Deogratias, ‘Aviary’ opened as smoothly as may be expected given the circumstances, and my warmest thanks go out to everyone who went to the opening and to the show since. I also want to thank everyone who’s expressed a genuine interest in my work, and by that I mean those who took the time to find out the how’s and why’s behind it.
That said, it rather struck me how I’ve been asked ‘what’s your process’ for making the pieces in the show. Having spoken about how I go about planning for an exhibit on the jillablog before, this post talks about the process behind the creation of the canvases for ‘Aviary’, in particular.
All Things Considered
I made little floor plans figuring out how many I'd need to fill the space that looked like this
(actually this was the one I made to facilitate my ingress)
The first thing that struck me about Vetro, the gallery where ‘Aviary’ opened, was its size. To be honest, I really didn’t think they were going to give me the whole space—I would’ve counted myself lucky if they’d given me one wall or even a section of one wall to fill.
As it was, I had not one but two walls measuring about a little less than 49 ft (15 m) each, plus about 18 odd ft (about 5 and a half m) to fill and some sections of the wall that didn’t come with measurements on the floor plan they gave me. So I guesstimated from there how many pieces I’d have to make and how large each piece had to be in order for me to fill the space.
I was able to book my show in March for November 9th, which gave me about seven months to get everything done—everything including planning, getting all my gear together, research, the whole bit. So basically, all the decisions I’ve made were influenced by these two main considerations: how big my space was and how much time I had.
Need for Speed
Very old school, I know, but I had two of these I'd written on the backs of a couple of Starbucks receipts;
toward the end I got rid of the first one (so this is when I'd finally finished the last piece)
It wasn’t until my ingress that I’d discovered I’d actually made more than I had to to fill the space—by my calculations, I would’ve made just enough with about 2ft (less than1m) in between each piece. Well, maths was never my best class at school—but like I always say, better too much than too little. In any case, I hadn’t known that when I’d started out.
Once I’d figured out that 32 was the number of canvases I had to complete, I knew that doing them all in 7 months (April to October) was a tall order, even if I didn’t have a day job.
You know those old movies where there’s a train chase (not a car chase)? As in the steam kind where you need to shovel coals? And they need to go faster, so they get rid of everything on board to make the thing lighter and therefore go faster?
That’s kind of what I did—I tried to figure out every possible way I could go faster or give myself as much time for painting as possible.
In My Corner
This was from 'Horselords', the first show I did using just knives (also for speed reasons)
Now I did have quite a few advantages which I intended to make the most of—but even then as things turned out I was hard pressed to get everything done in time.
You know how art has been likened to a battle? Well, when you set out to win one it’s a matter of course to take stock of what you have going for you and what your liabilities are. If you have holes in your fortress walls, you seal them. If you know the bad guys are going to pull a knife, you carry a gun—and oh look, you happen to have an expert marksman on your team.
Obviously, this wasn’t my first rodeo and I had done shows using this technique before—I just hadn’t done this many in one go. I still had my knives and I still had paint and medium—and most importantly, I’d already thought about this.
Making a ‘bird show’ was something I had brewing on the back burner for quite a while. Having already had my ‘fish show’, my ‘bug show’ and one or two ‘horse shows’, I already had preliminary plans (not to mention the proposal I’d made), which meant I didn’t have to plan from scratch.
I also have to say that even while I did have a day job, that day job was work from home, which is a huge advantage. See, where I come from, you can literally spend an entire fourth of your day going to and from the office—that’s three hours going to and three hours to get back. That’s six hours of your life that could’ve been spent painting.
This was when the first batch of canvases for the show settled into the 'painting factory'
So obviously I didn’t come up with the number 32 randomly (albeit erroneously). The number could’ve been smaller but each canvas would’ve had to have been bigger, and bigger canvases would’ve needed more time (at least, considering what I had planned for them).
So if I had seven months that would’ve been approximately 210 days and 210 divided by 32 was less than 10 days each (6.5 to be exact). My largest canvas was 3x4ft (about 0.9 x 1.2m). Could I paint something that big in six days? It might’ve been nice to spend a nice leisurely month on each piece, or at least 2 or 3 weeks. Shyeah, right.
It’s funny how at the beginning of your months-long stretch people are like y u so stressed? It’s only April, or, we’re still in the middle of May. Your show’s not until November. LOL Well, maybe that’s because it’s been 14 days and I’m STILL not done with this piece and I’ve got 20+ canvases to go and I just can’t go any faster without ruining it. Capisce?
So obviously again, I didn’t have the luxury of having my trusty framer take an entire month or so to construct my canvas frames for me. To save time on that, I bought all my canvas pre-stretched.
I’d never done that before, because I’ve always had my canvases custom-made. Store-bought is way more expensive (more so if you don’t check out the price tags first //cry). And, if the store ain’t got the size you want, tough cookies. Plus, you have no control over how the canvases are primed. But that was a price I was willing to pay for that one month.
I also started working even before I had all my canvases (because I like to start work when I have all my stuff together) in March. I was hoping to save one or two weeks or that anything I was able to finish in March would lessen the number of pieces I’d have to make during those 210 days from April to October. (As it turned out, I only got one done, and it took 10 days.)
Painting is like ice skating:
Blades make you faster and more precise (and slip less ^0^)
And though I had originally hoped to have done this show in watercolour, one look at the size of the space was instant death to that idea—I’m slower on paper because of the detail I like to put in (especially when it comes to things like feathers) and just the framing would take at least a month.
Using brushes presented a similar predicament for me (because paper or canvas I can get reeeeally OC (obsessive compulsive), and I’ve never been fortunate in the drying time department when it came to oil painting. So palette knife painting in acrylic is usually my go-to choice when I need to be quicker on my feet.
Though all of the pieces in ‘Aviary’ are palette knife paintings, I did use a brush for glazing and for a few details such as chicken wire and feathers (but facial features and so on were all done with knives). Glazing did help make things faster for a few pieces but I also used it to keep or highlight the texture I’d created with the knives.
Other areas I tried to save time on were research and making studies. Now arguably, these parts of my process should take the most time, and I swear, if I had all the time in the world I would’ve spent at least six weeks or more on just these two preparatory stages. While I did have my preliminary plans, they weren’t specific nor definitive.
If I could’ve, I would’ve very much liked to have planned out, down to the last detail, each of the 32 canvases I made for the show. Looking back, it breaks my heart to think about how I rushed through this process, which is just as much fun as the actual painting, and to see how many species of birds I could’ve explored and had fun with. (Coulda. Shoulda. Woulda. Didn’t.)
But it didn’t work out that way, and I also would’ve very much liked to have taken my time to find and work with sitters. (As it was, a friend of mine sent a few of her photos and another friend of mine very kindly agreed to let me use a couple photos of her little girl).
In any case, I like to think I did the best I could under the circumstances, and I did make sure to at least make one thumb or study of each piece before I started painting it.
Basically what happened was I had like a ‘master list’ of concepts I wanted to express in each piece, and I ‘picked one off the list’ as I went along. (This was why I couldn’t prepare or send the captions for each piece for printing until all the pieces were done.)
32 may have been a lot more than I’ve ever done for a single show but these ‘master lists’ of mine are always a lot longer than the actual number of works and there are always a lot left over. (This sometimes leads to another show with a similar concept or theme.)
In any event, and by God’s grace, 'Aviary' has taken off, and will be on view until just before the month is up on the 29th.
You can click or tap here if you’d like to see a few more notes from ‘Aviary’, or here if you’d like a glimpse of how the show itself turned out. (Or here if you happen to be someone who had asked ‘what’s your process’ and I hadn’t answered that here for you (so sorry, and super thank you for your interest in my work).
I don't purport to know everything. Yet if the little I do know can be of any help, you are more than welcome to it.