Painting for painting’s sake

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In recent years, I’ve been painting mostly acrylic, with much of it using my wax technique, where I literally draw with melting candle wax. After the process of gluing and other top secret things, it’s ready to be painted upon. It’s solid, stable, no, it cannot melt, and it has held up to the test of time already. I started doing this technique over 10 years ago, and other than a couple of issues with a few before I really ironed out my technique like 10 years ago, I’ve had no problems with any of my pieces cracking, chipping or anything. Although it is something glued to canvas, so with enough effort or poor handling, it could be damaged like anything, I guess. I’ve been pretty successful with it, and I have sold quite a few pieces over the last 10 years. They are quite unique, done in a technique done by no one other than me, and all are original pieces, since the wax doesn’t lend itself well to prints.

That all being said, in the last year, or less, I’ve really being focusing on trying to paint without anything like the wax or that type of technique, I wanted to improve my skills as a painter, no texture, no effects, just paint.

I started off with the Girl in Shadow, and even the Day of the Dead Girl, and then the Guardian Seraph, and one of the artists from the local show, a former art teacher came up to me and said, “Hey, Kelly, you actually can paint.” After the shock wore off, it was a compliment. There were no visual tricks, no fancy technique or whatever, just with pure painting skills, I can paint. Apparently. I’m 45, even saying that makes me feel weird, like an imposter, saying that I can paint. I can draw. I’ve been perfectly confident in that for years, but not paint. I didn’t even learn to paint until well after art school. I didn’t have one class in my four years at Alberta College of Art when I was taught how to paint. Then again, techniques on how to do much wasn’t something that they taught in art school. It was mostly, good, you can create art, now, can you dazzle us all with your bullshit on why you did it and what it all means? That was way more important in most of the classes I took.

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Sure, jewellery or printmaking, glassblowing or textiles focused more on technique, because the average artist coming to ACA at the time, ACAD now, probably hadn’t been exposed too much to those different techniques. But painting or drawing classes, a bit about loosening up, and learning how to focus on drawing the nude human figure as he or she stands in unusual and not terribly attractive positions. As Seinfeld said, “there’s good naked and bad naked” and most of this was bad naked. But, I digress.

What I have learned in the past year, is that yes, I can paint and yet, I’m still learning almost every time I pick up the brush. I learn new ways or better ways to lay the colour down, or how to actually create a colour from a drawer full of other tubes of colour that is not quite what you’re looking for. Painting with acrylic is difficult. It’s super quick to dry, which is an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time. If you don’t like something, you can paint over it pretty quickly. Give it 15 minutes and go ahead. But, since it dries so quickly, you can’t really blend like you can with oils. It takes months, or even longer for oil paint to dry, so often you get the chance to add a bit of this or a bit of that to really smooth out something like skin or sky or places that you’d like to see a lovely bit of pure gradient as opposed to somewhat more choppy acrylic. The thing with acrylic is that you can get it pretty smooth, but you have to move fast and you’re not going to be able to do a giant area without some serious effort to have that smooth feel. At least that’s my experience. Maybe those with more talent or expertise in acrylic can do what I cannot.

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What I’ve learned with my most recent painting, Lagertha, inspired by the Vikings TV show on History TV, played by Canadian actress Katheryn Winnick, is that although it’s not perfectly smooth skin in the painting, it continues to be a process of layering and layering paint that has more transparency than opaqueness, which allows those colours and shades and different tones to show through.

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It’s the details that are the most important, and it took quite a bit of time going over and over the same area to get it where I wanted it. Overall, it’s one of my favourite pieces that I’ve done. I probably say that on every other piece that it’s my favourite, or one of them, but I guess that’s why you keep painting and keep trying to improve.

Here’s a progression of the painting that took a couple of days during my holidays that I focused on little more than painting.

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