Friday, January 11, 2013

scraping back

In a moment of impatience this morning, I employed my painting knife, which I was using to mix some fresh paint on my palette, to scrape off a lump of oil stick from the panel I was working on. The knife -- a blunt, triangle-shaped metal blade angled down from its handle -- left an ugly mark, at which of course I scraped some more. Apparently I used a different angle with the knife, because the mark it made was completely different from the first. My attention diverted, I forgot the paint on the palette and continued to scrape the panel with the painting knife, investigating the effects on the semi-wet surface. The angle of the blade was critical to the result, as was the pressure used against the surface. I spent the next several minutes exploring this new (to me) phenomenon.

The use of the smaller painting knife produced more subtle transitions than broader-bladed scrapers (see post of November 1, 2012), and allowed for blending as well as separating the semi-wet paint. With appropriate pressure, lower, drier layers could be removed as well, producing a rich and complex surface that revealed hints of the history of the panel. I had gotten into the habit, as my technique to reveal lower layers, of dissolving applied paint with mineral spirits and then smoothing or lifting it off. This scraping with the painting knife provides a completely different effect.

To the experienced artist, this revelation will seem simplistic, since scraping with a painting knife is assuredly neither a new nor a sophisticated technique. I felt a little silly at it being a "discovery" for me. But it is not a technique to which I've paid much attention in the past, for whatever reason, and I was intrigued by the difference between the effects it produced and the effects that scraping back with wide flat-blade metal scrapers produces. In my exploration, I put down more paint and more oil stick, and kept scraping. The result, shown in the image above, was a more active, more colorful surface than I usually create. It is not a final surface, but it is a lovely preparatory expanse for some calming top layers. And in taking the time to follow my curiosity and experiment, I found a new way to develop the lower layers of my work, one that complements my intentions and goals. Scraping back is certainly a geologic phenomenon of the Colorado Plateau, if on a somewhat grander scale!

And I learned another lesson, which is how unconsciously entrenched I can become in habitual techniques, and how valuable it is to follow a serendipitous discovery no matter how seemingly simple and basic. My painting process, and my finished work, will be the richer for it.

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