A note about Pollock
It’s impossible, when talking about the techniques of drip or controlled pour painting, not to mention the influence of Jackson Pollock.
His work is as controversial now as it was fifty years ago. He had an astonishing impact on the art world at the time; his legacy and idolization shows little sign of receding to this day. He started this whole drip thing in the the late 40’s and early 50’s.
Yet whilst much is talked of the man and his paintings seldom is written about the actual process and techniques of drip painting and whilst I cannot put myself in his head I have studied his methodology with some detail and as a consequence I have experimented extensively with applying paint to canvas over the last few years.
I don’t base any of my paintings solely on his styles but I do use them as reference tool for paint layering and effects. Here is an insight into my own modified techniques, from my own perspective, which is in no way linked to (or copied from) anyone else’s style or work.
I lay a blank piece of canvas on the floor. At this point I know what colours I am using and the basic structure of what I want to produce. I can see very clearly what the finished article will look like. Right down to the sizes of the strokes, depth of colour, how many layers it will be composed of, how I’m going to thin the paints and in what order I will start.
I spend a long time mixing colours and even longer on the thinning process, using a number of different thinning agents and in different ratios of paint to thinners. This affects how the painting will look when it dries.
I use specially formulated enamel paints as I like the characteristics of them immensely. Having the correct balance of chemicals is crucial in order to get the effects I am looking for in my head. I have around 19 additives I can use at any given point.
I rarely use a paint brush – even for base coating. I prefer to use wallpaper smoothers as I get a better and more even finish. Plastic tumblers are used to decant the paints and for mixing the chemicals in.
I then use a series of smaller vessels for decanting further still as this helps me get a finer pour line as the vessel size decreases.
I have to make that decision on pour density and flow rates before I can commence painting. If a mix is too dense it will not come out fast enough; this causes issues with line wavering as the natural movements in my wrist cause it to deviate.
Too runny and it pools as soon as it hits the canvas. It is also less easy to control the thinner it is so getting the initial mix right is fundamental.
Pouring is exactly that – hold and tip, nice and simple. It helps to know how much paint you need for the effect you’re trying to achieve so the amount that’s initially dispensed will depend on this. I use a lot of return pours in my work.
By that I mean the amount of paint I have in the dispensing vessel to work outwardly from my body but leaving enough to come back through towards me again. This is how I get loops and tapered twists.
In addition it’s also very cool to add different paints to the same vessel but NOT to mix them. In turn each colour mixes with another (very slightly) as it’s poured and this can give an effect I call the ‘Candy Cane’ look. Mainly because that’s what it reminds me of.
Drip and drop application techniques
I use an array of wrist sweeps and movements both forwards and backwards in each stroke. This way I can control where the first wave of paint goes (typically 75% of the volume on the tool) and just as importantly apply the same principal on the way back with the remaining 25% of the paint.
Sometimes this is in the same direction as the first and sometimes it is in a different one. This helps me get a double sweep for every single application of movement (gesture).
I control the angle relative to the canvas, the sweep of the wrist, the height above the canvas (which varies greatly), volume of paint per gesture and where on the canvas the gesture is heading. I make decisions in a split second as to where the paint is to be placed relative to all the other paint on the canvas at that particular time.
I normally work quickly when I’ve got a single colour to apply as I like to keep the motion constant. It is typical for me to take long periods of contemplation between colour applications as I have to visualize what the next wave of gestures will need to be, based on what has gone before. I mainly use an arc movement in my wrist to apply the paint but also use drops, throws, half-arcs and full circles.
Once I have applied a layer of colour I choose whether to let it dry before applying the next or to carry on with the next colour depending on the effect I am trying to achieve.
The added benefit of waiting between layers is that I can decide on how far I should let the paint ‘skin’ over. This period is defined by how far I want the separation of applications to be defined.
If I want to mix then I wait for less time; more linear and singular applications will have longer times of rest in between.
As the painting dries it changes. This is a very cool thing as the painting takes on an organic tone – it grows and morphs into a single mass as it develops. I often sit back and watch as complex neural pathways and junctions form as the paint cures.
By carefully applying linear and balanced gestures I can create a complex layering of paint that forms interlacing sections.
Puddling, marbling, coagulation and rippling are ever present in my compositions, often only visible when you get up close and personal with the piece. I control as much as I can but there is always some kind of uncontrolled movement as the paint vapours evaporate.