Letter from Art Camp

Last weekend I painted with about 20 other local artists.  We rented an art studio classroom at the local college and spent three days just immersing ourselves in our projects and enjoying each others’ company.  I wanted to try a new technique and this is the piece I did.  It’s not quite finished but it’s almost there.  Despite the fact that it was an experiment and a new venture I was pretty happy with the way it’s turning out and very happy with the technique.
Here’s how I did it.
I began with a piece of 1/4″ thick hardboard that I cradled with strips of poplar so that there is about 1 1/2″ of clearance on the back.  Then I cut the two holes for the recesses.  I constructed the boxes for the holes from heavy paper and stuck them in place with adhesive.
For my first layer, I coated the whole piece with gesso and stuck pieces of paper on randomly.  I brushed a little gesso over the edges of the paper both to help stick them and to soften the edges.  I had read somewhere that it’s a good idea to tear the edges of the paper so that they transition more easily, and I did that.  After the gesso dried I applied a coat of matt gel medium and let that dry too.
Then it was time to get messy!  I put patches of stucco, extra heavy gesso, and hard molding paste here and there.  In the lower right corned I swirled the hard molding paste with a comb to make the design.  In other places I just created texture with my fingers.  I let that mostly dry then proceeded to the next step, which was……
Rolling over the surface with thinned acrylic paint.  As it rolled it created texture on the highs and lows of the surface.  I used a couple of different colors.  When I was done I thought it was too dark so I started wiping it back with wet paper towels when the HAPPY ACCIDENT happened.  It turned out that the areas of extra thick gesso weren’t completely dry and in some of those areas I actually ended up wiping back to the original coat of white gesso.  Turns out I like those white patches very much!
After another coat of matt gel medium I was ready to paint.
I drew the birds on separate pieces of paper and cut them out.  After arranging them the way I wanted them I drew outlines around the cut-outs, removed the cut-outs, then drew in the details.  After that it was just acrylic painting as usual.  I paint thin and the result was quite a bit of the background texture showing through – more so when the paint itself was more transparent as in the white dove.  So in some areas I painted several layers.
While I was waiting for earlier layers to dry I molded the two little birds in the alcoves from paper clay.  At the point that I modeled the birds I was envisioning a piece more fanciful that the one I ended up with, so the style of the sculpted birds doesn’t quite fit with the style of the painting.  They’re not glued in yet and I’m not sure whether or not I’ll use them.  That decision is one of the steps to finishing this piece.  The other is deciding on some other finishing touches.
If I had it to do over again, once I placed the bird cut-outs I would have stopped and assessed the background.  Also I think I might have scribbled some color on those bird cut-outs so I’d get a better sense of the final value placements.  With that information I might have darkened parts of the background or added more color to some areas.  I see things now that I would like to have done that I think would have made the piece better but it’s too late.

I’m really glad I tried this piece and plan to do more with the same method.


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