Outside of certain science fields and actual reproduction, making people out of paint might be the closest we'll ever come to creating life. I won't pretend it's empowering, but the action does inspire a certain connection with the end result, and I do all but name the people in my paintings.
Here's how I go about "creating life"—I start with a blank wood panel or sheet of specialized paper—I may scribble some phrases written with a graphite stick, and I may throw in a splash of color. Then, I'll apply a sheer layer of oil and cold wax combined for a staining coat. Later that day or the next, I’ll add another layer of a darker color followed by a layer of a different color altogether, and I’ll affect the paint by pressing in tissue paper or a scrap of linen for texture. These early layers become the foundation, or the DNA, of the person, you might say.
After this stage has rested for a couple of days, I’ll begin the detailed work of creating human forms by laying down colors for their clothing, designing the dresses with coordinating layers of colors and small shapes in a field larger than I anticipate the people being in the end.
Once the surface has dried enough to work around, I will go back in with a lighter color, like a warm white, soft gray, or very pale green, and start defining with negative painting, basically painting over everything that is not a person.
There will be more tissue paper involved and some more scraping here and there to reveal the final work. And then before the paint dries, I might carve in a line of a poem so subtly you might not even notice it’s there at first glance.
Something from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" always seems fitting—
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
Or Whitman's "Song of the Open Road"—
I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune.
When it comes to figure painting, creating life sometimes feels a bit like wishful thinking—I wish I knew this woman with the square shoulders and upturned chin, or I wish I had her courage. At the same time, it feels like reality when what I wish for is brought into existence.
See my full collection of figures available on Etsy.
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