Today let me share with you this painting I just started. I am thrilled to pieces at how it's turning out so far.
Now you might be saying, "But Chris, it's just black." When I asked my wife how she liked my latest painting she replied, "But it's just black. It is just black, right? I'm not missing anything. Am I?"
Yes indeed, it is just black. But it's almost exactly the black I wanted, and that's why I'm happy.
Stephen King talks about the guys in the basement. You bring them some kernel of an idea, you drop it off at the top of the stairs. And they go down with it into the basement and you go on with your life. At some point later, they come back up with something finished for you. You have no idea how it got like that; it's the guys in the basement.
Partway through the work on Centerfold, I realized this wasn't the kind of painting I really wanted to spend my time on. I mean, I did, I am, and it's not like I'm not going to finish it. It's just, I'm not sure where that's getting me. I've got this kind of Magritte-like style, where I get these ideas for juxtaposing one thing against another, and I go and paint it, and I'm left with a collection of paintings with no clear theme or style or idea, really. But when I try to imagine what I could paint, how I might do things differently, what I see is the work others have already done. I could be Tom Wesselmann, for example, or maybe Patrick Nagel. Well, that's been done.
So recently I passed this to the guys in the basement: Find me something new and different I can do.
Just a few days ago I was sitting there in bed, musing over what I might paint when Centerfold is done, and the guys in the basement delivered their results. I got an idea for a painting, fully formed; the idea is new for me, and different. In a way I think it's an amalgam of my own style along with a good bit of James Wolanin and Steven LaRose, two people whose sites I've been spending a lot of time on. I'm not sure if this is some great new direction for me or just a quick aside, but either way, I'm following it.
The two key features of this painting are, one, it's on a panel, and two, the panel must be painted a flat, matte black.
The panel is easy. While I can't get to James' favorites, Soho Art Materials, I can get Ampersand's Gessobord reasonably nearby and reasonably cheaply. So I picked one up Monday.
Getting the paint to be flat, matte black, without brushstrokes, that's something else. As much as I've absorbed from re-reading Gamblin's Website and talking to other painters, I haven't yet been able to grasp how to get quite the effects I want from oil paint plus medium plus solvent. Gamblin's site can be frustratingly vague. My knowledge of the chemistry of oil paint helps, but I'm not a chemist, so I can only go so far.
This time I had an idea, so I mixed some Mars Black with solvent -- in this case, Gamsol, Gamblin's odorless mineral spirit (OMS). I didn't add any medium at all. Then I took one of my larger brushes and spread out a thin coat on the panel. I was worried it'd be too thin and end up translucent, but that didn't happen: It was perfectly black.
Now for the brushstrokes. I didn't want any. There were hardly any, but still the paint had a definite grain I didn't want. I took this broad kind of bamboo hake brush which is really soft and good for blending large areas and I went back and forth across the painting. The only trouble is, this brush sheds like an Akita in August, so I had all these hairs I had to get out of the paint. I ended up leaving a few, but got most of them out.
I hadn't even set up my lights so I wasn't sure this was quite what I wanted, but over the course of the next couple of days, as the paint cured, I could see that, yes, I had gotten a nearly brushstroke-free, almost perfectly matte black surface on which I could paint. Success!
It's still not ready to paint on three days later, but it should be soon. More photos when I've done more.