Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Artist in Their Studio

I have been prepping for a new painting over the last couple of days and that means, for me anyworkitgirlway, that I scrounge around in my stretcher wood pieces - they are strips of wood usually around 1.5" to 2" width - that I cut down to the required lengths and from there assemble and repair if needed - knotholes and sanding corners etc - and paint to keep it clean. After that comes the stretching of the canvas. I buy my canvas in large rolls (60" X 80') so it has to be cut to fit the frame every time. If you've never seen canvas being stretched I'll try to 'talk' you through the process. You start by making sure the frame sits relatively square within your piece of canvas that hopefully you've cut with enough 'margin allowance' to fit around and over the frame. From there, you staple the canvas (with industrial size staples!) to the middle point of the first side of your frame. Then you flip it to the opposite side and repeat. and etc etc around the frame, going from opposite side to opposite side. The tool you use to accomplish the straight and taught canvas you require are called - oh so obviously - 'canvas pliers'. They look like wide mouth pliers so to enable grabbing the canvas strongly and pulling tightly as you go.
Following me still?
After the canvas is nicely stretched and it should be tight enough to sound rather 'drum like' when you tap it - you fold the corners in neatly and evenly. Not as simple as it sounds as you need to ensure you aren't creating a big lumpy mess. It took me a good while to get it down pat, I must say.
Next comes the 'Gesso'. Gesso is a special base coat of usually white but you can get it in different colors, paint. It is rather like a very chalky paint. The extra 'chalk' - and it actually is a kind of chalk - gives your canvas a base that will 'hold' the paint better causing  good adherence. You need around 2 to 3 coats laid down depending on how thick you make it. I used to struggle with putting on this coat as the Gesso is very thick and is a slow process for the first coat. Then I hit upon the idea of wetting down the whole canvas before putting on the first coat. ( as an aside - this process with me and my decidedly HUGE canvases is enormously entertaining to any viewers - to me it's a royal pain as I try to maneuver it under the shower head in the hovel's teensy tiny bathroom. There is a LOT of water everywhere when I finally am done. However, I have very clean bathroom floors from having to mop them after. A bright side to everything) This has made ALL the difference to putting on the first coat and as an added bonus really gives me a taught canvas after drying.
It takes about a day to dry completely and I have to admit I'm generally impatient to get my line drawing on so I'll stick the canvas by my heater or if it's a sunny day - outside. This wet and blazingly white canvas however, seems to attract every little black bug in a 3 mile radius.
All in all quite the process.
But as I go through it I'm thinking about how the thread of this 'prepping' stretches back throughout time to all the artist painters. It's a good feeling to know that even Frida Khalo and Georgia O'Keeffe did this too. We are all connected by this simple eternal act of art.
I feel part of something larger. Nice.
The pic is: "An Artist In His Studio" by John Singer Sargent. I like this for a couple of reasons. One because it's the whole theme of today's post but mostly because the guy has his canvas crammed into his unmade bed and is working in a little space.
And THAT really makes me feel connected!

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