Before & After: Succulent Wordplay
The word of the day is ALOE. Writ large, this piece of typographical garden art adds color and graphic punch to a cool, mostly neutral, vignette. A favorite vintage chair, a large glass bottle in a simpatico tone, some concrete and metal bits and bobs, and, of course, aloe blossoms, work perfectly with this easy paint project. This is one of two pieces I’m doing for sale at the upcoming Rancho Reubidoux Garden Bazaar (new date soon) and it’s a fun way to use canvases that’ve languished in the garage. Here’s the step-by-step:
For the ALOE piece I used a 20″ x 60″ pre-stretched canvas I already had (previously painted red), drawing a line down its vertical center (as seen here with the letters for the AGAVE piece). The letters are papier maché, 12″ tall, from Joanne’s Fabrics; less than $3-per on sale. I draw a vertical center line on each of them as well.
Using the line on the canvas as a guide, I place the letters and adhere them with a heavy duty white glue; I weigh them down and allow them to dry for several hours … I want to be sure they really get a grip on their new background.
Fully dried, I can begin the next step: Neutralizing, then texturizing, the canvas and letters by adding acrylic gesso. Gesso is a liquid primer medium that is terrific for adding texture, whether smooth or rough. It’s like plaster you can brush on. I love it as a rough base for my fine art paintings as it adds depth and surface interest; I expect it will do the same for this project.
I use a stiff, very loaded, brush to apply the gesso loosely all over the canvas and on each letter, making sure to get into all the nooks and crevices. Totally primed, the piece has a ghostly appearance with a pronounced brushstroke effect; I leave it to dry overnight. I want to be completely certain of the gesso’s dryness before adding the first color.
That first hue is a nut brown latex housepaint I dug up in the garden shed. Arbitrary? Maybe; but I think it will work well in the context of the piece since the color is warm, with an earthy glow. It’s easy to see in this photo how the gessoed brushstrokes inject an energy to the painted surface. I use the housepaint full-strength; I love how it collects in the striations in the gesso.
First coat: it’s such a warm day it only took an hour to dry completely. See all that loose, virtually accidental, and gorgeous texture? That’s exactly what I want … but the real color excitement is next.
Aloes are usually shades of blue, green and yellow, but I don’t want to go to those literal colors yet … instead I add a very bright, almost turquoise acylic paint. (As with the canvas and the housepaint, I had all acrylic paints on-hand already.) Again, I apply the paint full-strength, with a fully loaded brush. I brush it on in a random motion, sometimes with, sometimes against, the visible surface texture, letting the brush go almost dry before reloading with paint. By varying the pressure and wetness of the brush I can emphasize the textured surface. This first blue is almost a direct opposite to the orange-y brown base on the color wheel; this contrasting color relationship adds visual excitement.
It’s easy to see how the paint has collected in certain areas and how the nutty base color still shows through in spots. Satisfied, I allow the entire piece to dry again. Acrylics dry even faster than latex housepaint, so in a half-hour I can add the next colors … including more literal aloe shades.
A loosely-centered stripe of a lighter turquoise and a true green come next. I move very quickly, again allowing my brush to go almost completely dry as I move the colors into and across the surface; I allow the brush to catch on the edges of the letters here and there, too; this provides definition. The first (base) color is still evident, and this keeps the blues and greens from being static and one-note. After all, in nature aloes are far from a single color. I continue adding colors, allowing for some darker shades now … I do some painting, step back, look, then add other colors, turning the canvas to take in different views … By the time the piece feels finished I’ve used the following colors: nut brown, two versions of turquoise, a true green, a darker blue-green, a persimmon orange, purple, true blue and an oxblood red … then I decide to go glam up with the piece and add one more:
An iridescent, metallic gold. Why? Why not? Burnishing with gold adds emphasis to the letter forms as well as overall movement and shine … this sets off the cool blue tones of the piece and adds richness to the red/yellow ones.
I’m happy with this completed canvas and I think it could enjoy a place in a variety of garden settings; adding spice to a minimal corner, or injecting a contemporary element into a more traditional tableau. The AGAVE piece almost finished, and I’ve gone in different direction with it, eschewing expected color choices entirely. But, that’s another post; see you then!
NOTE: I enjoy having artwork outdoors but would probably want to display this one as here, under an eave. For added protection from the elements, I might brush on several coats of either a matte or shiny acrylic varnish.