Police measure tire-tread marks to determine the rate of speed of a braking vehicle. Fingerprints, footprints in the snow, fossils, and paintings are all evidence of tracks and tread marks. The weight, direction, and character of the impressing tool ( brush, fingers, rag, blower, palette knife ) all can suggest more than the identity of the tool. They can suggest the quality and orientation of a motion, the quality of texture from hair to salt-marsh reeds, from eroded rock to shimmering water. The vocabulary of an artist’s marks can limit or unleash their creative expression. Nuances of pressure on a finger tip, a few strands of loose bristles, or the wrinkled corner of a rag can imply impressive levels of detail which are far beyond the ability of individual brush strokes. Examining a painting minutely like a detective at a crime scene helps decipher how effects were rendered. Learning how to paint requires learning how to detect and revive the touches of past masters. The artist should read their tracks and tread marks to deduce their methods. Here are examples of a variety of tools and their effects. I will use, fingers, paper towels, squeegees, and a range of flat synthetic wash brushes from 8″ to 1/2″ .
Example 1, a beach scene, was initially laid down with a 4″ flat stroking in a horizontal area of dark purple. Next, I surrounded this dark area with overlapping blended fields of lighter and complementary color with a 4″ flat. I cut a few light areas into the dark to suggest a connected pattern of beach umbrellas and beach goers. The last strokes I made were a series of vertical up-strokes gently dragging the light paint over the lower area of the dark violet. This blurs and dissolves edges in a unitary direction which can suggest a variety of narrative possibilities. Notice these last upward tracks of brush strokes run perpendicular to the sum of the dark forms. Tracing the brush tracks is uncomplicated here.
Example 1. blurred beach, oil on aluminum.
Examples 2 and 3 offer a more complicated patterns for tracking paint marks. Example two shows the laying in of the initial color. There are many perpendicular verticals and horizontals surrounding a small pool of light. In example 3 you see the sum of many strokes overlaying one another. Horizontals now overlay verticals while these are incised with a few curved, quick light squeegee strokes. I also use the squeegee strokes to delete areas of paint to reveal larger shapes in the lower area of the painting. The aggregation of layers of different brush tracks (left by large flat brushes as I vibrate a texture across the surface and, shift to smaller flats to deposit a finer and more pixilated texture) creates a visual field in which the viewer can hypothesize a variegated pond surface.
example 2.step one, laying in, oil on aluminum, 36×36.
example 3.step two, aggregating track patterns from various tools.
Examples 4 and 5 show the utility of a darker underpainting when laying down lighter colors with variegated textures. Example 4 presents step one. All of the painting at this stage is done with large 4″ and 8″ flats blending color complements and complementary values against one another. Example 5 exhibits the effects of further layering but, with drier paint. The drier paint leaves more distinctive articulations (tread marks) than wetter paint which is more suitable for blending. I only used flat brushes from 1″ to 8″ with some ragging touches with paper toweling.
example 4 step one, oil, 36×36.
example 5 step two, more layers, more variety of tracks.
The following examples take us inside New York’s Grand Central Station. In all of the following examples I begin with color complements and blended brushwork. In example 6 I keep the brushwork blended with only an occasional use of my index finger and finger nail to outline a portion of a figure or architectural edge. The violet and yellow areas remain discrete to reinforce the effects of simultaneous contrast.
example 6. oil on canvas, 36×36.
Examples 6,7,8 and 9 present the sequence of a painting from the initial (brushed) complementary color lay-in. Later I will apply squeegee effects. I will often lightly brush over the squeegee effects to have them harmonize with the surface textures. The squeegee marks are still discernible except they have acquired blurred and smoothed edges. If a squeegee mark is initially laid down vertically then, I often later blur with a horizontal brushstroke. You can find evidence of this in the examples.
Example 6 again begins with a dark blue/violet and a light ochre yellow ( a renaissance color recipe) then, in example 7 the painting receives more reds, a greater variety of brush marks and subdued squeegee marks. The touch of a squeegee and its tracks are as variable as brushwork.
example 6. step one, oil on canvas,36×36 .
example 7. step two.
After the initial lay-in (example 8) the next examples demonstrate even more of the tread marks of the squeegee. Example 9 received a bath of light blue obscuring most of the blended figures seen in example 8. This bath of light blue was selectively deleted using squeegees then additionally blended.
example 8. pre squeegee, oil on aluminum,36×36.
example 9. post squeegee and blending.