Indianapolis painter C.W. Mundy, who is featured in the November 2013 issue of PleinAir magazine, lit up social media last week when he posted a series of images showing how he develops his new paintings by sanding away what he’d painted before. He says he felt like he discovered a secret of past masters.
A view further back from the extreme detail
Mundy says he saw an exhibition of paintings by Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927) recently at the Cincinnati Art Museum and detected some way that the American artist improved and developed the paint quality in his pieces, possibly by sanding down passages at some point in the painting process. A light went on in Mundy’s head, as he had explored a similar approach in his ongoing development of waterfall images based on plein air experiences in the Adirondacks earlier this summer. “What really tripped my trigger was seeing Potthast’s paintings of rock formations and the water swirling around,” Mundy says. “He appeared to flatten out some paint surface, then apply different colors with glazes with color accents, and then wipe it off.” Mundy was finding the same kind of effects in his studio, on pieces he had painted en plein air during the Publisher’s Invitational Paint Out this past June, in the Adirondack Mountains. “I took a palette knife and scraped all the heavy white paint off of the water in the waterfall — it was too separated from the rest of the painting; it was overboard,” Mundy says. “I let it dry, and the next morning I took a 200-grit sanding board and started sanding some of the surfaces. It was interesting, what happened: It deposited the sandings and made a powder glaze in all those cracked areas. It looked like what he did. Then I had to figure out how to keep that in place. What worked was five or six good coats of Krylon fixative. Without the fixative, when I had gone to varnish that painting I would have pulled all those particles out of the cracks. It made the painting get a turn-of-the-century look, which I love and try to get my work to look like, rather than very contemporary.”
The entire painting: “The Top of the Flume,” by C.W. Mundy, 2013, oil on linen, 36 x 24 in.
Mundy points out that painting alla prima is just one way to work outdoors. You can also return to a spot over several days, and even tinker with textures and glazes in between. “The turn-of-the-century guys didn’t think about it being plein air painting like the way we do today,” Mundy asserts. “They wanted the painting to look the way they wanted, and they did what they needed to do, going back to the same location for two or three days. You can have the same effect by using glazes — Liquin and paint — and wiping back the highest level of paint surface with your discretion. The glazed pigment will stay in the cracks and crevices and give you more interesting detail to paint surfaces. This is what all the great masters would do in the past.”