The making of “pussy___”

I’ve had some requests for this sort of thing, so here goes, a description of the process for the creation of my most recent painting, “pussy___”:

It started a few days ago. I found myself working with stencils, trying to come up with an effective way to work on another project I’m doing, which features George W. Bush on a background of many less-than-shining descriptive words. That project should be done within a few weeks. Anyway, while brainstorming ways to paint stenciled words, my hands started stenciling characters onto paper, one atop the other. pussy___ - making ofOne configuration gave me an idea, which gave me the basic idea for this painting. So I got a clean sheet of paper, and drew out the letters I needed along a line (so the letters would all be aligned properly when I scanned them in later), and scanned them in, as you see at right.

I took that image, cut out each letter individually into its own layer, moved those layers into a file 16″ by 20″ (since that is the size of the canvas I had available), set the layer mode for all three to “multiply” so I could set them atop each other and see the interplay, and began changing the scale and layout of the different layers to suit my design. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, so it didn’t take too long to get a pleasing layout. But then I wanted to play with colors, get an idea of what the final image might look like, and that meant making some changes.

First I had to re-load my Wacom drivers, due to a recent OS re-install, then re-start the computer, blah-blah-blah, good thing I save often, eh? Anyway, I used my tablet to trace the outlines of the letters into a new layer, then set up layers with the area of each letter filled in with color, so I could play with opacity, multiplication, and other effects to see what looked the best. pussy___ - making ofFrom there I didn’t have a definite idea of what colors I wanted to use, so I was just “playing around” until I found something I was satisfied with. Suddenly I hit a mode where part of one of the letters disappeared into the background and my brain started working again, and I came up with the basic design you see at your left. I played with the colors some more, with variances to which parts of what letters should be visible, but ultimately arrived at the image you see there. Due to ink shortages in my printer (I can’t afford new ink cartridges right now, and I’m basically out of every color but cyan, including black) after I got the images lined up the way I wanted and the parts of the letters visible the way I wanted, I made another layer where I filled in with a white background, then mostly cyan, and a touch of black for the contrasting area – then flattened the image and set the opacity of the whole thing to 10% before printing, to save even more ink.

pussy___ - making ofPrinting is not as easy as it should be, and there’s probably some wonderful feature in Photoshop I don’t know about that does this for me, but I have to copy sections of the image smaller than the printing area of my printer, paste them into another file of that size, and print out the section individually, one page at a time. Because I know I’m putting it all together again later by hand, I always overlap the sections by at least half an inch of image. One other thing: I put a one-pixel 10%grey border around each image before printing it. You’ll see why later. (Note: I know easily how much half an inch is without losing per-pixel accuracy when working with things like this that I know will become used only as “transfers” to another medium by working at 100dpi. Easy, easy conversions, saves me all sorts of time lining things up and navigating and re-scaling, because I know instantly what size things are going to be in the final version, and how far they will be from the edges and from each other… I recommend 100dpi to everyone who works with digital images that will translate to actual size physical images. I have no idea why 72dpi is still the default….)

Anyway, after printing it all out, I carefully used a pencil and a ruler to trace all the outlines carefully, then cut the printed area out with an X-Acto knife along the 1-pixel border I’d put in, giving me six equally-sized pieces of template to work from. You can see what it looked like after I taped it together above on the right. It was at this point that I realized that I hadn’t even started working on the canvas. Well, I’d used the canvas to line up the overlapping pages to the right size/proportions, and noticed that it was totally white. I couldn’t use my template to transfer the shapes to the canvas until the background was painted. So… I had to select colors and paint a background. I chose blue for the background, and used several tints of three different blues and an iridescent tinting medium, as you can see here:

pussy___ - making of

After painting that, I had to give up for the day, as the paint would not be dried in under about 6 hours. I guess. I went to bed. Maybe it dried in 5. Really, this morning when I rolled out of bed at 11:30AM it hadn’t dried entirely after over 12 hours (though that is really due more to the thickness/texture of the paint I applied than anything else. This is acrylics, people) – I went ahead and started working with it again around 2PM this afternoon.

I don’t have a lot of photos of the rest of the process, since it went pretty fast and I was concentrating and … well, I kept forgetting to take photos. I’ll try to do better next time (well, after I have a camera that doesn’t charge me 25cents/photo, you may see a lot more photos here) for the write-up. Maybe on the GWB piece I’ve already got over a month’s work done on….

But, I’ll try to describe it all clearly. It’s pretty simple.

First I took my 2″-wide painter’s tape and applied it overlapping across the entire canvas, so no blue remained uncovered. Then I carefully pressed the tape down really well, to ensure that the tape was touching the blue paint at every point. Then I set that aside, turned over the paper “transfer” I’d made above, and took a soft-leaded, broad-leaded pencil and applied a lot of graphite along the lines I’d drawn outlining the print-out earlier. Then I carefully line-up and tape down the transfer to the taped-over canvas, right-side-up, and – using a ruler – draw again along the lines of the print-out. For those of you who have never used this technique, drawing on one side of the paper transfers the graphite from the other side to the taped canvas below, re-creating the design I printed out onto the surface of the tape on the canvas.

Which is great, by the way, because then the image I’d created on the computer was right there on my canvas. Hooray! This is a technique I have used several times before, in different ways.

Anyway, after getting the lines onto the tape and removing the “transfer” paper, I took a straight-edge and the X-Acto knife and cut along the lines I’d drawn. I then carefully pulled up the parts of the tape I’d cut out without stretching or tearing the tape I wanted to stay down until I was faced with a big, blue “A” surrounded by tape. I patiently spent around 10 minutes very firmly pressing down the tape along the edges I’d just cut and pulled away, to ensure a firm connection between the masking stencil I’d created and the paint below. If the tape comes up even a little bit from the surface, if it absorbs water and crinkles at the edge, if for any reason the connection between the mask and the blue paint were to be lost at any point, then when I paint the next layer of color, instead of ending up with crisp lines, I will have little “blotches” and “overflows” of color that I’ll have to, somehow, clean up later. Because I’ve created such a varied and interesting background, cleanup is next to impossible, so creating a good connection is vital.

pussy___ - making ofSo, after I’m sure the masking is well-stuck, I paint again. This time green and white are my colors, to create a similarly interesting gradation of color and contrast with the blue background. I use more paint than I need, actually a bit much more than I expected to have gone over by, and I put that paint into a disposable plastic cup for use later, in case I need to reproduce the tints of green I’d created – in case I need to fix any “leaks” later… a good thing, too. Anyway, after letting it begin to dry some, but not too much, I began very, very carefully to remove the tape. I have found that waiting for the acrylics to dry completely is a bad idea, since it basically means that a solid layer of plastic needs to be broken to remove the tape, and that is not an easy or neat thing. Of course, pulling off sheets of tape covered with wet paint from a surface you don’t want paint added to (or removed from, in the case of the paint not yet dry, but where you want it), is also a challenge. But, I’ve got some practice, so with this layer, it went pretty well, as you can see above, on the left.

Okay, so. Then I had to wait for the green paint to dry sufficiently. Not too long… about four hours. Then I put a new layer of tape on the canvas, put more graphite on the back of my “transfer” on the lines I was going to transfer (for the “C” and “T, this time), taped the transfer down, carefully drew (with straight edges when possible) the lines again on the “transfer”, removed the transfer, carefully cut out the shapes I’d drawn, paying special attention to the existing edges of the green “A” I would be painting over. After removing those parts of the tape, I spent some more time pressing down the edges of the masking as best I could. Then I painted on the red. I used red, iridescent medium, and some yellow to create a reasonable, but not to obvious gradient. And then, a little too soon, started pulling up the tape.

This time, there were some leaks. And some of the paint was drying faster than other, so some of the edges were … coming up a bit. Which is no good. I won’t go into exhaustive details, but I spent about half an hour carefully pulling up the tape an inch or so at a time as I re-painted nearly all of the red, carefully trying to match the reds I’d created. Oh, and then when I had all the tape up I spent a little longer with that green paint I’d saved, painting over the blotches and leaks of red where it didn’t belong, then painting larger areas to blend the patches into the existing green pattern. And then when that had all dried, I finger-painted some blue hue-matches to places where … I hate to admit it, but … where the water from the jar where I rinse my brushes had splased tiny drops onto the painting. Sigh. But it’s all fixed now. And it looks like this:

pussy___ - final image

So… that’s that. Click the above image above to see the page for “pussy___” in the Art section of Modern Evil, including links to buy it. I’ve got it priced … reasonably, I think. Enjoy.

Oh, and feel free to comment with any questions or comments on the process.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

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