In preparation for a lengthy and intense painting journey to Arizona, I spent a few hours cutting cheap Kraft paper into sheets, taping them to old, failed 11x14” canvas panels, and sealing them with shellac. Tom Dunlay had advised using decent charcoal paper instead, and I wish I’d listened to him, for reasons which will be explained. But the material I chose had its own advantages, and I’m glad to have done it.
Over the course of seven work days, I have painted 23 11x14” oil sketches, while also doing some more ambitious work. I have a few days left in my trip, but here’s my haul so far:
Working on material this cheap brings about a kind of nonchalance, which can be useful if one wants to just record what happens to fall on the retina of one’s eye. What’s to lose? Some paint and a few cents worth of paper one would otherwise use to mail packages.
The smooth surface of the paper is made slicker still by the coat of shellac, whose function is to seal the paper fibers from the paint. That slickness makes careful drawing nearly impossible. One is forced, rather, to try and hit the note correctly, throw the paint onto the surface, and hope for the best. Had I gone with Dunlay’s suggestion to use good quality charcoal paper, which has got a tooth to it, the process might be a little closer to how one paints on canvas. But that slickness has its own merits.
What became obvious very quickly is that the slickness of the surface meant that the loaded brush can glide freely. This worked nicely for painting the sky, which is a fluid medium constantly in motion.
Sometimes you want to do a rapid sketch, just going after value and color. Painting on this sort of paper really offers you no other choice. I don’t think any of these sketches took more than a half hour to paint. Most of them took half that.
I’m not advocating this as the best way to make pictures, but it’s a nifty way to loosen up. If any of these sketches merit it, they can always be glued onto wood panels.
I don’t know if it’s even feasible to give sketches like these a second or third day. Because the paint lies on the surface of the smooth shellacked paper, it takes much longer to dry than it would on canvas, and I try to let a picture dry to the touch before doing any further work on it.
I wanted snow. I didn’t realize I wanted it till I saw so much of it on the ground. But the locals informed me that it was melting at a rate of about a foot per day. It’s ironic that I wanted snow, since back home there were subzero temperatures, and all the snow a guy could possible ask for. But Arizona offered not only some snow, but also pretty warm temperatures. My fingers freeze easily.
A marvelous rack of stratus clouds appeared in the sky. Like everything else in the sky, these were moving fast, and chasing after them was kind of like a Mack Sennett comedy. And spots of the dark paper showing through in the sky kind of breaks the spell. But for all its crudeness, I like this sketch better than its 22 brothers.
A local brought me to Superstition Canyon, and I’ve spent a lot of time there.
Clouds take on marvelous shapes. If you move fast and aren’t too finicky, you can grab them. Shellacked kraft paper is pretty sympathetic to moving fast and not being finicky.
Sunsets have their own challenges. One is that since light is disappearing fast, it’s tough to judge one’s value and color. And the sky changes rapidly, much moreso than during other times of day. And sunsets can be gaudy when recorded with paint. Not many people attempt them. But here comes cheap paper to the rescue. You’ll attempt damn near anything.
The following day’s sunset. What was it I said about gaudy? But I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.
Yesterday was an epic day for clouds. I couldn’t get enough of them.
I’m trying to do some substantial stuff here, too, but 23 sketches on paper have proven to be a decent use of my time.