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The making of Handle With Care

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

'Handle with Care', 2020, acrylic & oil on canvas , 90cm x 115cm framed in oak.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to making art. Not only is there a lot of thought and planning, but also many layers of paint that have to happen before the image 'appears' on the canvas. In this blog post I will take you on a deep dive into the making of my latest painting: Handle With Care.

The theoretical stuff

My latest series 'Happily Ever After' looks at fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Through painting and printmaking I examine old fashioned storytelling, using imagery to highlight the often complex and contradictory lessons we teach our children. This particular painting 'Handle with care' is about the story of Cinderella.

I've always had a particular fascination with Cinderella's glass slipper. Can you think of anything more impractical? Cinderella was literally walking on glass. It suggests ideas of fragility and delicacy as requirements for ideal wives, as well as the ability to put up with discomfort. Similar messages are implied in the Princess and the Pea, which is the subject of one of my other paintings in this series.

Like many heroine's of classic fairytales, Cinderella is a passive participant in her own story, waiting to be rescued by a fairy godmother and/or a handsome prince, so she can begin to live her 'real' life. She has no power to bring about these changes herself, which I find sad. Yet, these traditional fairy tales remain popular amongst young girls growing up today.

In this painting I wanted the heroine to be in charge of her own life and not dependant upon others. So the person helping the princess is herself, shown in a mirror image. She is her own saviour. I modelled my goddaughter for both the figures in the photo. She very generously agreed to pose for me and I used photos as reference material (shown below). I always prefer to paint faces that I know well as it makes the process so much easier.

The crocheted tablecloth as a basis for the patterned background also has meaning. Traditionally decorative items such as tablecloths, doilies and other linens were hand crafted by women and became part of their dowry chest. Upon marriage, these items went with them to help them start their new life, or their 'real' life for which they were intended. This links back to Cinderella and her desire to become a wife.

The technical stuff

This painting is made up of many, many layers. The first layer I painted was an abstract colour painting created using acrylic paints and rollers on my kitchen table (as shown in the top left image above). I was tempted to stop right here, but I'm a figurative painter and love painting people, so on I ploughed.

The second layer is the dark blue pattern. This was based on a crocheted tablecloth I found at an op shop. I transferred the image onto the canvas using a screen printing process, which is a whole other blog for another day. You can see the results of the screen print in the top centre image shown above.

Next, using a cut out paper stencil, I traced the areas I wanted for the figures and blocked them out in white gesso. I use a stencil for this step as I have to be exact. Once an area is blocked out it cannot be undone as the pattern underneath is difficult to replicate. I did a number layers of gesso and lightly sanded each back in between.

At this point, I decided to collage on the glass slipper and pink tiara using archival paper and and acrylic medium. I love collage and I like to sneak it in to my work occasionally just for fun.

Finally, the piece of canvas is stretched over wooden stretcher bars and is ready to be painted on with oil. I start with an underpainting where I mark in the details of the face and dress in blue paint. You can see this stage in the top right photo. This layer is followed by many layers of colour for the face and hands. This is most satisfying and often the most challenging part of the process. If the painting is looking a bit flat (or flatter than normal) sometimes I add a glaze as well.

Once I am (finally) happy with the painting, it takes a few days to dry. It is then photographed, framed and ready to find it's forever home.

There is so much symbolism and hidden meanings in fairy tales and nursery rhymes that I keep on circling back to them. There are so many facets to examine. You can check out the rest of the Happily Ever After Series here:

To read more about my obsession with fairy tales see my post about Disney here:

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