The Many Layers of Me and My Art: My Process (Part 4)
In my years of showing my mixed media landscapes, I continue to have people exclaim to me, “I’ve never seen anything like this!” I didn’t think what I was doing was all that special, but apparently, no one else is doing it quite like I am, so here goes….
My process actually starts with me visiting a location with my DSLR camera or my smartphone camera. I take 50-100 shots of a location while we hike, drive, explore and I do my best to capture interesting compositions that showcase the unique beauty of an area. I usually like to capture these scenes in late afternoon light, but I’ll photograph places whenever I can and make light adjustments later on in the studio. During my exploration of a place, I will try to pick up as much “ephemera” as possible or take additional photos of signs, maps and other things that could be used for collage material later. My husband will roll his eyes as I stuff random papers in every pocket of my purse or backpack. By the end of a trip, I really do look like a bag lady.
I then take my photos and crop them in Photoshop, picking out images I feel would make good paintings. I will print those out and meditate on them. I spend time making notes about things I might want to use for collage materials--maps or other items that are associated with that scene. Perhaps an idea or image comes to mind as I spend time with the photograph. I’ll scribble those down--verses, songs, quotes, etc. The result is a mixture of materials that intertwines my story with the story of a location, and this makes a completely new tale.
Once I have a rough list of collage materials, I copy and print using my trusty Canon printer. I tend to transfer all my materials to printer paper because of the consistency of the paper, but every once in awhile, I will use original materials as long as I’m confident it will adhere correctly. Then I cut and tear the images and text to prepare all the materials for assembling.
I use gessoed, cradled panels as my art surface. My husband makes most of my panels for me, so if you are curious about how he makes the panels, you’ll have to talk to him. He goes into the garage and several hours later, tada! A beautiful panel comes forth. It’s like magic. After the panel is ready, I cover the edges with collage materials first. Sometimes, I will use the edges to place important collage materials that I don’t want covered up. Other times, I will simply let the edges contain generic, but related materials. Each piece is different. I use Golden Heavy Gel Matte Acrylic Medium for my “glue.” It is watered down to a pancake batter consistency and I brush the mixture on both sides of each piece of paper, using plexiglass as my work surface. .
The top surface of the panel contains the main story of the collage, so I create a dry layout using my materials before anything gets glued in place. I will usually move pieces around several times before I’m satisfied with the design. At this point, I may need to go searching for more materials if the design is lacking. Once I’m happy, I will make subtle marks to indicate where pieces overlap so that I can find everything again as I glue each piece in place. Starting with the bottom layers, I glue each piece down. Depending on the size of the painting, there can be up to 40-50 different collage elements used.
After the collage layout is dried, I seal everything in a clear gesso (Liquitex is my favorite). I usually do two layers to ensure durability. Once these gesso layers are dried, I will use acrylic paint to glaze the background. I usually use a burnt sienna tone, which gives me a warm underpainting and works well with my color palette. I will often create water drips and puddles of diffused color as this lends itself to an antiqued look.
Once this is dry, I will loosely sketch in my main landscape shapes. If I am doing a more detailed, structured composition, I will create a drawing and then transfer the drawing using carbon paper since detailed drawings are difficult to do on these very complex collage backgrounds. Once the drawing is done, I will start applying base colors to establish values in a simple underpainting. I paint using a direct method, which is quick and more suggestive than the alternative indirect glazing method. I continue to build up my lights and darks in the painting, breaking everything into shapes and color. There are certain areas where I leave the collage more exposed and other areas where these bottom layers become hidden. My final work involves adding suggestions of details. Enough to draw viewers in but not too much that their imaginations are stifled.
The goal of the finished painting is to be a visual expression that has a pleasing tension between the collage background and the painted foreground.
At this point, the painting must dry to the touch. Once this has happened, I will either coat the painting in a Gamvar Retouch Varnish (put out by Gamblin) or I will coat the piece in epoxy resin. Talking about the resin coating process is for another blog post!
And there you have it. My process in a nutshell. It may sound complicated and way more work than it’s worth, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love creating art using this process. It has become my voice. Oh, and that’s another part of my process...I usually sing while I work. Loudly.
If you have any questions about my art process, please feel free to ask.