When you feel creatively blocked, it may be time to change up your process and approach! From exploring new substrates, preparing the working ground in unconventional ways and employing unique constructs to altering the topography of the visual landscape and texturing the surface with additive and subtractive processes, there are a plethora of options to explore when it comes to painting from the ground up.

With all of the exploratory opportunities at hand, it is important to keep in mind that your altered working surface, first and foremost, has to have some kind of conceptual significance to the overall message you are trying to convey. Keep this in mind when you are choosing not only your working ground but also your tools for markmaking. Once you have determined a conceptual direction for your work, begin by utilizing the appropriate surface for the techniques you want to employ. All bas-relief and texturing work should employ a rigid (non flexible) substrate so that the work is well supported.

In my work, I often use rigid grounds, typically cradled/braced panels. When you are building up a painting surface, it is important to consider the structural integrity of the support. Rigid grounds that are well supported by a wood understructure will prevent surface changes and warping. Over the years, I have built my own dimensional panels and constructs, experimenting with different size cradles and adding various assemblage add-ons and accents to the surface. I have also purchased custom and premade panels, saving me time and prep work. In particular, I have been using the gesso (Gessobord) and clay board (Claybord) panels from Ampersand Art Supply. Shown below is a picture of two custom (Claybord) panels created by Ampersand Art Supply that were created to my specifications. You can use the clay board (claybord) surface as is. I personally like to prime it with gesso or acrylic matte medium, because it is REALLY absorbent otherwise. It takes in the paint like stain on raw wood. Gesso creates a less absorbent surface from which to work and I prefer that for the work that I do.

For the prevention of SID (support induced discoloration) of the wood sides on the panel, I tape-off the front side of the panel and treat each side with Acrylic Gloss Medium or GAC-100. I typically apply two coats and let it air dry between coats. I would like to share with you a great article from Ampersand Art Supply on the Top 10 Ideas for Finishing Cradled Edges. From using stain, ink, polyurethane and acrylic paint to more textural effects like collage, cold wax, texture gels and gilding, there are almost endless ways in which to decorate the edges of your cradled panels.

I use gesso primer on all the sides as well as the top surface with artist quality gesso, using a smooth sponge roller from a professional paint store. I particularly like a Sherman Williams brand roller. I will apply three to four coats to the surface and sides. I may or may not sand the surface, depending upon whether I plan on texturing the surface later on.

When it comes to adding texture and bas-relief treatments in a painting, there are some things to consider. While you are working, make sure that you are conscious of where your figure/subject will be in your tactile environment. If your texture is too large or aggressively dimensional, it will overpower your figure/subject(s). Your texture should create movement and flow throughout, enhancing your piece overall and not overpowering it. Texture for texture’s sake never works.

When you are adding textural relief, consider using tools, textures and materials that are significant to the concept of your piece, creating multilayered, symbolic work of the subconscious. I am inspired by nature and many of the tools and materials I have used to create my mixed-media works were from natural elements, including tree bark, pine cones, leaves and the like. I also love debossing floral patterns. Almost anything can be altered or repurposed to introduce creative, signature markmaking into the working surface.

When it comes to discovering dynamic, alternative ways in which to apply and manipulate a vast array of mixed media, the application of experimental techniques adds visual interest to a work of art, enlivening the painting surface in a visually provocative way. White and clear gesso, fluid medium, gel medium, molding paste and crackle gel can be applied onto the working surface in interesting combinations. In addition, unconventional tools and approaches for signature markmaking techniques like blotting, debossing, dripping and scratching-in can be utilized in creative combinations, boasting engaging bas-relief expressions that completely enliven the working surface. Expressive, meaningful markmaking, using an inspired orchestration of mixed-media techniques, tools and approaches, sets the stage for engaging artistic play.

The video below entitled An Exploratory Process discusses working in a mixed-media approach to painting, finding sources of inspiration, using altered, repurposed and custom tools for signature mark-making and utilizing alternative surfaces and materials. It also covers conceptual ideation and the development of personal content. Be sure to check it out!


IGNITING THE CREATIVE PROCESS: Backgrounds, Borders & Beyond is a newly released video that I did for Muddy Colors where I show how to change up and ignite your process and approach by structurally altering the topography of the painting surface, dramatically changing the look and feel of a work in extraordinary ways! Throughout this exciting video, I demonstrate both two-dimensional and three-dimensional surface altering treatments and techniques to create engagingly tactile backgrounds, borders and beyond!

My NEW VIDEO available for Rent or Download!