We left San Francisco in the morning on Sept. 9th after spending 3 days with my brother and his girlfriend, Tiffany, pulling out of Richmond Station on the California Zephyr. The tracks led us northward up along the bay skirting along the banks before pulling away into rolling hills and farmland. The morning sun, the waters, the bare hills and eucaliptis groves were covered in a warm, almost coral tint, the sky had a purple cast and the grass glowed against deep steely waters. It was marvelously foreign to me; I felt like I had never seen such a place in all my life. While I’ve painted scenes that were more majestic, this one was so perfectly warm and inviting that I decided right then that I had to paint it. I turned to my wife and said, “I’m changing our tickets. We’re coming back here and I’m going to paint this.” She said “ok” without taking her eyes from the scenes outside the window. And then in my head I started making plans.
I had a roll of linen stored in my uncle’s home, good stuff, unprimed. I bought it in China in 2000. I could prime it and sand it so that it was as smooth as those works in the Impressionism on the Water exhibit we had seen a day earlier in the city.
When we arrived in Kansas City about 4 days later we had already spent a day at the Chicago Art Institute—works by Cezanne. Ah, finally a real Cezanne, and a canvas as smooth as paper. I was even hungrier to get working. But the roll of linen that I had stashed there in 2000 was gone. I searched my uncles basement collecting skethbooks and other things I had left behind 13 years before, but found nothing.
I told myself that I would just have to buy canvas, buy a bucket of gesso, spend a bit more than I wanted to and then spend the next few weeks at my parents home coating and sanding canvas. When I got home the house was a mess from a recent renovation job. My wife and I got busy with yard work first, clearing hedge that had overtaken a length of fence, the fig tree and a couple of azaleas. The den had been turned into a storage room for post renovation left overs. The whole thing screamed garage sale and we hadn’t even gotten a look at the inside of the garage. On the second day we started an inventory and prepared a game plan. Ideas about how I was going to get ready for my 10 days in San Francisco had already been replaced by the boxes of junk and left over college art and architecture projects that were scattered around; the house was the final resting place not only for my university stuff, but also that of my two brothers Stephen and Daniel. And then I saw it lying in the corner. The linen.
I unrolled it in the back yard. 5x25 feet. Enough for 20 working canvases and 4 surface canvases (see working and surface canvases blog). I got on dickblick.com and ordered a gallon of clear acrylic gesso for 58 dollars. Before it arrived I found an unopened gallon of Utrecht white gesso in the garage. I ended up choosing the white to gesso the canvases due to its sandable property, but before I could gesso the cut pieces of canvas I had to strectch them. To do this I made 3 frames from 1x 4’s using the wider demension for the depth of the frame. I tacked the canvas on both sides of the frame and with the first coat it tightened so that subsequent coats could be sanded. Four coats later I had something close to the paper smooth finish that I had seen in the museums in San Francisco and Chicago.
When the paint finally hit the first canvas on October 16th it was so perfect that I decided to never buy pre gessoed canvas again. So now, for the next 6 weeks I’ll be gessoing and sanding 80 pieces of linen getting ready for spring. Getting ready for Italy. Or maybe a trip back to Northern California where this all started. Another trip back to Yunnan? It doesn’t matter really. Sometimes these little personal discoveries redefine one’s understanding in such a way that everything feels like a new start, a new oppurtunity for discovery. In a way, everything seems new.