Art can be like that. Sometimes I really don't want to know how a painting was made. I just wanted to be dazzled by the result and chalk it up to magic wands and pixie dust. Other times, knowing who is pushing the buttons and how is necessary to moving forward, as it was for Dorothy. This week I received a reader request: Dotty wants to know what my process is for using reclaimed wood as a substrate. So let's invite Toto to today's blog party and pull back the curtain on reclaimed wood...(drum roll please!)
The wood I scavenge is usually dirty, stained, rough and ugly, like the pieces in the photo on the right. So step one is a good cleaning with a dry cloth. Brush off all the sand, dirt, insects and whatever else might be hanging on to your new canvas.
Then grab a piece of sandpaper and soften all those splintery edges and uneven spots. I don't generally sand the surface itself, as I love what happens with those rough spots under paint. But the edges must be made people-friendly.
Step two depends on the type of wood and on what my project concept is. For small pieces intended for queens, I leave the wood bare - the woodgrain showing through the paint layers is a lovely background. But for a large piece, I want the texture of the wood without the woodgrain, so a coat of black gesso is next.
I apply one coat to the front and all four edges, but not the back. There is something delicious about turning around a finished piece and seeing its primitive origins, so I leave it alone.
Golden gesso is my preference, but any black gesso will do.
The next 722 steps are painting and collage. I begin with a rough white on black pattern, leaving the black where lines and shadows and dark spots might go. I make a lot of design changes at this phase. For example, I ultimately moved the placement of one of the girl's arms in this piece after viewing it in the black and white stage.
I have to admit, sometimes these black and whites are a little haunting and lovely, and I am tempted to leave them rough and incomplete.
A little more black gesso at this point will change anything you wish. It is magical, even when we know about it.
The gesso becomes the underpainting for my final background color, whether it is light or dark. The black peeking through the deep groves in the wood adds a gorgeous texture without any effort on your part - just dry brush your choice of color over top of it and leave the grooves alone.
For this piece, I decided on a blue/black/purple moody background, so the texture is not as obvious in this example as in the turtle stack from my prior blog post.
When the piece is finished and signed, I decide if a top coat is needed. Since my girls often have smudgy charcoal around their eyes and shadows, they generally get a light spray of an aerosol fixative (my preference is Blair Low Odor) from top to bottom. I do this outside and let it dry for several hours.
If I haven't used charcoal, I don't use anything on top. Between the acrylic paint and the layers of matte medium, these pieces are pretty indestructible.
Another artist I know uses a high gloss spray to make the art super shiny and modern. I am not doing that presently, but won't rule it out for the future. :)
Once the spray is dry, I add hanging hardware to the back, along with felt bumpers on the bottom to protect walls. Unfinished wood can be rough on walls, so the bumpers are important.
My favorite hardware is Ook Tidy Tins D-Rings. For those of us with arthritis, they are easy to hold while you screw them into the wood. Choose a heavier gauge hanging wire, because these pieces are heavy!
And voila! Your piece is ready to to dazzle the world.
"Lean on Me" - mixed media on reclaimed wood, 46" x 17". Ready to hang. Making its public debut at Ciel Gallery's "Wisdom of Wild Things" featured show in June. Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org.