Obstacle Course

Black, brown and orange drip painting.

Drawbacks in Creating a Simple Painting

Artists confront obstacles with each painting.  Here are a few examples.

“The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci delayed finishing “The Last Supper” because he struggled to find the perfect villainous face for Judas.

Salvador Dali claimed the idea for “Christ of Saint John on the Cross” came to him in a “cosmic dream.” 

“Christ of St. John on the Cross” by Salvador Dali

However, to bring his vision to life, Dali needed to find a model willing to hang face down, crucifixion style, from the studio ceiling.

“Riding with Death” by Jean-Michel Basquiat

To paint “Riding with Death,” Jean-Michel Basquiat had to pump the Grim Reaper full of tequila to convince him to pose nude.

For the drip painting in “The Artist MVT Discusses the Kafka-Landscaping Paintings,” I faced neither creative nor personnel obstacles.  My challenges laid in space, climate and my ignorance of paint physical chemistry. 

Finding space to paint presented the first obstacle.  I usually paint in Henderson Park, which has an open parking lot with ample sunlight.  However, on this Saturday, the parking lot overflowed with SUVs and luxury sedans due to Little League soccer games.  As a result, I had to find a suitable alternative. 

I went to Reid C. Cofer Park, a three minute drive up the road.  Cofer Park had the necessary open parking lot but the parking area also borders a dense forest.  Nonetheless, I decided to take my chances.  I had concluded long ago that sunlight took precedence over temperature in drying paint.

At one p.m., I laid down the drop cloth and canvas.  The sky was clear and the temperature was a pleasant 61°F (16°C).  In hindsight, the warmth was nearly perfect for quick drying a painting. 

Since the sun sets earlier in autumn than summer, I needed to tweak my style.  I had to avoid thwacking the canvas with the paint.  Violent splatters result in paint pools that take longer to dry.  Instead, I relied on lightly dripping and gently flinging the paint to speed up the drying time. 

Black went down first.

I dribbled and flicked the paint and waited an hour.  While I’m waiting for paint to dry, I always promise myself that I’ll do something productive.  Things like read Hemingway or Tolstoy, plan the week’s meals, throw out the coffee cups in the car.  However, in reality, I’m checking Twitter for videos of baby goats wearing pajamas or which celebrity hijinks are trending.

At two p.m., the black layer was in the tacky stage; not wet but not completely dry.  The paint had achieved the viscosity where colors layer and blend in some areas.  So, I decided to throw down the brown layer.

Waiting for the brown to dry, I left Twitter to focus on Instagram and Facebook.  I scrolled down, “liking” my friends’ pics of beach vacations and socially distanced family gatherings.  Friends sufficiently appreciated, I abandoned the painting and went to Starbucks for a fresh coffee.

I’ve painted in parks long enough to not fear leaving a painting unattended for an hour or two. Nevertheless, when I return, I still get the “Will it still be there?” butterflies.  However, when I get back, the canvas always remains just as I left it. 

I got back from Starbucks at three p.m. and the temperature had fallen to 51°F (10.5°C).  Once again, the paint was sticky but dry enough so each color maintained their own distinct lines and curves. However, I failed to understand that the drying window was rapidly closing. 

Still relying on sunlight instead of heat, I decided to throw down the orange layer.

This is where my ignorance of paint drying science worked against me.

I mistakenly believed that sufficient exposure to dry air would be enough for the paint to dry.  However, science confronted me with the most colossal hurdle: Paint doesn’t like the cold.  I would stumble over this hurdle like a hogtied toddler. 

Here’s how the method works.  Latex paint is an emulsion of three major components: Pigment (the color), water and resin (The binder that holds the pigment and water together).  The resin particles are thermoplastic, which means they become softer at higher temperatures (good) and harder at lower temperatures (not good).  As the resin particles harden, the solidification hinders the paint from becoming whole. 

Consequently, the hardening resin prevents water evaporation.  No evaporation means the paint doesn’t dry.  As a result, between 33° and 49°F (.5° and 9.4°C), the emulsion essentially becomes paint syrup.  Not recommended for pancakes.

My fundamental lack of this knowledge would stonewall me until the next morning.    

When I returned at 5 p.m., the temperature had fallen to 42°F (5.5°C).   I touched the paint and it smudged my fingers.  The paint remained as wet as when I first threw it down.  Baffled, I went home and made dinner, vowing to return in two hours.  

Sign with park hours and rules.

At 7 p.m., the sky was dark and the paint still moist.  At this point, I became concerned because parks in Atlanta close at sunset.

So, checking on the painting took on an element of risk.  Nonetheless, I had committed to finishing the painting and wanted to make sure it would be OK.

At eight p.m., the paint was still fluid.  While I smeared the paint with my finger, a teenage couple sat in their car drinking pints of Icehouse beer.  Prudence took over and I decided not to return until morning.  The police often troll the parks at night looking for teenager couples drinking Icehouse beers.  And, the last thing I wanted was explaining to the police that my after hours park excursion was to watch paint dry. 

Since I often abandon a painting for an hour or two, I figured the unfinished work should be fine until morning. 

So, I went Buddhist on the painting.  Buddhists believe that as soon as you take possession of anything-an object, an idea, this attachment warps your thinking.  Consequently, suffering begins.  So, I renounced possession of the painting.  If the art is still in the parking lot in the morning, the painting was meant to be.

At seven a.m., the painting was still there but still as wet as last night.  However, I felt relieved that nobody had taken or defaced the painting.  In addition, the sun was coming out.  I decided to come back at ten and check on the progress. 

I never found out if the paint dried.  When I returned at 10, a new obstacle confronted me.

Highlighted paint splatters on asphalt.
These paint smears on the asphalt are the only proof the painting existed.

Making a new painting.   

Rating: 1 out of 5.

2 thoughts on “Obstacle Course

  1. Brave. Love that Leonardo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Da Vinci was a true genius. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

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