Some paintings present themselves in a flash of inspiration or observation, others evolve. The painting, 3 Generations was the result of evolution. I was in a frozen yogurt shop with my grandchildren and there was a chalkboard on the wall. The youngest (twins) drew while they ate their sundaes. They drew what they described to me as pictures of themselves carrying presents to their older sister’s birthday party. I snapped a quick photo with my phone and we were on our way. I did not recognize that the moment would inspire a painting. Later, I began to think about the relative value we accord adult art compared to child art, to trained artists vs natural ones. Then, of course there was the question pastelists always face “Is that chalk?”. I had a long debate with myself about the ethics of using a child artist’s work as inspiration. Was there a painting in all these thoughts? How could I create the illusion of a chalkboard? I had never done anything close to trompe l’oeil, could I even do it? There was only one way to find out - think and experiment. Solve the puzzle. Art is one of the few professions requiring the worker to solve the problem after they have also had to make up the problem!
TRUST YOURSELF WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES
How to create award winning work when you have no idea how to do it
Alumna Laurel Friedmann details her process innovating techniques when the the subject matter demands you try something new.
The challenge of trompe l’oeil based on childlike art was for me to avoid kitsch and present professional work. Once the painting’s image was fully formed in my mind I had a lot of experimentation to do on how best to create the effects I desired. I made a mock up of basic elements of the composition - the chalkboard, the tape, the drawing paper and the post-it notes. I lit the mock up to create the shadows I imagined and the bones of my inner vision were suddenly visible.
I decided to pair an academic drawing of my daughter with childlike drawings. I posed my daughter as I envisioned her and took photos. The photo session was extremely brief as one of the grandchildren climbed into my daughter’s lap and flashed me the peace sign and soon everyone was laughing. Session over. I used my life drawing experience to create the light source and shadow. I learned to trust my skills gained when drawing from life (thank you Lyme Academy, Deane Keller, Dan Gheno and Peter Zallinger and Rick Lacey)
Using the rigidity and strength of Gatorfoam as my support, I mixed pumice into acrylic paint and swirled it with a sponge to provide the textured look of a washed and dried chalkboard. I masked the areas intended for the portrait of my daughter, the hinged tape and the post-it notes. Then I underpainted the non-chalkboard areas with acrylics and applied thinned Golden Fine pumice gel to provide tooth. I transferred the contour lines of the head and the watermark of the “Canson paper”.
Using pastel pencils and keeping in mind the manner in which I would approach a life drawing, I drew my daughter’s portrait. And then using soft pastels I painted the drawing paper and tape.
The chalkboard area was fun to render because there was no right or wrong. I pushed, erased, blurred and rubbed pastel in very light values until I achieved the look I imagined. The texture created by the swirled underpainting and pumice was revealed when the pastel was applied. It reminded me of drawing on a picnic table as a child and discovering the wood grain in my crayon rendering. If I erred, I simply smudged it out and the mistake only enhanced the image.
When painting en plein air I am frequently asked by observers “Is that chalk?” Pastels are the same dry pigments used in paints, but instead of being mixed with oil or water the pigments are combined with a binder in order to roll them into stick shapes. The interplay of chalk drawings done in pastel was central to the concept of the painting. Next was my biggest challenge - how to draw like a 4 year old! I considered using my non dominate hand, but the results were a disaster. In the end I just simply took a deep breath and did each line in one breath. It reminded me of my first introduction to the power of mark making when I studied Chinese brush painting with Chien Fei Chiang as a student at LAFA. There is a lot of trust developed through discipline when training your hand to create what your eye sees. Finally, I added small details.
In keeping with the original inspiration for the painting, I selected a hot pink frame.
The last step was my boldest. Each year Pastel Journal magazine hosts a competition for pastelists. Each year I say to myself ‘someday I should enter’. Last year, I finally got brave enough and entered this painting and it was awarded 4th place in the still life category. The entire experience was so rewarding and really fun.
When the idea for a work of art becomes real in your mind be both bold enough to believe it can happen and eager to do the work to make your vision visible. Trust yourself to have the skills or acquire the skills needed to execute your idea. You can do it, you just have to figure out how.