Friday, March 25, 2011

Relax, Pull Up A Rock, Fall Apart

Underpainting For Along The Gunpowder, 26X36

Along The Gunpowder, 26X36, Oil on Canvas, G print.

The other day I was looking through some old shots and I found this shot of the underpainting of the Gunpowder scene (reposted from my very first blog post).  Now that I've gotten around a bit in the blogosphere, I thought this glimpse into the process might be interesting. 

This is the first serious oil painting that I did since 1983.  I began it in 2005 and finished it in 2009.  I actually picked up where I left off in 1983 with this underpainting technique that I developed for its rapid mono-chromatic result. 

The canvas is coated with a couple layers of white acrylic latex, and then coated with brown tinted gum arabic, and a simple drawing (one of my dots and dashes drawings like in my blog header) was done for placement.  The neat thing about gum arabic is that water instantly dissolves it but oil won't touch it.  So.  If one was to make any kind of mark with just water (a thin elegant line from a sable pointer, splatter from a tooth brush, spit), and then quickly wipe a rag over it, a beautiful gleaming white mark would result.  All kinds of wonderful craziness happens as one works over the whole composition in reverse.

Later a similar procedure was executed with UM blue sparingly.  This completes the full spectrum in the underpainting given the composite color and value possibilities in the BU and UM layers.  The canvas is then 'closed' to water media with a layer of medium.  The paint is applied in daubs of very thin glazes, so that there appears to be practically no texture to the painting. 

I liked the underpainting so much that I had no desire to mess it up, and just observed it (planning) in the studio for a few years, until I got up the courage to set up a pallet.  I had been dreaming about this painting for twenty years, about approaching large works with these techniques, the daubed color "notes" leaving much of the underpainting showing, and ending up with practically nothing on the canvas, a characteristic I have come to admire in the venerable old pieces in the museums. 

In any event--just another approach, thought it would be of interest. 



RH Carpenter said...

It's like that old commercial: Two, two, two mints in one! With this you get the interesting texture of the sepia version and then those dancing colors in the second version are a delight for the eye (but you go back to the structure in the first and see it anew with added respect).

John Brisson said...

I can see why you kept the underpainting untouched for so long. It has a life of it's own. Reminds me of an old sepia photograph!

debwardart said...

Interesting post; and either way - sepia or colored - your painting is great. I agree that the sepia looks like an old photo.

Sonya Johnson said...

Love these. I agree with John - the underpainting stands by itself as a successful painting, and I'd have been hesitant to touch it for fear of messing it up. But, clearly it was worth the many-year wait.

The final oil looks Monet was channeling you there; it's everything an Impressionist painting wants to be when it grows up.

SamArtDog said...

However many years this painting took, it was totally worth it. I'm beginning to see you're very into process; this is a very interesting one. That said, thank the stars you took a decent photo of the underpainting. It looks like an engraving by an old master, mister. A damn good engraving. Its fine old bones show through the paint.

I've decided life's too short to not have an opinion, though I perhaps still haven't learned how to state it gracefully.

SamArtDog said...

Did I erase my whole pithy comment? I took real time to write it. Something about how the underpainting looked like an engraving. Argh. I do remember the ending, though. I finished with: Life's too short to not have an opinion... Then something about how I still haven't learned how to state it gracefully.

Count your blessings.

L.W.Roth, said...

You realize I have to dissect every sentence you've written here. I think you just posted a method I could use with my woods paintings. I'm not going to thank you yet,I have some experimenting to do, but I'm guessing I will owe you one. And, of course, I love the painting. It's filled with graceful lines intersecting, my favorite kind.

Caroline said...

The sepia is really lovely and reminds me of the etchings done in the old days by the old masters. It has such atmosphere. The painting shows skill the water is beautifully painted it looks like many hours have gone into creating the painting. I believe it has a life all of it's own. Thanks for sharing Bill.

Jane said...

Hi Bill, I would so much have liked to say something original and different from the other blogger friends, but I can only repeat Johns words, totally agree, but of course I love this version , too. Big hug

Jan Yates, SCA said...

Wow -before reading your process i thought they were both etchings-the first sepia and the next a colour viscosity
your process is so facinating, especially re gum arabic-i've never used it before but now i want to-interesting re you dreaming about approaching it for so long-this would well fit in with the 'venerable old pieces in the museums'

hw (hallie) farber said...

Wow--you are brave to have covered the original with paint. My guess is that you totally enjoyed the planning and dreaming. Both pieces are beautiful.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

Very interesting!! Thanks for sharing the process and the thinking behind the process. I relate to the feeling of hesitating and delaying more painting when the under painting is beautiful, as this one is. But, you went on and made a stellar painting on top of it. Good bones don't let you down. That's what my mother tells me.

Celeste Bergin said...

(I was once told: "never tell a man that his painting is pretty") but, I have to break that rule.....and tell you that THIS PAINTING IS PRETTY!

Four Seasons in a Life said...

Greetings Dear William,

I greatly appreciate knowing not only the technical transition but also your process and use of Gum Arabic, a watercolour binder.

I also identify with you the mental process, as I dream about a painting before I under take doing it and many times I have started a painting and set it aside only to complete it many years later, when a dream showed me the way.

Thank you for sharing,

William Cook said...

Hi Rhonda--They are kind of neat side by side. This is the first time I'm seeing them like this too. It's quite instructive.

Hi John--I love that old sepia look--and was considering calling it done. It just took a couple years before I started feeling guilty about taking the easy way out. Besides a sepia piece wasn't the original intent of all that dreaming.

Hi Deb--Ditto to John's response. Thanks for stopping by!

Hi Sonya--Ditto John's. Putting that first UM blue into the mix was tough, but it did spur on the painting adventure--a good thing. Thanks for that Monet/Impressionism comment--you're way too kind.

Hi Sam--You're right wrt process. I remember clearly making that transition too. I think of it as that which separated my student work from the rest. It's the process itself that sustains the artist through adversity, not the products. That comment about the fine old bones showing through the paint is delightful. We all need to learn that about life3 being too short to stifle opinions. Great one.

Hi Linda--After seeing your photoshop saturated version of all those light on dark sticks and bramble, I thought of this process. It would be perfect in this case, at least in the underpainting. Now that you pointed it out This piece does have similarity to the Four Seasons pieces of yours. Cool!

Hi Caroline--Thank you so much for your comment! As I said above, I am in love with that sepia look. And to work into it with blues and blacks just heightens the drama of what's going on. Now you know why Maggie's sketches have been so important to me. I love them for the same reasons. They remind me of the old masters preparation drawings. Great comments.

Hi Jane--Thanks for stopping in and for your wonderful comments. I don't think I've ever gotten an e-hug before! How sweet! I'll take it (and back at you).

Hi Jan--That Gum Arabic is a component of watercolor isn't it. Also what is called Tempura paint uses it I think (instead of egg). It's not all that mysterious. I was experimenting with lithography on aluminum plates a while back and it found it's way into the mix. I think Rich Art would work just as well, just make sure the surface is sealed well against oil binders.

Thanks Hallie--Always a pleasure to hear from you! After three years of looking at this to the left of my computer screen, all that bravery turned into, either finish it or get it outta here already. You know--truth be told.

Hi Katherine--I like that good bones don't let you down comment! Tip of the hat to mom! That tedious process of observation prolonged the coloring process also, you're so right. I was so careful not to completely obliterate the underpainting. That's what I was saying about my admiration of the old masters. You can see through the layers all the way down to the canvas many times. Some no, but many times.

Celeste! I'm so happy to hear from you Thanks for your wonderful comments. I'll take pretty!

Hello Egmont. There you've confirmed it--a water color binder. The importance of dreaming cannot be overstated in these realms. So much goes on in the subconscious before a piece takes on its manifestation in reality. Some times I dre3am of going to exhititions of the most beautiful art I've ever seen, and come away not a little depressed that they weren't my works. And then I realize that they were my works--all of them. Cool comments!

dont judge people by their avatar said...

but it's true... i am...
old and ugly.


dont judge people by their avatar said...

wonderful painting here.
the tree... looks like my Love.

what does \\///\ mean?

William Cook said...

Hi Lakhsmita--

It's an ancient inscription given to me by my real Avatar. It means 2valley2mountain literally. To interpret it would take years. Suffice it to say it's an occult rune that sounds like a bee humming in the wee hours of the morning at 2:31. Other than that he just told me to hold it close and sometimes it smells like Jasmin. To the uninitiated it just looks like slashes. But one day he says the mists will part, and the full thrust of it will be revealed.

Is this the avatar I'm not to judge? Child you cut me to the quick. I judge everything. And I draw conclusions. Oh Yes. The mighty of the earth hear my opinions and despair. I am a goat footed balloon man whistling far and wee. I am an Indian sleeping on a scalp. I am Issick and Gizzick, the oaf twins. I am Vini Vedi and Vicci the three graces having a catfight. I am a guy and a girl on a date and a bolt of lightening splits the motor in half and they start up the windy road on foot and 60 yards of barbed wire hits him in the mouth and they both fall down in the mud sinking fast and the mud is up to his nostrils and he can't hear his girlfriend screamin any more.

I eat poets for breakfast.

So who'se the babe on your blog, granny?


Andrew Finnie said...

Hey William

well wonderful stuff, thanks very much for sharing, just such a talented underpainting. You know I've been needing a non waterproof glue for ages - just havn't looked for one, but you have given me the data I need!!! Yippee. So thanks for that as well

cheers from Oz

your work is great by the way

William Cook said...

Hey Andrew--Thanks for dropping by! Oz is good. \\///\