Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rock Art

I'm embarrassed to note that it was some 14 months ago that I wrote of my intention to resurrect an old painting subject featuring a black-footed rock wallaby surveying his neighbourhood from the mouth of a cave. As I very belatedly turn those good intentions into actions, I'm conscious of the fact that my enthusiasm for a painting can often fade as work progresses. However, as the original reference photo and the concept it gave rise to date back to 2008 in this case, I can take heart from the fact that I'm still enthusiastic about the subject matter despite the passage of so much time.

An earlier attempt at this painting failed to meet my expectations and I abandoned it at the half-way point - a not uncommon occurrence! Although the canvas ended up behind the art room door with my other rejects, the inspiration for it survived intact; I always knew I'd revisit the idea, which is as much about the play of late afternoon light on the rock face as it is about a wallaby in a cave. With that in mind, when Sandi and I visited the area twelve months after I took the original photo, I made sure I took several more photographs at the same time of day, paying particular attention to the right-hand side of the cave entrance which the earlier photos had failed to capture completely.

It could simply be indecision on my part, or perhaps particular subjects and the way I envisage them as paintings drives the choice to use particular mediums, supports and techniques. Whatever my motivation in this instance, it's hard to dismiss the advantages of developing a range of approaches I can call on as I contemplate each painting subject.

In the case of this painting, I'm on the verge of completing a fairly detailed preparatory drawing on rough 640gsm Arches paper, after which I'll erase the grid lines and lighten the pencil drawing as much as I dare before coating the paper's surface with acrylic sealer. That done, I'll begin to apply heavily diluted, scumbled washes of acrylic paint, "sneaking up" on the final colours and tonal values as I do so. With this approach I have something in common with the watercolourists: when mixing colours, I avoid the use of white paint which would render the paint opaque. As a result, I need to be constantly on guard against overshooting the mark with my tonal values - there's no easy way back if they become too dark in a particular area. Problems in that regard have been the main reason I've explored other more forgiving techniques in recent times.

I certainly haven't discarded the oil painting of the reef egret I began a short time ago, but acrylic paint and the techniques I've described are the closest thing I have to a "comfort zone" and will hopefully provide the confidence boost I feel I need if I'm to continue exploring less familiar mediums and methods from time to time.


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