Artomatic: Paintings in Progress

I have a dedicated studio space on the main floor of my house, but it’s not really set up for painting large canvases, so I cleared out a nook in the basement that would accomodate the larger scale artwork, plus space for a comfy dachshund bed.

Otto and Kasi

That was my view during most of the 1.5 weeks that I spent painting up a storm in the basement. Well, truthfully, Otto was my most faithful companion, hanging out with me until the wee small hours, but Kasi also joined us quite a bit.

As I mentioned before, I painted 10 canvases for Artomatic. They all measured 30x30in square, and I painted them all with black and/or gray on a white background.

Although the painting all took place over the course of a week and a half or so, I spent a lot more time than that sketching and figuring out my game plan. The average painting size I worked on before tackling these big ones was about 6x6in. Sometimes a little bigger, sometimes a little smaller, but for the most part I stuck with painting in the way I was comfortable: with a teeny tiny paintbrush on small bits of paper.

I started out by testing out larger paint brushes on paper.

sketches with paintbrushes

I quickly discovered that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. The brushes I had were all too floppy, or too stiff. I needed something that was specifically made for the way I would paint. My friend Krissy suggested I look into Liquitex Freestyle brushes. I did some research and watched some demos, and they seemed like they would be perfect; or at least give me a fighting chance. I went to the art store and carefully selected a variety of shapes and sizes I thought I would use. While I was checking out, I casually looked at the display they had under their glass counter. As they scanned my items, swiped my card, and I signed my name, my wheels slowly started turning.

What was I looking at? Paint markers. After a closer look I noticed they were acrylic paint markers, made by Montana–a company I recognized as making high quality acrylic spray paint. After paying for my paintbrushes, I asked if I could see one of the markers. Maybe a black one and a white one would come in handy for touch ups. Then I noticed they had some thicker tipped markers as well–and they even had a couple of gray markers! It didn’t take long for me to decide to go ahead and buy a few to try out. I just had this intuitive feeling like they would really come in handy.

montana paint markers

It’s an understatement to say that I was glad that I got them. These markers are probably one of the best things I’ve ever bought. They are so much better than any other paint marker I’ve tried before. The paint is water based, runs really smooth, and most of the markers are refillable. In fact, even the ones that aren’t technically refillable can be converted to refillable with a drill and some duct tape!

I tried them out on some of the sketches I’d started with a paint brush and was blown away by the accuracy that was immediately available to me. What a difference! This was just what I needed to pull off my vision for Artomatic! Truly a godsend.

A part of me deep down felt a little sheepish to realize that I would be creating all my paintings without a paint brush. Is it cheating to use paint markers? Could I still call them paintings? Could I still call my self an artist? Before I snowballed too far down that path of self doubt, I pulled myself together and thought, “whatever works!”

Today I am 100% proud to admit that all the following paintings were created entirely with Montana acrylic markers. They are a fantastic product. I like to think of it as painting with a felt brush. You can get such a precise edge, as well as more painterly effects. While I’d still like to practice and get more proficient with brushes, I have a feeling these markers will always be part of my repertoire.

For my paintings I used their pre-mixed Shock Black, White Pure, Gravel, and Iron Curtain, and mixed one custom lighter shade of gray myself.

I didn’t pause to take any in progress shots of the first painting I created. I was so “in the zone” I just worked until it was done!

Painting 1 finished

With no time to pause too long to admire my work, I started on the next one, drawing in all the black lines.

painting 2 in progress & finished

I actually let the above painting sit overnight as I contemplated what to do for the background. Eventually I chose to add texture with the lightest gray shade, over only part of the background.

The next painting was the first one where I worked in specific layers, one color at a time from lightest to darkest. I’ve done similar drawings like this before, and usually I work from top to bottom, drawing the shortest swooping lines first, then adding the longer scallops as I continue. Since the paint is opaque, I had to work backwards.

painting 3 in progress & finished

The next painting was somewhat ambitious, but I loved the sketch I did so much, I had to go for it and see if I could make it work.

painting 4, try 1

Indeed, my first attempt ended in disaster. It was such an odd thing that happened. I was in the middle of painting the black outlines when I happened to notice that the cap on my wide tipped dark gray marker was not closed all the way. I was afraid it would have dried out, so I grabbed it and pulled the cap off. Far from being dried out, paint had actually collected in the cap, and when I yanked it off, I flung that paint right onto my canvas. I then panicked and grabbed some paper towels and tried to wipe off the paint. This not only smeared the drips, but also some of the lines I had drawn. In a last attempt to salvage part of the painting, I tried to gesso over just the section that got splattered, but I hadn’t let the black outlines dry long enough, so the gesso smeared it, turning that whole section a dark muddy gray. Live a learn: when you accidentally fling paint on your canvas remember to dab, don’t wipe! Also, when you open a paint marker, be sure to hold it well away from the surface you are working on.

I felt a little disheartened, so I put that particular design aside for a day and worked on the next painting. I did come back to it the following day, and the second time was the charm. I steadily worked on the black outlines, then carefully filled in some of the sections with dark gray.

painting 4, try 2

The next painting is a little different from all the others. I started by blocking in big areas on the canvas, using the two lighter shades of gray. I used the wide tipped markers for each of these large areas which helped create a really nice background tone and texture for the detail lines I added later using the fine tipped dark gray marker.

painting 5 in progress & finished

Next up was another layered painting, which actually took quite a while to complete because not only did I have to wait for each color to dry, I actually did two layers for each color–one layer was a basic all over background coat, and when that was dry, I came back with the same color and added a texture overtop to suggest that the shapes are either feathers or leaves. I think you can see that texture best in the bottom right photo below, especially in the middle-gray tone.

painting 6 in progress

For most of the paintings, I worked out the sketch in my sketchbook first, then projected that image onto the canvas and traced over the lines with a watercolor pencil to make sure I got the proportions right. For the next painting, I worked in a much more spontaneous way. True, I had an initial “sketch,” as you can see in the upper left corner in the image below, but I didn’t trace the shape of the lines onto the canvas. Instead, using the sketch as a reference, I worked freehand, painting in the lines directly onto the canvas. Once I’d gotten the initial six curved lines in place, it was just a matter of waiting for the paint to dry so I could thicken the lines until they felt right. I had to do this about 5 or 6 times–thickening the lines, then letting it dry before filling it out more–because if I tried to go over wet lines with wet paint, it would scrape some of the paint away and start to clump up. Patience was key with this painting, and in the end, I think it really paid off. It’s definitely the boldest of the bunch, and also the only one that uses black exclusively.

painting 7 in progress & finished

Painting #8 was up next, and I knew I wanted to do something in this style all along. Drawing a grid on a canvas that is not perfectly square is quite a challenge though, so it was a while before I worked out a grid that looked even which then provided the framework for this design. Once I got the grid set up, the painting went pretty smoothly, although I admit it took a long time. There are lots and lots of lines on that canvas!

painting 8 in progress & finished

By the time I was almost done I was eager to get the paintings finished up, so I didn’t take as many photos in progress photos, starting with painting number 9 (pictured below on the left). This particular painting came together rather quickly. I did transfer a sketch to get it started, but when I began drawing the lines, it took on a life of its own. The line work is a lot looser than I intended. In fact, when I first finished it, I wasn’t 100% sure I even liked it all that much, but it grows on me more and more every time I see it. It definitely adds a light and energetic element to the group of paintings. The last painting I did is not quite finished in the image below (right), but again, I think we’re lucky I took even one in progress photo!

paintings 9 & 10 finished

Throughout my painting process, I had this sketchbook page open and nearby at all times:

deciding what to paint

I had quite a few ideas for what to paint, but for most of the paintings, I made the decision when it was time to start a new canvas. The page above shows some of the many (30+) thumbnails I had for potential paintings, and various deciding marks as I considered some paintings and ruled out others. There are a few ideas that I thought for sure would make it onto a canvas that didn’t make the cut, and also a couple that I didn’t initially consider that did earn a spot in this group of Artomatic paintings.

While I worked on paintings, the area next to my easel was always cluttered with pencils, markers, paper towels, sketches, tape, paint, and more.

creative mess

Somehow, even with a creative mess around me, and a few setbacks here and there, I managed to keep on track and finish all 10 paintings in time to get them installed for Artomatic.

In fact, here’s a little sneak peek of my paintings on the wall.

view of my art through the doorway

You can see my space through a doorway off one of the main areas on the 1st floor. All the walls in that main space are covered with either art or graffiti murals, but I think my display has a good chance of catching people’s attention, don’t you think?

I will be posting, probably tomorrow, with images of the final wall. I even took some non-instagram photos, so you can get a good idea of what the space actually looks like without weird filters distorting it.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading this exceptionally long post! Do you have a favorite painting of the 10 created?

6 thoughts on “Artomatic: Paintings in Progress

    • Thank you! I admit I was very strategic about my plan of the many black and white paintings on a bright wall–to have it make an impact and catch people’s attention was the goal! :)

  1. Sorry I’m so slow in commenting on this. I’ve been following on Twitter, tho’ and enjoyed seeing your WIP. I’m happy that you finally are able to participate in what sounds like a really fun art show!

    • And now I’m sorry I’m slow in replying! It’s been a lot of fun so far. Met some great DC area artists, and have seen an amazing range of art styles.

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