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Painting Process Notes From Jeff Jones

Compiled by Walt Morton with the permission of JCJ 2011

No piece of art is ever a failure, because you never come away with less than you started with. - JJ Artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones (1944-2011) is admired, copied, and emulated by many artists who find Jones work to have desirable qualities including strong draftsmanship, quality of line, inventive design, etc. The list of maxims that follow are derived from the artists comments & email correspondence 2009-2011. They are not a recipe book for painting like Jones but they do briefly articulate Jones process and thinking. If you wonder what you are responding to in Jones work consider the following ideas in how it was produced: 1) Develop a strong overall graphic design of pleasing shape / shapes on the surface. Jones: Im starting with what I think is the most important factor in any flat visual work: shape. Even if that shape is yet to become very descriptive, the basic shape - if interesting enough - can hold the eyes of the viewer. Then I can continue to work within it, refining until I feel it is time to stop. Knowing when to stop is far more important than to continue to add unnecessary details until everybody is exhausted.

2) Work on the entire canvas and do not become focused on specific detail (too soon.) Jones: As I work on a painting - from the start - I try to keep the entire thing going along at the same rate, side to side, corner to corner. This not only helps me keep in mind that the whole is more important than any of the parts, but if I have a heart failure or get some rare fatal cerebral hemorrhage while Im painting then the work too will look finished. I cant allow any part of the painting to become too darling to me. Then the temptation will be to beat the whole into a shape just to justify the darling. Murder your darlings.

3) Find a pleasing design in your preliminary reference, sketch, or drawing. Consider it as 2 values. If you want the finished painting to look good start with a design that works. If you are dissatisfied with the design in your the drawing you cannot make the best painting of it. Make clay models or take photos for reference. Work out your preliminary design from sketches or photo reference in black and white. Reducing to black and white - 2 values - reveals whether the design works on the simplest iconic level. If you are not happy with the design in 2 values, adding a lot of color will not save it. I dont like color on drawing. Black and white has a strength to it, an abstractive quality about it that allows the viewer to use his imagination. When I do an ink drawing, its black and white.

4) On painting materials: Jones: I stretch my own canvases and prefer linen, unprimed. Two coats of gesso with sanding on each dry coat. Bristle brushes, filberts give me the texture and quality of surface I like. I use no mediums, just turpentine. My palette consists of yellow ochre pale, raw sienna and chrome yellow. The reds I use are venetian, burnt umber, burnt sienna and cadmium. I like oxide of chromium for green, all other greens are mixed. Ultramarine is the blue I favor, occasionally I will use cobalt blue or cerulean. Very rarely I use emerald green or cadmium yellow. When painting I consider complements and mix them together on the palette, using a bit of a complement in each mixture. For example, I might make a purple using ultramarine and venetian red and add a bit of ochre to temper it. If I use a yellow I add a little purple to temper that color. I never use a tube black but mix it from other colors. My black is a mixture of sap green, alizarin crimson, indian yellow, and ultramarine. I like to paint wet in wet to keep the painting consistency soupy. Direct mixing, very little glazing. I usually start a painting with a house painting brush, covering up the white of the canvas and laying in dark and light shapes. Then come some middle tones. I think in tone at first and color later. I do a lot of scraping and wiping in the beginning-at this point its all rather abstract. I always use titanium white because of its opaqueness and covering ability. It doesnt matter which white you use, mixing white with any primary color will give you a pasty pastel. You have to mix the colors before adding white. Also lack of pastiness depends on which colors are next to each other.

5) On Process Jones: Sometimes when I do a prelim, its more dynamic than the finish. As a rule, I always start with big brushes and work my way to small brushes. The dark and light show the underlying design and all the work of a painting is in the mid-tones. I dont know how many ways there are of working but what Ive found, and it took some time, is perhaps peculiar to me. The most exciting thing is a blank white canvas or piece of paper - anything can happen. This is why Ive long ago gotten away from scripts and manuscripts. Im not really an illustrator. Its probably my education in German Abstract Expressionism where whatever happens on a piece of art happens all the time. There is no real beginning and no end, there is just a time to abandon. I honestly never know what the finish will look like. Ive said this before so bear with me here. The work and I have a conversation. There are times it listens to me and times I must listen to it. As long as its a we process there are no dull bits. There are impasses where I have to put it aside for a while but thats not boredom. Boredom can just be another word for anger. For almost 30 years I have written my own comics, and the writing is done along with the drawing, not beforehand. Its the same with painting. The narrative, which is often ambiguous, evolves with time. If it does indeed ever get dull then it is finished. ASSORTED PROCESS EXAMPLES THAT DEMONSTRATE THESE IDEAS FOLLOW (24 PAGES)

Model of tyrannosaur head in clay used as reference for painting. And photo reference below as design basis.

Done entirely in photoshop from a previous design. Jones considered it a disaster. Jones: I say never and now I say never again. Where is the painting? It doesnt exist. I cant carry it around in the backyard thumping it.

These notes were produced with the co-operation of the artist until their death in 2011.

RIP JCJ.

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