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How did he get his ideas for compositions?
Fontaine worked out his compositions first in black charcoal, conte or    oil crayons on tablet sized onion skin paper. He was a strong believer in Notan theory.  The composition should hold no matter how you turn the sheet of paper. Many of his compositions were reused the entire span of his work. Compositions he first derived in the 50's were still reappearing in paintings the 80's and 90's.(see Series )On the other hand, many paintings were scrapped and completely painted over; or a painting would be worked on or lay dormant  for 4 or 5 years, finally finishing it when he got an   idea he is looking for.
      Another technique for discovering compositions was to look for ideas in paintings already finished. He would move a small frame of cardboard around a canvas and detect other compositions. 
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Paul explaining one of his methods for discovering new compositions.
Austin 1995

Can you find the two paintings that these squares became? and the painting he took them from?
(hint: they are from around 1995)


Why do so many paintings seem to be studies for larger works?
Fontaine did his paintings in stages. After his initial trial on paper, he frequently tried out the composition in different media and sizes to test if the ideas   still held together. He often did a watercolor, a small version of the painting in acrylic on canvas (14 x 16) and then a medium sized work (36 x 40) and only finally a large (48 x 60) . If he really liked the results then often he would do 2 or three of similar compositions in different pallets. Or if one painting sold particularly well, an almost exact copy would come along.Another more economic reason for studies, is they are more affordable for buyers. A watercolor and small acrylic were sold for a tenth of the price of a large painting. Also not everyone has a lot of wall space but still wanted to own a Fontaine. This made it possible. See Series

Sometimes I see natural objects in the painting, but the title doesn't imply that the painting is representational. What should I  think?
Fontaine at times did derive his compositions from natural objects,(see Huichol (see the outline of a Mexican Huichol Indian) or Herbsbild (German for Fall Painting..the colors are fall colors and the shapes reminiscent of trees) but in most cases if you see something you think you recognize that is the power of your imagination working for you. That  the painting's action and colors move you in some way, is all Fontaine was hoping to achieve.
How long did it take him to paint a painting?
Well that depends. Fontaine worked his paintings in a wet technique, building on top of transparencies to add depth. Some paintings were done in a week and some he would rework for  five years. The watercolors were usually completed in one sitting because he worked wet and had to be completed quickly to keep the effect he wanted. If he wanted to add some dry textures, the painting might be over several sessions.

Did he use other kinds of painting tools besides brushes ?
Just like his paints, Fontaine used the hardware store for his tool ideas. He used very wide painters brushes, but you will see some paintings have sponge patterns and rolling painters brushes patterns as well. He used strait edges, but never any drip techniques except by accident.

Where did he get his supplies?
Fontaine was known for his frugality. That was the main reason he switched to acrylic painting from oil. Oils were too expensive and controlled by a small art supply market. He liked buying his paints at the hardware store. Instead of gesso for the primer and sealant of his canvas, he used epoxy glue and white house paint. He made all his own frames and stretchers. He bought the wood at the lumber store and the least expensive "Joint" wood for the frames. He stained the frames in kerosene and tar for the deep browns he liked. His most expensive supply he ever used was metal tape that he at times used around his frames to give a gold, silver or copper highlight. He bought those via  mail-order catalogs.
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Fontaine drilling the final screws into the frame he just finished in his Guadalajara studio
What was his schedule for painting? Everyday? morning or night? When he was inspired only?
Fontaine treated his painting like a job. When he worked at Stars & Stripes he painted mostly during the weekends and some evenings, but when he finally retired in Guadalajara, he painted everyday. Most days he went to play tennis first thing in the morning and painted after lunch. Other days he started early in the morning. After a breakfast of banana and granola he went right to the studio. He always had his short-wave radio on at the same time listening to American news channels about world events and economic conditions. He always said he had no choice about being a painter. It was something "he had to do".
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Fontaine always painted standing up with  the painting flat on a low table.


This site was last updated on 07/22/00
The Paul Fontaine Archive