A: My working methods have changed dramatically over the years with my current process being a much-simplified version of how I used to work. In other words as I pared down my imagery in the “Black Paintings,” my process quite naturally pared down, too.
One constant is that I have always worked in series with each pastel painting leading quite logically to the next. Another is that I always have set up a scene, lit and photographed it, and worked with a 20″ x 24″ photograph as the primary reference material. In the “Domestic Threats” series I shot with a 4″ x 5″ view camera. Nowadays the first step is to decide which photo I want to make into a painting (currently I have a backlog of images to choose from) and to order a 19 1/2″ x 19 1/2″ image (my Mamiya 6 shoots square images and uses film) printed on 20″ x 24″ paper. I get the print made at Manhattan Photo on West 20th Street in New York. Typically I have in mind the next two or three paintings that I want to create.
Once I have the reference photograph in hand, I make a preliminary tonal charcoal sketch on a piece of white drawing paper. The sketch helps me think about how to proceed and points out potential problem areas ahead. For example, in the photograph above I had originally thought about creating a vertical painting, but changed to horizontal format after discovering spatial problems in my sketch.
Also, I decided to make a small painting now because it has been two years since I last worked in a smaller (than my usual 38″ x 58″) size. I am re-using the photograph on which “Epiphany” is based. Using a photograph a second time lets me see how my working methods have evolved over time.
Comments are welcome!
Q: The handmade frames on your large pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are quite elaborate. Can you speak more about them?
A: I have been working in soft pastel since 1986, I believe, and within six years the sizes of my paintings increased from 11″ x 14″ to 58″ x 38.” (I’d like to work even bigger, but the limiting factors continue to be first, the size of mat board that is available and second, the size of my pick-up truck). My earliest work is framed with pre-cut mats, do-it-yourself Nielsen frames, and glass that was cut-to-order at the local hardware store. With larger-sized paintings DIY framing became impractical. In 1989 an artist told me about Underground Industries, a custom framing business in Fairfax, Virginia, run by Rob Plati, his mother, Del, and until last year, Rob’s late brother, Skip. So Rob and Del have been my framers for 24 years. When I finish a painting in my New York studio, I drive it to Virginia to be framed.
Pastel paintings have unique problems – for example, a smudge from a finger, a stray drop of water, or a sneeze will ruin months of hard work. Once a New York pigeon even pooped on a finished painting! Framing my work is an ongoing learning experience. Currently, my frames are deep, with five layers of acid-free foam core inserted between the painting and the mat to separate them. Plexiglas has a static charge so it needs to be kept as far away from the pastel as possible, especially since I do not spray finished pastel paintings with fixative.
Once they are framed, my paintings cannot be laid face down. There’s a danger that stray pastel could flake off. If that happens, the whole frame needs to be taken apart and the pastel dust removed. It’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive process and an inconvenience, since Rob and Del, the only people I trust with my work, are five hours away from New York by truck.
Comments are welcome!