I once had a professor tell me that an artist who made a painting
to fit a space in the home décor or to “go with the sofa” was the
worse kind of prostitute and no kind of artist.   This painting came
to be with all these less than inspired intentions my professor
had condemned.  

I was once an activities director for a large apartment complex
situated in a lovely park-like environment.  It was built back when
contractors left all the beautiful old trees standing rather than
the less expensive method of clear cutting the whole site.  The
grounds had also been further enhanced by additional
landscaping with many ornamental trees and plantings.  The
whole property backed up against a wooded area with a creek
meandering through it and had every kind of visiting wildlife.  
During my time working with this apartment community I
organized a Christmas party for the residents with a theme that
celebrated the wonderful natural surroundings as well as
depicting animals and plants that could be found there.    
I made this painting to fit that theme and to cover a modern
textile wall hanging that simply didn’t go with the theme or the
season but was permanently affixed to the wall.   To do this I
stretched unfinished canvas over a 2" deep frame so that it fit
over the entire tapestry.  Then I took one of my favorite
Christmas cards that measured 5” x 7” and blew it up to make
this 5' 8" x 4’2” painting.  As you can see the original background
was done in rather sepia or muddy tones of beiges and grays.  I
changed the background to more intense blues and grays for
more dramatic effect and yes… to better match the room's
interior décor.
 
I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of the decorated party room.  The
room itself was in a rather modern new building with a high
vaulted wood beamed ceiling.  It had long glass windows on 2
sides looking out on the woodlands and a big gas burning
fireplace with a large wall above it, all  reminiscent of a ski
chalet.  Besides this painting which was a focal point, I cut a 12
foot branch cut from the woods and installed it in the corner
next to the painting.  I sprayed it with white paint for a frosted
effect and hung lights, birds, snowflakes and icicles from its
many intricate branches.  I made a large vine wreath to hang
over the fireplace wall with vines I actually pulled down from the
trees behind the property and hand painted a plaster squirrel
figure that sat on a counter among pine, holly, acorns and pine
cones.  On the opposite side of the room from the painting and
branch was a lovely large Christmas tree surrounded by
windows.  It was quite a Christmas wonderland once the beams
were swagged with evergreen roping and red bows.  
So with apologies to my professor for being no kind of artist and
prostituting my artistic talents, I made this painting in a weekend
to solve a decorating problem.  

If I had a choice I may not have made the painting as big but its
rather large size was dictated by the tapestry it was made to
cover.  Beside the size I had the depth problem.  The existing
textile was close to 2" thick so I had to stretch the canvas over
stretcher strips I made from 1" x  2" pine
planks.     

Usually when tinkerers decide to try their hand at painting, they
leave canvas preparation to the art store using a canvas board
or a prepared pre-streched canvas that is coated and ready for
paint.  If you can't find the prepared canvas in the size you want
the art supply store sells pre-cut mitered stretcher strips in all
lengths that fit together via tongue and groove.  They are 2 - 2
1/2" in width and 3/4" in thickness.  Once you tack the strips
together in the size you want you are still left to stretch canvas
and pre-coat it.  Because this project required the extra depth I
had to make my own.  

When you buy cheap pine board for a project there is another
problem.  Often they are not cut straight or are warped or both.  
To avoid this you need to spend a great deal of time going
though dozens of boards dragging them out of the bin and
laying them on the store's floor to select the straightest ones
available.  The truth is this painting was warped and bowed on
one long side from the first day and only the frame covers the
fact.  Also if you ever have to make a painting this large you
need to support your strips with extra cross supports.  
Regardless of the size you choose you don't want to stretch your
canvas too tightly or it will bow.  

To blow up the originaI picture to the size I needed, I used the
simple grid method of transfer.  This is done by drawing a cross
from corner to corner to find the true center and then carefully
measuring and drawing a series of lines dividing your sketch
into a 16 box grid.  All boxes must of course be equal in size.  
Then you draw the same grid onto your canvas.  After that you
draw in the contents of all 16 boxes of the original into the
corresponding box on your canvas.  I mounted the greeting card
I used onto a sturdy piece of cardboard and taped a transparent
piece of acrylic sheeting over it and drew my lines on the plastic
with a Sharpy permanent marker.  In this way I had my grid and
protected the original at the same time.   To give you some idea
of the change in scale the Cardinal on the card measures 1 1/2"
from the point of his crest to the tip of his tail while in the
painting he measures 19".
First I prepared my painting surface by applying several coats of
plain white latex paint as opposed to the more expensive
gesso.  I carefully measured and masked off the matte area with
tape and applied the “wash” to the entire background.  Actually
it is not a  “wash” at all which by its name implies a wet
watercolor type of application.  I suspect the artist of the original
work used a wet wash.  I used a dry wash method or a scumbling
or scrubbing technique which is simply blending paints on the
canvas and feathering the colors into each other with a broad
dry brush.   If, as I did, you use acrylic paint you will have to work
quickly since you are using so little paint in this process and
drying time is so short.  If things get too dry before you achieve
the effect you want you can extend your work time a bit by
wetting your brush .  After I was satisfied with the background, I
let it dry thoroughly.  If you are in a hurry a blow dryer works well
to speed up the process.  Then it was only a matter of drawing
on and painting the weeds, bird and snow.  I used a white chalk
pencil to draw the grid and contents on the background, not
only so all my lines were clearly visible but also they could be
easily sponged away after the painting was finished.
  
The frame for this painting is made from eight 1”x 2” pine
strips.  I cut four 2” strips to fit around the stretcher strips
making another box to achieve the depth I needed and then
miter cut 4 more strips to make a flat frame which I nailed on top
of the first 4.  
While this painting may not have been born out of artistic
inspiration but was merely necessity, it still turned out to be
effective and had its moment to shine during that Christmas
season.  For the four years I managed a senior apartment
building it hung in the lobby.  Now it hangs on the back
bedroom wall in my mother’s apartment.  It faces the door and
can be seen all the way down the long hall as soon as one
enters into the living/dinning room some 38ft away.  Few
smaller paintings or prints can even be seen, let alone
appreciated from that distance while this one actually benefits
from it.  
I hope this project motivates my reader to paint.  You might be
surprised at the result as I was from this effort.  Painting is not
my strongest artistic suit.  I do become inspired and love
watching the reruns of the dear departed Bob Ross’s “The Joy
of Painting”.  I dare say I’ve learned more about painting from
his 25-minute episodes than any art teacher I’ve ever studied
with.  I am totally amazed that he could execute a finished
painting in such a short period of time and more amazed that he
made up the subject out of nothing but his imagination.  Do you
remember his saying in that soft low voice of his… “I think in my
world there is a happy little tree living here or a creek or house
or cloud “ or whatever and he merrily painted from that happy
little world he lived in?  
 
Believe me… in all the years of study with this or that art
teacher.. or in this or that school I never progressed except on
my own.  I came out of school with the same limited talents and
abilities I went in with.  Back then we were never allowed to
even think about where we were going to go with our art and
even the mention of anything that smacked of “commercial” art
was frowned upon.  After all, I was told by my professors, "I was
at a liberal arts college and not an art or trade school".  No
wonder “starving artists” became such a well know idiom.  

Now I create what I want… tinkering at what I want and at what
interests me and try to please myself with the results.
 
The frame slips over the painting but is not affixed to it so that it
can be easily removed for transport.  All the cutting I talk about
here was done with a hand saw.  I have since bought a jig saw
which would obviously have made this project easier and more
precise.
5' 8" x 4’2”
5” x 7”
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