The Vermeer Project: Part Two
8, May 2013 § 3 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Surprised by the ease of painting in the dark and upside down, I left the reader waiting for an update while our underpaintings dried.
The projection seems bursting with color and light inside of our dark room or ‘camera obscura’ as is the Italian phrase. How strange it was to apply color then and find our efforts were too garish in comparison. Our second surprise with this project– how neutral the image needed to be.
I first suggested we tint our underpainting with some generalized glazes while still outside the camera. This gave us a sense of the general warms and cools. The vase was glazed in a warm transparent brown very thinly applied and wiped back with a rag; the wall was tinted with a veil of blue. In truth this glazing just barely altered the color of the painting from its monochromatic state to something resembling an old fashioned tinted photograph.
After studying Vermeer I saw that many of his tones are neutral, darks are mostly without color, half tones are very grey, and only lights have true color. This matches what we perceive of the projection. Highlights are obviously colored yellow or blue, gradations are very soft, contrasts are muted. Selecting a very limited palette of raw sienna and cobalt blue, with just a touch of cobalt violet (plus black and white), I matched the underpainting’s tones and scumbled on color very lightly. My application of the colors, once viewed in daylight, was too colorful. I went back in a second time and added greys, warm and cool, softened transitions and added transparent color glazes into the darks. The feeling of cool light this gave was more northern in feel, the greyed out colors were more photographically ‘real’. The process is somewhat demanding, light off and on, white card up, down, staring at the image, mixing color, all in the half dark. But it goes fairly quickly nonetheless.
The students were anxious to try a portrait but we quickly discovered that a human model needs to be very still or the results are skewed. Given fifteen minutes one can attain a likeness; more time generally results in a slumping model and a frustrated painter.
This project has taught us much about the use of color, its potency if restrained in use, the use of selective focus, the beauty of grey. I don’t think we are any closer to answering the final question of whether Vermeer painted inside of a darkened room but we have certainly understood that it would be possible to do so.
The Vermeer Project
19, April 2013 § 8 Comments
Actual Projected Image in Camera Obscura (approx. 40×48 cm / 16×19 in)
by Jane Morris Pack
Have you ever painted upside down in the dark?
While visiting Rome this winter I had the opportunity to study several Vermeer paintings in the exhibit at the Quirinale. They were part of a larger show called “Vermeer and The Golden Age of Dutch Art” and although there were some other fine pieces in the exhibit, the Vermeers outshone the others. They seem to glow from within and the accuracy of the perceived space is extraordinary. Johannes Vermeer has captured modern interest not only for his dreamy women engaged in mundane tasks but also perhaps due to the mystery surrounding his life. We know little about his training, his personal life or his methods. I was intrigued by his use of the camera obscura, which seems to be an accepted fact among art historians, and I purchased a book which discussed his use of lenses, “Vermeer’s Camera” by Philip Steadman. This book suggests that Vermeer used a small booth type of camera which one sits in, and not the tabletop type. I felt Steadman’s work was intriguing and it raised some questions that I wanted to investigate.
Advanced painters, those that have already done one semester with us, work on a project with me during the term. This spring I suggested we put our energies into discovering what makes Vermeer unique. His subject matter is neither original nor particular to him. His power lies in his method.
We did some preliminary toying around with a magnifying glass and a black tent pitched over easels to get a sense of what a lens will do. When we determined that an image could indeed be projected by that means I took the time to build a small room out of PVC pipe and covered it in cardboard and black cloth. This served as our camera obscura. Procuring the lens was a bit more challenging but after some reading on the Internet I discovered that we needed a lens with a low number diopter and the local optician was kind enough to allow me to try many lenses until I found the one with the correct focal length.
The Beginnings of Jane’s Portable Camera Obscura Booth (lens mounts in cardboard behind the chair)
Once we had the lens and fixed it in place the next challenge was to see if the image could be traced easily and how one might go about painting on the tracing afterwards. We set up the still life and used a mirror to reverse the image right to left because I thought we would need to see the real still life to paint from it at some point and the lens by itself reverses the image. This proved unnecessary but I didn’t know that at the time.
We found that inside the booth we had a beautiful painterly projection and that the light coming from that was enough to see the palette and mix tones. Following traditional methodology we placed five tones directly onto the imprimatura, moving from the extremes of black and white and then locating the middle three. It was not difficult to find and apply the tones even though the image was in color but my advanced painters have had experience using the five tone range before. We took extra time to blend edges and smooth gradations. It is necessary to check your work against the projection occasionally which we do by turning on and off a light inside the booth.
The extraordinary discovery was that a very credible image can be made, despite working in the semi darkness, despite working on a colored, upside down image, despite the lack of a preliminary tracing. I was thrilled to see the results, though each student had individual differences in handling and application, the paintings were all very beautiful, correct and nuanced. The next step was to add color once our underpaintings had dried. Again, working entirely inside the camera obscura, we mixed and applied color, both as glazes and as opaque paint. I am waiting for our group to finish this step and then I will report again on the results.
The exhibit at the Quirinale was a chance to view paintings I may not get an opportunity to see again. There was also an obvious fake nestled in among the real work, something a trained eye could see. It will no doubt be bought by a major museum in the near future and pass into the oeuvre of Vermeer’s genius with an appropriate exchange of millions. But cynicism aside, the purpose of our exercise is not to make fake Vermeers. Sitting in the dark, seeing the painterly vision of light causes nearly all to exclaim at its beauty. We learn so much about color, surface, transitions of tone and application of paint following in the footsteps of this great artist. We have all gained immeasurably just by going through the process.
Solvent Free Painting
22, May 2015 § 2 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
We admire masterworks in museums for, among other things, their brilliant colouring, their longevity due to the painter’s technical expertise and for the evidence of the artist’s hand in the brushwork. Many paint effects from the past seem nearly unattainable with modern materials and this has lead artists to try to rediscover secret formulas or find additives that emulate historical processes. Resins, wax, and complex chemical mixtures have all been tried. Research done by the National Gallery in London however has revealed that linseed oil, coloured pigment and additions of calcium carbonate are the sole ingredients in many master works before the 20th century.
Though we are seduced by the ubiquitous presence of modern materials, traditional methods are intriguing and wonderful to investigate. Egg tempera and encaustic have both had a renaissance in the last twenty years. The fundamental substance of oil painting however, which is the oil itself, has been accepted as standard by most artists. Modern linseed oil is alkali cleaned and heated, it is no longer manually pressed and sun thickened as it was. Some artists with curious minds have now reexamined the refining of the flax oil. Louis Velasquez and Tad Spurgeon both have websites dedicated to methods of hand refining oil to produce a non yellowing, flexible, fast drying oil which completely transforms the painting process. What they have uncovered in their investigations is a remarkable way to access an old and very successful formula.
My involvement in this exciting investigation began when I assigned Velazquez, the 17th century painter, as the topic of my advanced painters seminar. We looked into the addition of marble dust, a form of calcium carbonate, to his paint. I stumbled on the information about hand refining oils then but felt it was too intensive to delve into at the time. It took me several more years and further seminars on Rubens and Vermeer before I took the plunge and followed procedures I had read about online. The results are quite amazing to me, and the difference from the handling of modern tube oils is significant. The hand refined oil makes many things possible which I had read about and seen but had not been able to obtain. I always felt tube oils were too slippery, too thin, too flat once dry. I also found the suede effect annoying and could not build up impasto areas without needing many days of drying time. The hand refined oil has none of these defects.
This semester I introduced the new oil to students and we worked together to understand its potential. It is more flexible, shinier and forms a tougher film than the tube oils. The viscosity of the paint allows one to paint wet into wet without loosing brushstroke integrity and colour purity. It is far more transparent, the glazes are deep and clean, and it dries evenly and quickly without darkening as much. Impasto areas can dry overnight, depending on the weather, and keep their sharp edges and texture.
The best part of all of this is that solvent has been banished from the studio. We clean our brushes in vegetable oil and never thin paint with solvent. The smell of the new oil is something like fresh grass or fields of flowers. Because we mix it 1:3 with chalk and then use that 2:1 with tube paint our paint supply goes much further. It is hard on brushes though, as they wear down quickly. One wonderful advantage is the ability to wipe off the paint completely from a dry underlayer making changes in plan easy to execute.
There has been a complete change in my approach to paint and the student work is richer and more colourful. We are able to work into surfaces more quickly which speeds our process. The studios are no longer redolent with turpentine and the improved environment is beneficial for all who share our space.
At the Met Museum, January 12th
14, March 2012 § 1 Comment
Before our winter trip to America, mostly to see our family in sunny San Diego, we invited friends and students of the Aegean Center to join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. (I don’t say former students, since I still think of them – of you – as ongoing students and colleagues.) We had done this two years ago, when twenty-five joined us. This year another twenty-five managed to come, and we made a rich day of it.
Most of these students heard about this on Facebook, so it seems the site is actually good for something other than exclamation points. And Elizabeth and I were delighted that so many are living in or near the city, or were there for the holidays. New York is our home city, and the labyrinthine Metropolitan is the museum we know best.
The oldest student was Drew Weidemann, whose pictures of the event can be found on Franklin Einspruch’s site, here: http://www.artblog.net/post/2012/01/carson. Drew, now a professional photographer (www.drewwiedemann.com) was a student twenty years ago, and Franklin was a student a few years later and then an assistant to Jane; now he is a painter and noted art critic. Christine Linclau, a student a mere decade ago, only found out at the last minute, and came down from her office at the museum, where she is digital librarian, to greet us all. Jessica Freedman, working at a gallery, came at the end. The youngest – well, there were several nineteen year olds – was probably Anna Deming. None of our students, of course, is ignorant about art, its lessons and delights. And John Masters and Jackie Massari are again here on Paros, trying not to be too distracted by Aegean spring.
The Met is huge, and a selection must be planned. Since all of us had studied Greek art together, and most of us had studied Italian Renaissance art together in Italy, we naturally stayed close to the Mediterranean. But we also wandered.
Did the museum know we were coming? For it had mounted one of the best shows we have seen in years: “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” – spacious room after room of Italian portraits from about 1425 to about 1515, by artists including Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Bellini, and Antonello da Messina. Our etesian September often focuses on the new conception of individuality the Italian cities achieved, not based entirely on mere class and lineage. Men and women wanted to be portrayed as they were, but with intimations of inner vitality and strength. In the Bargello Museum in Florence, I often point to Donatello’s terracotta bust of Niccolò da Uzzano as the first true example of this new sensibility; though that piece did not make the journey, Donatello’s silver Reliquary of Saint Rossore, from the Pisa Museum, did.
In the same room as this masterpiece, a realistic drawing by Fra Angelico again demonstrated that Fra Giovanni was not a mediaeval holdover but at the forefront of the new movement formulated by Brunelleschi and given theoretic expression in 1435 by Alberti, who wrote in his treatise on painting in 1435: “Painting represents the dead to the living many centuries later, so that they are recognized by spectators with pleasure and deep admiration for the artist.” We saw Botticelli at his most poetic, Ghirlandaio at his most psychologically profound, and Bellini at his most empathetic – this is as great as painting gets.
The exhibition’s sculpture was equally brilliant; it is often noted that, before Leonardo, painters followed the lead of sculptors. What age of sculpture has ever surpassed the Quattrocento from Donatello to Michelangelo, with stops along the way for Verrocchio, Desiderio, and Benedetto da Maiano? Benedetto’s two heads of Filippo Strozzi, a rich banker, were of especial fascination. The terracotta one, surely done from life, was meditative and detailed, while the marble one, in fulfillment of the commission, was more abstract and idealized. Going back and forth between them, one could see how the artist made the inner and outer man two aspects of a complete person, public and private, spiritual and political, sensitive and stern; it was astonishing.
There were medals by Pisanello, drawings pricked for fresco translation by Ghirlandaio and Mantegna, illuminated manuscripts – and for some inexplicable reason, not too many people, so that we, a large group, could linger and discuss. But after our two-and-a-half hours in the show we were ready for a rest.
Meeting friends with whom one has much in common – in this case Paros, Italy, the Aegean Center, and art – is always a delight, and we lingered over lunch in the museum’s cafeteria. But then we got back to work, and going back nearly two thousand years, looked at Greek art, which so inspired the Italian Renaissance in its realism and craft, and is so different in its search for essential ideals, for the serenely heroic. Of course we visited the Girl with a Dove from Paros. I think most of us were thrilled that we could so readily compare what we were seeing with works we had studied together in Rome and Athens.
Athens and Florence, so disparate in time and culture, both believed that proportion, fidelity to nature, and reason were divine. Both were independent republics, whose citizens were extremely interested in the arts and so knowledgeable. And Venice and Paros made accommodation for sea light. There is more than one bloom of humanism, but its root is the respect for the individual in the world.
After a coffee break, we all opted for more: Titian, Rubens, Vermeer, and Velazquez. All in all, we were in the museum six hours, and left in high spirits, more exhilarated than tired. That is the effect art and knowledge are supposed to have. On the way out we stopped to contemplate the eagle from Giovanni Pisano’s great Pistoia pulpit, otherwise complete. Probably no one had looked at it, lost in its big mediaeval hall, for a year. Let this eagle be our inspiration till next time, and call us – Drew, Franklin, Christine, Anna, Lauren, Emily, Emily, Jackie, John, Christopher, Carter, Adrian, Shirin, Nikay, Jessica, Jessica, Kristin, Barbara, Brie, Arielle, Ves, Johanna, Jade, Michelle, Liz, and Jeff – to attention on what matters.
– Jeffrey Carson
The Aegean Center @ New York’s Metropolitan Museum, December 22
2, February 2010 § 1 Comment
When lovers of Paros get together away from the beloved island, it is always an elite occasion. We know just what we miss, where we were, whither we should like to return.
When, during the spring semester of 2008, Liz and I told several students that in December we would be in New York City, where we grew up, to visit friends, relatives, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they importuned me to accompany them about the great museum, as I had so many museums in Italy as part of our September course of study. Usually Liz and I are so pressed for time in the city, that we can barely manage to visit one or two students, though often there are a dozen there. I agreed, and in early December sent out an announcement on Facebook that on December 22 Liz and I would meet any students who cared to join us in the museum’s lobby, and that we would proceed to look at great art, with plenty of blah-blah to go with it.
The delegated morning was cold, and there was snow on the ground. We arrived an hour early, and soon students began showing up. By the appointed hour, 20 students had arrived; three from a dozen years ago, three from a month ago. With them were a mother, a sister, a husband, a lover, and several friends – and memories of Paros and anticipated revisitngs introduced everyone. The first object we looked at, of course, was the Classical Girl with a Dove, a beautiful marble relief found more than a century ago, built into the Castro Wall on Paros. Its skill and tenderness made Paros glow in our minds.
Since most of the students had studied with us in Pistoia as well as Paros, we next went to the medieval room, to inspect a sculpture that has probably not been looked at more than a dozen times in its long stay in the crowded room: the lectern, in the form of Saint John’s eagle, from Giovanni Pisano’s pulpit in the church of San Andrea in Pistoia; the rest of the pulpit fortunately remains in situ. Giovanni was probably Europe’s greatest sculptor in 1300. Dominating the room was the Met’s beautiful Christmas tree and crèche, with its eighteenth-century wooden figures from Naples.
Then we went upstairs to look at paintings, beginning with Duccio’s little tiny Madonna, a recent acquisition and the museum’s most expensive. We had spent a long time looking at the great Duccio altarpiece in Siena, and were almost startled to discover that our memory of the radiance of its forms and colors were not exaggerated.
After an hour of Italian paintings, we moved on to Rubens, Hals, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. I don’t usually get to talk much about these artists, and lecturing focuses the attention. And although the museum was crowded for Christmas, the rooms with the greatest paintings were, as usual, sparsely inhabited.
During lunch at the museum’s cafeteria we chatted, inevitably, about Paros. I was amazed and pleased to discover how many older students were still in the arts, and how many younger ones were hoping to remain so. May John, Jane, Elizabeth, and I take some credit (or blame) for this, and not just the inspiration of the beauties of Paros?
A year ago students under Jane had undertaken a Velazquez project, and the museum fortuitously had a small, choice show of the great Spanish master. And then, for the photography students, we looked at the big Robert Frank show. It was now three o’clock, and most of us had been there almost four hours. We parted reluctantly.
These were all top quality students, whose interest in art is unwavering. And it is the best students who are most likely to return to Paros, to remember what the island gave them, what the Aegean Center gave, and what they have given themselves.
Student Post: Melissa Henry
25, March 2009 § 5 Comments
This semester the returning painting students are meeting with Jane Pack for a weekly seminar where we are delving into the work and style of Velazquez. We are learning a tremendous amount about both the process of how he painted and his techniques. Our long-term goal for the semester is to produce a replica of his masterpiece ‘Las Meninas.’ Through learning step-by-step about his painting methods, we will each do our own portion of the painting ‘in his style.’ There is a lot of preparation to do before that point, and we have begun with learning how he went about creating a portrait. Using this method, we are painting one of his portraits ourselves. I chose to replicate St. Paul from his painting of Saint Anthony the Great and Saint Paul the Anchorite.
Velazquez worked with the strategy of starting from a ‘middle ground’ and building up from there by adding darks and lights. I began learning about this method of working last semester and I am beginning to really understand its benefits. It is a way of working that allows the artist to be economical with his use of layers, paint, and brushstroke. For me, it makes the various steps in creating a painting more manageable because as Jane says, you break down a complex subject (like a face) into various layers, and in each layer you deal with a separate issue.
Velazquez began his portraits with an underlayer of paint, or ‘imprimatura.’ I used yellow ochre mixed with a bit of black. When dry, he would make a rough sketch of his subject with dark brown paint (I used raw umber). This should be loose and to get it correctly modeled, I used a rag to constantly wipe out and mold the shapes in St. Paul’s face. I was intimidated at first but this method of blending, wiping, and re-applying over and over allowed me to get a facial form that I was happy with. In a way it took the pressure off of getting it just right the first time. And since it is the first layer, any mistakes can be fixed in succeeding layers.
In the next stage, we “heightened with white” like Velazquez. Jane taught us how he would mix chalk with his pigments to get a certain silvery-opaque quality. We are adding zinc powder to our white to help quicken the drying time, which is very slow for titanium white paint. I applied an ochre and white combination instead of straight white so that I can bring up the darker tones more gradually. I found this step of “heightening” very enjoyable. The major ‘decisions’ had already been made when I used brown to sketch out St. Paul’s face and shape his features, so in this stage I was building on top of the framework I had laid.
On top of this white, Velazquez would apply a layer of glaze to bring the tones back closer to the base color. He would repeat this process of heightening and glazing back down, using different colors of glaze within the earth palette (yellow ochre, a red pigment like burnt sienna, black, and white) to achieve a rich skin tone. I too did this, and found that my slow buildup of the canvas gave me time to contemplate and think about the process, planning out several steps in advance. Working in many layers allows me to get a feel for the subtle nuances of the forms and their shadows. In the process of heightening with white, I began noticing little details that I hadn’t seen in the initial sketch, like the indentations within cavity of the eye socket. I also added some ‘positive paint’ into the wet glaze. This gave St. Paul’s face more body and form. I found that I also had to go back in and darken select areas and add more white to brighten other places. In the final step, Velazquez would put the finishing highlights in with thicker paint. Looking at close-ups of his portraits, we can see the movement of his brush and how he used brushstroke to model his figures with incredible skill. I added some last touches also, and when I put in the highlights of the eyes, it made St. Paul come alive on the canvas.
Aside form Jane’s class, I am working on other paintings with Jun’s painting class. for the first painting, I chose to take a quirky spin on the traditional still life setup. I had the idea of poking fun at the traditional ‘fruit still life’ by mimicking a police lineup and hanging my subjects on the wall under harsh spotlight, as though they are suspects for committing a crime. Fittingly, the spotlight is an artist’s lamp. I had fun with this idea and I tried to create a dark and dramatic painting yet have it be silly at the same time. For this piece, I knew the lamp would be a challenge so I began by sketching it out, first with a loose gesture drawing, and then with a more detailed sketch in which I carefully examined the tones and reflective qualities of the different parts of the lamp. Doing this sketch helped me tremendously. I had the image of the lamp, it’s proportions, and the shapes of its reflections already worked out in my head, so I was more confident depicting these qualities in paint. Completing a detailed pencil sketch of challenging objects before tackling them in paint is something I am definitely going to more often.
I love painting vegetables and I found it enjoyable to build up in layers much like the Velazquez portrait I am working on. I used many layers of glazing with burnt sienna, black, blue, and green to get a sense of depth in the shadows. Last semester I learned a tremendous amount when I replicated Vermeer’s Woman with a Balance and I applied those lessons to this painting. I wanted a similar sense of atmosphere and space so I used a light scumble over a dark ground and applied subsequent layers of glaze on top of that.
Coming up in Jun’s class we will be looking into reflections, literally. I am going to study the complex reflections on glass objects which will be a great challenge and I am looking forward to it. Stay tuned…
Jeffrey Carson: December in Rome
6, February 2009 § Leave a comment
Part 2 of 3
On Thursday, sunny and bright, we took the bus up along the Corso, and then walked a few blocks until we found the Casa di Goethe. Carefully refurbished, it opened a few years ago; this was our first visit. The exhibition was “Italians in Weimar: Italian drawings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.” Our kind of stuff: sheets by Carracci, Rosa, and others whose drawings are often better than their paintings. The permanent collection of Goethe memorabilia – letters, paintings, and such – was also worthy, and we stayed about an hour-and-a-half. Then we walked to the nearby Piazza del Popolo, but the church was closed. We browsed the Christmas stalls in the piazza, stopped into two small churches, and then took the bus, a small electric job, to the Ghetto, where we like an inexpensive little Jewish trattoria, where Liz had braised beef with rughetta and I tripa ala romana.
The previous day we had made reservations to visit the Palazzo Farnese. We had attempted several times in the past to get there, but success evaded us. Our reservation was accepted at the last minute – it is open only Thursday and Sunday afternoons, and one must take a tour in either Italian or French. The palace, the largest in Rome, is a High Renaissance masterpiece by Antonio da Sangallo; the top story and cornice are by Michelangelo. It has been the French embassy since 1874, and is immaculately maintained. When we got there, standing by one of the two fine fountains in the piazza, we realized that we had forgotten our reservation paper, and Gabriel ran back to the hotel to get it and also identification. Our tour was in French, but since we knew whereof our polite and pretty guide spoke, we understood well enough. What a beautiful place, quiet and polished: the “neoclassical” courtyard, the formal garden, the beige stone courtyard with travertine trim, all perfect. Perhaps the highlight is the Camerino frescoed by Annibale Carracci, Caravaggio’s great rival. It is tastefully lit and beautifully decorated, and contains fine classical statues in the niches; the mythological scenes of the Loves of the Gods are a dancing mixture of exuberance and restraint, libidinous and learned. Baroque decorative painting starts here.
We needed a walk. Off to San Eustachio to admire our machine, and to drink a cup. From there we went to San Luigi dei Francesi, which was in restauro, and thence to San Agostino to admire Caravaggio’s moving Madonna di Loreto (the peasant with the dirty feet), Raphael’s Michelangelesque Isaiah, Andrea Sansovino’s lovely marble Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, and Jacopo Sansovino’s fine but ickily venerated Madonna del Parto.
For dinner we all walked to a fancy place near the Farnese. It is fashionable and lively and has good food. Liz had tonno carpaccio and scallopini di limone. I had two-color pasta with ceci and clams. Fresh frutti di bosco suited all for dessert, and a Sicilian white wine proved extremely refreshing. The gently twinkling Christmas lights strung over many street of the Centro Storico echoed our mood accurately.
Back in the room, I thought to put the television on after I lay down, but fell asleep before I managed it. Liz was already asleep.
Friday again was sunny. Liz and I strolled about the Campo. Later, we went, mostly by bus, to the new Museo di Corso to see a great exhibition: “From Rembrandt to Vermeer: Civil values in 17th century Flemish and Dutch painting”. The museum is another refurbished old palazzo. There were two paintings by Rembrandt, a couple by Rubens, a couple by De Hoogh (one a masterpiece), and the general level was very high. They all came from Berlin’s Gemaldegalerie, and among them was Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace, a masterpiece of the geometry of light. Elegantly dressed, she admires herself in a mirror on the wall. One of Vermeer’s great ones, it can be quietly contemplated for a long time. This was a perfect show for us, for it does not compete in the mind with Bellini – the sensibility is too different.
We went for a walk, and ended up at a shop where Jane had purchased a blouse on the preceding day. Liz bought a silk scarf. The shop’s owner took us to his girlfriend’s little restaurant, where we had lunch. We spoke Greek with her, who lived much of two decades in Rhodes. Liz and Jane had beef with various pâtés, I had a voluptuous crostone, and John had tiny gnocchi. After a walk past the Trevi fountain, we indulged in gelato at Giolitti.
John had booked tickets for a 5:00 o’clock concert in Sant’ Agnese, Borromini’s undulating church on the Piazza Navona. The church has been renovated, and though small feels spacious and sparkling; the over-the-top statuary is by Algardi’s followers. The concert was in Borromini’s sacristy, which has just reopened. An excellent Norwegian violinist played a Bach Partita, then a virtuosic modern piece, and then, accompanied by an Italian pianist, the Franck sonata, which I always enjoy, vulgar though it be.
We ate at an old favorite, Da Sergio, where I had boiled beef and cicoria. O.K., I admit it, I had another gelato for dessert.
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.
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)
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)
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)