Surface prep, laying out a composition, show update


Work in Progress, 48 x 36 inches, © Cindy Schnackel, 2016

Today, I took four large canvases and four small & medium sized panels outside to prepare for painting. While I was working on the others, the first big canvas was drying so that I could start to lay out the painting shown in progress in this photo. (I won’t tell you what it’s going to be, you’ll have to wait until it’s done and I and the gallery it’ll be in start to promote the show this September.)


Sealing wood panels

Most panels need to be gone over lightly with sandpaper, wiped clean of sanding dust, and sealed. Our hot dry air makes things dry SUPER fast, so sealing requires working fast, resisting the temptation to brush back into it, and usually watering down the medium. If it’s cool and humid where you’re working, it may not need to be thinned at all.

I sand off any sharp edges, splinters, etc. It only takes a few seconds because most store bought artist panels are pretty nicely made.

One panel manufacturer, Ampersand, recommended Golden’s GAC as a sealer. (I only use acrylic paints; if you use oils, you may need a different product.) The panels were wood and masonite/hardboard type. I seal them with a large flat soft brush and Golden’s GAC100 or GAC 200 which are both multi purpose acrylic mediums that make good sealers. You can roll it on, and if your roller makes bubbles, have a damp, wide, soft brush handy to lightly flatten them before the GAC starts to dry. Once you find a roller type that works good for you, you’ll be able to avoid most unwanted textures etc, from rolling, like bubbles.

GAC 100 is more flexible, seems like the brush strokes float out better, but it is a bit tacky like acrylic paint when dry. Eventually it does seem to lose the tacky feel but can take weeks. GAC 200 is only recommended for rigid surfaces; it dries fast and without tackiness. I can, and did, get along with just 100. But now that I’ve had 200, I have found uses for it that will keep me buying both.

I find that most mediums like GAC can be thinned with a little water so the brush strokes float out and it doesn’t dry quite so fast. But, because water can raise wood grain, I may save the thinned coat for last.  If necessary, I sand lightly between coats. The first coat is most likely to ‘pull’ at the brush. Subsequent coats go more smoothly and level out nice.

Preparing Canvases

Eventually, I’m going to get around to stretching raw canvas on some stretcher bars I have, but this is about store bought, ‘ready to use’ canvases. They ARE ready to use, especially with acrylics, but many artists–like me–prefer to add a second gesso coat of their own.

The manufacturer’s gesso IMO still leaves them too rough and absorbent, too textural, for any of my detailed work. So, unless I’m going to do a palette knife painting right away, or am doing something where that canvas texture is really wanted, I put another coat of thinned gesso on them. Since I don’t need that coat to be all that opaque I may mix in some acrylic medium. Acrylic medium alone makes a good second coat if all you want is a smoother surface. I have used fluid matte medium, too. Whatever I have that gets the job done! The brushes don’t drag so much or leave ‘holidays’ when I give it a second coat before starting a new painting. ‘Holidays’ are those annoying little areas that the brush skipped and left white.

I usually brush on the gesso, but sometimes I roll it. I actually don’t mind the subtle ‘orange peel’ texture of some rollers. Like with sealing panels, even if you roll, you might want to have a wet brush handy to smooth out anything that needs it or even add an all over brushy texture. I tend to start in the middle with a big puddle and spread it out quickly to the edges. Look at it at an angle to see the light shining off the surface, to see where you’ve been, any missed spots or drips.

Acrylic gesso comes in white, black, clear, tinted, and even gold! You can tint it yourself with a little acrylic paint. Makes it easier to see where you’ve been, plus it can be nice to start a painting that’s already on a toned ground, as that can be part of your background color. I’ve used white, black, and clear gessos. Clear is kind of gritty and you can draw on it, and even layer drawn with painted elements.

Some brands of gesso are thin enough to just use out of the jar. Others are almost like paste, and unless you need paste, thin it out a bit with water. People have preferences for brands, due to how toothy or smooth they are.

There are even sandable versions.

Here’s how I laid out the painting. I’d like to hear how you lay out your paintings, too.

There was some dark blue thin acrylic glaze from a previous painting, that needed to be used up before it dried up. Using that and a large-ish round brush, I just started drawing the scene I vaguely had in mind. More ideas came up as it progressed. A wet rag was a handy eraser, for any unwanted lines. I don’t usually plan things much, but this ‘draw and erase’ method helps me invent as I go along until I get the main composition roughed in. The paint marks are kept smooth, so any wish to change things later is easily accomplished.

After roughing in the characters and main objects, I grabbed some ready mixed Liquitex pastel colors (soft body, comes in jars). These are great for when you know you just want a color as a main background, a real time saver, and it’s nice paint. Portrait pink and a sort of lavender blue. Then I used some yellow ochre (Golden paint co.) as well. These blocked in color areas as well as making some of the pink background warmer or cooler depending on where the light will be. The paint is still pretty thinned down to keep it smooth.

I was thinking as I went, about whether a character should be dark or light, to stand out against whatever was behind. But, a lot of things could change before it’s done. Even dark areas are not hard to cover up with a good brand of titanium white, and sometimes I will even carefully gesso over some part that I want white again. For that I would use pure gesso for maximum opacity.

Despite the heat, (110-ish these days), this is messy work that has to be done outside, but at least it’s mindless and quick. I had a big glass of ice water out there which helps!

Canvas or Panel–Which do you prefer?

Canvases have the advantage of being lighter weight and less expensive. When they’re done I like them just fine. But my preference, if I could always have my way in the universe, would be to usually work on rigid panels. I just like the way they feel. It’s an entirely personal thing; some people hate panels and prefer canvas.

A compromise is canvas panels. I like Centurion linen canvas panels, and have used some nice cotton ones, too, but only use them in small sizes. When I work larger, I prefer ‘cradled’ panels and canvases with deep edges so I don’t need to frame them. Canvas panels as far as I know only come as just the panel, no cradled edges.

You can adhere canvas/fabric, and even paper to panels but it’s not the most fun thing to do, working out the wrinkles, etc, so it’s a step I’d rather pass on, and just get surfaces that are what I want in the first place, (as much as possible). I find panels preferable over canvas for collage.

A note about my Fall 2016 shows!

The reception date for Olney Gallery is still Friday, Sept. 2nd. It will be there most of the month.

The reception at {9} The Gallery, which I’ve titled Fatal Farm, is now likely to open Friday, Sept. 16th. It had been penciled in as October but is now Sept.

I’ll be posting news about these shows when I know more and when the galleries start promoting them. Just wanted to let you know about the schedule change. Whew! I will be soooo ready for a break after September!

Ceramics and Skateboards


Green Pants, ceramic monster, about 2″ tall, pictured in ceramic bowl, by Cindy Schnackel

We missed a couple of ceramic classes and most of the open studios in April, but we’ve managed to make a few things.  Here are some of my small creatures. Above is one I’ve named Green Pants. His hindquarters are Hunter Green, which came out a very bright green and blue, very pleasing. I like the way he looks in a bowl.

Believe it or not, the speckly glaze on the larger creature below is Cranberry, which is supposed to be red! I had glazed another creature with Cranberry and Snow White a couple weeks ago and it came out really red. There was speckling I really liked where the glazes overlapped, so I tried to duplicate that on the bowls and the larger creature below, (Fleabitten and Green Pants photo). By the time we went back to see them after firing, I’d forgotten what glazes they were. I loved the speckled glaze but wondered what glazes that was. What a surprise when I looked on my notes to see it was Cranberry! Nonetheless I’m thrilled with how it came out, and feel it is better the way it is, than if it had been red. (Fleabitten is a name used to describe the coat of a gray horse where the gray and white are kind of speckly not solid.)


Two Ceramic Creatures, Fleabitten, and Green Pants, Cindy Schnackel



Small bowl with lovely though unexpected “fleabitten” effect. Cindy Schnackel, wheel thrown.

Above, is a little larger and better wheel thrown bowl than the one Green Pants like to sit in. Had we gotten back to class in time to trim feet on our bowls, this would’ve been among my most successful as far as symmetry and not being a heavy clunker. But even with a flat bottom, instead of carved out foot, it’s a very usable bowl and I liked the surprising way the glaze turned out, (Cranberry and Snow White). You just never know!

Below is Red, a spiky, legless creature with kind of flowy side fins.  He’s shown with little Lumpy, who also has a side view so you can see she has udders. I believe Lumpy is at least partly Hunter Green glazed.


Red and Lumpy, Cindy Schnackel, ceramic

I may be showing a painted skateboard this summer. A skate shop gave me a free used one that was too beat up for anything else. About all I can tell you is it’s almost certainly going to have a bird on it. I’ve started it, and it will likely go thru a few changes yet, before I’m done.  The show will be in downtown Phoenix at a pop up gallery, sponsored by {9} The Gallery. The show is called She Deck. I’ll share details closer to the event.



Getting back into the studio


The Oxpecker, Acrylic on panel, 6 x 6 inches, Cindy Schnackel

Yesterday, I finished two small paintings on Ampersand masonite panels. One, “Chicken and Egg,” and “The Oxpecker,” both of which I added to my inventory list here, and my redbubble page. They’re available as products on redbubble, and as originals from me. Unframed so far.

These are the first paintings I’ve done since the loss of Sassy and Jade. I had not painted since the last thing I finished for my March show.

Also yesterday, after we both got a good adjustment from the chiropractor for our various back problems, we went to ceramics class for the first time in nearly a month. Made two creatures. Another creature I’d made a few weeks ago had miraculously made it thru bisque firing, so I did a double dip glaze on it, and will be curious to see how it comes out by next week. I was surprised it came thru bisque because that last night we went to class, my back was out, and Sassy was still alive and needing a great deal of attention and care. My mind was definitely not in ceramics that night as I just jammed on the body parts to the creature and hoped for the best. I fully had expected it would fall apart but it didn’t.

Although I love working with ceramic clay and glazes, I think some of the things I want to do in 3D really call for a lighter weight air dry clay, and painted finishes. So, I’m going to get back into that again, too.

Edited, new show date: Shows, new products, new ceramics, mostly chickens so far


Two of several small plastic brick sculptures on wheels by Cindy Schnackel




I will have several small sculptural pieces in “MOVE,” a show about all things that move, in February! I had been playing around with building blocks and adding wheels to things so it seemed like the thing to enter.


So far, this turned out to be my favorite glue for these bricks!


The sculptures will be glued together. I don’t happen to be one of the people who believes it’s sacrilegious to glue them, if the purpose is to keep them together. (Usually, I was taking them apart again, so gluing is only for the ‘permanent’ ones.) I have dropped unglued sculptures before and they shatter into as many pieces as they were made from. I didn’t want that to be happening, especially since even I can rarely remember how they go back together! I don’t know if the glue will make them truly shatter proof, but my test pieces seem pretty permanently bonded! The glue liked best is called Cyanoacrylate. This won my favor because it worked well and had a very tiny applicator tip that made gluing go fast, and neatly. It was one of the types of glues recommended in the research I did. My husband always has it on hand for his plastic models, too.

“MOVE!” Opens Friday, Feb. 6, 2015

{9} The Gallery

1229 Grand Ave.

Phoenix, AZ


There are at least two group shows I should enter something for in March, and I’ll blog about it if I get anything done in time! They are both no-fee shows, and look promising. The themes are still being mulled around in my mind.

Edit! My April show was just moved up to March!

For April, March, I’m scheduled for a two person show at R. Pela Contemporary Art, in Phoenix, where I’ve shown before. Robrt had liked what I was doing with a particular topic last year and asked me to do a whole show of it. I’ve been working on that now for months, as well as my other stuff, and it has been an exercise in self discipline to hold back so much work from public view all this time.

I will post details as the gallery begins to announce it!

R. Pela Contemporary Art

335 W. McDowell

Phoenix, AZ



[Edited and updated to note that I am no longer selling products on Redbubble. Changes to the site in April caused me to decide not to anymore.]


Duvet cover product view, repeating chicken cartoon design, Cindy Schnackel


The Print On Demand (POD) site I’m on recently introduced “tiling” for the Duvet Cover product! This means we can upload normal sized high resolution images like we use for other products, and ’tile’ and scale them to make repeat patterns.  I have experimented with it and love the way it looks, so am offering a few of my images as Duvets now, in addition to other things.




Wet clay pinch pot projects. Creature, tiny dish, hollow chicken; Cindy Schnackel


Coil Teapot, Cindy Schnackel, at wet greenware stage


Teapot, upside down, getting feet and udders, Cindy Schnackel, greenware


Ceramics started again in January! This time it’s a bit of everything, and the first night we made pinch pots. Beginner stuff, yes, but the teacher let us do what we wanted as long as we used the technique, so naturally, I made a chicken. It is very different from my earlier hollow sphere chicken that I did more than 20 years ago by joining two shaped slab or pinched half spheres. This time the half spheres were all pinch technique. I also made a monster with about eight nipples/udders, (which didn’t show up at this angle, sadly), and a tiny treat dish for our pet birds. (The clays and glazes I’m using are all food safe!) The hollow pinch pot chicken is about 8″ tall.

The following week, we moved right on to coils. I built the body of my teapot with coils and added handbuilt elements in a variety of techniques later. I just kind of shaped the spout by pushing my finger through a ball of clay and squeezing it, then removing my finger, I curved and refined it before attaching. The eyes are pressed in with a wooden shaping tool, etc, while pressing from inside so it didn’t deform the pot. The lid has a small circle of clay added that fits inside the filling hole. They ‘should’ shrink the same as they’re the same clay, same wetness, and should fit when dry/fired. If I build another pot where I need to apply pressure from inside, I must remember to make the filling hole big enough for my hand! I really had to reach in with tools to attach the spout! D’oh! But it seems to have worked out, and I’m not sure it’s to be functional anyway.

The clay is LB Blend. The techs have already started firing some things from the first class, so by next class, I should have a piece or two to put glaze on, and the teapot should be ready to bisque fire.

[Edited to update: the teapot blew up in the kiln! Gahhh!]

The Story of “Good China in the Bad Desert”


Good China in the Bad Desert, acrylic on panel, 48 x 20 inches, $600, available in July 2014 at R. Pela Contemporary Art, Phoenix, Arizona

Sometime in the spring of 2013 I was wandering the aisles of a lumber store, looking for the scrap bin.  It was all part of my effort to reuse, recycle, and repurpose, so that at least some of my art was made from things that would otherwise end up in landfills.  I enjoy painting on panels, so when I saw a large scrap of hardboard, or as some call it, Masonite, I grabbed it. At home on the patio, in beautifully pleasant Phoenix spring weather, I sealed it well and just let my intuition tell me what to paint, as is my M.O.

The painting started out as a blue sky, mountains, and vague desert-y foreground. I’d work on plants and detail once I knew where the main characters would be.  Without really thinking about it too consciously, I was  deciding where blocks of color would be compositionally, such as reddish over here, green over there, what shape, etc.  I also got absorbed in the colors of distant mountains as I just think those hazy purply, blue, and earthy colors are pretty in real life, so they are mesmerizing to paint, too.

Of course, I knew it’d be populated with creatures, I just didn’t know what at first.  As the painting progressed, the cacti became animated.

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Then, they were chasing a set of dishes. I don’t know why.  Above is a detail of an iconic southwestern art element, the cow skeleton. Of course, mine’s upright and walking, joining the dish chasing chaos, not lying passively in the dirt.

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Something unusual about this one is there is not one single bird in it.  Once the characters were in place I started filling in more detailed vegetation.  I love glazing to bring out details and shadows, so I did quite a lot of that, and am sure I also changed my mind about a few things and moved them around a bit. I enjoy contrasts to bring out things, or blurring and subtler contrasts to push back edges. If an area is too dark I paint a light opaque over it and it just gets incorporated as I go, adding, subtracting, glazing, scumbling, shading, maybe some spattering, and near the end adding the tiny details like thorns, glints in eyes, etc.

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

The title just kind of came to me, after it was done. And it can take awhile to know I’m really done, when I don’t know where I was going in the first place.  Perhaps it’s when I’m satisfied and amused.  I let most pieces sit for awhile to think about it, then when some undefined amount of time has passed and I’m happy with it, I decide the piece is done.  At that point I do what’s necessary to even out the sheen and photograph it, (not necessarily in that order), and upload an image of it to the internet to market it. (Usually my redbubble page is the first to get it.)

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

Detail of Good China in the Bad Desert

This painting is unframed, but has deep wood edges that are finished to go with the artwork. I added the ‘cradling’ from scrap lumber, too. The edges are approximately 2 inches deep. It is wired and ready to hang.

I personally think a frame molding that is ornate yet southwest-y, almost poking fun at southwest art, would look great on this piece.  Not weathered wood necessarily, but maybe something whimsical with big ‘carving’ type details?  For the price of a custom frame I decided it would be best not to force my taste on anyone else, so I’ll let the buyer decide if they want to frame it, and what style of frame.


Examples of picture-hanging hooks. No particular brand recommended, these are just what we can get readily in stores here.

As with all large paintings, we hang them from wall hooks made for picture hanging, and sturdy enough for the weight of the piece.  If you use TWO hooks, especially on wide artworks, the picture is easy to level and tends to stay that way!  The nails used for these hooks are thin but strong, and come out easy when you want, but stay in until then. The hooks and often the nails too are reusable. You can even get the hooks with an extra clip, which makes them very hard to just lift off the wall, if it’s in a public place. Regular nails and screws will pull downward eventually, especially with larger work.  The picture hanging hooks are sold in framing, art, hardware, lumber, and craft stores. They’re not expensive. Even the massive kit to hang work that weighs much more than this piece is only a few dollars, well worth the investment to save an art piece from crashing to the floor unexpectedly!  What’s not to love about them compared to ordinary nails and screws?

I enjoy the details and absurdness in this painting, and hope that its eventual buyer will, too.

Please contact the gallery about purchase; it will be there through most of July 2014, by appointment if you miss the opening!

Opening night is Friday, 4 July, 6 p.m.!  R. Pela is located at 335 W. McDowell, Phoenix.

The art show is free to view. There is a paid event there about artists lives in the desert on Friday July 18th. See gallery site for details.



For the Birds; showing in April! Also, Governors Arts Award


“For the Birds will open on First Friday, April 4 at 6 p.m. with an artist reception, and again on Third Friday, April 18 at 6. The show will remain on exhibit through April 28. R. Pela Contemporary Art is located at 335 West McDowell Road, and is otherwise open by appointment only, by calling 602-320-8445.” — R. Pela website announcement of the show:

I’ll be showing with fellow artist Scott Wolf, (the toy phone mashup is Scott’s). My first time seeing Scott’s work was his chick with vegetable peeler!  I don’t know if that will be in the show, I am pretty sure he has sold it but not sure.

Quite a few of the pieces I’ll be showing are new and have never been uploaded to the net, though I’ve shown a few sneak peeks of work in progress, detail shots, etc.  It’s my nature to upload new work as it happens. This year though, I refrained from doing that with certain work, so that new works and series could be shown together when I was ready, without the ‘set’ being already broken up before the show.

There will be sparrows. I was going through some old sketchbooks to find framable small pieces, and ran across a 2012 sparrow head portrait, that is very much the twin brother/sister of a new surrealistic painting of a sparrow.  I wonder what took me so long to get around to painting it?  The sketch was nice in monochrome, but I applied thin layers of acrylic glazes, and some colored pencil detail, to turn it into a colored piece that has more impact, and put it in a vintage frame with curved glass.

Also, new chickens, several of them, wearing clothes.

As is true with a lot of my work, I start very subconsciously and let it develop.  Later, I may start to see symbolism in the works, but it’s interesting to hear what other people see in it, too.  This is particularly true of the detailed paintings where objects I add for seeming no reason begin to have possible meanings.  Look for things like eggs, dishes, and toys, and see what they say to you!




Tonight is the Governors Arts Award event, where my painting, Birds in Wigs, will be presented to the arts education org that wins their category.  I’m curious to meet whoever is going to take it home, and hope they like strange birds!  Given that it’s an organization that will win it, I wonder if it will end up hanging in a public place. That might be cool! (The painting was purchased for the award, see previous posts about that.)  Here is a recent article about it, you can see which category of nominees is eligible to win each piece purchased for the event:

Monster with Ice Cream Cone; Dolls to take apart later



A small piece, mostly acrylic but technically is mixed media, on a 5 x 8 piece of mat board.  Quite a bit of the blue in this is ‘genuine lapis lazuli’ acrylic, from Daniel Smith.  I have been experimenting with it to find its best uses, as it is not strong in mixtures and has not shown me so far why I’d buy it again at nearly $20 per tube. But it was something I’d always heard was a great blue, so I finally had to try it.  I do like it, just not sure how economical it is or that it’s really ‘worth it’ to me. So far.  It’ll have to show me it does something the other blues don’t.



Toys R Us had a sale on Singamajigs, a doll that sings and has a moving mouth. They are CREEPY, and that’s why I’ve had my eye on them since they came out a year or two ago!  But, knowing I would take them apart or alter them, I had a little problem buying them until they went on a fabulous sale price of only 98 CENTS! There was a fancier kind with a baby that was just under $3, and I passed on those, maybe I shouldn’t have but I did.  Not sure why one’s naked…but soon they all will be.  I can’t wait to see what’s inside, and it may show up in a future found art sculpture. When we ride our bikes around we look at what people are throwing away, in case that treasure should show up, and I usually scrutinize what we throw out, too.  A trip to a thrift store should about do it, then I can begin making something.


Sculpting is what I’ve really been leaning toward lately. Guess I’ve missed doing ceramics, and wasn’t quite convinced the air dry clay I have is sturdy enough when dry.  I’ve even been building things from plastic building bricks, and looking at info to see just what I can do with photos I take of them, if anything.