Back in February I was honored to be chosen to participate in The Bernice Garden’s ‘Eyes are are the Windows’ art show. I was then given an old window, the theme 'eyes are the windows to the soul’, and the freedom to do with it as I please.
I started out by trying to develop the imagery and composition of the piece. I had a vague inkling of what I wanted but not sure in what capacity. I kept picturing a woman holding flowers while looking up towards heaven. The woman representing the soul and the flowers representing our life on earth. She looks towards heaven and is drawn towards her Creator.
As I was drawing various rough sketches, there was a quiet yet constant voice telling me that I had already created the drawing I would need for this piece. I ignored it and kept sketching as I couldn’t think of anything I’d drawn recently that actually fit with what I wanted. After a few hours of frustration at my inability to produce any satisfying ideas I finally stopped.
That nagging feeling hadn’t gone anywhere so I decided to go searching in my sketchbooks for anything I could use. Sure enough, I found it. When I had finished this drawing in January, I couldn’t figure out how to progress with the painting so I put it to the side and completely forgot about it. Looking at it again, I realized that it was exactly what I needed for this project. All I had to do was add the shading and details and I was ready to get this project going. In the end, this whole experience affirmed in me my need to open myself up to God’s leading and inspiration throughout the creative process. I find it uplifting to know that the ultimate Creator wants to be involved in our creative pursuits. After all, we create because God first created us.
I brought the 2x2’ single pane window to my incredibly skillful Dad who helped remove the old glazing, replace the cracked glass, and reinforce the structural integrity of the old wooden framing. I reglazed it myself and set about turning the window into a watercolor painting.
A few months before, I had gotten my hands on some Daniel Smith Watercolor Ground . This stuff can be applied to multiple surfaces like wood, stone, metal and glass, and create an absorbent surface similar to cold press watercolor paper. At the time, I got it out of curiosity but had no real plans on what to do with it. Now I had the perfect surface to utilize it on. Click the image to the left to check the stuff out for yourself or get some from Amazon. I’m not sponsored or anything, I just think this stuff is pretty cool.
Due to the transparent nature of the glass, I applied a number of layers to the window to build up a solid paint surface. It took me quite awhile to build up the layers as each one takes 24 hours to dry and cure. I experimented with both a wide, flat synthetic brush and a sponge brush and felt the sponge brush created a less textured surface. It still wasn’t perfect so next time I might try a foam roller and see how it does. I enlarged and printed the drawing out and transferred it to the window surface using an old trick I picked up in high school. Basically, covering the back of the paper in chalk, taping it down, and tracing over it with a dull pencil. I then retraced it and shaded the line art with a mahogany Prisma colored pencil. Due to the size of the piece and the texture of the surface of the watercolor ground, I ended up tearing through 4 full colored pencils throughout this whole project.
I started painting by adding washes of color to the background and figure, then I added details throughout. The biggest challenged I faced was the way the watercolor paints reactivated on the watercolor ground surface. So layering watercolors on top of each other proved to be a wee bit difficult. I’m not sure if this was due to user error or the limitations of the watercolor ground. I’m interested to work with this material some more to find out.
The real fun came with applying the gold leaf to the background. I had never worked with gold leaf in this capacity before; mostly just a few craft projects here and there. I first attempted to lay the sheets down side by side but it created seams between each sheet. I actually liked the look (it reminded me of the work of Makoto Fujimura) but I didn’t feel like it worked with this particular piece. I ended up adding a second layer of gold leaf flakes, hand torn by yours truly. For a few days it looked like a blinged out fairy had had a dance party in my studio. I was much happier with the look and texture of the gold leaf after this second layer.
The rest of the process was adding painted details, retracing pencil lines, touching up the shading, and adding and tweaking gold leaf elements. The finishing touch was adding multiple layers of spray varnish.
I am incredibly happy with the end result and I am beyond grateful for the opportunity the Bernice Garden gave me to go beyond my comfort level for this piece. It’s the biggest watercolor painting I’ve worked on (2x2 ft) and I got to experiment with new materials like the watercolor ground and the gold leaf. I was able to give an old window new life and I am excited to see it on display at the Bernice Garden show on June. 15th.