“Out to Sea”: Creating a Painting with Assemblage

“Out to Sea” was an experimental piece of artwork. The beauty of nature is what inspires me to paint, but I thought for a change I’d attempt to illustrate humanity’s precarious relationship with the natural world, and how our carelessness, greed, or reckless behavior can destroy life and beauty. This is the first piece in an in depth study of this sort of subject matter. The following is a bit of my thought processes and techniques of this new medium I discovered.

After hearing how the plastics we were sending overseas for “recycling” were being dumped into the waterways, I knew I wanted to create a piece about the plastics polluting our oceans. I started planning a limited palette watercolor painting featuring plastic milk jugs and a disposable water bottle along with some sea life. I collected plastic milk jugs for my reference material and began my painting. I sketched in my design and began laying in the initial washes. Everything was going fine, but the painting just was not speaking to me. I left it for awhile and walked away, ruminating how I could make it different.

Then I had an idea! A Max Ernst piece (Two Children are Threatened by a Nightingale), which combined painting and wood elements, gave me the idea to combine acrylic painting with 3-Dimensional objects. Why not use my subject matter as part of my painting? The next painting session I spent cutting up my jug and trying out ways to arrange it on canvas. Two jugs later I had my composition. I cut one in half vertically and used the bottom half of the other. I glued them onto the canvas using E6000, the strongest glue I knew existed.

Then I had a problem. How was I going to make the plastic look like it’s floating in water? I remembered seeing wire mesh, so I purchased Amaco WireForm® contour mesh and had it shipped to my door. (I have three young children, so I don’t have time to run to the store.) Using the wire mesh, I “sculpted” wave-like forms around the bottles and pinned the mesh onto the back of the frame. Then I took heavy gesso and coated the wire mesh. I let this dry overnight before spreading on another layer of gesso with a palette knife. During the second coat of gesso, I sculpted ridges and swells to make the sculpture seem more wave-like.

After this second coat of gesso, I could paint the seascape. I worked the painting dark to light, like I would any other acrylic painting. When I felt I was nearing the completion of the painting, I mixed gel and white paint together to paint the foam on the crests of the waves using a palette knife. I’m pretty happy with the result of this little experiment and am in the process of trying a new composition. I’m using the wire mesh again but this time added papier maché to the outside of the wire mesh before I gessoed it. I hope to share that one with you when I am finished.

Although this new process has been exciting and challenging, beauty and symbolism keep calling to me. We’ll have to wait and see how these various themes all end up working together.

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