In the Studio: Process of a Painting with Cary Reeder

Cary Reeder (NAP #108) paints industrial sites in a very particular manner. These normally cold places are made to feel slightly warm because of her attention to precise details like shadow, color, tone, and hue. They are also compelling, as if Reeder is able to call our attention to details that we might have overlooked in our own neighborhoods and cities.

In this Process of a Painting, we join Reeder on her lengthy, complicated, and rather grueling process toward completing “They Still Work.” Follow along with Reeder’s thoughts and insight embedded throughout her equally important visual documentation of the process. – Ellen C. Caldwell

Cary Reeder | “They Still Work,” acrylic on canvas, 2014, 28”H x 36” W. Courtesy of the artist.

In Reeder’s words, “This painting is the start of a new series. Prior to my Neighborhood Series, I had done a series of paintings based on electric substations and that industrial theme was something I wanted to explore again. As with the previous series, I’m drawn to the old, the worn, and the creaky. My studio is in a converted warehouse in an older Houston neighborhood that includes rickety 1920s single-family homes next to industrial warehouses - typical for unzoned Houston! Both are rapidly being replaced by $800,000 townhouses, also typical. The warehouse that inspired this painting is near my studio and I drive by it frequently. It has rounded vents that felt very anthropomorphic to me, like giant mouths opening. It is old, rusty, has broken windows and doesn’t even register to most people who pass it. I love the very mundane nature of this building and that’s what drew me to it as subject matter.”

Cary Reeder | initial drawing.

Cary Reeder | ink drawing.

In reflecting on her method, Reeder described her detailed steps, “My painting process was relatively painstaking. I took reference photos on a bright sunny day to capture the hard shadows. From this I did an initial sketch from a printout and traced a line drawing from it in ink.”

Cary Reeder | enlarged and traced onto canvas.

Cary Reeder | graphite tracing.

Cary Reeder | starting first layer.

Cary Reeder | first layer complete.

Cary Reeder | roof and window colors.

Cary Reeder | roof color study.

“I then had the image blown up to the size of the canvas and traced the image onto the canvas to use as a guideline. I then mixed the colors taking a cue from the reference photo, specifically seeing several colors in the rusty roof. I did small color studies from this on primed canvas to see how the color combinations would work together.”

Cary Reeder | graphite guidelines.

Cary Reeder | painting linework.

Cary Reeder | shadows and linework complete.

“Shadows are very important to my work so I spent a lot of time mixing the colors until I got the values just right for the siding of the building and the windows. I wanted to create the impression of hard, punishing sunlight. Within the shaded areas, I mixed a darker value gray to paint the line work. Getting the value right on the line work takes a lot of trial and error and I spend a lot of time on practice studies until I get the values for the line work in the bright areas and shadow areas to look seamless. I taped off the larger shapes, windows, and roof lines to get clean straight lines but did all of the shadows and obsessive line work on the siding by hand. For me, this is a very meditative process that I enjoy but also do it because I want the viewer to see my ‘hand’ in the work.”

Cary Reeder | adding window color.

Cary Reeder | window closeup.

Cary Reeder | window completion.

Cary Reeder | vents added

Cary Reeder | taping for roof.

Cary Reeder | final painting - detail.

Cary Reeder | “They Still Work” (studio view), acrylic on canvas, 2014, 28”H x 36” W. Courtesy of the artist.


Cary Reeder started off as a graphic artist in the early ‘80s, worked as a nonprofit writer/administrator for 20 years, and got back into art making eight years ago. In 2013, she had her first solo show Now, What Was There? at Lawndale Art Center in Houston, and has shown widely in Houston and Texas. She attended the Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and teaches at Art League Houston.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor, and writer.


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