i am fascinated by shadow and light, and this translates into a lot of my work– my B&W and infrared photography, for instance, but also into my paintings and the like. for this reason i have always loved the look of scaffolding on a day with plenty of light, and i thought that one day i must “do” a painting with some scaffolding in it.

well, as they say, “be careful what you wish for”!! i hadn’t anticipated just how complex and full of hair-tearing that such an image might be. i was visiting a friend in mérida on the yucatan peninsula, when i came across these two guys plastering a wall– i took some photos of them, telling them i would “make them famous” some day, and had myself a real concrete design for a painting.

but golly gee– even the original sketch for the piece took me literally WEEKS– fortunately or not, i am a poor sketcher it would seem, sentenced to laboriously construct my designs like a regular fred flintstone at the bedrock prison quarries– it really drove me NUTS trying to bring all the lines to an approximation of where they belonged, to give a coherent image of what i saw– all those odd angles of things modulating the direction of the lines– i never realised it could be so difficult. however, i managed to plod on and get what i wanted in the end.

while i worked on this i was thinking of how to keep the scaffolding and its shadows apart, so i wouldn’t start painting one thinking it was the other. tonal progressions coursed through my mind, and finally i decided i wanted pretty much everything in the piece to be mixed with either green or blue. the only parts of the painting not so mixed are the sheets of plywood covering the window gaps. i used a lot of violet as we,, but not as obsessively as i have in other paintings.

the image began to form, but fuzzily and indistinctly– i was playing around with some brushstrokes i found interesting and somewhat “electric”– that is, they seemed to have a dynamic energy to them, “exciting” the idea in my mind. the tonal progressions flowed easily and rapidly, quickly covering the surface of the canvas and slowly solidifying the picture– it all seemed so easy and effortless, i got carried away by the flowering of this early stage of the piece.

i began to get inklings of what the final colors should be, and to slowly bring them into the piece, bit by bit. everything seemed certain and easy and to come out of me with sucha flow. more and more i began to experiment with different brushtrokes, as each separate one imparted its own energy, its own electricity to the canvas– and the image was getting more and more sharp and real– or as real as i was thinking it should be anyhow.

i filled the street with the new brushstroke, the building in the right background, the wall, the boards, pretty much everything got into this new scheme, except for the sidewalk and the sky, the latter of which i liked very much and thought was more or less finished. the image seemed to crackle with energy and a vivacious spirit– everything was going so very well.


the diving season had arrived in full force, and i was a diving fool– five and six days a week much of the time, my clients were experienced for the most part, and the dives long and full of wonderful sights. but all that nitrogen that slowly filled my cranium brought with it a price– very little in the way of being able to concentrate fully and utterly, to work on the painting. the few days i DID have off were spent doing some very mundane stuff– LAUNDRY for instance, a ubiquitous bane. or jewellery as well, i had orders and this work required less high brain activity, as i had done it so many times before. the season went on and on…..

finally it began to lessen a little bit, and i had time that might be spent upon the canvas…. but it had become a stranger to me, full of fears and the unknown– i had absolutely no idea where i had been with it, what i wanted to do with it, where it needed to go. it looked at me accusingly as i passed it by, doing this and that– ANYTHING but accept the risk of what i would have to do, to find a way into it again.

i took some time off and went to colorado and yellowstone, a couple of blogs for which i have already written.

when i came back i was determined to find my way again, and i went “on the hunt”– staring at it for long periods of time, trying to take it apart like a watch, to see what made it tick. i didn’t put any paint down for a long time, and the stuff i did do was at first not satisfactory. but it gave me an idea of where it did need to go, and so i finally one day began– hesitantly and fearfully, but i made myself do it.

it seemed to work, and the more i bent my attention to it the further into the piece i got once again. i discovered the tonal progressions i had been using. i did the first passes on the scaffolding and the two human figures. it wasn’t flowing quite like it had been in the early stages, but i gained more and more confidence in what i was doing as i went along– bumbling, stumbling and fumbling it moved, bringing me along in its magical torpid flow and giving me a zing!!

right from the beginning with this painting i had sketched in two bags of gravel in the right foreground, by the base of the scaffolding. i ended up deciding that they were extraneous and distracting detail, so i painted them out. this required my overpainting all the sidewalk by the right hand building, but it bore a silver lining– i could employ the brushstroke i was using in most of the rest of the piece, make it more a part of the overall image. it also made me realise that i was truly in synch with what i was doing.

then i went back to work on the scaffolding– it had just been roughly sketched in really. it may look like two, but there are actually eight or nine different colors in the scaffolding, not counting the originally sketched lines. sometimes it was tough– i had to work quickly, as the paint tended to dry quickly on the pallet, but also to be cognizant of which pieces overlapped which– fine tuned my concentration and, for the most part, it was successful. there were a couple times when i had to go “GRRR!!” and touch things up, but very little really– i was happily in the zone.

then all of a sudden it was over– i was finished it seemed. i signed and dated it and painted the sides of the frame to make them disappear and sat and thought about things.

i did this and that, little bits here and there, just “noodling” as i call it. but slowly i became aware that the sky, which i had always liked so very much, now seemed to lack something– “oomph” if you will, as everything else in the painting had caught that wonderful almost nervous energy. that phrase by the singer meatloaf came to mind– “everything louder than everything else!!”. i decided that a little bit of dark manganese blue might be just the thing to make it “lift off”, and so i put down a pass with that. it worked!! i was very happy with it, but a little voice in my head kept saying– “if that looks so good, wouldn’t MORE look even better?”. that’s when the fear set in good and strong– what if i was wrong? it would be too late to turn back. i wrestled back and forth, walking to and fro in front of the painting, and decided to do it. but exactly how dark? what brushstroke? WHICH BRUSH??

and so it was with much trepidation that i began putting more pigment down upon the canvas. it took all of about two minutes before i KNEW i had been right– this last pass with the manganese blue caused the sky to explode!! i began first chuckling to myself, then out and out LAUGHING while i almost THREW the paint down– in fact, i came damn close to actually CAPERING!! it was a dangerous moment. and then i was done. may i please present “los albañiles!!