Thursday, September 9, 2010


Wallet Size#2, 40"x30", Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

Well, it was crazy here last week. I was swamped trying to finish up all the work for my show at The Main Street Gallery. Actually I thought I had it under control; nearly all the work was finished and I just had one large painting to do and a smaller one to finish up and almost two weeks seemed like plenty of time. HA! Shows what I know!

The large painting was the third of a series within a series, and yes, I am beginning to find all these series to be confusing. Not sure how else to categorize them though and since I like to have categories, there will continue to be series until I can figure out something else, hehe.

So. A little background first. The 'People You Know' project is inspired by found family photos; photographs and other memorabilia that I come across on ebay, at yard sales, auctions and that sort of thing. Often in the photo lots, there are bunches of school photos and since I don't do portraits of kids, I have set them all aside. But for the last several months I have found myself looking through the school photo pile, feeling certain that there was a concept there and trying to figure out what it was. Eventually I realized that the appeal to me was the multiple images of the same person I was looking at. Doug and I had several discussions about that and he said he thought the interesting thing about a painting of multiples would be how each painting would be different, yet the same.

Still stressing about the validity and direction of this whole thing, I thought I should try painting a few and eventually picked out some pictures that I liked, kids at an awkward age and details like big collars, dorky glasses and dated hairstyles. I decided to do three panels and thought they might be a good addition to the show at The Main Street Gallery, which was already going to include the portraits that I painted last winter at the Vermont Studio Center.

These paintings required much more planning than I usually do, even for a portrait, which needs WAY more planning than a landscape. I realized that I would have to do the underpaintings in two parts, at least. I sectioned off the grids, taped the edges of the "active" portrait area and started there. At first I thought I would work on the portraits simultaneously; forming all of the images at the same time so that they would be the same. HAHAHA! Doing just two took longer than I expected, the paint began to set up just enough to be irritating and I also learned that I was possibly going to go crazy if I couldn't get each portrait to be EXACTLY THE SAME as the other one.

The first underpainting I did was this one:

And this is the finished painting:
Wallet Size#1, 24"x36", Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

Kinda creepy because it is only two up, it evokes all kinds of weird twin things. However, I do not view that as a negative.

The next one was a four up and this is where I really understood just how difficult it was going to be to paint the same image multiple times. While getting two to look the same was almost possible, more than two was reallyreally hard and also completely not possible. Even though the differences are the key here, every single fiber of my being wants each face to look exactly the same. I also decided to do each portrait one at a time rather than moving back and forth between two. I won't say which face was the first one, but in all the paintings, I thought the first one was the best one and I was so irritated when the others looked so different.

Even though I was mostly pleased with how the 4up underpainting turned out (I thought I could fix all the differences when I got to the color, haha!), it also got me really feeling the fear about the third one, which was going to be a six up. I dawdled and procrastinated about starting that one until the very last minute. Was I sensing that this one could send me over the bend???? I did two of the portraits, and started the third even though doing more than two in one session is very stressful (but I was feeling the looming deadline) which I could NOT do. It looked awful. I was frustrated, it was late at night, bugs were flying around under my easel lights and landing on me and in the paint and finally I did something that I NEVER do; I wiped off the third underpainting entirely and thought I would try again the next day. Then I want downstairs and had a complete breakdown in front of Doug, poor guy. After going through all my problems with this project, waaaaaaa, he finally said maybe I shouldn't pursue this project, that it was making me crazy. I accused him of practicing reverse psychology without a license and then went to sleep.

Sleep makes me feel optimistic and so I got back to it the next day, did two more of the portraits and did two more the next day. This painting holds the record by far for how long it took to do the underpainting-four days! SO unheard of for me.

Unfortunately, using up four days really left me scrambling for time, and after a few days drying time and the first glaze, I had exactly one day to add the color to ALL the portraits. I prepared for that day like I was an athlete; a full night's sleep, a good breakfast, a quick walk in the morning to get my energy up. And then I just did it. ALL those faces in one day, plus the border.
Wallet Size#3, 40"x46", Oil on Birch Panel, 2010

Doug liked Wallet Size #3 the best of all three, the gallery liked the series and included them in the show, so I decided to like them too. I am fickle that way. And now that these are done, all is forgiven and I am thinking about which one to do next. Heh.

Total crazyville here, I tell you.

PS. And sorry, the jpegs suck, these are incredibly difficult to photograph and I just don't have a good set up for such large panels. Also Doug came up with the titles; Wallet Size and in a burst of amazing creativity (NOT) I numbered them, starting with um, #1. So sick of titles, I am.


Martha Marshall said...

Tracy, these are fantastic! I love the subtle differences. Almost as if the person were sitting there in a photo booth trying to look exactly the same but no one can, because -- well, you're never the same.

My mother taught school for over 40 years. I have a whole box full of her wallet size school pictures and have wanted to do something with them like forever. She changed so very little over the years, which says a lot about my mother.

Anonymous said...

Very cool!
Thanks for sharing the frustrations encountered; makes me feel like less of a loser when I crash during my creative process.
Like Martha, I like the differences. The variations are just as important as the similarities, plus add the nostalgia and it all comes out very cool and interesting. Keeps me looking!


Anonymous said...

love them, for lots of reasons, the same-not same aspect is very revealing of the process. I totally relate to the crazy making process of painting something 'just like' something else. I laughed outloud at the reverse psychology crack.

Natalya Aikens said...

photo booth is exactly what I thought when I saw the pix before reading the post.. love them! I am especially drawn to #1, must be the collar..... thanks for sharing your frustrations, nice to know we are not alone in our struggles.