The New York Series was done between July and Nov of 2012, from photographs I took in 2003. Prior to this project , I accidentally bought a bottle of Holbein’s “Duo Aqua Oil” medium never bothering to read the label until it was almost empty. Happy with effects in “The Nightmare” which I was working on at the time, I decided to experiment using wet on wet technique with Holbein’s unusual oil medium. This was a great opportunity to use the full length portraits taken several years ago, in various parts of New York city. Each canvas for the New York Series measures 30″X24″ and was painted on the floor. The effects of adding thinned oil paint to a base of Duo Aqua Oil medium, are similar to marbled paper, or starburst effects when salt is added to watercolor paint. The results can also be achieved using linseed oil, but a longer drying time is needed.
All the canvases in New York Series were painted the same way. I begin the process by spreading a bed of Duo Aqua Oil medium on the canvas, until it’s running off the edges. Then apply oil paint, thinned with terpenoid or odorless mineral spirits on top. The consistency of the paint can be like thinner itself, or thicker, like melted butter. When applied, the paint/thinner mixture cuts through the bed of oil separating it from the paint. The oil tends to flood back to the area, lifting the paint in the process, moving it from the point of origin. See the example of “Times Square Vendor” being started below for the New York Series.
Using regular linseed oil in this process can take months to dry. Unless enough thinner is added, it can take up to a year to dry to touch. On the contrary, with Duo Aqua Oil, you have 24 hrs or so of working time, but signs of drying start within three hours. You have to move fast. The surface becomes unworkable and tacky within three days, and is dry to touch in a couple weeks or so. It all depends how much the oil and thinner mix together in the painting process. Unfortunately, once it’s dry you cannot go back into the painting the way you started, by pouring the medium. Once it’s dry you can paint on top the canvas with oils in a conventional manner, but if you pour medium on when it’s tacky, it acts as a resist.
The first painting using this new medium for the New York Series was “Little Italy, N.Y.” but, “Under The Umbrella, Times Square”, set par for the quality I was looking for.
“Little Italy, N.Y.” (below) is a perfect example of what happens when to much thinner is added to the bed of oil medium. Preoccupied with getting the drawing right, I was overwhelmed trying to paint something complicated fast. I used too much thinned oil paint, creating a light muddy wash of color, like watercolors not used properly. Overworking the paint, dissipates the star burst, or marbleized effects, colors become washed out, gray and flat. Though I like “Little Italy, N.Y.”, these effects were lost in the process of painting.
This project quickly turned into a lesson of steadfast drawing and color decisions.
References to “drawing” The New York Series , means drawing with thinned oil paint onto the canvas covered in duo aqua oil medium. Opposed to drawing on the canvas with graphite as a guide prior to painting. No preliminary drawing was done before applying oil medium or color, for two reasons.
1. I would depend to much on the drawing, and inhibit spontaneity.
2.The Underdrawing would probably be visible in some areas, or possibly dissolve when applying the medium, creating a gray tone.
“At The Bus Stop, Soho N.Y.”, original version. New York Series.
“At The Bus Stop, soho N.Y. ” was the second painting done in the New York Series with the same results as”Little Italy, N.Y.”. Once again, I was preoccupied with drawing the image. The paint became washed out from being overworked, and I lost the special effects I was seeing after the paint was first applied. Although I was trying to keep away from detail work, especially faces, I added the women’s face the next day because her head was not looking good. I realized how limited working time was. The oil became very tacky and almost impossible to work on top of the next day. Unhappy with both paintings for the New York Series, I moved onto a composition I hadn’t done before.
“Little Italy, N.Y.”, and”At The Bus Stop, Soho N.Y.”, were both compositions that I’ve used for other paintings. I thought familiarity with the compositions would free concern from drawing, and I would allow the paint to move free, without having too much control. Unfortunately these canvases fell short of that goal.
The third canvas in the New York Series was “Under The Umbrella, Times Square”, from a photo I took of a young couple in Times Square on a rainy evening.
I’ve been wanting to paint this image for several years and this style seemed fitting. I was apprehensive to begin this canvas because I never did studies of this composition, and the outcome of the other two paintings weren’t so hot. But “Under The Umbrella, Times Square”, was the first painting in this series that i was happy with. The figures are not overworked and the paint “floated” and “bled” across boarders, maintaining forms. Color was added selectively for shadows and highlights to finish it off. Drawing became secondary to painting. The lack of architecture in the composition also helped me out.
I came back to work the next evening, but the fast drying time left me unable to paint “wet on wet”, so I resorted to splattering paint on the canvas. This allowed me a degree of detail work which pulled the painting together.
In the fourth canvas “Motown Singers, Soho N.Y.”, the color is being more controlled then “Under The Umbrella, Times Square” from complexity of the subject. It was difficult to free myself in the painting process, because I got preoccupied drawing the architecture around the main figure. Eventually I had to selectively splatter paint on the canvas as a way to mimic results lost in the initial process.
The Fifth Painting in the New York Series is titled “NYPD, Times Square, N.Y.”. At this point in this series I was adding too much thinner all together. You can clearly see brushstrokes in areas of the canvas. Overworking the subject, and continual use of thinned oil paint left me pushing the paint around trying to save the drawing. It became flooded with thinner which diluted the oils loosing special effects. The direction of the brush strokes are too obvious, especially toward the bottom of the canvas. This looks more like finger painting then anything else. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy the outcome, and doubted the ability to maintain the effects seen when the paint is first applied.
“Under The Rocking Horse, Chelsea N.Y.” was my sixth attempt to work exclusively in this style. Unfortunately it fell way short of my goals. I like areas of this canvas (below), but for the fifth time I got caught up in the architecture, and lost the marbling effects due to overworking the paint. I was wondering if humid summer air was having an effect on the oil paint, preventing me from harnessing the wet on wet effects. Disgusted, I abandoned the canvas. After three days I deciding to try pouring the aqua oil medium on top the canvas again to re-work it. Immediately I discovered that once the prior coat was dry, the medium resisted itself. I had to wipe off the medium, and once again, resort to splattering oils on the canvas to try and improve the painting.
Two months of work, and I was only happy with one of the six canvases. Disgusted with the outcome, I abandoned the project. I didn’t want to waste more canvases, and didn’t think I could work it out.
New York Series Rejuvenated
Motivation for starting over with the New York Series came when “Under The Umbrella, Times Square” was accepted for exhibition on the Fine Arts Wall, for the “One Of A Kind” show in Chicago. Aside from”Under The Umbrella, Times Square”, I didn’t feel the others were exhibition material. Non the less I felt strong about the effects I was seeing during the painting process, and decided to pick up the project once again. The show deadline was the beginning of December, and it was already nearing the end of October. I took a deep breadth and re-visit the New York Series. I purchased six new canvases and began “At The Bus Stop, Soho, N.Y.” (version B).
I was more confident being familiar with the composition and how to approach it. My hope was cooler weather with less humidity in the studio would benefit the way the paint dried. Again, drawing prior to pouring medium on the canvas was useless and distracting, as the paint takes an unpredictable path. So
I had two goals with these next canvases.
#1) Ignore details of the photograph, allowing the paint to do the work maintaining the basic composition.
#2) Once the canvases were “dry” to leave them alone.
“At The Bus Stop (version B)” (above), was the seventh painting in this series and I feel it was my second successful painting. I was able to preserve the “marbling” or “starburst” effects with the wet on wet technique, without overworking the canvas. Decisive color mixing, color application, and allowing time for the paint to lift from the canvas surface to float in the medium was working.
You can clearly see the difference between”At The Bus Stop, Soho N.Y.” (original version) and “At The Bus Stop, Soho, N.Y.” (version B) above.
Comparing “Little Italy, N.Y.” (version B), with the original version at the top, you see how the oil paint tends to float on the bed of oil medium creating a marbling effect. This was the eighth canvas in the series, and the third painting I was able to maintain the special effect by not overworking the canvas.
“Under The Rocking Horse, Chelsea N.Y.” (version B), was the third composition I re-visited. Number nine in the series. It looks like a lot of detail, but paint is selectively added, left to float and interact on it’s own. The pallet for this painting was very limited; Ivory Black, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow and Titanium White. Each color is mixed on the pallet first, then applied to the bed of Duo aqua oil medium. The thinned paint first cuts through the oil, lifts up, then floats around, intermixing with the oil medium, creating unexpected results.
“Under The Umbrella, Times Square”, was selected for exhibition on the 2D wall, at “One Of A Kind” show in Chicago. I was planning to display the six new canvases in my booth space, but was short one image. Going through photos left over from my New York visit, I decided “Times Square Vendor” would fit in well. The first stage of this painting is shown at the very top of this post.
By the time “Times Square Vendor” was started, I only had a couple weeks left before packing works for Chicago. To make sure it was dry in time, I took a chance using a slightly lighter coat of the Duo Aqua Oil medium, for the bed of oil on the canvas. Luckily it worked out for the most part. Though thin, the paint still floated in the medium, but I had to resort to splattering paint more here, then the preceding canvases.
Following the exhibit in Chicago I had another opportunity to exhibit four of the canvases at Agora Gallery, in Chelsea, N.Y. . They were in a group exhibit called “Cadences of Color” which ran July 5th – 25th 2014. Before I submitted the work for jury, I decided to repaint “N.Y.P.D., Times Square”, and”Motown Singers, Soho N.Y.” ( below). I had enough time to finish the canvases for the group exhibit, but I was cutting it close with the drying time for shipping.
Reworking the canvases
Two of the paintings done in the initial push of the New York Series, “Under The Rocking Horse, Chelsea N.Y.” and “N.Y.P.D., Times Square” are reworked in pointillism (below). I thought this would be a fitting approach to resolve the canvases stylistically and technically. Using dots allows a certain amount of control over depth perception. Not covering the underpainting, but using it as a guide, for color choices to place on top. Details lost by muddy color in the original painting are given a fresh spark with pointillism.
Below are canvas numbers five and six, reworked with pointillism and completed in 2015. I’m still contemplating reworking “Little Italy”, and “At The Bus Stop”.