How Sausage is Made (Or, How Sausage is Painted)

Long, long before the Internet and social media, how an artist created artwork was something of a mystery. Except for the 30-minute-masterpiece makers (think Bob Ross), a painter would just present a finished piece -- as if he or she produced it from thin air. "Ta da! Here is my latest work of art."

"How did you do that?" some might ask. "You are truly a gifted artist to take this empty canvas, these brushes and tubes of paint, and -- presto -- a beautiful picture."

I know many artists enjoy, even protect, that sense of mystery. "If I show you how I did it, then it loses its artistic value.

I'll even admit to taking that same attitude for a short time. I then realized that, 1) I'm not good enough to have an attitude; 2) most people are not going to go out and do what I do; 3) many people will actually gain more of an appreciation for my art through my process; and 4) so what if someone "steals" my technique. I steal from other artists all the time. Only I call it being influenced by other artists.

So, for your enjoyment, here is my process.

I don't paint from memory or my mind. I do lots of Google Images searches for grain elevators, abandoned barns, old farm houses, windmills, birds on a wire, boats, etc. I corral these images and pick which ones I'll consider painting.

I don't just find photos of, say, a barn in a great, big open field. Sometimes the barn is surrounded by other buildings or trees. This is where I start to use my brain. I filter out the extra stuff. Sometimes, I'll use Photoshop to take out the extra objects. Then I print that out.

Once I have the image in mind that I'm going to paint, I choose the canvas size and shape. Most of the time I can pick the canvas size just by holding up the printed out photo next to a canvas. Because I like so much sky and ground, the printed image is often dwarfed by the canvas. However, if I don't have large canvases available, I'll work with whatever I have.

Since I returned to painting a few years ago, I've become obsessed with clean, straight lines. I don't always succeed, but not for lack of trying. I sometimes draw a image on shelf paper, then cut it out with an x-acto knife and paste it on the canvas. I paint the areas around the object and then peel up the shelf paper to leave a clean negative space to paint. I do this method a lot with my bird paintings.

Sometimes, I'll lightly sketch the image directly on the canvas. Then, using a ruler, I'll straighten up the lines. Depending on how much coffee I've had, I might use painter's tape along the edges to keep the painted lines straight (like I said, I'm obsessed).

One thing in the photo I should point out is the black canvas. I sometimes use black canvases because I like the way the colors look when painted on them. I think it gives the colors a richer feel. If all I have are white canvases, I'll paint them with a layer of burnt umber, which dries quickly. Once dry, I'll sketch on that. (If I'm doing a painting with lots of white, I don't usually under paint a dark color.)

Check back soon for part 2.


Abby Lewallen said...

I love your paintings. The stately structures really speak to me and inspire me to stand strong and firm no matter how I look, what I"m going through, or how much others value me. I think your clean lines really make a statement in your pieces, adding strength and power. Thank you for this inside look at your process. Your transparency is admired and appreciated. I know this will further inspire so many others as it has me. Looking forward to Part 2. - Abby Lewallen - High Point Christian Academy PS-6th Art Teacher

tatestreet said...

You win for best ever comment on my blog. I'm so glad you enjoy my paintings. You get from them what I hope people will get from them. I hope to have 'Part 2' up in the next few days. And I hope to have details on a month-long exhibit in Greensboro. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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