Archive for June, 2009

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Clear or Ambiguous Narratives

June 30, 2009
Over at Today’s Inspiration, Leif Peng has written a post related to an article about the illustrator Fred Ludekins on the subject of clarity as it pertains to illustration art. As it happens, I’ve been mulling over the subject that is almost the exact opposite, narrative ambiguity. I figured now would be a good time to interrupt my posts on the new painting to get these thoughts out there while they were still fresh in my mind. They may be a bit rough around the edges, so please bear with me as I think this through.
david_horatii

 

First, let’s look at “clarity” as it pertains to visual narrative. Mind you, I’m speaking only of a single still image (a painting, for example, or book illustration,) and not sequential storytelling that you might find in comics or storyboards. In my mind I describe this as being as obvious as one can be with the presentation. The artist has a very specific statement to make and what we see makes certain that there is no misunderstanding. As a representation of this I’m choosing the Jacques-Louis David painting, “Oath of the Horatii.” It’s an illustration of a scene from Roman history (as told by Pliny) where the three Horatius brothers are chosen to fight three brothers of another family, Curatius, and the winning side gets control of Rome. One of the women in the scene is supposedly a sister betrothed to a brother of the other family. The architecture and costumes properly date the scene to Roman times. When I first saw this painting, I had no idea what the story was about. What I could decipher was three men about to go off to battle, a father figure of some sort encouraging them on in glorious fashion, and weeping women in the background distraught over the fate of the soldiers. It turned out to be rather accurate. Historians have since described this work as an echo of what was happening in France at the time, as it prepared for revolution, which I’m certain is true, but there’s no give away to that effect by David. Instead, he presents the scene in a very straightforward manner.

holder_day1

Finding a representation of narrative ambiguity was harder than I imagined. At first I thought I might go for the obviously surreal, like a Dali painting, but instead I’ve settled on this by Fernand Holder, “Day 1.” The viewer is left on their own trying to decipher this work. Why five nude women? Who are they? Why are they posed this way? The title is not helpful, and really just gives us more questions. Perhaps some resourceful critic has uncovered a note by Holder himself before he went nuts that completely explains it all. It wouldn’t matter. All we see is what is in front of us. The art shouldn’t have to come with a pamphlet that tells you what the artist really meant. What we come away with is our own interpretation. We make up our own story and apply it to our satisfaction. Does this make the work weaker than one that is more explained and clear? I can see potential fault on either extreme. Tell too much and it becomes like a story to which you know the ending. Don’t tell enough and you confuse or frustrate the viewer, and risk being seen as pretentious or deliberately vague for the sake of cleverness. If the artist has done their homework, they can manage to make the ambiguous narrative less frustrating, so that it becomes like a crime scene upon which we have to collect all the hidden clues.

Let’s revisit the Holder painting and stage it differently. Just for the sake of argument, we’ll tone down the symbolic and surreal quality a bit, and see if we can still retain some level of ambiguous interest. What if the women were clothed and sitting in a park, but instead of being just a group gathered to enjoy a picnic, there seemed to be a special purpose to them being here. Perhaps they appear to be engaged in a serious discussion, and one or two of them were holding curious objects that seemed out of place in this setting. It would still be up to us to make sense of it all, if we even bother to do so. There is no need to be melodramatic or outlandish to attain clarity or ambiguity. One can also be subtle.

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Painting “Closing The Deal” Update 1

June 28, 2009

Here’s an update for the new painting I’ve started, “Closing The Deal.” The surface is Ampersand’s Aquabord (16 x 20 inches) and will be finished in casein.

Transfered drawing

Transfered drawing

In this image above I’m showing the rough transfer of the drawn layout. This was done with my homemade transfer paper system using a light gray pastel powder and turpentine. For the lines of the window blinds I used an orange watercolor pencil. To keep those pencil lines from blending into the casein paint I’ll be adding later, I painted over them with a thin layer of acrylic medium.

Gray undertones

Gray undertones

This time, instead of my usual undertone of complementary colors, I just simplified the process a bit by using shades of gray. This was made with black India ink thinned with water and a little acrylic medium to set the ink wash. Now I’m ready to begin painting.

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Sketch for New Painting

June 26, 2009
Pencil sketch

Pencil sketch

This old sketch has been sitting around awhile, so I think I’ll see if I can work it up into a new painting. It was made several years ago as I was waiting for an oil change to my car. I added the figure on the far right today to take some of the focus off the character in the corner. I’m relocating the setting to be a car dealership where he’s about to sign his life away for a new car. I think I’ll also place a few parked cars outside and change that street to a car lot. The original setting had a bright yellow table and neutral blue walls which I think I’ll keep.

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16th Century Wood Panel Restoration Video

June 25, 2009

maniardi1

There is an interesting video clip over at the Art Babble site showing the restoration efforts on a 16th century painting by Sebastiano Mainardi. Click on the image above to go there and view it.

What in particular caught my attention was how they replaced the heavy older bracing with a more effeciently designed wood strainer. Fascinating.

Old bracing removed

Old bracing removed

New strainer added

New strainer added

Video credits: Danny Beyer – The Nugget Factory, the Indianapolis Museum of Art

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Latest drawings

June 21, 2009

I’m preparing to go on a short trip for a few days so I wanted to upload a few new drawings to make up for the empty time. These are all made in graphite on letter sized paper in live locations.

The one that’s tinted is a paper from Southworth sold for printing out resumes. It’s 100% rag (32 pound) and can be found at many office supply stores. It also comes in white.

sketch081
sketch082
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"Dead By Night"

"Dead By Night"

sketch086

On "résumé" paper

On "résumé" paper

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Shellac Sizing Test for Oil Paint on Paper

June 13, 2009

I wanted to demonstrate how effectively shellac performs as a sizing medium for painting oils on paper. The shellac mixture below was made about half a day before the demonstration was started.

Making shellac soap

Making shellac soap

This is de-waxed pale “blonde” shellac in the bag. I ground it down into a powder to help accelerate the dissolving process. I tend to make my shellac in a rather unorthodox manner than what is normally recommended by first making a “soap” using dissolved borax. That is how shellac based ink is made. It’s approximately 1 teaspoon borax, 8 tsp water, and 5 tsp shellac. I can’t tell you the exact amount since I tend to do it by sight these days instead of careful measure. I place this in a jar and set it on a coffee warmer while stirring for a few minutes until all the water is gone and I’m left with a paste that looks like light brown sugar (see below.)

Shellac mixed with borax

Shellac mixed with borax

Next I mix in grain alcohol. Most recommended mixtures just start with dry shellac and alcohol and avoid borax, which is perfectly fine, I just found that it takes longer that way and doesn’t give any better result. The alcohol I use is the Everclear brand which is 190 proof. Denatured alcohol would work fine, but also takes longer. Keeping the jar on the warmer, I occassionally stir the contents and after about 2 or 3 hours I get something that looks like creamed coffee. The amount of alcohol is again not precisely measured but roughly about the same as the “soap” volume I started with. It amounts to what is referred to as about a 3 pound cut of shellac to alcohol. I’ve also used a 2 pound cut, but I would want to add a primer layer to that. Acrylic primers adhere fine to shellac but I wouldn’t recommend thinning them with water.

Shellac on paper with different oils

Shellac on paper with different oils

Reflecting oil swatches

Reflecting oil swatches

The paper used here is thin bristol, about 90-100 pound weight. I’m using a thin paper so that any oil that penetrates through the shellac would be easy to see. I placed two coats of shellac on both sides of the sample paper and let that dry for about an hour. Next I placed three oil medium swatches of refined linseed oil, stand oil, and safflower that I had handy.

Oils on raw paper

Oils on raw paper

Back of painted paper

Back of painted paper

In the image on the left you can see the linseed oil and stand oil on a piece of the same paper that has no sizing protection, as well as a couple oil paints from Le Franc, red ochre and paynes grey, which I believe use safflower oil. The oils started to soak into the untreated paper immediately, and when you look through the back  (right image) you can see how the oils make the paper nearly translucent. As these oils dry they will release acid that will discolor the paper and likely make it brittle over time. Shellac prevents that.

All of these were made about 5 days ago. In the image below (looking at the paper from the back) you see how the shellac has held up after that period of time and the oils have dried. None of the oil has penetrated through to the back side of the shellac treated paper.

5 days later

5 days later

Shellac is excellent sizing protection for oils and paper as well as wood. I prefer it to other choices. It does take some time to prepare, but it doesn’t require the use of water that acrylic mediums or animal glues would need, so there’s no worry about wrinkled paper. Rabbit skin glue has to be made at least a day in advance, whereas this sheet was ready for painting from start to finish in about half a day. An acrylic medium would be faster to apply, but the paper has to dry completely, requires taping down the paper, and I just don’t like the feel of oil paint on acrylic. A batch of fresh shellac will last at least six months or more. I keep it in the fridge until needed.

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Finished Drawing – Accordian Player

June 11, 2009

Here’s the finished drawing that was started a couple days ago as part of my homemade scratchboard demonstration. It is 8 x 10 inches.

raythibdo 

The ink used is Dr. Martin’s Black Star and a ZIG Calligraphy marker for touch-ups. The bulk of the white areas were made with a Staedtler Mars eraser, and a needle was used for scratching finer lines. The rough texture is a result of the paper surface. A smoother paper would erase without such a mottled look.