Thoughts On The Painting Process

The top image is the result of my interest in the work of Nita Engle.  She is an American watercolourist famous for using experimental techniques to create realistic effects in  watercolour.  I love the work she does and the effects she is able to get by throwing paint, using special tools and really playing with the water.   She also has a way of stretching the paper that ensures that it won’t buckle at all.  My one hesitation with her process is her extensive use of mask.  In some paintings she ends up covering almost half the paper with mask and on large works that is a lot of mask.  She also takes ages to finish a painting because of all the steps involved and the drying time between stages.   In this image I followed her process entirely including stretching the paper and masking out all the snow and all the highlights in the background.  Doing it this way does free you up to get more spontaneous mixing in the water and the background.  This was my first attempt at using her process completely.  I used an image that I’ve painted many times: the creek right at the top of Elbow Falls.  I learned lots by doing it and enjoyed the attempt.  The painting has some good points but overall it’s not very successful.  I think I’m at my best when I paint very directly and  feed off being in the moment and I get lost when I have to wait overnight to let various sections dry.  Also and for me, most importantly, when using mask I get locked into the shapes I mask out before I’ve even started painting.  This process doesn’t allow the chance to respond to what happens as the paint is applied.

The bottom image above is a similar scene but it was done completely in a direct manner.  In this one rather than masking out the trees I lifted them out of the wet wash. I could lift them where I felt they needed to be according to what I had already painted.   I  added the light streaks on the ground that pass behind the trees after the painting was finished using gouache.  Using this process I can add the lights where the painting needs them rather than where I thought they should go before even beginning the painting.  As one of my art heros, Stephen Quiller, says frequently, ‘listen to the painting’.  It will tell you what it needs.

Overall this is just part of the art journey.  Explore, experiment and then  keep what works for you and discard the rest.  That’s what makes this such a fascinating journey for me.

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4 Responses to Thoughts On The Painting Process

  1. Richard M Haemmerle says:

    You wrote, “The painting has some good points but overall it’s not very successful.” I would be interested on why you think this. I’ve looked at it for quite awhile and like it, except for the angular look of the stream (seems too severe). Richard

    • Rex Beanland says:

      Hi Richard:

      I think the main reason that I feel it is unsuccessful is because it doesn’t match what I had in mind when I started. I realize that judging a work by what it isn’t doesn’t do it justice for what it is but I was very caught up in trying to practice this particular painting process with the masking and the dramatic ways of applying paint and I was expecting different results. I wanted a much lighter background with dark accents and this went too dark too soon. If I try to look at it objectively I find the pattern of lights that I masked out where the snow meets the background is unnatural and unfocused. I also think the water should overall be a lighter value with some dark accents. My students frequently begin a work and very quickly get down on themselves that it’s not working and want to throw it away and try again. I felt that way very early in this painting but I persevered. You’ve made me look at it again and I might just keep going and work with what is there and see if I can bring it to the place it wants to go rather than where I want it to go.

  2. Richard M Haemmerle says:

    Thanks for the insights. Have you ever seen a PBS show ‘Painting Wild Places’ by Gary Spetz? Now there’s an artist who uses ‘gallons’ or masking fluid. I refer to him as the King of Masking Fluid. Adios Richard

    • Rex Beanland says:

      Hi Richard:

      No, I haven’t seen that show. I did buy the Nita Engle DVD and saw how much she uses it. She says that by using masking extensively it allows her to be very free in laying in the paint since she doesn’t have to worry about painting around shapes and that’s true but as I’ve mentioned there is a whole other side to it and I guess it’s a personal thing whether to go through all the work for the undeniable benefits or not.


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