July 11, 2008
Here's an alternate to easel painting that's worth
thinking about. Working with small canvases or panels on
the lap, while unprofessional in appearance, has some
features not available in traditional painting systems.
Apart from the fact that in some places it's not
possible to work with full paraphernalia, lapworking
provides surprising spot-on accuracy--more than in
arm's-length easel or pochade-box painting. Rotation of
the work, tilting, and holding it out are also quick and
easy. Apart from the lap, stability can be had by
resting the support against the edge of a table or
perhaps an inactive fishing rod.
Specific effects as well as more controlled brushwork
are two benefits. For artists who need impasto, the work
can be quickly tilted to the light to see evolving
texture. At the same time, washes, run-downs and watery
blends work like a hot damn when you have this kind of
tilt control. As longish straight lines tend to wobble,
horizons and other straights can be laid in with a
home-made, clip-on bridge. So you can get an idea of the
potential, we've posted close-ups of the system in
action in the current
Lapworking is by no means the final answer, but it's
particularly useful where work is started on location
and finished in the more controlled environment of the
studio. You might find that the "hobby-horse"
feel of lapwork generates the languid ease that helps
get you into the "zone." While it appears
nonconforming and casual, ideas and motifs flow
remarkably well. Further, when the work is already in
your hand, it becomes easier to put it down and pick up
another. In lapwork there's a feeling of embrace as you
move lovingly here and there, following whims.
All processes from musical composition to philosophy can
be victimized and limited by systems that are tried and
true. In our game it's often the departures from the
norm that bring about style and flair. I stumbled on
lapworking while trying to paint in close quarters.
Lately I've found it to be valuable in places where
there are acres of elbow room. As Confucius
said, "An inconvenience is an unrecognized
opportunity." Also, bystanders take you less
seriously when you appear to be only fooling around.
Believe me, this can be a good thing.
PS: "It is a bad plan that admits of no
Syrus) "More of me comes out when I
Esoterica: The high size for lapworking is about 12 x 16
inches. Beyond this, panels and stretched canvases
become too cumbersome for most artists to hold with one
hand. Stout watercolour paper (even the 140 lb stuff)
starts to flop when wetly handled. Mounted watercolour
papers (such as cold
pressed panels or Ampersand
Aquabord) are the answer. You'll feel so good about
lapworking with them that you'll start throwing them
around like Frisbees.