Behind the Scenes in the Artist’s Studio

It’s no secret that I’m very enthusiastic about Pippa’s painting. As much as she has impressed me in the past, though, she continues to surprise me in various ways.

A while back, Pippa worked on a very large canvas that Margaret and I picked up on sale; that canvas and the tempera paints we bought for her really sparked her current productivity. She would spend hours down in the basement, listening to NPR and toiling at a three-by-four foot canvas of a pond in the woods. After weeks of work, though, Pippa lost interest in that piece (page, work, substance, text, material, post, truc) and moved on to smaller canvases, and to oil paint. She disliked the way that tempera cracked when dry, and she felt frustrated at the way the composition worked (or didn’t).

So a few days ago, I asked if I should wash the tempera off the big canvas so that she could have at it again, for a different composition, with different paints. She thought about it for a while, considered the costs and benefits, and agreed that it made sense. Today I hauled the monster out into the back yard with the hose, and started spraying. Should be easy, right? Tempera, washes right off?

First, I was astounded at what the washing-off process revealed. Layer after layer of underpainting: the near-solid green background of the forest trees yielded to a marvelous patchwork of leaves of distinct hues; the large rock in the foreground showed alternating layers of black, white, and gray; the lily pads disintegrated from solid green pads to blossoming lilies, to white-struck-with-black, back to green; the black water of the pond revealed a sky blue patch. And — being Pippa — she had painted the edges of the canvas as well, not simply in continuity with the first layer of color, but layer after layer, treating the edges as integral aspects of the whole.

After forty minutes of scouring spray, I still face a canvas with a green upper half, a gray lower half, and a vast patch of white paint in the foreground. I’ve only been able to get three or four layers of paint off. Maybe later in the afternoon I’ll have at it again, to scrub away the inadvertent Rothko into a more nearly blank field for Pippa’s next venture.

3 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes in the Artist’s Studio

  1. Wow. I didn’t know tempera would do that. If she likes playing with layers and textures, I think she’ll enjoy acrylics. They don’t crack when dry (at least not on canvas), and I think they’re a little easier to deal with than oils. Acrylics dry faster than oils, so you don’t have as much time to manipulate (or screw up, if you paint like I do, although Pippa has clearly shown that she’s a lot more talented than I am!).

  2. I think you just want to get the lumps off and then reprime the canvas rather than try to get the pigment stains out.

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