Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burros - and How I Paint on the Road

Oil on canvas, 18x18

A friend of my Dad's and Paula's was in my booth and saw the painting of burros ("Kathryn's Brothers") which had sold.

She loved it, and asked me to make one similar to it for her house.

Double excitingly for me, she intends to hang it in the same room as a painting by my painting heroine, the late Louisa McElwain. It's an honor.

I finished the painting yesterday, and I have to say I love it. Love it! I can hardly wait to make more burro paintings.


Above, is the inside of the van, seen from the front seat. The paintings that are laying flat are on my cot. The others are hanging from the ceiling of the van.  Below, the back of the van, as I am getting set up to paint. You can see my brightly colored paint bag, beside the purple table I sometimes use when I paint. My paintings for the upcoming shows are standing up; my tent stuff is below the platform. 

One of the sponsors of my California Calling Painting Extravaganza asked me some questions recently about how I do the painting on a trip like this.

He asked great questions, and was interested in the answers, so I thought I'd share them with you all, too.

Where do you set up to paint? 

I have a huge van. At the back, it's loaded with my show stuff, tent, rugs, paintings. There's just enough room back there for my paint bag, some blank canvases and my easel palette. My palette is a paper palette that fits inside a plastic box. My easel is just a small metal one that my stepdaughter gave me the first Christmas I started painting, about eight years ago. It is showing its age, but it is my lucky easel and I am being gentle with it. Also at the back of the van I have a small folding table and small stool, strapped to a shelving unit. 

In the back, a friend built a platform for me that's about 8 inches high. The tent stuff is underneath the platform; everything else is on top. In front of the platform is a place where I've set up my cot, on blocks of wood to get it high enough to put my bags and other stuff underneath. Right now, I have wet paintings hanging from pegboard on the sides of the van, and hanging from hooks suspended from the ceiling, and laying flat on old sheets on top of the cot - no way I can sleep in the van right now. All of my paintings are in oil, and the paint is very very thick, so drying is slooow. 

Do you sit or stand? 

I prefer to stand while I paint, but if I do several paintings in a day - and on this trip, I have been doing that - I will sit. 

Where do you set up? 

I rarely go far off the road to paint, and I try to paint in places where there are plenty of people going by. Friends have had terrible experiences with scary people, while painting in isolated places. I don't need that, and do everything I can to avoid it. People often come up to me, wanting to see the painting, or talk about painting, and that's fine with me. I mentioned that I was scared about my ability to paint the Grand Canyon - and especially to paint in such a public place, where struggling would be witnessed by so many people - but so what, I figured. We all struggle, and there's no shame, really, in doing it in public. If I don't continue to challenge myself, to take on scenes and subjects that are at the edge of my abilities, I will never grow. 

How long does it take to make a painting? 

It takes depends on the size of the canvas and, truly, on whether I am "on" for the day. The biggest canvas I've done so far on this trip is 30x40. It took me about five hours, and that was using the biggest of my palette knives, which is really a masonry trowel. The 10x10 pieces usually take two to three hours, or longer if I am struggling. It will take anywhere from two weeks to six weeks for the paintings to dry enough to be handled safely. I always have paint all over myself, my clothes, my car, the house, the dogs, etc.

How do I choose what to paint?

All the time, and on these trips especially, I take hundreds of photos daily. I make my way along the smaller roads whenever possible, and even if I'm on a highway, I study the landscape, take photos, and get off onto frontage roads if I can. When I find myself catching my breath and being excited by the beauty of the landscape, I start looking for a safe place to pull off and set up. If I find one, I paint. If I don't, I will paint the scene later, in the studio. 

 When I am standing in whatever place it is, I ask myself what, exactly, is it that has drawn my heart to the scene. When I have an answer, or a couple of answers, I focus on whatever it is that's pulling me. Before I start, I always turn around and see if maybe the answer is behind me instead of in front of me. I trust a lot to fate, to God, to inspiration to get me to the right place. 

Do I draw or sketch first on the canvas? 

Usually, I don't do any preliminary sketching or drawing, unless I'm painting an animal. Then, I do sketch first, to make sure the eyes and nose are the right distances apart. And sometimes, if I have a complicated house, I will outline it with a brush. But most of the time, I just start. 

I tend to start my paintings at the place where the sky and the earth, or trees, or mountains meet. I use pretty much the same base colors all the time, but I always am experimenting with one or two new colors - and one or two new ideas, or ways to paint, or things to try - new strokes, new ideas for clouds, new ways to paint shadows, etc.

What brands of paint do I use? 

Different brands of paint for different colors. There are some colors - transparent orange oxide, indigo, light red bright - that I will only buy in particular brands (Rembrandt for the first two, Holbein for the light red bright). Other colors, I will shop the sales and buy whatever's cheapest. Some colors I WANT the cheap paint, because I like to load the paint on (cadmium yellow, for instance) - and if the pigment were stronger, it would - with the amount of paint I use - overwhelm the piece. 

What about life on the road?

I camp in the van if I can - if I can find a safe place, if it's not too cold (it was 15 degrees overnight in Monument Valley), if I don't have too much stuff in the van. I rarely buy meals at restaurants, but have a small cooler and get some cold cuts and cheese or hummus and make sandwiches. I can't eat gluten, so I carry gluten-free bread with me, or rice cakes if I must. If I spend the night in a hotel, I have whatever breakfast they offer that I can eat, and stash yogurt and fruit or hard-boiled eggs or whatever I can stuff in my pockets, for lunch or dinner. 

When I get back, I will have work to do on the paintings - paint the tops if I've forgotten to... fix any smudges... paint the bottoms... make sure everything is signed. And then I'll start painting from my photographs! 


Nancy said...

Wonderful blog! I really liked your question-and-answer segment - and the burros are delightful!! xoxo

Nancy said...

Wonderful blog! I really appreciated the question-and-answer segment. And the burros are delightful! xoxo

carrie jacobson said...

Thanks, Nancy! So glad you're enjoying it!

Pat Holloway said...

Very interesting post. Love the burros, too. I'm sad you sold the huge painting of the horses, I really wanted it.

carrie jacobson said...

thanks, Patricia! I'll make you one whenever you want one!