Saturday, February 16, 2013

I can teach you how to paint like me in thirty minutes

Here's the email I sent back to the young person from the UK who wrote, telling me I'm a genius. All is revealed, friends.  I hold nothing back ...

Hi XXX--

Thanks for the kind words.

Answers to your questions:

I use Benjamin Moore acrylic interior house paint as my primary medium.  I use the flat stirring sticks they give you (at least they do in the US) as my primary means of applying the paint, although sometimes I'll drip from squirt bottles, large spoons, old dried-up paint brushes, pour from paper bowls, etc.  The fun is in experimenting.  Other than priming the canvas and inscribing the title, I almost never directly use a paint brush.

I rarely paint on canvases smaller than 3'x4' or large than 5'x6'.  I stretch the canvas, prime it, sketch a rough outline of my subject with charcoal, and then paint on the stretched canvas on the floor.  I find that having it stretched makes it much easier to pick up (once it's dried), prop it against a wall and stare at it for a while.  Which, by the way, I advise doing at regular intervals.  If the canvas is loose, it's a pain in the neck to staple onto the wall, etc., and you end up looking at it less than perhaps you should.

If you drip it straight from the can, the paint has a very rich full consistency.  Easier to stretch out long lines and make deep, thick puddles of paint that won't flatten out and will more or less stay where I've put them.  Kind of the classic Pollock drip painting experience.  Sometimes I leave the pools as they are; sometimes I take the end of the stick and spread the paint around in a rough sort of way -- this last part particularly in the early stages when I'm trying to fill the thing in.  If you add just a bit of water to the paint, you obviously get a much looser product; one that is easier to make spots and speckles with.  I do most of my painting with barely-diluted house paint.  If you add a lot of water you can do two things:  early on in the painting, you can use it to generally color large sections of the canvas.  I sometimes throw it on a paper towel and smash it around.  Later in the progression of work, the heavily diluted paint, if dropped from a relatively high altitude, creates a somewhat translucent spot with a very ragged edge, like a bomb crater.  This is useful sometimes.

I don't know about using UPV glue.  I'm not even sure what it is.  But who knows? -- it might be a great idea.

Pollock used oil, but what I like about acrylic is that it dries much quicker.  When you are dripping, you can quickly reach a point where you have to step away for an hour or so to let the paint skin up.  Otherwise each layer dissolves into the previous one (which can be used in a positive way for a specific effect, but usually I like to add new layers onto dry paint).  Since I, unlike Pollock, am trying to use a drip technique to create recognizable images, the quick drying is more important to me.  When I'm really productive, my approach is to work for an hour or so, step away for a bit (a fan speeds the drying), come back and work for another hour, and so on, through the day.  

Finally, when the painting is perhaps 75% done, I grab some acrylic artist's tube paint (any medium priced brand is fine) and either apply it directly to the canvas or apply it to my thumb and then smush it on.  I sometimes do this to large-ish areas to sort of "white" them out, but not all the way, and then drip more paint.  I am also quite fond of the way tube paint looks when it's been smushed across the fairly heavy texture that thick drip painting has already left on the canvas.  The texture of the thing is half the fun of painting like this, and the less you dilute your paint, the more texture you'll create with your paint.  

I continue to alternate between dripping and smushing until the thing feels like it is done.  

And then, almost always, I take some lightly diluted black, just wet enough so that it falls in drops, not lines, but not so loose that they "explode" when they hit the canvas, and I just sort of add a final flourish of dots and speckles.  I'm not sure why, but it always seems to look better afterwards.

Finally, and then I'll leave you alone, my favorite portraits are the ones in which enough of the subject is recognizable for what it is and another part is completely abstract dripping.  But that's just me.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Geoff Raymond

ps -- I loved the last line of your email:  "... working on crowds, particularly segregation."  Send me a picture of one of those if you can -- I'd love to see it.

What a good, decent man I am.


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