Archive for December, 2009

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In Celebration of Marks On Paper

December 27, 2009

I was recently reading an interview of the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard where he says, “I’d rather feed 100 percent of 10 people. Hollywood would rather feed 1 percent of 1 million people. Commercially speaking, my way is not better.” We share a similar point of view, and I’ve never been in better company. Another nice quote: “he who leaps into the void owes no explanation to those who watch.” I’m having difficulty tracking down another statement of his (probably from the magazine Cahiers du Cinéma,) so I’ll drastically butcher it into my own speech: don’t let your audience forget that they are watching a film and not acting in it. You are the one in charge, so your work should look like what it is, a film. Don’t get caught up in the illusion. Try and sit through his film “Les Carabiniers” to best understand what that means.
Recommended reading:
Godard on Godard
 Everything Is Cinema

Evans photogragh

I bring this up since I was also recently looking through some reproductions of early 20th century platinum photographs by Frederick H. Evans. At first glance, they look very much like graphite drawings; so much so I had to check the media description to be certain. They would be very tightly rendered graphite drawings, mind you, but examine the print above, “Kelmscott Manor: In the Attics.” An exhibit of his photographs will be on display at the Getty Museum beginning in February 2010.

I hesitate to show any examples of the sort of tight rendering in pencil that these prints suggest, since I don’t want to be accused of pointing a finger at them for being somewhat inferior. That’s not my point. This is not about an evaluation of skill (or the celebration of it) as it is the pleasure in sharing an artist’s visual translation and the interpretation of their work. It’s about emotional, not visual, accuracy.

While I would still deeply enjoy seeing pencil renderings of images such as this, it’s when I see the marks made by the artist that I feel as though I’m standing in their shoes as I examine the work. I hear what they are saying and can understand them better than when they render the scene with a high degree of tight detail. In these photographic prints the values are very close and fall within the middle range with very soft gradients reminiscent of graphite powder or controlled watercolor. In fact, I see similarities between these prints and some watercolor studies by Maurice Noble which were made for the Disney film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” done only a decade or so later than the Evans print. Look also at this watercolor by Cass Gilbert circa 1910. Not only do I see here what the artist sees, but also as they see it, even looking into their own mind. It isn’t an approach I use to lose myself in their vision, but a search for clarity.

Maurice Noble art


Cass Gilbert art

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Hide Glue Sizing of Paper for Oils

December 22, 2009

This is a demonstration of how I would prepare paper for oil paints using rabbit skin glue as a sizing liquid. I’ve always used a 10:1 ratio myself (10 parts water to 1 part glue,) but had read elsewhere that I could get the same protection with a 20:1 proportion, so I wanted to test that out. My preferred sizing for paper, which I’ve written about before, is actually shellac, but hide glue can work well also.

The dry glue I’m using came in pellets, so I ground it down some to make it easier to dissolve. To make the powder into a liquid, I mix in the ratio I need in a glass jar, stir for a couple minutes, and let that sit at room temperature (@70° F) for about 4 hours. I then set the jar in a pot on the stove filled with hot water (“water bath.”) With a thermometer placed in the glue liquid, I heat the water to about 130° F. I then apply a coat of sizing using a sponge brush on one side of the paper, hold it up and wipe off the excess from the bottom. Next I apply a coat to the back which will even out the stress from the shrinkage. On the bottom half of the paper I applied two coats in the same manner after the first coat had dried for an hour.

Water bath on stove

For this example I’m using a small piece of 100% cotton rag paper that is very light weight (32lb.) so that any oil penetration can be easily seen on the reverse side. This letter-sized sheet of paper was cut into three pieces, one piece unsized, another sized 10:1, and a third piece at 20:1. The oil I’m using is Winsor & Newton’s refined linseed oil. Glue powder has a bloom gel strength rating from 80 to 500, and this batch is rated at 192, which is a common type. In this first set of pictures you can see the raw paper held up to a window. Not only has the oil quickly penetrated to the back, it has made the paper nearly transparent.

Below, the 20:1 sample is shown. On the top half is a single coat and two coats on the bottom. The oil can be seen to completely penetrate to such a degree that the sizing has no effect.



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In the 10:1 example on the right there still appears to be some spots of oil coming through on the top half that used just one coat. The bottom with two coats, however, shows no oil penetration, so that is the mixture I use to protect paper from the oil. It’s also what I use to size raw canvas. It’s possible this strength of glue might work if diluted at @ 15:1 or a higher bloom strength glue at 20:1. The only advantage there would be getting more liquid from the same amount of glue. One tablespoon of glue to ten of water gives me about 4 ounces of solution.

Notes:
I hang the paper to dry for several hours until the water has completely evaporated before I start painting on it. If the paper is thin enough to wrinkle, I can “stretch” it (tape it) to a firm board and that will pull it tight when it dries. When using thick 300-lb. watercolor paper that’s usually not necessary. A half-teaspoon of alum powder can be added to the heated solution to help strengthen the glue surface and make it more moisture resistant. It takes awhile for the water bath to cool so I can coat quite a bit of paper before it needs reheating (keep above @110° F.) A portable hot plate that has a low setting could be used to keep the heat constant, but make sure the glue doesn’t go over 150° F. I’ve tried using a coffee cup warmer, but it wasn’t hot enough. Hide glue spoils so keep any remaining liquid in the refrigerator, but only for a few days. Better still, use up what you make on extra paper sheets or raw canvas and don’t bother saving it. If necessary, you can dilute it down just by adding more water. The ratio I use for gesso is 14:1. The ratio 1.5:1 makes very strong wood adhesive and is good for frame building.

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Latest Sketches

December 15, 2009

Here are a few new pencil drawings.


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These two above were drawn while watching some old videos. The two below were done on location when we were having some nice warm weather. For quick full scene drawings like the mother loading her minivan, I typically start with the parts that will move first, like the mother, and then spend the rest of the time on the stationary things. For the woman on her cell phone, she stayed relatively still except for occasionally moving her head, but long enough for me to get her body position down, and then she left as I was doing the shading.


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When I draw on location I often use a mechanical pencil with a thin lead, usually a .5mm HB, so I don’t have to stop and sharpen the lead.

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Ink Drawing Finished

December 9, 2009

Here’s the final version of my ink drawing, @ 16×16 inches.

Final drawing

Closeup details:


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Ink Drawing: Wedding Reception v2

December 6, 2009

Yes, I’ve been doing several reworkings of previous artwork lately. It happens when pieces hang around the studio too long, and I think of was to improve or remake them differently. In this case, it’s an ink drawing I had made last year. That version wasn’t bad, but a bit more heavy handed with the ink lines than I felt the subject matter deserved, so I’m making a new version with a thinner more delicate line. This is actually the third version, since the original was a painting.

Halfway there

Here the image is shown about halfway finished. I’m making it the same size as the other drawing, so I can use that as a placement guide. All of the drawing is in ink with no pencil layout. In yesterday’s post I showed a closeup of the woman’s dress where I used a refilled marker to rough in the darker shapes (“spot the blacks”,) and add some light shading. The  lines are being drawn with a Nikko G dip pen. The surface is Multimedia Artboard paper, which takes ink very well. One special benefit is it allows some minor scraping with a razor blade to make corrections without damaging it or roughing up the surface. The overall size is about 16 inches square. The head of the woman with the glasses is about 2 inches, to give you an idea.

Detail

You can see in the closeup here where I’ve adding some rough shading in the dress, purse, and umbrella. This was done with a trusted old cotton swab. I dip it in ink, dab off the excess, and test the value on a scrap piece of paper.

Cotton swab for ink shading

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Refilling Disposable Ink Markers

December 3, 2009

As I’ve posted here before, ink markers made with pigmented ink are very nice drawing tools, but one of their main shortcomings is that all the ones I’ve found are made to be disposable. That can get rather expensive and wasteful. It is, however, possible to refill them. This will extend the life of a disposable pen; although, I haven’t yet been able to get one to work quite as well as a new marker.

Dry markers

Prismacolor Liner cut open

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In the image above you will see two pigmented ink markers, Prismacolor and Staedtler liners. Both of these are made as disposable pens that aren’t intended to be refilled. However, it is possible to pull off the metal tip and add more ink. You can see where I’ve cut open the Prismacolor to show the felt inside that the metal point is stuck into. Neither of these tips are glued on, so you can just pull them out with pliers. I took the dropper from a bottle of Higgins Black Magic ink and slowly dropped some fresh ink into the plastic opening. It’s a slow process, but it works fairly well.

The .005 point of this Prismacolor marker is too small for the Higgins ink to flow through, I’ve found, and the new ink just bled out the side of the tube. The .5 size of the Staedtler works better; although, the line is still a bit coarse. A larger .7 point didn’t seem to work any better. Even on smoother paper, the line is still more like a thin dry brush, which is shown in the closeup above. Fortunately, that effect is useful, since as you can see in the drawing below, I’ve used this type of line to lightly sketch in where the black shapes will be for the dress around this woman’s waist. The other lines have been drawn with a metal dip pen nib (Nikko G tip.) That rough line also comes in handy with shading effects to gradually build up the value.

Drawing detail

As I say, refilling them is a cumbersome process that slows down the drawing session a bit as it takes awhile for the felt to absorb the new ink, and you don’t want to overfill it. Still, it’s better than throwing the marker away. I need to try different inks to see if they work any better.

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Addendum:

There are some pigmented markers on the market that are designed to be refilled; however, even though the refill system they use makes the ink flow better, it’s not as economical as what I’ve demonstrated here. Copic Multiliners work as a cartidge system, like a fountain pen. Refills cost about as much as a disposable marker. Letraset also makes refill pens (Aqua Pro) but the tips are not small point liners, and their liner pens aren’t refillable. It might be that their Aqua Pro ink would flow better in my refill system…