About the Epic Painting Project

                    As much as any other painter, J.M.W. Turner inaugurates the modern use of color and composition.  He is arguably as influential as Vermeer was earlier.  His landscapes and seascapes mix montages of terror and delight, pathos and transcendence into single canvases.

As one of the first Romantics, Turner quite clearly articulated a defense of nature against the depredations of humanity.  He showed the power and fury that nature, especially the sea, might unleash at any moment.  His canvases also depict the interconnections that bind people to each other and to the natural world.

            All of these elements of Turner’s approach, two hundred years old, seem apt today, as society’s mastery of the cosmos seems almost complete at the same time that our lives hang on our ability to balance our own needs and pathways with what the universe permits.  Reimaging Turner’s oeuvre thus seemed both aesthetically and philosophically sound.
Moreover, he has always stirred my soul and fired my muse.  Since relocating to Appalachian North Carolina, the thought of doing something simultaneously to honor and reconfigure Turner’s brilliance has become something of an obsession.

As well, I had begun to collect beautiful pieces of driftwood, some of which seemed ideal for luscious oils and sweeping compositions.  On my own, intrepid if uncertain, I began to reconfigure Turner at the Tate piece by piece.

I carried my copy of Turner at the Tate with me everywhere, until finally my mother and my husband ganged up on me.  Their challenge: “Do something with this; go to Kickstarter, and plead with the world for help in achieving your vision.”  So here I am.

Personal History

AA 2008 - reworked 2011
My first real exposure to Turner came from a last-semester painting project at GSU, in 2008, where the instructor bid us to utilize the remaining 3 weeks to execute an epic painting, one that would in some fashion encapsulate all our learning throughout the semester. I decided to create a large (for me) painting utilizing an indirect painting technique, measuring 3' x 4' depicting a moonlight canyon scene and a nymph bathing below at the convergence of two waterfall streams.

 I referred much to both Turner and the Hudson School artists for reference and inspiration, artists whom I was presented to by my instructor and friends. Hudson school actually owes a lot to Turner, and he was an obvious research source in regards to seeking to achieve a sweeping, cinematic, mythological scope I sought. The painting bears no obvious resemblance to a Turner piece, but this assignment made my curiosity for that brilliant artist increase. Not sure I'm altogether satisfied nowadays with this early attempt, but there it is - the painting is still appreciated by some. As of last year I was still adding layers to it.

I continued referring to Turner, casually, due to the fact I was not really painting much for a while after graduation, though when I picked the brushes back again, I went back to Turner. I was particularly drawn, at the time, to his lush panoramic historical and mythical scapes - the ones that promise so much more lying beyond the frame of the canvas itself that it begs one to learn the secret words to transport one into the magic place he has concocted. The multiplicity of detail in every Turner piece, especially this earlier work, gives one great delight - as well gives the artist, or aspiring artist, a great desire to learn, how to do it just like that - how to have those sorts of ideas, that sort of internal imagery, that huge variety in terms of inner imagery. I will say I felt more drawn to him and then to artists loosely of his time - Lorain, Watteau, David, etc - than I did the work of my own time & place - but this to me just means I needed something in regards to development and joy from this art and this era.

Fall of Carthiginian Empire - Turner 
I actually planned a large triptych - a 9' x 4' gessoed plywood board - seeking to portray some religious themes - the centre was to be a Madonna of the early Spanish Colonial style as seen in Chile early on. The left panel was to be Turner's Decline of Carthaginian Empire whereas the right one was to be an as yet unchosen Turner piece - this was summer of 2010, and my first expression of a need/desire to reproduce Turner's ouvre for my own fun and edification.

I got as far as sketching in the centre and right area, but life got in the way of that project - this was 6 months before we were to leave Atlanta, I was once again facing lack of supplies and time- and in the interim the board got damaged.

Shipwreck - AA on Turner - 2011
A year later I uncovered the book once again and, without really meaning to, finished 3 successful prototypes of what then would be the Epic Painting Project. In my first summer living in Madison County, "God's country," and in the process of completing many other paintings, I pulled out an old piece of driftwood where I had started something I never much liked, but which, with its lurid colours, looked something like a seascape. Can't remember what exactly led me to pull out the Turner & the Tate book, but pretty instantly I started to superimpose Turner's Shipwreck onto this piece of blighted canvas and the effect was quite arresting! Granted, the original is easily the size of an entire wall, I had to squeeze a lot of information onto a small surface. I particularly liked the way the wood's weathered surface itself added to the drama, giving the illusion that the canvas itself was an abandoned piece of flotsam from the destroyed ship's deck.

A day later I decided to try a different Turner piece, requiring a different technique. Chinchester Canal was the piece chosen due to its providing an opportunity to try out a newly learned favorite technique, requiring addition of transparent layers onto an underpainting. I am not 100% pleased with the result - part of this lack of satisfaction coming from too-bulky trees on the right. My paintbrushes at the time were not up to the task!

Aside from that, I can see myself reworking this piece in the future. One can see in the original (Turner's) Chinchester canal, the light effects are far less monochromatic, among other things. To me that was another attractive aspect of this project - the ability to learn from the master, as it were - to achieve a new relationship with colour and medium so as to approximate what is seen - to give me better liberty to do my own stuff in the future.

Also, time-wise - the first one took 4 to 6 hours to complete, which occured within one afternoon. The second piece was a 6 or 7 day process, requiring only a couple of hours to set the underpainting, and a few minutes a day subsequently to finish it up.

Pretty soon, though, I wanted to try it again! I found a great piece of wood with a charred corner, and looked for another great maritime/watery theme. That was my thing last summer for some reason - boats & navies & shipping boats and all that reminded me of childhood times in Talcahuano and Valparaiso. This one, Spithead: Boat's Crew Recovering an Anchor. The specificity of the sails and the stormy night reminds me of maritime art that was popular in my dad's and grandmother's house - navy family = affinity for boats, at least some of the time, at least in our case. I used a clear gesso primer so that the dark of the charred wood would contribute to the stormy look. Am very pleased with this one as well. It probably took me 2 afternoons, but a total of 8 to 10 hours - it's hard to remember after all this time.

After finishing these three I realized I wanted to do them all!!!! But I knew it would be a full time job and require all sorts of materials I didn't have on hand to allow me a seamless painting process. As well, I noticed that, not counting the three I had done, Turner at the Tate book showed 90 more to do, which is the first time that the idea of a marathon process presented itself to me. 90 is such a round number, after all....

So, even though the prototype and the desire already existed, I did not think I would get a moment to prioritize the process for many a month - or year. That is, until....


My main reasons for not prioritizing this project was that I knew I could not give the project the attention it was due, and I would not be able to maintain a focused process, unless I managed to make it my full-time job for a while. Now, I have been anything from full-time freelance to jobless freelance since approx. 2005, and whatever time I am NOT spending working on projects, I spend it looking for income. I needed something to take the issue of money off the table. As well, I needed funds for supplies, and to help operationalize the acquisition and preparation of 90 or so pieces of wood.

As it turned out, we spent over $1500 in art supplies and equipment (including a sander & a band saw), and tipped local folks who provided us with appropriate wood.  

When I found out about Kickstarter, though, my thinking regarding all of this changed. We had been having a dry spell, employment-wise, after a reasonably lucrative summer, and the idea of spending more time pointlessly looking for work was quickly supplanted by the idea of actually undertaking a project such as this! I researched the site, submitted a request, and was approved.

I could go on at length re. the insane process of raising funds over a 5 week period, since these were in a big way the most nerve wracking and finally fulfilling 5 weeks in my life, but I will only hazard to mention that, like many other people mention, I made a few common mistakes, which I sought to remedy midway:

1. Video Length- the video was waaaaaay too long. It was scripted & shot by Jim and edited by me, and I don't necessarily think the intention of me reading that long passage was to have it all on there (in addition to a bunch of footage), but when I first set out to edit it I got carried away - to say the least! The whole thing kind of resembles Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will to tell you the truth!

After 3 weeks where nothing really was happening, I took a friend's sage advice and edited down the video. It was probably the best spent 20 hours of my life! Right away the system started working for me. (Abridged video on the left, long one on the right)

2. Be generous with rewards - I tweaked some here as well, adding a $5 category that earlier did not exist. This just seemed like a fun thing to add too, aside from being "Kickstarter Best Practices". 

3. Work it! - I was resisting this facet of the project for the longest time, since it does not much fit my personality and it raises all sorts of insane fears in me! But finally, at the last second, aided by the wonderful help that my husband and mom were doing canvassing their own people, I got in touch with mine. As in, facebook chatting with folks I'd not spoken to in years!! Amazing how many people are extremely supportive of something like this! Sure, many indifferent one exist also, but you would be surprised, upon trying something like this, who comes through. In the end, though, I actually enjoyed interacting with folks, it was a great excuse for getting in touch (hope they thought so as well!)

4. Communicate often - the system allows one to message those involved. Quickly thanking contributors and adding to the narrative increases the interest & drama - especially as the time comes when the project's getting close to completion!

5. Be grateful & go with the flow - Kickstarter is a time consuming crap shoot emotionally ravaging kind of process. Even if you already have mongo networking in place, you might find it hellishly hard to get over a certain hump in funding, right around the midpoint of the campaign - I read somewhere that the first 15% of funds is the easiest to raise, a plateau which can only be overcome with the most strident effort.

There is a point at which the desire/need to fulfill the project, as well as the time & energy invested, are not en par with the effort required to see the funding through - and here's where we see the campaigns that fail. And it's not because these were bad projects or the people uncommitted but, simply, after that 15% mark or so, after the midpoint of the campaign, they made the calculation that the opportunity cost of seeking to succeed in funding overweighed the potential gains of having the campaign succeed.

So if you find yourself having to abandon a funding campaign, that's OK! Do so with an alternative in place on how you will seek to bring your project to life. I know some folks from Atlanta days (WE Collective) who abandoned their campaign fairly early on & instead sought local advertising/corporate sponsorship to create their book - the project was a success! So... grueling though it may seem, be grateful to all who contributed to your project, whether you succeed in meeting funding or not, and always look for a way to make it work!

6. Do what you say you will - to the best of your ability.