I’ve had a piece in the works for over a month now that I can finally reveal.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big Detroit Red Wings fan. One of my early pieces was the “Legends” series, where I used a power drill to fling paint onto eight canvasses, each with a stencil of a different one of the Red Wings’ retired jersey numbers on it.
Back in November, the Red Wings (along with corporate partner Rehmann), announced the “Paint By Red Wings Numbers” art contest. With the theme being the portrayal of “Historical Numbers in Red Wings History,” my initial thought was that the “Legends” series would be perfect (if a little literal). Unfortunately for me, the final piece was required to be 24″x30″ so my eight little canvasses weren’t going to work for that and I was going to need to create a new piece.
That wasn’t a problem, per se, as I’d been talking about taking another crack at that idea since the original one. In fact, I was specifically thinking of inverting the color palate. I wanted to use multiple reds to get some kind of cool depth to the base, thinking I might use the leaf blower method I’d previously used in “Water.” Then I was gifted a bunch of acrylic pouring paints and thought, hey, I’ve never done poured paints, how about trying that?
So I did what any reasonable person would do trying poured paints: I went out and bought a 24″x30″ canvas and dumped all my cool red paints into it. By some miracle it turned out pretty awesome but I found myself with no ability to test any ideas going forward because I’d jumped right into the finished product (and managed not to screw it up).
I needed to take a step back.
I bought some more paints and did a couple pours on paper. By this point, I’d also been gifted some refillable 20ml plastic tubes, so I could use those instead of having to buy sets of 12ml paint and only use a couple colors from the set.
With a red background, I filled some of those tubes with various shades of white, a dash of silver, and let it spin.
Good thing I tested on paper first. The new tubes definitely don’t have the same flow rate as the old stuff. I didn’t like the look at all.
So I had this giant canvas and needed to figure out how to not ruin it. Oh, and by this point there were just over three weeks before the contest deadline.
I was thinking I’d need to do some kind of overlay, placing the numbers directly on the canvas, but I didn’t want to lose the cool look of the pour. I asked Jenny and Aims their thoughts on how to achieve that level of translucency and they suggested using vellum. Okay, off to order some of that.
It arrived and I just laid a sheet on the canvas and it just seemed boring to me. But it made me think of newsprint. And what if I printed something, like a player biography, on the vellum, then cut it to the number shape? That could look cool and also provide a new dimension to the piece, as from a distance you would see the red and white numbers but from up close see the player biography as well.
I tried it out with one of the test pours I did on paper and was really pleased.
The vellum wasn’t quite as transparent as I was looking for but it worked well. But there was a new wrinkle. With the vellum placed on the canvas, there was no way I was going to get away with not sealing the piece. And I couldn’t test a seal on paper, I needed another canvas. So it was time for another pour.
I love how that pour turned out and I really wish I could have just kept it as it was, but I needed a test. I printed up another number, let that dry, and applied it to the new canvas.
If you look really closely at it, you can see where things are going to go wrong, but they hadn’t gone wrong yet at this point. Foreshadowing.
At this point I felt like I had enough confirmation and went ahead and placed the numbers on the larger, “final” canvas.
I can see the places where I made mistakes but I think it turned out about as well as I could have expected.
I did a seal test on paper and decided I was going to go with a gloss finish. I went in thinking that I would want to go with matte but the gloss brought out the reds very nicely in my tests. Both finishes seemed to help with the transparency of the vellum, too, so I was feeling better about it and – with six days left until the deadline – tested gloss on my small canvas.
As an aside, there’s a reason I used Number 6 for all of my testing. As I said, I’m a big Red Wings fan. I’m also a huge geek about retired numbers in sports. The Red Wings officially have eight numbers retired from use, with banners hanging in the Wings’ home arena: #1 (for Terry Sawchuk), #4 (Red Kelly), #5 (Nicklas Lidstrom), #7 (Ted Lindsay), #9 (Gordie Howe), #10 (Alex Delvecchio), #12 (Sid Abel), and #19 (Steve Yzerman). Number 6, though, was actually the first number retired by the franchise, in honor of the team’s first star, Larry Aurie.
That was in the days before banners were raised to the rafters. When the Red Wings started raising banners after they moved into Joe Louis Arena and were purchased by the Ilitch family, Gordie Howe’s #9 went up first, skipping over Aurie. The team does not allow players to wear #6 but also refuses to raise a banner. So using #6 in these tests was my way of showing that, no matter what the team says, that number deserves to be included in this group.
After sealing my test canvas, the number started coming up from the page. After a minor freak-out, further study revealed that I hadn’t gotten the edges of the number adhered to the canvas prior to sealing it.
Thankfully, I didn’t have that problem on the final piece, so I felt comfortable going ahead and sealing it. And I love how it turned out.
Now, all that said… This is for a contest that didn’t have a whole lot of direction. It didn’t have to be a painting. It doesn’t have to be retired numbers. I would be shocked if there’s not an illustrator out there who drew up something with all eight players, maybe in black and white with the jersey numbers as the only thing in red. I’m certain someone could make that look cool, it’s just not me.
But the winning piece will hang in a suite at Little Caesars Arena. I could see this on a wall in that setting. As I said earlier, it’s recognizable from across the room and it provides extra depth up close. So it’s going to depend on the tastes of the judges.
However it goes, I’m happy with my submission and I’m looking forward to seeing the other entrants.
Also, I have got to get better at taking photos of this stuff.
Update: Well, two pieces of bad news regarding this piece.
First off, it did not win the contest. That’s not the end of the world and I didn’t really expect to win anyway but it would have been nice, for sure.
More importantly, after picking the piece back up, I found that the vellum numbers have started to “bubble” up off of the canvas. I saw this with my test piece and thought I’d avoided it with this one. Clearly, if i do something like this again, I’ll need to do more testing to determine the best way to avoid this.