Thursday, November 5, 2009

Mountains Take Me Home

acrylic on cradled birch panel
18 x 18 inches

There is quite a back story to this one. The short of it is that recently I made a cross-continent trip by car. The trip was primarily to visit family members and friends, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity for a 6000 mile paint-out! Worried about the logistics of transporting wet oil paintings, I decided to try acrylics, and outfitted myself with a basic assortment, plus some mediums and a basic set of brushes just for the acrylics.

Oh, my. It was the month of the continent-wide heat wave. Hot air and dry winds. Trying to paint with acrylics outdoors was a disaster, even with retarder. I was ready to toss them in the nearest trash bin. I put them away, and pulled out my oils (which I had packed in a small plastic container, and happy I did!). To keep things managable as I traveled, I stuck to small studies, and used an alklyd walnut medium to speed setting up.

Once home, I decided to play with the acrylics in my studio, where I could control them better. After an unknown number (because I've blocked them out) of false starts and things best left undescribed, I adapted a technique I'd used years ago: planning the overall composition, but mixing up one color range at a time, building layers, and letting the painting reveal itself.

When I felt confident enough in what I was doing, I got out a cradled birch panel prepared with gesso, and began. With huge trepidations: these panels are not cheap! But I had an image of what I wanted to do, and I needed the rigidity of the panel to do it.
To tell the truth, when I began, I had no idea what the painting would be. I just had a vision of how I wanted to create it, and the general composition, and the process.

I began with paint thickened with a little heavy medium. The first layers created the overall composition. I laid on the paint, one color range at a time, with a brush, and finished it with painting knives to get the shape and texture I wanted. The layers were transparent or semi-transparent, so each layer of paint influenced what was below it and over it, and each layer was a little more transparent than the one before. I gradually shifted to a glazing medium, adding more with each layer, so that the painting began taking on the depth that I envisioned. The last to go on were several layers of thinly applied white glaze in selected areas, to provide a unity and tie the composition together.

And it was those white wisps that finally revealed the painting to me. Maybe it was there all along, and I just had to find it. And in the process, I think I found what I have been working toward all along.