Freezing squared

Today I wanted to start on the large ‘environment’ canvases today.

Because I don’t want to paint the garage wall (it was hell to paint white in the first place and the texture is poor for an even surface) I chose to paint on a large square of canvas fabric.

I prepped the canvas by cutting it square to the width of fabric and punched 3 eyelets across the top to allow me to hang it (for both painting and display purposes) and measured out the squares.


I then taped the edges with ‘frog tape’ as this is meant to give a crisper line than masking tape on dodgy surfaces. I ruled the squares quite clearly with biro and put big visible crosses in the squares that required painting first so I did not mistakenly paint the wrong squares.


I then folded the canvases up and took them out into the studio to paint them hanging off the picture rail.

My first mistake was folding the canvases. This made the frog tape crumple, so in future, do that when it is hung on the wall, then the tape won’t be inclined to peel off, meaning less bleeds of paint under the tape.

Second mistake – it was bloomin’ freezing, despite the heater being on full blast – and neither I nor the emulsion I was using performed well in the low temperatures. I couldn’t feel my hands and the paint went all lumpy.

Third mistake was the use of the biro – this was very hard to disguise, even with the emulsion, which covered the ‘raw’ canvas well. This meant I had to add extra coats to hide the marks on some of the squares. For the second canvas I tried to cover the marks with the nearest coloured household emulsion I had.

Fourth mistake! The closest colour was some eggshell paint – which went on fine and washed off the brush OK as it was also water soluble. However, it still didn’t cover brilliantly although well enough. But was most noticeable when I added the colour on the top – as the eggshell cross showed through. I still can’t tell if the cross will fade into the flat colour when it dries properly. It was drying so slowly in the cold that even the help of my trusty studio hairdrier didn’t make much difference. I’ve decided to wait until the weather warms up before I try to complete them.


Here I am in the studio with one of the canvases hanging to dry. They are large – squares of approx 150cm. You can see where I have painted over the blue (again) to hide the cross on this canvas.

What was really nice about using emulsion matchpots was that I could pretty much get exactly the colour I wanted in a matchpot (and where not, I could mix the colour with a couple of the nearest) and that they give fantastically flat colour. I was really concentrating on trying to get flat colour with no noticeable brush or direction marks – hence the crosses were annoying. This was easiest with the darkest colours and will probably require a couple of coats as the colour soaks in to the fabric rather unevenly. On the second canvas (with the eggshell on) I tried watering down the emulsion and applying two coats directly after one another – which allowed for a flatter colour, but that blooming cross of eggshell shows up because it has effectively primed the fabric.

I decided to call it a day when I had tried out the watery emulsion and it was sloshing and dripping everywhere and the paint was too cold to mix properly with the water (and my hands needed constant hairdrier heat to keep them going).

But actually this was a really useful session. For a start there is the striving for a flat and consistent colour. I know this is nothing new and many painters have aspired to such pure colour before – but it has quite an obsessive and intensive element to it. It made me think about ad Reinhardt and his 3 blacks Abstract Painting that I saw in New York at MoMA with tiny subtle differences in colour that are really hard to see, but are there.

Abstract Painting - Ad Reinhardt 1957

Abstract Painting – Ad Reinhardt 1957

One of my favourite things to play with in print is spot UV varnish. This is a clear (or can be colour tinted if applied on white) gloss varnish that can be applied with another printing plate to specific places on the paper. This can enhance colour or/and can be used as a ‘hidden’ item on the page – only visible when light catches it. I have even played with this feature using vinyl film on the walls at a conference facility for a client, placing cut out graphics and words onto a solid painted wall, thereby creating a subtle, but pertinent, decorative message without it being distracting for delegates during sessions. How would this work on the squares? Would this work? What would happen? Free form or further lines? Lines that drip?

I then also considered what would happen if I under-painted shapes in the squares? Or if I used something like Polyfilla to create a texture on the canvas in some areas to disrupt those flat spaces in areas. I have a couple of stretched square canvases that I think it would be useful to try this on before I try doing another large fabric piece.

I will post and reflect on the canvases separately when I have finished them.


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