Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Comment on Comments

Every once in a while someone asks a variation of "do you work at the site of the painting?" or "do you work from a photo?" or "isn't working from a photo copying?".  Some answers.

Sketch or Photo?

I have no qualms about working from a photo as long as I realize that the photo will never capture what the eye can see.  The photo can freeze a moment in time and enable me to finish a painting, but I don't rely on it solely.  I always sketch a painting before beginning with the actual paint stage. Sometimes I sketch on paper, sometimes Mylar for easier transfer, and sometimes I just sketch on the canvas.  I only do the latter if I'm sure of the composition as alterations with much erasure can ruin a canvas.  If I'm painting in egg tempera the sketch must be done before transferring to the panel (more on this later). But I almost always take a photo of a setup, the scene, etc., as it establishes a base line and serves as a reminder. This is especially helpful when I may take much longer than one sitting to finish the work.

Still Life and Food

When working on the food series I'm essentially working in still life except that my models tend to rot over time and some rot very quickly.  I always take a photo of the finished setup but start the painting from life.  A painting might come together in an hour, a day, or I might be distracted working on other paintings.  As the models begin their inevitable decline I switch to the photo which, among other things, captures the lighting level from the original setup.  After doing many types of fruit enough times I can now paint them from memory, altering the colors, values and composition to suit my mood.

Working Outdoors (Plein Air)

Working outdoors is another matter.  I prefer painting in the studio, but I've done plein air painting (working outdoors).  The downsides are that weather,  temperature, time of day, energy level can all change, some quite quickly.  Most plein air paintings I begin will eventually be finished in the studio, but that might be days, weeks, months or, as in some cases, even years before I get back to the work.  Or I might do just a value study in paint or a small painting of the subject to then later do a larger painting in the studio. Again, I always take a photo of my final scenic choice and often many photos to capture light, mood, hue, different perspectives, etc.  Certain times with scenes that hold great significance to me the image is burned in my memory and I hardly need a photo as a reminder. 

There's another important factor in all this - the photograph is static, but I often change my mind taking liberties or poetic license with different aspects of the scene.  I might change the orientation from more horizontal to more vertical, remove parts of a scene that don't work in the painting, change colors, values or mood, enhance or distort certain aspects of a painting, etc.  As examples see the following progression from Reflections: Fuller Brook No. 4 where I've changed the orientation from the photo that shows in the original sketch of values/color, moved the direction of the stream from right to center to left, and lengthened the perspective:

Is It Copying to Work From a Photo?

A child once asked me after watching a demo of egg tempera if I was copying since I had the photo alongside the painting.  Working from a photo is done for similar and different reasons when working in egg tempera (pity the old masters before the camera was invented!). This is an unforgiving medium compared to oil although it has its moments that offer solutions when changes must be made.  The medium must be painted on a solid surface - a panel that doesn't bend like canvas fabric.  Like oil painting the surface must be prepared with a gesso base but unlike acrylic gesso used for oil painting the gesso base for egg tempera is solid and doesn't bend (made from either chalk or marble dust mixed with sizing) and when application is finished is usually around 10-15 layers deep.  The traditional gesso is very absorbent and can be damaged easily until fully cured.  Therefore sketching on the surface isn't advised unless you can do a perfect drawing the first time out without any later changes (I can't!).  But just like oil painting, working over graphite isn't compatible, charcoal would work but the charcoal will ruin the gesso surface that can only be cleaned so much.  The solution is doing an original sketch of the painting on paper and then transfer with a safer Saral transfer paper onto the gesso surface after I'm sure the sketch is what I want (I generally sketch on Mylar which is sturdier). I then tape a print of the photo of the original setup onto the panel to serve as a reference and but can then also be folded down over the painted surface for protection when not working.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Making a Transition

I haven't written in this blog for about a year and who knows if anyone is even paying attention, but I'll keep updating with information I think might be useful to some artists.

I've spent the last five years or so going back to traditional and classical painting techniques in representational painting.  This was primarily to relearn techniques I'd strayed too far from, learn new ones, and get a better grasp of the concepts of composition, color mixing, values and light control.  This brought along other things such as edge control, atmospherics, painting in color keys while working with value keys.  Two landscape and one still life results show here with my web site consisting of others.
Pine Acres Lake, Goodwin Park
oil on linen, 9 x 12 inches
Evening on the Salmon River, Idaho
Oil on linen, 9 x 12 inches

Fortuny and Copper
oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches

Now it's time for a change to incorporate what I've been learning and move forward into new formats.

Shadows: Leaves, Light and Air
oil on canvas, 36 x 24 inches
While I still love still life and landscapes and my favorite subject of course is still food, and I'll continue with these, I want to return now to reflections and shadows in oil and continue working with egg tempera using a more complete and complex tool box. One recent result shows here in the newest Shadow painting.

The last year's absence from my blog has been due to two knee replacements and two bouts of Lyme disease so my painting focus suffered a bit.  Now, with a renewed emphasis on better technique, I'm at work on a series of shadows in oil (the first of which is showing here) and continuing to try and complete a free-hand egg tempera of gothic arches that is defying my abilities. More on the last at a later date.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ancient Medium - Egg Tempera Painting, Part 7 - Techniques and Conclusion

Part 7 – Craft as much as Fine Art!

The painters of 2000 years ago didn’t have the tools and knowledge we have today to work in this medium.  We are fortunate to be furthering our craft with the help, and on the backs, of those many painters who went before.  We wouldn’t be the artists we are today without them!

Example of splattering effects on fabric
folds over gilding
Giovanni di Francesco Toscani
Firenze 1372-1430
Tempera on wood
Without the handy overnight orders from Amazon or trips to Jerry’s Artarama, artists then had to invent and make whatever tools and techniques they needed to achieve their desired goals.  Therefore, to some extent, the art of painting in any medium is as much craft as it is fine art.  If an artist then wanted a certain result they had to do whatever necessary to achieve it.  This may have meant certainly building or creating their own tools, devising techniques such as splattering or sponging, frowned upon by some experts in today’s artwork. The technique of sponging or airbrushing on the underpainting of large areas such as sky or large color fields can quicken the process of laying down enough layers to allow the painting to begin to materialize.  The process of actually painting whether with sponge, brush or other tools is a meditative one that demands mindful attention.

While there are many examples throughout museums around the world, I found some interesting examples of 15th century egg tempera paintings in Florence, Italy, at the Ospedale degli Innocenti that are as brilliant today as the day they were painted because of the polymerization of the egg molecules with the raw pigment (no linseed or other oils getting in the way).  What makes these most interesting to me is that these artists used techniques that some of today’s experts disparage as too crafty and not sufficiently academic (such as splattering or sponging).  I presume these two artists used the techniques then as we do now, to achieve a certain effect.  A couple of examples are shown below:

Example of sponging to mimic marble, shell or onyx

Giotto di Bondone
Firenze circa 1265-1337
Tempera on wood

Conclusion of Blog on Egg Tempera Painting - Thank you for your interest and following my blog.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Ancient Medium - Egg Tempera Painting, Part 6 - Care of Egg Tempera Paintings

Part 6 – Care of Egg Tempera Paintings

Since it is an organic medium, mildew can be gently wiped off with a moist cloth, applying a little physics to the genome of mold means it will disappear if the painting is placed in the sun for a few minutes and gently vacuumed with a soft brush attachment. Unlike oil, properly tempered egg and pigment will not develop the craquelure of aging on the surface as seen in old oil paintings.  Egg tempera colors are less likely to yellow although certain varnishes will yellow on egg tempera as on oil.  Egg tempera will also not fade as much as oil as long as lightfast pigments are used just as with oil.

Sustainability of the Substrate

In a recent article on egg tempera painting the author failed to mention that as important as the medium is to the painting, so is the substrate on which the painting is painted.  Proper preparation of the panels includes applying hide glue, tempering of the paint (grinding the egg mixture with the pigment) and the final curing all contribute to the longevity of an egg tempera painting resulting in few if any problems.  The environment in which the painting exists must also be considered.  Will addressing these issues completely protect a painting?  Probably not entirely, but they will greatly enhance the life of the painting. Consider what had to be done to bring two Leonardo da Vinci oil paintings to this country – Ginevra de’ Benci from Liechtenstein and Mona Lisa from France, both painted over 500 years ago.  Both had to adhere to elaborate environmental control procedures to prevent damage. Ginevra de’ Benci was the more difficult as it had resided in the same gallery of a castle in Liechtenstein for centuries.  The National Gallery in Washington, D.C. had their handler place a special climate-controlled case on the floor of the gallery in the castle directly below where the painting had hung for centuries.  The case was left open for days to a week before the painting was carefully packed and the controls set on the case.  It was then transported by air, but arrived on the east coast of the U.S. during a winter blizzard.  The plane was diverted which set all the wheels in motion for the case could not be opened in customs.  It was allowed to change to a new flight undisturbed.  When the painting arrived in Washington, D.C. the case was placed on the floor of the gallery where the painting would then reside and the controls were set to gradually adjust to the climate of the painting’s new home before the case could be opened and the painting hung in its new home.

Next Up, Part 7 – Conclusion:  Techniques – Craft as much as Fine Art!  (on June 18)