All plein air artists have to learn to edit a lot of information out of a scene, but Dutch artist Jacob Kerssemakers has to delete less than most. Kerssemakers paints 12-foot or larger paintings on 30-foot scrolls of canvas.
“I started this around 2000, I think, at home with just marker, drawing on plotter paper,” he says. “I liked the near-endless continuity of it. Since then I have taken it outside. I went to ink on heavy watercolor paper, then starting in 2010 I began using watercolor paint on scrolls. In the last two years I moved to oil and acrylic paint on canvas.”
A scene taken from Kerssemakers’s YouTube video of him painting a harbor scene on Ilmu Island, in Kenya
Kerssemakers buys large rolls of canvas and cuts them down to pieces 10 to 20 inches high and 30 feet long. He rolls them up in a protective cover he made and affixes them to spindles and an easel he designed just for his purposes, leaving about 20 inches of the canvas exposed at a time. The artist sometimes applies additional gesso to the prepared canvas for smoothness, and other times leaves the surface as-is. Even when painting in oil, Kerssemakers says he doesn’t have a big problem with smudging when he rolls the scroll to move on to the next section of the painting. “If not too thick, even wet oil paint turns out to be surprisingly stable against smudging, provided I roll it up subtly and do not re-roll too often,” says the artist, who lives in Delft, the Netherlands. “The very tiny bit of paint coming off will make spots on the backside of the canvas — no problem for me. That said, in general my stroke is thin and virtually unaffected by rolling it up.”
Another view of Kerssemakers using his scroll technique
Kerssemakers goes on, “I make no prior sketches apart from some mental rehearsing and seldom make changes after leaving the location, since I prefer to just leave the ‘accidents’ in place — it adds to liveliness, in my opinion. While working, I try to keep a steady, rhythmic concentration, since I think this is the whole point of the scrolls — it’s almost like reading, or taking in a very, very slow movie.
“As for composition, this is not very different from any regular-sized painting. I mentally choose my starting and finishing points (left and right sides of the painting) beforehand and mostly have a pretty good estimate of the length and look of the final work. Apart from keeping the horizon steady, there is no difficulty in not seeing the whole painting before it’s finished. In that respect, I like to compare it to writing a story, where there’s no need to pin all the pages simultaneously to a wall to have an idea of how the plot will unfold.”
Kerssemakers’s panoramic paintings on display
Kerssemakers plays with the distortion inherent in a panoramic view. Sometimes he embraces it, staying close to objects in front of him to enhance the perspective effect, and other times he flattens out the scene to create a look that he likens to a frieze.
Framing these large paintings is, not surprisingly, a bit tricky. Kerssemakers says at first he didn’t even try — he was painting them just to explore and enjoy the process. In 2010 he began exhibiting them, sometimes framing the shorter pieces, other times fashioning his own “contraptions” to hang them. The artist simply tapes the longer paintings — some as long as 30 feet — to the gallery walls.
By rolling up his surface into a scroll, Kerssemakers can depict large scenes in a striking way.
Kerssemakers has posted several videos of himself painting panoramic scenes on YouTube.