Aegean Center Student Posts: Melissa Henry

31, October 2008 § 2 Comments

I am originally from Cape Cod, Massachusetts and I am currently a student at Brown University studying art history and visual art, with a focus in oil painting. I heard about this program from friends at Brown who came here in previous years. After learning about the philosophy of the Aegean Center Program and the kinds of things students see, learn, and do, I knew it would be a good fit for me. I had not done significant traveling before this semester, and studying abroad has been something I have always wanted to do. As an art student, Italy and Greece are two of the most important foundations for my background of knowledge. Being able to travel throughout Italy and learn art history was a wonderful precursor to our session in Greece, where I am learning about oil painting technique. In addition to oil painting, I am also taking courses in Greek language, Greek dancing, Greek art history, camera history, basic drawing, and figure drawing.

In coming to the Aegean Center, I wanted to gain a firmer understanding about Renaissance and Classical art history, and improve my abilities in the processes of painting and drawing. But more than this, I wanted to experience living in another culture, away from home and my ‘comfort zone.’ Life has passed so quickly in my college years that I felt I needed time to pause and re-evaluate what I am studying and who I am. Coming here has allowed me this chance for exploration. I have taken a year off from Brown to live in Paros, and I hope this time will strengthen my understanding of who I am and what I may pursue in life and in art. I also hope to use what I learn here as a basis for my senior thesis project next fall.

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Thus far in painting class at the Aegean Center, we have learned how to take various approaches to painting. For our first painting, we set up a still life and began with and black and white, monochromatic underpainting. We practiced training our eye to see in tones and values instead of color. Once we had a general feel for the tonality, we painted on top of the black and white with color. We learned about the earth palette, which consists of four hues: yellow ochre, burnt sienna, titanium white, and ivory black. Using the earth palette and minimizing the color choices forces us to push these four hues as far as we can, using different techniques like rubbing out, scumbling, and glazing to achieve various effects. The importance of the earth palette also lies in understanding color relationships. We found that although we have no true red or green, we can control how colors look if we manipulate where we apply them in our composition. Mixing black and white produces a grayish color, but it can be used as blue especially when placed near a warm burnt sienna. I find using a limited palette very satisfying since it eliminates the overwhelming possibilities I am faced with when using a full color palette. It makes dealing with color at this point something more manageable. (Images 1, 2)

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We did another painting exploring the earth palette further, and we included ultramarine blue this time, which is a great color for glazing and shadow tones. We looked at works of painters who used reflections in their pieces, and studied how they might have captured those effects. Jun taught us about the differences between glazing, scumbling, and wet into wet painting to depict different qualities of light like transparency or opalescence. With this painting I feel as though I made a breakthrough in terms of my understanding of glazing. Applying glaze with black or ultramarine will really push entire planes back in space and can make shadows appear less sitting on the surface and more integrated into the surface. Glazing also allows a rich luminosity that opaque surface-painting cannot give. My onions are built up with layers of yellow ochre, ultramarine, and mostly burnt sienna glazes. Glazing with burnt sienna is great for giving tones a subtle warm temperature, as ultramarine can make cool areas. Using a black glaze over the surface of my pot and knife was particularly helpful. We did a lot of careful looking at our still lives to depict the reflective qualities of light. (Image 3)

Image 3 Detail

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For our current painting we began with an imprimatura: an initial stain of blackish-burnt sienna color applied to our canvas. For this assignment, many of us are copying a work of a master painter while others are doing self-portraits. On top of the color ground we first used a white scumble to achieve the tonal values for everything in the composition. By allowing the dark brown undercolor to show through in select areas, we can be economical with our paint, so this undertone is very important since we incorporate it into later stages of painting. On top of the monochromatic white and dark tones we add color using different techniques, namely glazing. Many master painters we looked at like Rembrandt or Vermeer used a very limited palette based on earth colors to do their work, often with careful, select moments of color throughout. I am painting Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance and this is definitely the case. I am looking carefully at his subtle painting of light and shadow and trying to emulate his brushwork. By copying a painting in this way, I have learned how to achieve certain effects of color using underlayers that I had not done very often in my previous work. The tricky part for me is having patience with the gradual buildup of layers. To achieve depth, a painting should be built up gradually, layer upon layer, and one must think a step ahead. This painting is still in the process of this continuous buildup. (Image 4)

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