Starting with stripes

Four new panels in my studio

Do you have a routine? You roll out of bed, pull on a t-shirt and yoga pants and start your sun salutations? Or you need a big cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal before you can even growl g’morn? Or maybe you have to have a cup of herbal tea and a snuggle with your cat before getting ready for bed each night?  Routines are lifesavers for our overworked brains, instead of having to make a dozen decisions, they just follow a familiar, comforting pattern.

Routines are my lifesaver when it comes to beginning a painting. Sometimes a blank canvas can be so daunting, there’s definitely the possibility of a masterpiece but will I be able to achieve it? Rather than face painter’s block, I rely on my familiar process.

First up, I pull out a fresh wood panel.  I use wood panels as the support for my work because it’s more stable for resin and also because I enjoy the easy flow of painting on wood.  Each of my excavation paintings begins in the same way, I apply a couple of coats of gesso, then sand them down for a smooth surface.  Then I mount them on the wall and paint bold stripes on the panel. There’s no specific reason for the stripes, and truthfully, they’re hardly visible by the end.   I think it all began with the very first resin paintings I made back in 2007, they started as a series of horizontal stripes, and then I started added layers of tissue painting on top. The paintings looked dry and unfinished, until I added resin and then they became swirling, sea-like worlds of transparent images. At the time I was using a casting resin that took ages to set and stunk up my garage for months, but the basic process was the same as the one I use today.

where it all began

After the stripes there is no routine.  I paint on layers of tissue, and the layers are always new and different. But there is something comforting about the initial process, when my hands are happily painting stripes and my mind is free to dream about what will come next.

The creative routine

One of my favourite books about the creative process is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. In this book she posits that consistent, quality creativity comes from having a routine and following it. Basically you get better by putting the time in, long and consistent hours of work.

Many artists, myself included, have trouble with this simple idea. They work sporadically, slacking off in the quiet times and pushing themselves relentlessly before a big show. I must admit that procrastination could be my middle name, but the way to get around this flaw is to commit to a lot of shows. Deadlines have a way of forcing that structure on your routine. And that structure is where you can mine the true gold of creativity.

For the past few months, I've been working on the paintings for the Half & Half show at the Japanese Canadian National Museum, and the installation takes place in less than two weeks. (Insert panicked yelp here). The whip of the deadline forces me to take risks and make decisions on the spot, rather than delaying as I like to. I tend to work on four or five paintings at one time, so I can hang the unfinished ones on the wall and speculate on what is needed next. Sometimes that results in paintings that remain unfinished for months as I ponder. But beyond one week, I'm not sure that the paintings are any better for the time spent unfinished.

My usual painting process is one of layers, images painted upon images and then torn back to reveal what is underneath. However, while creating this series, I have made two new paintings that are quite different from my usual style, but I find them extremely satisfying and beautiful. Both are based on images of children in the old Japantown.

I made the photos into squares and then combined them in a grid with origami paper.  Then, unsure of the colourfast quality of the paper, I repainted each square matching the colour exactly, since I think that origami paper has distinctly Japanese colours.  Finally I added a symbol of the present, Hello Kitty heads done in glitter. It's probably better not to know how my mind works, but they do look cool and that's the key, right?  Finish off the panels with resin, and I have two new works in an intriguing new direction that I plan to explore more this year. All a result of plugging away in the studio.