Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rainy Weekend / My large-abstract process

Got a request from wonderful knife-painter Leslie Saeta to describe the process I use in making these large knife-painted abstracts, like this one here (Rainy Weekend, 36" x 36") and like the two Suspensions posted here recently. I had "warned" her that what I do is so simple as to seem almost ridiculous...there's no secret to them. It's like, if I tell you how "easy" these are to do, will you all still respect me in the next post? ;)

After making the canvas (and boy, would I love an assistant or two to do that for me...along with cleaning my brushes! What say we reinstate the old apprentice system?), I put on an imprimatura with a little paint and a lot of turps. This is of course optional.

First layer (after the imprimatura has dried at least a few hours or overnight): I squeeze a bunch of paint out (large quantity but for me only 2 or 3 diff.colors, plus white sometimes) and trowel it on all over the canvas, fairly thinly. Wait at least a week 'till it's touch-dry.

Second layer: do the same thing as the first layer, except leave a few little areas or lines or whatever shapes you want uncovered (i.e. the first layer shows through). Colors can be related to the first colors, or totally different, or whatever you want in your painting. Second layer is a bit thicker than the first.

Third layer: same as the second layer. Again, some bits of the second layer are left to show through in the third. This is usually the layer I really start seeing a pattern/composition forming. Sometimes it happens in the second layer but not often. Third layer is a bit thicker than the second.

Fourth layer etc.: just keep doing the same thing, allowing either a lot or a little of the previous layer to show through. Each layer should be the same thickness or slightly thicker than the previous.

(Note: at any time, during any given layer, if you decide you don't like the colors and/or pattern/composition that's happening, pow, obliterate it all! This is really fun and a good way to take out frustration.)

Note: starting with layer 2, I usually start adding some slashing and/or scraping gestures into the paint with the knife. But that's just a personal preference, and will depend on how much texture you like in a painting. I paint these large ones with a cheap, medium or large painting knife, which is great because you just wipe it off and you don't have any brushes to clean... But I imagine that this entire process could work the same way if you're painting with brushes.

You can do whatever you want with color, of course. If you want complementary colors, you can do that on opposing layers; if you want a lot of subtlety in the finished painting, then use all related colors...To avoid making a big ugly color mess, I tend to use only 2 or at most 3 colors in a given layer, and of course I try not to use colors in a layer that will look hideous when showing through. [Can I admit to this simplicity?: in some of these paintings, I use only 2 or 3 colors for the entire painting. This one shown, Rainy Weekend, as well as Suspension 2, I think had only 2 colors plus a bit of a 3rd color.]

The best aspects for me of painting this way are that the pressure to make a great painting in one shot is off, because it's never finished until you're satisfied with the painting. You can live with the painting as long as you want before deciding whether it needs another layer or if it's "done." (As if anything's ever "done" and we're truly "satisfied"!) For me, another bonus is that I have no idea what the painting's going to look like. For some people, that might be anathema; for me, it's freeing. I try to let abstracts (in whatever medium I'm using) speak to me while they're developing. It's never boring. Also, for me, this process works best working fairly large; I think it gives greater freedom and more gestural spontaneity. There's something absolutely decadent about putting out huge swaths of color and trowelling it on as if it were a giant cake you were frosting, and using your whole shoulder and arm to make a mark. But I don't see why this process wouldn't work for smaller works, too.

I do try to keep track of approximately how thick each layer is, and try to keep them thinner the closer they are to the canvas; the final layer should be thicker and the first, thin. (Fat over lean, more or less, though not worrying about the oiliness of the paint so much as the quantity of it that you're using in a given layer.) This should help prevent cracking later.

Another great thing (really!) is that you can use up all sorts of tubes of paint that you bought but don't like...just use 'em up as a layer by themselves, or mixed with a color you DO like. When doing these abstracts, I see the "ugly" colors I bought but didn't like, or that I never really figured out how to use, as sort of my "extenders."

Downsides: you use up a whole lot of paint, especially if you keep adding layers forever because you're not satisfied with the painting; each layer requires being at least touch-dry before adding another layer; the painting as a whole won't be truly completely dry for perhaps a year or several years, though I imagine it would be sellable in just a few weeks. But there's a real freedom in being able to say (if you're working large), Hey, whoa, you know what, I'm using up this ENTIRE tube of paint right now, oh my god! It's kind of cool.

That's the physical/technical process. My mental/emotional process, however, can be remarkably well expressed by this quote I found recently by Diebenkorn: "[A painting] came about by putting down what I felt in terms of some overall image at the moment today, and perhaps being terribly disappointed with it tomorrow, and trying to make it better and then despairing and destroying partially or wholly and getting back into it and just kind of frantically trying to pull something into this rectangle which made some sense to me..."

Hope that's helpful. If I left out some important bit of info, please ask. Happy painting!


More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cherimoya and Lemonade Award

Thank you so much, Liz Holm, for this Lemonade Award (for "attitude and gratitude"). I'm tagged out right now, but I still post it proudly here. Check out Liz's work; she's been doing some nice portraits. I think the one of her mother is particularly moving.

About this painting: The cherimoya is such a strange creature. Almost reptilian. Very tasty, though. I liked how there's no sense of scale at all; it could be a fruit or a mountain.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cherry blossoms

I had broken a little branch of these off to put in a vase a couple of days ago. Good thing, as the next day we got 16 inches of snow. 

This painting went really fast and I tried not to mess with it too much, so that it would express the freshness and simplicity of the subject.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Friday, March 27, 2009

Suspension 2

It was too cold in the studio last night to work in there, and I had a migraine besides, so no artwork got done yesterday, I'm afraid.  But here's one that I put the final layer on a couple of weeks ago and is now done.

I was recently asked why, when I posted Suspension (#1) a few days ago, I didn't say anything about how tortuous it was to paint with the knife. It was a great question, because it made me stop and think. The answer is that when I try to do realism with a knife, it's agony, but completely abstract with a knife feels just fine.


More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tagged twice

Tagged by Kelley MacDonald for a Fabulous Blog Award--thank you, Kelley! And tagged by Cathyann Burgess for a Passion For Painting Award--thank you, Cathyann!

Great things about the tagging meme are: you get to know your fellow artist buddies better; you often get to laugh; more people visit your site and you also go visit other new great sites.

Some more things about me (I'm going to sort of blend the rules of the two different tag awards):

1. (This doesn't really count, but...artistic license...) at the moment I'm writing this, we're in the midst of a blizzard. We've gotten over a foot of snow today and it's still coming. I turned the heat on in the studio and hope to be able to work by tonight.

2. Some things I love: curled-up cats (Random and Jellyroll are snoozing on me as I write this; what better way to spend a blizzardy day, if one is so fortunate as to be a cat?); Brie cheese (though I try to indulge only rarely); quietude; linen (to wear and to paint on) flowers; hot chocolate; all animals (but NOT insects or arachnids!); the smell of evergreen trees on a Colorado summer evening; home-grown tomatoes.

3. When I see a box of perfect new pastels, my urge is to either weep from the beauty and/or eat them. They just look so yummy. Oil paint fresh out of the tube, ditto. (Don't worry, I don't actually eat them.)

4. I like certain veggies (peas and carrots) raw, but not cooked.

5. I have lately been obsessed by The Dog Whisperer (Cesar Millan). Been getting the DVDs from the library.

6. I love people who have a great, uninhibited laugh.

7. If there's anything in life cuter than a curled-up, purring, sleeping and/or snoring kitten, then I don't know what it is.

8. My favorite part of a cat is that little area right where the smooth hairs on top of the nose going one direction meet the forehead hairs going in the opposite direction, and there's a little sort of velcro-y feeling there that I can't resist playing with. Okay, my other favorite part is their little knowing smile on the side of their cheeks.

This has been a rather feline-centric post, perhaps due to the influence of the two of them all over me while I write it.

Here are some artist bloggers I'm tagging:

Donald Diddams (digital art)

(If you're tagged and would like to participate, then create a post where you link to the person who tagged you, then tell some things about yourself, then tag some other art bloggers and include their links.)

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Green pear

Back to the "old and familiar" with this one. It seemed relatively easy and enjoyable. I wonder why a few days ago I couldn't paint anything. So weird. Maybe the change in routine is proving beneficial to me.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Copying Sargent

Sargent is one of my favorite painters. I love how he does most everything he did, including bold, luscious lights. I feel that he was able to model form perfectly with a minimum of fuss. I don't know how much of what he did was alla prima, but it FEELS alla prima, juicy, bravura. There seem to be a lot of books about his life and whatnot, but not about his technique. Anyone know of a resource out there, or know more about his technique(s)?

I should definitely have been doing some of this all along in my painting-learning journey; I really enjoyed it and feel I learned some things too--for example, fascinatingly for me, I noticed similarities to one of my favorite contemporary artists, Richard Schmid. I will do more of these quick studies, including in color (which will, of course, be much harder!).

I currently have a Sargent book out from the library and these were two of the paintings that in the book were reproduced in black and white, so I decided that since I'm going back to basics anyway, I'd copy them in black and white too. My copies are about 8" x 5" each, each done in one hour on canvas pad. I liked the results so much I now wish I'd used something nicer to paint them on! But that's part of it, I want to see them as just a learning tool, not a finished artwork. (Though I really do love how they turned out! That's what you get when you copy a master...)

These are copies after Sargent's Head of Aesop (which is his copy of Velazquez, and I like Sargent's version better), and Head of a Female Model.  My copies are smaller than his paintings.

If interested in purchasing these ($115 each), please let me know.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Monday, March 23, 2009


Suspension: one thing held by another; things falling but being caught in time; suspension of disbelief; suspension of ordinary beliefs and habits.


When I do abstracts, I like to put paint on in one layer, let it dry for at least a week, put on a whole 'nother layer, let it dry, etc. I let some of the previous layer show through each time I put more paint on, and do a little scraping too to show the previous layer in lines or patches. Usually I end up with four or five layers before I like a piece and consider it finished. A few nice things about working this way are: that I always have a still-unfinished piece around I can work on anytime, to help with the realism-painting burnout, a very interesting texture builds up, and that if I don't like it, I can just "add another layer." (The Husband will sometimes come ask me what I'm doing, and that's what I say, "just adding a layer.") It also helps take the pressure off for producing a painting that you like in a single sitting; in fact, you can go wild and put on a really UGLY layer on purpose, just for fun, knowing that the next layer will obliterate it. Negatives are that I use up a LOT of paint, and that it can be hard sometimes to wait for a layer to touch-dry.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Habaneros, and yet more Process

This painting took 1.5 hours. Breakdown= 1.25 hours of painting a realistic, detailed image; 5 minutes intensely disliking the result; 5 minutes wiping off the painting; 5 minutes repainting. This 5-minute painting is more interesting than what was there after 1.25 hours, though I don't think I could've come up with this without having "gotten to know" the habaneros so well for that first 1.25 hours.

However, I am hoping that in the future these painting sessions will get a little less painful. I've been spending a lot of time lately painting, then getting angry, then attacking the painting, and liking the result more than one would expect...  It's interesting also that I've been noticing that a lot of my painter-blogger-buddies out there have also been traveling over some rough (artistic) roads lately, causing many of us to decide to veer off for a while into uncharted or previously rejected territory.

On that note, I've decided that I need to really pay attention to what's happening with my painting process. I think there must be a reason (in an Art-Gods-reason kind of way) that I've been feeling so derailed. There's this really bizarre sensation that I've literally forgotten how to paint, in the sense that I can't seem to do it the way I used to do it even a week or two ago, even when I try to. I've decided that I need to do more experimenting. I know people's interests and styles change, and I assume that is what's happening with me. And it will happen again, and again... 

During this phase, I am feeling the need to go back to abstracts again, and to perhaps copy some small-scale works of artists I admire (though I never seem to actually have the patience to do that), and to try some radical things that probably won't get posted here, and do some small very unfinished studies, and to try to recover some child-like fun experimentation with art.  

And I may change my mind again tomorrow and keep doing the still lifes in precisely the same style as I have been...or I may never go back to them again. (The truth, as usual, likely lying somewhere in between.) I got a lovely email from artist Sheila Vaughan, who has been through the same experience. I'm going to hop off the hamster wheel of daily still-life paintings for now, but I might hop back on at any moment. And that's the kind of explorative freedom I want to cultivate: an "anything-goes" feeling on any given day that I step into the studio. That's probably an unreachable ideal, but the idea is in the ideal.

So anyway, just a heads-up, because it's kind of cool but also kind of weird and kind of intimidating to have a virtual "audience." I plan to keep posting regularly, but I don't know what sorts of things I'll be posting. But it's more fun that way for you anyway, isn't it? :)

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Friday, March 20, 2009

Champagne mango

Another attempt on the linen panel, a dismal experience throughout the whole painting until the very end, when I got so frustrated I just took a big brush to the whole thing and made angry swipes too fast to think (no thinking is often a very good thing in art). The end result, here, was much improved.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The model was standing on a platform and looking up (don't know how she could do that for 3 hours!), with lighting from below--so a very different painting experience yesterday.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Monday, March 16, 2009


Continuing the exotic-vegetables theme, I present to you the chayote. Yet another one that The Husband likes, but I don't.  Poor maligned chayote--part smile, part baby's bottom, part dugong, it is indeed a strange-looking beast.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Green pears

Still experiencing personal weirdness in my painting process--this started out very realistic, then got very simplified and abstracted a la Carol Marine, then went to this. Obviously my style is wandering all over the place--even within a single painting session!--trying to figure out where the hell it wants to go. I'm trying to be patient and receptive to this process, but it can be so frustrating!! The desire is to want things in life (including, but not limited to, one's painting style) to be fixed, defined, stable, dependable.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Saturday, March 14, 2009


The Husband loves to buy exotic vegetables. The result of cooking of them isn't always great, but having lots of fun stuff to try painting is great. 

With these, I had intended a very soft, blendy, classical look. Ha! The art gods love it when you have an intention. They think it's hilarious and just try to foil it any way they can. So instead I ended up with this, a much more alla prima painterly look. It's also fine, just not what I intended (hear me, art gods?).

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dropped Laelia blossom

One of my orchids, Laelia flava, a Brazilian rock-growing species, put out four of these beautiful little blooms this year (approx. life size), in a cluster at the end of a very long spike. When the plant was ready to stop flowering, each little bloom simply fell off and stayed almost perfect for a whole day off the plant. So of course I had to paint one.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dan 3

Another of our favorite and frequent models, Dan. He poses like a statue; it's unbelievable. Apparently, he used to be a "bureaucrat and therefore knows how to sit still for long periods of time" (his words).

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bosc 2

The last gasp of the now-infamous Bosc, before it began to rot away (I know, how sad. I admit I sometimes forget that real live produce is hanging out in my still-life setups in the studio).

This was another one on the Ray-Mar linen panels. Yep, still undecided.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Monday, March 9, 2009


This started out as a quite detailed, realistic, tight interpretation. I got most of the way into it and decided I wasn't happy with it. So I wiped it and then got super-bold. And then I didn't like that either. So then I got mad (seems to be a pattern here with me :D) and started swiping at it really fast and furiously, and this was the result, which I quite like.

I heard somewhere that when you're really struggling with your art, especially if it seemed like it was smooth sailing for a while, it means that your art is changing/about to change. I have to keep telling myself that when it seems that lately when I paint, it feels like I've forgotten how to paint, and what was fairly straightforward suddenly feels somehow alien and impossible to achieve. And try to welcome whatever change may be coming, instead of being so resistant.

P.S. The reds are a lot livelier in person. If anyone ever figures out why photos loaded onto the blog get duller, please advise.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Chili Lineup

These are all the suspects. Just point to the guilty party, ma'am.

(Personally, I think it's the third one from the left.)


More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cut golden beets

I don't like beets, but The Husband does. He bought these marvelous golden beets (which, while eminently paintable, still unfortunately taste like beets) and cut a bunch of them up to cook with. I had to steal a few.

Again trying out the Ray-Mar linen oil-primed panel (I had bought a couple of packs of the small ones). And again, I liked some aspects of it and disliked others. Maybe I'll come to a firm conclusion by the time I'm done with both packs. Or maybe not.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Friday, March 6, 2009

Loriann's Vista revisited

I've been living with the pastel I did before, that I called Loriann's Vista, and realized I didn't like it that much. I'd had too much fun with color and overworked it a little, and lost the quiet tranquility that I'd been after. So I brushed some of the color off (with a hog-bristle, which seems to get rid of a lot more tooth than I would like on the Sennelier paper--anyone got a better method?) and got back down to a ghost image. I worked back up from there, trying not to use too much pastel, sticking to a monochrome (it's actually kind of a very dusky gray-blue-purple, even though it just looks plain gray on the screen) and just concentrating more on value and the feeling I wanted to express. 

Thanks again, Loriann, for the photo use.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Monk James

Our renowned Ozzie snake-hunter model James, called in on a moment's notice to save the day when another model couldn't come, this time in a monk incarnation (or, variously labeled during class, "in his bathrobe" or "a young Yoda" [he does have those big pointy ears...]).

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Water glass

I won't have a chance to post tomorrow, as I'll be at alla prima class and then teaching in the evening, so I'll put this up now. It's from two nights ago, and man, all I can say is, Aaaarrgghhhh!...Remind me never to do this again.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Grapefruit half

I cut it, ate half, painted half, then ate the other half.
It was very tasty.

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com

Monday, March 2, 2009

Pastel pears

Aaaahh, having one's own laptop back is like coming back from a trip and being able to sleep in your own bed again.

Here are a couple of pastel versions of the recent oil pears. I had a lot of fun with them. 

More art on my website: jalapfaff.com