9, October 2012 § 1 Comment
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Sitting on the top deck of the 5:30 p.m. Blue Star ferry, I pulled my black moleskin journal out of my backpack. “Why I am going to Paros,” I wrote at the top of the page. I stared at the blank sheet.
I had dreamed of returning to visit Paros and the Aegean Center since the day I left almost three years ago, but now that the moment had arrived, I was more nervous than excited. None of my friends from my semester were returning with me—What would I do on my own for an entire week? Did my teachers want to see me as much as I wanted to see them, or was my visit an imposition? Had I built Paros into an unrealistic fantasy in my memory, and was the bubble about to burst? Did I really expect being there to answer all the huge, existential questions about my precarious future that were running through my mind?
I chewed on the back of my pen. “Because I love the beach,” I wrote, drawing a line through the words immediately after. “Because the baklava at the bakery is the best in the world,” I wanted to make myself laugh. “Because I need John’s advice,” I tried again. “Because the last time I was lost and confused, I went to Paros and swam in the Aegean Sea and calmed down, and I’m counting on the magic still being there.” Not entirely satisfied with this list, I snapped my journal shut. The sun was turning a rich orange as it sank into the water and the wind was thick with salt and anticipation, reminding me of the sunsets I had watched and painted from the church by the Paroikia shore.
When the ferry finally pulled in at 10:00 p.m., the port could not have been a more different place than the cold, deserted town I had left behind three Decembers ago. Tourists flocked up and down the waterfront. Hotel staff and car rental services accosted disembarking passengers before they could make it past the windmill. Every bar and restaurant was packed beyond capacity. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, feeling more anxious than ever. But my feet did not falter once as they walked through the Plaka, turning onto Market Street towards the school building. Behind me, the noisy evening erupted into a flurry of fireworks to celebrate the assumption of Mary. “What am I doing here?” I muttered to myself.
I first met Jun when he was busy at his exhibition “Sacred/Wild,” but he still took the time to welcome me back and help me settle into my apartment. My initial apprehensions retreated and I fell asleep to the sound of the wind in the olive groves. When I arrived at the school the next morning and saw John and Jane, any remaining uneasiness disappeared entirely. “We’re so happy to have you,” they welcomed me. Within moments, I felt no different than I had as a student, stopping by the Uffizi during one of my breaks between classes. Before I could ask, John handed me a key to the school and encouraged me to use it as much as I needed to. Soon, Jane was making travel suggestions for my upcoming trip to Turkey and we were pouring over books about Istanbul. Our conversation meandered, from the potential to study the similarities between Indian and Greek philosophy to journalism in the digital age and, most importantly, the texture of the week’s myzithra. I was finally home.
Hours later, at a table at the Albatross laden with my favorite Parian foods, I remembered one of the most valuable lessons I learned at the school: to appreciate good food. From our elaborate dinners at Villa Rospigliosi to the simple meals I used to cook with other students at the Aegean Village, food is a central part of the Aegean Center. I began to see food as much more than the basis for sustenance: it is an experience to be revered and cherished. At my first Monday morning meeting as a student, John opened with the words, “I want you all to promise me that tomorrow morning, you will buy a pomegranate and break it over Greek yogurt and honey for breakfast.” I didn’t really like pomegranate, but the one I ate to fulfill this promise changed my palette forever.
That was October, and this was August— it was too early for pomegranate. Now was the time to eat honeydew and water melon, and I was not about to argue with the land. On Paros, eating seasonal food acquired new significance. I became more attuned to weekly weather transitions than my own desire for a specific food. I realized that fresh, local ingredients and spontaneity are critical to a good meal, but even more essential is good company. As students, we had carried our small stoves to one apartment, pooled together the produce we had bought earlier that day and cooked dinner with each other.
Three years later, over plates piled with fresh gavros and calamari, luscious beets perfectly complemented with skordalia and horta, and tomatoes with creamy myzithra that instantly put all other cheese to shame, I remembered how much I loved to eat the Aegean Center way. As we passed the plates around, each of us was careful to serve ourselves so that everyone else would have enough. Sharing was far more important than self-indulgence. How we learn to eat is symbolic of how we learn to take care of each other and develop a heightened sensitivity to our surroundings.
The Paros I had returned to in the summer was remarkably different from the winter Paros I remembered, but its beauty still left me breathless. My friends (the ones who have never been to Greece) often tease me that my relentless praise for Greece’s natural beauty makes me a perfect candidate to work for the Greek Tourism Organization. Ever since I left, I have dreamed of the narrow, cobbled streets of Paroikia, weaving my way through white washed walls, blue domes and pink bougainvillea creepers. I have insisted that the sunlight on Paros is more luminous than anywhere else in the world and that the deep purple and turquoise water of the Aegean has mysterious healing properties.
Returning to Paros reaffirmed that its landscape instantly calms me. I spent my days visiting old haunts and discovering new ones. I realized that Krios was no longer the far beach I used to hike to in the winter; it was one of the busiest beaches on the island, and a ten-minute ferry ride from the port. Lefkes, however, was still deserted once I walked out of the town square and into the mountains. Hiking past abandoned windmills, through the terraced landscape studded with ancient olive trees, I returned to my solitary Paros. The sirocco was particularly violent that day, but with no one but the wind to listen to, I found the same inner quiet that I had come looking for. Suddenly the questions that had been on my mind since I left New York three weeks ago no longer seemed insurmountable.
I rediscovered my old running route to the Valley of the Butterflies and went swimming at the Cave of the Nymphs, each time feeling immensely grateful to connect so intimately with the earth. I have grown up and lived in large cities for most of my life, and the ability to appreciate nature is one that I have gradually learned. Learning to love Paros, and by extension Greece, was easy, because I was introduced to the place through John’s love for the island. Friday hikes are as much a part of the curriculum as figure drawing or art history. As students, we learned that although we spent most of our time in Paroikia, there were worlds beyond for us to explore. Three years later, my interest in wandering around the island was still fresh. Where would a familiar path lead me if I turned left instead of right? Where would the land lead me if I left the path all together?
Paros reminded me that it is possible to live slower and more deliberately, and that the benefits to watching the sun set and moon rise every evening are immeasurable. I felt the same unencumbered joy each morning when I woke up simply by choosing to listen to the waves. I realized that I could call more than one place in the world “home,” because even after I left Paros, I continued to carry its wisdom with me.
Being at home on Paros was possible because I was also coming home to family. The Aegean Center is not a semester- or year-long program: it is an opportunity to belong to a close-knit community for life. From seeing familiar faces around Paroikia to meeting students from different semesters who were also there, every day was an affirmation of the school’s inclusive and supportive community.
When I met Jeff and Liz in the school courtyard, they asked me not five but twenty-five questions about how I was, what I had done in the past three years and what I planned to do in the future. Our conversation picked up exactly where it left off when I used to sit in the dark room with Liz, pouring over my test strips and telling her what was on my mind. At the school, we develop relationships with our teachers that go far beyond typical student teacher interactions. Our teachers make the effort to get to know us, take care of us and remain genuinely interested in who we become after we leave. Reconnecting with John, Jane, Jun, Jeff and Liz reminded me that I had learned much more than fine arts skills at the school. Their experience and insight has taught me a way of life that I constantly seek to recreate when I am physically not on Paros.
One week later, on my way to Athens, I was back on the top deck of the ferry with my journal. “I could write pages and pages about this past week. But all I need to say about it is that it was perfect,” I wrote. Visiting Paros brought back beautiful memories and allowed me to create new ones. It reminded me that the bliss I had experienced as a student was still there, and will always be there, waiting patiently for me to return.
28, November 2011 § Leave a comment
The week before the break I woke up in a rather unusual fashion. From my bed one can see my bathroom door. The previous day I had haphazardly thrown my towel over it. As I lay there unwilling to venture beyond my blanket I began to notice how pretty the towel was. The light shone through the bathroom window onto its peaks and valleys, and I began to pick out contour lines, shadows. I leaned over and picked up my iphone to grab a picture. I was still unwilling to leave the safe spot that was my bed, and now when I look at the picture I wish I had been more diligent in this regard. None the less, I snapped it. As the morning progressed I began to laugh at myself and the clichéd nature of my situation. I really have begun to see my surroundings in a different way.
I think of myself as lucky in a number of ways. Prior to coming to the Aegean Center I had drawn periodically as a child, but as I ventured into my 20’s this had become somewhat sporadic, and in the few months prior to catching my flight to Italy it had become essentially non existent. As I moved into my career and my mid-twenties I began to pick up a camera in hopes of capturing the moments I did allow myself to see. I had coined the phrase with a friend of my mine from back home of wanting to capture the ‘click -click’ moments of life. Thus I had the urge to capture something more, but no longer confident in my ability to do so. I landed in Italy as a blank slate in a number of different ways.
In Pistoia I began drawing again, tentatively and with much frustration. We began with some basic drawing, which included learning about perspective. I recall sitting one afternoon in the villa drawing a line of boxes, and how at that moment it was so difficult. I had forgotten or grown lax in my approach, or had altogether no technique. I began filling in the blanks. The program was reminding me what I had previously learned and was also giving me a new approach in which to conquer my nerves. For example, one of my earliest memories of having a drawing lesson as a child was when I was seven. I was sitting at the kitchen table drawing a horse that appeared on one of my baby sister’s plush toys. Just as I do now, I was vocally sighing with my inability to gain the likeness. My mother approached me and said “Why don’t you draw everything but the horse?” While I now know she was talking about negative space, that had really been the last time anyone had given me direction in that regard. Up until now I didn’t even realize that this was how I approached a lot my drawing. In a number of ways I did know some things, but I still needed to fill in the gaps.
Figure drawing has given us the approach on how to look at a figure; weight, constellations, boxes, contour lines. As I have progressed in the class I have begun to see what I saw previously in my drawing but without direction. For example, previously, when I had wanted to make something look less flat, I would draw in circles to give it body and shape. Figure drawing calls these contour lines. I have thus tried to amalgamate the two approaches ; trying not to draw the full circle, but still giving the body shape in this regard through my half circles. I kick myself a little because at certain points in the program I had stopped drawing, painting, or taking photos because of my own confidence and nerves. At points I was acknowledging what I did know, and thus had stopped. I remember when we were first introduced to contour lines at the villa and in my head I thought, ‘I think I do that’. The structure of painting and drawing has helped build that confidence again. It’s slowly filling in gaps, but also creating new ones while allowing me the ease to get going.
Digital photography, on the other hand, has allowed me to see things in a whole new light (pun intended). A couple of weeks ago, we moved from using the Bridge program to exclusively using Photoshop. For some reason I found this overwhelming. John poised the question in class asking “Who here feels overwhelmed yet?” I quickly lifted my hand only to have him say “You’re just nervous.” He was exactly right. On several occasions he reminded not only the class but me specifically that there was no test at the end of the program. Often John would say “Just play”. This drove me nuts at the beginning. I had worked in education previously and the Aegean’s approach to learning was what had attracted me to the center, but theory and practice don’t always jive at the beginning . Digital has taught me to keep going in other ways. It has encouraged me to take the photo, look at what I have taken and then try again. It’s teaching me to ask questions. It’s teaching me to see the world on my own, through my own eye, to learn from John’s trained eye, but to also portray the world as I may see it. It’s teaching me to again ask questions. Now, on the other side of the semester, I see the ‘structure’ of learning to learn.
Together, drawing, painting, and photography have helped me see bits and pieces of my ‘click-click’ moments in a different fashion. Because of painting and drawing, I see things such as saturation and tonal gradation which allow me to see my photography differently. Composing my photos, and the way I look at light, has had its effect on my drawing and painting as well. This past week I was sitting in a cafe and decided to do a quick sketch of my glass and table. In five minutes I rendered something that I found not too shabby. I then flipped back to one of the pictures I had painstakingly tried to compose at the villa in Pistoia. It had taken me three hours to draw a cup. Now I draw the contents of my table in less than five minutes. Not without mistakes, but definitely with less trepidation. Now that I play with it, I have questions, and I play more each day. Now, I wake up in the morning and look at a towel and notice how beautiful it is and reach for my camera.
4, May 2011 § Leave a comment
I find myself at the crossroads. I have been here before. These moments of quiet decision, where I weigh my options and take inventory of my emotional and intellectual belongings, never cease to surprise or even baffle me. At times there is a great deal of traffic: fears, dreams, possible futures disastrous and sublime, assorted vehicles whizzing through my busy cerebral motorway. In other instances life’s intersections seem all but deserted: two dusty rural roads running perpendicular in the baking noonday sun, cicadas buzzing in the heat. Still, I sit listening to the winds for small, almost imperceptible, shifts.
My work and role in America has evolved over the past year. My physical presence at home has become less important and this aspect informs me that it is time to move along. All the other guideposts confirm it. Then what of my art? Have I refined my eye since my last missive in the spring of 2010? Last year John Pack pushed me into an abstract space of colorful and textural photography, a giant’s leap from the bearing with which I had grown accustomed. I had become lost in a dense and painful bramble of artistic faith and he had guided me out into something new and exciting, but something that was, for me, uncertain and uncomfortable. Upon returning to my little village in the Hudson Valley I continued on this orientation, tilling abstract soil, using skills I had learned, reaping a solid harvest of accessible and novel work. I built a small darkroom in which to pursue my black and white silver work as I crafted my digital images on my iMac in Camera RAW and PhotoShop CS4. I began using a Mamiya c330 medium format TLR and an old Graphlex Crowne 4×5 press camera. I followed the same procedures I had learned from Liz Carson. The black and white silver work began to occupy more of my time. It was more satisfying than the digital images which I came to see as being less evocative of my own journey. I was grateful for this shift in perspectives. I am now more aware of the abstract nature of black and white silver emulsion but also how both formats can exist and inform each other.
Another signpost of the inevitability of change has been a sense of artistic self-confidence, a quality I did not possess before the spring of 2010. I was unsure of my artistic self-worth then, but when I returned to New York I found myself welcomed as a member of a small arts group in my area. Since August of 2010 my work has been displayed in several group shows and I have sold a few pieces. I measure this as a success both for myself and for those who have guided me. My mentors handed me a new and different compass with which to plot my artistic course. That device has brought me full circle and, as I stated earlier, I find myself at a crossroads, albeit with a measure more wisdom than before.
This session, besides the two photography courses and numerous lectures, I am also working with Jane Pack and Jun-Pierre Shiozawa in Figure Drawing and Basic Drawing, respectively. I now have some more tools in my visual kitbag: perspective, foreshortening, form and mass, and the powerful negative space. I will not pretend to be a painter or draughtsman but these tools are shifting my eye from the two-dimensional abstracts of 2010 to a richer three-dimensional view of light, shadow and the human form. In using this pre-visualization I have begun studio sessions with several models in both medium format silver and digital photography. This is a challenge for me. The artistic intimacy required is daunting; the level of professionalism towering; the integrity of the imagery both paramount and well-founded. In these figure studies I envision a potent, almost mythological feminine presence. I strive for ‘entasi‘, that they might better illustrate a paradigm I feel is lost in today’s modern culture: beauty, grace and the power of a substantive Earth. These artistic choices are new for me, but I am traveling a well blazed trail, a journey many have taken. In my heart I feel that they, too, must have arrived at a crossroads. Perhaps the milieu is not original, but my perspective and philosophy is at least unique.
Working in the studio has also increased my technical skill and craft, which brings to mind the poet and philosopher Peter Abbs’ ‘Axis of Creativity’: as my technical skills and knowledge increases so do the creative abilities inspired by my dreams and the unconscious. With this I can create a solid body of work, or perhaps several while I am here. My thinking is freed by my distance from New York and all that that means. The light of Paros fills my eyes with shimmering tonal varieties and the Aegean Center grants me a haven where I can explore these creative emotional possibilities. All of these principles allow a clearer vision at the crossroads, diminishing the haze and dust of indecision. The answers will come if I sit patiently, listening and dreaming. While I am sitting, listening and dreaming I will work.
6, April 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m sitting at a cafe on the harbor in Naoussa. The keen east winds rustle the palm fronds and the gulls float above. The fishing boats sway lazily on the quay, nets and ropes lie in neat piles and coils on the decks, having been retired for the day. People sit and chat in greek over coffee and cigarettes in the sun. Nobody works here in the afternoon.
I have been on Paros nearly a month now, the time seems to slip so quickly by here. The days are full, there are always projects to work on, and so many beautiful places to explore. I’m still learning to navigate the maze of winding, narrow stone streets of Paroikia. The only way to become familiar with these streets is to get lost in them and see where they take you until you begin to recognize the eccentricities of each street.
I’ve been asked which of the classes I’m taking is my favorite, and I don’t have an answer for that. They are all exciting, challenging, and engaging to me, each has its own qualities. The world of painting in oils has opened its doors to me, through the skilled guidance of Jun and Jane. Pictured above is a nearly finished still life I’ve been working on.
Figure Drawing has brought me so much farther in the ability to accurately represent the human body on paper than I could have imagined in this short month. I will continue to use the exercises and techniques I’ve already learned as long as I draw.
Learning to develop film and make prints is also new to me. This process is a subtle and delicately balanced combination of science and magic. This holds true for digital photography as well, the science being in the incredible plethora of powerful digital tools at your fingertips, and the magic being in what you produce using them. There are also the enthusiastic and lon-linear rants John Pack embarks on, covering an enormous amount of ground in the process, from light and color theory, to camera and editing technique, to the shortcomings of the “bankrupt American educational system”, to discussing the importance of the glorious poetry that is in a good photograph.
Printmaking is also a whole new discipline to me, one that I have been thoroughly enjoying as well. The moment when you turn the press and then lift your print and see the result of your careful labor of lines is a thrilling one. Sometimes it looks better than you had hoped, sometimes it just looks like a big ink smudge, and you get to work fixing it and trying again.
I’m so glad to be here; this is exactly what I was looking for. Direct, hands-on training in the arts, taught by a group of impassioned and engaged teachers who want you to come out of this with as many invaluable skills as you can pack into your mental toolbox, and to have a rich, lively, and transformative time throughout.
6, December 2010 § 2 Comments
When I first came to The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts, I had very clear ideas about who I was, what I liked to do, and what I was coming for. I was a writer. I loved to write. And I was coming to write.
Then, in the early days of the Italy adventure, Liz approached me and said, “I noticed you didn’t check photography on your application as something you are interested in.”
“It isn’t that I’m not interested,” I said. “But I thought I’d focus on art history, writing, and literature.” Again, I was a writer. I loved to write. And I was coming to write. After spending so much time trying to do anything except write, I had finally given in and mustered up the courage to go after my passion. Art history and literature would complement it. Everything else was a distraction.
“Well, if you like taking pictures, you should at least take the camera course,” she said. “It’ll help you take better pictures.”
I didn’t give her answer right away. I was so set on exactly what I was going to take and what my focus was going to be. Then, in my side discussions with other professors and students, I let it slip that I wished I could draw and take beautiful photographs. Soon I was hearing professors and students encouraging me. Just give it a try was a phrase I was beginning to hear a lot. And suddenly, I found myself attending the camera course, basic drawing, and watercolor.
Yet I was still hesitant. I had never done anything like this before. So I told myself that once on Paros, I would go back to my original plan of taking only art history, writing and literature.
However, once you try one new thing, it tends to open the door for other thing, and once on Paros, I found myself taking, in addition to the original plan, figure drawing and digital photography (even though I don’t have a digital camera). I also spent some time learning darkroom basics.
I have come to realize that no one is going to judge me or ridicule my artistic abilities. Being able to do something well doesn’t come without practice. Besides, this experience is about discovery, and no one expects anything out of me except the willingness to try something new. Maybe next semester I will try painting or printmaking….
9, June 2010 § 2 Comments
We are halfway through our final week of the Spring semester and a productive hush has descended on the school. The painting studios are full with the final touches being applied to still lifes, portraits and landscapes, there is a gentle hum coming from the printers churning out images in the digital lab and there is an intense quiet in the dark room as final photographs are being meticulously spotted and matted.
At thirty I never thought that I would return to school. I left England at the age of twenty with dreams of travelling and I never quite seemed to get around to settling down and taking the time for tertiary education. As I spent the next decade wandering the world my love of art lay dormant and surfaced only at times when visiting art galleries or trying to capture photographs of the places I visited. I had neither taken up pencil nor paint brush since leaving school but always yearned to be able to sit and paint the beautiful things around me. When the idea of taking time out from work to go on an art course first came to me I started scanning the net for possibilities and by pure chance I came across the Aegean Center. It took me a full year to actually gather enough courage to apply as I was well aware of my artistic abilities and was quite sure my application would be rejected on the basis that I really had forgotten everything I had ever learnt. I was wrong, I knew my desire to learn was there and after corresponding with John I felt so comforted in the knowledge that my beginner status would not be an issue at all I was impatient for the months to pass so I could be on my way to the school.
I arrived in Pistoia in the Fall session of 2009. Before I so much as left the train station the local taxi drivers had me figured for a student and barely needed to be told to take me to the Villa Rospigliosi. Heading up the gravel drive surrounded by olive trees it was hard to imagine that this beautiful old villa would be my home for the next three weeks. I remember being the last to arrive so had no time to meet anyone before the evening meal and the first night celebrations were held so I was quite surprised when I walked in and found that everyone was younger than me. I remember thinking that first night that maybe I had made a big mistake, everyone was so young, so talented and I was quite out of my depth. Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong, socially it was the most wonderful diverse group of people and artistically everyone was at so many different stages of development acceptance and understanding was immediate. Those first few weeks passed by in a whirlwind of museums, cathedrals, train rides, bus rides, gelato, pizza and pasta all shared with new people, excited as I was to learn all about Italy. After so many years of seeing famous masterpieces in books and on film it was so different to see them in their proper homes or in museums and after such a short time I was amazed at how much information I retained. This complete immersion in the Renaissance really was the only way to truly begin to understand the magnificent pieces of art, paintings, sculpture, frescoes, architecture and music. With most of our days taken up by tours with Jeffrey and Liz our practical work time was limited to a few days at the villa. These were moments to enjoy our surroundings and get our first feelings as to what our studio studies would be like when we went to Greece. As somewhat of an indecisive person I found it hard to choose what course to study so found myself attending all the lectures in the hope that I could narrow my field of interest. My initial idea was to study painting and drawing, however when John started to talk about the digital process I found it too hard to resist so as we headed to Paros I was taking the majority of the courses.
The rest of the semester was quite different, Paros gave us the opportunity to unwind from the hectic schedule that Italy had provided us with and begin proper our studies. With each of us moving into our separate apartments and studios we had time to gather our thoughts from all we had experienced and there was an exited air and a new appreciation to the arts.
Paros became quieter as winter approached and our small group enjoyed classes and hikes, pot lucks and movie nights. The semester break allowed people to travel to other European countries and explore some of the other Greek Islands. On return work continued and I decided that one semester was just not enough time for me to achieve everything I had set out to do. So it was in that first week back from the break that I decided to come back for another three months in the Spring.
So spring arrived and I headed back to Greece, a new semester with new goals. Again I had the trouble of being completely indecisive so signed up not only for painting, drawing and digital photography but this semester I would also study print making, a completely new medium for me.
Three months can pass by extremely quickly, Paros has changed greatly from the quiet cool of winter and spring came suddenly with Easter, the island waking up as we headed towards a hot summer.
The dynamics have changed slightly this semester as there are a number of mature students attending the school. This has been a great change and it made me realize that there is no ‘standard’ Aegean Center student, if someone has motivation and drive then they will fit in.
I wanted to share some of my work as I believe that I have come a long way from those first days of basic drawing where my ‘straight’ lines were quite wobbly and my figure drawings looked like something more suited to a horror film. I believe that I now have a solid background and knowledge in all the fields I studied and I’m happy that I chose to do so many subjects. Art continually evolves and I think one of the greatest lessons learnt whilst studying in Greece was patience. Patience to sit for a few hours purely to draw, patience to work through problems encountered in Photoshop and probably the hardest to learn but with the best results patience with layering, scumbles and glazes in oil painting.
I cannot claim that I’m ready for the commercial art world, neither do I want to be; this course for me has been a purely personal desire to be able to fulfill a long standing dream. I I feel that now I can go out into the world, continue my travels and this time I will be able to have the confidence to paint the places I see.
23, November 2009 § 1 Comment
Hello! My name is Evie Elman and I have recently fallen in love with Printmaking. I am one amongst six in our intimate class, and Jane Pack is our very experienced teacher. Because we are all taking intensive courses such as oil painting, figure drawing, basic drawing, Greek Literature, creative writing, and more for others (but that is my schedule) – printmaking falls but once a week and it is 3 hours long.
We start each class learning about the history of printmaking and looking at classic prints by renowned artists. This gets our creative juices bubbling, and helps us begin our hands-on work period where we etch and print with an empowering old printing press. We crank the wheel, we roll the ink, we dip things in acid, we roll hard ground on top of a hot plate over an open fire – though not in that order! We are pretty cool. We have also learned how to make mono types – a refreshing approach, with a similar effect, all involving the press and ink.
Printmaking is a fascinating old process, one that requires a sense of release. You must be free and prepared for the unexpected surprise that may show up on your print, though accidents 95% of the time add something delightful. This freedom of not having total control is exciting, and keeps me eager to produce. It feels like you are no longer working alone, but with the printing Gods, and together something beautiful will form. Cheers!
9, December 2008 § Leave a comment
I come to the Aegean Center from Athens, Georgia and am taking a “gap” year before heading off to college next Fall. I was drawn to the Aegean Center because of my interest in photography (as well as other mediums) and my desire to live abroad. Originally, I had planned to be involved in photography classes only, but the encouraging atmosphere of the Center opened me to attempting courses in which I was less confident. So, what once would have been a light schedule is now a wonderfully full schedule. I am taking basic drawing, figure drawing, Greek literature, Greek art history, Greek dancing, photo history, digital photography, silver photography, and a class on the camera. One of the many great things about my schedule is that I have at least one class with almost every instructor at the Center.
Working in both digital and silver photography allows me one-on-one time with Elizabeth Carson and John Pack. With Liz I am learning the art of the darkroom and with John the art of producing a fine digital print. The first step in both classes is making photographs. From our travels in Italy and our time in Greece I have accumulated a number of images, both film and digital, that I am currently working on.
During the first week, Liz taught all of the silver students how to develop film and how to begin printing. For many, this was a welcome review as almost all of us were out of practice and needed to be acclimated to the darkroom here. The best way to learn in the darkroom is to work when Liz is there, by just sitting down and exchanging ideas with her. Also, having her trained eye reviewing my test strips and proofs has helped me to train my own eye to see subtle differences in tonality and to see that even the slightest change can make a print look entirely different. I have progressed in my understanding of photography and enjoy working in the darkroom even if it means I am not outside in the wonderful Greek sunlight 24/7.
Digital photography is a whole different world from silver. Our digital class consists of about ten people and we meet twice a week. We learn about Photoshop and printing by looking at each other’s work and seeing the changes we have made to our images. We also spend time working with John individually throughout the week. When working with John, I typically open up an image that I have worked on and we discuss the changes I’ve made and different ways to make those changes. Often we play around with different modifications until we find the best image.
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)
15, August 2017 § Leave a comment
Raphael’s Drawings: at the Ashmolean & Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave
At the end of the session this last spring John and I traveled to England to spend a few days in Oxford. We went to see a show of Raphael’s drawings at the Ashmolean, a collection of over hundred and twenty of his original works of art. Drawing exhibitions are far and few between and I was particularly anxious to see this one because Raphael’s draftsmanship is extraordinary and difficult to find and see in person.
It has been said that drawing, within the visual arts, holds the position of being closest to pure thought. (Elderfield) In this sense the drawings allow us to see inside Raphael’s mind as he composed images which would evolve into paintings, frescoes and tapestries. His exploratory line and his imaginative thought process are clearly on view in these works. You feel him working through ideas, expressing emotion with a variety of poses and exploring specific narratives. His drawings are derived from models, imagination, and sometimes from memory. What struck me most was the delicacy and fineness of his workmanship, the exquisite details and the accuracy of his line, his potent understanding of how light describes form. I learned that he often used a stylus to sketch out the preliminary form on the paper before beginning the drawing. This was called a blind line because it did not leave a mark. The drawing was then refined with either metal-point, red chalk, or charcoal. Exploring the spiraling tensions and revealing a staggering knowledge of anatomy he amplified the composition with interlocking negative space and groupings of figures. He was able to reveal the emotional quality of the figures with a minimum of information, sometimes showing only the back of a head or a gesture of the hand to communicate the mood. With rhythm, geometry, and poetry of line his drawings become a testament to the human form as an expression of life force.
On the way back to Athens we stopped in London and were lucky enough to see the exhibition “Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave” at the British Museum. This artist’s encyclopedic knowledge of nature is on show with many drawings done with ink and brush, woodblock and illustrated books. Again I was struck by the detail and careful renderings, the delicacy of his work. I think it was Ruskin who said that in fine art there must be something “fine” and I thought once again, looking at Hokusai, that perhaps this is something we’re missing in much of contemporary art. It seems that the muscular, the shocking and the mundane have more value to us than careful observation and recording of form which is so lovingly revealed in these masterworks. Although the artists lived two and a half centuries apart and on two different continents, although they depict two different cultures, there are common elements to their work. Both artists express the inexpressible through the twisting forms of human anatomy, pushing to discover at some level our common humanity and our extraordinary capacity to endure. Meticulous, patient observation combined with imagination and the desire to reveal truth is the binding principle that brings these two artists forward into our world with enduring quality.
Jane Morris Pack