Monday, August 21, 2017

Prep Is Underrated

Sea Ranch Triptych

Preparing these birch panels was a pain in the neck.  Sanding, wiping, applying gesso. Sanding wiping, painting more gesso. Then, finally getting to paint! Proper preparation isn't something that too many artists talk about with buyers at openings and shows. Every artist has their view about what works best and some prep very little and others are almost obsessive about getting things right. Erring on the side of overdoing it, is not a really bad thing.  Certainly, not doing enough preparation can come back to haunt years down the road.
Telling students about all of the proper preparation in a classroom situation almost always falls on deaf ears. They just want to get some paint out and start working. I cannot tell you how many times that I have been too hasty in doing my own prep work and then realized what a big mistake I made. So, for what it is worth...
1. Your surface has to be clean, smooth and free of lumps, bumps, blobs and dirt or grease. New canvas isn't going to present this problem, but if you are painting over some work that wasn't good, you have to sand.
2. Once you have sanded and wiped your surface has to hold the paint and the best way is with gesso. I know of no other easy, commercially available product that will prep a painting surface to hold the paint with integrity. When I was in college, they told us to use latex house paint and we passed around a big, gross bucket to paint on our stretched canvas. Yes, it made the surface white and tightened the canvas, but I don't think it is as good as gesso.  House paint today has all kinds of additives that allow for easy wall and surface cleaning and you don't want this stuff under your painting. Stick with gesso.
3. Use at least an additional coat of gesso even on commercially prepared canvas. Student grade materials are just that...for students. But sometimes the gesso is chalky and rubs off. Beware! the cheap stuff can cause problems. So tell your students to coat their surfaces at least once.
4. Pre-wire your large canvas if you are using gallery wrapped canvas without frames. You will be able to move your work around and allow it to dry without worrying about handling it and getting paint everywhere.
5. Mark the back of the canvas with your name and the size of the work. You will be glad later.

So, by the time you have purchased your materials, gotten them home, prepared your surfaces and sanded and wiped and applied gesso, wired the back and marked it, you will probably be too pooped to paint. This is just fine, because now, you are really ready to go! When you start your work the next day, you will also have to do a sketch of some kind, even if it is a thumbnail and then get your image drawn on the canvas. Sounds like work, huh? Work it is, but always a joy!

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