Unsettled in the Studio


About ten days ago I decided to pull out several of these poorly gessoed boards, each about 8″ x 10″. I did them in a hurry quite a while back just to use up some newly mixed gesso made from rabbit skin glue and french chalk. I was thinking I could sand them to perfection later and then use them for the intended purpose of egg tempera painting. But in all honesty they were pitiful and look more like plaster boards or scraps of drywall with the paper peeled away.

I thought of a student in Australia who made the most lovely watercolor on a plaster board. It was an image of herself as a child and would fit into a memory alter that she was making in my workshop. I will post the image I have of it below with apologies for the blurriness.


Beautiful isn’t it? Anyway the first one I attempted was the busy strokes of silver point. I was just drawing out of my head…trees are always a place to start for me. Something about the woods. Then the magical door going to who knows where. Maybe secret places.

In sanding the gessoed board with 400 grit sand paper before I started making the drawing, there appeared a weak spot right in the center of the panel. And the more I drew over it the more it chipped away. Then I put it away, but only for a few days. The above beautiful image made me think about watercoloring on the next panel.

I gathered bits and pieces from the studio and laid them out on my work table.


Then with watercolors and caran d’ ache crayons I made this painting. It was so soothing to be back doing something botanical in feel. I wanted to frame it in an 11″ x 14″ frame and mounted in into a box shape covered in what I thought was a nice background paper.


It took a day to get this all put together and then I did not like it, not at all. So cut a mat of off white that just covers over those rough edges and it looks so much better. I will do more like this one. It was too satisfying not to. You know how it is, the careful bleeding of colors that is immediately soaked up by the dry plaster like finish. I could have been a fresco painter in an earlier life.

Then I looked at the silver point forest and thought why not? I covered it in watercolors, then a bit of caran d’ ache to smooth out the color. Of course the silver all washed away but I just kept on adding and wiping. What I ended up with after painting, rubbing, painting and finally sanding is this.


There is something about this. The hole in the middle of the panel went all the way down to the board with all the “rough” treatment and the water mediums just washing it out bigger and bigger. I like how it is next to the window of the magic door. But I especially like how it feels like faded memories. The things that come back to us in a vague undefinable way. Those things as we age that become less clear but there somewhere. I like the image of this better than the piece itself.

And now I will pick out another of those boards that were covered with cloth and rabbit skin glue and then copious coats of hand made gesso in such a sloppy fashion. The surface is so dry and thirsty that it sucks the paint from the brush before I have much time to think. For now that is a good thing.