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Behind the magic: exploring my painting process

I am writing a series of blog posts in which I will answer questions from friends. If you have a question, connect with me on Facebook or Instagram and ask!

The second installment in this series comes from a question by Amber Dalholt, owner of Sunnyside Mercantile in Winston-Salem. She asks: “When you’re working on your art, do you have a method you go through for each piece consistently or do you go about it more chaotically as you feel?”

oil and acrylic painting, abstract landscape
No Wrong Season, oil and acrylic on canvas, 30 x 30 inches, 2014

I begin a painting with a limited palette – just a couple of colors – loosely putting down large shapes, and as the painting advances, gradually introducing other colors and integrating more line and defined edges. As the process evolves I begin to have more of a conversation with the painting: adding elements, shifting things around, hardening or softening edges according to the needs of the painting. At this point, I am responding to what is already on the canvas. This can mean combining many smaller shapes into one larger shape, changing a component’s color so that it sings a different tune relative to what is around it, breaking up a shape into multiple parts, covering things up, and adding shapes and marks. In my smaller work, the process is more streamlined. Because there is less space, each element in the painting has more weight to it. I still want some quiet space to balance the activity, so there are fewer elements to a small painting than in a larger piece. Small pieces are a good exercise in making decisions and being concise.

My non-representational (abstract and not featuring people or places or things) work is very improvisational. I don’t have a plan when I start. I decide a painting is finished when nothing feels extraneous, but I don’t want the painting to feel over done or static. I like some sense of awkwardness in the finished piece because this is what makes the work human.

Even if I am making a picture of a person – like my most recent paintings of athletes –  when I start, I don’t know how the painting will look in the end. For those paintings, I start with a drawing to make sure the composition works before I commit to it in paint, but I don’t know which colors I’ll use in the finished painting. I trust the process. Some stages of a painting may look strange at first, but I trust that in the end, I’ll pull it together. All the layers of paint – once they are partially covered up and integrated into the top layers – are what make the painting more compelling in the end. That’s part of the magic.

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