Preparing Random Image Sources

Cave Dreamer at Work: Preparing for Death Valley

"Cave Dreamer at Work: Preparing for Death Valley," 1988, 16"h x 20"w, acrylic on modeling paste and gessoed canvasboard.

Surprise and Discovery

My ever-present desire and need for surprise and discovery in every image I create has, over the years, led me to a variety of methods that have helped to guarantee the experience of surprise and a sense of discovery in my painting process almost every time. If that does not happen in a particular painting, I do not finish or in some cases do not even start the project.

Instead of painting a preconceived idea or an observed scene or object, I like to use my image-making to find out what is in my head and heart. The most recent in this quest are the digital decalcomania projects I have described in recent posts.

Stains on Modeling Paste

One such method was used to prepare the image surface in the painting above, “The Cave Dreamer at Work.” The process included applying earth-tone stains onto a surface of acrylic modeling paste that had itself been randomly applied with palette knives then, while it was still wet, slashed with various tools including an x-acto knife, a nail, and an ice pick to create incised lines of various widths and depths.

The random intersection of slashed lines with the paste textures suggested shapes to me, which I enhanced with the least amount of paint possible. It was not until I was well into this process that I “discovered” or realized the subjective content of the painting: I found myself doing a kind of self-portrait. It was painted in the weeks prior to a family trip to Death Valley, California in the Spring of 1988.

As we planned the trip, my mind was filled with the anticipation of getting to see and walk among all the rocks and colors of that amazing place. The prepared random image surface provided just enough suggestions and possibilities to elicit and give form to what was really on my mind at the time.


When I used to work in acrylic, especially in my decalcomania projects, and in the painting above, I always applied the paint to the random surfaces by scumbling with stiff bristle brushes that had been wiped almost clean. I held the brush perpendicular to the canvas and applied the paint in small circular strokes. This created a soft, almost airbrush-like look to the painted surfaces, but quickly wore out brushes. When working on large paintings, I had to buy stiff “bright” bristle brushes by the dozens.

Next Post

My next post will describe a very different type of random image source, one that was used in a small oil painting done in the early 1980’s titled “The Duck-billed Hat, Wandering in Diagonal Land.

About bobcomings

Visual artist working in wide variety of media and forms including painting, drawing , sculpture, digital drawing and painting, digital animation, and sound exploration for almost 60 years.
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2 Responses to Preparing Random Image Sources

  1. Pic says:

    I love the titles for your pieces. 😉

    • tputter says:

      Hi Pic! I do enjoy the sense of discovery in naming my works. The names help me remember the projects when they are away from me: in storage, on display elsewhere, sold, or destroyed. Sometimes I think of the title of a work as “the beginning of the poem.” With the work itself being the rest of that poem. I also experience the titles as handles directly connected to the works. By pronouncing the title, it is as if I have a grip on the work itself, that I am touching it. Sometimes the title comes before the work, sometimes during the making of the work, sometimes not until the very end when the work is completed and on display. When that happens, it feels like the work is speaking and is introducing/explaining itself to the world.

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