Why is this an important topic/aspect of the work?
The stretcher is the underlying structure around which you stretch the canvas. This creates the taught surface that becomes the painting that you view and allows it to be hung, framed, etc. So one might ask, why not just use a piece of wood? Much easier, no? It certainly is, and this approach can be used. What stretched canvas gives you though is a more natural feel to the surface. It gives it a reflexive action so that when you push, it pushed back. with it’s responsiveness, it creates what feels more like a living feeling. When you squeeze your arm, its solid, but it ‘gives’.
The dilemma, when you stretch canvas taught, it puts the stretcher under intense pressure, and when the canvas is painted, the moisture ultimately dries creating even more pressure as it further tightens as it cures. For years, I struggled with conventional stretchers that were not up to the task. The old ones were useless. They warped, broke, and were ridiculously flimsy. Heavy Duty, finger jointed stretchers hit the market and seemed to offer the promise of a stretcher an artist can trust. These too though end up warping and in one case, the joint broke and completely warped. Structurally, these commercial options are inexpensive, but do not have the strength to create a solid foundation for a painting.
So, there had to be a better way. Putting my woodworking skills to use resulted in me making stretchers for JNFA that are durable, have an extra wide side which makes for excellent depth and eye appeal, and they do not stretch or warp. Add to this the fact that they can be made into any angular shape and you have a stretcher that you can count on, forever.
These stretchers are cut to perfection with shop saws, screwed and glued and built to last!!!
Angular stretchers can be designed into any angular shape and are used in all JNFA Oil Paintings
What are ‘Nature’s Secret’ stretchers?
Since I have been working in the Treehouse Studio, enshrouded by Nature’s structures, angular stretchers seemed to be more and more ‘inadequate’ over time for producing the kind of natural, energy-infused imagery I strive to depict. The result didn’t feel like the ridges of bark that wrap around a tree, or the lightness of a cloud, or the infinite diversity that is every single thing in nature. Countless leaves on countless trees, yet every single one is different. Nature creates with minute building blocks and as they organically grow into what they become, made from the same ‘stuff’ we are made of, they result in unique, complex structures that are mysterious, elegant and beautiful. Is it no wonder nature’s energy makes us feel good and we refer to her as Mother Nature? We are made from the same stuff as nature which makes us all part of a natural family.
This is nature’s beautiful secret and this is what I wanted to capture.
I set out to come up with a way to create a stretcher that felt more like nature so that not only the image ON the surface of the canvas depicted nature, but the very thing itself from its building blocks up, was created in a way that nature would create it. Additionally, the earth is an oblate spheroid, it is elliptical. It’s not flat, it’s not square so why should the canvas be? This created another level of complexity to the problem but one that was worth solving. The overall shape should feel more like the curve of the earth, like looking at a horizon as such a scale that the curvature of the earth is apparent.
Setting out to solve this problem, ‘Nature’s Secret’ canvases are the result. These uniquely shaped, curved canvases become natural objects in and of themselves which adds to the integrity of the overall presentation. They feel like they could have fallen from the sky or you’d see them as a land mass on a map, or as a leaf dangling from a tree. They’re not just pictures of something that was created in nature, they are natural things that with their imagery, capture nature’s beauty, light, energy, infinite compositions, complexity and wonder.
In the design and construction, there is a layered, ridged edge which is drawn freehand for each layer and built on the previous layer beneath it in much the same way a tree grows and adds another layer to its surface (these layers are depicted in the rings in a cross section). Once the layers are cut, they are screwed and glued down to a curved backplane so that as the glue seizes, they lock in the curved surface. From there, keyholes for hanging are installed and handles for, well, handling.
The canvas is then stretched around them so that the reflexive surface can provide the push-pull that only stretched canvas can provide. There’s a reason its been done this way for centuries! These stretchers combine all the benefits of traditional painting with something completely new. The cutouts then become the hanging plates that are used for painting the painting and ultimately for hanging.
READY TO PAINT!!!! Here we see the results of the unique ‘ridged edge’
The Wooden Sculptural Elements
So now on to presentation of the work. The paintings are not framed as though they are an image disconnected from their surroundings. Following along the theme, it was important to me that how the paintings are presented is an extension of the story and structure of the work. They should continue to build upon the story and become the next layer of growth. Making them out of wood seemed like the way to go for so many reasons. Since the paintings themselves are organically grown, in each case, it’s structure continues this growth and becomes another layer of the piece. Since everything in nature is unique, each Wooden Hanging Structure is uniquely designed and constructed to be an essential visual and sculptural component of it’s work of art so that everything about the art is part of it’s story. I create an initial design on paper, or create a mock-up, for each Hanging Structure. From there the process gets really interesting.
In addition to their aesthetic, practically speaking, they have a significant function which is to preserve and protect the entire work of art. To ensure an outstanding result from aesthetic to construction, I partnered with Robert Post, Furniture Maker and good friend. Robert takes the time to understand the goals of each and every project, and is an essential partner throughout the process creatively and professionally. With his extensive knowledge, experience and skill working with various wood types and construction techniques, we review his game plan for each project. From there, we’re off to specialty wood suppliers where they have an incredible selection of woods from around the world (no endangered species are ever used – we wouldn’t do that!). At this point we agree on the best wood for the project to facilitate the aesthetic as well as construction and longevity. Once the plan and wood selection are finalized, Robert works in his professional level shop to create the sculptural wooden hanging structures. Since these sculptural elements are so unusual, for each project he leverages his background to use different techniques for achieving the result. Every structure is finished a Waterlox varnished, paste waxed finish, that gives the piece a high quality, fine furniture level finish that showcases the beauty of wood, as well as the overall work of art.