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Daydream Nation

I’ve been stretching canvasses today. I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my supports. Not only does making my own allow me to ensure quality, but how the ground layer is finished can radically effect the finish on the painted image.

I choose heavyweight stretcher bars, usually bulk bought on the Internet. Even the very heavyweight stretcher bars that I buy may need crossbraces to keep it rigid. After I’ve created the frame and measured the edges for the correct 90 degree angle, I cut the canvas to size. Again, I buy large rolls of my preferred canvas online ~ for my current Geometric Trees series, I like a ‘portrait’ quality canvas, with extra-smooth weave.

Once I’ve cut my piece of canvas, I start to staple it to the stretchers. My powered staple gun helps me enormously in this part of the process. It is a tricky part for me, as my canvasses are large, and it takes a lot of physical strength for me get the required tautness. I’m often left with fingertips that are raw and bleeding, and aching shoulders.

The next stage is to prepare the canvas surface, and for this, I use a high-quality size and acrylic primer, and I apply several layers of the primer.  The final top layer I may sand very lightly, or leave with tooth, depending on whether I want a glossy smooth finish to my paint, or a matte “absorbed” look; this is also affected of course by the medium I mix for each painting. I have many ‘recipes’ that I use; since many of my paintings are layers, I am careful to change the ‘fatness’ of my medium for each layer.

All in all, it is a process that takes several days, plus a week (or more depending on the primer) to ‘cure’ at the end of the process. One day, maybe, I will find a supplier I trust to make them for me. For now, the kinds of pre-stretched canvasses I find in art suppliers just don’t cut the mustard for most of my paintings, especially the large ones.

Daydreams & Dancing

Winter Trees: the beginning is also the end

A work that came to me during preparing the canvas...

There is another aspect to this practical task: I daydream while I am making them. Sometimes, ideas for what to put on the canvas float into my brain, it seems, from the materials themselves. I’ll can see (or imagine) pictures, colors, shapes, or, more usually, moods on the surface. By the time a particular canvas is ready to use, I may have an impetus for creation that is rooted in my daydreams during creating the surface itself, rather than the sketches in my sketchbook, or the ideas stored on paper, stuck to the walls of my studio.

Maybe this is because my relationship with my artworks is a very physical one: the act of painting itself can seem like a dance, and this is reflected perhaps in the dances that my tangled tree limbs enact in my paintings. I love physical movement, and I always have, even studying Contemporary Dance many years ago.

My works are my dances, from staple to varnish.

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  • Miriam Climenhaga June 3, 2010, 3:07 am

    I am so glad you shared this! It is always fascinating to read about the different processes that artists go through, and how they/we think. I love how you liken your painting’s to a dance.

  • Fi June 3, 2010, 5:09 am

    Hi Alison,
    what a wonderful description of your process. Not enough artists talk about the preparation stage of their creating (mental note to write about this myself). I love how the physical effort of preparation actually allows you quiet mental time and that this time spent with the materials inspires works that are even more than you’d dreamed up in all the sketches and musings previously. Bravo for letting these guide and take over.

    I am also heartened that there are artists out there that do go to the effort of educating themselves on materials, making their own supports and who really care about the materials that they use and the effect those choices have on the final piece. There are so few prestretched canvases that I’ve found that I would consider using and far too many cheap and nasties out there. And so many artists that I’ve spoken to that seem to be rather blase about what they paint on. A bit of care over materials goes such a long way to promote professionalism.