I just checked my calendar and it’s been two years since I finished my last 18×24 inch acrylic on canvas painting. That is my last one before I finished one this week. It’s been a while. Since then I’ve made plenty of drawings, big ink drawings, marker drawings, art cards, faux comic book covers, watercolor drawings, and other things I can’t remember right now. But no acrylic paintings.

What is the difference between all that stuff and my acrylic paintings? Surface. That’s the difference between drawing and painting. When making a painting an artist has to decide what they are going to do with the surface. Acrylic and oil paint have a thickness. You can really pour it on and lay on a thick coat of paint or thin it out and make the surface as smooth as possible. Then there is all the stuff in between those two extremes. There are lots of decisions to be made about the surface of the paint as you work.

Even when I’m dealing with color in a gouache or watercolor painting I consider it closer to drawing than painting. That’s because there are almost no decisions to be made about the surface. Those mediums are thin and don’t hold brush strokes like oil and acrylic paint do. Their surface is all about what paper you choose rather than how the paint is put on the surface.

The painting I finished is called “Strange Character.” It started as a drawing in my ink book and then I made an ink drawing out of it. This past winter I went on a 6×9 inch ink drawing tear. I made about 45 of them from mid November until the end of January. I would blow up one of my small ink book sketches onto a 6×9 inch piece of Bristol board and then go at it with a brush or pen full of ink.

I got tired of making big ink drawings as I’ve been doing a lot of this year so I decided to look through my stack of 6×9 inch ink drawings to see if there was anything I wanted to make a painting out of. I settled on a drawing that was originally named “Horrible Character” but as I worked on the painting I changed the name. I didn’t think the person in the painting was horrible or had anything to do with horror. Instead he was strange.

I’ve been coming up with stories that go along with my drawings and paintings lately. They mostly take place in the Dreamworld. That’s the place on the edge of our knowledge and consciousness where lessons are learned through stories, feelings, metaphor, and images. There is a lot of stuff to be learned from the Dreamworld if we have the imagination to perceive it.

I start the painting by transferring the image to the canvas. I blow up the drawing on the computer, print it out on multiple piece of paper, tape the paper together, and transfer the drawing to the canvas using graphite paper. That’s wax paper with a thin layer of graphite on one side. Press down on the paper with a pencil and a line of graphite transfers to the canvas.

The next step is to draw the black line of the drawing in purple paint on the canvas. In the past I used to use black paint for this but in recent years I’ve used a dark purple. The purple is so dark it’s hard to tell it’s not black and it functions as black in the color scheme but I find it slightly more lively. I usually do this part as quickly as I can because unlike its ink drawing compatriot this line drawing in not the final line drawing. It’s just step one and there are plenty of steps to go.

Step two is to make a color sketch on the computer. I prefer to figure out what my colors are going to be before I hit the paint. That cut the mistakes down a whole lot.

Step three is to lay down all the basic colors on the canvas. I use the sketch as a guide and paint in the color where it needs to go. This step can take most of the day. This and the purple line step can be a bit of a chore. There aren’t a lot of creative decisions to be made but it’s laying the groundwork for all the creative stuff to come.

Step four is to go back into the line with more purple paint. This gets me almost to the final line. As the painting goes on there is still decisions to be made and touch ups to be done but it’s here that I’m really thinking about the final line. I work the line and the color shapes back and forth until I get the relationship between the positive and negative spaces created by the paint just how I want it.

An 18×24 inch painting takes around three days. Day one is working on the image, transferring it to canvas, and painting the purple line. Day two is putting in all the color and reworking the purple line. Day three is where the whole thing comes together. That’s when all the lines, blobs, and brush strokes full of color are put on. This takes a remarkable amount of time because there is a lot of looking at and contemplating the painting going on.

I almost always work standing up but at this stage I spend a lot of time sitting and distracting myself for a few minutes before glancing over at the painting. Somehow moving in and out of concentration helps me see the next bit of color I want to paint. It seems like an almost endless process at first but as the day goes on and I put on more and more paint my choices narrow. It’s when I finally see no more choices that the painting is finished.

“Strange Character” is a strange character because we’re not sure what he’s thinking. His thoughts appear to be obvious, at least for a moment, but are they? We just get a glimpse of his head with some type of phallic symbol comic out of his head. Or is it a rocket? Is he a unicorn? Is that a lipstick? What is he really trying to tell us about his thoughts? I don’t know. That’s what makes him so strange.

What really brought this painting together for me are the light blue marks on his face. Even with all the other marks and patterns of color in this painting something was missing for me. It just wasn’t lively enough. It was missing a certain dream-like quality. The light blue marks changes that for me. The color of them works well with the pink of his face and the line and “No pattern-pattern” makes a nice counterpoint to all the color patterns in the painting. I knew I had it figured out after I put those lines in.

After finishing this one I still have two more 18×24 inch canvases ready to go. I bought them back in 2018 and they’ve been sitting around since then. Let’s see what I can do with them.