The Only Thing to Fear

As he was beginning to paint Jack in the Box (below, left), George Gonzalez new he?d create a trompe l?oeil painting—a favorite style of his—but had something totally different in mind for the subject. “The idea began with trying to use blocks,” says the Texas artist. “I originally wanted to spell out BOXED using a cheesebox and blocks, but as I started the painting I was looking through an antique book and found this very strange drawing of a clown. Ever since I was a kid I?ve been afraid of clowns, so to me this particular painting created an interesting metaphor.”

Jack in the Box (oil, 16×6-1/2)

Regardless of whether he?s painting trompe l?oeil, realistic or surrealistic still lifes, Gonzalez starts every painting with rough pencil and color sketches to work out his ideas. Once he?s established the concept, he creates a precise drawing on tracing paper and transfers it onto his Masonite surface, which he?s prepared with gesso and then sanded. To get rid of the slippery surface the gesso creates, he mixes modeling paste (an acrylic and marble dust solution) with water into a creamy substance and applies a thin coat, which gives the surface a fine sandpaper-like finish.

After that he starts the underpainting, completing a full value study with heavy applications of gray paint, called a grisaille. Color is the next step, in which he applies the middle tones semi-opaque. During the color process, he may use any number of mediums, including a mixture of stand linseed oil, damar and beeswax. He also uses a mixture of Liquin and linseed oil for his glazes, and other mediums to speed up or slow down the drying process. “I complete the painting by applying glazes in the shadow areas, putting in all the details, and finally adding the highlights,” he says.

It can take anywhere between three weeks and a month to complete a painting, depending on the size and the drying time between glazes, so he works on three to five paintings at a time. Jack in the Box took about a month to complete. “The best surprise in creating this piece was finding the antique drawing of the clown,” he says. “My favorite part was, of course, the boxed-in clown and completing the painting.

“There?s an excitement about staring at a blank board or canvas and imagining your next painting,” he continues. “My style of painting requires a lot of precise and technical planning, almost like a road map for a trip, so it?s always exciting when you run into unexpected surprises—as I did when I found the clown drawing.”

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the ASTM International?s subcommittee on artists? materials.

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