The Secret: Behind the Scenes

I like reading about how other artists made their works. I love how the curtain is peeled back on the finished product to reveal what went on behind the scenes. Here’s a little of what went on while working on my most recent painting: The Secret. 

The Secret



This painting went through several incarnations. The first one was more elaborate, but the main focus was always the two children holding on to something. This first sketch was more surreal, with the children burying something that reminded me of the mandrake root in Harry Potter. I tabled that sketch for a few months but I knew I was going to include it in my two-man show with Serj Bumatay.

The Secret - 1st Study

When I was finally cramming for the exhibit and feeling that I had very little time left, I redid the image into something simpler. I removed all the other elements and focused on the children. And once again, I set aside the sketch for a bit while I executed the other paintings that had more definite images.


When I had finished all the other paintings for the exhibit, I went back to this piece and tried to flesh out the sketch it out into a size proportional to 4 x 3 ft.

For some reason, I couldn’t do it. I was uncomfortable with the proportions of the image. I can’t explain it better than that.

So I redid the entire thing. Since the exhibit date was fast approaching, my mind was working on overdrive and suddenly the image of two children tangled in branches popped into my head. The children were holding something, I decided it was a box. What’s inside? Does it matter?

the_secret_3nd_sketchPreparing the canvas

I bought my canvas, pre-primed, pre-stretched and mounted on a boxframe with a plywood backing from The Oil Paint Store but I still wanted to prime the canvas with premium gesso.

So applied several layers of white gesso on to the canvas, while sanding down the surface in between layers.


Then, I used modeling paste to texture the surface of the canvas.

Modeling paste

I applied the modeling paste with a rubber paint spreader and a pallette knife.

Pallette knife and paint spreader

While the paste was still wet, I etched lines and patterns on to the surface of the canvas using this thing:

Paint scraper

When the the modeling paste dried, I sandpapered the surface. The result looked like this:


Then, I covered the entire surface with gray gesso. I had previously mixed up a batch using black and the white gessoes.

Black gesso

Gray gesso

Paints I Use

I use Cobra Water Mixable Oil Paints mainly for health reasons and convenience. I work in a small space and using solvents with traditional oils releases a powerful smell throughout the house. Water mixable paints on the other hand, can be cleaned with soap and water.

Cobra water mixable paints

Transferring the Drawing

I used a grid to transfer my drawing onto the canvas. Some people use ink to darken and permanently fix the drawing on to the surface. I sometimes do that, but I decided to go with my pencil drawing.


The Secret WIP 01

The Secret WIP 02

The Secret



  1. I don’t paint or draw.. Unfortunately, I don’t have that gift.

    But reading and looking at your photographed paintings, I wish I can draw and paint like you..

    Great work!

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