Silverpoint #05 over toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint #05 over toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

I’ve completed six more panels, so I figure it’s time for an update. Illustrated here are a few of those that I that have found to be particularly interesting/beautiful for various reasons. The most evocative seem to be those whose compositions include human beings or parts thereof. It’s as though each one is from some unwritten comic book – captions not included. (Hergé would have understood.) Additionally, the abstract panels cause me to wonder/admire anew at how the iconoclastic impulse of Islamic art continues to produce such interesting varieties of texture and pattern.

Silverpoint #08 over toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint #08 over toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Further, one very general note. I feel I am serendipitously creating 21st century daguerreotypes(!). (Who knew?) It’s as though by using silver to recreate images based on a digital photograph the mechanistic process has come full circle: human to machine back to human. And again, because the drawing stylus is silver it’s almost impossible to achieve a line darker than a 50% grey value. All values are compressed thereby, necessitating a multitude of small decisions. Then, adding in the white highlights truly makes each panel come alive. That’s my artist’s pleasure.

Silverpoint #11 over toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Silverpoint #11 over toned gesso ground. 13.3 x 21 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 in.

Finally, the raison d’être for these remains as underdrawings. And I have no doubt that their beauty and subtlety will contribute to the whole in yet-to-be-experienced ways. (Can’t wait) However, because of their beauty and subtlety – which at least compositionally I don’t take credit for – some will be held back for individual display and appreciation. For this, I think I have a plan…

Panel #10. Silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Panel #10. Silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

I’ve been doing some underdrawings for a new project. It will be a different approach to the same image/subject matter as the “A Piece of Me” project, completed in December 2020.

Panel #01. Silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Panel #01. Silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

However, instead of being executed in a full textural and chromatic range this one will be untextured,  monochromatic and ghosted back. It will be done in silverpoint on acrylic and overpainted (in acrylic or oil, TBD) on sixty four panels.

Illustrated here is a selection of some of the individual panels I’ve created so far, along with some of my notes. 1) Using silver point means that I can never reach a rich dark value (SP is not india ink!). So that’s fantastic and exactly what I’m looking for. 2) In addition, since I’m creating them on already tinted grounds, the darkest values provide less contrast than if I were starting from a white ground. Again, excellent! 3) The tinted ground itself establishes a middle value and allows me to lay in white washes for the highlights. 4) Inevitably, the value range is compressed and subtlety reigns. Nice. That’s how I like it.

Panel #02. Silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Panel #02. Silverpoint underdrawing over tinted gesso, highlighted with white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

Also, even though these are intended as underdrawings I can already see that, when the composition warrants it, a few of them are or will be worthy of individual display – though I’m not sure how I’ll handle that. Should I create them (only) for integration into the final piece? Or should I create some for appreciating in isolation (only)? It’s a great problem to have which, for the moment, I don’t have to solve. I can simply create the little panels, fall in love and see where it all goes

The winning test panel. Silverpoint over tinted acrylic gesso, treated with GOLDEN Pastel Ground, highlighted with acrylic titanium white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

The winning test panel. Silverpoint over tinted acrylic gesso, treated with GOLDEN Pastel Ground, highlighted with acrylic titanium white. 13.3 cm x 21 cm, or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

I’ve been doing a number of tests in preparation for an upcoming project. It will consist of a series of uniformly sized HDF panels prepared with a tinted ground upon which I intend to create images executed in silverpoint. These silverpoint images will be touched up with white (probably gouache). Since silverpoint does not create a strong dark line (that’s part of its beauty) I wanted to create tinted grounds that were not too dark, say, between a 10 – 20% grey value. The silverpointed strokes could softly emerge from this but never become stronger than a 40-50% value. Likewise the highlights could softly arise in the opposite direction, creating a nuanced chiaroscuro effect. Further, I imagined the hue of the background to be a terre verte. Since I planned to create a series of these panels whose grounds should be uniform I wanted to create a tint which could be reproducible across the whole series.

Relative to the ground itself, silverpoint requires a drawing surface prepared with a significant amount of “tooth” to catch the silver of the stylus. The substrate for that ground can be flexible or inflexible. The grounds for flexible substrates, such as paper or cloth, then need to create this tooth while also remaining somewhat flexible. Such grounds tend to be acrylic based (though this rule is, in itself, not inflexible). The grounds for inflexible substrates possess more latitude. They can be acrylic or traditional (based on rabbit skin glue), these latter tend to be more brittle. In the case of this project, since I had already chosen HDF, I had a range of media to choose from.

Additionally, contrary to what the word “tooth” might seem to imply, it does not so much refer to the texture of the ground as it does to its hardness. Because the silver (or any metal point) creates its mark by leaving tiny deposits of metal, the hardness of the pigment filler suspended in that ground is what provides this tooth. The carrier might be acrylic or rabbit skin glue while for the filler an array of white pigment particles may be used. These may include mixtures of chalk whiting (calcium carbonate), titanium white and/or zinc white. After it dries, the ground may be polished smooth or left with a bit of texture – artist’s choice. Experience quickly demonstrates that small, meditative motions of the stylus create soft, almost indelible lines whose value intensity increases only with repetition – not pressure.

At the outset of this project then, I had a few questions to answer:

  • Since I already knew I would be using an inflexible substrate, should I use an acrylic based carrier or a traditional rabbit skin glue for my gesso? In theory, both might be appropriate.
  • If acrylic, how should I introduce my tint? Terre verte in dry pigment form is known to be chemically incompatible with acrylics, so mixing up a combination of other pigments in an aqueous dispersion would be my best option.
  • Alternatively, if I choose RSG as my carrier how do I introduce the tint? From a technical point of view, terre verte could be added to the dry pigment filler base of my RSG ground. However because it has such a low tinting index and its hue varies greatly from supplier to supplier, it’s not a good choice. An aqueous dispersion of high tinting dry pigments might be necessary here too.
  • Whatever medium I choose, along with whatever tinting mechanism, its hue should be reproducible.

I began creating a number of test panels using different carriers and differing tinting solutions. After much experimentation I discovered:

  • I experimented with adding a few blobs of tube acrylic “terre verte” to my acrylic gesso. It worked well enough for one panel but would clearly be difficult to calibrate chromatically across a large series. Also, I thought it would be a more expensive.
  • By combining small but precisely measured amounts of cadmium yellow, burnt sienna, mars black and viridian I could grind up a hue that I liked. I added small amounts of distilled water until I had a paste which could be further diluted into a well-dispersed yet concentrated tinting solution.
  • This hue could be reproducible across the series since I had not only maintained records of my dry pigment tints but also how much gesso base I had used (either various GOLDENS acrylic gessoes or various RSG recipes). In this way I knew how to ultimately manage my white component.
  • Finally, the winner was an acrylic combination. See above, left. Though I truly prefer the haptic experience of a traditional RSG gesso for silverpoint, in this case acrylics won out. My reasons were: facility, it’s easy to use, for when you are planning on creating sixty four panels, this matters (RSG recipes can be more finicky); uniformity, the tinted, sanded surface of the acrylic ground was uniform (this was not always the case with my RSG gessoes); value, the silverpoint line was not too dark on the acrylic ground (surprisingly, the RSG/zinc white ground created a darkest line of all); line clarity/or not, a transparent coat of GOLDENS Pastel Ground applied onto the acrylic ground turned the surface texture into a rough sandpaper. In turn this made my silverpoint strokes a whispy sfumato, whereas the baby butt-smoothness of the burnished RSG grounds created fine, strong, clear lines (not what I was looking for in this project). Highlighting, washes of white gouache were well received on the acrylic ground and easily manipulated (because they were in an aqueous solution, this was not the case with the water-permeable RSG grounds). However, ultimately I opted for doing my highlights in (titanium white) acrylic since in the long run it requires less protection. Versatility, since I am beginning to imagine further (semi-translucent) coats of paint over the whole series after they are completed and fully assembled, the robust versatility of the acrylic medium seems to be the best choice.

It can sometimes seem like a lot of extra effort to do your homework like this, but it’s worse to create a whole project only to find that the materials you use don’t let you do whatever it is that you envision.

Besides, I think you have to enjoy creating mud-pies. 😉

 

 

I’ve been scanning some of my archived material from the late 1970s. Luckily my professors had always said: be sure to take slides of your work(!). Not all of them are well lit or even in pristine focus but hey, it’s better than nothing.

New Haven from Lighthouse Park II. 1980. Oil on panel. 5' x 15".

New Haven from Lighthouse Park II. 1980. Oil on panel. 5″ x 15″.

New Haven from Lighthouse Park I. 1980. Oil on panel. 5' x 15".

New Haven from Lighthouse Park I. 1980. Oil on panel. 5″ x 15″.

This series illustrates my initial attempts to paint landscape. They were done ‘en plein air’, in the sense that they were painted on site and not later in the studio. But even then, my approach was not impressionistic, which seeks to quickly render an evanescent moment. Rather, I would frequently return to the scene of the crime, building up layers (until the surface could hold no more), as I sought to describe something eternally universal about my chosen view.

I was living in New Haven Connecticut at the time, thus a number of them are harbour scenes from the city parks on the east and west side. In addition, there is an interstate 90 highway scene plus a seascape from a beach house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut where I lived one winter (the large red roof in the middle ground belonged to the family home of Katherine Hepburn, probably still does).

New Haven from Sandy Point. 1980. Oil on panel. 5' x 15".

New Haven from Sandy Point. 1980. Oil on panel. 5″ x 15″.

Westbrook, Connecticut. 1979. Oil on Panel. 5" x 15".

Westbrook, Connecticut. 1979. Oil on Panel. 5″ x 15″.

Old Saybrook. 1978. Oil on panel. 5" x 15".

Old Saybrook. 1978. Oil on panel. 5″ x 15″.

The provenance of the unusually long horizontal format is this. The father of a friend of mine used to prowl the local dump for useable building materials. One day he came home with a contraption consisting of seven 5″ x 15″ masonite panels which all hung from a bar. I detached them, stripped the panels of their paint but left the holes at the top intact – this is why you can still see the push pins I used to hold them to the wall.

At the time I created seven scenes. This is a record of five of them. I gave all of them away before I left the East Coast but I no longer know who has what. If some old friend ever pops up with an image of the other two I’ll happily update this page.

 

Underdrawing for oils

October 24, 2020

I hesitate to say something about a topic that may (or should) already be well covered in artist manuals and/or the blog-o-sphere but since I have had a steep learning curve myself these past few weeks, I thought it might be helpful to document these lessons for others. I’m thinking that the main reason there is less information out there is because most painters these days prefer to paint on an acrylic gesso ground. It’s cheaper, easier, faster and less toxic. I also think that most painters are interested in using an alla prima approach to painting, it’s the fashion and one which generally does not make use of an underdrawing. ‘Nuff said.

To set the stage for my problem: I had a series of 3mm HDF panels (note, not canvases) which were sized with rabbit skin glue and then primed with a lead white primer. I had used Old Holland Lead White, in a 120 ml can: lead carbonate ground with cold-pressed linseed oil which was diluted with five parts turpentine (to one part stand oil, my mistake, NEVER do that again. The stand oil introduces an unnecessary element of fat into a ground that should always be as lean as possible). These panels were primed over one year ago. They were fully cured.

I now wanted to transfer my designs onto these panels – and from that design, create an indelible underdrawing which could serve as a foundation upon which to build an image. The problem/challenge was to find a medium that would be absorbed by this lean oil ground and yet (after an adequate amount of drying time) would not dissolve into the successive layers of fatter oil paint on top. (This business of painting is always a two way street.)

I set about transferring my first set of designs by printing a black and white version of the image to size onto a piece of paper, covering the back side of the paper with vine charcoal, and then tracing the design by pressing the tip of a dull stylus into the main lines. The resulting charcoal design on the panel could be erased or modified, but now I had something upon which to base a more permanent underdrawing.

Acrylic Ink?

Due to my recent experience in developing underdrawings for acrylic, I already knew that black acrylic ink (which is perfect for drawing on an acrylic gesso ground and then painting in acrylics over that) would not be appropriate for drawing on an oil ground. The practical and simple logic is such: oil can be superimposed upon acrylic but not vice versa.

India ink?

I set about drawing in my designs with a pen nib using permanent india ink. They appeared to bead up. The ground was not receptive to india ink. No amount of drying time would change that. It was an oil and water thing. My ground was too fat for the india ink, so I cleaned it off and started over.

Underdrawing in light black oil wash over collaged panel primed with lead oil ground.

Underdrawing in light black oil wash over collaged panel primed with lead oil ground.

Mars black oil paint heavily diluted with turpentine and painted in with thin washes?

What did painters, painting on oil based grounds for centuries, do? Well, first, surely they did not add stand oil to their ground(!) (my bad.) But still, since the oil ground is oil, they must have used a medium to which it was receptive. My first series of underdrawings then were done with mars black oil paint heavily diluted with turpentine. They looked great and appeared to be well received by the oil ground. Hooray #1. See image above, left. However after three or four days of drying time, they began to lift off the ground when lightly touched with a kneaded eraser to lift off that original charcoal tracing design. Not good. I began to think I would have to start over by priming a whole new set of panels without the addition of that nasty stand oil.

Underdrawing created with a mars black oi paint diluted 50:50 or so with turpentine, drawn on an oil based ground using a pen stylus.

Underdrawing created with a mars black oi paint diluted 25:75 or so with turpentine, drawn on an oil based ground using a pen stylus.

Mars black oil paint less heavily diluted and drawn in with a pen nib?

Then I also realised that I could try creating a black oil drawing medium which was less diluted (that is, contained more oil). So I mixed up a small jar with a blob of oil paint and an amount of turpentine, roughly 25:75. Test strokes. Trial and error. I wanted to create something fluid and siccative, which would work with a pen nib but which was thicker than my previous dilutions. I reasoned that this new batch would fare better with firm, linear lines rather than the fugitive, heavily diluted brush strokes. The paint/ink could be thicker than before and also this form of thick strokes could take up less “space” on the ground. I completed a few yesterday and will let them fully dry but I think and hope I have solved my problem. Time will tell. I hope to update this page as the project progresses.

A Piece of Me #07, the mixed technique on panel.

A Piece of Me #07, the mixed technique on panel.

The “mixed technique”, as I use it, refers to the development of an egg/oil emulsion that can be used to grind amounts of dry pigment powder into a useable paint OR using that same emulsion to extend already existing manufactured tube oil colour into a faster drying, leaner paint. Some scholars and painters claim that the “oil technique” discovered in the fifteenth century by the Northern Renaissance painters (beginning with Van Eyck) was actually a discovery of this emulsion. While others claim that Van Eyck’s new oil technique (or “mische techniek”) consisted of the judicious use of oil glazes over a well developed egg tempera underpainting. Whether there actually was an in-between phase of a new emulsion (as described above) appears to be a matter of debate. You can find authoritative resources either way. For myself, I have tried creating paintings with both approaches but, like a moth to the flame, continue to be drawn to this new emulsion and the effects it creates. My results have reflected the analogy correspondingly: sometimes scintillating; sometimes trash.

A Piece of Me #37, the mixed technique on panel.

A Piece of Me #37, the mixed technique on panel.

This “new emulsion” then dries more slowly than egg tempera and yet faster than oil. It allows for smoother transitions in blending. It also allows for wet-in-wet brush stroke integrity (which the oil technique, when applied wet-in-wet tends to slur). Relative to the emulsion recipe I use, when created freshly, it looks and handles like mayonnaise. Because it’s created with methyl cellulose glue instead of an egg yolk it lasts a lot longer. An emulsion created with the yolk of an egg should create a well functioning “mayonnaise” too, I just haven’t tried it. 

For this series of panels I applied the few steps with which I have become familiar over the years:

  • the choice of a firm substrate, in this case, a 3 mm HDF panel with a hardwood veneer on both sides
  • sizing the panel with rabbit skin glue
  • coating the panel with approximately 10 layers of traditional chalk gesso
  • another coat of size to reduce absorbency
  • a well developed underdrawing, created with india ink. Depending on the subject matter, sometimes pen and ink, sometimes a series of washes, sometimes both.
  • a well developed underpainting
  • a clear glaze painted on and allowed to dry for approximately 15 minutes before wiping off
  • mixing emulsion into my colors as I painted into this clear glaze
  • doing so made for smooth, easy to blend transitions
  • you can click this link for a full view of the mixed technique series of panels for the A Piece of Me project

 

The Encaustic Palette

October 9, 2020

My collection of dry pigments in the studio

My collection of dry pigments in the studio

I’ve just completed a series of panels executed in encaustic. The palette I used for this work consisted mainly of the same dry pigments that I keep on hand for egg tempera.  (See illustration to the left.) I said “mainly”, because I also began to supplement my palette of home-made colours with the bars of ready made encaustic colours from R&F pigments that I had purchased at my local art supply store. In this way, a few additional colours crept in, most notably Naples Yellow (which I had purchased in search of a Yellow Ochre – which it is not).

Thus, during this process of painting with encaustic I became motivated to pay increased attention to my palette choices. Yes, technically, you can use the same dried pigments that you might use for egg tempera but that doesn’t mean you should. The principle caveat here being toxicity.

I gleaned this information recently from Kraemer Pigmente: “For encaustic, pigments are melted into wax or a wax-resin-mixture. It is very important not to use toxic pigments with this technique. Pigments used for encaustic must not contain lead, arsenic or cadmium. […] The pigments should not be heated over the melting point of the wax and they should not be burnt. The pigments listed here are not safe for use in candle making. We recommend tests prior to the final application. Caution: Heated wax is a fire hazard and should never be left unattended. Wax vapors and fumes are hazardous for the health and should not be inhaled. An exhaust system should be installed to pull out wax vapors.”

My own nota bene: I do not handle lead and arsenic in the form of dried pigments but I DO use the (yellow and red) cadmium colours. In addition, the ready made pigment cakes from R&F paints DO include the cadmium colours as well as the above mentioned Naples Yellow. These are expressly advised against by Kraemer Pigmente. Since I trust Kraemer Pigmente – use these colours with caution (or rather, don’t use them). In any case be sure to install a good ventilation system in your studio and use a vapour mask  I purchased a 3M 4251+ disposable half mask and also wore a set of eye goggles. I highly recommend both! 

My palette:

  • Ultramarine blue (a cool blue)
  • Thalo blue ( a warm blue)
  • Cadmium yellow medium (a warm yellow)
  • Permanent Lemon Yellow (a cool yellow)
  • Cadmium red medium (a warm red)
  • Alizarine crimson (a cool red)
  • Viridian green
  • Venetian red (red iron oxide)
  • Raw umber (fantastic for shadows)
  • Burnt siena (great for achieving quick grounded warmth)
  • Yellow ochre (I used this for all my imprimatura’s )
  • Mars black
  • Titanium white

Dried pigments suggested from Kraemer Pigmente for encaustic

Historic pigments

  • Smalt Egyptian Blue
  • Han-Blue
  • Han-Purple
  • Alba Albula
  • Red Jasper
  • Côte d’Azur Violet
  • Brown red slate
  • Jade
  • Rock Crystal
  • Fuchsite
  • Gold Ochre from Saxony
  • Burgundy Ochres
  • Spanish Red Ochre
  • Brown Earth from Otranto
  • Moroccan Ochres
  • Onyx Black
  • Obsidian Black
  • Sodalite
  • Lapis Lazuli
  • Verona Green Earth
  • Bavarian Green Earth
  • Ochres from Andalusia
  • Nero Bernino
  • Russische Green Earth  
  • Aegirine
  • Epidote
  • Green Jasper

Synthetic-organic Pigments

  • Phthalo Green Dark
  • Phthalo Green, yellowish
  • Phthalo Blue, primary
  • Phthalo Blue, Royal Blue
  • Phthalo Blue, reddish
  • Anthraquinone Blue
  • Orange DPP RA
  • Scarlet Red DPP EK
  • Red DPP BO
  • Ruby DPP-TR
  • Scarlet Red
  • CPT Scarlet Red
  • Permanent Red
  • Permanent Red FRLL
  • CPT-Red
  • Permanent Yellow light
  • Permanent Yellow medium
  • Isoindole Yellow
  • Pyramid-Yellow medium
  • Quinacridone Pink D
  • Dioxazine Violet
  • Maroon
  • Quinophthalone Orange
  • Pyranthrone Orange
  • Quinacridone Gold, red-gold
  • Alizarine Crimson Light
  • Alizarine Crimson Dark
  • Brilliant Yellow
  • Isoindolinon Yellow
  • Isoindole Yellow-Orange
  • Quinacridone Violet
  • Isoindol Orange
  • Studio Yellow
  • Studio Red

 

I just finished a series of thirteen identically sized panels executed in the encaustic technique. This was the third time in my artistic life that I have jumped into painting with melted wax.

Nils, #53, encaustic on panel. 23.5 x 13.3 cm or  9 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

Nils, #53, encaustic on panel. 23.5 x 13.3 cm or 9 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.

Anna, #18, encaustic with collage on panel. 12.7 x 9 cm or 5 x 3.5 in.

Anna, #18, encaustic with collage on panel. 12.7 x 9 cm or 5 x 3.5 in.

The first time was back in 1978, with the Nils project. At that time I created approximately sixteen panels in encaustic, see one example here to the left. Relative to the technique, there was no internet to consult. I only had only my handbook from Reed Kay, The Painter’s Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. It contained useful and reliable information that I and others still consult to this day.

The next time was in 2011 so, post internet. At that time I quickly discovered that there was a vast amount of information and resources on encaustic now available. I located a youtube source which showed me on how to create my own ready-to-use cakes of clear medium (beeswax and melted damar resin). This would save me time during the painting process. Also, due to this general new-found popularity in the arts and crafts world, I discovered an electrified hobby pen for encaustic with ironing, drawing and painting nibs. In this way my use of the technique received a leg up (or two).

And then there is today, 2020, where my own education continues – as well as the proliferation of internet resources. Most of what you will discover with a quick Google is a collection of enthusiastic arts and crafts blog sites. I found them to be very informative but also a little superficial. Very few, if any, address the deeper complexities of using melted wax for realistic rendering. Yet since that has always been my interest I would like to address how I have tried to do that with this most recent series of panels. The subject matter is a given, the rendering of it is the challenge.

Ground

Of course, first and foremost, the main issue is the relationship between the support, the ground and the paint. The support should not bend; the ground should be absorbent to the melted wax. I use traditional chalk gesso ground on a 3 mm hardboard panel. That is standard practice. You can buy fully prepared $$ Ampersand panels in art shops but also you can create your own. I have always preferred the latter.

Underdrawing

I consulted the University of Delaware MITRA forum experts about my choice of materials for the underdrawing. They affirmed my intuitive choice of india ink but warned me from using egg tempera for the underpainting. So I used charcoal to transfer my designs and then laid them in with india ink. After the india ink was dry I used a kneaded eraser to erase all traces of the charcoal. That left me with thirteen highly graphic panels, resembling the individual panels of a comic book. But what about the underpainting? Because encaustic is such a viscous, opaque technique would an underpainting be of any help? And was it even necessary? Also, beyond the bare function of outlining would the underdrawings I had already done prove useful? I did not know.

Underpainting

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

A Piece of Me #53, encaustic on panel. 21 x 13.3 cm or 5 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.

So I decided to forego the underpainting. Instead I opted to cover each panel with a beginning layer of yellow ochre imprimatura. This was achieved in two steps, first by melting up some yellow ochre paint and slapping it on, then by warming up the iron covering the panel with some cheesecloth and melting it back off. That produced the effect of burning in a yellow ochre glow into the chalk gesso ground. It provided a middle-value, warm starting position, without much wax. Highlights could go in one direction, shadows in another. As the panels progressed, I learned more and more how to make use of my underdrawing. I allowed it to peep through here and there, adding a level of built-in dimensionality and graphical contrast to the shadows. I also learned how to make use of the imprimatura. In the highlights I allowed it to show through on occasion.

As the panels developed in complexity of subject matter I began to reconsider the underpainting question. This happened quite by accident. I had painted a panel with a variety of hues and values. But it was too coarse for my purposes so I decided to (gently) melt it off. I warmed up the iron and covered the panel with cheesecloth. The paint melted quickly into the cloth. Perhaps too much? Yet as I removed the cloth I saw that in the process I had created an underpainting(!). The main masses had melted into the gesso. It would now take only an additional hour or two of fresh impasto to rebuild significant highlights and shadows, add in the final linear touch ups, then I would be done. And I was – for that panel at least. You can read its full story here.

This then became a way forward for me whenever I wished to create an underpainting for more complex compositions. So, underdrawing, underpainting, not to mention collage or pre-sculpted relief can truly enhance encaustic’s ability to describe form in a visceral yet realistic way. I think it goes without saying that this type of preparatory underwork has little significance if you are interested in using encaustic for purely abstract purposes. But then again, maybe not? Show me, baby, I’m open to it. 🙂

 

 

 

Acrylics and indirect painting

September 13, 2020

I just finished a series of paintings all executed in acrylic. These panels were conceived of so as to be included within a larger project. That project consists of sixty-four panels all executed in different techniques, but which, when assembled, would create one completed image (currently, still yet to be completed). Yet when taken on its own, each panel is/was intended to function independently – aesthetically independent of any overriding visual-conceptual structure. Some might say that is a tall order. And it is, but in my experience, if the original image is well chosen, it can work out.

The subject matter for each individual panel then can be seen as either an abstract “background composition” or a piece of “deconstructed realism” (though in actual fact all sixty four panels are pieces of deconstructed reality). Additionally, depending on the technique used and the preparation of its substrate, each panel lends itself to a coarser or more refined approach. In a sense, there was nothing to be done about either as they were my givens to myself: the rules of the game, so to speak.

The abstract compositions then were relatively easy: lines, shapes, forms, textures, hue and value contrasts. I could riff off any given composition with relative freedom. And I did. The (deconstructed) realism ones were more difficult because there were obvious body parts referring to a reality for which the story was (as yet) unknown. So these details were (potentially) more significant.

With acrylics it was relatively easy to switch back and forth between a coarse, impasto approach (using the painting knife and/or a coarsely textured sponge) and a refined, detailed approach using a brush or maybe a fine-celled sponge. In fact, many panels combined both. Nevertheless, what I want to speak of here is the degree to which the underwork, that is, the underdrawing, underpainting and impasto can prepare the panel for a quick, spontaneous, alla-prima final painting session. This is entirely possible in acrylics – just as it is in oils – though of course it all proceeds more quickly in acrylics. If you do your homework you already know where you are going, so the final session may take an hour or two at the most(!). The preparation work itself might be slow and laborious so that the final session need not.

A Piece of Me #44, acrylic over collage on panel.

A Piece of Me #44, acrylic over collage on panel.

There were panels where the painting proceeded quickly and spontaneously in a forward developing motion. I could build upon my structure and leave many elements exposed in the process, creating more visual and structural depth. The shading in the floor tiles on panel #24 is a case in point. The shadows on my face and hair in panel #04 is another. The collage,  underdrawing and imprimatura in panel #44 illustrated here to the left (with link) is yet another example of how much the underwork can contribute to a final painting – again, when you know where you are going.

A Piece of Me #39, acrylic on panel.

A Piece of Me #39, acrylic on panel.

There were times however, during the process of over painting when I needed to reclaim that preparational understructure. I have come to call this process “painting backwards”. This means, reclaiming your underwork particularly in the quarter tones and highlight areas. There are a few panels where I used this extensively. Normally I use a small bright bristle brush to reclaim some detail or highlight that has become obfuscated by a larger, wider brush stroke. For example, I used my small bright bristle brush to reclaim the grouting lines in panel #39, see image with link to the left. I used the same technique on the tile work in panel #54. When I paint with oil I have used turpentine as my solvent, but in this acrylic series I used water and, because acrylic dries so fast, I had to work quickly.

All this work and paint manipulation applies to the recognition that painting is essentially about creating an illusion. An illusory world to which you are inviting the viewer to participate in. It may be realistic, it may not, but mostly you are creating a sensory space/place for the viewer to wander in with their own gevoeslmatig (feeling-sense) consciousness, disconnected from the world of concepts. When you can create this illusion with a minimum of means, a sense of freshness arises. In addition, when you operate through layers, the original luminosity of the substrate is able to show through delightfully in places – even in the shadows(!). That luminosity is so much more pleasing that any amount of opaque white you can ever slap back on. For this reason, I have become an advocate for an indirect technique and I’m pleased to see how well acrylics can adapt itself to it.

 

Underdrawing for acrylic

August 24, 2020

Pen and ink Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #59

Pen and ink Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #59

I am currently involved in a project which calls for thirteen panels to be executed in acrylic according to a pre conceived design. Thus for starters I wanted to transfer the basic elements of the design to each panel. Since I haven’t used the medium for about forty years I had to search around a bit to see how best to do that.

To my surprise I did not find a lot of information online about creating an underdrawing for painting in acrylic. Most information I found concerned transfer of the design and then getting rid of the drawing as soon as possible. That’s not what I wanted. I want the underdrawing itself to play a role in the final painting – and not just in a paint-by-number, outline kind of way. What I sense (but don’t know) is that painting indirectly, which makes use of underdrawings in a foundational and yet implicit way, has gone somewhat out of vogue. Thus the information I found only partially addressed my interest.

Anyway, the first important thing I did find was to avoid traditional shellac based india ink. This is because the subsequent acrylic paint would act as a solvent to the shellac and (at least partially) dissolve any careful design. Solving that problem was relatively easy as there were acrylic based black inks readily available at my local art supply store. I dipped a pen nib into the ink and proceeded to lay in basic elements of the designs. The pen and ink approach proved to be especially useful for the abstract composition parts of the series. There is an illustration of one of these above, left.

Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #14 in pencil.

Underdrawing for A Piece of Me #14 in pencil. (before the smear campaign)

However I also had some more complex designs that required more detail and subtle changes of gradation than the pen and ink method allows for so I switched to pencil drawings – mostly because I was most comfortable with that medium. Not a good idea. There had been information online warning about the use of a graphite pencil, but a few artists recommended spraying the completed underdrawing with an intervening level of fixative before beginning to paint. So I tried that. But it didn’t work. My softly detailed underdrawing quickly smeared into my first coat of imprimatur. Thus I definitely do not recommend using pencil for your underdrawings in acrylic (or oils).

Reclaimed underdrawing in acrylic ink wash with pen and ink touch ups for A Piece of Me #14

Reclaimed underdrawing in acrylic ink wash (with pen and ink touch ups) for A Piece of Me #14

What I do recommend is transferring your design using vine charcoal, then drawing it in either with a pen nib or painting it in with a brush, or a combination of the both. Then, after the basics of the design have been created and the acrylic ink has dried, go over the entire surface with a kneaded eraser to get rid of all traces of charcoal. At that point you will have an indelible black and white underdrawing that can be used in whatever way you choose for further levels of acrylic paint.