Preparing layered grounds

Hello again.

Today I continued my preparations of the new series of works on HK maps, newspapers, and other paraphernalia. A couple of things come to mind.

– I’m using standard white gesso which is covering well and drying quickly, however, there is not much transparency. It’s turning out to be a more opaque look. All I have left are the various surfaces.

– building up and breaking down: I’m also sanding down the works after each layer of gesso. Rather than use a pre-stretched canvas straight from the shop, I like the idea of building up the surface with consecutive layers. i like the idea of memory and time that is somehow compressed in the surface. if i’m only going to add a piece of torn newspaper and then paint a rather detailed fish from the market over the top, can i possibly add some interest with a layered ground, even in white?

– layering = passing of time = memories, how do i say this without sounding trite or just silly?

– it has come to my attention recently that within the series of fish on various painted ¬†backgrounds ¬†(French newspaper, maps from Japan and Canada, and sometimes just blank canvas), the one that works the ‘best’ seems to be the very first fish I did, the herring on the torn bit of French newspaper from 1993. the text is also interesting as it says “faire outlier,” which means to ‘made to forget.’

– what is it about the particular painting that makes it that much stronger than the others? a couple of friends have suggested that 1) the bright white seems to make it a stronger image and 2) the white may allude to or signify a plate. now that’s a clever idea i hadn’t thought of.

– typically i am fond of worn surfaces, and i go to great lengths to try to make something look like a fresco. i learned this technique in art school in Paris and i still love the unique quality of the transparent washes of water-based paint on the layered surface, often light brown. however, this doesn’t always translate well into working on canvas. i have tried this technique as well, using a colored ground instead of white. i like to mix white with brown ochre which makes a sort of pale-brown, “fresco-like” color. sometimes i can work up flesh colors from the colored ground quite nicely. as i did in the portrait of my friend’s son, William.

– this feels like i’m rambling. just trying to get down some thoughts about how to make the new series of fish from HK more interesting. do the fish have to be from HK? Can they be imported from another country? how does that change the significance? do they have to painted on specific maps of HK? Can they be painted on maps of other countries? does it all have to relate back to MY experience in HK? Is that what makes a work interesting to the viewer, when there are elements that he or she can relate to?

– what are some of the common themes with fish? dislocation, time passing, death, direct observation. here’s a word that an artist friend used that’s great: urgency. Somehow painting fish from life brings a certain urgency to the table. working from photos is something altogether different.

– that could be another post all together. working from life vs. working from photographs. my dilemma for many years now. i was trained at art school to work from life and this is my preference. however, i also love photography and have taken thousands of photos of my travels and my surroundings, and certainly of my children for nearly the past decade. how do i incorporate them into my painting without feeling like i am merely “copying” a photo? is this a valid way to make art? certainly plenty of contemporary painters are using photo references in their works today. does that make their work any stronger or weaker?

– i happen to love line and a very delicate touch. using the photograph helps me lay down the proportions of a face, for example, so much faster, so I can then worry about other things. the color of the flesh, for example, another very challenging problem. how to create translucency and make skin vibrant and life-like? here i am veering away from the fish and talking more about painting portraits. this will be confusing to read. i shall stop now.

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