January 15, 2010

Beginning a New Painting: Fasteners

A few days ago I began a new painting, a diptych. The subject, curved rectangles of steel held onto the surface by large bolts, rise in a shallow space above the surface plates they are holding together. There are times when I'm standing in front of a motif, figuring out how to compose a picture, that I feel a dialogue between two images would be most interesting; in this case, the image on the left can stand on its own, but I think it has added resonance with the theme and variation of a second panel.

The machine in this painting is the same one in the painting Opposing Angles (dare I tell you that it is a manure spreader?). This painting will be about texture, among other things; I wrote a post on texture which you can see here. As I've worked on the painting, the red-brown rust has seemed to me like islands in a Caribbean sea.

These are the black and white photographs that I use as studies for the detail in the paintings. They are shot at the same time as I'm working on the color study, although you can see differences in the light; I worked on the study in early morning and the light changes quickly then.

When I started working on the underdrawing, I found that I didn't like the balance of the diptych when the fastener on the right was closer to the left panel; I had originally wanted a square on the lower right, but then thought it didn't work. So I moved the shape over to the right. When I added color, it looked to me as though the fastener was a little too far over, so I moved it back a bit towards the left; now it looks balanced with the left panel. The other compositional issue I had to resolve was which shadow I would use on the fastener, the diagonal or the horizontal; I decided that having more light on the object was a better solution. I like the strong right angles with the strong diagonals of shadow and the more subtle ones of fasteners. A note about color: I found that a light tint of phthalo green is very opaque and brilliant and close to a the blue I wanted. I added just a bit of cobalt blue cerulean to the green and got a perfect color. You see here the beginning layers of paint, with many more to come before the painting is done.


  1. These are very satisfying to look at.
    And very secure. Glad I don't have to loosen them.
    I like knowing they're on a spreader.

  2. I like these 2 colours together very much Altoon...(as you may even have noticed in some of my work!) I like that reference - islands in the Caribbean.

    Its most interesting to see the work coming to life with your process clearly demonstrated and allowing us to enter in a sense the decision-making process and the 'seeing' that you arrive at.
    Your articulation of the thought processes and stages of work are most helpful in prodding me to consider how I work through these compositional challenges and such!
    Speaking about it brings more clarity!
    Thanks Altoon
    ps...Oh dear... I must have been very tired when writing my comment the previous day...3 times I used the word wonderful! What happens when I get too tired to edit properly! oh well

  3. what draws me in are the parallel shadows.

  4. Sophie, I've always been a believer in an articulate understanding of the art process and stressed that with students when I taught. Of course it isn't for everyone; many people have a more intuitive approach.

    The shadows do set up a rhythym, rappel; I also like the intense blue in them.