More immersion
June 19, 2008

Robert Genn

Dear Rodney,
After my last letter about fishing for art, the studio computer was bombarded with emails from readers wanting to know more. While I'm flattered that my systems might be of value to some, there are many roads to Rome, and there's certainly no single route that subverts all others. While some of my systems may indeed be useful to people, many are peculiar to acrylic painting and the misguided methodologies I'm using right now. In checking out these ideas, please feel free to throw out what you will.
In the bush, I work on a half-dozen paintings at one time, generally on pre-primed, toned-ground canvases. Roughly speaking, there are three main stages, some of which may take place back in the cabin. 
In the first stage, I try for a strongish statement of motif or idea with little or no prior drawing, generally working from foreground to background. I concern myself at this stage with overall pattern, but I also go to some effort to build texture. In acrylic, you have to work a little harder at texture than you do in oil. I generally pay scant attention to the actual scene and try to improve on Nature's design. I like to equate this stage with playing a game of chess where you may be only moving up a pawn so that you might later strike with your horse or bishop. 
The second stage takes place after the initial lay-in has dried. To tone down and give mother-colour to otherwise inaccurate colour choices made in my first stage, I often glaze the whole work with a transparent overall colour. To add a bit of confusion and fun, I generally take a dry brush loaded with a bright colour and drag it here and there. These techniques, and others, are demonstrated in our free short videos

In the third stage, I punch in negative areas and deal with the direction of light and often counter-lit detail. I'm looking to build on the forms I've previously laid in. Frequently changing brushes for variety of stroke, I ask, "What could be?" and often find myself adjusting colours and shapes ad infinitum. At this point, I sometimes remove the painting from the paintbox and sort of cradle it in my arms for the final caresses. The tendency to overwork is discouraged by turning to another painting-in-progress. In the field, practical activities like wood gathering, fire stoking and weather watching make their contribution, and one takes heart from the knowledge that tomorrow will be another day.
Best regards,
PS: "Nature is usually wrong." (James McNeill Whistler)
Esoterica: A useful ploy in plein air work is to try to achieve a state of rest. Painting from a box works well with the relaxed mode of cottage life--walking, bird watching, fishing, or just listening to the murmur of the water. When rest arrives, all's well with the world, the brush slows down and the work itself becomes R and R. Right now I'm at Lake of the Woods, Ontario. It's an area loaded with design potential and things of interest. While it's difficult not to get excited, the idea is to stay calm and methodical, building and accepting each little bit as it arrives.