Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

This fence belonged to the motel where I stayed one week when I came back to Fort Bragg for a painting vacation. The Beachcomber Motel located on the bluffs at the mouth of Pudding Creek River overlooked the river and beach, the rocks and ocean, the trestle bridge, and the foggy trees on the bluffs that I painted so many times. The motel was also adjacent to the walking and bicycling path that ran for seven miles up the coast starting at the old railroad trestle that crossed over Pudding Creek. The path followed the railroad tracks that had been ripped out years before.
Standing there on this morning, on this side of the fence, looking between the fence boards, I saw the mouth of the river and the beach. I watched the river shimmering its way around the sandbar. A misty white-light haze hovered over the distant bluffs. A few rooftops of houses and buildings on the bluff shimmered here and there. The dark fence, a perfect foil, set off the magnificence of the light on the bluffs and houses. 
I liked the idea of looking over the jagged top of the fence and seeing a sliver of bluffs and buildings emerge from the white mist. The focus of this painting is ambiguous. You don’t really know whether to look at the fence or at the distant bluffs. I liked the push/pull effect of this ambiguity and the contrasting edge created by the dark fence against the light of the bluffs: the man-made structure juxtaposed against nature, one enhancing the other. That’s what caught my eye and inspired me to paint it.

6 Comments so far
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Susan, there are so many things I like about this post that it’s hard to know where to start.
I like the idea of painting and writing together. Your descriptive, poetic writing is a painting in another medium. As I read it I can visualize the path and the things that the painting does not include ~the things on the other side of the fence.
Then I look back at the painting, and it becomes even more meaningful. It would also be interesting to know how you used the watercolor and gesso together. Did you paint with watercolor first, or gesso first? Was the gesso wet when you applied the watercolor, or dry ? Either way, I like the creativity of painting and writing about the same subject. And, back to the painting itself, I love the way you painted the hazy mountains in the background, and the dark fence in the foreground. And the lovely sky. Good Job!

Comment by Jan W.

Hi Jan, thank you so much. Good questions!

Using the gesso was always a hit or miss project because if you used too much of it, the surface of the paper changed. It repelled the watermedia, much like yupo. This opened a piece up to a lot of other potential interesting textural possibilities, but at the time I didn’t want that to happen. I was also painting on printmaking paper which has soft a absorbent surface and could hold more layers of washes.

I think at the time I was using jars of colored acrylic gesso that I discovered at Utrecht Art Supplies. The medium came in basic colors like blue, red, yellow, brown, black and white. The colors were thick like cold butter. It’s main function was to prime the canvas surface. I mixed it with water and brushed it on with light to heavy washes. It dried permanent, so there was no going back or changing of anything! Just applying more washes. Keeping the medium thin allowed me to avoid changing the surface of the paper, so I could continue working on it without it becoming slick and hard.

Basically the misty background consists of thin layered washes of white gesso over the colors I painted for the cliffs and bluffs until I got the effect I wanted. I pushed this layering partly down between the fence boards. The river and beach below were painted quickly before the fence and then left alone. I figured you wouldn’t actually need detail in those areas because it was partly obscured by the fence. The fence stops the eye from looking down, and drew the eye up to the distant view. The fence colors were the last to be applied, using mixtures of browns and reds and black acrylic gesso.

Due to the nature of the black and white gesso, when you layer a wash of white over black it takes on a milky almost bluish coloring. If you layer a thin wash of black over white, it becomes a soft brownish color. These qualities add to the mist and to the “milky” quality of the painting surfaces from that time.

Comment by Susan Canavarro

Very interesting. I’ve only ever used white gesso, sometimes with charcoal mixed in. I’ll have to try the colored sometime.
Anyway, your painting is beautiful.

Comment by Jan W.

Thanks Jan.

Comment by Susan Canavarro

I love it !

Comment by gb

I do too. Wish I still owned it. It is a product of gesso and watercolor. Sometimes when I look at those paintings from that time, I can’t believe I did them, or even figure out how I did them!!
Thank you Grb

Comment by Susan Canavarro

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