Flaxseed Oil, Psyllium Husk, A Bit of Chalk, Oil Paint & Pinch of Risk…

27, March 2015 § 1 Comment

I wrote a few notes to myself at the beginning of this semester about what I expect from students in my classes. These include a desire that they engage deeply with their work, that they find ways to discuss their progress and their process. I want them to take more responsibility for their learning, to risk more and to be able to play with the material to allow spontaneity. I place similar demands on myself as an artist and an educator. This semester is no exception. I am introducing a new painting method which involves hand refined linseed oil and chalk. This method is somewhat complex at the beginning to explain but allows for more freedom and energy in the paint handling. I wondered what details I need to add and when and how they would adopt the information I was giving them. Would they be able to handle the complexities of the system?  All my energies are devoted to communicating clearly the nuances and the particulars.

I take a risk altering my teaching methods each semester. There are some moments that feel as though I were on a high wire without a net.  I prepare my lessons but go off in various directions as the moment takes me. I throw away the script and sometimes improvise wholesale.   I suppose all teachers with years of experience can do this but I have often felt that vertiginous drop in the lower stomach when you realize you are in free fall. But I am willing to take the chances and the students benefit. I’m not bored and hopefully neither are they.

Hand refined oil and chalk as additions to painting have been researched by Louis Velasquez and Tad Spurgeon, each of whom have valuable insights into this historical method. It involves purifying the organic flax seed oil with alcohol and using psyllium husks to hold and retain the mucilage which is released from the oil. I have been playing with it for just about a year and I find it redefines oil painting.  It requires some investment in time for the preparation of the oil but speeds up the painting process considerably as the oil dries quickly and with great body and gloss. It creates effects which resemble early master works which I have been unable to achieve with modern manufactured paint.  I felt it was worth the extra work and effort to introduce this new paint to students.   As it is my first semester doing so, I await their results before I can judge. The risk will probably pay off, but at any rate allowing the students to watch me take the risk could be just as instructive.RefinedOil

Drawing vs Color

4, November 2014 § 3 Comments

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Still life by Margaret Daley

by Jane Morris Pack

The advanced painters this semester are examining the famous division between the merits of drawing versus color.  We have done some reading on the subject and are working on portraits using the two different methodologies. The drawing approach favors a study of form and a clear use of line and shading techniques to depict the geometry of the face. The coloristic approach seeks patches of color which border other colors to turn form and to show light. This requires a clear understanding of color mixing:  warm vs cool, light vs dark and pure vs neutral.

The debate between the merits of drawing versus color has been a long standing one. The most famous proponents of drawing were Florentines in the 16th century who disdained the colorists of Venice. Titian’s broken colorful brushstroke was to them evidence of poor draughtsmanship.   This debate was forwarded to each successive generation and finds such artists as Poussin and Rubens on opposing sides.  Ingres and Delacroix fought a similar battle.

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Cristina by Aleksey Schmidt, Sophie Linscott, and Margaret Daley

The muscles and bones of the Florentine male nudes are perfect subjects for a drawn approach. Vasari rightly praised Michelangelo as the supreme master of this art. In Venice the preference for the female form in landscape was better suited to a coloristic handling. One thinks of the Giorgione nudes in the soft enveloping color of evening.  Subject matter may influence the choice of one method over another but it may simply be personal outlook or the type of training an artist receives which determines the way to proceed. The finite correct world of drawing appeals to the intellectual mind.  A line which describes a form is either correct or it is not. The color approach on the other hand captures a more fleeting, emotional, infinite world, one which shifts moment to moment with the changing light.

These two renderings of an eye show the different mindsets. On the left Sargent finds color swatches to depict the folds around the ball of the eye.  The painting by Christain Seybold on the right gives us a linear understanding of every part of the eye.  Although they both use color the priority given to line or to color is evident.

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A paragraph from the story “The Unknown Masterpiece” by Balzac summarizes the confusion which arises when an artist is hovering between form and color. The master painter, Frenhofer, is critiquing a work by the painter, Porbus.

“Ah!” said the old man, “it is this! You have halted between two manners. You have hesitated between drawing and color, between the dogged attention to detail, the stiff precision of the German masters and the dazzling glow, the joyous exuberance of Italian painters. You have set yourself to imitate Hans Holbein and Titian, Albrecht Durer and Paul Veronese in a single picture. A magnificent ambition truly, but what has come of it? Your work has neither the severe charm of a dry execution nor the magical illusion of Italian chiaroscuro. Titian’s rich golden coloring poured into Albrecht Durer’s austere outlines has shattered them, like molten bronze bursting through the mold that is not strong enough to hold it. In other places the outlines have held firm, imprisoning and obscuring the magnificent, glowing flood of Venetian color. The drawing of the face is not perfect, the coloring is not perfect; traces of that unlucky indecision are to be seen everywhere. Unless you felt strong enough to fuse the two opposed manners in the fire of your own genius, you should have cast in your lot boldly with the one or the other, and so have obtained the unity which simulates one of the conditions of life itself. Your work is only true in the centres; your outlines are false, they project nothing, there is no hint of anything behind them. There is truth here,” said the old man, pointing to the breast of the Saint, “and again here,” he went on, indicating the rounded shoulder. “But there,” once more returning to the column of the throat, “everything is false. Let us go no further into detail, you would be disheartened.”

This charming story goes on to explore many aspects of the painter’s world. Balzac seems to have been a close listener to his painter friends and gives us this glimpse into studio practices.

Whether a contemporary painter favors color or drawing to construct an image is immaterial.  The debate about their relative merits is interesting to art historians and art connoisseurs.  But the art student is less confused about choices to be made when the two issues are separated and defined so that, unlike the young painter in Balzac’s story, one is not hesitating between the two worlds.

A Review: Water. Color. Ink: An Exhibition by Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

12, August 2014 § 2 Comments

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Rain over Castro

by Jane Morris Pack

Jun-Pierre Shiozawa is currently exhibiting work at the Argonauta Hotel in Parikia, Paros.  The show is comprised of landscapes, cityscapes, seascapes, as well as nudes and surrealistic dreamlike images. They are all works on paper either with watercolor or ink and demonstrate a range of handling at varied levels of abstraction.

In his artist statement Jun expresses that his watercolor technique was born out of his love of sketching in the natural environment of Paros. Indeed, watercolor is particularly suited to capturing the light drenched vistas of Greece. It is evident that the watery delicate images record his love for the island and they show various locales which are familiar to most of us living here. “Rain on the Castro” or “Small Marina” record our daily backdrop.  They bring with this sense of recognition an enjoyment of seeing things afresh, the chance to notice new feelings and sentiments attached to the familiar. Though they are not sentimental they note the human element: two fishermen talking, a woman hanging laundry. He does not descend, however, into the picturesque. It brings to mind the work of the American painter Winslow Homer, whose images simply record the facts, with no straining for effect, yet manage to convey a particular emotion attached to a view. It is not postcard material, nor merely decorative. We feel in each image that we sit beside the artist for a moment, observant and at ease, sensing the place and the people who inhabit it.

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Setting Ship

Jun’s ink work is something different and here he enters the world of dreams: a huge reptile occupies the mosaic floor of a church, an antlered deer wanders among columns of a basilica. In “Setting Ship” a ship plunges vertically into the sea as the sun would into the western horizon. Its rippled reflection shifts our balance and we feel vertigo and tension. The ink work is dark, subterranean in feel, below the level of consciousness, as though our mind recombined images during the night and left us curious on awaking what meaning was intended.

Jun is working now on a series of portraits which will be shown in October. We look forward to seeing them on the wall, all together, for a glimpse once again into our island’s matrix.

Jun-Pierre Shiozawa teaches painting and drawing at The Aegean Center. You can visit his web-site at junpierre.net.

Nature is the Source

5, May 2014 § 1 Comment

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by Jane Morris Pack

John Pack knows the topography of Paros and his Friday hikes are an important part of the program at The Aegean Center.  They have been a tradition for countless years and introduce the students to the beauty and variety of landscape of the island.  After several hours of walking in the hills amongst the olive trees or clambering the stone pathways the participants always return refreshed in body and spirit.

As important as it is to experience Paros in this way there is something deeper happening for the visual artist.  The immersion in landscape is a fundamental human experience. All color begins in nature, all sense of volume, depth, texture and light.  Whereas the city environment surrounds us with angular monochromatic walls and hard vertical facets the natural environment is varied and nuanced. Bright flat surfaces are uncommon in nature, nearly every color is graded and shifts in one direction or another. The color changes that sweep over hills and sea elevate our awareness and can take our breath away.  Natural landscape echoes our emotions with drama or calm serenity. We feel a surge of something like love in a beautiful scene. The painter needs to steep in this colored world, to imbue the mind with harmonies and relationships, to cleanse the eye of the artificial colors of advertisements which manipulate our lowest instincts.

The first step in the painting program at the Center is to break the hold that the primary colors have on the students by experiencing the subtlety of the earth palette: yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ivory black and titanium white. In Greece this is the original tetrachromy of ancient painters and comes from pigments extracted from the land. The warm red and yellow balanced by the cooling white and black create every possible permutation which color can undergo: value, temperature and intensity. With clean handling the blues and greens are easily obtained by mixing.  This palette often feels too limited to the beginner but opens a new world once experienced. No other colors are necessary for landscape and portraiture.

Closeness to the land revives knowledge which may lie dormant in the artist.  The combination of walking in nature and painting with earth tones gives the beginning painter a chance to expand vision and skill, and rediscover beauty.

Landscape above by former Aegean Center student Cari Adams. For more visit her website at http://www.carolineadamsart.com/.

Spring Session Begins

11, March 2014 § Leave a comment

painting-workshop

by Jane Morris Pack

The new Spring semester is just beginning at The Aegean Center.  We have six returning students from last term who have rejoined us.  Three of our students are from India and we have an Italian woman who lives in Norway. Other students are from the US and Canada.  Some of the local Greeks also participate in classes. Our group is truly international.

We have had some rain this last month and the island is green and lush. We took our first walk into the hills on Friday up to Lefkes followed by a full taverna meal at Flora’s.

As always the nervous first meeting settles us all as we greet each other and begin to have a feeling for the group. Each session has its own personality and rhythm which emerges in the first weeks. We’re all looking forward to seeing the students grow technically and stretch their creative wings.

Brush Story Part 2

30, January 2014 § 2 Comments

In the spirit of sharing our brush stories here are some of my own.  This post will focus on my watercolor and ink brushes.  You can follow Aegean Center for the Fine Arts painting teacher Jane Pack’s brush stories here.

I get very attached to my brushes. Like actors in a play each brush has its own role. Some are used far more frequently than others, but if I’m missing a specific brush for a specific task I may just scrap the piece altogether. When a brush starts to wear down or even fall apart it can bring an irrational amount of stress and dismay. At times I talk to my brushes like a coach would to his players, alright kiddo, go out there and get the job done. What can I say, they are more than just tools, they’re the means to express myself. I usually take them for granted but I love my brushes. Here are some descriptions of my main team.
-Jun-Pierre Shiozawa

Brushes

“The Hake”
A 1 inch Hake brush.  Soft and wide, it’s great for washes: skies and seas. The softer the brush the easier it is to move a watery wash over the the paper without affecting the surface.

“Big Timer”
A goathair Chinese ink brush. It’s a very versatile brush, useful for washes and moving the color into small tight corners: negative space!

“T.C.O.B.”
My Taking Care Of Business brush.  Like “Big Timer” another Chinese ink brush, but because of it’s smaller size I use it very often for washes, tight detail work,  and just about everything else.  I could do a whole painting just with this brush.

“Tree top” 
I love using this brush–The point can get very fine and the bristles splay out in a very natural manner, perfect for leaves, water, rocks, hair, etc.

“Eraser brush”
A half inch square brush with a firm shape and bristles.  I mostly use this brush to lift color off the painting.  Useful for editing and lightening up a passage of color.

“Fine Line”
A plastic brush with synthetic bristles that you could fill up with water.  Holds a great shape and makes a very thin line.  Very effective for detail work.

“Rigger”
I never use this brush but I like that I have it.  Rigger brushes are traditionally used to paint the riggings of boats in maritime paintings.

“The Colonel”
A round brush that I once used very often but has since been worn down a bit. I almost never use it  anymore but when I go out to paint I always have to bring it out of habit.

Do you have brushes that you love? Share them with us on Twitter, @aegeancenter, #brushstory.

Brush story

24, January 2014 § 2 Comments

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Every painter has their favorites. Here are Jane Morris Pack’s:

1. This soft flat is my favorite glazing brush. I often cover a large area with a transparent color and it can apply the tone without brush strokes if you flip it quickly back and forth.

2. My favorite Nepalese brush had a weak ferrule. It was given to me by a fellow travelling artist and bought in Katmandu.

3. A great scrubbing brush almost down to the end. Who doesn’t have pieces of hair trapped in the paint? See the eyes in Durer’s self portrait.

4. A luscious softy. I couldn’t resist it. I’m saving it for some future project.

5. I always clean the brush but not always the handle. Hog bristles don’t like water so better to clean them with just solvent.

6. Square flat brushes have only been around since the Industrial Age. They are great for getting those corners and creating angular forms. Most paintings could use a few more sharp corners.

Do you have brushes that you love? Share them with us on Twitter, @aegeancenter, #brushstory.

Technology and the Painter’s Studio

15, January 2014 § Leave a comment

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by Jane Morris Pack

Technological advances have changed the world of photography in recent years and given its practitioners an incredible tool box of options. The history palette in Photoshop makes it possible to maintain a record of adjustments. Since every decision is reversible it enables the photographer to try out several versions, nuanced or radical, to enhance the photograph.

Painters haven’t been able to benefit from these advances but they can have something of the same convenience with an iPad or smartphone.  Taking pictures and recording the various stages of your work make it easy to see whether the latest application of paint was an improvement or not.  We can’t simply push the button to undo but at least we can wipe paint off.  But perhaps of equal interest is the editing tool within the photo program.  On the iPad you can choose a filter option at the bottom of the screen and turn any color painting into black and white. This tool gives you an instant readout of your tonal range; if you have neglected the mid tones, or the whites are too dim, it will tell you.  It would benefit beginning painters to take a snapshot of their subject and their painting and turn both into black and white studies and compare the two.  Finding the mid tones is often the most difficult task for the beginner painter.  With the ability to focus on various depths it is even possible to get your iPad to take an out of focus picture and this is a great device for seeing the overall blur of color range without detail.

I am not advocating turning the human eye and mind into a camera, which seems to be the goal of many of the super realists I see today.  I am more interested in the personal human vision with its quirkiness and ability to select and emphasize.  Even so, the attainment of clear tones with subtlety and range is a large part of the beauty of oil painting.

The Rubens Project Recap

9, December 2013 § Leave a comment

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Rubens Project Group Painting

by Jane Morris Pack

The aim of the advanced painting class is to deepen understanding of paint handling, to gain insight into one of the great painters of history and to push the students to expand beyond their own normal approach to constructing a painting. More can be learned from imitating the masters than most other pedagogical approaches. This style of learning happens without words, without theory. It is quickly understood that the eye and hand can absorb and convey information, bypassing the verbal centers of the brain. This information is rich and nuanced and reaches into our emotional core; we feel rather than explain the process.

The advanced painters each brought their own experience to this project and they will take away from it varied responses. The student learns what the mind is ready to accept; were it otherwise we could all be masters within a short space of time. My hope is that they will all find at least one aspect of Rubens to incorporate into their future work. I know that my own appreciation for this painter grew as we worked and I have already put his teachings to use in my own paintings.

The Rubens Project, Part 2

2, December 2013 § 1 Comment

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Group painting by the students of the Rubens Project: Alisha Mehta, Eleni Fokianou, Thomas Gibbs, Charly Malpass, Jordann Wine & Katerina Vaynshteyn

by Jane Morris Pack

Rubens frequently composed along the curves of an oval which rose diagonally from the lower left to the upper right of the canvas. This diagonal movement gives tension and drama to his work. We have chosen a group of stock characters from his mythological subjects, centaurs and satyrs etc, and arranged them with this device in mind, placing them in overlapping positions and in reducing scale to push the space backward into the depths. We created a dark tree as a foil against the highly lit figures on one corner and opened up another to deep atmospheric perspective.

The drawings, once accomplished on paper were transferred to the canvas with the perforated holes and pouncing method used by the Renaissance artists.    The underpainting was then set in with raw umber loosely and not too dark to keep the shadows transparent and luminous. Much of the streaky gray imprimatura was allowed to show through. Highlighting with white came next which involved oil paint mixed with chalk to give the paint textural force and an active surface. This was placed to bring the eye to areas of interest and emphasize our oval composition. More modeling was accomplished with a toned down white and then the canvas was allowed to dry.

This procedure, which took several hours of group effort, brought the image to a more finished form and we began to visualize it as a whole for the first time. Rubens often used his studio assistants to bring a painting to this level and then he added his final touches in the glazing and overpainting that follows.

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