How do they do it? - Christie Cramer

Art technique

It is a mystery isn't it? How does an artist take a blank canvas and turn it into something stunning? Well we all do it differently and not all of our blank canvases become stunning in a good way.  Christie Cramer has been good enough to share her process for her Positively Blooming series. Take it away Christie...

I’m often asked how I do what I do. It’s amazing how the brain works out its own rules and procedures for what we are doing, it can be hard to describe but here goes.

Photographs of something that has caught my eye are a good reference

I decide on the theme for the work and study my subjects to find the essence of what interests me about them. Form, shape, imperfections that make them what they are, the ‘feeling’ of them. Often my eye is initially caught by how the light works on them. There might be a tiny portion highlighted by the sun, that becomes my main focus for a work. Or an elegant turn of a stem may be the thing that makes me fall in love with a composition. These are the tiny glimpses that leave an impression on me and urge me to create.

Usually I make some sketches of the subjects to get the feel of them. I like my work to be fresh and immediate, not too particular and perfect. For me it’s always more about the feeling of the subject than a detailed and true representation.
I work with a very limited pallet, allowing extra colours to enter the work by the mixing of these initial ones. I do very little ‘paint mixing’, mostly all the colours are placed on the canvas in their pure state, the mixing happens when paints mix on the canvas. They combine again when layers of colour cover each other creating new colours in the glazing stage.

The Start!

They start loose!

The initial painting is very loose, actually throwing diluted paint onto the canvas and adding plenty of medium and some water to allow everything to become very fluid allowing colours to meet and mix freely. I sometimes lay things on top of the paint such as paper, plastic or anything that takes my fancy and might make interesting shapes or mixes… I like the idea that the work is taking shape by itself, giving the work an organic feel.  I make some conscious decisions in where the colours will go, but it is beyond my control exactly where they land and how they dry.

What Can I See?

Starting to show some of the finished form

I then look at what shapes I see and whether any of them will work with the subject I had in mind.  This is a tricky stage as sometimes I see something completely different and go back to step one. Most often I start to see a composition that pleases me and I can start to draw into the work.

My technique is similar to that used for watercolour, using the white of my canvas as the only white in the work, so it’s really important to ensure that the layers of glaze are kept light to allow the light to shine through them. Once I start to paint, I have to plan which subjects will stay at the front of the work and which will recede into the background. At each layer of glazing I stop and look at the effect this layer has had and whether more are required, what colours should be used next, does the background need more interest, should more drawing happen before the next layer, do the subjects in the foreground need more shaping, brightening, definition…

Is It Finished?

The finished work

Deciding when a work is finished can be difficult. Sometimes it is tempting to continue adding more and more depth, but I am getting better at judging when I am happy with the work, and saying. ‘It’s Done’. Mainly I need to feel that the colours are happy together, complimenting each other rather than competing. One of the last things I work on is shading, to bring a feeling of dimension to the work. I like the subjects to be defined but still feel a little mysterious. I think I have heard other artists describe it the same way… Once I no longer see anything that I am unhappy with I know that it is done.

Christie Cramer

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