Paint it Black

I started painting on canvas a couple of weeks ago.  Over the past year, I’ve gone from drawing with charcoal to painting with mushroom compost and India ink and acrylic onto paper.  Somehow, painting on paper was less ‘serious’ than canvas;  although I sometimes ran into problems with sogginess and tearing.  You can only put so many layers of paint on to even the heaviest (250 gsm) cartridge paper.


‘ēme aossetv emēkvnv’ (they came out from the earth) mushroom compost & pastel, 40 x 60 cm

In mid-July, I went to an artist’s talk and opening at Rainmaker Gallery in Bristol and met Comanche artist Nocona Burgess.   He paints in acrylics onto a black background and the subjects of the show in Bristol are his portraits of American Indians.  A good writeup of the exhibition can be found here.

chief's bonnet

Chief’s Bonnet by Nocona Burgess, acrylic, 30 x 20 in

At the opening, I had a brief chat with him about my Muscogee background and my desire (and hesitancy) to paint.  He was encouraging and suggested that I just put paint onto the canvas and see what happens, figure out how to make marks and what different colours do.  Later on, I can make pictures of whatever.

I have some canvases and paint that my husband bought for me last summer.  I guess I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but took some time to work up the nerve.  I have an excellent sense of colour and composition, which is evidenced in my fibre art, but painting is a different ball of wax altogether.  I had a discouraging experience in a mixed levels painting class about 25 years ago, in which the only input I got from the instructor was ‘Don’t give up’.  Not very helpful.

When I got back home, I decided to see what Ivory and Mars black would look like.  I mixed some semi-gloss Golden gel medium into the paint to give it some texture and shine.  I started painting directly onto the white canvas and had no idea that such a thing as black gesso exists!


I call my first one ‘before the light came’  and translated into Mvskoke it is
hvthvyvtkeko monken, pronounced ‘hut-huh-yut-ke-go / mon-gen’ 

hvthvyvtkeko  – daylight
monken – before

Mvto to my Muscogee Creek Word of the Day Facebook Group for assistance with the translation.

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hvthvyvtkeko monken, before the light came, acrylic 40 x 30 cm

The next one I started is Ibofanga.  This is the Muscogee concept of totality meaning the existence of all things and the energy within all things.

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I’m still working on this one.

Last weekend, I went to a painting workshop led by Nocona Burgess at the American Museum in Britain.  He describes his approach to colour as ‘painting outward’: painting with vibrant pigment onto a dark, rather than a light, background.  The workshop was an exploration of contrasts between vivid colour and dark surfaces, and we learned ways of applying colour and glazing on a dark background.

We painted onto a piece of heavy card which was white on the bottom half and black on the top half.  The object was to paint a still life onto the white surface, then replicate it onto the black surface.   I had to leave about 45 minutes early to get the free shuttle bus back to the train station, but reckon if I’d had more time, I could have got the top match perfectly.  While I am not the most gifted painter of mugs, the painting on the black surface certainly has more depth.

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I also learned about finishing  a painting with a varnish, to protect the surface and resist fading and about black gesso.  Steve bought me some black paint & gesso, mediums and varnish for my birthday.  There is something really great about being gifted with art materials and being given permission to use them and try something new.

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I’ve set up my painting studio in our living room.

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There is something I like about painting onto a dark canvas.  For a start, it isn’t so, well, white.  You know all of that daunting stuff about being faced with the blank white page or canvas.  No problem when it is black.   I also like the poetry of making things emerge from the darkness.

This morning, I gessoed a couple more canvasses and am thinking about what next to bring out of the dark.

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