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Thursday
Aug152013

Painting the Large Canvas

For a long time I went through a predictably depressing ritual with each new canvas. It was something like the way I used to think of love as a young woman.

The blank canvas was something onto which I could project all my hopes for the perfect realization of my dream.  I wasn’t too clear on the fine details but I knew somehow it would all work out.

After a time I found that I didn’t have the “tools” to make the dream come true. Often it was because the painting, like the man, turned out to have its own ideas. One of the things I found out is that it was important not to abandon the project too early. Success is a matter of sticking to it and working through the roadblocks, even though you may feel like starting again or putting it somewhere you can ignore it. In the end, I developed more expertise in painting than men so I will return here to the canvas: a few years ago, after I’d gotten a little better at working through these difficult periods, I decided I would try to offer a course to help my students through the large painting.

 The trick is having them show up in my studio for three full days. On the first day they are optimistic. On the second day they may hate their painting (often this is because the painting has reached the middle value stage, where there are not yet enough strong contrasts of light and dark). On the third day they realize that perhaps all is not lost and, usually by the end of that day, they succeed. The painting is rarely what they envisioned but one of the important lessons of the class is that success is partly achieved by abandoning the initial vision. In writing it is called “murdering your darlings”: letting go of the precious conceits which you bring to a piece and which you must let go of to let it take its strongest course.

 Each image develops its own needs as it evolves. At first it can be baffling as to what exactly they are but it helps to consult your intuition (I am convinced we each have this because I have seen the intuitive skills of children making art) and to begin to learn about and think critically about colour, composition, line, form, value and surface.

In the end it works best to think of the painting as something you are having a relationship with.

 I keep the Big Canvas class small (five students) as my studio is small for easel work but also because it is intense work for student and teacher. It is exhilarating to work through these paintings and I never get tired of seeing them take shape! 

Here are last week's:

 Nancy—was a decorative painter for years (her painted glasses, Adirondack chairs and floor mats exhibit the confident brush stroke of the calligraphy painter). She loves flowers and often chooses that subject. This year she bravely decided to try an abstract. This one began with a bright under painting, a layer of slashes of drawing gum (resist which was later lifted), a buff over painting and lots of working back into both layers.

 

 

 Lauren—has done some wonderful flower paintings in previous years—exploded views of poppies, rich with texture. This year she wanted to try something different, a dramatic landscape of a scene in Africa, from photos of a moment that moved her on recent travels.

 

 

Heide--always brings a firm idea to the class. This year it was one of a “choir of churches” tipping playfully towards each other in the hilly landscape of Corsica, where she had recently travelled. For inspiration I pointed her to the work of the Nanaimo painter, Paul Jorgensen, who often treats landscapes whimsically.

 

Jan—is attracted to floral images, but willing to explore dramatic surface as well as semi-abstraction. This image of a seated woman is influenced by Mexico, where she spends every winter.

 

Niall—is just beginning to work with acrylic. He needed an image which let him explore the medium: making different mixes, working with colour interaction, surface, and building layers. This painting is inspired by the California painter Jylian Gustlin.

 

 

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Reader Comments (4)

Inspiring! Thanks for this -- and thanks to your students for being willing to share their great results.

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterfrances

Wonderful metaphor and fanciful work!!

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrudy

The large canvas paintings are amazing. I wish I could come having enjoyed a time ago some of your workshops..

Cheers Bev, Conox

November 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBev Wolsey

Hi Allison

Just wanted to drop you a note to thank you again for the wonderful "Large Canvas" workshop in Tofino this weekend. Looking at my painting I can scarcely believe I did that (well, with lots of help from you)--I've never thought I could draw, never mind painting something that looks even vaguely like I intended! I'm delighted, and perfectly happy to leave abstraction to another time. I'm actually looking forward to having another go at negative painting and painting twigs!

Thanks again for a great time.
Carol N|ikols

November 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCaroll Nikols

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