When I was a kid, my dad would draw the most goofy drawings on our bills before mailing them. He painted larger versions of them on cars, making a “Dart Bird” on our neighbor’s black Dodge Dart, and decorating my uncle’s panel van when they drove down from Minnesota to visit one summer (when you have eight children in the family there weren’t a lot of choices of vehicle back then; mini-vans hadn’t been invented yet).
When I was five, he taught me how to draw a hot-dog horse (using the shape of a hot dog to draw a horse) and when I was eleven, he took me to the real art supply store (Lewis Art Supply on Woodward Avenue) and bought me a real sketchbook and a set of Buffalo markers.
I drew, and drew, and drew some more, filling that sketchbook and many more after that. I loved the control that drawing gave me. It was also neat and portable. Painting seemed to be something scary and different, at least the kind done with the Grumbacher tube colors. I also remember my grandfather asking when I was going to start painting, and giving me my first quart of linseed oil in a green and white checkerboard tin, even though I had absolutely no clue where to even begin to use it.
When I was seventeen, I received a set of acrylics for my birthday, and played with them some. There wasn’t the control I had with my drawing, and my attempt to recreate a photograph of luminous purple grapes fell flat. It was the time of budget cuts and jobs moving to Mexico and there weren’t art programs in my school, and my dad was lucky to still be working the afternoon shift as Shop Steward in his job as a metal patternmaker. I had to learn it all on my own, and I gave up and returned to my beloved pencil.
Over the years, I kept dancing with the idea of painting. I loved the idea of being able to sweep my arm and create a line of color that followed my motion. I also loved the photo-realism of Audrey Flack and Ralph Goings . I’d buy paints and canvases, and play a little, but then put them away, distracted by life and fear.
Recently I began painting again, inspired by the work of Lynda Barry. I gave myself permission to play, permission to make mistakes, permission to take time to learn. I have been having a blast.
I posted some of the paintings earlier this year, from my journal. Some have gone on to my Etsy shop, and now I am also painting on canvas.
Just Dessert, 2009 6” x 8”
Harvest, 2009, 6” x 8”
Mom Mom’s Kitchen, 2009, 12” x 9”
Each piece started with a blank pre-stretched canvas. I made color photocopies of either images of my work, or of old family photos, and collaged them to the base using matte medium. This gave a nice under painting, and adds to the content of the work when the image ghosts through the top layers. I drew on the canvas using my trusty India ink, and once that was dry, I painted the image using acrylic paints (a mix of brands I’ve collected over the years, but I am trying to move to Golden brand as I need to replace paint). Then I coat them with a layer of matte medium and two coats of varnish to seal.
Having the foundation of images already in place made the blank canvas a little less intimidating. It also helped the subsequent layers have a depth of color. I like the way the lines of each individual copy can still be seen in the finished work, giving it a quilt-like texture that I miss in traditional painting. Right now working this way is the perfect melding of the control of drawing and the looseness of painting, feeding both those needs in my soul.
Next up, paintings without foundation images!