Sketches for Water-Themed Paintings

When I heard about the opportunity to show water-themed artwork for the city, there wasn’t too much time before the submission deadline to prepare. I would need to speed up my process to do this project. I had been painting mostly medium size portraits, and working on them on and off over the course of years. For this show three 40” square paintings, with relatively complicated subject matter, would need to go from start to finish in about two months.

My first concern was that the studio in which I was working at the time was especially humid, even for Bloomington, and it was taking a long time for my oil paintings to dry. Right before I started on this series I had been working on a painting that, two weeks after my last application of paint, was still completely wet to the touch and hazardous to move. Turning a fan on it full time eventually helped, but that kind of time frame wasn’t going to work for these paintings, so I decided to paint them in acrylic.

I bought the supplies and started on the paintings before I had actually been awarded the opportunity. I hoped my submission would be chosen, but if not, it was a project that I wanted to follow through with.

As I was working on these sketches, and stretching the canvases, I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I would also be moving at the end of July, and had a lot of organizing and packing to do.
It all worked out, paintings got done and I got moved. Thanks to an extension of my installation deadline, and a helpful moving crew at A Better Way moving.

The sketches reproduced above were all done early one morning, a few days before the submission deadline. They are pencil on white sketch paper, that I scotch-taped together to complete the square compositions. The blue-violet look of the images above was an accident from amplifying the legibility of the marks in Photoshop. I like the look, and left them like that.

The image in the middle was actually the first design I worked on. I calculated the size of the design so that a half length figure at about, or just under life size would fit well on a 40” square canvas. To provide consistency within the series, I put each figure’s head at about the same height in their respective designs.

I had chosen a photograph of the exterior of the treatment facility that I wanted to match with each interior setting and figure, so I quickly combined those elements in each of the patchwork drawings, making quick decisions and sticking with them.

Noticing changes from the sketches to the finished paintings has been fun, as I look at these images. In the image on the left, which was actually the last design I did, there are landscape elements, trees and a building, that I started out painting into the painting. Next to the building I had actually painted another American flag, like the one in the middle image. But I suddenly had the thought that the painting would look great with sky going all the way down to the ledge, so I painted it all out, and I like it better the way it is now.

In the middle sketch I included large tree forms which bracketed the figure, like bookends. They also got painted into the painting, but the energy of the piece felt stifled, with those dark blocks at either side. So I changed the landscape to a more open expanse, with smaller suggested, but not clearly defined elements derived partially from imagination. During the course of the work some experimenting with thinner and thicker applications of paint ended up working out.  I started to wonder if the landscape was starting to overcome the rest of the image, but I think that the elements of the design are in check with each other now.

In the sketch on the right I am reminded of all the trouble I had with the right side of that design. Originally I had wanted to include a door, and let the viewer see on the other side of the door. I was excited about that architectural detail. There is a door to a school principal’s office in a Norman Rockwell painting that I was thinking about. But it turned out that the scale of my door was questionable, and the construction was impossible, there was nothing for it to hinge on. So I painted the sky all the way over to the right edge of the canvas, but that was too open. Finally I copied the measurement of the wall to the left, in the sketch on the left, and found the time card rack in another photo I had taken during my tour of the water treatment facility. Looking at an online industrial supply catalog helped me get the measurements of the rack and time cards accurate.

The paintings are on view at the Utilities Department building at 600 E Miller Drive through next August. The city will be holding a public reception for the exhibition on Monday, October 29, from 4 to 5 p.m. If you will be in town and are interested, it would be nice to see you there.


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