I wish I could make the idea of building canvas stretchers sexy, but it is just some milled lumber. There is something special about building things yourself though. In this case building the skeleton of the skin that is the canvas that is almost never seen or thought of. Eight 45 degree cuts attached to make perfect 90 degree angles. A few pieces of strait lumber to keep the rectangle from flexing, so when the canvas is attached it will always be flush when hung. Simple ideas but sometimes not easy to complete.
I have been building variations of painting surfaces for 20 years or so now. The first semester at school, A painting instructor of mine at The School of the Art Institute approached me while in a painting studio and I think he asked why I was working so small. As an art student I was pretty broke and working larger at that time was not in my budget. He suggested I go down to the wood shop at the school and start making my own canvas stretchers and stretch my own, as it would be more cost effective and I could start working larger. A semester later I was asked to apply for the advanced painting program by the head of the painting department. The rest is history as they say.
More that being cost effective, it became this integral part of how I make work. It makes the painting process deeper for me. I am not just slapping some paint on something I picked up at the art store. I was part of the birth of the surface that I will then lovingly apply paint, building composition and having a connection with the end result.
Hillside Colorado is one of my favorite places to visit. Located just east of the northern edge of the Sangre De Cristo mountain range and west of the Wet Mountains in a sublime valley. It almost pains me to give away the location of this magical spot, but it is too good to keep to myself. If you would like to stay there you can find information here.
So why would a non-representational / abstract painter like myself be drawn to doing a landscape. Well, it was there and it was transcendental. I love making all types of work outside of my primary work. It makes my abstract work so much better. Having other forms of visual communication makes for more informed abstract work. It helps to experience the work and be able to reflect on it, and use that energy to drive my primary mode of expression.
I love to work where ever I go. I took up way too many supplies to work while I was in Hillside and on the great driving trip from Denver to Hillside via 285 though Salida Colorado. But I was glad to have all that I needed to make some Plein Air works on paper that came out pretty nice. I have not done much Plein Air works in the past, not thinking much of it. I made a great discovery that working in the environment is far superior than working from an image. Just like working on a real subject, it becomes more tangible, I felt that I could gather the experience of being there.
On the way back I took a drive to St. Elmo to the west of Browns Canyon down a road that cuts in between to mighty peaks of the Collegiate Range, the same I was painting a few days earlier. It was a super drive cutting between mountain streams, groves of aspens and a ghost town.
It has always been a great joy of mine to have grown up in Colorado and live in Denver. There are so many places to see and experience in the state.
I’m an working Denver artist and I can’t get away from having to write and talk about my work, despite it being troublesome. I know that the viewer wants to know what I’m thinking and why I’m painting, just as much as they want to understand why they are interested in my work. But most of the time, these things can’t be described in words.
There are things that can’t be communicated in words, and there are people who can’t communicate in words. There are deeper meanings to things. There are deeper understandings to things.
As I spend more time in the studio and reinvigorate my body of work, I’ve found I spend a lot of time with my own thoughts. About the piece I’m working on, about my process, the process of making in general, and that of the artists I know.
Watching other artists work is like osmosis, without a direct transfer of technique. I am sure I have picked up on mastery of my teachers over time. One of my most influential teachers was taught by Richard Diebenkorn, and I sometimes wonder what, if any, of his techniques have made their way into my work…
In my latest Get Your Phil of Art, I spend a quick moment sharing one of my preferred materials. Here I’d like to spend a little more time sharing what I love about Williamsburg Oil paints. As a non-representational artists that working primarily in the movements of color and composition its important to have stand up colors. I think my work speaks to that.
The pigments are outstanding, it’s really easy to mix and blend colors. You can tell the quality of the product just by the feel. I’ve been using these materials for over ten years. I used to have to order them direct but now I am able to find them locally as well. I also enjoy that these are made in US, knowing that the company making these has not sacrificed any quality.
I posted last week about an inspirational moment eighteen years ago that has influenced the way I make my paintings. In another serendipitous moment, I got an email Friday for an artist presentation by none other than Homare Ikeda, the same artist I had just reminisced about. And the presentation was going to happen the following day, Saturday, at Meininger Art Materials.
The event was part of a series called Demo & Dialogue, organized by the Art Students League of Denver. The Art Students League was there for me in my youth when I had limited access to art and art instruction.
The idea behind demo and dialogue is open up the artist’s process to the audience by having the art work on a piece. Ikeda gave us an open invitation to interrupt with questions as he worked on two large (and several small) works.
“On the island I am from they had no sense of what art was. I’m lucky I didn’t have a preconceived notion of what art was. Before I came to the US, I studied traditional painting so I’m aware of how I use my brush. I will hold with my left hand or use two brushes, that creates negative space.” -Ikeda
I was struck by how similar his thoughts about process and his approach to making resonated with my own. Ikeda approaches his art with openness and flexibilty, focusing on the process with little interest in the product. He is able to speak about his process and work with depth and humbleness.
“I’m not trying to make a painting therefore finishing is not my goal, the process is something that excites me. I have many paintings that come down from one show and I keep painting it. I know what color theory is but at the same time I just grab whatever I can grab. I’m looking for surprises. In my mind I ask, ‘Should I keep this or do I change it.’ I have options.”
“Painting is honesty. If the artist is honest it’s a good painting. Getting honesty is very hard to deal with. Painting is making me more than I am making a painting. ”
The demo wrapped up after close to 2 hours and Ikeda stayed answering questions and greeting the crowd. I waited to approach him and thank him for sharing his craft and thoughts. Last week I had shared my blog post with him and his response in person was as gracious as his email had been. It may not surprise many these days as Denver emerges onto the national scene, but we have long had a vibrant art scene including artists like Ikeda.