EXPLOITS: The 2017 48 Hour Create-A-Thon – Two Gardens

Richard Bledsoe “Two Gardens” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

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It was that time again. For the last three years I’ve taken part in Camelback Bible Church‘s 48 Hour Create-A-Thon. Starting on Friday night February 24, a group of artists gathered at the church, where we were presented with our inspirational theme. By 4pm on Sunday February 26, we needed to have a completed artwork created on site, ready to share at a reception. Throughout the weekend, the public was invited to visit with us to see the artistic process unfold.

This year I had a different experience than how the 2016 Create-a-Thon started. For 2017 we had two juxtaposing inspirational passages: Genesis 2:8-17, the description of the Garden of Eden, and Matthew 26:36-46, the story of Jesus’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,  where He prayed to escape his destiny if possible, but put himself in God’s hands.

This year, as soon as I heard the subject matter, the vision came. I saw the image in my mind; now I just had to bring it out so everyone else could see it.

I immediately laid in broad planes of textured colors. I don’t like working straight off a white canvas. In this shot I’ve actually flipped the canvas over to get better access to the blue area; in the completed work, it’s the upper right corner. I stayed until about 9 pm that night, just getting the under painting laid in.

A fast start

I was there around 9am the next morning, and stayed until almost 5pm, a good solid working day. I didn’t even take a break for lunch, as the church provided us lots of good snacks, and cup after cup of coffee.

No time to lose, had to get the drawing in right away

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The first thing I did Saturday was crudely block in my two essential elements: Christ and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, with wide swoops from the shoulder, I dragged loops of white paint over the blue, and gray over the yellow. These were the faint beginnings of Eden’s hazy atmosphere and Gethsemane’s tangled branches. The rest of my time spent on this painting was spent revising and refining these loose beginnings.

An action shot from the 48 Hour Create-A-Thon

My wife Michele Bledsoe was there for support. She wrote her own blog post about the experience, “Marathon Painting and the Art of Sitting on the Sidelines.” She spent her time drawing and taking pictures and videos. Michele spends a lot of time on her art. She jokes if there is ever a 480 Hour Create-A-Thon, she might take part.

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Finishing touches

By the time I came back Sunday morning, I was well positioned on the painting, and I spent time on all those little details and touches that can make or break a painting. One of my ongoing quotes about this stage is “That’s why painters go mad.” Anyone who has ever seriously engaged in painting has probably had that experience when the most minuscule adjustment or mark can make a work spring to life-or crush it into a mess. As an intuitive painter, I never know in advance what mark that may be. I have to discover it.

To see my art is to see me, performing my role as a conduit for something else 

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So the question for me becomes, if the Create-A-Thon shows I can complete a resolved and meaningful painting in really less than 48 hours, why do I normally work on them for months?

In that environment, in that experience, the Spirit really moved me, I suppose.

The Remodernist’s job is to bring God back into art but not as God was before. Remodernism is not a religion, but we uphold that it is essential to regain enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theos to be possessed by God).

-The Remodernism Manifesto

PAINTINGS: Versus

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Richard Bledsoe “Versus” acrylic on canvas 12″ x 16″

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I’ve written before on the connections between toys and art. In 2016 I participated in a show that gave me a chance to explore this fascinating synergy. The Firehouse Gallery was hosting “Toy Art 6.” I used the call for entries opportunity to work in a style unusual for me: still life.

That’s right. The epic confrontation depicted above is actually a very literal depiction of my toy Godzilla, and my wife Michele Bledsoe ‘s wind up pressed tin panda bear, on a table top. They tell such a story by simply being placed together.

I usually work intuitively. How different to be able to see the thing I was trying to recreate in paint. It takes me back to my student days, when I worked from observation. It was important to learn to control the medium: to make a painting capture something of the essential nature of what I was observing.

Later, I started trying to make my paintings capture something of the essential nature of my inner world. It’s a fascinating task, trying to evoke the subtlety  of thought into a visible form.

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“It should be noted that technique is dictated by, and only necessary to the extent to which it is commensurate with, the vision of the artist.”

-Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, The Remodernism Manifesto

STUDIO: The Mirror Test

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Mirror mirror on the wall:

A tool for self critique

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No matter how cleverly you sneak up on a mirror, your reflection always looks you straight in the eye.

-Louis Cyphre, Angel Heart

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The image above is not me; it is my reflection in our bathroom mirror. Michele Bledsoe snapped it while I was contemplating one of my works in progress.

It’s a problematic piece, one I’ve been working on for a long time without resolution. That is why it’s getting the mirror test.

I’ve written before on painting as being a process of seeing and judging, and the various ways I have to tweak the way I ponder on my unfinished paintings so I can see them with fresh eyes. I look at them upside down or sideways; I put them near completed paintings for comparison. Even moving them to different locations, like outside on the front porch, lets me break out of the tunnel vision that can develop while a work is being created.

As an intuitive painter, you have to be own worst critic. Since you are creating a world out of your own unique vision, only you will understand where that world fails to conform to its own principles, where the spell is broken. You must fearlessly identify the flaws and weak spots of the image. All these variations on looking break the limiting habits you fall into while staring for so long at the art being created.

The mirror test involves looking at the image in the mirror, and seeing it all reversed. Michele says it’s a great way to identify drawing issues. I look for ill defined passages, places that lack the dramatic interplay and balance that every good painting distributes across its entire surface.

Just like looking at ourselves, looking at our art in the mirror is a ruthless means for self knowledge.

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“Spirituality is the journey of the soul on earth. Its first principle is a declaration of intent to face the truth. Truth is what it is, regardless of what we want it to be. Being a spiritual artist means addressing unflinchingly our projections, good and bad, the attractive and the grotesque, our strengths as well as our delusions, in order to know ourselves and thereby our true relationship with others and our connection to the divine.”

-The Remodernist Manifesto

STUDIO: Twenty Minutes of Rattling Around

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Vital Art Supplies

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I’m truly fortunate to have a dedicated studio space in my home. But even with all the supplies set out waiting to go, it takes me awhile to actually get to painting.

I refer to this as “twenty minutes of rattling around.” The production of art does not just come from the availability of the tools. The correct creative mindset must be achieved, and for me that involves setting the correct studio atmosphere.

Once I decide to paint there are a myriad of little actions needed to set the correct tone.

I change into painting clothes. I have specific pants and shirts I wear that are perfectly comfortable, ragged and paint spattered already. I tend to wipe my brush on my left sleeve when I’m in a painting frenzy, so all my painting shirts are asymmetrical, with strange multicolored passages on only one side.

I make a glass of iced tea and take it to the art table. I clear off any books or papers that have accumulated. I have to clean the cat’s litter box.

I have to pick out the appropriate music-this can be very time consuming. I might need to go rummage around in my collection for minutes just to identify the correct CD for the mood.

I might have to switch the painting on the easel out for a different one, if I need a shift of gears. Or I might flip the painting upside down, or sideways, and steal glances at it while I wander around. Trying to see what I need to do.

I make sure my notebook and pencil are handy. I’ve started taking notes about the brushes and colors I’ve used in various areas. I used to lose this information while working in a creative daze. Now I’m attempting to be more deliberate in my process.

Finally I fill the plastic tub for rinsing brushes and push play on the stereo. I’m ready to go.

If I had to set up all my art supplies before enacting this ritual, I’d never have time to actually paint at all.

EXPLOITS: A Very Rare Painting Reboot

 

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Richard Bledsoe “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain” oil on canvas 30″ x 24″

The second version

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I have so many ideas for paintings, it is very rare that I would ever paint the same image more than once. In fact, there is only one occasion I can remember doing it. I was reminded of the circumstances recently while we were working on some home renovations, and I had to move 16 years worth of art.

I”ve written before of a troubled time in my artistic explorations, when for several years I made bad, unresolved paintings on wood panels. While most of these unsatisfactory works are exiled to my garage, while doing our rearrangements I found one stored in the house. It happens to be the only painting I ever explicitly repainted.

I am haunted by a story from the early days of film. In 1918 the stop motion animation pioneer Willis O’Brien made a movie called “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.” Originally 40 minutes long, the distributors of the day cut the movie down to 19 minutes highlighting the dinosaur action O’Brien created.

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Innovator: Willis H. O’Brien at work

The plot that remains features a supernatural visit to a hillbilly cabin and a time traveling telescope. It’s unclear exactly what got cut out. That version still survives, but the rest of the film is lost. Commercial pressures destroyed a rare representation of the birth of a new art form.

The title alone evoked a vision for me, and some time  during the years 2004-2005 I tackled the painting, during the ebb of my artistic efforts. I wasn’t happy with the outcome.

But what I wanted that painting to be stayed with me, to the extent many years later, probably around 2008, I painted the image again. I was back in my artistic groove by then. The second version, depicted above, captures the eeriness I was after all along.

But what about the first version, which I did display in one art show before it was put safely out of sight?

Here it is, in all its dubious glory:

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Richard Bledsoe “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain” oil on wood panel 36″ x 30″

Version One circa 2004-2005

Ugh. I can only put this out there because it is so securely in the past. I have to say, out of all my bad paintings from the time, this is one of the better ones. Even now, I like the body of the creature quite a bit, and the rocks and trees of the skyline. But overall, a swing and a miss.

Seeing this made me feel maybe I should revisit some of the other works I failed to execute the first time round. There are still visions there that deserve to be manifested.

“It is the Stuckist’s duty to explore his/her neurosis and innocence through the making of paintings and displaying them in public, thereby enriching society by giving shared form to individual experience and an individual form to shared experience.”

-The Stuckists Manifesto

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Everyone’s a critic

Our cat Motorhead passes it by without a glance

STUDIO: Sixteen Years of Paintings

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At least they stack nicely

We are working on some renovations on our house. These upgrades involve emptying the room where Michele Bledsoe and I store our art.

Paintings can be fragile things, easy to scratch, dent, puncture, or rip if you are not careful. I believe the best way to store a painting is to have it hanging on the wall, and believe me when I say our house is lined practically floor to ceiling with art. This is what happens when two compulsive painters get married, and they have lots of artistic friends to trade works with.

But in the end there is a limited amount of wall space, so the majority of my art gets stacked out of the way of life. This home improvement project we are working on required moving my paintings out of their secure location.

It didn’t occur to me to take a “Before” picture. We had sixteen years worth of mostly my paintings lined neatly up by size, front to front, back to back, with dividers of cardboard and foam core for extra safety. They were elevated off the floor on strips of lumber I cut for just that purpose.

I was so used to this system it didn’t really occur to me how many paintings there were, until I had to pull them out.

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This isn’t even all of them, just a few of the stacks that have been distributed throughout the house. One thing we are doing is taking this opportunity to do an inventory: documenting the titles, medium, and size of each work. Once we get this massive update done, I intend to keep it current with my new works, but we will see how that goes.

Ironically, seeing how many paintings I have, and scrambling to find a place to put them, makes me want to paint even more, on even larger canvases.

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STUDIO: Stretcher Construction

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A stretcher support for a new canvas, 36″ x 36″

I’ve written before on starting a new painting from scratch: Creating a Canvas.

It’s an elaborate process, involving lumber and quarter round, wood joiners and brad nails, a miter saw and a staple gun, gesso and sandpaper. It’s a big savings over buying prepared canvases, but that’s just one facet of it. There is a sense of thoroughness and craft I get from working on a support I built myself. I will use store bought canvases as well, but my most significant pieces were done on stretchers I’ve constructed myself.

This time I’m taking the process back a step further, and showing the underlying framework.

Today I’ve built another stretcher for a major painting, another 36″ by 36″ piece. The key to the way I build stretchers are these vicious looking little metal plates, which are called wood joiners:

Wood joiners

More than once in my painting career I’ve carelessly knelt on one these while building a stretcher; I don’t recommend it.

These days I’m using poplar wood for my supports. It’s an inexpensive soft wood which takes the wood joiners well, and it’s usually straighter and smoother than the pine wood I used to use. After using my chop saw to cut 1″ x 2″ lumber to the correct lengths, I use the wood joiners to fasten the pieces together. Then I nail quarter round molding to the outer edge on one side of the frame.

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Quarter round molding

This will elevate the stretched canvas material off the wooden supports, creating a smooth surface to paint on.

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Detail shot: quarter round nailed on 1″ x 2″s, held together with wood joiners

This was the method I was trained in when I went to art school at Virginia Commonwealth University. I’ve experimented with other methods in the years since, but I never found anything else that worked as well.

I intend this new canvas to be a companion piece to the painting I covered in my last series on a work in progress, “A Tale of the Forked River.” It was enjoyable to share the developments as I worked out painting issues of the course of many weeks, running from March 15, 2015, to July 1, 2015. See the entries here:

Creating a Canvas

Painting in Progress 1

Painting in Progress 2

Painting in Progress 3

Painting in Progress 4 – Completion

A Tale of the Forked River

The finished product, completed June 28, 2015:

“A Tale of the Forked River” acrylic on canvas 36″ x 36″

I have the vision for the new painting. For the moment it exists only in my mind, so there is nothing to show yet. But the title will be “What Does It Take to Make a House Haunted?”

I can’t wait to get it going, so everyone can see what I was shown.