Friday, 4 October 2013

Painting An Octopus Was Wonderful

Last year I was involved in the annual Whistler Paint-Off competition in Whistler, BC. While there I met a nice fellow from my home province of Ontario who liked my work and we discussed commission ideas in the following months.

We worked on composition and image options for an octopus, which is a very wonderful choice in terms of details, visual complexities and textures.

A couple of rounds of design options eventually led to a horizontal composition, at a size of 20" x 50". The nature of the image within that size presented a very cool crop and allowed me to flow various parts of the image in and out of the picture plane.

I had the panel custom-built. Typically I purchase my wood panels from the local art shop but this one was a unique size so it wouldn't allow for that.

Several coats of clear gesso mean that the panel is primed but the wood grain would still show through.

The next step is to pencil in the composition. I usually find I'm drinking tea and listening to the radio while getting the lines worked in. It's a pretty meditative step as it takes a couple of hours for a piece this size, and it's essential to the success of the overall work, so it needs to be done right. The benefit of completing this step is seeing the size of the composition and image come to life (from small digital file to large art work).

The next step is to ink the piece. I really enjoy the various techniques I use to create my art works because each one has a different feel, process, and mood. When I draw the image with permanent ink, I work all over the image. I don't just stay in one spot. I have a tenancy to jump from area to area. I find this way of working fresher and more interesting. I like to develop "patches" of tight drawing then I start to connect them with more lines, etc. It's an organic growth.

Drawing is very basic in terms of artistic production. It's one material on one surface. Therefore, set up time is basically non-existent. I like to do a lot of drawing outside of the studio, so this piece ends up travelling with me to various locations. I drew this piece over the summer in my apartment, at several coffee shops on the North Shore of Vancouver, and in the park by the water. A lot of Vancouver folk saw this piece as I worked on it and it received a very positive and lively response.

The picture below is Waterfront Park, which is a few blocks from my apartment in North Van. In the distance is downtown Vancouver, which is just a short (13 minute) seabus ride away. It's also the best way to commute - I take it every day to my desk-job downtown.

I finished the piece after some hearty drawing-time and brought it to the studio to begin painting. Mandatory art-selfie enclosed:

After I finished drawing this piece I had to set it aside for a bit while I worked on some paintings for a show which kept me quite busy. I was certain to get the drawing all finished so that when the show was finished I could jump right into the painting phase.

I do a lot of really loose paint applications in the early stages. I water down acrylics in cups and pour it across the surface. I leave it to dry flat so that it creates really interesting and spontaneous pooling effects. The way I leave it for the day is different from how I return to it the next day.

As the piece progresses I start to block in some loose colours and establish certain highlights here and there. They are quite bright at this point, which establishes an overall contrast to build out of. Otherwise, the image is too mid-tone and doesn't feel dynamic enough.

The piece builds up over many studio visits, which I usually limit to just a couple of hours. I prefer to work in very focused spurts, as I find its a more efficient use of my time. I find that doing 10 hours of work in 2 sessions versus 10 hours of work in 4 or 5 sessions is a very different story. I would get much more done in the 4 or 5 sessions, even though the overall time expended was the same. The end product is better this way and it allows me to recharge the creative batteries.

After building up more shadows, highlights and colour layers the work is complete. It looks very good and I varnish it and get it ready for final shipments to its new home in Toronto (The Adidas shirt is because I took a mid-packing break to go for a jog).