This week has been an explosive one filled with ideas as I mentioned in my previous Blog. I've been playing with hairstyles, exploring my bohemian side and having "Art Dates" with myself all in the name of unblocking creativity. I've been flooded with inspiration ever since! One of my future projects was inspired by a barn wood tole painting that caught my eye at a furniture store. You have to understand that when you live in the country, our shops tend to have a lot of rustic decor to meet the demand of designing around a log home, century stone house, or just to suit your favourite country lifestyle! This little piece of art (most likely from China) had a definite appeal to this artsy fartsy do-it-yourselfer with barn wood coming out of her ears! After having completed the sunflower not once but a second miniature version on mini canvas, I was itching to try my hand at this on barn wood. Besides, my perfectionist horticulturist side wouldn’t paint Echinaceas blue! Sacrilege! Stay tuned!
I had a particularly gruelling day in my vegetable garden a few days ago, rebuilding raised beds and transferring the existing soil plus carting more to fill these wretched things. I decided to motivate this hard work with a reward. I gave myself “permission” to collect some greying pieces off the back section of the chicken coop that isn’t being used. In fact I think that will come down soon so I can recycle the roofing metal to repair some torn sheets on my equipment barn. Great, killing two birds with one stone! And so, after much gentle prodding and prying, I managed to remove two half length pieces without splitting them, that still require several dozen rusted ancient nails to be removed if only for safety sake. Otherwise I’d leave them for their sheer charm and character! Step one is done! Now to remove the broken nails sigh! Then I can slice off the rotted part. It won't be long now!
Another project is to satisfy this craving I have for doing a detailed pencil sketch of a tree trunk. Yesterday while driving back from Ottawa where I attended Kathy Smart's Wellness Expo, I stopped at our Experimental Farm. This is where tourists and locals alike flock each spring, summer and fall to view the meticulous gardens. There's a museum and ponds all perfectly inviting for picnics and wedding photos. There is an arboretum with every tree living Canada, complete with a Douglas Fir! But there was no need to walk far before gnarled and twisted trunks appeared and the afternoon sun showed up the thickly textured trunks of ancient trees. I tapped away using my trusty iPhone. It takes amazing photographs by the way! Such a beautiful day too. Some were a tad plain looking after reviewing them at home. I changed them here into grey scale to better judge.
It's interesting how difficult it is to choose the right tree for the job! Some appear to possess too many crevices that are not exactly what I was after.
Others were wrought with too many shadows from other branches to be able to appreciate the textures. This one seems to have a face! Too contrived I think!
They do look much better in black & white format I must say! It will however make the decision that much harder! I will be sure to share my voice and the process!
Being relatively new to the art world a few years ago, I found myself thumbing through second hand artist magazines that I acquired from fellow guild members. One particular article caught my attention about a portrait artist who works with oils and uses a technique of the Old Masters. He starts with a black-and-white detailed ink sketch that has an imprimatura (underpainting glaze) followed by a cross hatching redefining highlights and shadow details with titanium white. He used an egg emulsion tinted to the desired glaze, layer by layer, working from light to dark. Gradually the colours turned richer and the picture came alive. It had depth and glowed as the colours beneath reflected through the glazes. It is what gives a painting life. Well maybe his sheer attention to the fine minutia might have something to do with it! Yes the detailed sketching prior to painting intrigued me as well. I've always favoured sketching as an easier method of getting the details down quickly. Finally the concept of layering individual colours without the need to mix was an answer to my prayers as I have a nasty habit of mixing my paint directly on the canvas! Naturally I fell in love with this technique and vowed to try it someday. Working in acrylics posed a challenge but I figured that glazing medium would be my "egg emulsion" . The cross hatching part was the only daunting part but I'd find a way.
Fast forward to last month when the idea returned after watching a movie in the theatre about Rembrandt; a special monthly Exhibition Series on the Impressionists and other famous artists. Coincidentally I was also working through a book called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, a most fascinating book that is opening my eyes to a lot of issues that have been blocking my creativity. I came to the chapter that would change my life and allow me to paint from the heart instead of trying to paint what sells. My self-confidence had improved to a point where I was ready for that glazing technique challenge. I decided to do a practice sketch from a portrait of a dear friend. It was a profile photo on Facebook that her boyfriend had taken of her while honing his photography skills. She was staring out the window looking longingly outside with the light shining on her face. I have this passion for Chiaroscuro. I love how the light plays on these particular pieces and this is why I tend to lean towards the Renaissance style of dark backgrounds and the light playing on the subject. My friend's portrait was the perfect subject.
Before I continue I must share her story. She is a Filipina immigrated to Canada 7-8 years ago on a work visa. Without going into her personal life let's just say her life struggles could fill a novel. Yet she marches on. I've always admired her spirit and tenacity. She has been working hard to acquire landed immigrant status all while saving money and sending it abroad to feed and clothe her family back in the Philippines. Her plan was to bring her three daughters over as soon as it was possible. I'm happy to report she got her status and the girls just arrived this winter,... 8 years later! Her youngest barely knew her, the elder ones are in their late teens already. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to not have your children with you for all those years. The stigma, the guilt and always the longing. This photograph perfectly captured the expression of longing and of hope only a mother can know. There is also a glint of "knowing" in her smile, like a secret she's keeping to herself. I wanted to capture this in a painting. Just to add to the challenge, I wanted to try the old masters technique using acrylic glaze. This in combination with the work I had been doing in the book was all I needed to have the confidence and get started. I wanted to share the process with you.
Below we see the practice sketch, something I rarely do if ever. I had bought charcoals eons ago but never really played with them. That in itself posed another challenge; handling, getting the feel for how they smear this way and that, how to get a fine line etc.. You see I've only recently learned that I am a perfectionist (I called it something else) and everything I do is supposed to be good enough to frame and sell! Talk about pressure to perform! Hello? Obstacle? So I sat down one day and as part of my homework for that week was to do something such as a practice sketch, just for fun not to sell. It surprisingly turned out quite well for a quick sketch and this raised my self-esteem as well as my spirits. I guess when the pressure is off I work better too! I had been reading and re-reading the glazing article and searched online for information. A new hope was bubbling up inside. Just maybe I could pull this off! It was time to get cracking.
The second photo below is my preliminary canvas sketch to get all the proportions and details correct. To save time I used a projector to get the important features in place so I wouldn't spend a lot of time rearranging and repositioning lines. Besides my initial practice sketch showed me that I could do it freehand if I really wanted to. But for expediency's sake I chose to finally make use of my brand-new projector that has been sitting in the box since Christmas 2013. (Thanks Dave!)
I skipped the under glaze of imprimatura topped with cross hatching in titanium white in favour of a grissaille, from the French term for gray. I would do a black and white photograph! This was a fun exercise too in learning values. I reprinted my photo in gray scale to help me along. I mixed a 50/50 mixture of raw umber and ultramarine blue for a lively black. I then mixed several gradient tones by adding the white to the spots of black in my six well dollar store mini pallette purchased just for that reason. Yes that's right, light to dark! I got it the wrong way around and ended up with so much grey paint that the wells overflowed! Thankfully I have a Stay Wet Palette to store the excess! Some even went into tiny jars. Lesson learned! This is unfortunately is where my non formal training shows. But I'm also seeing that each mistake is learned from. I'm teaching myself, and the price is right! I purposely left out the "Old Navy" logo and kept the maple leaf which I found to be quite symbolic in light of her story. It was challenging to predict the shadows where the lettering used to be. Fabric folds is another on my "to be mastered" list. Once I was pleased with the fine details the scary part begins, the glazing. As part of homework in my book The Artist's way, I decided to treat myself to a new acrylic art magazine . Wasn't there an article about glazing for acrylics like the old masters? Wow! Talk about Serendipity! The first shot is before I finished the T-Shirt folds which were certainly testing my patience!
My first hesitant glaze was a safe raw sienna to warm up all the blackest areas in the shadows and hair. Next I ventured with luckily a perfect match of Pthalo blue for the T-shirt and feeling braver, a burnt sienna for her skin. I left it to dry for a day or two.
Now I have to think! It's important at this stage to understand the difference between transparent and opaque paints. These are details students learn during formal training. I accidentally came across it while reading up on glazing techniques. Only the transparent colours should be used when glazing, but there are always exceptions. I also discovered that there is a transparent white called zinc white. Who knew? One more item to add to my plethora of media and a valid excuse to go shopping at my favourite art supply outlets! Also I read that you have to use pure and primary colours because a mixed colour may have hidden hues that could radically change the end result. For example a warm red to which yellow has been added will react with a blue glaze that would not turn out making a delicate hint of purple. Instead the yellow would fight with the blue trying to make green and we all know what happens when those two opposites of the wheel make!...Mud! At least I picked up a lot of colour theory when I designed flower containers, so it was a simple matter of reviewing and getting to know my paint tubes better. I added masking tape to each one and after researching, marked them with a T or O for transparency and then a P for purity. Apparently the earth tones like raw and burnt umbers and siennas are considered "pure". All this knowledge just to ensure you don't muddy things. You are basically mixing your paint layer by layer on the canvas. By adding contrasting colours to a glaze, you ruin the purity and clarity thus making things greyish/brownish. Alternately you can be knowingly creating a shadow. I now clearly understand what muddy means. Good stuff to know for future regular paintings because the colour mixing rules will still apply! As you can see, a lot of learning and preparation goes into the painting even before the colour goes down! It's not my usual method but I'm finding it both entertaining and educational not to mention becoming more confident in each step.
This second glazing was at my Wednesday "play date" where artists of every level meet once a week to paint or draw while under the security umbrella of a retired art teacher. I felt comforted just knowing she was in the room in case I lost my nerve. I consider her my mentor and therefore look up to her for guidance. As it turned out, I learned a few more things about glazing simply through the process! I was able to put down another layer of Pthalo blue, a contrasting cadmium red in the shadows of the T-shirt, cadmium red in the pinks of her cheeks and lips and a lemon yellow glaze for the window (blue seemed too cold). But as time to leave drew near, I realized that glaze really slows down the drying process! I had to rid some way to carry my canvas home in a dusty car. I used a reusable grocery bag with its stiff sides and square shape and laid the canvas down on one side with the wet paint facing up of course. then I lifted it up by the upper handle which ensured it wasn’t touching the surface. At the car I used that handle to suspend it cantilever style over the passenger seat head rest with the open side against the seat so nothing could get inside either. Worked for me! She got home safe and sound but still it took two more days for everything to lose its tackiness. Here you can notice things are increasing in richness. Quite exciting!
Today I hope to add another layer of glaze. This glaze and wait routine fits my lifestyle. I can be quite squirrelly when it comes to creative outlets and with this book I’m working on, the ideas come faster than I can output! I’ve had to write them all down in a note subsection on my iPhone called ART NOTES/Art to Try . This way I can multitask. I want to prepare a piece of barn board for a garden art idea I saw the other day that inspired me. I’ve also been craving a detailed pencil sketch of a tree trunk. Those will be in other blogs coming very soon!
A creative soul writing about living and loving it in the country.