It’s a little like which came first ‘the chicken or the egg.’ We think of dreams as those inexplicable things we have when we are sleeping. Well what if dreams were more than that? What if dreams are those inexplicable yearnings we have throughout life?
Painting dreams does not have to be in the literal sense of making a painting that looks like the dream you had last night. Painting dreams may actually look more like a life time of painting from the heart.
Letting each yearning out on paper, one by one, creates a magical life.
So much of life is planned out ahead of time. We become executors of the plan. This works well for many things~ except that our hearts get executed in the process!
What if there is one thing you can do for your heart that would make all the difference in the world? What if you took your heart on a painting adventure? Let your heart show you where to go?
How I Did it
Last fall when I painted Tuscan Sun, my head was swimming with questions.
How could I afford to spend an extended period of time in Tuscany without working? It seemed impossible. That’s why I painted Tuscan Sun.
Watercolors are fluid like dreams. I was working and didn’t have time to set up the studio to paint in oil. Instead I grabbed a small watercolor palette, two brushes and a few small pieces of Arches Watercolor paper and took them to work with me.
Now I am not a watercolorist. I took a class in college, then picked it up again when I went to France. I wasn’t trying to make a finished painting. I simply wanted a way to explore my dream ~ to bring it to life on paper.
During lunch I set up my palette, a cup of water and painted. I painted several more because I didn’t like the first ones. When I got home from work, I threw them all in a drawer and forgot about it.
I didn’t know my dreams were percolating in that drawer. I just thought I had painted some bad watercolors!
Six Months Later
When my Tuscan dream materialized, it took me all day to find the painting stuck down in a drawer. When I found it, I also found watercolor postcards from two years ago that I’d painted in France. One French postcard grew into a whole series of Abstract Floral Paintings. This showed me the artist I thought I’d lost 3 decades ago is alive and well, regenerated and better than when I left her.
When one touches the paper with a brush full of fluid color dreams flow. Something intangible is suddenly real on paper. An adventure in possibility begins with one small stroke. One by one the strokes accumulate. The heart beats a little louder. It reverberates inside setting dreams in motion.
Page by page the brush strokes take on a life of their own. Then one day we recognize our heart in them ~ unmistakably our own.
Painting quick and easy on-the-fly is simplest with watercolor and a pack or two of watercolor postcards. With a tiny watercolor palette in my satchel during my residency in France, I was able to create 15-minute paintings while waiting for lunch or resting on a park bench.
These magic postcard paintings are now a huge source of inspiration at home. See how just one of them led to a series of garden paintings>
Preparing for my Tuscan residency, three simple additions will make it even easier to bring home great paintings.
For Tuscan. I need light-weight, portable, easy and clean-to-use panels which can be mounted and displayed quickly when I return for the holidays.
I am staying in a two bedroom apartment 20 kilometers south of Florence in the heart of the Chianti hills. I don’t have a studio for two months. I paint en plein air and set my paintings up to dry around the apartment.
1 ~ Butterfly Panels
I’ve been researching the perfect, light weight panel. In France, I used pads of linen canvas 11 x 14, thumb tacked to the cork board in the residency studio to dry. Without a studio I need a rigid panel which I can prop up along the counter top or baseboard.
Butterfly painting panels are available ready made by a couple different manufacturers. I am creating my own with Multi-Media Art Board and linen canvas. To create them, I am making use of supplies I already have on hand for a fraction of the cost.
Multi media boards are paper impregnated with resin. This makes them archival, dimensionally stable and rigid ~ yet feather weight. A piece of heavy-weight cardboard behind them will make sure they don’t bend when I attach them to my easel. Yet they are rigid enough to sit up against the wall to dry without additional support.
There are several ways to use these for painting. They can be painted on directly with oil, acrylic, watercolor or drawing media. They can also be gessoed with white or tinted gesso for a more customized painting surface. The surface can be further customized by mounting canvas or linen on them. I am making some of each in different sizes.
2 ~ Mounting Canvas or Linen
Heat Press Method
To mount them, I used archival heat mounting tissue and my mounting press. I used up an old pad of linen 12 x 16s. I trimmed my mounting tissue to fit the linen, with a little excess on all sides. I put it in the heat press for a few minutes, then let it cool. When cooled, I trimmed each one to size., So far I have made some 11 x 14s and 12 x 16s. I will also make some 16 x 20s. These will all fit flat in my suitcase.
Wet Mount Method
If you don’t have a mounting press, you can use acrylic soft gel or matte medium to wet mount the canvas to panel. I used this method when I returned from France with my unmounted linen paintings. Finished oil or acrylic paintings cannot go in a heat press.
To wet mount, paint both sides with acrylic soft gel or matte medium. Lay them medium sides together and roll with a brayer from the center out to remove any air pockets. Wipe all excess medium away with a damp paper towel. Stack on a rigid table (covered with wax paper), interleave with wax paper, top with board, and weight with a heavy paint can. Allow to dry several hours or overnight. Cut to size when dry.
3 ~ Double Duty Gesso Panels
In France, I found a small watercolor palette and a stack of watercolor postcards fit perfectly into my satchel. On the spur of the moment, I could whip out my colors and paint . . . while waiting for lunch in a cafe or resting on a Paris park bench.
The only problem with this was that the watercolor postcards curled up. I could buy heavier watercolor paper and cut it into custom postcards. But maybe there’s something better . . .
It would be wonderful to have the same rigid panels do double duty for watercolor or oil (or drawing, acrylic, inks etc.) To do this, I am using Golden’s Absorbent Ground Gesso. I like this gesso because it has some tooth, so is also good for drawing with pen, pencil or charcoal. And guess what? It is intended for watercolor.
Since the multi-media panels (above) are white, they only need one coat. I also have some Guerrilla Plein Air Panels (also thin resin impregnated paper) which are brown, so they need two if you are planning to use watercolor on them. I am particularly fond of the texture created by the brush strokes in the gesso. This creates a much more interesting surface to paint on than a machined finish. I will show you examples of this in a later article.
The gessoed panels are for my small paintings, 5 x 7s, 6 x 8s and 8 x 10s. My larger oil paintings will be painted on canvas or linen panels.
Cradled Wood Panels for Presentation
When I return from Tuscany it will be November and everyone will be focused on holidays. I’ve researched and tested several presentation methods which will make a nice, clean, contemporary and quick to ship presentation for my finished paintings.
During my French residency, I painted small paintings on 300 # Arches gessoed watercolor paper. At home, I mounted some of them on deep, cradled wood panels with Soft Gel Medium. This worked ok, though it would have been easier to mount a thinner 140# watercolor paper.
Since then, I have tested mounting both the multi media and Guerrilla panels. I am pleased that they were much easier to mount than watercolor paper. They did not even require weighting while they dried!
So this time I will mount my 5 x 7s and 6 x 8s on 3/4″ cradled panels. 8 x 10s and larger paintings will mount better on the deeper 1 1/2″ ones. These will make it quick and easy for me to present my finished works for sale in a professional, ready-to-hang way.
Blooming Essence Regenerated in Mixed Media Paintings
As a young artist, I painted large scale abstract floral landscapes What most people don’t know about me is that I created multiple panel murals ~ large scale pastels, 40 x 60 inches side by side. Installed in banks, hospitals, resorts, corporations, universities and private residences, they won me recognition early in my career. I stopped painting them the summer I turned thirty.
I’ve been working on my book ~ my healing story, why I stopped and how I found my creative voice again. In four weeks I leave for Tuscany. The book has to be finished before I pack. My editor returned the manuscript Friday. “Not much left,” she said. “You’ll be able to finish. You just need a few more details and an ending.”
This morning I wrote the details of my first hours in France. That’s when I began to feel it . . .
The urge to paint was overwhelming.
A watercolor postcard I painted two years ago beckoned me loud and clear.
Hollyhock Series Came to Life in my Studio This Afternoon
FRANCE July 28, 2013 ~ Two years ago today
Surrounded by blooming hollyhocks the garden at Mas d’Ariveux felt like a dream. A hideaway where a soul could forget ~ or remember herself ~ in a heart beat,
I stuck my toe in the pool.
Cool and inviting, I let myself down into the water. I swam to the deep end and floated on my back.
Clouds drenched in evening sunlight drifted in slow motion on a light Cerulian canvas. Tall hollyhocks swayed to and fro, puppet silouettes. I rested, letting Tarascon permeate my thoughts.
When I finished writing, the copy spilled onto the next page. I moved the two watercolor postcards to a double spread of their own. That’s when I saw it ~ a large scale painting of the hollyhocks.
The postcard was buried in a drawer of scraps. When I found it last week, I set it aside thinking I might put it on my nightstand. It was still in the heap of papers on my work table.
I really didn’t have time to paint. I needed to finish writing. The next thing I knew, I had cleared the cluttered table and discovered five jars of matching paint I bought at Lowe’s last week ~ exact ly the colors of the watercolor hollyhock sketch from two years ago.
Three verdigris primed canvases from last week waited for me, as if they knew something I did not. With one positioned on the table, the other two called from behind me ~ a series ~ not just one. A set of three in the same palette, not a triptych ~ a trio of sisters. A triptych is three images tied together, continuing a single design from one to the next. A trio of sisters would each stand on their own.
Swatches of hand painted satin I had dug out of the closet two weeks ago clamored onto the canvas when I finished mixing the paint. Surprisingly they showed me examples of the loose brushwork and colors that were swirling in my head. I plunked them on the table and took the photos.
My custom chalk paint recipe calls for marble dust and a lot of stirring. I created this recipe years ago when I painted gritty textural underpainting for my large scale abstract floral pastels.
A wide wash brush loaded with water soaked the canvas quickly. I dipped it again encouraging the blue paint to run down the canvas. Wet in wet, I let the paint be thick and thin. It would dry overnight.
The sketch felt like coming home to my pastels ~ with a twist. It was just enough to get my hand loose, to help me remember my calligraphy, how it felt to sign my name. The block in needs to be simple, bold areas of light and dark, warm and cool. Since the watercolor was so small and detailed, I wanted a stepping stone to the bolder large scale 46 x 36 inch canvases.
The second block-in is warmer and deeper than the first. Verdigris paint peeks out from between the warm green leaves and pink red hollyhocks to create the zing. This is a colorist principle: to balance warm with cool and vice versa.
The third painting shows the cool colors dominant with the warm green as the counter balance. It is striking to note that the green on this canvas is the same as the one on the other two. On the first it appeared to be dark green, beside the light pastel colors. On the second, it appears more neutral beside the red. Yet here it seems much more yellow, especially in areas where it is thickest. This is because color is relative. How it appears to us depends on what is beside it.