Several years ago I decided that I wanted to do a set of lithographs based on a painting I did of an almond tree. Having never made a lithograph before I thought I’d share the process with you and get your input along the way.
I made 4-plate lithograph, that I printed in different colors to represent different times of the day.
Then I took the separations and scanned them and made a digital version of the lithograph. With 4-scans, I was able to make each scan a different color. Being the art history nerd that I am I used this as an opportunity to explore the palettes used in some of my favorite paintings by some of my favorite artists — Van Gogh, Gerhard Richter and William Nicholson.
My image coming out of the printer.
The digital print being turned back into a painting.
I then used the digital rendering to inspire new paintings on canvas. In this process, it became clear that I didn’t just want to change the palette, I wanted to change everything about how I applied the paiint. I poured paint, and dripped it, I flung it and scaped it. I used brushes, and squeegees, and rags, and paint sticks, palette knives and my fingers. I used oil paint, enamel paint, metallic paint and highway glass.
What remained was as abstract image that was based in nature and had a certain quality of light.
And even then, I was not quite finished, I also went back to some of the lithographs and painted on them to further enhance the image.
This project started in 2008 and it isn’t quite finished. When people ask me how long it takes me to do a painting, I assume they are asking how long it takes to apply the paint — not how long it takes to conceive an idea, nurture it, modify it, deconstruct it and reinvent it.
This process is essential to me. It is not repeating an image, it is studying, investigating, and dissecting an image. And until I have discovered everything I can, I keep working on it.
“Almond Tree Morning”, 60 inches x 70 inches, oil, enamel and metallic paint on canvas, © Leslie Parke 2015
“Tree in Twilight”, 67 inches x 96 inches, oil, enamel, metallic paint on canvas, © Leslie Parke 2015
“Almond Tree – Light Through Rain”, 72 inches x 96 inches, 4- parts, oil, enamel and metallic paint on canvas, © Leslie Parke 2017
But now something new is bubbling up. And again it is something I don’t quite know how to go about. So, I thought this would be a good time to share my journey with you. I have a vague idea where I want to go with the new work, but no idea how I am going to get there. If you have any ideas, feel free to chime in. The new project is called The Grid Project and I’ll explain it to you in my next post.
. . . Vincent packed up his painting gear and headed to the Place du Forum. By the time he had arrived, night had fallen. The spectacle of an artist clattering his easel into place in the dark, pebbled square may have looked like a joke to the locals who strolled by or sat under the awning of the Grand Cafe du Forum (it was reported with amusement in the local paper). Only a year earlier, Anquetin . . . had painted a similar nocturnal scene: a crowded sidewalk outside a butcher’s shop illuminated only by gas light within the two big gas lanterns hanging form its canopy. Other than the rank of patrons pressed near the orange glow of the windows, the image consisted almost entirely of purple-blue darkness, broken into fragments of hue as if viewed through a blue-glass prism.
Anquetin, “Avenue de Clichy”
Placing himself at exactly the same oblique angle that Anquetin had chosen for his painting, Vincent used the cafe’s huge awning to create the same plunging perspective into the dark street and night sky beyond. He tuned up the gas light until it filled the covered patio with bright yellow and spilled across the Crau-stone pavement in ripples of complementary color. “I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day,” he wrote as he added wide swaths of orange (for the floors) and blue (for the doors) to his Anquetin tribute. — Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, “Van Gogh: The Life”.
This is a question that annoys artists, either because they fear that if they say they finished a painting in a day, the questioner will think that it is easy work, or if the artist says it took them several years, they will appear incompetent.
When recently asked this, I asked the questioner, “Do you mean how long did it take me to do the painting, or how long did it take me to execute the painting? ” More and more lately, I find that the real work of the painting takes place for months and even years in my head. By the time I apply paint to canvas, I am executing something that I have already been painting in my head for a long time.
I found a similar description of VanGogh’s process in the recent biography of him by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. The entire description is too long to quote here, but can be found on pages 616 – 619 of the book. Here are some of the salient points:
Just as his campaigns of persuasion unfolded over many letters, and his letters sometimes went through multiple drafts, his paintings often gestated for weeks or months or even years before brush touched canvas. The image of a vase of sunflowers had been in his head since at least a year earlier when he saw a bouquet of flowers in the window of a Paris restaurant near Theo’s gallery. At the time, he had painted a series of individual blossoms, arranged in a morbid narrative and depicted in the descriptive, backward-looking draftsman’s style of The Hague. In the year since, however, Vincent had discovered the new testament of Cloisonnism*, and the image of sunflowers in his head took new form and new color.
. . . he had prepared for his series of sunflowers with hours of careful calculation: calculations of everything from the size and orientation of each canvas to its exact color scheme and the amount of paint it would consume, color by color. Only through this kind of elaborate advance planning, with his mind “strained to the utmost “could he hope to produce” a quick succession of canvases quickly executed.”
*Cloisonnism is a style of post-Impressionist painting with bold and flat forms separated by dark contours. The term was coined by critic Edouard Dujardin on the occasion of the Salon des Indépendants, in March 1888. Artists Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, Paul Gauguin, Paul Sérusier, and others started painting in this style in the late 19th century. The name evokes the technique of cloisonné, where wires (cloisons or “compartments”) are soldered to the body of the piece, filled with powdered glass, and then fired. Many of the same painters also described their works as Synthetism, a closely related movement. [Wikipedia]
“In [Van Gogh’s] studio, he kept a lacquered box containing balls of brightly colored yarn that he endlessly twined and untwined to test the interaction of colors – exactly the procedure described by Chevereul, who had developed his theory as director of dyes for the royal looms at Gobelins.” [Van Gogh: The Life, Steven Naifen and Gregory White Smith]
Van Gogh, Vincent – The Potato Eaters
On October 7, 1885 Vincent Van Gogh visited Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and everywhere searched for paintings that would support his rejection of Impressionism and his obsession with the “de terre literalism” of Millet. That is, until he came upon Veronese’s The Marriage of Cana.
Veronese, Paolo, “The Marriage of Cana”
When Veronese painted the portraits of his beau-monde in the Marriage of Cana, he had spent on it all the richness of his palette in somber violets, in splendid golden tones. Then — he thought still of a faint azure and pearly-white — which does not appear in the foreground. He detonated it on the background — and it was right . . . So beautiful is that background that it arose spontaneously from a calculation of colors. Am I wrong in this? . . . Surely that is real painting, and the result is more beautiful than the exact imitation of the things themselves. Van Gogh
Veronese, Paolo, “The Marriage of Cana”
Veronese, “The Marriage of Cana”, detail
Although Van Gogh’s battle with a muddy palette was not quite over, the impact of his encounter with the Veronese can already be seen in this painting of a bat, completed immediately on his return from his trip to Amsterdam.
Van Gogh, “The Bat”