Shizen Handmade Paper

Clay Johnson painting on Shizen handmade paper

I recently bought ten sheets of Shizen paper. These are 12″x12″ sheets (approximately), handmade in India. The surface is rougher than what I normally use, and very irregular, so I’m having to make some adjustments in my process, which has led to some interesting results. When these small paintings are finished, I intend to feature them in an online exhibition, a fundraiser for frontline health care workers.

New Aluminum Panels

Dibond panels in the studio of Clay Johnson

I recently had some new panels built. The faces are made of Dibond aluminum sheets, which are mounted to poplar cradles. They look beautiful, and the aluminum composite means no warping whatsoever. I wasn’t sure about painting on metal, but I really like the feel of it, and I can control the surface texture depending on how I prime the aluminum.

New Website, New Paintings

I tend to work on paintings in groups. I’ll order a handful of wood panels, and when they arrive at the studio I’ll work on them all concurrently. In the case of these latest works, I bought six 48″ x 60″ panels and I primed six sheets of paper, and together they comprise the dozen pictures that I’ve been painting for the past few months, and which I’ve just completed. I’m proud to present those twelve pictures on this new website, where I plan to do more writing about what goes on in my studio and about art in general (and painting in particular). But most importantly, these new paintings represent something of a milestone for me.

In many ways these are the paintings that I’ve been working toward for many years. My primary influences and the principles of art and painting that I most believe in have found a structure in these pictures that I can stand behind with conviction. From a formal perspective, the structure is very simple. And simple structures permit vast experimentation. In working on these pieces, there are a few basic rules that I have to keep in mind; beyond that I’m free to do as I wish.

I began these first six works on paper (#s 507-512) in 2013 just before going to live in Tanzania for four months. I didn’t think much about them while I was there, though I did think a lot about painting in general, and I worked on some other small paintings. Just after returning, my wife was offered an excellent job in Wyoming, and there followed several months of deciding, and then moving. And then settling in. And remodeling. This all added up to a lengthy “break” from painting. When I finally had time to unpack things at my new studio, I rediscovered those unfinished pieces I had started eighteen months earlier.

I really wasn’t sure about them at the time. But a couple of them showed lots of promise, so I decided to dig in and see what I could do. When returning to painting after being away from it, I always allow myself a short warming up period, when I just enjoy the physicality of paint and experience the visceral nature of the process. Usually I do this on small, blank sheets of paper. But in this case I used that warming up period to finish the half-baked pieces I had started a year and a half earlier. With no goal in mind, and with no sense that these pictures needed to be anything in particular, somehow I stumbled upon an ideal “system” for creating the sort of paintings I’d been gravitating toward for a long time. I quickly began applying this approach to the larger paintings (on panels), and the result is what I’m presenting here now. I hope you enjoy them—there are more on the way.