Centerfold, May 2006


I've been accused of illustration. I don't always take that as an insult although it's usually intended as such. At the very least, though, I am an illustrator who illustrates what's in his head. Most of my paintings begin as an idea, a vision, something I see which I want others to see as well. Many of my paintings could be photographs, with some staging and maybe a little Photoshoppery; but I can't communicate through photos. Painting is how I communicate best, so that's what I do.

This painting is definitely an illustration of what's in my head. I can interpret it, if you want, but ultimately the image didn't spring from a concept which can be stated in words. It's a wordless meditation.

The painting began as an image, but the physical painting begins, of course, with canvas preparation. To start I order birch plywood from the local lumber mill -- not Home Depot! -- and have them cut a full 4x8 sheet down to size for me. I've used both 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch plywood for this, but every canvas I've made on 1/2-inch warped pretty quickly making me very unhappy, so I recommend using the thicker plywood, even though it's heavier and more expensive. This is left over from another project, though, so it's 1/2-inch birch plywood.

Over that I glue linen canvas. I love linen. I love linen canvas and I love linen clothes. I used to have these great linen shirts but I can't find them any more; I guess linen is out of style now. Linen is the best. I think I'm even going to start eating linen -- flax oil, anyway -- because I hear it's good for you and I LOVE LINEN. I cut the canvas down to size leaving maybe a foot or so extra all around the plywood.

Robert Gamblin recommends using a PVA adhesive to glue the canvas to the plywood. Oddly, Gamblin doesn't make PVA glue; it makes PVA size, which is nowhere near sticky enough to glue the canvas down. So I buy my neutral pH PVA adhesive from Lineco. I spread that out all over the plywood with my hands (wearing latex gloves so I don't get sticky) then slap the canvas down over it, folding the corners back and trying to get them as flat as possible. I cover the back of the board with glue, too, not just to glue the excess canvas on the back, but also in the hopes that evenly wetting the plywood will help prevent warping. So far it appears to help a bit.

The glue dries in a couple of days. Once it does it's time to lay down some Gamblin PVA size. I spray it on the canvas using a bottle with a hole in the cap and scrub it in using a plastic bristle brush, like you might use to clean your bathroom. The size dries in a couple of days, after which I sand it lightly.

Next up is the Gamblin Oil Painting Ground. I've tried a few different ways to get this down. It's extremely thick and viscous and resists, well, pretty much anything you want to do to it. I tried spreading it with a tile knife, but that left uneven lines from the edges of the knife. I tried putting it down with a big heavy brush but the ground just sort of laughed at it. This time I tried rolling it on with a foam roller, which seemed to work well. Each coat of ground needs to dry for a few days; I put down two coats, and leave the final coat to dry for a few weeks.

[Playboy, July 1980] Meanwhile I start on references for my image. For this I need an older Playboy centerfold. Lucky for me I inherited a collection of Playboys from 1974 through 1988 or so -- halcyon years for that fine magazine, after becoming respectable but before augmentation took over. I rummage through the set until I find one I think will work, from July 1980. In 1980 I was nine years old and Teri Peterson was about 20.

[Teri Peterson, July 1980] [Teri Peterson Photoshop] [Teri Peterson in Photoshop] I carefully bend the staples to remove the centerfold. Then I scan the centerfold into Adobe Photoshop in six pieces. As I work, I wonder what Teri is up to these days. She's listed in the IMDb as having had one bit part in a movie back in 1984. The Playboy site lists her incorrectly as Miss August of 1980. I take the the six pieces and put them together, back and front, to make a smaller version of the centerfold. I print this out on my inkjet printer, both sides, and cut it out to give me a little copy of the centerfold.

[Teri Peterson's centerfold, distressed] Then I distress the centerfold copy, crumpling it, folding it, squashing it under a marble rolling pin, and so forth. I'm 35 now, so Teri would be 46. Does she have kids? Where does she live? Does she still get together with other Playmates at reunions?

[Centerfold, in progress] Finally, it's time for the image to meet the canvas. I project the distressed centerfold copy on to the canvas using my Artograph. I carefully trace the centerfold in pencil. The next day I take some vine charcoal -- I haven't used vine charcoal in 20 years, and I'm surprised at how well it works -- and sketch in the autumn leaves and sticks and stones scattered around the centerfold.

[Centerfold, in progress] The following day I start painting. I begin with Gamblin Van Dyke Brown thinned with Galkyd SD. I lay down a thin layer as underpainting for the dirt all around the centerfold. I love Van Dyke Brown because it's almost black, but it's more interesting.

[Centerfold, in progress] The brown sits overnight. Then I mix up some Burnt Umber and Galkyd SD to make a very thin wash only slightly thicker than watercolor. I go in to the outlines and put in some detail. In spots which are going to be darker, I blend the Burnt Umber into shading.

This layer is currently drying. In a couple of days I'll probably start putting in some semi-transparent layers of color on the leaves and debris. I'll keep you posted.


First of all, can you set your blogger comment default whatever so that this window pops-up as a seperate window? Please? Its hard to riff on stuff that you can't see.Going from memory:a) Does a little edge to your painting surface bother you? Cuz if it doesn't you could reduce your weight and prevent warping by placing stringers on he back of thinner plywood. In fact, looking at the dimensions of this painting you are working on, you could save time and money by purchasing a "hollow core" door and painting on that! I could go on and on about the virtues of the hollow core door. Eventually, however, I don't like their thickness. I like my painting's profile to be a bit more elegant. I now make my own low-profile (half inch) hollow core painting surfaces, perfectly square, un-warpable, earthquake safe hanging system, flush to the wall. b)Does this Linen have a "tooth"?c) Who says you're doing "illustration"? let me at 'em!

I actually do not prefer the second window, but just for you I switched it. Generally I -- as a savvy computer type person -- use tabs and right-click->Open link in new tab.Actually, the Blogger comment system just isn't that good. Coming from the old world of Usenet, this just seems so half-assed.Anyway, your questions.a. An edge to my painting surface doesn't necessarily bother me, but extensive woodwork does. I'm a painter, not a carpenter. I hate prepping canvas as it is. I've stretched exactly one canvas my whole life, and I hope it's the last. That sucked. Gluing to plywood is so much easier. If I have to start cradling them, I'll never paint again.I worry about various Home Depot-style materials because I don't know what chemicals are going to be involved and how they'll react over time. Birch plywood is recommended by Gamblin, so that's what I use. Although I suppose a hollow core door wouldn't be too bad. I never thought of that.This painting isn't quite door-sized, though. It's maybe 40 inches in the long direction.b. Linen has a tooth, yes. The weave is more open than canvas, mostly because linen is more expensive than cotton. So the ground has to squeeze through the weave. But it's got some tooth to it. Personally I prefer my ground as smooth as possible. I'd probably rather paint directly on the gessoed board, but then we're increasing prep time again.I actually meant to mention -- but forgot -- that my canvas prep was less than optimal this time: Some spots don't have quite enough ground on them, so the paint doesn't flow onto it. I had to scrub the paint off my brush. Yuck.c. Over at Anonymous Female Artist I got beat up: "Take a look at his work and ask yourself how 'sincere' he is..." "i think he seriously doesn't even get kastobi, or laid" "I dare any any engineer to try being an artist (not an illustrator). other than that, i'm done with chris" "He needs another outlet-extreme bowling or something"

Chris - since you prefer a very smooth ground, maybe you should paint directly on the panels. Have you ever tried using solid panels? I get my panels made at SOHO Artists material. Beautiful oak panels, made with a two inch backing cradle, which works great for me since I paint my pieces so they wrap around the edges. I would think any type of plywood would not be archival, over time, plywood may start to come apart on the edges and in the whole process, the glue is would be the weakest link.

Ouch. . . that is a beat-up. Dirty Rywalts catching flak all over the place! Personally, I couldn't be bothered with the pretense vibe cloaked in colloquial pith that some blogs have. I appreciate that you were/are pushing buttons and I assume that you knew that you were raising hackles. It is a fine line between dancing about art and fighting about it especially when so many people think that what they are talking about is important. More important than bowling even.

Oh. . .and thanks for the window change.

James: I've read how much you love love love your panels, and I went to SOHO's Website. They sound great and I may one day give them a try.The glue in plywood isn't exactly archival but it will last a hundred years, and, in theory, a painting should be relined every hundred years or so. Certainly plywood is less prone to warping than plain old wood. But I'm no expert; I'm just going by Gamblin's recommendations.

How's it progressing?

Slowly, because my life keeps intruding. Damned kids! Damned wife!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Chris Rywalt published on May 13, 2006 2:19 PM.

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Centerfold, May 2006, Part 2 is the next entry in this blog.

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