In this post I will be documenting the planning, preparation, and creation of a 6’x8′ painting for returning clients through my Rhinebeck gallery, Albert Shahinian Fine Art.
The project has presented special challenges because of state restrictions imposed due to Covid-19. The planning began before our abrupt quarantines, and the piece was finished in late May, framed, and installed June 6th.
I met these folks at a reception at the gallery on February 15th. What followed was a 31 email chain discussing various possibilities for their beautiful, big wall:
They already had a good-sized marsh painting of mine, acquired from ASFA years ago when the gallery was located in Poughkeepsie:
A sea view was always the idea, either open sea or with Chatham sandbars or with big surf. I sent multiple jpegs with ideas and they sent me many others. It seemed that they liked several of the ideas and had to go through a process of narrowing down, until they honed in on their choice, a view of blue sea, sandbars, and Monomoy from a favorite bit of beach in Chatham, MA.
These were a few of my pieces that they were drawn to initially:
In an email about 25 in, the clients were dialing in:
- In the first attachment, Moving Clouds: we really like the way you have angled the beach in contrast to the horizon. We feel this will work well with your rendition of the CBI waterfront. We also think that having a more active sky would be good, since the water is usually tranquil inside the bar.
- The second attachment shows the near shore section of the beach that we hope you might be able to represent similar to the way you already mentioned, “show just a bit of beach, a simplified swath of beach grasses off to the right… And some sky interest.” We would like to see more beach than grass though. We recognized that you would not be painting the scene exactly as is, and that is fine with us. We are going for something that looks natural, but for those of us who know the area, we can easily imagine it as the same section of shoreline.
- The third picture can be found at the following website. We really love the colors and contrast of the water and the nearshore beach, the middle bars, and the bright sand of the outer bar. We are hoping you could incorporate these elements along with the above.
All of this made perfect sense, after the discussions that we had already had. And since all of it is also perfectly within a subject matter that I hold dear and in my signature style, I was more than happy with their choice. That it wasn’t a tweaked or reformatted version of something that I had done before made it exciting and fresh.
I was lucky with several of the logistics that could have proven difficult under quarantine. First, that I could have a stretcher made in the needed size through my Vermont custom stretcher-makers Brickyard Enterprises—that they were healthy and willing and had the supplies. Next, that when I contacted Claussens linen in Belgium I was assured that the weight linen that I like to use —for its lovely slubbed surface–would be fine for a canvas of that size. Lastly, that I could get a porch drop-off delivery from Brickyard, since this canvas would not come even close to fitting in my Volvo wagon.
I always start a commission with a study, usually oil on paper and small, in the 8″x10″ range but to scale with the desired piece. Approval of the study is sought before moving forward. I agreed with the clients that the size of the painting called for a larger study, and when I realized that I had a 30″x40″ on hand , perfectly to scale with 6’x8′, I suggested that we do a way bigger study…seemed to make sense with a way big painting.
The day before the delivery of the stretched canvas, the clients decided to come by for a porch-viewing of the 30″x40″ study, since they were having a hard time seeing the true colors from the jpeg. I was so glad that they did, since it put a few questions to rest, and they left very happy.
Priming with my usual off-black gesso proved to be a challenge. I usually do this flat, but realized that I wouldn’t be able to reach the middle section that way, so I opted to prop it on the ground against a table that I use for various outdoor jobs. I wired the back of the stretcher to the sides of the table with picture wire so that the wind wouldn’t catch it, which turned out to be a wise precaution later in the day when the breeze picked up.
I positioned the canvas so that the sun didn’t hit the front, since the gesso goes on more smoothly if it stays damp.
The first coat is wettest and the last coat the thickest, following an oft-used maxim in painting, thick over thin. I sand lightly between coats, and even very lightly, at the end.
By the end of coat #3, five hours later, I was exhausted. Using a 5-inch house-painting brush, the gesso has to be thoroughly worked into the fibers of the linen, and quickly. The physical part was one thing—wrist and shoulder of my right arm, though I did try to use the left a bit—but the mental another altogether.
My understanding is that repetitive motion releases serotonin in the brain, something that we enjoy with, for example, running or walking. So maybe that explains the level of brain-dead that I felt at the end of the afternoon. It was unlike anything I had felt before, like I was stunned into absolute mental disfunction. You might think that this would be accompanied with euphoria, but it was not!
The next day, canvas back in my studio, I was not satisfied with the evenness of my priming job and, knowing that once I started painting I would be stuck with whatever it was, I did a forth spot- coat and some very careful sanding, and then got the canvas back up on my easel (with help…a two-person job).
Next up: mix a palette, making a range of blues, sand colors, and a few greens, and adding nice amounts of my wax medium for easy spreading on the absorbent gesso.
Establishing the horizon line was the first step in applying paint. For such a large canvas, it is hard to see proportion while working up close and impossible get a level line without measuring. I used, as I have before, a standard equation for proportion, in this case x is to 72″ (the height of my canvas) as 30″ is to 40″, the height and width of the study: and so I came up with the placement for the horizon and measured across a few times. The sea does need to be level at the horizon, gravity doing its work. Then eyeballing it, I decided I wanted it a little higher.
Many passages in the painting of this large version can and will be spontaneous and based upon a lot of coming forward to paint and backward to examine. But given how hard it is to see proportion while working up close, it has been very helpful to measure based on the study and not reinvent the wheel at every turn. I calculated that one inch of study is equal to 2.4″ in the large piece, and then deviated a bit where I saw fit as the painting evolved.
This clip of video catches a bit of the of the process:
The next week, a pic of the painting after one layer was completed:
The composition and all of the major shapes have been worked out, following what was established in the study and then shifted a bit where it felt natural to do so.
I add layers of paint to an area based on what, to my eye, needs brightening up. For this painting, it ended up being three to four layers, with the original dark gesso showing through very subtly to mitigate flatness. I am at heart a minimalist, so often less is more in terms of detail; but within each area there is a good deal of color shift and soft brush work.
Going up in size means more play in each area of color. For example, going from a swath of green salt grass on the outer bar an inch high in the 30″x40″, to two and a half in the 6’x8′ gave me room to segue from varied warm greens (with quite a lot of white in them) above to some burnt reds at the edge of the sand. This created a visual link to the reds in the lighter sand colors, and also explores the warm green to warm red color-wheel interaction (think olive green to burnt sienna).
This is the final version, signed off on when the collectors visited for another yard viewing. You can see the difference in luminosity.
The way that I explain my version of minimalism is to point out that if you try to pack too many elements into a painting, it is hard to fully see and appreciate any of them. Further, the openness of large shapes and soft edges creates a strong composition that works with the image, or view, to invite contemplation. In that way my pieces are very much about the painting as abstraction, while also expressing a strong sense of place.
Named Chatham Bars by the collectors, signed in front with my initials and labeled on the back with my name, title of the piece, medium, dimensions and date, the piece was ready for framing. The final step in the whole process for me was to get the piece to my framer extraordinaire, Geoffrey Rogers, in Pine Hill. It’s a short hop from here, but still required hiring a mover, due to the size.
The clients had requested a walnut floater frame, so Geoff created his own molding, which he hand-finished. He suffered a broken collar-bone in the middle of the process after a bicycle mishap, so help from his son moved the project forward to completion. Here is the painting in the shop, awaiting pick up from Albert Shahinian.
I wasn’t there for the installation, which was carried off by Albert and another art installer that he brought on board, with help from the clients. As you can imagine, getting a large painting up on this wall was a process.
This project was particularly meaningful for me in the midst of staying home during the pandemic. It not only created a complex, multilayered point of focus for me, but also worked so beautifully as metaphor—a very large canvas of a particularly open and expansive view being created within a set of constraints unprecedented in our lifetime.
Special thanks to my husband Jack and son Tony, one of whom had to help with every out-into-the-sun and back into the studio later; each up-and-down from the easel to work different sections; and the final in and out of the truck for delivery to my framer. One day when unexpected dark clouds blew up and I was home alone, I managed to get it into the studio with no damage to myself or the painting…which made me appreciate all of the help even more.
May 9: I had thought to leave off posting until I complete my 6’x8′ commission and finish the blog description of the process, but find that I miss the diary.
Snow last night and today, actually quite dark and blizzardy at intervals this afternoon, alternating with sun flurries. It seems almost cruel that our spring is so delayed, when we crave the comfort of warm sunshine and a softer outdoor experience. For me, key to that is our screened-in back porch, my warm-season living room. A day in which I can have my siding door open to the porch and take my meals and do my online work out there is a good day .
But, while cringing on behalf of my snowy flowers and leafed-out plantings today, it popped into my mind that this weather might have its uses in slowing the spread of the virus. Warm days have brought with them prematurely reckless behavior. So maybe this prolonged chill will allow the curve to turn from its current level to downward, and save a few lives.
The news is not good at all and makes me despair about human idiocy, American and otherwise. So I unashamedly grasp at straws.
On this Mother’s Day, the first without our mom, I am fortunate to be doing the things that I have always chosen on this spring day in which I feel free to pamper myself. Sometimes the weather has been 45 and rainy and put a damper on my busy-in-the-yard plans, and yesterday’s snow would have been the kicker…but today we have partly sunny and in the 5os.
Ordinarily, I would have gone to Oneonta with my sister Carla yesterday, the Saturday before Mother’s Day, to have lunch and a nursery visit for hanging pots and annuals with our mom. I always brought flowers from my yard on every visit from April through October.
When we finally scatter her ashes in multiple places, I hope it is during the growing season so that I can include some flowers.
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The crumbling world around us cries out for help…socorro, socorro! I can only think in small, manageable bits about it, or it threatens hopelessness that sabotages action. So, to begin somewhere, I created a fundraiser last week in collaboration with Albert Shahinian Fine Art. I offered to give a small collage from the eleven left at the gallery after an environmental fundraiser last fall to anyone who sent me a receipt for a donation of at least $40 to a food bank of their choosing. They all were spoken for very quickly and we raised about $500. Albert sent them all out a few days ago from the gallery.
Just a start. I’ll be thinking of more, and ASFA is on board for more collaborating. I do like to use my art to raise money because it is my ready resource that folks value. These little pieces went mostly to prior collectors and a few to a student or mentee not in a position to buy a market-priced piece. I used only social media so for the next thing could readily access my best outreach resource, which is my mailing list.
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I am also involved in a fundraiser for the Island Food Bank on Martha’s Vineyard through my gallery there, the Louisa Gould Gallery. Her shows this spring and summer are an opt-in for gallery artists to join her in donating 10% of sales for food security, with every dollar raised going for $7 worth of food.
We just made a nice sale of these two pieces, accomplished through shipping, as the gallery has not yet reopened.
Here is a link to the current online show of new work at the gallery:
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My big studio project continues to be the 6’x8′ commissioned version of this 30″x40″. I am creating an in-depth description of the process for an upcoming blog post.
Stay healthy, y’all, and let’s keep each other safe!
April 12: Today is our Dad’s birthday. We had a sweet Zoom party with family, just missing Tessa among the grandkids. Tony is not in this screen shot, but he hung out for the latter half.
Then Tessa texted a few hours later that she is out of the woods and at Zac’s house. We should get some more detail tomorrow about her plans.
I am creating a zoom painting workshop for a few students who are, of course, stuck at home. Like so many others, they thought that there would be so much lovely down time, but the experience may instead present itself as a big void, punctuated only by anxiety-producing details. (Like, for one student, that she is self-quarantined in a small nyc apartment and her immediate neighbors have the virus, with at least one of them being taken to hospital. So this would make her fearful of her own hallway.)
I am looking forward to the challenge of connecting within the technology, which in this case will be much more intricate than with my hour-long yoga classes. But I’m aware that it doesn’t matter how much we have to muddle through. While I am always conscious the of the information I want to share with my students in any workshop that I teach, I think that just now, being together will be the best thing about it.
April 14: Talk is all about how we will come out of this confinement. It is clear that is will be tentative, messy, little-by little, and still involve infections and death. This virus is so very intricate in all of its details. This was clear from my early reading about Wuhan as they were fumbling about trying to get the first handle on it.
It seems that it can spray way beyond 6 or even 10 feet just through conversation. It appears possible that the incubation period is, on outside, more than 14 days. They worry that a vaccine will not be useful due to mutations, so a treatment is vital. They know that infected folks can be contagious while symptom-free or pre-symptomatic, and that tests often are false negative (not that we are doing nearly enough testing).
So, it seems that we cannot open back up again, or even maybe live in the next several years, with any assurance that the virus is gone. Maybe it is now a part of life on earth, going forward?
In studio, so busy! This is the edition of my first three color reduction linocut, though they are all inked differently and so technically not an edition.
I planned this print for my Atlas/Watershed site map, in progress. It shows the streams’ normal flow, along with flood zones areas and the extreme breach cause by Hurricane Irene in Phoenicia. Shown are the Esopus; north of it the Stonyclove: Oxclove (which runs through our back yard) and Warner creeks.
I am thinking of one of these for the map, mostly as a color choice:
Still working on the oil-on-board pieces. What makes me happy? How I tweaked the line of the swash multiple times to create that subtle lift and almost vanishing to the right. Just that one thing, the last that I did, took me from liking to loving.
It looks like Tessa will stay in Minnesota for the time being. Reentry into her VT community would include her roommate, who works with (essential businesses) farming and food security, self-isolating, and she could not see friends nor work (like all of the rest of us!). So she is better off in Minnesota with Zac and the 5 others with whom she has been in the woods maple sugaring for the past few months.
Trump is becoming more and more unhinged. I am amazed that it is even possible. He does love conflict, and has reverted—after a short spell of acting almost presidential a little bit of the time, due to national outrage at his irresponsibility over the Covid-19 suffering—to fomenting fights among our states and backing demonstrators against stay-at-home restrictions.
He is severely mentally ill and cannot sustain even the appearance of normalcy for more than a few hours. It makes those of us who are rational scared to death for the future of us all.
I did some color-mixing and related painting conversation via Zoom today with a few students with whom I am friendly. We worked out some bugs and they were happy to take steps forward in their painting practice, as they shelter in place.
This is a spiffed-up version of our chart for mixing blues, using just three colors and black and white:
I did a few last tweaks on the new Path painting this morning:
I’ll be starting a blog post that will document the process of creating a very large commissioned piece, 6’x8′. This is a multi-step process even for a smaller piece and in normal times, and is involving even more logistics due to the size and the constrictions that we are living with. I’ll publish the post once the final piece is completed, some time in June.
Excerpts from my blog diary from March 16-18.
Monday March 16th:
We made the trip to a parking lot in Newburgh to hand off this painting to Janet Schwarz, JSO Art Associates.
It is impossible to know if the two interested parties are really going to follow through with a viewing, mostly because of the stock market and fears of a long recession. But at least she has it and that bit of business is taken care of. Also, a large painting leaving the studio feels safer for all of the rest. (No, this is not social distancing, just the moving-things-around risks!)
On our way back we had planned a “last” shop at Hannaford in West Hurley not so much because we need anything for ourselves but because Tony is coming back tonight from college and to shop for my MiL, who has not yet focused on stocking up.
Hannaford was brutal. There was one parking space left in the lot when we rolled in at about 2pm, and the place was mobbed, a number of shelves bare. They had just restocked, but the cashier—who was whipping the items through, knowing that everyone wanted to get the hell out of there—said that the parking lot was almost full when they all arrived before 6am. Some folks were wearing masks.
Everyone was polite, though. So far, still Woodstock.
Back in the car, I observed to Jack, what would it be like if this were a really deadly plague, like Ebola? He came back with the opinion that armed folks, gun nuts, like someone we know from the old Marvel days, would have their machine guns at the ready in the toilet paper isle.
We are still good for a laugh.
Niece has been self-quarantining in the the Berkley area since a colleague in her Phd program tested positive a few days ago. Her boyfriend had been visiting during his spring break from Duke, so he was also in the net, and today has a fever. She has three housemates..also caught. She is trying to figure out how to get him tested. (There is so much wrong with that sentence.)
A few hours later we heard that the Bay Area is under a new “shelter in place” order.
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Tuesday March 17th:
No test for my neice’s boyfriend. Bad sign. Now all five of them are just going to have to wait it out, and will it ever be known if they have it? It does not bode well, this continued lack of testing, since we have no idea of the scope of the epidemic without.
Numbers are ratcheting up day by day, and known cases getting closer. Saugerties has one now, and there are more in Kingston and Rhinebeck. Westchester declared a state of emergency. They declared a 8pm curfew in NYS for all restaurants, which can now only offer take-out.
Sara, who owns the yoga studio where I practice and teach, wants me to zoom a basics class a week, and I will start to think about that in a few days. She also proposed having me and/or the other teacher at CTH be her student in the studio while she zooms her classes. I love that idea, but realized that if I stayed away from the studio last weekend to avoid students and she taught, I should probably stay away from her for another few weeks. Otherwise, what was the point of that?
But, we could stay far apart, so I am tempted.
Note: Sara is a lovely teacher and is zooming her classes with online sign-up. You can check it out at:
Some nice painting studio time today, getting a layer in on on the sand flats piece. I got a late start because Tony got in and stayed up late and I found myself sleepless at about 5am.
We are setting up a small studio for him for silverpoint, cutting lino, and his remote classes in Tessa’s room, adjoining his own, and he can use my studio for messier work, like painting.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2pm: I am thinking this morning, and last night while falling asleep, about what other studio endeavors I might want to begin just now. I am working on the grouping for Louisa Gould Gallry on MV and will be for a bit, to be ready with new work whenever the time is right. Also, a few more paintings for my online show with Butters Gallery, scheduled for mid-May. I also promised Judi at Gallery Jupiter that I would do some oil-on-board 8″x8″s or her (for whenever, no hurry!) that have the depth to stand on a table or shelf, like the 6″x6″s that she has; but for these the images goes all of the way out to the edge. Here are an examples of each version.
Below are five of these 6″x6″s from my end-of-residency show at the Artists Association of Nantucket in November of 2018, sitting below three hand-colored linocut maps of the island.
This is the new version, 4″x12″, on the shallower board meant for hanging.
My students and other artists and a number of collectors have loved the top version, with dark float, but several galleries are reporting that it makes the image even smaller—for the price point—and so I am experimenting with the second version, which also involves adjusting the color of the gesso on the sides to fit the image. So far, I like it.
It’a an instance of how innovation can happen based on market considerations, if taken as a creative challenge. If you are flexible and can get excited about the idea, this can work—if you are resentful of the suggestion, it’s unlikely that any good will come of it.
Here are some other ideas.
Ongoing or occasional pursuits:
~Dye more rice and mulberry paper for collaging.
~Circle back to printmaking, maybe joining Tony with a 3-color (hand) printing of a lino.
~Figure out how to make collages with failed monotypes, probably using my dyed rice papers along with. Looking at them today, I realized that some would be appropriate to use as the basis for a pastel, since the print papers are the same as what I have for years used for pasteling. I have found that trying to tweak a print with pastel doesn’t work well, since the paper really needs to have a density of pastel applied to be able to move it around, and this means pastel over the whole thing.
~Maps using walnut ink, mixed media, some found/vintage objects, using more natural materials.
~Other in-studio printmaking projects, maybe finding new ways to use maps.
~Work on watershed Site Map.
The watershed Site Map has been confusing me because I am thinking about either this Atlas theme or a Cape Cod (or Cape and Islands) version for next, and these environmentally themed projects are an enormous amount of work.
That’s what indecision does—stalls the brain, and stalls progress. I got a nice start on prepping the Watershed map on its 48″x36″ board last year, but got side-tracked with various painting projects, from my November show at Jupiter Gallery in NJ to the commissions this past winter, and more.
I have just talked myself through the dilemma (decision fatigue making even the low-pressure ones stressful), hooray. It makes sense to carry forward with the one that I have started. When the studio gets crowded I spend too much time moving things around.
This is the Site Map for Atlas/Forms of Water, finished last summer and the guide to the show I had of that name at Albert Shahinian Fine Art in Rhinebeck. The new one will have a similar format. For more about this show see my blog post:
First painting of the year to get to dry in the yard! With this accelerated drying time, I can work on the second layer tomorrow and likely finish it.
And now, for a walk in that sunshine.
8pm: Terrible news all around, numbers and economics. I have gone from reading every little thing back in early January to tolerating just measured doses of news. Despite the dread that I felt when I was first reading the reports from Wuhan, putting it all together required an attention to detail and cross-referencing with other material that engaged the grey matter . This is now onslaught after onslaught of of news that is worse by the hour, punches in the gut. It will only get worse, so let’s gear up the intestinal fortitude…