Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mostly Smoke

DUNE WORM "4x 4" oil on panel

I added the smoke to these cigarette paintings a couple of days after they had dried.  Generally, I don’t like to work paint after it’s dry.  I like to work at different stages of wet, but this is one exception.  I want the background to show through the smoke and be dry enough to remain intact, even if I have to wipe it out and start over, or manipulate the smoky tendrils without disturbing the painting underneath.  Straight white paint on top of things can be very tricky, as my beginning painting teacher told me, back a million years ago in college.  He said, “Straight white is a very effective highlight, but if you are not careful it can look like bird shit on everything.”
VACATION 8"x 10" oil on panel

I used some straight Flake White oil paint, applied with a hundred year old brush that has bristles that have fallen out from all the scrubby action it has seen and from many exhausting cleanings.  The hairs are sparse and curling.  Most people would probably throw out a brush at that stage, but I keep it.  Sometimes I will trim them and make a really pointy brush, or sometimes they will become my favorite coveted “one hair” brushes!  I call them “one hair” but they are really about three hairs.  You need that many to really support paint in a respectable manner.  “One hair” brushes are rare because the hairs remain straight, when most would curl, and the hairs are clumped together in a point, not sparse and patchy.  The “one hair” brushes are rare and wonderful and naturally they don’t last long and soon become no-hair brushes.  At that point they are used for stirring and poking.
Anyway, I digress…  Next I “oil up” the surface of the painting with a viscous solvent, and use a regular old brush to create nice separate, scratchy lines at an uneven pressure so that some are clear and white and some are indistinct and hopefully “smoky”.  The “oiling up” of the surface first makes some of the thinner lines blur like smoke and melt into the surface of the painting and not set up like bird doo doo.  This wet into wet technique is similar to a water color technique I used to love to use because it wasn’t so controlled.  You pretty much let the paint “paint itself”.  You wet the area you want painted with some clean water, then drop your color or colors into it in any manner you want.  I got some great swirling skies.  Watercolor was the first painting medium I got into in depth.  When I applied for graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) my portfolio was half watercolor and half acrylic.  (I tried acrylic for a year).  Seems crazy but SFAI took me, even though I told them I was going to start oil painting.  It isn’t recommended to start a new medium when starting graduate school, although many switch to performance or video while they are there.  Anyway, watercolor is the most technical form of painting and you have to think ahead a lot and plan with “reserved whites” and all, so I liked this technique because it allows some spontaneity.  
COUPLE'S THERAPY 8"x 8" oil on panel

After the smoke dries, I layered a glaze in certain spots on top of the smoke to integrate it into the background.  I used a little Galkyd, for the first time, mixed with a touch of some transparent paint colors like Alizarin Crimson and Prussian Blue, with a little Raw Umber (which is not so transparent but it tones down the purple of the crimson and blue mix).  I find the Galkyd a little shiny for my tastes, but it does make the colors sing, a lot like wetting a stone.  I also like how the glaze settles in the groovy texture of the dried paint and leaves all this color without changing the overall color or value.
LAST ONE 10"x 10" oil on panel

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