I have several favorite ways to begin a new painting and I’ll explore a few of in the next few videos. One of my favorites is to use a chunky piece of soft charcoal and just begin making lines and shapes.

Actually, the process begins a lot earlier and deeper than that. Usually, I have at least a general idea of where I want to go with my work and I’ll spend time thinking about what I want to achieve, building images in my mind (and sometimes a sketchbook) and most importantly, conjuring up the feelings, sounds and other sensory clues that go with these images. In this case I knew I wanted a mountain landscape that would work as a diptych but not necessarily to hang together. I wanted the larger painting to focus on the mountains and the smaller painting to focus on a tree.

I had seen pictures of a particular place, views from the home where these paintings would hang, that I meshed with my own experiences of being in the same mountains, hiking through wooded trails and coming upon those wide-open views that take your breath away.

As I pick up my charcoal I have these images in my head, I am re-experiencing that breathless moment when the trail opens to one of these panoramic views. I close my eyes and I am there. Then I begin making my marks on the canvas. I may or may not open my eyes. Whatever keeps me feeling most connected with my subject.

I am not drawing at this stage. I am making gestural, intuitive marks that come easily from the space I have created in my mind and emotions. It’s kind of like creating a map of something imagined. It gives me a chance to feel the size of the substrate alongside me as well as get a sense of the spatial relationships of my subjects. I’ll get comfortable with my movements and practice some of the mark making language I’ll be using.

I don’t worry about how these marks will look at this point because they will usually be completely covered as I move forward in the process. Their purpose is to establish a connection between what’s in me and the substrate. This is the beginning of the relationship.

Another favorite way to begin a new painting: Collage

My next step was adding a layer of collage. This is another of my favorite ways of beginning a painting. I love collage so much I’ve been using it in almost all my paintings recently. I like to use vintage documents and book pages, maps and sheet music, pages from my journals, handmade papers I’ve made myself, eco-dyed papers from materials I’ve foraged on my hikes or just a walk around the garden.

Some clients ask me to collage copies of special documents and photographs into their paintings which makes them so personal and deepens their connection to the paintings in such a beautiful way.

I use matte medium as my glue – I love Golden’s matte medium. Depending on how much charcoal I’ve used, I will probably use a spray fixative to stop the charcoal spreading too much with the medium. Most importantly, this is not about perfection. It’s about adding stories in layers. The stories of my time in the mountains, the history of documents and books, the music and the maps. This is how I begin to create depth and layers of storytelling in my work and deepen my connection with the work.

Video #2 in my Large Commission Series from April 2023

Next up I’ll take my work outside and show you a few other ways I like to begin paintings. So much fun! If you missed the first video in this series you can watch it here:

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