Scott Bodenner on Recycled Synthetic Canvas

Scott Bodenner is a gifted textile designer, polymath, and friend. He trained as a hand weaver, with a degree from RISD and early on-the-job experience with a German textile mill. He has a unique perspective on industrial mill capabilities and limitations, to which he brings a deeply held concern for recycling. One of his favorite books is Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change .

I am lucky to have had the chance to work with Scott to produce a custom bolt of synthetic artist’s canvas using recycled polymer. I recently sat down with Scott to talk about that project and ask the questions that a painter might have for a textile savant.

Continue reading about manufacturing recycled synthetic artist canvas…


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Jerry Saltz edits artist statements on Facebook

Jerry Saltz edits artist statements on FacebookJerrySaltz-fbprofile-photo. You will need a Facebook account to read the thread.

Mr. Saltz is a professional critic– he knows how to use words to set a fire. But still, his experiment with Facebook is provocative, and maybe even virtuosic. Under his guidance, critical discourse and a critical mass of interested participants are pushing Facebook up against its own technical limits. When Saltz invited artists to post statements about their work in the comments for some interactive editing, over one thousand comments resulted, which had to be spread out over seven threads to prevent automatic “deletions”! The result is a new media epic and admittedly quite a bit to wade through. But if you have ever had to write or edit one of these statements, it is a priceless read.

Saltz coaches the writer to treat the statement as a question of life or death, referring frequently to the riddle of the Sphinx. Here’s a little bit of his coaching style, in all caps:

NOW, [writer’s name] DEAR, STAND BEFORE THE SPHINX; A STORM MORE HORRIBLE THAN THE WORST FEARS OF THE WORST DARK NIGHT OF THE WORST SOUL WILL COME OVER YOU; IN WAVES IT WILL WASH OVER YOU. TELL US WHAT THE SPHINX ASKED YOU. NO HURRY. IF YOU DO NOT RETURN IN 40 YEARS WE WILL SEND LAWYERS, GUNS, AND MONEY.
REMEMBER, WE WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU.
I ONLY NEED FOUR HONEST SENTENCES ABOUT YOUR WORK. FOUR.

The quote comes from the December 25th, 3:59 PM comment on the thread titled Repost II: An experiment. An amazing Christmas gift!

On Bob Ross and Screen Resolution

Admittedly, there is some irony when a painter who was “raised without television” has something to say about Bob Ross. But the television painting programs that I did see as a child certainly made an impression. I know I saw Bob Ross programs a few times, and there was also something shown in elementary school called “Draw Man.” (I think that was what it was called — anybody remember that?) And then there was William Alexander. He was fascinating– that accent!

Funny to learn that he was actually Bob Ross’ teacher! (see Ross’ NYTimes.com obituary)

Fast forward to the current business of making very tactile paintings that probably get seen more often online than any other way. Getting comfortable with those low resolution images of Alexander’s painting-in-progress was training for accepting the compromise of presenting paintings on a computer screen.

Personally, I find myself pushing back against the compromises of screen resolution by making big, intricately textured paintings. The texture almost never shows up in reproduction. And scale is lost. In the end whatever I paint will need to translate at least somewhat if it is to find an audience, however. I am grateful for the discipline this contradiction provides for my painting practice. I wonder about previous generations of painters. How much was Monet pushing back against photography as impressionism developed? When did he first see a photograph of one of his own paintings?

What about the relationship between the low resolution of the TV screen and the greatly simplified compositions chosen by the TV teachers. How much is their speedy, broad-brushed stylization a precursor to the sort of simplified painting seen frequently today? Does the computer screen perpetuate a specific contemporary style of painting?

Handprint

handprintlogo One of the first really exciting painting resources I remember discovering online was Bruce MacEvoy’s website handprint. When I was actively engaging with my limitations as a watercolor painter several years ago, his comprehensive section on the medium was invaluable. Lately, I have been enjoying exploring the newer section on color vision. Mr. MacEvoy presents his subject matter with clarity and depth. Both sections include extensive references to other valuable books and websites. If you have time for nothing else, take a quick look around the page on watercolor books, which are logically organized and presented with insightful summaries. The only danger– you might end up with a pretty long wish list for your own library!

Re-learning how to stretch canvas

After switching to heavy pre-primed linen several years ago, stretching new canvases (usually one of my favorite studio jobs) became difficult. I was getting little sags at the corners that refused to go away, sometimes even after attempts at re-stretching. And when things did go well the amount of effort required with my standard canvas pliers was almost brutal. After several exhausting sessions resulting in sore fingers and disenchanted studio assistants, I went looking for a better way. To my surprise, I found out that this humble part of the studio practice is being revolutionized.

First, I found this:

That’s a canvas stretching machine in action. This is just one of several different models, all working on basically the same principle, and for the same end. That end is stretching ink-jet art that has been printed on canvas. Although there is something a little bit sinister (from a painter’s perspective) about all that machine-printed canvas being framed up out there, this sure looks easier than what I was doing.

Of course, it would be hard to reconcile the $4000-$8000 price tag with the light volume of stretching I require, and finding room for more equipment would be a problem. So.

Then I happened upon an article in the Golden Paint Company’s newsletter titled A Remarkable Way to Stretch Canvases. In the article, San Francisco based conservator James Bernstein describes how the procedure traditionally taught in art schools gets the business of stretching a canvas almost backwards. The simple but radical change that Bernstein suggests is that stretching be done starting from the corners of the canvas and proceeding towards the middle, rather than tacking the middle and then working outward as is traditionally done. Here’s an example of the old way on the Daniel Smith website. The explanation in the Bernstein article is very clear, so give it a read.

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The article goes on to explain how results can be improved further by using tacks to attach the canvas while you even out the tension. Bernstein suggests waiting a day or so while the canvas adjusts to the tension before doing the final stapling. This really works great. As noted in the article, the quality of tacks makes a big difference. Go buy yourself some new ones– you will want them to be sharp and strong. Look for tacks with aluminum heads and steel points.

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You will also need gloves that protect your fingers while still allowing you to handle the tacks. The nitrile-coated, knit-type of glove worked well for me, and they are cheap and easy to find.

Following Berstein’s hint, I also went looking for a better pair of canvas pliers. I had tried pretty much everything available at the art store, including a pair of  expensive Holbein’s loaned by a friend. Poking around Google eventually brought me to the modified pliers sold by Twin Brooks Stretchers. These heavy-duty pliers have the advantage of compound leverage. Where most art store pliers have one pivot bolt, these have four. This means that less squeezing is necessary to keep the canvas from slipping. The sharp, welded-on leverage bar works well. In fact the problem–if you want to call it that–is that these pliers are strong enough to damage either the canvas or stretcher bars if used carelessly! Similar pliers are also available from John Annesley in San Francisco, who offers several different styles aimed at different stretching problems. I have found that the standard version offered by Twin Brooks works well for stretching the five and six-foot canvases that I favor, and I liked working with a relatively local company.

71Dq3P4xRGL._SY450_The final element in the canvas stretching revolution was the purchase of a simple digital thermometer/hygrometer for the studio. As Berstein explains in a separate Golden Paint Company information sheet titled Environmental Conditions for Successful Canvas Stretching observing the current conditions in the studio and timing your efforts accordingly can save headaches down the road. Although the relationship between temperature and humidity and canvas tension is complex, Bernstein points out that canvas will generally be more pliable at higher temperatures. The information sheet packaged with the Claessens linen I have used suggests stretching at low ambient humidity. Happily, that combination is easy enough to achieve in a dry, mid-winter Brooklyn studio by simply cranking up the heat. It will be interesting to see the difference when the next batch of new canvases gets stretched under more humid conditions later this year.

Here’s a photo of  the Twin Brooks stretching pliers in action, re-stretching an in-progress canvas using Berstein’s method, observation of environmental conditions, and tacks:

re-stretching canvas