Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chair-Man for a Day

(Instruction in painting outdoors on Tuesday mornings from 9-1 in and around Perkins Cove, Ogunquit, Maine. Info here.)

I spent yesterday painting a chair - or rather, trying to turn a lawn chair into a painting. 

The chair is one of three adirondack chairs that will be auctioned off in September to benefit the York Land Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving the natural resources and cultural heritage of the coastal town of York, Maine.

Specifically, it's for the land trust's 4th Annual From the Ground Up! Fresh Catch Benefit Dinner and Auction. It's a four-course meal featuring locally harvested and produced vegetables, fish, meat, beer, and wine. The chairs will be part of the live auction portion of the event. 

All the Sweet Tints
I'd done an abstract floral painting called All the Sweet Tints a while back and had been wanting to revisit that palette. It's basically an improvisation, and the looseness of the composition seemed well-suited to such an undertaking.

I was expecting a sunny day, so I had a supply of cold beer on hand to fortify me during the trials to come. The chair, coated with a white primer, awaited my first move.

So how do you begin a painting like this?

I circled around it a few times, considering my quarry. I realized it was out of the question for me to map the whole thing out beforehand. I don't generally work that way on canvas, let alone furniture. 

I finally broke the ice by painting a flowery splash of pink onto the chair. 

I would've used Rose Madder if I'd had my druthers. Instead I saved myself a drive and purchased a tube of Winsor Newton Permanent Magenta on the way to the location (I painted this on a friend's deck in North Berwick, Maine). I mixed this with a little yellow and a lot of white in various values and intensities to make the "flowers." 

The initial shape ended up looking like a Native American ceremonial buffalo mask so I knew this was going to be changing. 

But at least I'd broken ground, as it were, and was "in a dialogue" with the piece.

To start creating a sense of three-dimensional space, I added some atmospheric sky-work behind the magenta.

I needed to see an opposing element to all that pink, so I added a big ribbon of loosely mixed ultramarine, lemon-yellow, and permanent green running down the right side as a counterweight to both the assertive mass of pink and the ethereal background. 

By now the sun was blazing and I was sort of dazzled by all the light bouncing off the white primer into my eyes.

I had to keep stuffing paper towels under my hat in order to keep perspiration out of my face.

I dealt mercilessly with the buffalo head and then composed the rest based on what I'd done so far. This was a period of making little "calls and responses" of color, hunting for dead spots I could enliven with some kind of counterpoint - if it was a section of solid light blue, then it was begging for a few opposing lines of bright color laid on with different brushstrokes and a different character.  

I suppose it's rather like the latter stages of a plein air painting, where after the "big moves" have been made, it's time to add some detail.

Thinking back, I think part of the reason I chose the design I did had to do with imagining the chair eventually sitting outside, perhaps in some proximity to a real garden or other.

Almost finished!
It was fun to turn an abstract painting into a three-dimensional object. I do hope that it succeeds in enriching someone's life in some way. And it's good to know I'm doing something to help keep coastal southern Maine the beautiful place that it is. 

Safely stored until September.

By the way, you can purchase tickets for the event from the York Land Trust website, here.

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There are still a small number of spots open for the Star Island (Isles of Shoals) plein air day trip setting sail on Sunday, June 29 at 9:15 a.m. from Rye Harbor (NH) and returning around 8 p.m. that evening. Email me if you're interested in joining up!