Our grandson Ben Lackey is one of our favorite humans. He made the studio his home this weekend and we had 48 hours of intense art lessons sprinkled with lots of deep and meaningful conversations, leaf raking, wood gathering, dog training , leftovers and laughter.
A senior at Seton Hall Prep in NJ this year, Ben is pushing himself hard to finish his high school career on a high note while he waits for those big envelopes to arrive with good news from the colleges that he hopes to attend next year.
It was a heartwarming gift to be able to sit across the table from the confident young man who only yesterday we were cradling in our arms. But there was some serious work to do and we had a blast helping each other out.
I recycled my old digital camera to Ben in exchange for some heavy lifting around the log cabin… we got our chores done and Ben got this rainbow on one of his first shots…
The best part is always seeing the grandchildren reflected in Pat’s eyes…
And the apprentice made sure that the young artiste stayed focused…
Except for lunch breaks…
And Finn’s own personal reward…
It’s all about teaching the eye to see and the heart to understand and the hand to follow that lead… this student gets it and is well on his way…
My friends Saren and Susan are responsible for this latest obsession. On our walk last week, when we were hiking around the woods with the dogs, we got around to one of our favorite subjects…food…and I forget how… but it was revealed that I did not own a crock pot. Not sure how I made it through this first half century without one but, after another mile or so, they had convinced me that I NEEDED one.
After my usual compulsive internet researching and two horrific days of trudging through the land of Oz…aka…obscenely overstocked retail zoos…I collapsed in a shopping meltdown and ordered this one on line…
She arrived on the anniversary of my grandmother’s birthday which is a very good sign as she was a wonderful cook…so in her honor I have named her Phyllis.
And, since Pat nursed me through the melt down with such grace and good humor…I decided that the inaugural feast would be her favorite…pulled pork.
The goal is to be able to make suppers that I can throw together in the morning and let cook all day so that when I come home from the studio the cooking is done. And so that if I lose track of time and forget to stop painting…Pat can eat dinner before midnight. Phyllis passed all the tests.
An elegant look, clean simple design, easy to use, easy to clean, big enough for meals that can last for days, and…yes Susan and Saren, I thank you !
One of the best parts about having a studio is sharing it with friends. You have met our terrific neighbors before in this blog…Sue and Zola Lloyd. Together with their loyal pup Jed, they put all other neighbors to shame…simply the best.
This summer we started a game night tradition with them and Zola’s cousin Zack … and what better game for an art studio than pictionary. Pizza and Pictionary Nights have become our favorite and the uproars of laughter and loud guessing from teammates is good for the heart and the soul.
and thanks to the many who chimed in to help as well…
I decided to bring the panel into the kitchen to provide better light and warmth and set up a spot light at a raking angle, then started with a thin sanding sponge. Some grit on one side and sponge only on the other. Dipped in a little water it quickly brought up a slurry of gesso and in seconds had repaired an imperfection. The key turned out to be starting with the grit side and water…just a little bit…and then wiping in a broader circle with the sponge side which quickly smoothed it back down.
The panel is 32″ x 48″ which is a lot of real estate when you are bending over and squinting and it took almost 2 hours of work to reach a satisfactory surface. I was apparently gloating for just a moment and when I took it outside so I could clean up the studio kitchen the wind knocked it over onto Finnegan’s water dish. UGH. Another 15 minutes of repairing those dings and it was back in shape.
Now safely returned to the warmth of the studio I am going to let it dry overnight before proceeding with the oil out that I do as the next step. It will be interesting to see if the surface is not too smooth or if this gesso will provide enough tooth. I’d hate to have to take an abrasive back to it.
By far the most annoying part, for me, of being a painter is preparing the panels. Last fall, and then again this spring, I did a marathon panel prep and now have a trailer full of various sizes to choose from. All have five or six coats of gesso already on them but there is still a good deal of texture revealed from the portrait grade canvas that I use…and I do not like this.
On some paintings where I use lots of paint and deliberately rough up the surface, like roiling seas and wind blown landscapes, that texture is just fine and gets hidden quickly in favor of the brushstrokes.
For other works, like finely detailed still lifes and interiors, I want the texture to be of my design, not the canvases.
I have experimented and struggled for years now to produce a reliable and smooth gesso finish. And the first three or four coats which I apply with a wide putty knife go on great. But once that weave begins to fill in every single tiny speck of dust of dog hair or wooly caterpillar fluff gets caught in the sweep of the blade and drags a gully across the panel. UGH !
I tried to get a photo of this to help illustrate the problem…but didn’t have the patience to light it right…here’s a shot of the gesso I have found to be the best for the final coats… Art Boards Gesso which I get from Dick Blick. (This is not a plug for them…just a reference since I had some difficulty finding it in the usual haunts. I have found it to be the best as far as pliability on a rigid surface as well as having just the right tooth for the oils I use.)
I’m eager to get to the easel to work on some of the new ideas I collected while on Martha’s Vineyard last month and I worked all day yesterday to get a sketch ready for the first one up. Last night I hauled out a panel and applied a final coat of the gesso to dry overnight. In the light of morning most of the gesso had smoothed out but there were dozens of those nasty streaks so I got out the sander and took it back down to a uniform level…which or course sanded off more gesso than I wanted so I decided to thin it down and re-apply with a brush.
Disaster. It dries too fast and the brushstrokes become clumpy and no amount of raking light can reveal all the imperfections. With nothing to lose I went back to the putty knife and had a little bit more success leveling out the hills and valleys. But not much.
I’ll have to let this dry and then give it a wet/sand finish which is very time consuming and a big mess…but it does work. You slowly build up a slurry by taking a wet-sandpaper of 400 or 500 grit and progress in small increments. The advantage is that you do not remove any gesso…just smooth it around but it’s tedious work and I am low on patience at the moment.
I’d welcome any thoughts and suggestions on how you other artists handle the gesso messo.
For now that’s enough whining !!! …as Pat says…everything happens for a reason so I must need the practice…and it’s a beautiful grey November day here in the studio yard…
take note if you will …that pole leaning on the lilac bush, circled in red, is the one that drove itself into my sinuses a couple days ago…quite a wake up call…doing just fine now …and the lingering soreness is all the reminder I need to get back to painting thank you !
and sluggishly but happily progressing on the re-entry back into our Pennsylvania lives… Neighbor Sue, and a couple others of you who dip into this blog once and a while, have let me know that it’s time for an update… and soon,
I will oblige with full color momentos of our journey north and an in depth look at what is ahead for the studio this winter. Lots and lots to report…a bit overwhelming actually…
Today started out just fine…the painting that I had left in limbo on the easel for the last six weeks is nearing completion…the 10,000 or more reference photos that I shot on Martha’s Vineyard have been sorted and I’ve begun to gleen through the lot to find the best images for paintings…(a decades’ worth)… and Finn helped out by giving me the whole morning to work while she gnawed on a giant bone from market.
So all was groovy until I decided to take advantage of the 70 degree November day and take my lunch hour to clear out and mow down the back fence row to make way for some raised beds for our spring victory garden. After carefully taking down Finnegan’s fence I leaned one of the 8 ft poles, 2″ in diameter, against the split rail fence. Then I started heaving some big logs across that fence and out of the way. Amazingly enough one of those heavy suckers clipped the top of that pole and snapped it right back at me…at twenty five miles an hour…spiked end first…directly into the center of my face.
A square hit up the right nares. I can still see it coming. Interesting what the mind does with that scenario. One half second before impact I was already planning out the emergency response. Pat was out to lunch…or out for lunch…Sue was home I thought but probably not watching me out her kitchen window…Finnegan was lying on the porch asleep…I was on my own.
I made it inside…scoped out the damage…stopped the bleeding…iced up the injury site…shook myself off… a couple of times…decided I would live…went back out and finished mowing down the beds…stopped to think how much worse it could have been…and collapsed on the porch chair. Pat came home and started to tell me all about how hard her first day back at Yoga had been…I played the trump card…spear in the nose….she launched into nurse mode…I felt better.
Here then is my excuse for not bringing you all a proper post.
Stay tuned… my angels are with me … and dancing with the stars is right around the corner…
I know Ted will be watching… and Polly was watching out for me today.
Would love to hear how your October adventures went…