. Don’t over think it, it’s just a particular ratio that happens to be quite pleasing to look at. The big problem with this type of format is stretchers don’t come in these proportions, for example the painting below is 700mm by 1132mm. I decided to start constructing my own stretchers so I could see for myself how much difference it would make. Picking out the timber and finding the material I want to use has become a part of the anatomy of how a painting comes together for me. Paying for the right tools (mitre saw, nail/staple gun, clamps,metal ruler etc) makes the process enjoyable rather than a chore.

Prepping The Surface:

You will never understand the difference in surface quality you can get until you try making your own gesso. It really does give the canvas a texture that is great to paint on. I was buying store made canvases but they now feel like painting on plastic after using my own gesso. I have had to tweak the recipe a little as I have gone along but have now found one I am happy with.
Use my wifes stick blender (yes, she is OK with that) to mix. I start with 3 Cups of hot tap water, 1 cup of PVA glue, 1 cup of Plaster of Paris, 2 tablespoons of corn starch (optional) and some titanium white paint to tint. If you want a whiter surface add more white. This quantity makes enough to coat two stretched canvases ( 700x1132mm) 3 times, sanding lightly between coats. Buying these ingredients in large quantities will save you more money.

Anatomy of a Painting:

Usually I want my Paintings to be ABOUT something, as opposed to OF something. So I like to add layers of meaning to the work, whatever format it may take. Inspiration and that sudden flash of vision is wonderful but there are times when you need to simply start drawing. These days I use a digital tablet, mainly because it offers a quick way to build on an idea. By using layers you can import and delete material and experiment without any real effort. As you will see from the slide-show below I have added my digital sketch. It is the genome of the anatomy of this painting.

As you can see, I first placed the ellipses, drawing them free-hand can take a lot of re-drawing. And knowing this is why I put them first. The anatomy of the Painting above is basically looking at the idea of being bound to an endless circle (wheel). The nature of circles is that they constantly come back to the same starting point, without any hope of change. The paradox for me is that I hate change yet loath endless repetition without result. That is why I have tried to balance the gloomy subject matter with bright colours so it is interesting and anaesthetically pleasing.

Once all the “bones” have been put in place, I look to “set” it with paint. I like to use Pthalo Blue to block in each component, that way when I start layering the paint I won’t lose them. For this painting I have layed down a “wash” of a couple of colours as two separate coats. I use a spray bottle to bleed the paint and rags to remove any excess. I envisioned some of this under-painting showing through in some parts of the later painting.

Finding The Colour:

Next will be trying to get a feel for the right colour, in the right place. Because of the way I have set-up the composition there is some forgiveness in this. I begin with blue, still allowing some under-painting to show through. And move over the painting building the anatomy, piece by piece until it’s ready for some solid colour. The musical notes add another dimension, they weave their way through a couple of my paintings and are always real songs. “The Wheels on the Bus” has deliberately been designed in a square as a counter balance to the song. I also wanted to give a sense that those pushing on the wheel have been cornered by their decisions. Our awakened, “lest thy eye be single” figure, shows the way out simply by not associating with the system at all.

By working each layer up slowly I can sort out what I want “on top” and what I should push back. Building on the colour starts to give depth to the painting and the elements start to find their place in the work. I am not interested in realism and I am not looking to get completely abstract. I want to let the paint “do it’s thing” where ever possible. All that is left is a period of setting the artwork aside for a while to see if anything needs work. After that time I sign the painting which signifies to me, it’s done.