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The essay below is adapted from chapters originally published at An Island Where No One Lives.

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November 18, 2004

As originally posted here, one of the ways in which I will use this blog is to document the creation of a painting from its beginning to its conclusion. The first stage, smear of paint on canvas, is below.

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The visual idea which struck me was to paint something resembling an octopus' eye. As you can see, that concept didn't survive the collision of ambition, paint, canvas and the artwork (which struggles against me from the opposite side of the canvas). What we have here, in a very preliminary stage, looks like a cave or tunnel. This is, however, the painting equivalent of typing "Chapter One: It was a dark and stormy night" then leaning back and considering the words while rubbing one's jaw. This may be part of the final image or it may be completely covered by something else. We'll all find out together.

The canvas size is around 20" by 30", and the pigments here are raw umber and titanium white. I prefer raw umber to black, as black doesn't tend to mix well with colors surrounding it--it stands strikingly apart, looking like a hole punched in the canvas. At least, so it is in my experience, but I tend to use earth-tones and that may account for my preferences.

The photograph was taken with a Nikon D70, and enhanced a bit with Paint Shop Pro 8.

After dwelling on this canvas for a while, I decided the next step would be adding red and burnt sienna (brown). That would be day two, and we'll see how that goes then.

November 19, 2004


Day two of painting, and we have several steps to display. As I mentioned, one of the things that struck me upon gazing at the previous day's work was, it needs red. Whether this idea came from me or the canvas I don't know, but red it was, duly applied where it "felt" best.

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Again, the photograph is enhanced a bit, as the original was too dark for much detail.

Now, having applied the red, next up was burnt sienna (brown for you layfolks). This had to surround and contain the red, and provide some place for the original raw umber and white to anchor.

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As you can see, the red is not completely contained (it escapes at the top of the canvas) but that may change. The red was (originally) intended to provide a form of organic heat, like blood or tissue, and I didn't want it to take up too much of the interest in the canvas. It's supposed to be an accent, and nothing more. Then, finally for the evening:

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(This picture captures the colors of the work most accurately, by the way.) The canvas is now completely covered in paint. As far as I am concerned, a canvas can never be "complete" unless it is painted over completely. I know others feel differently, and have compelling reasons for leaving areas untouched. Not me. I can't find those reasons when I work.

I feel that a canvas with "bare spots" doesn't contain a painting. It has objects arranged on it, but those objects don't exist in their own realm. When all the canvas is covered, a world is created and one looks as through a window upon that world. Canvases with unpainted parts, to me, reflect too much of us and not enough of themselves.

Okay, I realize I've harped a bit too much on the bare/covered canvas thing above. I'm sure the Freudians have all kinds of theories. I'd just like to add that a) if you're reading this, you may be interested in how I go about things, and why I go about things, and b) I'm not saying that canvases with bare parts aren't art, or aren't complete, or any of that. It's all just a matter of opinion. You fans of canvases with bare parts can relax.

As for this canvas, I'm not sure what to do with it tomorrow. I may let it dry a bit, and germinate some thoughts before I go on. I think that the spiky things that surround the center should be dealt with, using some detailing. But I don't know for certain yet. Covering the canvas completely brings us to the end of Stage One.

Stage Two, shortly.

November 26, 2004

Well, it's been nearly a week since I painted what you're about to see in the following photographs. That might not seem like a long time, but for someone who can't remember what he had for breakfast the day before, someone who's words you might even now be reading, it'll be a bit of a stretch to remember what was done during and between each of these pictures. Let's hope we don't meet that person, shall we!

Since our last episode, we've mostly been doing some detail work. No major changes in structure or color scheme, but, hey, enough of my yakkin', let's start!

The first thing that struck me was the lower right-hand corner. There seemed to be a potential for some excellent bridging between the bone-like material and the “ground”. So I spent most of the time trying to bring out this bridging through light and shadow. The projections from the bone were also highlighted here, to make them look more like ribs or something rather than like fingerpainting.

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Incidentally, this is the first time I used a palatte; since the canvas was now completely covered, there was no way to apply the paint directly to it. That usually only works for broad swaths, anyway, and not detail work. Here, as you'll recall, we were doing detail work.

Speaking of detail, here's a close-up of the lower-right corner, after a tiny bit more work was done.

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I think it has managed to take on a nice organic look to it. Heck, it almost looked planned.

The next step dealt with the red. The red had started to bother me, and I wasn't certain what to do with it. I divided the red swath with more burnt sienna to make two ribbons, and then added some little ticks to fringe the bit at the upper-left-center. I think the division works, not sure at all about the ticks. I had an idea about lights, tiny lights and starfish arms in this same area, as projections from somewhere helping with the creation of this structure, whatever it ends up being. But that was just an idea, it was time to let the red rest for a while in the back of my mind.    Red, worked with a bit:

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By the way, red takes forever to dry. Raw umber dries within a few hours, white a bit after that (depending on how thick it is), burnt sienna dries pretty well, but cadmium red just sits there wet, apparently waiting for me to do something first. It's like a staring contest. It makes it easy to blend for a long time, but it also makes it sticky and difficult.

Having done what I could (for now) with the red, the next bit to be worked with was the inner bone-ring, on the right toward the center. The first few finger marks lent themselves to duplication, as a kind of fluting or coral-like structure. I've been rereading Lovecraft lately, and you start getting these ideas. Here is the overall look:

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And here's a close-up:
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This could be a nice image on its own. Don't remind me. Maybe some time in the future it will appear again, and star in its own painting, instead of doing support work in this one. It all depends on who wants to cooperate with my hands.

To sum up so far. As mentioned (I think), this is detail work, which is bringing out what is already there in the painting, a kind of hidden potential. It's as much the canvas' creation as mine. I'm just helping it out into the open, as much or as little as it should be.

So far, I'm pleased with what's happening. I like the detail-work on the left, the details bridge the grey-white boney material, and the reddish-brown surroundings, very well I think. It looks as if the ground is weaving the bone-shell. The fluting brings a nice sense of organic menace to the interior, as if the area is dead and yet aware.

Well, that's our show for today. Thanks for watching, and tune in next time when I discuss how this image is starting to look gynecological, and what can be done about this. Goodnight! God bless!

PS: I've learned a valuable lesson today. Don't write these things while watching show-biz documentaries. It makes things creep into the words, and you know, that's how all that Lovecraft stuff starts.

November 30, 2004


When I first did the red fringes on the canvas, my immediate thought was, Big mistake. However, I knew I could always go back and paint over this stuff, so I didn't worry a great deal about it. It was more of a nag than a real worry. Funny how neither let you sleep very well, isn't it? I was more pleased that the inner bone-like structure seemed to be working out so well, and the entire left side of the painting also appeared to be coming along nicely.

That must have been when I decided, some how, to continue with the red fringe. Despite the fact that I thought This is never going to work, I started to add more details to this area. I suppose it's kind of like when you give yourself a haircut; it looks uneven on one side, so you work on the other, then that side seems uneven...you enter a kind of state where you think Eventually we have to reach a workable compromise. Or shave it all off.

But I didn't reach such a state with the red fringes. I began adding to them, and each addition screamed Mistake. Making them stand out even more. Then, I tried tying them to the bone structure. My mind continued to scream Mistake, but a smaller voice piped up, Maybe not. Here's the result.

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I still think they don't work, but...I think they don't work less than they used to, if that makes sense. Just to prove that they don't work, here are some details.

As they first were:

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With some detail work under their belts (and mine):

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Finally, the addition of some tiny teeth. Freudians, set your watches:

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While this was going on, I also worked more with the bone rings. Not because they necessarily needed work, but because I had the distressing sense that the red work was going nowhere fast, and I wanted to have something accomplished when I cleaned the brushes. Please understand, I don't think I did anything to mar the progress of the bone rings--I think they look better all the time--so my working on them only seems like desperation. It wasn't really. It was just ordinary working honestly.

Anyway, here are some details of the work. The differences here, between what is there now and what was there before, are much more subtle, but they are there.

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And finally:

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There was also a bit of work done on the upper left shoulder of the canvas. This photograph is a bit overexposed to highlight what was done:

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I remain satisfied with the progress the work is taking. Even the red is starting to work for me, and I find myself glad that I didn't wipe it out. Of course, that could still happen. It's always hard to predict these things. Especially for the guy with the brush.

Here is a photo of the work as it stands, here on the last day of November, 2004.

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The image is a bit light since it's a handheld shot with a one second exposure. That also doubles as an excuse for blurriness.

This is fun, innit? See you next chapter, then.

December 6, 2004


Well, no sooner did I say I was unlikely to add to the painting, but I added to the painting. Of course, a weekend happened after that, so you're getting this on Monday.

Despite all better judgement, I was moved to work on the red area on the right side of the screen. Using burnt sienna, red (I forget the official name) and some raw umber, I added numerous vaguely-flesh like areas.

Thus:

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I went back and added some folds to the top area:

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Finally, I like these little guys down in the lower right.

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(That's my Roland JX-8P in the background of this very blurry photo, by the way.) They remind me of the creatures in this image, done several years ago:

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That's it for now. See you next time.

December 19, 2004


The painting has suffered the slings and arrows of little bits of work. The only major addition was the red area below the main body, in the lower right corner. The rest of it has all been little details and shadings and tiny highlights. Here's a view of the overall work as it stands as of today:

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And just cos I like you, here are some detail shots:

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Oh, and I told a tiny bit of a fib up there. Since the first shot was taken, I actually did some work on the interior of the structure, darkening one layer of bone at the edge so that it stood out from the layer above it. I'll try to post a picture later today.

Right now, the painting isn't really talking at all, so further updates on this particular picture may be quite distant. However, I have started thinking that it's time to start another picture, so let's see how that starts...here.

 

December 30, 2004

Is it done? It has stopped saying anything specific to me, but it still seems as if there is something missing. It's not saying anything, but it's still murmuring. In the meantime, here is the painting as it stands today, nearly at the end of 2004.

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Sorry about all the vintage equipment in the background; I suspect that makes the painting rather hard to make out amidst all the clutter. Still, if I had time to edit that out of the image, I'd have time to clean up the equipment before taking the photo. So everyone wins.

January 11, 2005

After some time, the canvas has started making some noise, and progress has been made on bringing it toward a conclusion.

This started when I happened to be lying on the couch, and looked up at it at an angle. (I hung the thing on the wall until it was ready to be inspirational.) I noted how dark the lower left corner was, in comparison to most of the right half of the painting, and thought it needed some bright red down there to throw the light and shade into a little more balance. So here are some of the things I did.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Which finally added up to this (I apologize for the rather muddy photograph; I was trying to avoid stepping on a cat):

Paint Blog 1 overview 1.  Click to open in a new window.

But we're not done yet!

No, once this was done and looked at, more changes were made the next day. We'll start with the detail shots first, beginning with the highlights added to the top of the work.

Here, I wanted to make the red area more three-dimensional, to make it appear as if it was leaning out of the space, toward the viewer. You can decide for yourself how successful this was, that's the great part about the internet.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

I decided as well that the canvas still seemed a bit off balance in the lower left. Well, I am a firm believer that you can't be too rich, too thin, or have too many tentacles.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

And finally, here is the end result.

Paint Blog 1 overview 2.  Click to open in a new window.

I'm very, very happy with the progress this work has been making toward completion. Is it done? Probably not yet; it will let me know when it is. As to content, I'm not sure what this is, but one adjective that immediately came to mind was Lovecraftian. And I don't know why, but the title "Gaze" has started to make iself felt. Will that be the final title? Well, why are you asking me?

One idea that was resisted: putting a tiny picture of the Earth in the center hole. I'm of the opinion that wouldn't work, and would in fact define the picture into an area where I'm not sure I want it to go. It seems too much of its own physical self to tie it into an existing reality, but who knows, that may change.

Change can be good. Sometimes.

January 14, 2005

Well, enough of my whining. Here's some progress photographs of Paint Blog I. 

As promised, here's how part of the canvas looked the night before last.

Paint Blog I detail 1 - ick.  Click to open in a new window.

In a word, eeuuurrrghhhh.

Here's the same part, after I fixed it.

Paint Blog 1 detail 1 - fixed.  Click to open in a new window.

This is good. I like the opening in the dark area near the top--that was completely unexpected but works great. And I think the little guy is terrific. In fact, here he is again, closer.

Paint Blog 1 detail 2 - portrait.  Click to open in a new window.

Don't get too close, you might lose a finger! Ha ha ha, I kid, it's only a picture.

Yes, fine, all well and good, you're probably thinking to yourself. But what I really wanted was more tentacles. Hey, no problem!

Paint Blog I detail 3 - more tentacles.  Click to open in a new window.

Don't you like how I anticipate your every need? Cool huh?

Finally, here's the overview.

Paint Blog I current overview.  Click to open in a new window.

I still like how this is shaping up.


January 16, 2005

Did some more work in the upper right hand corner:

PaintBlog I Upper Right.  Click to open in a new window.

It's a bit shinier (in the photograph) than it is in real life, so you'll have to use your imagination. I have every faith that you can do this.

Here is the work as it stands today:

Paint Blog I.  Click to open in a new window.

My usual apologies for the photo quality, I have tried like the Dickens to find a good way to photograph these things, so that the light doesn't bounce too much and the colors are accurate. So far, the skill level of the Dickens still eludes me.

The big question now is...is it done? I am getting definite signals that it may, in fact, have docked in the harbor at Completedtown. I'm going to let it settle for tonight, then try to look at it afresh and see if anything screams at me.

Of course, the whole canvas kind of screams at one, yes? Perhaps a poor choice of words. Mumbles something indistinct is probably far more apt.
 

January 18, 2005

Well, here are some of the latest details from PaintBlog I. 

First of all, a bit of ghost-detailing on the upper left corner. I apologize for the severe overexposure; the real image doesn't look like this, but it's a bit too dark to photograph clearly otherwise.

Paint Blog 1 detail 1.  Click to open in a new window.

In addition to the above, we also have these little...things. Not sure what they are. Mouths? Lichen? Limpetts? Coral? Your guess is as good as mine.

Paint Blog 1 detail 2.  Click to open in a new window.

Again, it was a bit overexposed, though not as severely this time. Finally, we added some highlighting and slight restructuring to the area around the mid-left edge.

Paint Blog 1 detail 3.  Click to open in a new window.

And guess what?

Paint Blog 1 - finished.  Click to open in a new window.

It's done. It's done and finished, and everyone's happy. Of course, the painting does not have a name, yet. I feel that titles are very important to a work; things like "Untitled No. 8" or "Study No. 3" just strike me as unimaginative. Your mileage may vary, of course; you may like being able to place some of your own interpretation into the work, and not be led by a title. Fair enough; collaborative communication is one of the goals of art, and ambiguity helps in this area, but I like to direct the viewer somewhat.

This one was, for a time, going to be called "Gaze" but I think that takes too much ambiguity out of the work. (I have had a number of folks ask if this is a tunnel or an eye socket.) "Nyarlathotep" might work, though on the other hand I'd sure hate to offend.

"Self-Portrait" is accurate but way too boring....

Oh, and check this out. Here's a detail shot from the canvas:

Paint Blog 1 detail.  Click to open in a new window.

Here's a screenshot from an old episode of Star Trek:

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.  Click to open in a new window.

You need to take your eyes off the ever-dynamic Captain Kirk, and note the background. Wow, I'm famous! Only the small-minded would make objections about temporal continuity. And we don't know anyone like that, do we?

November 2004 - January 2005

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