A few years ago I located a couple of carpenters who spoke enough English (and were pretty good at sign-language) to readily understand what I wanted them to create. A few weeks later they contacted me, “het is klaar” (it’s ready). My concept: I wanted to create a two sided painting (on a wooden panel) with a rotating inner core. The core needed to be extractable duing my creation process but afterwards could be fixed (permanently) in place.

But why create two paintings on one panel? It’s a ton of work. And what would be the reward? That’s very hard to say, except this: it’s a clear and definite way to demonstrate relation. Relation of what to what? You choose, but of course it offered the fundamental and very pregnant possibility of contrasting realism with abstraction in a direct and visceral way. For one side, I chose a landscape. A realistic, almost academic landscape based upon a value study of one of my favorite views of the Predijkherrenrij here in Bruges, Belgium.

And for the other side? Initially, and for a long time, I planned on an open blue field containing a text from Nisargadatta Maharaj, “I am, I am aware, I like it.” My thinking was simply this: if you have to use words to convery your intent, then these words from Maharaj summarize just about all that you ever really need to know. So, that’s what I created.

The Inside-Out

The Outside-In

When the inner core was rotated, it offered views as seen here left and right:

Thus, so far so good, kinda, but the text really bugged me. It took up way too much mental activity – thus creating a tendency to negate not only the unique mental-activity-bypass possibilities of the visual arts, but also the inner intent of the quotation itself! So last week, I painted over the text, to render a pure open field of blue. Ahhhhhh…

The Inside-Out revised

The Outside-In

When the inner core was rotated into “reality” I got this revised version as seen here left and right. Double ahhhhhhh……. Mucho bueno.

The main room, active with visitors

My 8 day solo exhibition at the Congresscentrum in Bruges ended Sunday evening. Many family and friends have asked how it went. Besides the months of prep, it took us two full days to set up and three hours to break back down. Since I was there every day, I had lots of chance to speak with the various visitors in English, French, Dutch or German (one of the four usually worked). Overall the feedback was very positive and encouraging. Here’s the skinny in stats:

  • Almost 1,000 visitors in the eight day time period (and I only counted the people who stayed long enough to actually look, not the heel-turners), so the location is great for exposure.
  • A few painting sales, enough to cover our expenses, but otherwise no great windfall.
  • The greeting cards were, of course, more popular, but still not enough interest (yet) to justify an offset print run.
  • Lots of positive feedback. My visitor’s book is loaded with compliments.
  • Many visitors left with my contact info so exposition related sales are still quite possible. I won’t say likely ’cause I really don’t know.

the slide show on technique on the right at the entrance

What to make of it? The economy here in Europe is in a greater slump than it was even one year ago – and of course the art market is, as ever, one of the most sensitive areas (this collaborated by a Dutch gallery owner). The Belgian contemporary art market principally respects/honors only abstract art. There is not one gallery in the whole country that specializes in offering contemporary realism (!), while I have already located three high end contemporary realism galleries in the Netherlands. In the UK, too, anything goes. Thus, I intend to include marketing my work to a wider audience.

During the exhibition, there was a city wide Lace-Festival. So, many visitors during the latter part of the week were people who had been practicing that craft for a number of years. Such humble visitors invariably preferred the monochromatic, detailed drawing/value studies. They could appreciate the time involved to achieve a beautiful, colorless simplicity.

Final conclusions? Taste is absolutely subjective, but if your own subjectivity contains enough of the Absolute, in the end, you might just touch another human being – whatever your field of endeavor. So, onwards and upwards! (or inwards as the case may be …)

Kruispoorte version #1, 2009, a lovely painting but perhaps the development of the greens was a little flat.

Anyone who attempts to paint landscape has to deal sooner or later with the problem of green. Of course, some might not even consider it to be a difficulty – but I do. So what’s the problem? In a nutshell: #1) the profusion of greens in the natural world contrasted to #2) the difficulty of rendering them to any degree of accuracy on the pallete/canvas/panel.

Kruispoorte version #2, 2010, blue level, I'm struggling with my differentiations here.

From a pigment point of view, there are relatively few tube greens out there in contrast to the wide arrary of tube choices for other colors. Viridian, the strongest green pigment, is widely used, otherwise if you need something different, you just mix it up from some combo of yellow and blue, or even yellow and black. However, if you attempt (as I do) to arrive at a beautiful green through color layering (for example, a blue glaze over a yellow substrate) then you might indeed create a wonderful green, but find yourself unable to modulate it very much to it’s other (very green) surroundings. Hence an indirect technique for color development is a bit too inflexible.

Kuuispoorte #2, 2010, brown glaze level, a solution of sorts.

Thus, my current approach, to painting in general, but also to green in particular, is to minimize my pigment choice, decide on an approach and then modulate my color relations to it. For painting greens, this can mean using or mixing a master green, modulating a master chartreuse, blue green and/or gray green from that. Then tints and shades from each of those. If I am painting wet into wet, then the color of my glaze will certainly have a direct (color) effect. If it is an earth glaze (umber or sienna), the effect is quite grounding (no pun intended). Nevertheless, color is absolutely relational (a la Josef Albers) and nowhere is this more true than in the attempt to render the multitudinous greens of the natural world.

I’d rather be blue…

July 14, 2010

My theory of painting is simply this: travelling has to be at least as interesting as finally arriving. It helps to have a numinal idea of what arriving should actually look like, but it wouldn’t be “art” if I already knew, would it? Thus, I always experience a certain kind of hesitancy as I approach the final levels in a painting. Do I really want the journey to end? Will this level “do” it? Or will it need more? And if so: what, where, how? Will the final image end up looking like a bored adult in comparison to its earlier youthful promise? Should I have stopped at some earlier vantage point along the way and just grabbed the ‘chute?

Additionally, imposing a chromatic structure on image development allows for lots of lateral exploration at each level of additional color. Or to put it in even simpler terms, it helps me to control chaos. Chaos of my own emotions and my emotional reactions either to the subject matter or the developing image in front of my nose. But too much control results in lifelessness, too little, and it’s just chaos.

Riding the surge of that inbetween space, of that wave, is richly rewarding: both exhilirating and terrifying. Committing myself to it involves a kind of surrender and also a kind of trust. If I imagine that the landscape I paint is essentially external to me, if I imagine that the paints I use are essentially “other”, if I imagine that the world itself is not a part of me and myself a part of it, then there is fear.

So, instead of experiencing distance to it all like some alien stranger, I’d rather be blue (thalo or ultramarine, to be exact)…

Seeing red

July 9, 2010

Well, OK. Since I started documenting this current production series with the yellow level, I thought I’d continue with the red. Usually, when I trace the development of a painting through its different stages, the thread is the image. But this time the common denominator is color. So, its a different focus, a different challenge. Comparing chromatic qualities instead of developmental ones.

The Sint AnnaKerk piece is shifting towards purple now. This seems to be due to the combination received through the massive amounts of warm gray tints that I worked into the crimson lake (red) tint. The church was a lovely yellow but I decided it needed a darker more massive tonality in order to provide enough contrast and mass for the strong highlights on its right side. I used clear glaze to eliminate the red tint from most of the green areas. The composition does not have a lot of strong color statements, so it’s interesting to attempt to pull out whatever is possible.

The Predijkherenrij Grande has a strong value composition containing a lot of colors. The red level was a marathon session of 14 hours, working the paints in before the medium dried. Applying the tint, erasing the same from the highlights and some greens and then building up the masses with (mostly) semi-opague tints of warm gray and lead white. Strong reds, yellows and oranges were restated with emulsified pigment. It feels quite hot now, doesn’t it?

The concept for the Kruispoorte Grande was simple. Could I take the process-color studio painting technique out into plen air? The yellow level had worked out great. But the red level presented challenges because the composition itself doesn’t have a lot of strong reds in it. I found myself making choices between value (warm gray tints) or hue (yellow) statements: always keeping the overall composition in mind. Still, I’m not at all sure this will be a successful approach. Time will tell.

Stay tuned for the next episode…

I am curious, yellow?

June 17, 2010

It isn’t often that I have numerous paintings completed to the same level at the same time. However, since I am preparing for an exposition and have entered into production mode on a number of pieces, right now I have four paintings drying in their yellow stage. There is something particular and special to be seen in these “monochromatic” stages which soon will be integrated into full blown colorful images.

It is a curious level, one of overall hue reduction, of lowered value contrast too, of subtle nuances and above YELLOW, contrasted against gray (which of course becomes pushed towards its complement, purple). The underpainted hues that have been developed in the egg tempera stage shine through subtly, as gentle reminders of potential futures, still yet to be heeded or ignored. Who can tell?

Even an abstract background that I know is intended to become a “blue” sky will have elements of the sun’s yellow light within it. If I state it now, it will always be there, ready to rise to the occassion by the brush’s trumpet call.

Thus, succcessive stages build back upon the basic statements made in the yellow layer. Warm reds and vibrant greens depend upon a good solid yellow. Yet sometimes, I find myself satisfied with the yellow layer just as it is. Fini. Perhaps it’s only my insatiable curiosity which keeps me wondering about what’s round the next bend, keeping me from lingering with the yellow level and just calling it “done”. So, I document it here: an interesting level, worthy of note, even if today it’s only electronic.

Self-expression as unitive consciousness

I recently completed the translation of a piece of text based upon the drig-drishya-viveka from the Indian Advaita Vedanta tradition. The thrust of that classical text is that the fundamental unity of being-awareness, previous to all conditions, is discovered by continually stepping backwards through each level of phenomenal conditioning to always discover the unifying quality of being-awareness on the preceding level. Its non-dual premise got me thinking about painting – and all the arts for that matter – as experiential examples of that unitive quality of consciousness manifesting itself through transparent action on varying levels of material existence.

To flesh that statement out, I can try to clarify what I now understand to be a main aesthetic principle. What makes a piece of art – art – is its own vibrant inner unity as the expression of an idea, feeling, sensation, movement or combination thereof. It’s not about – and never has been – a good, even excellent, depiction of some external reality. But rather it is about the consciousness-unity of the artist (subject) merging with his or her materials and subject matter (object) in such a way so as to reflect back a little piece of cohesive life to the consciousness-unity of his or her viewers. When it’s good, it’s magical. As viewer, or listener, we enter into the world of the artist, we recognize some aspect of ourselves and are transformed by the experience.

Additionally, and at this point in humanity’s knowledge of itself, it’s certainly not required that the final form of a piece of artwork be classically realistic.  Most contemporary artists prefer at least some level of abstraction. But modality aside, what makes a work of art eloquent is the unity of the intent expressed through the materials on into the final form. “Perfect”, we say, form = function, function = form, in an aesthetic sense. The only rule is that a piece of art must be true to itself, whatever that self is. Looking at artistic creation from this point of view frees both the artist and his or her audience from any formal constraint, allowing modality, medium and message to merge by simply remaining true to the original impulse.

Self-expression of the multi-dimensional Self

I’d guess that most artists in their creative act intend to hint at what they experience as ineffable. If they could say what they wanted to say with words, they would do it, but shapes and images, music or dance often speak more eloquently to and from a level that is non-verbal.  For the artist, in the visceral interplay between sensation, perception and action, a creative discipline is chosen which resonates with their sensibilities, whatever they may be. Additionally, to the extent that artistic expression can be seen as a response to the interaction of self and world, that response must be recognized as arising from the entire gamut of human experience.  So there is a response of and to the self/world experience of waking state consciousness, dream state consciousness and deep sleep or meditative consciousness.  Artists who attempt to explore and express their response to these different dimensions of human experience find themselves choosing a visual vocabulary which resonates accordingly, be it realistic, symbolic or abstract. Thus, at least within the visual arts, there seems to be a relationship between the experience of self-world and the choice of a particular creative modality.  What is that relationship?  Let’s take a look.

Realism

Realism offers the artist a visual vocabulary for exploring the objects which daily present themselves to the senses within the waking state of consciousness. It’s an exploration and discovery of the phenomenal world surrounding an individual who essentially considers himself/herself as separate from these external objects or forces.  For most people in the Western world, the contents of the waking state of consciousness constitutes their sense of “reality”. When realism is most successful, the artist is able to both intensely experience and viscerally convey a sense of inner unity with these external objects or forces, thereby offering others a chance to experience their own reality in an enhanced way. 

Rembrandt self portrait

Take, for example, the high level of realism in a powerful work by Da Vinci, Rembrandt or even Van Gogh. A recognizable external reality is certainly depicted, but it’s charged with an inner unity, often radiating with great intensity. Much of the history of Western art – at least previous to the twentieth century – has spoken this language. Psychologically speaking, such work can reflect a personality in varying modes of relationship to the surrounding phenomenal world, a world furnished with the forms perceived within the waking state of consciousness. Its realistic depictions can range from polished, to symbolic, to naïvely abstract: the best works containing a mixture of all three.

Symbolism

In contrast, symbolism as a methodology offers the artist carte blanche for the exploration of his or her own dream-world consciousness.  Graphically speaking, there is usually a simplification or reduction of external objects to their inner essence.  For the artist, it’s a rediscovery and expression of personally significant images or forces arising from within their own consciousness.  The symbolist then, no longer sees themselves as completely distinct and separate from the formerly external objects of waking consciousness, but rather understands themselves to both contain and manipulate – or even be manipulated by – these projections.  The artist’s sense of self expands through exploration of this dimension, just as humanity’s knowledge of itself also expands through a recognition of archetypal myths and characters. This expansion carries with it a sense of inner veracity, a greater self knowledge, a knowledge that includes and expands upon the reality of the waking state. Thus, when this mode of creative expression is most successful, the artist is able to recognize this level of being-experience within themselves and viscerally convey its (often archetypal) contents to others, offering the viewer a chance to perceive themselves and so their own reality in a newly expanded way. 

Odilon Redon

Consider, for example, the mythic gods and heroes of Jung’s Red Book, the dream world of lucid imagination à la Odilon Redon, the powerful haunting entities of Dali’s surrealistic almost shamanistic inner journeys, or Picasso’s African masks. These are powerful images evoking associations to sub-conscious human experience-memory. Psychologically speaking, such imagery resonates on the level of the unconscious mind – both individual and collective. The end of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, celebrated this new kind of visual vocabulary in Cubism, Fauvism, Symbolism, Primitivism, Surrealism and Expressionism, although, of course, the art of indigenous cultures has always contained such imagery.

Abstraction

Contrary to the two previous modes, abstraction opens the doorway towards that realm of being-experience which extends far beyond the sphere of a separately existing person within the world of external forms.  The artist uses this mode as an attempt to get to the absolute essence of experiential forms by questioning his or hers (and so also the viewer’s) own sense of reality. It delves into the expansively open space of the deep sleep or meditative consciousness where no “person” exists.  For subject matter, there is none, not really, but rather the structures of perception and/or the medium itself are explored or examined in an open, intimate and often playful manner.  When it’s successful, the artist is able to recognize this level of being-experience within themselves and reflect back its lack of phenomenal content with an economy of means.  Perhaps that is why abstraction as a form is both so difficult yet sublime, so condensed yet expansive, so negating yet fulfilling – and ultimately so unapproachable by the rational mind.

Mark Rothko

With Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, Minimalism, Hard Edge, Lyrical Abstraction, the demolition of graphically meaningful forms moved even further towards abstraction in the latter half of the twentieth century. The artist’s intent focused on a visual vocabulary speaking for and to the ineffable non-phenomenal world, always, already present within a human being, and assumed that by avoiding representational elements altogether, the artist could more effectively suggest the sub-symbolic level of being-existence. There have been a number of artists visually evoking this level, Mark Rothko being one of my own personal favorites. Pure abstraction, then, as a psychological projection of no-self portraiture, transcends traditional Western psychology and moves into the trans-personal spiritual world of Yoga psychology.  This expansion carries with it the potentiality of ever greater inner veracity, ever greater self knowledge, a knowledge which precedes and so both includes and expands upon the realities of the dream and waking states of consciousness.  It is exemplified by the deep, dreamless sleep state of consciousness (turiya) or the deep, peaceful calm of a meditative state.

Self-expression as self-projection and self-perception

An alternate way to approach (a non-dual) understanding of creativity is through exploring the subject/subject matter/medium dialectic of creative expression.  We can take the creative act as a dialectical exchange of these three existential entities. Accordingly, the subject matter of what an artist creates is often an intimate projection of their own self-image, whatever form that image may take at any particular time.  Who am I? is expressed on different levels of being-experience. Through the projective objectification of some aspect of themselves the artist turns around and says “Yes, that’s me”. Yet simultaneously, through that same act of creative objectification, it’s also abundantly clear “No, of course, that’s not me”.  A similar dialectic of self inquiry is documented within the drig-drishya-viveka: recognizing, aligning with, then finally negating, any particular objectified aspect of self-perception by affirming the pre-existing nature of the unifying awareness which perceives it.

Accordingly, the realistic painter feels themselves especially drawn to particular people, landscapes or objects and uses his or her tools to both explore and express the sense of intimacy or lack of separation he or she feels for these external forms. This self-projection tends to move towards symbolism when, through insight, the inner significance of these external forms becomes recognized. Then the subtler symbolic meanings acquire a stronger sense of reality than the external forms themselves, both including and expanding the artist’s (as well as the viewer’s) sense of self.

This process progresses as the artist attempts to discover the absolute essence of external forms and in so doing digs ever deeper into themselves, experiencing the accompanying  sense of inner veracity like a guidepost. This probing has a tendency to lead towards abstraction. When mind pursues this direction to its logical aesthetic conclusion it pronounces, “Form is dead”.  How true.  But what has actually happened is only this: mind has discovered its own limits, just as, through self inquiry the limiting constrictions of the “person” become fully recognized, allowing these relative structures to finally dissolve and die. Form is dead, but the one who recognizes that fact cannot be. Similarly, within artistic activity, the irreducible effervescence of creativity itself does not die and it never will.  Experience tells us so.

Unity consciousness as the creative act

The final answer is this: nothing is. All is a momentary appearance in the field of the universal consciousness. Continuity as name and form is a mental formation only, easy to dispel.
– Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj [pg. 415, I Am That]

Ah ha! The ultimate discovery, in art, as in life, there is no absolute object which can be pointed to, no thing which can be specified, no person to be delineated.  Rather there is a living, vibrant, ineffable consciousness which has the particular characteristic of spontaneously, joyfully, irreducibly, creating multiplicity from unity and – at least within human consciousness – of creating unity from multiplicity. Whether the style of that unified form is realistic, symbolic or abstract begs the question.

The 21st century art world has historians scrambling to find an “ism” for the art world of today. There is no definitive style. Anything goes. What’s up for the future is anyone’s guess. Yet for the 21st century artist, if, after tossing realism out the window as passé and spending decades analyzing the symbolic content of their own internal dream-world, or alternatively sitting on a mountain peak in meditative abstraction, if then there is not a humbled, yet enlightened return to the daily marketplace of non-dualistic realism, I’d personally be surprised. As human beings we exist in an integrated way within all three states of consciousness. As such, they inform and interpenetrate one another. Deprivation of any one for a length of time produces an unhealthy imbalance. So, I’m betting on an integrated approach to creativity, one in which the realistic, symbolic and abstract levels of the visual vocabulary will all be transparently operating. What will that look like? Who knows, but won’t it be fun to find out?  And isn’t that simply one way to look at what is already happening, swirling all around us?

Recently, I surfed around to see if I could find information relating to a painting process I use which I’ve always called “the mixed technique” or “the mixed method”. I didn’t find much info (in English) using that term, but got a lot more results when I used the term “mische technique”. Although “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”, I can see that people who want to inform themselves about this particular process of indirect painting could very well find themselves confused (which I have been), not only about the name, but more importantly about its properties. So I thought I’d try to post what I know. Maybe others will be drawn to share their knowledge?

Thus, there appears to be a very specific application of indirect painting currently called the “mische technique” or even the “mischtechnik” (from Wikipedia). It’s described as an attempt to reconstruct the methods of the early Flemish masters by using “egg tempera to build up volume which is then glazed over with oil paints mixed with resin to produce a jewel-like effect”. The contemporary painters Ernst Fuchs, his student Brigid Marlin and the Society of Art of Imagination seem to me to be the most active exponents of this particular method. Although I’m not sure that the Flemish masters used Red, Yellow and Blue for their imprimatura-undercoats (as it is described on a Brigid’s website) nevertheless, their “mische technique” process appears to be highly effective for luminous, surrealistic Dali-esque imagery. If you are drawn to both this kind of subject matter and this manner of execution, I suggest you check out their links.

Yet the super realism of the “mische technique” – as it is presented on the web – is not really my thing. I tend to be drawn to softly abstracted, beautifully modulated, luminous landscape. Think: George Inness.

George Inness

Near the village, October by George Inness

Think: Tonalism and Luminism. Thus I am deeply drawn to a method of indirect painting which takes advantage of building up an image through multiple layers of paint, allowing for transcendent effects of both light and color. And I use something I call the “mixed method” or “mixed technique” to achieve that.

The process I know, which was taught by Nicholas Wacker at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris during the nineteen sixties and seventies, is also called “the mixed technique” or “mixed method” . It, too, is touted as a reconstruction of the methods of the old masters, although I tend to think its application extends far beyond the precise realism of the Flemish school and the modern surrealists of the “mische technique”. The main aspect of this method is the mixing of an emulsion of water and oil which allows for lean, siccative image development through multiple layers of paint: the essence of an indirect technique. It also allows for soft sensuous blending (without contamination) of adjacent color areas (really luscious wet on wet effects). It demands a well considered composition with interesting value development so that you have a good idea of where you intend to go. Nevertheless, many surprising chromatic events occur during the act of painting, making each “alla prima” session an exciting, challenging process of discovery.

So is the “mixed technique” fundamentally different than the “mische technique”? No, not really, but instead of egg yolk, alcasit (a methyl cellulose glue) is used to emulsify the painting emulsion – thus there is a longer shelf life. Additionally, high quality, lean, tube oil colors can be used and mixed with the painting emulsion. This has the effect of enhancing the flow and siccative qualities of the tube paint, without forcing the laborious work of grinding each pigment into emulsion in order to create paint. The side effect of that being an extended range of quickly available colors along with the acknowledged down side of a probable reduction in the number of layers of paint that are finally possible. Thus, the rule of fat over lean always applies, yet its law can be greatly extended.

The bottom line: the term “mixed” or “mische” refers to the mixing or extending of a water based medium like that of egg tempera into the region of oils – and vice versa – that is, limiting the oily quality of an oil paint through applying resins and emulsion so that it, too, can more easily interact and receive the benefits of the leaner application of a water based paint, like that of egg tempera.

the Disadvantages/Requirements

  • long learning curve
  • patience
  • vision

the Advantages:

  • luminosity
  • surprising “in the moment” color effects
  • seductive tactile blending

If there is someone reading this who has more information or experience than I on this subject, please consider yourself more than welcome to comment or correct mine. Thanks…

OK, OK, I admit it.  I am in love with glazing.  Like non-duality, it has the capacity of unifying many disparate elements, without negating them.  (And isn’t that  wonderful???)  As ever, translucency is the key.  But the tricky thing is the application.  Too much glazing and the painting has a tendency to float off the panel; too little and the thick opaque paint just stays stuck in the mud, reflecting little or no light.  Of course, you can see the same principle reflected in people’s lives. Too little inspiration and we have the tendency to stay stuck in our comfortable grooves; too much inspiration – without a transparent application to the mundane activities of living – and that wonderful poetry, lacking substance, falls short of its mark.

Korte Sint Annastraat

Korte Sint Annastraat value study

I have admired this very colorful alley view of the Sint Anna Kerk in midday light for a number of years now.  Over time, I have made watercolor and value studies of it,  photographs, too (here is the all important value study). The light at midday creates a strikingly vertical composition. The color relationships of the tile roofs are quite exciting along with the added bonus of it being the only street in Bruges whose street is lined with bricks glazed in blue ceramic. Over time, I collected enough material for a winter studio production this year.

Korte Sint Anna black and white

Korte Sint Anna black and white


I began the piece by transposing my black and white drawing to a 30 x 60 cm. gessoed panel. I like to use silverpoint for the first level of drawing. It is very soft and can render lots of intimate details. It tends to create an ambience that invites image development. Silverpoint catches well on the toothy gesso, so the mark lands and does not require too much repetitive movement. Then using india ink, I add touches of higher contrast that push forward the gesture of the composition – but only in the foreground. The idea is to build up the visual effects of distance from the get go. Every layer will play a role. So the black and white level sets up the basics. I’ve decided to add “I Am” to the sky. (the decision occurred after I made the photograph, so Photoshop has come to my display rescue)

Korte Sint Anna Egg tempera

Korte Sint Anna Egg tempera

I use egg tempera to set out the basic color relationships. In contrast to the methods of the old masters, who used their underpainting primarily for value work, I bring color in early in order to test out the vibrations – particularly of complimentary colors. I use a limited palette and usually avoid any color mixing on the palette – with the exception of white since I add zinc white to all my colors in order to avoid an oversaturated final painting. At this stage, the colors are light and somewhat pastel-like. With this method of painting, by the time you reach the oil level, you cannot really paint white over a color to lighten it very much as each successive layer adds a layer of darkness, so to speak. You have to to rely as much as possible on the original white of the panel (that’s why I call it painting backwards). When I’m finished with egg tempera, I seal the surface with a light coat of (rabbitskin) glue size.

Korte Sint Annastraat

Korte Sint Annastraat mixed technique #1

Oil painting with the mixed technique essentially involves alternating transparent glazes with opaque pigments mixed into a painting emulsion. I start with a yellow glaze and then set out bringing the highlights back in. Yellow paint mixed in a series of tints up to white goes back into areas that will contain differing degrees of that color. Warm Gray mixed up in an array of tints is worked back in to shadow blocks, or alternatively into areas of color that will not contain much yellow. At this point, using a large brush, I try to cover most of the panel with emulsion mixed paint. The work goes quickly. In a few hours, I have set the groundwork for both hue and value development. The overall effect is harmonious and low contrast. Because emulsion has been mixed into the paint, the areas of paint blend smoothly into adjacent areas and will dry to the touch within a few days.

Korte Sint Annastraat

Korte Sint Annastraat mixed technique #2

Between the yellow and the red layer, I decided that the “I Am” text in the sky needed to be more luminous, so using turpentine and a stiff brush, I took the earlier levels of paint away (painting backwards). The text may now seem rather stark but I know that it will be softly blended by the time I am done. On the palette I mix up a series of tints in yellow, red and warm gray. There are about 15 little blobs of paint. I cover the panel with a thin glaze of Crimson Lake and begin working the colors back into the surface. Reclaiming the highlights is best done by removing the red glaze rather than painting emulsified white paint back into it (more painting backwards). Shadows and other colors receive their appropriate tint (the normal approach of painting forwards). Every area should receive some work; if glaze is not painted into, it can become unreceptive to further manipulations in successive layers.

Korte Sint Annastraat

Korte Sint Annastraat mixed technique #3

The final level is the blue level. I mix up a series of tints of yellow, red, blue and Payne’s Gray (at this stage I switch from Warm Gray to Payne’s as it is more neutral). Now I have about 20 little blobs of paint. I cover the panel with a light glaze of Cyan. This pigment is quite saturated so I am careful to dilute it well and begin painting. I “erase” the glaze from all the strongly highlighted areas. The warm colors of the underpainted tile roofs pop out and glow (very nice!). I reclaim all the neutrals by painting a gray tint back in, beginning from the background and moving forward. Additional colors arise as needed with a brushstroke of the appropriate color. For example, the strong greens of the foreground shadow, left, are aided by its underlying yellow color structure. Soon I have covered most of the panel and am working details back into the foreground. This is the last session: it takes the longest time since it combines the blue color adjustments along with the final gray balance work. I finally step back, satisfied and ready for dinner.

Comments, as usual are welcome…

With the advent of the digital revolution, the “giclée” or digitally produced ink-jet art print is an upscale and promising venue of digital imaging technology.  Images can be easily created, shared and printed the world over.  It is clear that inks, paper and techology will consistently improve to offer high resolution, archival prints which can qualitatively equal or even surpass traditional lithography for only a fraction of the cost.  As a new medium it promises to be an art in itself, because the tools are back in the hands of the artist. 

But as a new medium, it is also important to distinguish a few basic elements of the larger printing world to which it belongs.  Printing, be it digital or lithographic, occurs in the world of CMYK, or subtractive light and refers to multiple identical reproductions.  It is to be differentiated from the world of painting which usually (but not always) occurs in the world of subtractive light and whose pallette is greatly expanded beyond four basic colors.  Additionally, the act of painting refers to a unique product.

What can be confusing for consumers/collectors is the term “limited edition print”.  Traditionally this term referred to a run of prints which were created from a means that became dissipated through the action of printing.  For example, etching plates whose fine lines grew softer after repeated use.  More often, the term “limited edition print” simply referred to the amount of prints generated at any one particular time for economic reasons, not necessarily technical.

In the current world of printing, whether lithographic or digital, the term “limited edition print” refers to economic factors and not physical dissipation, that is the number of copies generated at any one time is determined by how much the artist can spend to produce the images he/she hopes to sell rather than the dissipation of digital pixels (which is absurd) or lithographic plates, which do in fact dissipate in extremely large runs.

In this regard, the Giclée print is directly advantageous to the artist:  no huge lithographic print run to manage, pay for and inventory.  Artists can now “print on demand” and even sign their work, completely bypassing the “limited edition print” run event, potentially rendering the term altogether meaningless  (buyer beware). 

Technically, the Giclée print may also be superior to traditional lithography since the ink jets do not require the intervention of tiny lithographic dots to hold the ink.  Finer gradations and subtler details can be rendered.  For example, the current top range digital printers includes two levels of jets for the cyan and magenta inks (one for the normal range of values and one particularly sensitized to reproduce highlight detail).   The archival qualities of the inks are consistently being improved (but still do not retain the longevity of a well executed oil painting) while the substrate is whatever quality technology or ecomomics allow.

The drawback of the Giclée print is the same as it ever was for lithography: CMYK cannot reproduce certain secondary colors, as well as even certain pigments of yellow, red and blue; what is visible on the LED monitor in RGB may not be reproducible in CMYK.  Additionally, importantly, and in contrast to painting, a print surface offers extremely little refraction of light through its micro millimetered surface-depth.  So the play of light through its surface remains predictably (mechanically) stable, unlike the subtle differences that can be experienced when viewing an original painting.  So although the Giclée or digiprint offers many possibilities, a print is still a print…