Monday, July 28, 2014

seven feet of stretched canvas

In June I flew out to Minneapolis, Minnesota to meet a freelance client, tour their space and get photos and materials for a very large commissioned painting. I spent a few weeks sorting through and editing everything and finally started the actual painting process last week. A local artist taught me how to build and stretch this massive 7'x3' canvas and after four coats of primer to thicken and tighten it, it was ready to go! Mike built me third easel to keep it completely balanced, and I extended my drop cloth territory just to be safe. I wake up every day appreciative for this studio, but especially now that I have a giant canvas in the middle of it and still room to walk around.

An artist friend remarked that she was surprised I had never stretched my own canvas before because it was such a basic skill of our craft, like a chef making a roux. That's a negative aspect of not having attended art school… the most basic skills that every freshman art student learns have sometimes been totally foreign to me. Stretching canvases. Underpainting. Focal lightness. All of these basic principals have to be self-taught through trial and error (and error, and more error, etc.) which is helpful to unique growth but also immensely frustrating. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing okay as it is, but sometimes I wonder if I should seek out classes or go back to school to ensure I'm creating my best possible work. (Are you an artist? Are you self-taught, or did you go to school for art/become an apprentice? How much do you feel you learned in school and how much was natural discovery during/after? I'm interested in hearing different perspectives on this issue.)

I'm all for trying and failing and learning from it because that's generally how unique, personal techniques are discovered, but I felt really lucky to have connected with the artist who took the reins on this giant, heavy canvas…. there turned out to be a few special tricks to stretching a piece this big, and with a project of this magnitude and cost there was no room for error. Thanks Ashley!

After priming, I glued a layer of paper, sanded it, glued another and started my outline. Colored blocks frame where the different paper materials will go and the general lightness and darkness of the piece. This painting will be a little less rustic and distressed than some of my work, so lots of painters tape was used to help create straight lines and angles.

The last golden light of the day beaming over Fenway and onto my East wall tells me it's time to call it quits.. look how dark it gets! I used to be a night painter, but the quality of the daylight here is so incredible that I try to use every minute of it that I can. Once the sun starts to set the light changes so dramatically that good colors look 'off' and bad colors look right and mistakes are easily made, so I have to put down my brushes for the day.

Because this is a private commission I can only share a little of it, but I'm excited to finish it, freight it (!) and show you the hanging piece. This is the biggest single canvas I've ever worked on and it's been a bit challenging to navigate such a big space, compared to a smaller painting that my eyes can take in all together… I have a new respect for artists that paint on a big scale because it truly involves a lot of stepping back and forth ;)

And just for fun, Chubby Boots in our living room hammock. What a mush, right? He loves it!


  1. I am in LOVE with your studio.. wow! It's so nice! I wish I had something like that! I totally agree about the day light and colors... I always mess up if I use lamp light! I can give you a little perspective on the art school thing... I did get an art degree with a focus on painting. I feel that I learned a lot of techniques and basics in class, and from there, my own practice and plenty of mistakes have guided me! I love your work... everything about it! Keep up the amazing work!

  2. What a gorgeous studio...and how exciting to work on such a large piece!! Can't wait to see the end result!

  3. Hi Mae,
    First I want to say that I really like your work. I discovered it on Instagram. Secondly, about learning to stretch canvases in art school? I have a degree in studio art and was not taught that. Also was taught nothing about the business of art. You seem to have figured that part out quite successfully. Which means if you want to learn something badly enough, you will. To answer your question about art school/classes. I would say that if you love what you are doing and satisfied with it, then keeping doing it. If you are itching to learn something new, by all means take a class or workshop. They are so helpful in learning new skills and sparking new ideas. Just this morning I was thinking of an idea for a future project and realized that it partially derived from an assignment I did in a Color Theory class seven years ago! PS I got my BS in Studio Art when I was 50, and am so glad that I did!

  4. Mae, I'm not a full-time artist, but do spend a lot of time painting (and trying to sell my art) after work and on the weekends. I didn't study art in college; I've taken classes here and there, but not since college, which was several years ago. I've been taken a painting class this summer and I have loved it! It's a continuing education class at an art college, so it's super low key, but I feel like I've learned a lot. My husband and mom are great critics, but it's nice to get a third opinion and to have someone to learn from for a few hours every week. I'm really glad to have dedicated my Thursday nights to it this summer. Best of luck. - Catherine

  5. Mae, I found you through Seth Apter, the Altered Page, and I'm so impressed with your work.

  6. Hi Mae,
    I can totally relate to your questions of "to art school, or to not art school" and wondering if you've missed out on certain things by not going. And for that, the answer is unique to everyone of course (especially since all art programs are slightly different). I did try the art school route (albeit for jewellery design, vs painting) and while I enjoyed the studio time and picking up a few cool techniques, I found the overall experience incredibly stifling and that it actually hindered my creativity. It felt like it was more about learning time management than learning your art medium, especially with all the filler classes they make you take too. So for this reason, and many more which I won't get into here lol, I did not complete my BFA degree. And I have absolutely no regrets. Not one. I also wanted to note that while at school I purposefully did not take any painting electives though, because I enjoyed exploring the medium on my own instead. It had no boundaries this way, and was able to follow my instincts. Which I found liberating! And I am now a full time artist/painter because of it :) . I came across your Instagram account about a year ago and am constantly inspired by your work and love reading your posts/insight. It reassures me that being a self taught painter is not looked down upon in the slightest (that was always my biggest fear for some reason!), if anything I admire it more than ever. If your curiosity leads you to a workshop or class that interests you, by all means take it! Go with your gut, it always leads you to where you need to be :)