Making a Painting from Start to Finish
You'll get some idea of how these things are made
This is my first post that I’m writing and sending from Substack. I’ve decided to move here from Mailchimp because this platform allows archived content and a larger email list. So in a way, Substack seems, at least for me, a good alternative to the old style blogs that have gone out of favor.
For those of you who joined me when I was on Mailchimp, nothing has changed….I’ll send you an email photo essay once a month. I guess it will look a bit different because of the platform change, but all my future posts will be archived here, and can be accessed at any time. I think that’s a good thing because it’s nice to have an easily found record of these writings. I’ve figured out how to put my older posts from Mailchimp here, so I’m really pleased to have a record of those here too.
But learning new software is so frustrating, and the directions for use seem to pan out correctly only half the time, which means you spend forever trying to get simple things to work. It took me more than a day to figure out how to import my email list from Mailchimp to Substack, and about that amount of time to find a method to archive some of my past newsletters here. I followed the directions…I swear I did….and I even had a lot of smarty-pants help! There go my dreams of becoming a world-class computer hacker. The good news is that I think I learned the basic tools to write a post the way I want. So now I’m calm, mellow, and ready to do this thing, despite this rant.
I’ve made a great many videos of me painting and I enjoy watching those myself (they are all on You Tube, just type my name into their search bar). Or, click the link below:
Harry Stooshinoff Videos on You Tube
Other people seem to enjoy them too, if they are not too long…but I guess the longer the video, the more it seems like watching paint dry. It also takes a longgggg time to edit videos, and a lot of second-by-second concentration, which is a large dis-incentive for me to make them. Plus, the video camera is a bit of a distraction, imposition, and extra pressure on the painting process. It’s still workable, but, it does take some getting used to. But I enjoy seeing the end result of the videos, and I will make more.
SO….. here I’ll just give you a little photo essay of making a painting and a hint of the frame-making for the piece. Let’s see what that all looks like.
It’s hard to say exactly why I favour these small panels (this one is 5 x 8 inches), but it has something to do with the sense of intimacy and secrecy they suggest. I cut and prepare all the panels myself and that is part of the process that makes them feel a bit like a treasured object. Here I’m painting an iconic setting that I’ve worked from many times before, so I know a fair bit about this composition, and I know the mood and import of the scene…….that isn’t always the case with other subjects. Once the drawing starts everything has to go on autopilot and quickly. There can’t be any hesitation or second-guessing, and all other thoughts are immediately pushed back. It helps if there are no breaks in the process so that flow is quickly established and kept.
The drawing is quickly ‘washed’ with a mixture of unbleached titanium and cadmium red. I’m working in acrylics. I quickly dry this layer with a hair dryer..it takes only a minute to do this step.
The feeling when starting a painting…..this next stage, is always a bit scary, but that’s OK, it’s supposed to be. You’re trying to get something surprising and engaging, and though you know certain things about how you want this to go, it’s important that you don’t know too much. Otherwise, from where comes the necessary surprise?? I like to start by establishing a few small things with a small brush, drawing more than painting. The marks always have to look alive. The sequence of marks, and how they all fit together is really what the painting is about. They are the mechanics of the painting, and that’s where the magic comes from…regardless of what else the painting is about. This is why it’s important not to pretend to know everything, and to get involved in the process quickly and stay there. I don’t know everything and I’m not meant to, but, I AM meant to FIND something.
The painting can come together and start establishing mood quickly. You’ll notice I am only mixing colors and filling shapes, and using line and mark to carry life through the scene.
As I’m working I don’t try to finish anything. Sometimes an area might feel annoying as I enter it, and it might demand more, but I usually leave that til later because as areas come into relationship with one another, their own identities change. But it is important to keep in mind, when entering and suggesting any passage, that all things have their own character. So, for example, a tree is very different from the ground, and from the sky. Just keeping in mind the inherent character of things, can help you suggest them. And I suggest....rather than describe.
By this point, you can see the value or use of the warm under-wash. It helps to activate and enliven areas as they are painted. The under-color is always warm, for me anyway, because most of my landscape colors are cool, so this opposition helps to establish tension and create excitement.
And this is the finished piece. I stop when a sense of place and some visual excitement has been established. There are always more things that can be added, but I resist the temptation to stay with the piece longer. I’m happy to establish a sense of life, and stop.
Yes, the frames take longer to make than the paintings….much longer! There are many steps. I’m slowly getting better at making the frames, weeding out procedural and construction errors as I go. I like these small paintings to have a sense of intimacy…a sense of attention poured over them, and the frames help establish this. You’ll notice the fine tooth blade on the miter saw…that really helps to get smoothly cut miters, as does having a simple sacrificial fence to prevent tear-out on the back side of the wood. Sometimes I’ll use a Stop on the sacrificial fence if I need to get 4 pieces the exact same size (and yes, opposite sides do need to be EXACTLY the same size, NOT sort of the same size). On pieces this small, any little bit that you’re out of square, either in the frame making, or the cutting of the panels, will be noticeable, so that’s why I’m really trying to UP my frame-making game.
And,….I’m finally getting to use this beautiful white ash molding that I had milled years ago for frames, and which I used only very little of. The inside of the frame is made with clear 1 x 2” pine, and I’m enjoying making the joins with V nails. The next photo shows a closeup of a V nail in the frame. I use 16 of these nails per frame, 8 per side, and they are simply hammered into the wood. They are small, sharp, and delicate, but they really do an excellent job joining small, soft wood. For hard wood, you can get a device or a stapler/nail gun thingy that injects the V nail for you, but I think I’ll just use these nails on the soft wood. I DO use a nail gun with 1 inch brads to assemble the white ash portions of the frame.
The frames are carefully sanded and then white-washed, and buffed, with satin latex white paint that has been thinned with water at a ratio of about 1 part paint, to 2 parts water, and later 3 coats of diamond finish water-based non-yellowing varathane are used to finish the wood. The painted panel is attached to the floater frame with 4 small bits of double-sided tape. If the piece ever needs to be re-framed down the line, the painting can be safely removed from the back, with no damage, by running a thin flexible putty knife beneath the image, and cutting through the adhering foam tape.
While making the frames is rather a painstaking affair, it is rewarding to see things come together into a lovely finished piece.
Everything I make is listed the very next day to my website and my Etsy page. I’m so happy to be doing all my art commerce digitally these days!
I’ll write to you again soon,……I normally send out my email on the 2nd of each month. Stay well!
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Thanks for sharing your process and including the framing, too!
Your posts are great. How you make the frames would be easier to visualize and duplicate, step by step, with a YouTube video, Harry. It isn't clear how the inner support, the pine you use to actually mount the painting, is secured to the ash frame. Looked maybe glued, but a brad nail gun would do the trick as well.