Thursday, September 29, 2011

Get There 1.6: Finishing Touches

I just realized that I completely forget to post the finishing touches on my Knolls painting.  I left off at one step before the picture above.  To get to this point I had mixed a transparent amalgamation of browns with a touch of linseed oil and scumbled some more around the dirt, paying extra attention to the dark edges.  I had tried adding a few more details but decided that the process I had started with on this painting was a little rushed and left the image looking somewhat blurry.  Some friends had told me that they prefer this look but it was not my intention and I have not come to terms with it.  I don't dislike this painting but I will probably avoid this look in future pieces.

Since the painting was finished and COMPLETELY DRY by this point I began the varnishing process by using a soft, synthetic filbert brush to clean off any bits of dust and dirt.  Be sure to brush lightly when doing this on a painting with very fine layers of paint.  Stop immediately if you see any discoloration on your brush.

For my smaller paintings I use Kamar Varnish.  It is removable, unlike Damar Varnish, and it is also flexible, meaning it won't crack or discolor over time.  I also enjoy using the aerosol varnish as well because it will not leave unwanted brush strokes on the painting.  Be sure to use it in a ventilated, dust-free area and, for the love of god, wear a mask*.

I am pretty sure you are supposed to hold the can about a foot away from the painting while spraying.  I do not have the directions in front of me right now because I take the photos at my studio and write the captions from home.  BE SURE TO FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS though or else you will end up with a fun mess.

Here is my fun mess.  Kamar Varnish is like fly paper while it is drying.  I few bits of dust landed on my painting before the varnish was set.  They were too large to ignore so I had to pull them off with tweezers.  It wasn't a big of a deal where some of the varnish was wet but it was a huge problem where the varnish had started to dry.  As I had begun removing the dust away from the painting the varnish had started peeling off like a thin layer of Elmer's Glue.  This left an exposed circle on my painting with a flaky ring around it.  Technically the varnish is removable in case of disasters like these but I use such thin layers of paint I do not trust applying mineral spirits, even when the paint is dry.  I couldn't photograph this problem because time was essential and I was a panicked mess.  I took the Kamar can, held it a distance away from the painting, and began varnishing another coat.  This solved the ring problem but left me with a new problem.  Everything now looked somewhat grainy with this thin coat.  I think I held the can too far away and the varnish left a layer of sand-like micro beads that reflected light opaquely, as opposed to a smooth, thick, sheen that reflects light like a sheet of glass.

You can see the difference when you compare it with this photo of the varnish on my previous painting.  I thought about trying to lay on another thick layer of varnish but decided that it was not too distracting and wouldn't be worth the risk and time.  After all, I have never tested solutions to this problem and had no way of guaranteeing that a thick layer on top wouldn't just accentuate the micro beads of the layer below.  Though nobody else will notice (unless they read this blog of course) I know it will probably drive me crazy in the future. But I can't change the painting, and I can't change the way I see it either, so I decided to move on.

Image from Douglas and Sturgess
I like to use thick stretcher bars and deep panels.  This saves the cost of framing because painting the edges of the canvas or board looks gallery presentable.  I like to mix a nice grey/off-black color for the edges.  I could imagine that a dark brown/off-black could work nicely for some of these pieces as well.  I also do not use art store acrylic paints.  It's a waste of money and a hardware store latex (hardware stores call it "latex" but usually it is some form of acrylic blend) paint can paint on much smoother in shorter time.  It won't have the archival qualities of art store paint those qualities are unnecessary for edging.  I usually have cans of black and white floating around my studio for this purpose.  I use tint bases to alter the colors.  Tint bases (sometimes called "universal tints") are a watery pigment that never seem to dry when you spill them and are good at staining the shit out of your clothes.  Although you can see the mixing machines add this colorant to your paint when you place an order at Home Depot you cannot separately purchase tint bases from them.  It will need to be purchased at an actual paint store that specializes in only selling paint by the brand, such Benjamin Moore or Glidden.  I am a fan of Mark's Paint Mart in Oakland.  It may seem like quite an investment to buy a palette of these but add a few gallons of black, white, and regular deep base acrylics to your purchase and you have paint for years.  The paint can be mixed with any acrylic mediums too (matte medium, gel, etc).  Just be sure to take into account that the colorfast of the cal-tint will not be as dependable as art store paint and could fade over time.  In other words, you may want to be careful with your blues and reds.

I have seen a lot of other artists edge their paintings with little foam brushes and slowly apply the paint bit by bit.  That takes forever.  Get a thick brush like the 1" hardware store brush pictured above and load it full of paint.  Then press the brush straight into the edge and apply a little pressure.  Angle the handle down and little to the side, away from the direction you are going to make the stroke.  Since I had to take the photo above while painting the brush looks angled in the wrong direction.  You should be forcing the bristles into a little more of a "u" shape.  This way you can paint long strokes across the side in no time.  These strokes can be smoothed out with a square edge, soft synthetic brush easily after the paint has been applied, though it may not be necessary.  Just BE SURE TO NOT PUT TOO MUCH PRESSURE BENDING THE BRISTLES because they may slip off of the surface and fling paint onto your painting.

I use eye bolts on the inner sides of the supports as opposed to screwing in d-rings on the back, wall-facing sides.  This holds the painting flush to the wall when hanging with a wire.  If it were much larger and heavier you should consider hanging with d-rings on the back (sometimes even directly off of the rings without a wire).  The benefit of d-rings is that the pressure pulls laterally as opposed to it directly pulling opposite, as with an eye bolt.  In other words, if the wood around the screw's threading ever weakens over time the eye bolt can be ripped out by the weight of the hanging piece.  The only downside is that d-rings tend to make the top of the artwork lean off of the wall.  In my case, these paintings are light, so I risk it for the presentation.

Normally you would never need to use two eye bolts (four total) with a piece this small.  As you may have noticed in the photo though, I had to screw these things into a knot in the wood.  This can be such a nightmare that I will suggest now to never buy (or build) a cradled** wood panel with a knot where your wire will go.  Always check that there are no knots a third of the way down from the top of the cradling.  In the case pictured above I had to hammer in the eye bolts before trying to twist them tight.  The first one didn't grip very well because the hard wood kept stripping.  I had no choice but to screw in another so I figured I might is well use the first one for a little extra support.

The wiring looks pretty ridiculous but at least I know it will hold.  I thought that I had already covered how to properly wire a piece in a previous post but upon closer inspection it looks like I must have missed it.  I have better photos for instruction so I will have to get to the wiring process later under a "Framing" portion of the blog.

The piece is finished.  All that is left is to photograph it and throw it on my website (two other things I will need to go into in separate posts).  I only feel OK about this painting.  To be honest, it is probably not one of my favorites.  In hindsight, the road seems seems a little obvious.  I also wish the details were a little sharper.  And that the varnish was clearer.  And I can pick apart this thing forever.  The fact of the matter is is that this could very well speak to someone that prefers the very same features that make me uneasy.  I am perfectly fine with that being the case.  I started this painting with genuine intentions.

*This stuff will make your head spin, which also happens to be the reason why I will need to find a new varnishing method for my current 4 x 6 ft. painting.  I am considering Soluvar.  It is flexible, non-yellowing, removable, and even UV safe.  I used it once a while back and I remember it working pretty decently.  It will take some testing though because you have to apply it with a brush.  Liquitex also advises using a pre-layer of Gloss Medium, which turns me off because it is not removable and left a shit load of brush marks the last time tried it because of its acrylic base drying too damn fast.

**By "cradling" I am referring to the wooden supports on the back of the panel that prevent it from warping.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Book Sale

I have too many books.  This is the Friends of the Library book sale in San Francisco.  It is a good representation of what the internet might look like had it been printed on paper.  I try to attend this event every year.  I love books.  It's a shame that I am a complete unfocused mess when I actually sit down and read them.

That doesn't deter me from buying more each year, though.  I have hundreds of books that I have never and probably will never read.  This is a bad mindset that I have carried for a while.  The first step of building my book collection was to pretty much buy as many books as I could, assuming they were worth reading.  This built a ridiculously cumbersome collection that made the prospect of ever moving a complete nightmare.  Where did I plan on keeping all of them?  Certainly not in plastic bins in the garage, where they eventually ended up.

I couldn't live with them anymore.  I wasn't even living "with" them as I was living "in" them.  They had completely taken over the apartment and served no purpose beyond collecting dust and making me look studious.  Though a condition inspection would prove that I am probably more Warholian than studious, a terrible trait for a person to have.

Now that they are stored away I have been more focused on the quality of my collection rather than the quantity (I try to use this same approach with my painting).  This feels like one of my most measured transitions into adulthood.  Sadly, as I remove the books that a slightly less educated and younger version of myself would have loved I will also be removing the history of my education.  After all, I did read some of them!  And though I never got around to reading the other "most", I still invested (though only monetarily) in their ideas.  I could take this line of thinking further:

Maybe these ideas can also translate to my daily purchases.

And further:

A detailed account of what we buy could probably tell was what we will buy in a year.

Regardless, I'm not interested in pursuing that line of ideas with my art.  We all know what a wall full of receipts with some advertisements at the end would look like.

So on a reduced version of that note, it's time to hone in on where my new purchases will take me.  I decided during this sale to only focus on non fiction.  Not only would it reduce my spending but also help me sharpen the conceptual aspects of my paintings.  This isn't to say that I do not take influence from fiction, but I have far more of it than I could ever hope using.  So, twenty six dollars later (it's a really good sale), where will my newly invested ideas go?

I see my paintings already possibly having Abbey and Stegner elements to them, but what will happen after I add American Ground Zero, On Escalation, and Holy Land into the mix?  What will this look like after hours spent closely observing details of Frans Hals paintings?  Here's hoping that the books aren't terrible and that I actually read them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Drawing Failure

 I had spent about a half an hour on this drawing and I have nothing to show for it.  My progress was mostly erased by the time I took this photo.  It was not a huge loss of time but I did lose sleep last night thinking about my mistake.

I sometimes find myself struggling to work from photograph more than life.  And that struggle was definitely present while trying to draw Jack Delano's photo.  Since photos never change they makes me obsess about my drawing's details much too early in their creation.  Something will look off when I start and instead of focusing on the entire composition of the piece and restructuring it as fits I will compulsively attempt to fix that one miniscule piece of the picture.

In other words, I will obsess over the nose of the figure only to later realize that the nose was placed incorrectly on the face, which was on an over-sized head, which was weakly composed on the paper, which was used for a drawing that was started way too late in the evening, which should have ended an hour earlier.

Take the obvious metaphor and apply it to yourself however you like.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


This is a photo taken in 1941 by Jack Delano.  It is referred to as "'Backstage' at the 'Girlie' show at the Vermont state fair, Rutland."  The title is from the FSA or OWI caption.

I love this photo, but it was more than finding it that drew me into my research.  For the first time in years I genuinely felt like I was digging into the internet.  My generation will be the last to remember a time before the internet, and its humble beginnings.  We may not be quite cognizant of the times when it was only closed networks but we do remember the transition from BBSs , to America Online, to the World Wide Web.  At this time everyone was so excited to post information that they never bothered asking themselves why they felt they should in the first place.  This is what made the internet interesting.

Remember Webcrawler?  It looked like this:

Remember Geocities webpages?  They used to look like this:

In fact, most webpages in the early years did, but oddly enough the image below was taken from a current Library of Congress page:

This is what drew me in so deeply.  I realized that the internet has now been around long enough to trigger nostalgia, much similar to looking at an old photograph.  Though the simplicity of the Library of Congress website is more for functionality purposes I still couldn't help but read the page design as being outdated.  Oddly enough, I found that I had grown a preference for its simplicity.  The comfort we can feel when we let go of everything design and marketing has taught us is truly profound. Now, it has become customary to visit just a handful of web pages daily.  Check your social network updates, check your few news pages, a couple of blogs, and where else do you go?  The internet became functional.

Berliner family singing into early disk recording maching; digital ID: berlp 12040506
In the 90s you didn't know what you would get when you jumped online and you most certainly had no idea where that information came from.  In my years in high school, and well into college really, this research was so new that teachers wouldn't even consider it acceptable for research.  Now you have the heads of major tech companies telling young Americans that they do not properly know how to use Google. Most of us aren't even aware that there is more than one way to use Google!

The Osnabrock school, 1918; Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection
It was the same doubt in limitless, gratuitous information our teachers had that created the demand for the internet to run through fewer channels to disperse content.  Much as the way of the radio and television, soon enough we will have to pay for different levels of internet service, and for a different number of websites we are permitted to visit.  It will be a sad day when we realize that we lost such a limitless portal into the random in exchange for a slick way to show our friends photos of how much we drank away our drive and intuition.

Drinking at the bar, saloon, Raceland, Louisiana; Photographer: Lee, Russell 1903-1986

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Time Remix

A while back I was enthusiastic over Rodney Mullen's coming of age work schedule.  It consisted of the following:

2 hours each weekday
5 hours Saturday and Sunday

This enthusiasm diminished as it became increasingly obvious that I could not maintain these hours around a full time work schedule and running a gallery.  I tried modifying the schedule to work as follows:

2 hours each weekday
6 hours Saturday OR Sunday

Unfortunately, I was still losing enthusiasm.  I was able to approach the daily routine required but I could not work through the hours.  The stress of the commute and the daily obligation of trying to maintain the routine overwhelmed my potential to make the hours useful.  Eventually I just sat in my studio staring at the painting and feeling too burned out to pick up the brush.

I was at a loss.  I was too burned out to get any work done and my lack of productivity made me too anxious to take a day off.  It wasn't until Emily suggested a new schedule to me that the stress began to subside:

4 hours on two selected weekdays
8 hours on Saturday

Sure, it is a few hours less a week, but taking two long nights as opposed to five short can give me at least eight useful hours of work.  Instead of spending an hour staring at my paintings and working for 45 minutes I can now give myself time on these long nights to get into a sort of working groove.  This new schedule will also open up weekdays for me to take care of FM obligations and actually, god forbid, have a little spare time.  Now all I have to do is see if I can properly take advantage of it.

I am hoping that this schedule will be more conducive to productivity while managing full time employment.  There will not be other opportunities.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Required Reading

I have come to a photo editing conundrum.  I used to never edit my photographs.  They more stood as a reference for my paintings and I felt that whatever the camera lens reflected into the image was just part of the experience of taking the photo.  Now I feel that while some mishaps in the photo enhance the experience of the image, others distract from the actual important information that was supposed to be conveyed.  It's a rudimentary problem, but now I find myself struggling to find the appropriate line between editing/manipulation and objective/subjective.  These ideas only become more relevant as I have just gotten myself back into the daily habit of reading and received Errol Morris's new book, Believing is Seeing.

When I juxtapose Morris's ideas on compiling information from limited means with my lack of book reading, I think of Andy Warhol.  I remember hearing that Warhol once said, "I have never read a book in my life."  I cannot seem to dig up the quote anywhere online and willfully limit my own means by not being committed enough to Warhol to take the search to the library.  I figure, since I am pretty sure that the quote is genuine, I am going to assume that Warhol wouldn't take the trip to the library either.

Warhol is a pretty dividing figure.  You have one side saying his artwork is overrated, ugly, meaningless, soulless, and one of the major contributing factors to the art market manipulating and mutating insightful criticism.  On the other hand, you have the other side saying he was the best thing since sliced bread.  Honestly, I think sliced bread is an accurate comparison.  We didn't all buy into sliced bread because we loved it.  We didn't even buy into it, as Warhol fans would argue, because it was abundant with bright and colorful packaging.  We bought into it because the grocery store didn't have any other options and we wanted a damn sandwich.

Again, I really don't know if Warhol ever spoke those words but I do know that Robert Hughes once referred to Andy Warhol as " of the stupidest people I have ever met in my life."  Sure it seems a little hyperbolic but I would say that it is no more hyperbolic than referring to a man who didn't even conceptualize his own definitive body of work, or speak intelligently for more than two sentences at time, as a genius.  What I know about Andy Warhol is only what he contributed to the media.  Normally you shouldn't take those restrictive means as complete evidence towards a persons character but since he seemed to be such a firm believer that how one's image is viewed in the media defines their own existence, then it should be perfectly reasonable, within his own set beliefs, to assume that I have all of the information I need.  Morris would argue that my oversight would be a fallacy.  Warhol would strongly disagree and I would strongly disagree with Warhol, though I would find myself unwittingly committing to his ideas.   At this point, the only way to counter this Warholian dilemma would be to read Morris's book, which I am more than happy to do.