Sunday, February 23, 2014

Random numbers in charcoal and pastel

 John Terwilliger, "Brown Branch Dance", Pastel on paper, 22"x30", 2014-02-16

Many artists will tell you they do not know exactly how a painting is going to turn out when they begin as the picture speaks to them and guides their hand.  This is certainly true for me.  While I have a good idea of the bones of the picture, i.e. what the subject matter, main colors will be a lot is determined as I go.

In my treetop drawings after I sketch the basic trunk/branches onto the substrate (usually paper) I stand back and decide what the background will be.  Now I normally have an idea about the background before I start but the composition may make demands; so I usually oblige.

Random numbers/random choices take the knowledge of the final piece out of your total control.  In a lot of the works I use a grid pattern of some sort in the background.  Why grids you ask?  Well that is for a different post.  Within the grid pattern I will frequently use a random number formula to determine which color to use.  To generate the random number I use dice.  I have four, six, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty sided dice to choose from. As I write I am doing this very thing in the studio.

The drawing in question, see above, has a two square thick grid around the edge of the paper as a sort of border.  The colors to be used in the grid are light blue, dark blue, and lime green.  I have chosen my six sided die to generate numbers and the formula is as follows:
  • 1-3 = light blue
  • 4-5 = dark blue
  • 6 = lime green
As you may imagine there is no real way to know how the grid pattern is going to turn out.  Obviously it should be about 50% light blue with an even spacing of dark blue and green, but there is no guarantee of this happening.  I could shake ones all day long and never even get a six.  I do not go against the dice even when it puts the composition out  of balance so I just have to make it work around the random choices.  In the example there is only one square with green in the bottom left corner and the other corners have more. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Drawing on Plywood or Fun with Varnish

 "River Birch Trunk", Pastel and Charcoal on plywood, 8"Tx10"W, 2014/02/08

by John Terwilliger

Plywood is not a very forgiving surface to draw on with dry media.  Most of the drawing material does not stick to the surface when applied and more blows off when using fixative.  This gives itself over to a dramatic change in the drawing when fixed that takes a little fore-site into the final results.

The best results on plywood are from graphite and charcoal.  And with charcoal the compressed charcoal works best as it has a higher wax/oil content then vine or charcoal pencil.  Soft pastels have virtually no binder in them and rely on the substrate (usually paper) to hold them in place and plywood is not very friendly that way. 

I do not use oil pastels much so will not comment beyond the fact that the pastel stays put and does not need fixing.  However the oil will soak into and spread out on the surface darkening and discoloring the wood.

All of the various plywood types become darker when you spray fix the drawing.  If you do a final varnish coat it darkens by several shades.  This is not surprising to anyone who has ever refinished furniture it is the nature of raw wood and varnish.  It is something to plan for and enhances the wood grain pattern which is the reason to use plywood in the first place.

You do need to spray fix the work prior to varnishing or the liquid varnish with wash out the drawing, even when using a spray varnish.  I use a workable fixative first, as this gives the wood a little “tooth” for the varnish to adhere to.  Then I use a spray varnish that is rated as crystal clear.  Most varnish for wood has an amber hue to it and again will darken the drawing.  If that is what you want you can use it. 
When doing countertops or tabletops I use high wear professional floor varnish.  Several coats of that following the manufacturers instructions, wait seven days for a full cure, and you have a surface as durable a hardwood floor.

If you choose not varnish or fix the drawing on plywood it needs to be framed with glazing (glass or plexi-glass).  When putting dry material behind glazing it needs to be spaced back from the glass.  With regular glass the space of standard mat board is enough.  With plex or acrylic you need about a ¾” gap to keep the drawing material from leaping up to the plex due to static electricity.

As with anything a little care and planning and make a world of difference in the final product.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

All will be new again.

2014 is starting out as a year for the new.  I moved into a new house and a new studio space.   This studio space is too cold so I drew a self portrait in my stocking cap.  The work space is cold as it is in the basement next to the boiler and the makeup air enters from outside above my head.  It's been minus degrees Fahrenheit every night almost all winter.

John Terwilliger, "Self Portrait with stocking hat", Charcoal on Plywood, 19"x15", 2014-01-10

This new drawing is created directly on the plywood and spray fixed.  For anyone planning to work on plywood as a drawing substrate be aware that spray fix significantly alters the drawing, especially with light colored or white pastel.  Testing and planning will give you predictable results.

I plan on creating a number of portraits on plywood of family etc. so there is a body of portrait work on plywood to show.  I always tell younger artists to make sure they create enough in a given style or subject matter so they can put together a solo show.  I think it is good advice and plan to follow it which means at the size of this self portrait I need about fifty.  It's always good to have a plan and with a simple frame portraits make great holiday or birthday gifts.

The plywood I use in my art is leftover and scraps from various home renovation and cabinet construction jobs and as such is considered "green" or as recycled material.  This drawing is on a leftover piece of 1/4" b/c pine plywood which was used for the bottoms of drawers on a custom kitchen cabinet base unit I constructed for the new home.  The kitchen cabinet also used 3/4" a/b poplar plywood for the counter top, sides, and drawer and door faces.  I have started to draw on the left over poplar plywood and very much liking the results.

More on the cabinet a poplar plywood later.