Prior to Painting

A ton of creativity goes on before I ever get to crack the door to my studio!



The amount of work that happens before this rusty artist starts to paint is something that is often misunderstood or goes unnoticed and unappreciated.  People ask if I’m painting. I wonder if they have ever thought about the amount of time and effort that goes on before I get near a paintbrush. I think there is a gap in how productivity is perceived, or at least my process of productivity. I sense that society in general wants to see an end product, but a lot of the activities, as in any creative profession, are processes that go unseen and are hard to explain, justify, or measure. 


So I’m opening my sketchbook on this to let you in on what I do before I get to break out the brushes and put paint on the pallet.

Luckily for me my process starts next to an ocean. The damp salty air creates the depth of texture that speaks to my soul. This is where my raw inspiration is found, driving along the coastal side roads with a camera, stopping anywhere that I won’t get charged for trespassing. Rust is everywhere when you look for it. 

Later that day, evening or months later, I sit down with my sketchbook. Scrolling through the photos I see what jumps out at me. Sometimes I will do a quick sketch, other times I will spend a few hours on it.  After the drawing is done, no matter how much time I put in, I often take a ruler and mark lines through it deciding on the best placement and composition. I should take a page from my father’s book and get an adjustable view-finder.

After I have a number of sketches, the next phase is to determine which of these drawings work best and to complete a series of thumbnail sketches. What is a thumbnail you may ask? In my world, a thumbnail sketch is an approximately 3x3 inches fast idea of the composition. It is a great way to lay out what will be the foundation and general guidelines for my series. This allows me to see what they look like as a group. From here I again discern which ones I like, don’t like, often going back and forth looking at all the options. Knowing the number and shapes for a series, I begin to think about color. I will experiment after I get into the studio of course, but I know for example, when thinking about my nail paintings, that I have an affinity for the whites and blues. I also have a habit of doing the same composition multiple times. For this Nailed It series I am starting now, I plan to do the entire series on multiple sizes of canvases. In addition, each size will have the same composition in white, blue and perhaps the odd red or a granny green. This is important to know ahead of time because it tells me the number and size of canvasses to purchase and how to prepare them. I am always amazed how each time I paint the same composition, even if on the same size canvas, that it is remarkably different. For the most part each one develops its own personality depending on how I respond when painting. 

So, with canvases in hand I will take a large number of them and put on the undercoat. This is important to me. I would never (never) ever start a painting on a raw white canvas. It’s just who I am. I will paint the canvas and sides then leave it to dry so it’s ready when I’m ready. Having this undercolor is important to me because I think that the color comes through the whole finished painting and ties it all together. I will paint some with a burnt sienna and the others with a grayed out green. The canvases with the burnt sienna are intended for the blue paintings and the grey green get white, though I break my own rules sometimes. 

Now I am ready to start what is actual studio time. The time and space when painting happens. This is where the romance happens that captures imaginations.