Student Post: Melissa Henry

15, December 2008 § Leave a comment


It is hard to believe that my time at the Aegean Center has ended for the semester. What an incredible opportunity it has been. From Pistoia to Paros, I am so lucky to have lived and learned with such amazing individuals and experienced such magical places. In my time here, I have grown and developed as an individual and as an artist. With the mentoring and guidance of our brilliant professors, we have been taught to see the world differently. As I look around myself I am more observant of the ‘art’ in our daily lives: the temperature of the shadow cast across the wall, the negative space between the tree’s leaves, or the subtle gradation between the colors of the Aegean waters. Our instructors have shared with us the beauty of the natural environment through examples from art and with our favorite ‘Friday hikes’. Many of us have been inspired by the paradise of our surroundings and have incorporated it into our own art.

In my last two paintings of the semester, I was inspired by the delicate play of light and shadow in spaces that I am so fond of. The first of these depicts the student apartments, where the side terrace to my home is. I am intrigued by the white, geometric simplicity of the local Greek architecture and I find it a refreshing breath away from any of the structures I am used to from home or our visit to Italy.  The way the shadows bounce off the forms attracted me and I decided to convey this in a painting.  It was a huge challenge and honestly, I am not completely happy with the result but I must see it as a ‘learning’ piece.


Achieving the subtle differences in the white walls was difficult. I used scumbling for most of this effect.  Where I wanted to convey a sense of depth, as in the staircase, I used glazing techniques.  I enjoyed painting the stone tiles in the ground since I find repetitive actions like this rather meditative. The reason for my discontent with this painting is that there is little ‘personality’ in it to me. I see nothing that is ‘me’ and feel there was and perhaps still is something lacking. Maybe it needs some highlights of color, or personal objects that say something about who inhabits the space. Instead I feel as though it may seem a bit depressing and empty. I hoped to add a little ‘life’ with the vibrant (yet tiny) geraniums. I am working more on personalizing my work so it is not merely a recreation of what I see.

Ironically, I feel as though my final painting may be missing something as well, and again I wonder if it is something personal to make the painting more of a narrative.  I painted the printing press and easel outside my studio.  I wanted to capture the wonderful afternoon light that streams into the space and creates beautiful shadows on the walls and the press. From the outset this was a more enjoyable painting to paint. I worked with countless layers of glaze and made a point to save the whites of the canvas like I did in my reflection painting with the onions so many weeks ago! This gives all of my light areas a luminous quality that cannot be achieved by using chalky white paint, since white paint creates a cooling effect.  One tricky part was sketching out my composition from life. The press is such a complicated, intricate contraption with many angles. The precise perspective was difficult for me to depict and there are parts of it I wish I could re-sketch.


I found that the major constraining factor was the short time period when the daylight fell at the appropriate angle, which was only for about one hour each day, and that was only if we were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunny Paros day which ironically did not happen too much when I was working on this painting! This was actually quite good for me to learn to be less dependent upon the ‘model.’  The way I am most comfortable painting is when I have a setup that allows me to control the lighting and movement.  But this is rather limiting so I need to begin to try to capture transient effects more.  I began using my own judgment and asking myself what would ‘look or feel right’ in terms of temperature, color, and value. My favorite parts of the painting are the light effects in the lower left region, the wall with the paper reflections, and the back of the canvas.  I painted these passages using my own judgment more than direct observation and found that these came out the most relaxed. The reproduction here unfortunately doesn’t capture how the light shows the many transparent layers of glaze.

I used very few colors in my painting and I think this helps me achieve a harmonious unity.  The underpainting is in burnt sienna and ultramarine blue in various combinations.  Even the over layers of paint, all glazing included, is essentially these two hues.  I did introduce green in back of the press and after this I chose to add very subtle green glazes throughout the painting. As with my apartment painting, I again felt there is perhaps something personal missing but I am fairly pleased with the way I captured the luminosity of this special space.

I have many goals for my future in painting, but currently my major goal is to loosen up and be less focused on the exact depiction of my subject. I have more fun when I am freer with my color and brushstroke, which I learned from my impressionist painting (bowl of oranges and pitcher). I need to remind myself that I am not creating a photo but a painting. I want to involve the viewer in an interactive dialogue with my work. This could mean doing things like including exploratory or playful marks that aren’t necessarily in the scene, using more open, less controlled brushwork, or including colors that may not be there (or making subtle ones more prominent). Most importantly, I need to keep an imaginary ‘veil’ up between my subject and I so that I must constantly ask myself how I WANT to express/convey it in paint, regardless of what I see in from of me.  I have learned a tremendous amount but I have a lot more to discover, experience, and explore. I am excited to share that I will return to the Aegean Center this spring to continue my studies.  I am looking forward to another semester on Paros, experiencing the local culture and environment, and learning from Jane, John, Jun, Jeffrey, and Liz.

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