Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Moment in the Studio

Recently, I had a moment in the studio that made me stop everything! 
You know how you’ll have your agenda set, your process well directed, all systems GO—me too!  Letting the process take over has allowed paintings to emerge without preconceived notions.  Ah, to be so free….

But this time the picture jolted together before me and I was stunned.  Let me explain:
I’d killed my current painting a couple of times already.  I had a strong bed of texture laid down:  hay and cattails (bulrushes) embedded in a pool of dried latex paint.  Typically I use the lines from the textural underpainting to direct the subject matter, but it just wasn’t working out this time.

So I’d painted over the whole uptight mess—twice now.  I’d gotten a beautiful effect during paint-over #1 by applying a dark wash of watery paint over my texture.  I decided to do that again. 
All was going as according to plan.   The dark wash had gathered into all the pockets of that voluptuous surface and I was forging ahead with a new course of action.

"Sweetgrass Drawing  23/30", 8" x 10", Pastel and Gesso on Prepared Board
I decided that this time I would use the above drawing as a model for the painting.  My plan was to use my data projector to shoot the drawing onto the canvas and simply paint it in.  However I couldn’t get the distance in my studio to enlarge the drawing enough—C’MON MAN!

I couldn’t seem to get a break with this painting!  The next day I decided that I could use the grid formula to increase the scale of the drawing and transfer it to the painting.   A piece of cake, old school but imminently doable….

This decision proved to be the game changer.

I measured out a 12” array over the surface and drew the lines in with charcoal.  The panel was laid on saw horses and as I finished the grid I set it up to begin the transfer process.


I saw it in an instant—a nano-instant. 

The grid broke up this epic field of texture into bite sized portions.  It isolated sections so that they became a group of individual pieces rather than an incomprehensible whole.  The visually overwhelming (who knew?) had become manageable.
In a rush of realization I set down the charcoal and stepped away from the painting.  Oh my goodness, what have I done!?
It was actually interesting!  The different pieces compared so well to each other…my eye was bouncing from one section to the next, over and across—I had to sit down.  I’d been knocked from Abstract Expressionism into Minimalism in one aesthetic hammer blow.


And I haven't gone back...

In just a few days I’ve completed 3 other highly textured grid paintings using different colored washes for the background.  I’ve filled in the squares with fabulous colors (say goodbye to the latex neutrals!).  

I’ve left sections empty on some paintings.  I’ve left a group of 4 large panels void of any further markings after gorgeous blue green washes.  I’ve built 18 small square surfaces for a grid installation painting which are now heaped with hay and bulrushes and drying in the barn.

The current studio view

And the struggle, the noodling and the exertion, effort and strain of composing the “brilliant and breathtaking” is gone.  I’d had the nagging feeling that this work with the hay  didn't need to go much further, but I just hadn't found the way yet. 
Now it’s full steam ahead.
If you have frustration or nagging feelings with your creations, Listen To That.  Where are they coming from?  What do they mean?  They were telling me that what I was doing wasn't what I needed; that  I was pushing past my own artwork.
Blow it out—figure it out—talk it out—work it out.  Be bold, be alert, and look for your moment.  Expect it.  Grab it.  Run with it!


  1. Wow James you must have been blown away with the results, and by loosening up you have created some master pieces

    1. Yeah Moggy, it was definitely a moment! Thanks for your support and taking the time to comment! How did you come across this post? I appreciate your resonse.