Preparing for an International Art Contest

I’ve begun to paint a series of acrylic florals with the goal to enter in a Florals and Gardens international art competition, with an entry deadline of November 12, 2022.  I’ve wanted to enter this contest for decades and never had the nerve.

The first purpose of this series, is for me to refine how I want to paint larger-than-life flowers; at least for now. The second purpose is to have a collection of paintings from which I can choose the best for submission in the competition.

Why an international competition? Why not start with a small local contest and work my way up? There are several reasons.

  • Entering this competition is something I’ve dreamed of for decades, so just following through and entering will reap me benefits far beyond actually winning. Some people think I’m foolish, but I am not a fool. I know the odds of winning an international competition the first time out are slim. I will do my very best and hope for a prize, but the real prize is what I gain from following through on a dream.
  • When I give myself permission to do something I really throw myself at it. I don’t play small.
  • The bigger the test, the bigger the reward. Winning, or even being a runner up, would mean international recognition. That wouldn’t hurt launching a career.
  • It gives me a lot of focus in my practice (creating something I want to enter that I’m willing for the whole world to see) A little panic is good for my productivity.

So where am I now? At the beginning so, perhaps, this would be a good time to explain the process I’m using – at least for now. This is an exploratory project, remember?

I got the idea from the masterful watercolor artist Stephen Blackburn.  I liked the effect so I bought his video last year to learn his method and then adapted it to better reflect my style and materials; acrylic paint on canvas.   

I build up, and sand back, 5 layers of gesso on each canvas. This creates a very smooth surface that allows the paint to glide smoothly.  

To begin a specific piece, I work out several compositions in a sketchbook. Then I create a loose composition, actual size, on brown packing paper saved from shipments received. The pouring stages could change everything, but the loose composition gives me an idea where the different patterns and colors probably should go.

Next, I pour a pattern of frisket on the canvas to create motion throughout the piece. For anyone who doesn’t know, frisket (also called masking fluid) prevents the paint from adhering to the substrate. It is what watercolor artists use to preserve areas of white in their painting; such as clouds in a blue sky.

When that is dry, I pour diluted paints onto the canvas and work with gravity to spread and blend the colors approximately where I will need them. Frequently, I pour several coats, letting them dry completely in between.

When I’m satisfied with the pouring, I remove the masking fluid and decide on the final composition, based on what the pouring process has created.

Sometimes, I will cut out the focal shape(s) from my brown paper drawing and use the opening left in the paper to find the best flow of paint and pattern to help me decide on the placement of the main piece(s). I then use traditional brushwork to complete the painting.

I work on several pieces at a time and here are some of the starts I have going right now. I’m trying some things out on smaller canvases, but ultimately will go back to my usual 30” x 30” gallery wrap canvas. 

Paint poured and frisket removed for 12″ x 12″ painting of Canna flowers.
Paint poured, frisket removed, and canvas lightly sanded in preparation for painting of Sunflowers.

Something interesting happened here. I’d poured the frisket on this one months ago and wasn’t happy with it. It was all straight lines and big blobs. No movement, fluidity, or interest so I set it aside and forgot about it. This week I pulled it out and poured more frisket to, hopefully, improve the design. After I poured the paint the newly added frisket came off easily. The old frisket was difficult to remove and some didn’t come off at all. I thought I’d try some fine grit sandpaper to get it off. It worked. It also took off some of the thin layers of paint. I really like the distressed look it gave me. I’ll need to see how this works out. I may have just added another step to the process.

Detail from the Sunflower pour.

I think they are so pretty at this stage, but don’t look like they could ever become anything remotely representational.

I experimented here using paper as a substrate. Not crazy about working with paper so far. I tried something new with the background, and now I’ve begun the brush work on this yellow Peony. I think it is exciting when that lovely yellow, green, and white mess begins to look like a flower.

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