The Power of the Blank Canvas

I love a blank canvas!

I mean it.  The prospect of starting a brand new project makes me giddy.

When a new project comes into our office at LS3P I am super excited to roll out the trace for that first time.

When I decide to start a new painting and look at that canvas for the first time, sometimes I will literally start dancing.  

I love it.  I love a blank canvas!

I think it is the combination of a fresh start and endless possibilities that creates the magic. And I really like to create.

This is a case where I am talking about a blank canvas both metaphorically and literally.  A majority of the time I am using the blank canvas as a metaphor for my architectural work.  But from time to time I use the blank canvas in the literal sense, in my hobby as a painter.

It is pretty typical for architects to have some sort of artistic hobby.  Many are led to architecture by their love of art and drawing.  Many others develop a love for art and drawing as a result of their architectural training.

I always loved art and chose architecture because I thought it was a practical use for my artistic abilities.  Since college, I have had an on-again off-again relationship with painting. For the last 2 1/2 years I have been in the off-again category.  But not any more.  Me and art have rekindled the flame.

Recently I was commissioned to do a painting.  This person discovered my artwork through BuildingsAreCool.  A great example of one of the unexpected benefits of starting this blog site.  

But I'm not going to show you the commissioned painting.  Why?  Because I haven't started. And I don't know what I'm going to paint.....yet.  In the meantime I have decided to do a 'tune-up' painting.

While in Atlanta for the AIA convention I went on a Walking Dead tour.  One of the highlights of the tour was a stop at the Goat Farm Art's Center.  This locale was the setting for an episode of the Walking Dead as well as a scene in Hunger Games Catching Fire. 

During the tour I stumbled across this:

Ain't she a beaut?

I don't know anything about trucks.  But I do know that this truck was awesome.  It had a great classic look and it was placed in a picturesque setting.  And look at that rust pattern!  

It was perfect.

And thanks to some coaxing from Danielle, this truck has become the subject for my next painting.  Now the only question is:

Can I make it better?

It is already beautiful.  How can I possibly improve it with a painting?  

Challenge accepted!

Step 1: Prime the canvas.

Wait.....that's not canvas.  After all this canvas talk!

You are correct.  I decided to go with a wood panel for this painting.  The finished painting will look just like a canvas painting.  I like the wood panel because it is very durable and it is nice painting on a hard surface.

I bought 2 panels and decided to prime them both at the same time.  The 2nd panel will be the one for the commissioned painting.  Each panel is 3'x3'.  Luckily my easel is tall enough.  I am using gesso as the primer.  I applied 3 coats and sanded the panels in between each coat.

All that work just to get to a blank canvas (panel).

Step 2:  Weapons of choice.

Weapons of choice.

For this painting I am using oil paints.  The main benefit of oil over acrylic paint:  Oil stays wet for much longer (weeks).  This makes it extra workable.  The main drawback of oil over acrylic paint:  Oil stays wet for much longer (weeks).  This makes it a little harder to paint over mistakes and use layering.  Both oil and acrylic have their own behavior and neither is the perfect choice.  Like any medium, it is just a matter of practice.

When I start a painting, I usually start with the basics.  Black, red, yellow and blue. 

Step 3:  Translate the broad strokes of the image to the panel.  Or: "Drawing with paint."

Buckminster helping me.

I always start with the darkest areas first.  Using either black paint or blue.  And for larger paintings I use a grid.  I draw a 2x2 grid on the panel and have the same grid super-imposed over the image.  This essentially breaks the panel up into a bunch of smaller panels. Allowing me to very accurately translate the 'broad strokes' of the painting onto the panel.  Just like in my professional work, in my artistic work I try to:

Work smarter not harder!

These first strokes are very similar to drawing with a pencil.  You can see the grid in this image:

These days I don't even print out the image.  I keep it on my computer.  The main benefit is that with my computer I have the ability to zoom as well as tweak colors.  Again I will say:

Work smarter not harder!

You can see the truck on my computer monitor in the background.

Step 4:  Bring on the color!

After I have enough of the dark areas painted, I begin with color.

I really like color.  It can never be bright enough or saturated enough.  I am fortunate that the truck scene is already infused with lots of awesome color.  Usually I take a subject that is a little dull and give it new life.  The truck is already pretty radiant.  Again...this will be my challenge.

How can I make it better!

It doesn't look like much yet,'s a start! 

Not including the priming, I am 2 sessions in, and have logged about 4 hours of painting time.  When this painting is done it will likely fall in the 20-30 hour range.  So there is much more to come.  I will do periodic posts to keep you all updated.

What is your artistic hobby?

Steve Ramos, AIA

Digging the art?  Check out more of:  Steve's Art