Archive 2008 - 2019

The Creative Process

by Arlene Chaplin

Some artists maintain an air of mystery around their creative process. They choose not to explain their work, but rather to let it speak for itself. Others, such as those included in this series, are more inclined to share what inspires them and the details of their process.

In this series, presented in four parts, each artist selects a finished work and describes the process of creating that piece. All of the artists work in studios at the Holliston Mill.

Allegory of Oil                      12” x 12”                       2009

Oil, ash, asphaltum, and iridescent paint on board

I was fascinated by the strange and terrible images of fires on the Gulf of Mexico when BP clean-up crews were setting oil slicks on fire. Smoke columns rising up into the sky appear often in my work; they are markers of many modern disasters that populate the news in recent years. My process involves gathering materials and imagery that together embody the concepts I am exploring or visions that haunt my imagination. For this painting, I decided to use asphaltum as an appropriate material for visualizing a response to the BP disaster.

Asphaltum, also called bitumen, is an historic oil painting pigment often used in the 18th century for a warm, brown glaze. It is naturally occurring asphalt or tar: a heavy form of oil. It also never fully dries, and has destroyed many a painting through wrinkling, delaminating, cracking, and blackening. I wanted this painting to self-destruct, as I am fascinated by how our civilization, constructed of and powered by oil and coal, is self-immolating because of our reliance on fossil fuels. I also use ash as a pigment, both for its realism and for its symbolism. I had on hand a set of iridescent oil paints to use for the oil slick (which is hard to see in a photograph, unfortunately).

I searched for images of the disaster in print media and through online searches, locating several that spoke to me, such as the dead bird soaked in oil. I used them as references for a small drawing, combining elements from the photos into a composition that I liked, modifying, editing, and resizing as I went along. For a more involved and larger painting, I commonly make color photocopies of images (often my own photographs), resizing them as necessary to make a collage (a great way to compose a complex, realistic, but highly improbable image). I can then grid up from the collage to make a larger composition, using the collage as a reference as I work on the painting. I also often make models or use objects as reference, or to photograph for the collage. For this smaller painting, I was able to do more work in my head and transfer the image directly without undue distortion.

I used a white primed panel, transferring the drawing onto it using a fluid mixture of yellow ochre and titanium white paint and a small round brush. I then filled in an underpainting in full color, using elements such as value, color temperature, overlap, lost-and-found edges, atmospheric perspective, and opacity/transparency to establish a sense of deep space. I do not use odorless mineral spirits or turpentine, preferring beautiful and safe walnut oil as a brush rinse and soak, so the paint is not thinned for the underpainting, but rather scrubbed in thinly, making a “ghost” image. Over several sessions, a slow accretion of paint layers, brushwork, and careful blending built up a painting with realism and the illusion of space…because this is a small painting, I wanted to play with a sense of profound depth. I spent a great deal of time on the dead bird (all those feathers!). I used a medium (neo-megilp) and ash as a paint to add wispy grey edges to the smoke column, and iridescent paint to make the oil sheen and touches of glimmer on the water. After all was dry, I glazed the painting with transparent pigments, such as transparent gold ochre and ultramarine, and Galkyd SD as a glazing medium.
Dianna Vosburg, Holliston MA.

Studios are available for rent at the Holliston Mill. Call Nick (508) 395-5692