Painting Process 'Ever Wing'

'Ever Wing'

This commissioned painting was for someone who started collecting my work from early on, before I was full-time as an artist. 

I thought this would be a good opportunity to detail the process and what goes into into a work. 


'Ever Wing' 48 x 36" acrylic on canvas, Cody Rutty    2017

Below is a sketch before painting.

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It took a long time to wade through thoughts on where to begin. I thought of wings. I saw them as monolithic, detached wings on an island, alive. I saw an invasion, and one wing of the two raised into the sky as a beacon, while the other served to confront trespass. I know very little about this place I saw, so the only way to know it and its own distance from things was to begin work.

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This is the canvas. It is 48 x 36" and has some history itself. It's been with me for about 5 years, leaning against this wall and that, moving in and moving out of places. The surface is latex paint, beneath which is a layer of paper bonded to the canvas with acrylic medium. It's kind of a long story how those things got on there. It was the perfect canvas for this, for, before it ever became a painting, this canvas had long stretches of listlessness. It's always a little different starting on something like this in contrast to something newly built or unwrapped. 

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When I originally applied the latex atop the paper and it was wet, there happened sgraffito marks along the bottom in script as well as rising lines. 

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This is where I started, with a paint pen, to begin opening the chart. This stage reminds me of running. It involves speed and a mix of precision as well as disregard for both. 

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Here you can see some of the textural qualities of the painting. When the pen hits these it makes for a level of unpredictability which will come into play later. Below is another detail of the writing.

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Below is what I'd consider the first stage of drawing. It has a stew  of black and white. Some mirror, while some lines contradict. In some spots color punctuates the otherwise neutral plane. I see these as seeds and they only come into play much later.

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Below, an angled shot of that stage of the drawing. 

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Below are some shots of how the drawing stages progressed. From here on out, the process of iterative abstraction takes hold. Some steps are marginally incremental and might be hard to notice. Generally the canvas gets global treatments, bits at a time. There is a tension between uniformity and variance; two much of either necessitates more of the other. This is the part where I like to lose control almost entirely. It's like a kite string that gets hotter as it slips faster from your grasp, and this is where things start to appear to me, not the other way around.

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After drawing reached a certain point at which it's still bendable and the density is about right for putting things over and under, I added color. This process is slower in both  tempo and how I'm operating in a physical sense. This stage involves a lot of standing back to evaluate what's happening locally and as a whole. For this piece, in experimental departure, I used vibrant, strong colors like blue, purple, red, yellow and pink. I knew these would change but for the moment they had complete control.

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The advance forward is incremental, but the following are images that each depict a discreet stage.

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After I felt color reached a certain point, glazing would follow: white glazes.

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Below is a detail of one of those glazing steps. Because I had used colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and an assortment of pens and paint to place color, the acrylic medium reacts differently with each one. This creates a variety of unexpected transition between faceted colors. The brush strokes also add an amount of visual information, at times resemblant of tiny pen marks, in which the brush drags pigment in paths.

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Below is a moment in which a horizon appeared and I had that impulse to stop. It's a strange feeling to have so early in the process and I would end up circling back to this feeling a few times:

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Below is how the canvas looked once the first full glaze was complete. It softened and dampened the relationship between line and color. Since the black lines were now subdued, this process would be repeated a few times in order to solidify the work. At this point I'm still in an anticipatory state. A lot of work goes into just getting to the point of anticipation as if it's where the painting can actually begin.

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Next you can see the new layers of black lines emerge on the subdued ground. This process is a mixture between the quick initial lines and the more methodical additive color process. Each new line has to relate to itself as well as its history, the 'ancestor' lines beneath. An unavoidable dialog forms between these layers. I guess to me it's like trying to add notes, it's very musical but visual. It's so cliche I just accept it. There's a level of syncopation, of meter, of rhyming and melody that happens. The lines are just time, their inflection points and creases and dots and circles are where a note happens, and they all have to work together in small groups, clusters, and as a whole, it is so random and deliberate, forgiving and exacting. I can do whatever I want but it has to fit the previous and next line, it can't just be me pounding away layers; it would quickly fall apart. And that does happen, it's an anything but perfect process if I'm to ascribe any kind of rule to it. But it can be fixed with adding finer waves onto the one that doesn't 'fit'. I can't well enough describe that space but it happens as long as I don't fight too hard. 

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Before long I really want to start bringing things out.

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Here is an intermediate stage (below) in which the relationship of lines start to embody what the piece is to become. 

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It is also at this point that I roll the global tube in scale and start enjoying the explorative process of starting to make inhabitants and microcosms in a sense. These may be the skins of creatures, or the books in a shelve. In a way they are all sharing common ground and mission, but it's not too clear to me where they'll look or how they'll relate. Any change made to one changes the next.

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Below is a detail of an event, and this kind of symbol or scene happens many times in this painting. These are everywhere we look everyday all around us but they happen in our heads! 

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After completely covering the plane with drawings, it's time to repeat the glaze process. Below are some pics during that stage when the acrylic medium still glistened. The process of drawing is, ultimately, endless. I abandon everything. There's an entire philosophy on lines that gets opened anytime I'm drawing them. Lines to me are the true building blocks of information- another time. 


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Next would come the first motions toward articulating the scene that would constitute the feel of the painting. Thus far it has receded deep into the canvas. A similar glazing process is used with thinned down black, blue, red and various mixtures of acrylic medium. This decision-making process is pretty slow-going, as the work underneath has to be considered. It's easy to blast over sections that weren't meant to be dissolved, by accident. I mean, there are accidents just waiting to happen from here on out. It's a mine field. So it's about at this point that I at least dig canals for the blood of the work to flow.  

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From here, the process expands in time and each change and stroke affect the next and the previous. It is iterative abstraction. One tiny black triangle informs the next decision of white glaze, a point of red dictates a spot of yellow to appear across the canvas to echo; the elements of classical design disappear. No longer are there colors or shapes. There are only the evolving points between them, those topologies, those spectrums of color, those congruencies or complements. Lines become the architectures in which these voices make their stand, and only see new creation in terms of small customizations, as an etching into a wall. Now it's a matter of developing something that makes sense with all these ingredients. it is a long road ahead with little certainty. A majority of the decisions feel weighted and careful, a deliberation judged by what's already there, and a battle by all to either be or not be supplanted; they vote and I just simply listen wishing I could be there.  

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Below is an example in which a dozen layers compose the world. Each one is discreet and competes in an historical sense while contributing its integral tempo and feel. 

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Finishing the painting: more accurately it slows to an imperceptible stop. There's a point at which adding anything brings you closer to the point at which adding anything would bring you backwards. You can't get too close, you have to be able to enter orbit around the work and not fall in or skip out. If I did it correctly, a viewer can really visit for a while and make their own orbit through the work, so if I start to feel that rhythm, I know it's time to start stopping. 

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Below, the finished painting. The title, 'Ever Wing', captures the idea that we must not forget our continual need to be poised for flight, and maintain that liberty. Even in the thickest or thinnest of times that life throws at us, we have that will and strength to launch upwards, alone, with others, with dreams and results. It is a perspective. And I like how it sounds. It sounds a little mystical and far away. We need our imaginations to navigate these times, and we need to be our own beacons at times, despite it all, but more importantly, for each other. 

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Cody Rutty