The first step with any painting is to begin with an idea. It is much easier for me to concentrate in the mode of a series. In this case, it is a part of my Plastic Space abstract Maruvian Mask series. It focuses on the positive masks from around the world. I choose to call them Maruvian masks because I have taken artistic license to create abstracted images from real ancient masks that have influenced me with their unique designs. This painting is influenced by the masks from Africa, Mexico and Alaska all reflecting power and royalty.
Now that I have the idea, I must do the research to find the mask designs that I want to incorporate into this painting, which may take two days to a month. By using the actual masks that I have found, I begin with a graphite sketch and work it until it has balance and interest in the shading from dark to light. Some sketches sit around for maybe a day or can be years before it strikes me to work it up for a painting. When the sketch has reached the point where I am excited, I am ready to paint,
First, I prepare the canvas by using a spatula and applying texture paste over the surface and after this dries, I cover over the whole canvas with at least two coats of Gesso and let it dry again. This can take a day unless I push it with a hair dryer to speed things up. Next, I transfer the sketch onto the prepared canvas using light graphite lines.
Now I get to play with the color choices in the application of the painting using the sketch for a guide to dark and light. I don’t usually like the effect to put a color wash over the whole canvas as Eurocentric tradition dictates. I like to reserve the pure white for lighter colors to glow within the composition resulting in more vibrant colors. I guess that’s the rebel in me! But for this painting I decided to experiment and I used a light rust color wash over the entire canvas to start.
Once the colors have been established, I can begin the really fun part of working out the detail of the shapes, designs and cultural elements. When most of the painting is done, I let this set for around 2-4 days for the oils to “set” a bit. Bright colors take longer to set for the shading I want to do, I must let them set long enough so they won’t smear when shading. This is where a lot of artists like Acrylic paints are happy because that paint sets up fast. I have used acrylics before but return to oils because, to me, they are more forgiving and give me more time to work the media. There is an element of sensual touch to shading with oils that gives a more natural and gradual depth to the shapes. I also used gold foil for accents in areas to give it a rich royal feel adding just enough sparkle in the light
Once the shading is complete, I let the painting stand for a week or so to make sure that each time I look at it, I am satisfied with the composition and nothing stands out to bother my vision. If it does, the painting is not finished and I have to figure out what has to be fixed. For this painting it had to sit for three weeks before I figured out the much needed addition of the pupils to the eyes in the masks. Look at the image above and see the blank faces of the masks. That was bothering me. I knew what I wanted and had to shop around until I found the perfect string of turquoise beads in the right size to finish the composition.
Once the beads were applied, the painting came alive and was finished and ready for me to sign. I present to you… Maruvian Turquoise, Copper and Silver Masks; 30″ x 40″ Oil on canvas gallery wrap, the last painting of 2019. It was recently on exhibition at the Karamu Gallery at the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Atlanta, GA and now on exhibition at Haugabrooks on Auburn in Atlanta, GA until March 30, 2020.
Artist note: I do see the diminished vibrancy of color using the wash before painting. I don’t think I like it enough to do this again.