The Evolution of a Painting

I am fascinated with the in-progress state of paintings.  Seeing how a blank canvas develops with its structure, colors, and details into its final form is intriguing and revealing.  Most people who do not practice art do not realize the amount of thought and effort that goes into creating each piece.  Observing the progress and the process can reveal some of that effort.  

I find I am most productive when I can work on multiple paintings at once.  Every stage of the painting process requires thought and consideration.  Every brush stroke is a decision.  Some of these decisions are easier to arrive at than others.  But when I am not sure what avenue to pursue with one painting, I can switch focus to another.

In my current body of work, I typically start with a fragmented 3D printed support as the subject for the first layer of my paintings.  In the process of 3D printing, if there are negative spaces in the model being printed, the 3D printer creates randomly generated support material as it cannot print on thin air.  Once the print job is complete, these are intended to be broken off and discarded.  When I choose which one of these or combination of these tiny fragments with which to start, I choose ones whose form I find interesting and ones that seem to fit the canvas before me.  Once this base layer is done, I will typically incorporate color fields from broken videos and more 3D printed fragments.

Every subsequent layer becomes harder and harder to choose and place.  What is going to engender visual intrigue and meaning?  What is going to add depth?  What is going to create dimension and space?  What is going to keep the viewer’s eye moving across the canvas and in and out between the layers?  What is going to create and contribute to the conversation of the piece in its parts and as its whole?

Since every layer and addition to a work requires more and more consideration, there are times I get stuck and do not know what to do next.  When I have multiple paintings on which I can work, I find that the thought processes I have for one piece contribute to my breakthroughs or decisions to take risks on other paintings.  Or that the new elements I consider to introduce to one painting are better suited to another.

As I discussed in my very first post for this blog, the artistic practice is an intellectual, investigatory one akin to scientific methods.  Artists are not simply struck with creative inspiration.  We may respond to intuitions that we may not be able to verbalize, but we still explore and experiment to come at truths and new understandings.


First layer of my most recently finished painting, depicting a 3D printed fragment from a failed print.  Oil on Canvas.  8″ x 14″  Catherine Harlow
Second layer complete. Color fields from a broken video overlaid.  Oil on Canvas.  8″ x 14″  Catherine Harlow
Third layer in progress.  More details from broken video.  Oil on Canvas.  8″ x 14″  Catherine Harlow
Third layer complete.  Oil on Canvas.  8″ x 14″  Catherine Harlow.  For completed piece, see the featured image of this post.

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