When painting, I struggle for equilibrium between spontaneity and purpose, freedom and planning, energy and control. After four years of painting full-time, of steadfast exploration, perhaps I am finally finding a rhythm. My most recent work, The Other Side, emerges from this path of painting.
Sometimes someone will ask me how long it takes to paint a piece. The real answer is: As long as it takes a soul to grasp a handhold of truth. But I know the questioner seeks not an abstract response, but insight into the tangible creative process.
For me, an idea begins to simmer. I photograph images that “speak” to me, sketch, jot down lyrics to songs, or coin phrases. These pages from my sketchbook illustrate the very beginnings of The Other Side, traceable all the way back to a photo taken in 2011.
One method I use to explore an idea is to hold a pattern, feeling, or observation in my mind and create black and white mono-types to establish flow, pattern, and texture. These are messy and spontaneous – I roll out oil-based ink with a brayer onto a sheet of plexi-glass and manipulate the ink with ends of paintbrushes, bits of cardboard, anything within reach, really. Then I lay a piece of paper over the ink and rub the back with a well-loved wooden spoon to transfer the image. I often print a series of three or four. Then begins the tedious clean up process with turpentine.
After the ink dries, I choose one from the series that particularly resonates, and paint over the ink with watercolor and/or acrylic. Sometimes one of these “studies” graduates to a final piece, but I try to disengage from the goal of success or failure and simply create freely.
For the process that eventually produced The Other Side, I printed a mono-type series in 2014 called Blaze…
followed up with another series exploring a similar motif in 2015.
One of the 2015 mono-type based paintings evolved into a final work called Blaze which I framed, exhibited, and sold.
I worked with a couple more of the studies from the series, but never felt truly satisfied with the outcome. I set one of these pieces aside, and re-examined it after about a year.
I started painting over it again, layering increasing color and texture until I feared it was irrevocably lost. Then on a bike ride as I thought about the piece, in my mind’s eye I saw birds. As I added bird shapes with acrylic, the piece spoke powerfully to me of my own soul’s journey through the preceding years. While the Blaze series originated from emotions of longing for hardship to spark a fire in my soul to light the way for others, The Other Side emerged as a testimony that the bonfire, indeed, burns bright.
The first study for The Other Side, painted over a study for Blaze, allowed me to find a motif and work out colors and dark and light balance; but because I could only add opaque acrylic paint over the earlier composition, I couldn’t work in my first “language” of watercolor. I felt compelled to re-create the same composition on a larger blank sheet of paper, allowing transparent watercolor to flow freely.
I painted the first final version of The Other Side.
However, I still found myself struggling through some of the composition. And so I painted a second. For these final versions, I first applied a “resist” to save white lines. Frisket seals off the paper so it can’t absorb watercolor, leaving white behind after it is removed. Spreading cheesecloth across the paper and painting over it is one of my favorite techniques for establishing texture and “flow”.
After I painted the first watercolor wash and removed the frisket and cheesecloth, I worked back into the piece with watercolor and acrylic layers.
The Other Side series is complete – after originating in the Blaze series three years ago, which originated in a photo taken six years ago.
This painting path, this creative process I’ve stumbled upon seems to simultaneously express and teach me the way my soul yearns to go.
I pray the results shine light for the journeys of others.
A sneak preview: two images currently rolling around in my head. I will soon begin sketching, and perhaps the final pieces will emerge by 2023. (Yikes!)
4 thoughts on “A Painting Path (A Creative Process)”
As an oil painter myself I am fascinated by your process and how your work evolves. All about the process!
What exactly is frisket? A type of wax? I particularly like how you start with the rolled out ink print. Your final painted expressions are joyous and organic beauties! So eventually the result is multi mixed media? I have not seen watercolor used with so much flexibility as I always thought of it as a pretty unforgiving material.
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It’s so wonderful to meet you! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed escaping into your blog just now and look forward to following your adventures and painting.
Frisket doesn’t contain any wax, but my bottle says it contains latex and ammonia. It’s a masking fluid, thick like a gel, which you apply to paper with a rubber surface as it ruins brushes when it dries. After it dries, it prevents water-based substances from getting through to the paper. It rubs off easily after it dries leaving a well-defined white shape or line. It’s a lot like rubber cement, but thicker and holds its body better against water. I sometimes use rubber cement as a mask/resist when I want a softer appearance of white. Hope that helps explain it!
I actually learned to paint as a child in watercolor, which probably accounts for the fact that it feels like home. Through various life experiences, my natural tendency towards spontaneity and flexibility has become quite exaggerated (like getting stuck in Kenya for 7.5 months in order to extract our adopted daughter) – so I tend to greatly enjoy the process of accepting and incorporating whatever it gifts to me, instead of fighting for control. I’ve struggled with oil for that reason, probably because I am just a beginner and don’t understand its qualities – but to me, oil feels like it wants me to tell it exactly what to do, instead of doing some of the creating on its own. So I admire those who can paint in oil! Your paintings are gorgeous!
The struggle to find the equilibrium you are talking about here, I think is something all artists are struggling with. I love how you describe the process to the final painting. And the painting is beautiful, eye catching and at the same time with many levels of depth.
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It’s been so helpful to read your creative process, Otto. I appreciate you sharing it. Somehow knowing things are experienced by other people helps them to not feel as frightening.
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