July 11, 2008

Robert Genn



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 clickback.

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.

Best regards,


PS: "It is a bad plan that admits of no modification." (Publilius Syrus) "More of me comes out when I improvise." (Edward Hopper)

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.