Student Post: Melissa Henry

13, April 2009 § 1 Comment

melissa-henry-marble-putty

Since writing my previous post, we have made a lot of progress in Jane’s Velazquez seminar. We began painting with a putty mixture, which is a technique that Velazquez and many of the Old Master painters seem to have used. We made our own putty out of marble dust and oil. Jane purified the marble dust that she got from a local construction yard through an extensive process of rinsing, allowing it to settle, pouring out the impure water, and drying it out. With the clean, dry marble powder, we experimented with adding various mediums to make putty. We tried three different consistencies of oil, liquin, and egg yolk. Each medium gave the putty a different structural quality and drying time.

velazquez-marble

Making putty was something new to me and I found it very satisfying. New research into many old paintings (by Velazquez or Rembrandt for example) shows that artists often mixed putty with their paint pigment. Using putty in this way instead of oil is a way to make the paint more transparent, more sculptural, and quicker to dry. Linseed oil will yellow with age and crack on the canvas’s surface, but putty will not. We found that using putty doesn’t make the paint chalky and opaque like adding white does, but it does make a little pigment go a very long way.

When I experimented with putty, I immediately loved it. It is a very economical way to prolong your oil paint since it is extremely cheap and easy to make – just mix marble dust and oil together! I chose to paint a knotty old olive tree that I saw in Lefkes on one of our hikes. One of the wonderful benefits of living in such a beautiful place as Paros is that nature is everywhere and it serves as a constant inspiration for artwork. Putty is especially great for painting organic shapes and it helped free up my brushstroke, which is usually more tightly controlled. I felt like I was sculpting and molding the paint as I applied it in thick gobs. I went in with several layers of paint and subsequent glazing into the knots and dark shadows. I am pleased with the final effect; the paint quality, particularly in the sky, has a unique semi-opaque yet luminescent feel. Because I had so much fun with this painting, I plan on painting another olive tree using putty.

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In Jun’s painting class, I have done several new paintings. I chose to paint a scene of rather pissed-off cats perched on a dumpster. It is an image that we see on every street corner and I find it quite humorous. Cats, which I traditionally think of as cute cuddly animals, lurk threateningly around big trash cans and I can’t help but wonder what goodies they are gruffly guarding. I wanted to dramatize the scene so I used a slight worm’s eye view to look up at the cats who glare down at me, enhanced by a harsh sense of light with raking cast shadows. The background was a struggle because at first it flattened the sense of space and felt artificial, like a wallpaper that the cats were stuck on top of. I tried to subtly gradate it, which helped but I am still not pleased with it. I played with various textures on the cats, the trash cans, and the landscape, and worked up gradually with many layers. I enjoy people’s reaction when they look closely at the cats’ expressions; it’s a painting that’s ok to laugh at.

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I also did a reflection painting. I began it much like the portrait I did of St. Paul, with a burnt sienna monochromatic, then heightened and darkened the details. My still-life set up was dominantly black so I went over everything with a black glaze but that left the fabric feeling very transparent so I added positive paint on top of it. This was rather frustrating because I had gone into so much detail in the underpainting and I ended up covering it over with the next layers. Having the framework laid out so thoroughly did help because I had studied the folds and crevices so intently that I understood the fabric’s form and how it was draped, thus making it easier to paint. For me the painting was a concentrated exercise in breaking down a complex subject into shapes and forms.

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While I was working on the more arduous reflective study, I did a smaller side painting for fun. In Liz Carson’s photo history class, we were looking at early photographs of hazy cityscape scenes. I was attracted to the symmetric forms and shapes and I wanted to create a simple city line and play with blurry abstracted reflections. I have been meaning to experiment with letting watery paint drip and blend together since this is a texture I want to incorporate more into my work. It was a good way for me to loosen up and focus on paint quality rather than on form. I used many layers of glazing and a limited palette consisting mostly of pthalo blue, burnt umber, ocher, and black.

melissa-henry-city

In keeping with geometric forms and combining watery paint and dripping methods, I painted the view from our school’s courtyard, looking up at a studio window. I sketched the scene in Draw Club one morning because I was drawn to the harsh morning shadows cast on the wall and all the sharp architectural angles that went off in odd directions yet all seemed to flow harmoniously together. I also found the simple color planes soothing and liked how they juxtapose the sinewy wire forms. I built up my color carefully and gradually with several layers of paint scumble and glazing on top. I integrated dripping on one of the walls and I painted the sky with very watered-down paint. The final piece conveys a rather simple relationship between shapes and colors. Next we are working with a limited color palette, setting up still-lives with only white or grey objects. This will force us to focus on subtle differences in hue and tonality.

melissa-henry-greek-house

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