Prepared Surfaces Portrait with Trish McKinney - Gel Press

Prepared Surfaces Portrait with Trish McKinney

Following “What If” Moments

The Creative Process Behind the Painting…

Be Brave


There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?
– Erin Hanson



ask “what if.”
embrace the unpredictable.
be vulnerable.
be willing.
dare yourself.

what if...

It’s all about what you see, it’s all about being brave. As I sat at my studio table a few weeks ago, looking at mounds of gel printed sheets with skin tone- like colors, it made me think about a new portrait I wanted to paint of my daughter.  There is a video of the process below, along with the thought process, supplies and general instructions.

I asked myself – “what if I combine these two ideas?!” Asking “what if?” is always the beginning of something great in my studio!

It started with the Gel Press and my new stencils I designed that were inspired from my own backyard! Namely the wisteria vine that is curled around my porch and the 200 year old oak tree out my studio window. I used GOLDEN Open Acrylics on a 12” x 12” Gel Press printing plate. I was inspired by some new color combinations and I just went for it! 4 hours later it seemed only 30 minutes had passed.

Now I had a mound of printed sheets and the colors of the sheets laying on top of the mound. (where is my desk?!) Made me think of skin tones. I had a portrait I had been "painting” inside of my head for weeks inspired by a photo taken by my 17 year old daughter  Grace – a selfie which is the current art-form, journal, diary of this generation. I felt it expressed an idea that was forming inspired by the poem written above by Eric Hanson and also from an altered book journal page I had worked on previously.

And all of this collided when I asked the simple question – “what if?!”
embrace the unpredictable...

I collaged these sheets onto a piece of paper creating a prepared surface. I had no idea what would happen – the textural strokes, stencil patterns would be an unpredictable background for a portrait. Before I could begin, I knew I must embrace this unpredictable part of the process.

I was nervous – the kind of nervous excitement you feel before you walk out on stage. This could be epic I was thinking or it could be an epic failure! You want in on a little secret? You move past the fear of failure by just painting! Truth! Ask yourself – what am I so afraid of? It’s just a piece of paper! And no one will know if I fall flat! Fear is an impenetrable wall and roadblock on the journey to creative genius moments! So face it by picking up that brush and just DO IT!! Walk out on stage and just belt out that song!

Embrace the unpredictable!
be vulnerable, be willing...

But all of this had to do with being susceptible, open – vulnerable.  I had to be willing to fail but also to succeed – thinking – “What if I fall?” but also thinking -“What if I fly?!”

So I began to draw the image of the face onto the prepared surface...
dare yourself

So I said to myself – “what are you so afraid of?!  I dare you!”- and I began to paint the face right on top of those deliciously colored, boldly patterned Gel Press printed papers!

When on a creative journey you cannot do anything sitting on the sidelines – you need to pick up the brush and just do it – because, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  -Lao Tzu

I hope you decide to try my recipe for a creative breakthrough.

I encourage you to follow your “what if” moments and see where they take you.

I challenge you to be aware of everything and to “see” what is right in front of you.

And I ask you to have the courage to be willing – to be open to the possibility of – willing to fail or succeed – whether you fall or whether you fly! For this is the path to genius!

Supplies – Step 1

  • Gel Press 12 x12 plate
  • Golden Open Acrylics – various colors (or you can use whatever acrylics you have)
  • Stencils from Trish McKinney’s designs featured through StencilGirl Products – “Mysterious Wisteria," “Branches,” & “Ribbons & Swirls”
  • Print substrates = tissue paper & deli paper
  • Brayer
  • Various Texture/Mark-Making Tools – i.e., Catalyst blades, various stamps, string, etc.


  1. Pull several prints in “neighboring” color schemes using tissue & deli paper – examples of color schemes:
    yellows + oranges + reds
    purples + blues
    blues + greens
  2. Vary and play with printing light and dark values within the color schemes.
  3. Use stencils, stamps, and other mark-making tools to create textural effects and masks – be creative!

Supplies – Step 2

  • Tissue paper Gel Press prints (from Step 1)
  • Matte Medium
  • Gesso
  • Golden Fluid Acrylics – various colors
  • Small Sponge Roller – 1” width or smaller
  • Synthetic Brushes – golden or white taklon – 2” – ½” flats, #14 & #8 rounds
  • 1 sheet watercolor paper, 22” x 30” – I used Strathmore, 400 series watercolor paper (140lb.) – or you can use Arches 140lb. cold press
  • A simple reference photo of a face


  1. Select several interesting gel prints in skin tone colors – yellows, pinks, oranges & lay them out on the paper to plan out light and dark passages – tear edges so the edges are soft when overlapping
  2. Using matte medium, collage papers onto the watercolor paper
  3. Draw out your portrait
  4. Begin painting your portrait mostly negative painting allowing the tissue paper to be the lighter or darker areas. 
  5. Use gesso lightly when an area needs to be lighter and softer – i.e., textural gel prints that are too distracting on the face. Soften the gesso application with a small sponge roller.
  6. Work up value in 2 to 3 layers

Finish & sign!!!

So …

Try something new this week in the studio, Be BRAVE & fearless & have a What If Moment.

I dare you!

Trish McKinney - Working Artist for Gel Press