This blog is about neccessity and invention.
I devised a method of working in 2007, really by accident, when my wife and I were living in a tiny one bedroom flat in South Korea. It’s a method of working that till now nobody from East to West seems interested in. But I’m still pushing it in the hopes that it will help someone out there to transport materials and produce more work than they might otherwise be able to do. This is a plein air method and probably isn’t necessary for studio painting, but I have used it in the studio when space was an issue.
The little flat had been transformed from a street level commercial space that used to house a butcher shop. The roll up door was still in place, though it couldn’t be rolled down because of a gas meter that blocked it. In the place of the roll up, a front cinderblock wall with kitchen windows and a proper door had been added. It was addequate for our needs with the benefit of being only a one minute walk from my school, but there was no place to store stuff. Painting a significant number of paintings required some preparation; I couldn’t have stacks of canvases laying around everywhere. There was a strip of wooden trim that went around the top of the livingroom/ kitchen wall so paintings could be hung to dry; I could just hang paintings up to dry. It was an easy enough plan, but for some reason I decided I didn’t like the idea of stretching canvases in a proper way. I had used up four big oil painting paper pads to get to where I was, wanting to continue on with canvas. I decided to pin canvas to wooden drawing boards. This would have a similar feel to the oil paper pads. Then I changed my mind thinking that they were too hard. I reasoned that prestretched five dollar canvases would work just as well with an added cushioning effect. That’s how this all came about.
It worked well. I bought four 18x24 inch “surface canvases”, and then I bought a 9 yard roll of primed canvas and cut it into “working canvas” pieces the same size as the surface canvases. I started by drawing lines to outline my painting area on my working canvas but this was vague and it was easy to forget about the line and accidently start painting to the edge of the canvas. I needed to really mark out my painting area to insure that I didn’t forget to leave a white boarder. I found thin black masking tape at the art store in Daegu and started taping off my work surfaces. I liked the feeling of working in this boldly outlined box. It somehow had an implied depth from the beginning—it was preframed in a way. Also there was no painting up to the edge of the canvas that gets weird sometimes. I could test colors in the border area or use it for writing notes about time of day, date, titles or little ideas that would turn into precious reminders years later. The prestretched canvases weren’t anything special, but they were stretched really tight so that after a year of painting, they were still as good as new.
Paintings went up on the wooden strip until there was no more space left, then the dry ones came down and went under the bed. I kept four surface canvases until I got really busy in winter and then bought four more, though this was a bit extravagant. I never really needed them.
When in 2009 I decided to travel down to Yunnan to work through the spring I used the same method. I happened upon a shop that had only a few tongue and groove stretcher bars lying on top of a dusty shelf, so I bought them all. These stretcher bars and a roll of canvas were easy to transport. I took along 4 pieces of surface canvas big enough to properly stretch. All the other pieces of working canvas were cut the exact same size as the stretchers. I took along a long piece of cord and ended up hanging the finished paintings along a wall in the guest house where I stayed. Often the drying paintings create a kind of exhibition that people enjoy viewing.
In San Francisco
In San Francisco I ran into a couple of problems as I continued working with my surface and working canvases.
I had a little trouble with this canvas because I gessoed the pieces myself so the cut pieces shrunk a little as I applied gesso. But I was careful to leave a full 2 inches each edge of the painting area so it wasn’t a big deal. I made the mistake of leaving my canvases out in the open air one evening and the next morning settling dew got on the bare linen edges of a few causing some waffling. In general there was some problem with waffling on about 1/3 of the canvases but it just meant more tacks were used to keep in flat, especially around the corners. As long as I kept the unpainted canvases in the backyard shed, they were mostly unaffected by San Francisco’s dry air.
The other problem I had was not being able to find canvas trasporting clips or handles anywhere. I checked Blick, Utrecht and a local art store in downtown S.F. And this is another situation where this method of preparing canvases saved the day. Because there is a two inch border around the painting, they can be stacked without the back of one canvas touching the painting surface of another. You can stack an unlimited number of canvases right on top of each other and you can carry as many as you can grip in your hand. No spacers are required, though the top painting must be facing outward when carried. (you can just put your favorite painting on top and show it off a little during your post-painting cool down at the local café)