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The Craft of Art

Saturday, September 7th, 2019: Arts, Musings.

I spent my childhood and youth mastering classical figurative drawing and painting, and as a young adult, I created large-scale figurative paintings and polyptichs from imagination, relying on my academic mastery of human anatomy and three-dimensional rendering. But after that, I turned my back on painting, realism, and major art projects, and for the past 37 years, I’d turned out hundreds and hundreds of spontaneous, simplistic, abstracted drawings on paper, most of which took me on average a half hour to complete.

In recent years, admiring classical works in museums, and reflecting on my earlier efforts, I began to crave a bigger challenge, to carry forward the progress I’d made as a young artist. When I made the change from polyptich paintings to drawings 37 years ago, I had consciously conceived my drawings as components of larger installations, and the new work would extend that idea. My most ambitious visual art project ever was conceived in March 2018 and begun in February 2019. Eight months later, after many interruptions, I’ve finished planning, drawing, and preparing the surfaces, and am ready to start transferring my drawings to them.

The craft phases of this art project remind me of when I was an art student at the University of Chicago’s Midway Studios, laboriously preparing stone slabs for lithography. Both processes are essentially medieval.

This project is intended to be a prototype for a future series of works, likely to be executed in oil paint on wood. Unlike in art school or in the Middle Ages, I haven’t had anyone to show me how to do things – I’ve done a lot of online research but have had to rely mostly on trial and error to find the best methods. I haven’t had access to a proper studio or a workshop for the prep work, which has made the process extra difficult and time-consuming, as I’ve had to constantly move the art panels, supplies, and tools in and out of my house, through the kitchen, from the porch where I did the “messy” work to my music studio which is being used as a drawing, drying, and storage area.

Here are views of the some of the stages in the process.

Art: Inspirations

Art: Brainstorming, Sketching & Drawing

This initial creative phase of the project took 5 months.

Craft: Preparing Wood Panels

This phase took almost a month.

Craft: Tracing the Drawings

After the lengthy process of preparing the panels, I thought I was ready to start tracing the drawings onto them. But a closer inspection revealed that I had a little more work to do on the drawings – another reason why it’s good to step away from your work from time to time. When you’re in the midst of it, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

After a couple more days of drawing, I began the tracing: securing sheets of parchment over each drawing, and tracing every line with a fine-point pen. This took a week.

Craft: Building an Easel

Now ready to transfer the traced drawings to the wood panels, I realized I had nothing to hold the panels erect while working on them.

The traditional way to support a painting panel is the easel. A new H-frame easel large and sturdy enough to support my panels ranges from $200 up, but professional studio easels tend to be closer to $1,000 and up. There are alternatives, depending on the size and weight of your work. Small paintings can be done horizontally on a table top. If you have a solid wall wide enough for your panel, you can simply rest it on cardboard boxes and lean it against the wall, but it won’t be stable unless the panel or canvas is really heavy. Very large panels or canvases are simply mounted directly on the studio wall.

I don’t have an unused wall wide enough to work on my paintings, but after despairing at the cost of ready-made easels, I suddenly realized I already had an easel. I’d built it when I first arrived in New Mexico, to hold a small dry-erase board for workshops I was giving on my Wisdom Project. It was warped and lacked some features I would need, but with a little more work I thought I could transform it.

It turned out that I had all the wood I needed – surplus lumber from previous building projects. All I needed was about $60 of hardware. The project took about 14 hours, including trips to hardware stores.

  1. wanda spitzer says:

    Thanks for the craft lessons!! And the reminder that patience pays off. I await the finished work.

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