The Great Falls Chasm, Paterson, NJ • March 23, 2015
Hello my friends!
I’m done at last with my picture of the last plunge in the Great Falls chasm! Wow. This was a bear to do for several reasons, the biggest of which is that there is a predominance of dark grays and their range is very narrow. The scene is also ripe with textures that are actually quite similar, yet water must be water and rock look like rock. The abstract composition is one of the things that attracted me to this image, but it too could have hindered rather than helped. All of this might have led to disaster, so I had to make adjustments. I overstated texture here and underplayed it there. I made the area around the waterfall more contrasty – rocks darker and water much lighter. Putting your darkest darks and your lightest lights next to each other where you want to catch and hold a viewer’s eye is an old, old trick. The last thing I fiddled with was the white, foamy river edge running all along the base of the rock wall. It’s there in reality too, though not so pronounced. The strong separation between the two main elements in my picture lends it far better organization. To portray what I know is true, sometimes I have to show it a bit differently!
The first time I tried this drawing, it flopped. The water was terrible, but the rock wall was quite nice. If you scroll down three posts, you’ll see an earlier stage of my new drawing (it was a much better start), and also my previous failure. There is a sneaky bit of photoshopping as well, that combines the best of both. One thing was clear: I wanted that fine lookin’ rock in my new drawing too – I just didn’t want to draw it all over again. Cut and paste was the answer, and now I confess that I’m a
dirty rotten patcher . . oops, I mean collagist!
Yep, the rock wall was glued in, and now I think it’s time to share how I did it.
Cut and paste takes more planning than you might suppose. For one thing, trying to glue down a patch that’s too big ends up being too messy and too floppy. You can’t quickly and correctly position a big patch. It’s much smarter to cut one into several smaller pieces. If you touch your thumbs and forefingers together (as though indicating a circle), you’re looking at about as big as you want to go, at least without practice.
The trouble with more patches, of course, is that you’re creating more seams. Hiding them is not really that hard, if you know the tricks. The first one is to take advantage of the terrain within your image; find natural breaks or boundaries between colors, tones, textures and features, then use them to help disguise cut lines. The photo below shows my solution for the rock wall: the turquoise area was trimmed away as waste, while the rest was divided into 5 pieces, as shown. An additional problem I faced was having to shorten the rock wall by almost half an inch so it would fit in my new drawing. Not at all hard as it turned out; when gluing, I simply overlapped the bottom two sections (marked with yellow X’s) with top three.
And here you can see my drawing propped up in the background, with the first three patches glued in place (they form the dark band of texture to the right of the waterfall). On my work table is what’s left of my old drawing, with the rest of the rock wall roughly cut out.
Up next is the same rock wall, which I’ve just finished cutting in two. Now is a really good time to further discuss how to camouflage edges. For starters, you need to know that we all instinctively look for things that don’t belong in what we see. We do it all the time. On thing that doesn’t fit in any view of nature is a straight line. Even if you glued a black square on top of a black background, your eyes would still lock onto it’s edges. Our vision is that sensitive.
Take a good look at the patch I’m holding. When I cut it and the lower section apart, I not only followed breaks in texture wherever I could, But I also went out of my way to make my cut line as irregular as possible.
Now the bottom section has been glued down and there’s only one more to go. Are you ready to learn the biggest secret to making edges invisible? Yeah? Keep going!
Sandpaper is our miracle tool! In the next photo, you can see how I’ve sanded the back of our last patch, first (and carefully) with 60 grit paper to reduce its overall thickness. Only sand in one direction, from the middle of the patch outwards past the edges! Are you wondering what the areas circled in pencil are all about? They indicate where I don’t want to sand – remember, I scrape and cut into the surface of my drawings a lot. So this patch is already thin in spots – I don’t want to sand through!
Oh, I almost forgot – you will need a dust mask!
Once I’ve done the rough work (thinning and gradually tapering from the middle to the edges), it’s time to switch to 150 grit paper. A few swipes over the whole surface smoothes it well enough, and then it’s on to a delicate finish. With further, cautious sanding, the edges become as thin as tissue. Notice as well how feathered/ragged they now are – the only straight edge (top left) is where our patch will align with the top of the drawing when laid down.
Are you thinking this seems like a whole lot of work? Think again. It took perhaps 10 minutes to sand this patch, and I’ll spend about that much more gluing and rubbing it down. Add a few minutes for basic cutting time and fussing, and we’re looking at maybe half an hour. Multiply that by five patches and then tell me we could have repainted the whole rock face in just two and a half hours!
When I hold our patch up to the light, you can really see how thin and ragged the edge now is. Forget about it’s being invisible to the eye once glued down. You won’t even be able to feel a lot of that edge!
Finally we’re ready to glue, but what kind should we use? PVA (Polvinyl Acetate) glue, commonly called white glue, is tried and true. It’s none yellowing, permanently flexible and inert. You can eat it. Come on, didn’t you try some Elmer’s Glue when you were a kid? I don’t know whether using kiddie glue is okay for my drawings though, so I’ve opted for genuine archival, rather expensive glue instead. I wish I could just use Elmers. Maybe I’ll research that!
Let’s get to it! Gluing is not something I can photograph, because I won’t have time. The method is simple though, as is the set up. Lay the patch, face down on a sheet of clean paper. You’ll also need two small pieces of cardboard to use as glue spreaders (cereal box cardboard works fine), a kraft or Exacto knife, and a couple more clean sheets of paper that are a bit bigger than the patch. Printer paper works perfectly.
Squeeze glue out onto the patch in a squiggly line that distributes it all over, and use more than you think necessary. Then spread it quickly, thinly and evenly, again moving from the center out past the edges. A patch absorbs a lot of glue; you’ll have to keep re-spreading until the whole surface stays even and wet.
NOW things gotta move! You have moments. Quickly slide a knife under the patch, lift and peel it up. Next, Lay an edge or tip of the patch in position on your drawing and hold that down gently while pivoting or adjusting until the rest of the patch lines up correctly. Get it down now – and do it evenly, without trapping air pockets. Whew! Breath. Then lay a sheet of the printer paper over the patch to protect it, so you can press and rub hard to really get it seated. I often use a burnishing tool too (called a bone folder – google it).
Almost always, an edge or two won’t stick. Pick around the patch with your kraft knife to see whether any lift up. Don’t worry if it happens. Do you remember our glue spreaders? I cut another, but this time from a scrape of the same type of drawing paper I’ve just glued down. Next, I squeeze a dollop of glue on yet another scrape, after which, I use my new spreader rather like a paint brush, scrapping its tip/edge through the glue to pick a little up on one side. Then slip my spreader under the lifted edge of the patch to smear the glue on it’s underside. Press the edge back down, rub and relax. Pat yourself on the back. Go pet the cat.
Last hint: glue must dry before you can continue drawing on or around patched areas. Ideally, it should do so over night, but I’m impatient, so I often use a hair drier to cook things and get them to the point where I can at least do light work almost immediately.
Now just take a look at that marvelous rock face! I still had to do just a little touching up to finish camouflaging all the patch edges, but it was a matter of minutes. At that point, I realized how much potential this drawing really had. I was pretty darned scared of screwing up while I was finishing the water, but I didn’t.
I’m going to paint something completely different next, maybe a derelict baseball stadium!
PS: to expand these images and see more detail, click READ FULL ARTICLE, immediately below.