Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Change one thing: change everything

Pewter and Reds
20 x 16
Progress in painting, there's no such thing! ...One day I went and changed the yellow on my palette. Well, the result was, I floundered for ten years! (Pierre-Auguste Renoir)

The title of my blog is "A Painter's Progress" and, while I've progressed since I began writing it years ago, it's never been a linear progression.  There are nearly as many backward steps as forward ones, and each requires me to stop and reevaluate my process and aesthetic before I can resolve it.  That sounds so optimistic and simplistic.  What actually happens is that good paintings just stop flowing out of my brush, sometimes for weeks on end, and I can't figure out why.  As the paintings keep failing, I keep bashing away at them from different angles: Different subject? Bigger paintings?  Or smaller?  Brighter?  More muted?  Much paint is applied and scraped off.  

It's taken a while to figure out this latest impasse and to discover what's changed in my approach to painting, but I finally nailed it: I'm using a lot more paint and richer colours,  That has changed everything.  The paint consistencies that I had nailed down no longer feel right at this point in my development, which means that I've had to learn a new technique.  It's based firmly in the old one, but it relies less on thin layers and more on big, luscious paint.  And white has been relegated to a less prominent role.  

New work is flowing again, and I find that the intensive, frustrating period of thinking and experimenting has taught me a lot and made me excited to explore new avenues.  It's hard won, and it is progress!

Happy painting!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Honest looking and painting

14 x 11 -ish
Weekly figure painting is becoming a fantastic tool for exploring and learning.  It's out of the comfort and control of my studio; the cool, chiaroscuro lighting is different than anything I'd set up; my palette is shrouded in darkness; and I'm in a room with other artists.  There are so many new variables and I can't rely on my usual working methods and tricks to paint the figure.  I really have to look and I really have to think.  That sounds obvious, but, like any other learned skill, there are a lot of processes that can easily become automatic, and thoughtless over time.  A painter may always use certain colours for skin, or always make shadows a certain value or temperature, regardless of the reality of the model in front of her.

As a consequence of being off balance, I find I'm painting slowly, carefully, and analytically.  The pleasure of "the zone" is absent (hopefully only temporarily), but it feels like an education.

This week's model was one of my favourites because of her delicate, fair skin.  It reflects whatever light there is and shows the most subtle warm and cool tints.  I've been experimenting with different palettes having found that my usual chromatic palette is too powerful in this space.  This week I worked with yellow ochre, cad red light, cobalt blue, raw umber and white - both flake white hue and titanium.  (In a misguided moment, I began to put some of the chair arm on the left into the picture with what looks like ultramarine and cad red light, but I stopped myself after a couple of marks.  It was throwing off the whole colour space.)  With the exception of the red, these are mild, weak colours, and they seem to be just the ticket for the lighting conditions.  At least they work for this model.

The only problem with the palette is the lack of a dark pigment other than raw umber.  While it's excellent for darkening other colours, it is quite neutral and rather uninteresting.  I'm still mulling over potential darkening pigments that have a bit more character to them.  Perhaps I'll try a darker value red next time, Venetian maybe.  Black is also an option, but it has a tendency to kill colours that it's added to and I know it could easily overwhelm the delicacy of the other pigments.  The dark transparency of a low chroma green (sap?) might be useful... I think it's time to make some colour charts.   I'll try something new next week and hope to learn something new as well.

Happy painting!

Monday, November 23, 2015

New class at the Calgary School of Art

The new year will be full of painting explorations in my Tuesday afternoon class at the Calgary School of Art. 
We meet from 12:30 - 3:30 every Tuesday from January 5 - March 22.

The outline that I composed says it all, so I've pasted it here:

Join Ingrid for 12 weeks of oil painting that includes both structured and independent work.

We will begin with 7 weeks of still life because there is no better way to learn to paint than from life.  Our focus will be on creating dynamic compositions, and painting fabric, reflective surfaces, florals and a variety of textures.  Whether you are a studio or outdoor painter, prefer landscape, or other subject matter, the skills that you develop in this section will transcend genre and enhance your overall painting practise. 

The remaining 5 weeks will be independent subject, allowing you to work from any references you prefer.  Painters may bring in photos, or sketches, or continue working from still life set ups in the studio.  Ingrid will work with individuals at whatever stage their work is at; providing instruction and demoes to help painters progress. 

This course will include both group and individual demonstrations and instruction with the aim of developing each painter's individual style and aesthetic, and encouraging exploration and risk taking. 

Suitable for painters with minimal experience to advanced.  

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Adjusting a painting to my vision

14 x 11 
The model was a no show Thursday night at Calgary Figure Drop in, so one of the artists, Rick, kindly offered to sit for us.  What a guy!

I finished the portrait of him in the dim light of the studio, and felt it was a decent likeness, but, when I looked at it the next day, it felt like someone else's work.  After considering it for a while, I realized that the high contrast really plagued me.  My favourite paintings are those that maintain a closer value range.  No deep shadows and spotlight effects for me; I like my shadows to be colourful and midtoned, and my lights to be well below white.  So I spent some time fiddling with this painting to see whether I could turn it into something that felt right to me.  I know, some of you will prefer the original, and that's ok; that's your aesthetic.  But to be an artist is to find your own taste and follow it wherever it leads.  If other people like the things that you do that's gravy, but it's not necessary.  You can only paint to suit yourself.  

First, I lightened all of the shadows, making them have distinct colour, and better shapes.  Immediately, the work felt less harsh and illustrative to me.

Next, I toned down the chroma in the blue of the shirt and the background.  It was a very blue shirt, but the colour seemed to shout at me with its intensity.  By adding some yellow ochre and then reapplying the blue, I got a nice, tertiary mixture happening on the surface that felt more in keeping with the subdued palette that I'd introduced into the background.  The colour flowed better from subject to background, as well.  

Finally, I changed the design of the lights in his shirt in order to move the eye through the painting in a circular manner.  Now,  instead of charging up the strong diagonals of the original shirt shapes, the eye gently circles within the shapes of the shirt and follows the forearm up to the face.  The viewing pace has changed from abrupt and choppy, to reflect the quiet, gentle mood of the pose.

A painting can look a thousand different ways, and there are no rights and wrongs, only paintings that feel false and paintings that feel right - to the painter.  While the original painting had some merit and was fresh and immediate, it didn't resonate with me at all.  The altered version seems right to my eyes, and those are the only eyes that count.

Happy painting!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Figurative painting is alive and well

10 x 8
 I've had the privilege of teaching and doing a lot of figure painting from life lately.

A couple of weeks ago the Richmond Artist Guild hosted me for a 5-day figure workshop held in the unique Langley cohousing facility, Windsong.  Thanks to artist Lalita Hamill for arranging the venue!

What impressed me about the painters was their long-standing commitment to figure work.  Several have been hiring models weekly, and all were clearly used to working from life.  That meant that we didn't have to spend time on proportion and how to see and find colours in skin tones, and could proceed to the meat of the matter: interesting paint application, colour interactions, and compositional choices.  It was an amazingly stimulating group to work with because they really looked at the model and saw her without preconceived notions of what they were looking at.  That means that instead of painting a symbols for the features and body parts, they painted them as they really observably were. 
This sounds like a small matter, but it's huge.  Most of us have a set way of depicting a nose, or a hand, that's probably come from our earliest drawings.  It's incredibly hard to break out of the habit of those early symbols and see the world without their influence.

Richmond Artist Guild workshop
At home in Calgary, my students at the Calgary School of Art are in the middle of a figure unit which has produced some exciting work.  Most recently, I asked them to paint 3 different poses on the same canvas within the 3 hour class.  The 20 minute warm up pose was the first one on the canvas and the next 2 had to interact with that first figure in some way.  I wanted to see them overlap figures wet in wet (which meant layering paint on the fly), sacrifice favourite passages for the greater good of composition, and work intuitively rather than too rationally.  I was looking for lost edges where the model's red dress met the red in another pose or where similar values came together, and I was looking for a sense of perspective in the space, as if the figures were on logical planes.  Below are just 2 of many excellent pieces from that experiment.  The standing figure in the background of both was the first pose so the other figures were all added later.  That's tricky work in wet paint!

Calgary School of Art painters
And, I've taken up painting at a weekly figure drop in.  It's long pose work- the model holds a single pose for 3 hours - and I'm loving it.  The portrait of Lee at the top came out of last night's session along with the quick sketch on mylar below.  

Models do us a great service by posing and allowing us to look keenly and long at them without embarrassment or excuses. We are all people watchers, fascinated by our own kind, and models allow us to exercise this fascination and turn it into an act of creation.  They give us the opportunity to understand ourselves through them, and to notice the beauty of each person before us. 

In a world that's increasingly full of depersonalised interactions - robotic telephone answering services, self check outs, online transactions of all sorts - painting and drawing a real person in a quiet, concentration-filled room, is a deeply satisfying, human thing to do. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Value containers and what they hold

10 x 8
5.75 x 12
I'm enjoying working small right now.  The studio is full of paintings to go to small works shows at Tutt Art Gallery in Kelowna, BC, and Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery in Portland, ME.  

These are two that I particularly enjoyed painting because of the unorthodox colours in the flesh tones.  Skin colour reflects all of the colours surrounding it - especially pale skin - so the children can take on blues, greens and oranges from their environment or from their own warm limbs. 

The photos that these came from were both very blurry and distant so they were no help except to show shapes and how the light and shadows fell on the figures.  That created the wonderful simplicity of two values in the figure.  I like to think of each separate tone as a container of value.  Within each container, there can be many colour and even temperature changes, but no major tonal change.  

Logic and years spent staring unnervingly at people in all different light conditions tells me that the top planes will receive a lot of sky colour in them.  That's why the cool purples,blues and greens work on the boy in "Water". Warm  cheeks will still glow through this reflected coolness and, even if the child were terribly pale, I would put the warmth there to suggest health.  

Though sunlight is generally cooler than we think, if I painted a bluish "daylight" temperature in the blown out lights on the children, it would be unpleasant.  Sunshine feels warm and inviting only when it has some of the warm spectrum in it: yellow, orange, or red.  This was a fact that I deliberately ignored in the boy in "Four" because, when I made his highlights as warm as his companions', the painting felt monotonous. That's the kiss of death.  So I reversed the temperature on him.  Yes, I know what I said earlier about unpleasantness, but it did what I wanted it to do: set the child up as the focal point because he's different.  The amount of warm light on the other 3 children means that the viewer accepts the premiss of a warm, sunny day despite an inconsistency.  

The experimentation continues and small works make it a joy. I'll post some more soon.  

Happy painting!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It ain't over till it's over

Purple Life Vest
30 x 30 Revised
Previous incarnation 
A painting is only done when the artist says it's done.  And even then, the passage of time can turn a previously "done" work into a starting point: a foundation for more thought and experimentation.

Purple Life Vest was the gleeful product of a fascination with pink.  I painted it swiftly, intuitively and without censoring myself a few months ago, and I liked it.  But it wasn't ready to go out into the world; the thought of sending it to a gallery didn't cross my mind as it was so different from my usual palette.  Still, there was something there that I liked, so it hung in the studio as a joyful recollection of summer.

Then I did the big painting purge of 2015, and it was one of few paintings to survive the overhaul and avoid landfill.  In my newly orderly, newly painted studio, it also became fair game for more paint.

The first thing to change was all that pink. When I'd painted it, I thought it might be the first of a series of pink-infused images, but it didn't come to pass.  I just needed to get that one out of my system, and then I moved on.  And now it was time to sober this piece up and see if it could say anything new to me.  As well, I thought the image lacked space, and the figures were too defined.

When I make changes, I try to confine myself to doing one thing and stopping to evaluate its effect, before making a second change.  That way I don't go past a good stopping point inadvertently and create a whole new set of issues to overcome.  So the first change was to cover most of the pink with a greyed warm and to extend the blue water into a simpler, larger shape.  Instantly, the flow of the painting improved and I found I had also figured out how to create space.  The blue, heading up to, and partially obscuring, the horizon did the trick.

As to the figures: they suddenly felt less firm in this new and improved background, so I mainly worked along their edges, breaking into them with background colour to reduce crispness and contrast.  Most needed little work -  it turns out they weren't as bad as I thought (proof that tackling only one thing is sensible) - but I repainted a great deal of the hat-wearing lady and lowered the contrast of the child in the life vest.

Then it was time to hang the painting for a rest and some thinking.  Luckily, during its rest, a friend who is both an artist and a collector, came to my studio and fell in love with it.  She'd seen it before the changes and hadn't felt a pull, but its new incarnation touched her.  So it will have a new home, and that means that I won't be making any further changes.  That's a good way to discover that a painting is really done!

Happy painting!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The workspace helps create the work

8 x 10
The only constant in life is change, and the act of making art is no different.  The works that I loved when I made them, seem filled with flaws once they've been signed (in fact, I often sign a painting in order to speed the process of flaw finding.  It seems to be a catalyst for major changes); and the technique that felt exactly right suddenly feels wrong headed and ineffectual.  The key to dealing with the awareness of something being wrong is to accept that it's valid, live with the discomfort, and, when it's unbearable, do something that feels like it may alleviate that discomfort. So this summer I was deeply uncomfortable, and then I made some major changes.  The result is amazing! 

Beginning a few weeks ago, I changed most everything about my daily practise.  I slashed and trashed more than 50 paintings that had languished on my studio shelving.  They'd been waiting for me to become skilled enough to get them out of the stalemates that they were in.  But, on looking at them with a dispassionate eye, I decided that life was too short to address them, and they were a psychic weight that I no longer wanted to carry.  Taking a car load of sliced canvases to the dump and hurling them into bins was cathartic, and spurred me on to more changes.  

The middle grey mixing palette was replaced by a white one, resulting in - well - ongoing confusion, but I think it'll be a good thing when I've adapted fully.  My aim is to find new ways to use colour and the mixing surface is the first step toward that. 

But the biggest, and I think the most effective change, was repainting the interior of my studio.  The walls used to be a fairly dark, muted red.  When I had my studio built, I painted it that unorthodox colour because it was the same colour I'd been working in inside my house for years.  I couldn't imagine working in any other colour space. With 3 skylights, 3 big windows and a glass patio door, I didn't think the dark walls would be an issue.  But, over time, my intentions and aesthetic have changed and the walls had begun to hinder my development.  The studio felt dim and it was affecting my colour/value mixing.  

Research devoted to the "ideal wall colour" for a studio came up with the usual suspects: white, mid grey, warm, cool..., but nothing that resonated, until I came across a phrase in a blog to the effect that if you want to paint dark paintings, paint your walls a dark colour.  Ah ha!  A light bulb went on! 
Dark paintings are emphatically not what I want, so I had my answer.

The new colour is a cool grey in a value just above pure white (it's a 2 on a 1-10 scale).  Suddenly, the space appears large and airy.  The walls now bounce so much excellent light, that I'm stunned by how much was lacking in my life before this.

Next, I had my handy son build a massive work 4 x 8" table on wheels.  With its huge storage shelf  it allowed me to consolidate a lot of bins of supplies out of sight and to take down some shelving that had lined the walls.  The energy and flow of the room improved immediately, and I find I'm painting in parts of the room that I've never stood in before.  
Wheeled greenhouse shelving as large as a wall, picked up all of the stretcher bars, frames, packaging supplies, still life objects, and general "stuff", that had been stored in myriad, smaller units along the walls, and by covering one side of the shelving, I could both block the unsightliness of the load and create a screen for a lot of wall storage behind it.  Eventually, I'll hang white-painted plywood on it and create a wall to hang paintings on, but I'm fine with it for now.  When the discomfort builds, I'll get to it.

It's been a lot of work involving my least favourite thing: repeatedly lifting and shifting heavy things, but it's been worth it.  There's more to be done, but I feel able to move forward, and, wonderfully, I feel energized and rejuvenated as I head into fall.  I think that good paint will happen in that space.

Stay tuned, and happy painting!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Inspirations for Artist Appreciation month

30 x30
August is Artist Appreciation Month!  I was reminded of this by Patience Brewster, the designer of whimsical and fanciful ornaments that most of us have seen in stores around Christmas time.

Patience asked me if I'd write a blog about artists who have inspired me.  It's a great idea and an opportunity to thank my touchstone artists.

So here they are in order of my personal chronology as an artist.  Because I started out in watercolour (only the hardest medium in the world, as it turns out), the first painters who inspired me were Joseph Zbukvic, and Charles Reid.  See the influence?  They both focus on light, and have loose, bold brushwork.  Zbukvic's contre jour aesthetic still dazzles me and the economy and joy of his mark making makes me want to applaud.

Charles Reid showed me how to paint the figure in one big, graceful gesture and how to find colour and colour temperature within it.  These lessons weren't in person, unfortunately, but I've signed his books out of the library countless times.

Then, when I switched to oils because I wanted to explore texture, paint larger, and ditch glass framing, I "discovered" John Singer Sargent.  A few people had got there before me, thankfully, and there are amazing books available by his sister's grandson, Richard Ormond.  The plates showed me that oil could be as radiant, loose, experimental and joyful as watercolour, and they showed me that big brushes were a must.  Eventually, I got to see Sargents in real life, and they revealed a rough and ready quality that photos couldn't.  It was a surprise and a delight to see that he wasn't polished and precise as the reduced-size images implied.

Sorolla came next because of his brilliant light and colour.  He wasn't a shy painter, and he painted subjects that touched me: beaches, children, summer sunshine.

And while these two were great models for what an oil painting could look like, I had no idea how to construct such a thing.  Most of the local art teachers focused on landscape painting - something I wasn't interested in - and so I looked to the Internet for contemporary painters that I could learn from.

Through many hours on gallery sites, I found Lawrie Williamson's work.  His suggestive, soft, contre jour figures touched me.  I liked his subtle palette, and his subjects: figures, water, movement, and fly fishing, a pursuit that my young son had become obsessed with.  Lawrie showed me the potential that small moments have to touch people's memories and passions.

I wrote to one of his galleries in the UK asking if he could forward my letter.  For a few weeks, I heard nothing, and then I received a long and generous letter from Lawrie Williamson himself.  In it, he outlined his working methods and colour choices, and offered encouragement.  I have it, and the exhibition catalogue that he included, on the table in my studio to this day.  His letter was invaluable and launched many years of work.  The starts that I make are Williamson starts.

Sergei Bongart came next because I love colour!  When a friend loaned me a book about his work, I felt I'd found my people.  The roughness, brilliance and dash of his work resonated and still does every time I look at it. I loved his figures and still life, and was moved by his words about the importance of life painting.

And lastly - though I could continue for many more pages - I was deeply and lastingly inspired by Maggie Siner.  Though I cannot be as economical in brushstroke and as restrained in palette as she is, this is an artist that I look at regularly online and whose work I aspire to collect.  She showed me that edges are a state of mind and that you can simply push past them as far and as often as you like, and your subject can still make perfect sense.  And, your painting will be thrilling for the audacity.

I'm indebted to these painters and many, many more whose work I look at online regularly.  Unlike any time in the past, artists have access to a massive range of artwork thanks to the Internet.  It can be overwhelming, but it can also be motivating.  The many great painters working today remind me that I can always do better and work harder, and that there are countless ways to put paint on canvas.

Happy painting, and don't forget to tell your families and friends to appreciate you this month!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Recipes for gorgeous greys

Daisies and Water
30 x 30
I've been on a technology hiatus this summer, painting, gardening, and relishing the short, intense summer - despite its hail storms and heat waves.  It's been a treat to be unplugged and to wait until the time seemed right to start looking at the computer again (yes, I actually mean Facebook, that great sucking abyss of irresistible video links and great paintings).  So I'm diving back in with a blog about greys because today is the first grey day in a long while.

There are lots of tempting tube greys on the paint display rack, but I prefer to mix my own from the primaries plus white.  That gives endless permutations and makes a livelier colour space for the eye to explore.  

My palette contains warm and cool variations of each of the primaries plus a few earth colours and a selection of whites.  Here's a list of the pigments that are my mainstays.  I sometimes add a novel colour like viridian, cad yellow deep, or Indian yellow, but this list shows the workhorses:

Cad red light
Alizarin permanent
Cad yellow medium
Cad lemon
Ultramarine blue
Cerulean Hue or phthalo blue
Yellow ochre
Raw umber
transparent red iron oxide
Titanium white
Flake white hue/replacement
Zinc white (to be mixed with titanium; it's too brittle to use on its own)

This list makes an endless and amazing variety of colours and those can all be used to make luminous greys.  For example, if I'm trying to make a warm, reddish grey, I would probably think of cad red light as my foundation colour (alizarin if I'm making a cool, reddish grey), and explore all of the triads that it makes plus varying amounts of white to make it light enough to read the grey:

Cad red light + cad yellow med + ult blue + white
cad red light + cad lemon + ult blue + white
cad red light + yellow ochre + ult blue+ white
cad red light +cad yellow med + cerulean + white
cad red light + cad lemon + cerulean + white
cad red light + yellow ochre + cerulean + white

That's 6 different greys, just in the warm, reddish field.  I could do the same with each of the warm and cool primaries as well as the earth tones which are, themselves, just low chroma primaries.  

But that's not the only way to make grey.  Adding white to any colour will automatically grey it.  Try putting some white in one of the cadmiums and you'll see how it loses its intense chroma.  This is particularly noticeable with cool, opaque titanium.

And then there are the earth pigments which, when added to high chroma pigments can also grey them. One of my favourite earth pigments for this purpose is yellow ochre.  If I have a yellow that's screaming too loudly in the painting, I'll add a bit of yellow ochre to it to dial it down a notch.  TRO mixed into cad red light will grey and darken it; adding a bit of white will give you a whole new sophisticated greyed red.  

So I avoid the whole grey section in the art store which saves me heaps of money.  And those savings can be applied to buying more brushes - my biggest weakness!

Happy painting!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Two new workshops in October!

The Painterly Approach
Oct. 3 - 4
Painting the Figure from Life
Oct. 5 - 9
 I'll be teaching for 7 straight days in the Greater Vancouver area this fall.
This may sound arduous, but it's actually a lot of fun and very energizing.  Years ago I walked into a meditation room and was struck by the palpable, deeply relaxed atmosphere generated by a group of meditating people.
Walking into a room full of painters is a different, but equally wonderful feeling. Everyone is striving for the same thing - a good, honest painting - and the energy in the room is intense and stimulating.  I know I'll receive as much as I give.

The workshops are a 2-day still life weekend on October 3-4, offered through the Federation of Canadian Artists, and a 5-day figure painting week through the Richmond Artist Guild from October 5 - 9.  I'll be in picturesque Steveston, BC for the weekend and in Langley, BC for the figure workshop.

I hope you'll join me for some good, honest painting and some excellent energy!

For detailed information, please see my website .   

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Painting white in full colour

Chinese Vase
10 x 8
White is tricky and fascinating colour to paint and I often tackle it in the studio to see just how my painting chops are progressing.  It's all very pleasant to paint stuff that comes easily for me, but sometimes it's good and humbling to try to paint the hard stuff.

This little Chinese vase is one of my favourite objects.  It's shape, pattern and colours all appeal to me and I've used it over and over.  Each time I paint it, it looks different thanks to type of lighting I used on it, the background and ground colours, and the mood I'm in.  I was into high drama when I painted it this time, and that turns out to have been a good thing.  I learned just how much further I could push my whites.

Setting up the vase on a powerful red and putting a dark background behind it, forced me to work with strong contrasts.  The vase couldn't be a delicate pastel in this setting as it wouldn't harmonize with the overall strength of the colour environment.  So I had to push the colours in the whites into quite rich and relatively dark territory so that they could compete with their background.

Another tactic would have been to concentrate on the blue pattern of the vase, but that wasn't as interesting to me in this set up.  What attracted me to this was the reflected colour and its transition from warm base to cooler shoulder in the shadow side of the vase.

Because everything in a painting is part of a relationship, darkening the white areas meant darkening the patterns as well.  Peripheral vision helped me to see how dark I could make the patterns since, when I looked at them out of the corner of my eye, they appeared nearly black.  When I looked at them in the centre of my visual field, they lightened and showed their varieties of ultramarine and cobalt colours. So the darks were painted using peripheral and I looked at the whites both peripherally and centrally so that I could pull as many colours out of them as possible.

This all sounds very rational and clinical and, of course, it wasn't.  Most of a painting is done, ideally, in an intuitive, joyful way.  My left brain is turned to low and I work swiftly and fluidly with big brushes and an "it's only paint" attitude.  Only when I reach an impasse do I stop and give some serious thought to a passage and plot my next move.  It worked out in this case and showed me that I've made some progress in my understanding of colour and tone.  Next time I'll set up a pure white object and see how I make out.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mining a vein

The Bedroom 1
10 x 8
The Bedroom 2
14 x 11
These 2 paintings were an exploration of a back lit figure done from some photos that I took of my son.  He's over 6' tall and not at all feminine, but I changed his gender for these paintings while keeping the lighting and the grace of his gesture.  In the source photo below, you can see the similarities and also where the paintings diverge.  I was particularly excited by the cool, high key shadows in the white quilt and the expanse of light falling across its top plane.

Always fascinating is the amount of both warm and cool colour that makes up a shadow. Depending on reflected wall colour, local flesh colour, and the temperature of the light outside, there are multiple different hues that can be layered into a shadow.  These colours energize the shadow and make it descriptive of both the figure and its surroundings.  It's important, though, to keep the shadow application flat; any texture in the paint will make that area catch light and jump out of its recessive place.  I save my textural paint for the lights and somewhat in the mids.

At some point, I'll use this image again for a larger painting in which my goal will be to capture the blur of his movement.  I'll even allow him to keep his gender.
If it works, I'll show you.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The problem with dark passages

Morning Glow
12 x 12
It's easy to build the lights in a painting: thick, luscious, white-laden paint; and it's somewhat easy to develop mid tones: warm and cool, colour changes without big value changes; but it's very hard to figure out what to do with shadows.  It's the darks that stymie me in a lot of my paintings.

Many painters start with an earth toned underpainting in which they knock in all of the shadows and darks in a monochromatic grisaille (the current favourite is transparent red oxide, though traditionally I believe it was umber).  Then, as they build the painting, they leave the TRO to show through, often creating the shadows in the finished piece.  I used to do a lot of that.

But I've been using progressively thicker paint over the past year and those thin passages don't integrate as they used to; they look raw and unfinished in my eyes and I'm forced to deal with them.

Sargent said once that you should paint the shadows with as much paint as the lights, you just have to make the shadows look transparent.  Well, he would say that. So I spend a great deal of time figuring out how to create shadows that don't feel heavy and unpleasant, but have more paint than that first fresh layer.

This painting is a case in point.  The figure came together relatively quickly, but the shadow on the left had a lot of work done to it before I felt it integrated and lost its rawness.  Left as an initial, transparent dark underpainting, it seemed to weigh the painting down.  The figure didn't glow and her environment seemed menacing and harsh.  So I kept adding layers of paint, progressively lightening while keeping it cool.  I was very surprised by how light I had to go before the sensation of the painting lifted into something inviting.  It still reads as a dark, but nowhere near as dark as the small shape under the woman's chin, which was the initial value that I used.

There's something wonderful about the time spent figuring out problems like this in the studio.  It's rational and also intuitive; I try something because there's nothing to lose since I'm not satisfied with the painting anyway, and, when a painting suddenly works, I feel like I've made a huge discovery.  It wouldn't be nearly so much fun if everything worked right away.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rejuvenate and refresh

Halter Dress
18 x 14 
I spent 3 days last weekend at River Rock Studio not far from Calgary.  It was just 4 painters and, for one of the days, our model, Brenda, and it was amazing.

Unlike all the people who work with others, artists often spend days on end without talking to another person, let alone a peer.  We can become uncertain, mannered, and squirrelly; not good for the creation of art.  So working and talking with professional artists for 3 days was a balm and a rejuvenation.  There was wine, good food and shop talk.  We applauded exciting passages and colour mixtures and commiserated with wipe offs.  But, since we've all had plenty of those, they weren't a big deal; just part of the process.

And that was the thing that this retreat most reminded me of: the fact that making art is about process, not product.  Wonderful if something works and you can pop it in a frame, but also wonderful if you've taken some risks with the paint, but it didn't turn into a keeper.  That's beside the point.  The point is to work with integrity and honesty and to be fully engrossed while you're doing it.

This painting came from our model day.  We worked both in and outdoors with Brenda, trying to capture her calm beauty (and sunburnt, landscaper's arms) and were enthralled the whole time.  The day just flew and the process was never anything but enthralling.

Happy painting!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Cold wax medium

Red Sarong
11.6 x 12
Every oil medium gives a different look to brushwork and, of course, to the final painting.  I've been exploring those unique qualities quite a bit lately.

While my old stand by medium is 50/50 oil and OMS, I have taken frequent forays into the world of alkyds in the form of Liquin, Neo Megilp and Galkyd.  This painting, however, used a modern version of an ancient medium: wax.

I used Dorland's cold wax medium throughout the painting as my reading suggested that it should not just be used in one part of the piece.  As well, I painted on a rigid support to avoid cracking from the thicker, harder paint body.  This is on linen mounted on birch.

While the original wax medium in old master's paintings would have been beeswax, Dorland's is,  a mixture of beeswax, several other waxes, and resin.  It's quick dry, thanks to the resin, but, unlike most resin products, it doesn't smell.  As always, it's probably adding some to my indoor pollution, but I didn't have any tell-tale dizziness after using it, so that's a plus!

My jar of Dorland's is pretty old (5+years) and I'm sure it must have undergone some changes along the way.  Still, it's not discoloured and moves pretty well, so I'm thinking it's similar to when I bought it.  But unlike the soft and somewhat creamy movement that Gamblin cold wax gives to paint (very much like a lead-free version of Old Master's Italian Wax), Dorland's gives a stiff, short mark.  Even with just a tiny bit added into my paint mixtures, it seems to stop the stroke dead when it touches the board.  It's a very interesting phenomenon.  Over the span of a larger painting, I know I'd get tired of this slow accretion of paint, and would liberally use a palette knife, but it was a lot of fun on such a small piece.  It gave me texture without imparting a crusty look that I truly dislike in oil paintings. There's a nice sense of atmosphere in the figure's environment that I can't imagine getting from such a thick application of paint with other mediums.

Wax paintings are naturally matte and, to my knowledge, you can't varnish them.  They have an almost fresco-like quality that's different and quite appealing.  I think they'd be superb for landscapes as a way to suggest depth and air.   I'll try that next.

Happy painting!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Interpreting a photo

The Dance of the Red Pails
12 x 12

This little painting is, as always an attempt to subvert the photo reference and do something painterly from a fixed and frozen image.  I've painted the little guy on the left a few times because I love his dynamic balance and the sense of continuing motion in his pose (score one for photography).  You just know that he's going to continue to move forward fluidly and unhesitatingly from this moment in time, and that quality of movement is what keeps putting him back in my sights when I look for something to paint.  

Still, there's a lot not to like in the photo, so I spent some time doodling ideas before tackling the painting.  At first, I thought about using the large, patterned bum behind the boys and adding even more abstract patterning to the background and around the children.  It would have been a painting about patterns.  But a rough sketch of the idea got it out of my system; I wasn't interested enough to commit it to paint. 

At that point I committed to the idea of children in motion, and chose a generally cool colour scheme with cool grey toning and dark green to lay in the composition.  This would enhance any warmth in the skin tones, but meant that the pails had to change colour or be lost in the overall greenness.  

The red of the pails was slashed on in the general vicinity of their final spots, so that I'd avoid that frozen motion quality.  I chiseled out their shapes through negative painting slowly, always checking in a mirror to see when I'd made enough marks to identify the objects without hitting the viewer over the head with overt "PAILS".  A lot of a painting can be left ill defined and the viewer will fill in the omissions with ease and with pleasure; I believe that viewers like to participate in a painting and appreciate an opportunity to interpret and complete areas of visual ambiguity.  My goal is to paint something that offers surprises and delights long past the first viewing.  

Happy painting!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The distracted mind

12 x 12
Like all working artists, I'm a recluse, spending more time in the studio than anywhere else and seldom seeing people socially.  But I have my handy headset which, when connected to my phone, allows me to paint and chat with friends at the same time.  There are two benefits to this: I remember how to speak to people other than myself, and I paint without over thinking the process.

This little painting was done during a phone call.  I happened to notice that a sunbeam was tracking over my little vase of fake flowers and turning them from something ordinary into something very special.  The problem was that the beam was moving at amazing speed.  Luckily, I have a tall computer table on wheels in the studio, so I popped the vase on it, grabbed a linen panel, and began speed painting; all while talking about a friend's holiday and - hopefully - making sense.

I had to move the computer table every 10 minutes or so to recapture the light, and I didn't have much time for mixing or thinking, but it was a joyful, playful thing to do.  Painting that quickly forces you to avoid wasted movement and just makes you to get on with things: grab paint, smack it down; figure out where your impasto will be and get it on thickly and quickly; glance at colours and make snap judgements about what they are rather than stare and begin to doubt that first impression; and don't worry about details; just paint the big stuff.  

The phone call added the extra complexity of divided attention.  I couldn't stop and ponder if that yellow mixture was too bright, or figure out how to modulate the dark background, or count the number of leaves that I was seeing; my rational mind was occupied with foreign lands and adventures (not my own, sadly).

When the sun's angle was totally different than what I started with, I stopped painting.  We were done our phone call, anyway, and I knew that if I continued working, I'd have slowed down, begun to tweak, and totally lost the freshness of the piece.  Knowing when to stop is the most important part of the process, and it's often much sooner than you'd think.

Happy painting!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Creating worlds

Minute and Imperceptible Motion
20 x 20"
At a certain point, you might decide that a painting is done.  Then you either stop painting, or, if it doesn't excite you, you throw a foreign object at it (to paraphrase Alex Kanevsky).

This painting was heading down a path that was working: beige skin, warm cheeks, all very plausible and all very ordinary.  I could see its finish while I was in the middle of it.  And that was incredibly dispiriting.  If I couldn't find any excitement in producing the painting, who would be excited by looking at it?

So I put it aside for a bit and did some thinking and looking through old photos.  On a trip to the Met. Museum in NY, a few years ago, I saw this Kees Van Dongen painting:
It dominated the room.  While my photo is probably colour skewed, it doesn't matter: it reminded me that I am creating a new world within each painting, and in that world, I make the rules.  If I can't at least create an interesting new world, then there's no point in painting.  Why create mundane things?

When the painting was dry, I oiled it out and put a rich coat of pale green over all of the flesh tones in the light and into the background.  Suddenly, I'd created a world that held some interest for me and I was off!  After that huge transformation, the painting began to offer new ideas and possibilities, and I tried to pursue as many of them as I could.  Green skin was my foreign object and it started up a whole new conversation between me and the canvas.  When I decided it was time to stop, I didn't feel like I'd arrived at a place that I had seen coming from miles away; I was standing on new ground in a new world.  And I'd had a great ride on the way, and that's the whole point.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Altered perception

Black mirror
One of my students in the Steveston, BC workshop gave me a very cool gadget.  It's low tech - just my speed.  It's another tool in my basket, allowing me to see my subjects and my paintings from new perspectives.  There's nothing like a new viewpoint to show you where your painting needs work.

The black mirror is a piece of glass coated on the reverse with black acrylic paint and, though it looks goofy when you use it (you look up to see an upside down version of the subject reflected in the glass), it is incredible at separating values in a subject so that you can understand the form of what you're seeing.  We used it in the workshop to clearly discern the value changes
along our model's arm, from low light up to high light on the top of her shoulders.

 Since then, I've discovered it's amazing at showing the value changes across subtle shifts such as on a white shirt worn under average light.  While it's easy to see light and shadow in bright sunlight, it's much harder under regular indoor fluorescent panels like the ones in the studio where I teach.   I'm enjoying examining the world through this new tool.  Thank you, Coral!

red acrylic
The second image shows a piece of red acrylic that I've found helpful over the years.  It's a value finder and, while I buy mine in a local art supply store, I've been told they're stocked at quilting stores, as well.  It works by turning the subject into a monochromatic scene, thereby showing its values without the distraction of local colour.  Its only drawback is that it shows red objects as white.  There is a light wave explanation for this.  Don't ask me to explain it.
hand mirror
The final tool: a compact mirror, is always in my painting kit.  By turning my back on the painting and looking at it in the mirror, I can get a fresh perspective on the painting.  Any drawing errors leap to view though they were well hidden when I was facing the work.  I have a large, wall mounted mirror behind me in the studio for the same purpose.  My rhythm of working is to make a mark or two and then swing around and look at the painting in the mirror to gauge the effect.  It helps me to avoid overworking because I can see when the painting has enough information to make sense from a distance: the mirror image is, essentially, doubling the viewing distance as well as reversing the image. 

If you've got any tools to alter your view of your painting or subject, I'd love to hear about them.  A painter can never have enough ways to freshen her eyes.

Happy painting!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Solo Exhibition Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery

I'm having a solos show!  That's pretty exciting for me, and I hope you can come out and see it if you're in the Portland, Maine area,  The Roux and Cyr International Fine Art Gallery is a busy and active gallery that's been open for just over a year.  I was honoured to be asked to join them by painter and co-owner Susan Roux and it's been a positive experience all around.

The opening is May 1 and you'll be able to see a wide variety of my work from figurative to still life, and from small to large.  Enjoy the work and wine!

Happy painting!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

FCA Workshops in Steveston Village, BC

The figurative and still life workshops in Richmond, BC were a great experience for me and, I hope, for the painters who attended.

Two days were spent painting the clothed figure - many thanks to our inspiring model, Amy - and two days were devoted to still life.  Painters came from as far away as Tennessee, New York, Jasper, Osoyoos, and Calgary, as well as from the Vancouver area.  That meant great conversations in the classroom and over shared meals in some of the restaurants in the vicinity of the workshop venue. And yes, the venue had a lot of Rotary Club paraphernalia, but it was great despite the busy walls. We were in a functions room in a historic hotel, the Steveston, which also contains a pub (The Buck and Ear), a cafe, and a liquor store.  Really, you don't need anything else!

Despite the varied subject matter, I found that the recurring themes of the workshops were largely the same: composition, paint layering, edges, tone, colour temperature and colour interaction.  These things concern me no matter what I'm painting, and, in fact, I find subject matter subordinate to them. I've seen stunning paintings with mundane subjects like cutlery, and boring paintings with exciting subjects like beautiful women.  My aim is always directed at the former.

Thanks to the great painters who gave their all in these workshops and to the Federation of Canadian Artists for hosting them.

Happy painting!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Choices, choices...

Chinese Vase
10 x 8
Model in Strong Light
10 x 8
 I'll be in Vancouver next week teaching both figurative and still life workshops for the Federation of Canadian Artists.  To get into the mood, I've been working on small pieces in both genres in the studio.

What strikes me each time that I begin a painting is the vast number of choices that it involves.  And each choice made launches the work in a definite direction.  My most confounding decision starts with the support.  Oil primed linen is my usual choice (though I've also got oil paper, velum, aluminum, and gesso primed canvas and panels in the studio), but within that category I've got rough, smooth, and medium textured linen; double primed and single primed; stretched and mounted.  Each will impart a completely different look to the final piece - at least in my eyes - because the way that a mark breaks on each is unique to that surface.

Next is the colour of the toning - if I use any.  Sometimes I opt to start on a white surface for the clarity of colours that you get that way, but usually there's a colour underneath.  That decision takes a while to make.  Cool under a warm painting?  Warm under warm?  Neutral grey?  What chroma? What value?  You can see the dilemma.

Finally, the colour of the subject's first mark is crucial.  Earth toned or prismatic, this mark will direct the painting down a path, and the decision about which path I want it to take gives me pause - sometimes long pause.

Degas said that "painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do", and I concur, but I'd also add that it's richer and more rewarding when you do know how.  You're aware of so many possibilities and, like a chess player, you paint the piece in your head 5 different ways before you even pick up the brush.  But in the act of painting it in your head, you're helping to crystallize your plan for that piece; you're figuring out how you want it to look when it's done and, especially, how you don't want it to look.  That initial planning lets you know if you've been successful when you're done.

So planning and painting in the mind are going to be part of the workshops, but we always move beyond that.  Once these thoughtful starts are on canvas, I'm always dazzled by the directions that the painters take.  No two painters make the same initial choices, and no two paintings look the same at the end.  Regardless of subject, a successful painting is a record of the choices made by an individual on a give day in a specific place.  It can't be replicated, not even by the same painter, because those decisions are as changeable as a person's experiences and moods.  Each painting is unique and hard won, and full of moments of grace, even in passages of struggle.  Difficult?  Yes.  Uplifting?  You bet!

Happy painting!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Balance colour and temperature

Sunlight and Lemons
30 x 30
Some painters deliberately avoid using all three primaries in a single painting, but it's a practise that has never worked for me.  I need to see the full spectrum of colours in each painting or it feels out of balance.

This may be the difference between a tonal and a colourist approach; I can see limiting primaries if the subtle distinction between values were my method of painting, but colour is what obsesses me, and I need to use my full palette to satisfy my eye.

Of course I tend to forget this on occasion, as I did in this painting.  It began as a generally cool piece with greenish shadows and warm, yellowy light.  With the blue dominance in the still life objects, this meant that my painting was an analogous scheme of yellow greens and blues.  It was what I saw in the still life set up, but it didn't work in the painting.

It's interesting when that happens, because it's a reminder that you can't just trust your eyes, you have to use some rational thought and invention to recreate the effect that you're perceiving.   What I perceived was warmth, luminosity and airiness.  What I achieved with the first pass, was chilly heaviness.  I didn't love it.

That's when I remembered the full spectrum thing and added reds - pinks, actually - to the painting. The white cloth got shots of pink and purple that were of equal value to the yellow tints already there.  Because they were the same value, these new colours didn't scream "odd", they settled in and created a warm vibration.  The sky through the window got the same treatment.  It has peach, yellow, blue and other tints in it, making a general warmth that is more balanced, and more warm-feeling than when it just contained yellows and oranges.  Strangely, by adding cool notes, the warm yellows felt warmer than they had before.  Logical, I guess: I needed to see the opposite of warm to appreciate and understand the warmth when I encountered it.

So I added the full spectrum of colour and temperature to the painting and I began to like it.  It was saying what I intended it to say.  It's a lesson that I have to relearn, I suppose, but my hope is that on each relearning, I also learn something new.  It's that excitement and novelty that makes painting an obsession.

Happy painting!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Neo Megilp

Green Sweater
14 x 11
Cowl Neck Sweater
12 x 10
In my continuing quest for just the right mark, I've been experimenting with Gamblin's Neo Megilp. It's their lead-free imitation of Maroger medium: a soft gel used by many painters, notably one of my all-time favourites: Fairfield Porter.

I used the gel in these two small paintings done last week during a half-day model painting session in my studio.  NM has an interesting character under the brush: it both slows my mark and makes it more robust and fluid.  There's a subtle sticking quality despite its description as a "silky" gel, and that makes each mark more deliberate.  It's similar, in that respect, to using a 50/50 mix of stand oil and OMS, but the colour is prettier with NM.  The increased sense of fluidity comes, I think, from the fact that I instinctively load my brush with more paint and medium in order to overcome the stickiness. (That heavier pigment load accounts for the colour's beauty, I think.) The result is an effect that is both my style and not, in my eyes.

NM doesn't allow for the same chunky impasto that straight paint or a 50/50 medium does.  It melts the mark slightly, softening it but still allowing bristle lines to retain their shape.  There are some bizarre fluid dynamics at work here.

The nice thing was that it let me get substantial paint on the linen in a hurry.  I could skip the long stretch of building enough paint to get to the fun edges and jump right in.  The same thing happens with mediums like Res N Gel, but I find they go too far, too fast.  With them, I can't achieve any of the medium consistency paint at all, and am working entirely in impasto from the start; something I find monotonous.

These two small paintings came from just 3 hours of model time.  They have a "finished" feeling because of the edge treatment and lack of scratchy underpainting.  Working small also helped me to accomplish so much.

Next up is a 30 x 30 of a still life that I've got set up in the studio.  I'll give the NM a go and see how it performs at that scale.  It may be too tiring to have my natural speed slowed down with every stroke, and I may find the edges too soft.  Or it may be that mythical creature: the perfect medium.  I have to try!

Happy painting!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Tuesday afternoon class at Calgary School of Art

14 x 11
I'll be starting the spring session of my regular Tuesday classes at the Calgary School of Art on March 31.  There are a few openings in the class this time and I hope you'll join me.  

The course is 12 weeks long and covers a lot of ground.  We start with still life, move on to independent subject choices and individual instruction, and finish with plein air.  The last day of class will be June 16.  

For more specific information about the course, please visit the workshop page on my website: www.icartstudios.com.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The tiling technique

The Dance
14 x 11
The Russian Impressionists were my biggest influence when I was teaching myself to paint.  When a friend showed me Mary Balcomb's book, Sergei Bongart, I felt like I'd found my people.  Here was a man who painted with vigour and joy.  He loved colour and he dashed it on with big, overt brushtrokes.  I could see his hand in each rugged painting.

I've never lost the admiration for obvious brushwork and colour and it's been my goal ever since. The method of applying individual marks in this manner is called tiling.  Walter Sickert, a great British painter and teacher, compared it to a deck of cards placed sparingly on a coloured table top.  Each card was a separated touch of colour.  On top of those first cards, he would place more cards, bridging gaps in the first lay out, but never completely obscuring the table top.  He recommended marks varying in size from postage stamp to pea.  With enough loose, open layers, he could build rich surfaces and lively images.

The key to tiling is to put a mark down and leave it.  There is no blending or slurring of marks; each one is left as an individual.  The mark won't fit into the painting at first, but, with another mark placed as a bridge between it and its neighbour, it will usually settle in.  Sometimes the settling in takes many marks, and that results in an active, complex surface that's full of surprises for the viewer.  It takes patience, faith, and lots of paint, but it's worth it when it works.

"The Dance" is a recent work that shows a lot of tiling.  If you're in Qualicum Beach getting some sun and sea, I hope you'll stop in to Oceanside Gallery and check it out.

Happy painting!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Capturing the Feeling of the Beach

Striped Sundress
10 x 8
Where R U?
8 x 10
 I've been fortunate this winter and have gotten a lot of tropical sunshine.  The light, colour, and warmth continue to inspire me in my snow-covered studio at home.

I've been painting a lot of little 8 x 10's and enjoying the size.  It's just enough to capture a moment and it forces me to be economical in my detail.  "Striped Sundress" was a particular challenge because the dress kept pulling me into more fussy detail.  With the usual overkill of modern digital, my camera captured every wrinkle of the billowing dress.  It took a few attempts with big brushes to make my painting into something that corresponded to what the human eye can see.  We don't see every wrinkle: we see motion, light, shadow and large areas of colour.

When I saw the woman and her child on the beach, the reason I photographed them was that she looked like a billowing sail, filled with light and air as she made her way across the sand.  I wanted my painting to convey that feeling.

"Where R U?" comes from a different intention.  The man in the photo reference stood, back to the sea, for a long time, intent on his phone.  This gave me the opportunity to really look at him and to notice the wonderful repetition of blues in his suit and his surroundings.  Rented beach umbrellas on this beach were all blue, and, it seemed that many of the neighbouring resort's towels were ultramarine blue as well.  It was a moment of happy colour convergence and I was glad to have my camera in my beach bag to capture this.

Happy painting!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Gesso vs oil priming

Red Scarf
24 x 12
My favourite surface is stretched, oil primed linen, but, it's a tricky surface to ship.  Where I live, it's so dry that you could mummify a body just by wrapping it up and putting it outdoors.  There's absolutely no humidity in the air.  That's the environment in which I stretch my linen.  The galleries that show my work are, for the most part, in more humid climates (less humid isn't possible) which means that some of my work gets loose on the stretchers after hanging for a while.  I had to restretch a few the last time I was in Rendezvous Gallery in Vancouver.  The solution is, of course, to find a different support.  

Commercial canvases don't seem as affected by changes in climate, so I'm giving them a try.  The painting above was done on acrylic-primed canvas and I'm ambivalent about the result.  I like the painting, but I miss some of the marks that I can get only on oil priming.  Acrylic priming gives a softer, melting look to the marks; they don't sit up on the surface, and they don't break to allow complex colour layering.  It worked for this subject, but I wouldn't want in for everything.  I remember reading a blog post by the excellent landscape painter, Marc Hanson, in which he said that he used acrylic primed supports to capture the softness of a misty day.  It's a good strategy since it doesn't attempt to fight the natural limitations of the material.  

You can tell I'm on the fence about this. 

I know I can put a layer of oil priming over the commercial canvas, and I may start to do that, but I do find the oil primers to be very stinky in the studio, and they take a week to dry for use (I'm thinking of the Gamblin Oil Ground). 

Before I go down that road, I'm going to experiment with adding layers of acrylic gesso to the commercial canvases, and with gessoing rigid supports.  I've got some aluminum-surfaced Alupanels in the studio that I've been using to glue linen on to.  That works fine for pieces small enough to fit into my 24" heat press, but isn't practical for larger panels.  So I'm going to gesso one and see if the working properties of the gesso are different on a rigid support.  I'll also add texture in the form of crossed brush marks as I apply the gesso, in the hopes that it will simulate a weave and give the paint something to break across.  

Painting isn't so much about the image for me as it is about the paint quality and the edges.  I'm looking for something that allows me to make both of those things interesting and varied.  I'll let you know when I find it.  

Happy painting!