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Why I killed the cat

This post demonstrates how one particular painting made its way into being. You’ll see images that mark the journey, full of missteps and bumps, indecision and decision, until at last, a completed work is born.

But first, a little backstory. The inspiration for The Long Wait comes from a photo I captured in a waiting room while my car was being serviced. A woman in a puffer jacket, lost in her smartphone on the sofa near me, grabs my interest —I seem to be attracted to figures in solitary settings. I make the snap and the image goes into my reference library. 

Several weeks later the pandemic hits. Overnight, we attempt to adjust to the loss of so many familiar aspects of our daily lives. As I settle into the studio, attempting a normal routine, the photo of the woman rises above the numerous ideas I’m considering, and I choose it as the taking off point for the next painting. It’s not until I’m well into it that I realize how profoundly it expresses the experience of so many in this moment.

I choose a hardboard panel that had already undergone a considerable amount of experimentation. Torn kraft paper covers the panel, with random patterned papers on top, and a layer of red-orange acrylic paint and maybe some turquoise after that. It seems like a good start. At this point, I don’t know how much of it will be covered up and how much will remain, but I begin, knowing surprises are waiting.

Detail. Sketching in the composition. Its history is showing through with patterns and colors that may or may not remain.
Detail. Roughing in more of the figure. Will that funky chair be part of the story?
Full view. Major compositional elements are in. The green sofa on the right gives some weight to the right side. Since the figure is the center of interest, I pay it some attention. I’m ignoring the funky chair for now. I love orange, but this much hurts my eyes. There is much to resolve.
I’ve gone crazy with patterns. Not surprising, since they often come to the party with me. The shoes shift from a yellow hue to red-orange. A newspaper lies on the green sofa. There’s a Mondrian-style grid representing a window. A plant replaces the chair, something organic amidst all the geometry. The chairs moved–and doubled. Not sure about a lot of it though. There’s so much that’s not working. What to do?
The pattern has to go. I start by covering the floor with a layer of orange. The potted plant is gone, replaced by plants you seen through the window. Pillows on the green sofa help move the eye around. I’ve warmed up the puffer coat to contrast with the cool sofa color. Oh, it needs a cat! On a patterned rug! And another rug to add interest on the right! And a patterned-filled box around the foreground red chair! Well, I did simplify. Just one red chair, not two. But honestly, this has gone south, and I’m not sure how to save it. What was a painting about isolation and loneliness has become one of domestic tranquility–and not in a good way. Do I save the cat or save the painting?
Ahhh! As my wise friend Maureen says, “Details are never the answer.” I killed the cat. I scrubbed the rugs. I dug up the vegetation. Gone. A warmish gray covers the floor, allowing just a tad of pattern to remain and is echoed in the walls in varying values. The gray allows the warmth in the figure to take the stage. Kraft paper textures and bits of patterned paper hint of the painting’s early history. Greenish blue through the window adds depth and a sense of hope to the feeling of isolation. The painting I intended appeared at last. With apologies to my own resident feline, the cat had to go.

Thanks for taking this little journey with me. See details about The Long Wait here.

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