Student Post: Melissa Henry
12, June 2009 § Leave a comment
The semester has ended and things have come to a close here in Paros. It’s hard to believe that I have spent two semesters studying with the Aegean Center. I feel incredibly lucky for this opportunity and in my time here I have met such wonderful individuals and learned so much. It has been a year of personal growth as I have had a chance to reflect and explore myself in new and unique surroundings. The beauty of Paros and the experiences I have had will be with me forever, and the magic of Paros will echo throughout my life and my art hereafter.
In Jane’s Velazquez seminar, we have completed the painting of our sections of Las Meninas. Painting a life-size replica of one of the figures was a great exercise to culminate our semester-long study of Velazquez’ style and technique. I really enjoyed working so large (120 x 75 cm). Studying how he painted has definitely influenced my technique and how I view the act and art of painting. He painted subjects ‘out-of-focus’ but included passages with more attention to detail, which is similar to our vision. We are able to focus on only a small area and all surrounding forms are more or less blurred. I now see how this gives a painting more dynamism than painting everything in perfect focus. Another idea I will continue to keep in mind when I paint is the potential for a painting to be both abstract and realistic. From a distance Velazquez’ paintings read as clean, smooth realistic depictions. Yet up close we see that they are merely slashes of paint splattered on canvas. Paint can create great illusion but is essentially just paint on canvas. This semester Jane introduced us to putty, which I have nearly become addicted to using. It gives the paint more body and sculptural form and helps me to loosen up my brushstroke. I plan on continuing to explore texture and putty for my senior honors project next year at Brown University.
Because putty lightens paint and preserves the luminosity of it without making it opaque or chalky like white, I have used it a lot in my work dealing with a particular lighting effect. I have always been attracted to and inspired by scenes where a distinct feeling of light creates a certain mood. Almost all of my paintings this semester address some specific effect of light, particularly cast shadows, as in my first painting of lamp-lit vegetables, the school courtyard walls, and the trash bin cats. In a more recent work I wanted to capture the mood of the storeroom/garage that we visited last semester at the local olive press. The strong, glowing light hitting the wall and illuminating the objects within intrigues me. I wanted to keep a loose drawing quality to it and I kept a primary color theme through repeating passages of red, yellow, and blue. I used these colors in many layers of putty and glazing.
I continued my personal exploration with olive trees with a second painting dealing with the wrinkly, knotty, and aged quality of olive trees. I learned things from my first painting that I applied to this one. I chose a different, more static composition and I included more surrounding landscape.
We also did a ‘white painting’ using a limited palette of white, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. I really enjoyed working with such a limited palette. I find it easier to be creative when there are stricter constraints to work within. We pushed our palette as far as we could to create a variety of hues, tones, and temperatures. It was a good exercise to focus on the art of subtlety. Working with whites was a peaceful process and I like the feeling of my finished piece so I would like to do more work with a limited palette in the future.
Now that the beautiful summer weather has arrived on Paros, we went outside to paint on-scene at the bay port. I did a 2-hour study of some boats and it was a good exercise in synthesizing a large amount of information and detail. I used a limited palette similar to my white painting: only white, blue, and burnt sienna. Painting outside has its challenges. The light changes, the subjects are often in movement, and the weather conditions can be tough to work in (it was a sweltering hot day when we painted.) I learned to work with my immediate surroundings and should continue to do these quick nature studies.
I finally painted a self-portrait, which has been somewhat of a dread of mine. Jane has taught me the importance of choosing a ‘system’ and working within the parameters of that system to paint. This helped my tackle the portrait because it involves picking a method to break a painting down into manageable steps. I was getting overwhelmed with the many subtle colors and tones in the face but I worked in a series of layers that built up the form gradually. I began using the Velazquez method I have become so accustomed to: drawing with paint and adding in the dark tones then heightening with white. Then I went in with many layers of red and blue glazes. With just these two colors I was able to get many hues and tones. In places the blue and red mixed to make purple and because my imprimatura was a yellowish orange, I created a green tone when I put blue glaze on top. I found that using these layers interspersed with whites allowed me to get so many colors, temperatures, and tones without having to mix each shade of paint separately.
During our week-long semester break, I traveled to Santorini and Crete with a few other students. While in Crete, I was inspired by the geometry of the fields we drove through and the overwhelming variety of green. I was interested in how orderly and systematic they appeared, with the cast shadows of each individual tree forming a pattern across the landscape. In an ‘ode to putty’ I painted a tactile painting. How often do you see a painting labeled “please touch”? Not so much, so I decided to have some fun with layers and make a painting for the eyes and the fingers.
As a final painting of the semester I decided to do one last olive tree. After working on a large canvas for Las Meninas I wanted to do another big painting (70 x 100 cm). I went with a few other students to look at the olive trees that we pass on our way to Lefkes for hikes. I have always wanted to go up close and look at them and I am so glad I finally did it before leaving Paros! For me, these trees are incredible symbols of Paros. They have so much character strength; some have been alive for a thousand years. I feel that this painting is a good culmination of my year with the Aegean Center. Half is alive, half is dead. There is new growth and hope, yet there remains the dead wood of many years past.
My time studying at The Aegean Center has come to a close but I am excited to take with me all that I have learned to share with others and apply to my own work. The memories of the Aegean Center, and the sand, salt, and olive trees of Paros will be with me forever.
Student Post: Melissa Henry
13, April 2009 § 1 Comment
Since writing my previous post, we have made a lot of progress in Jane’s Velazquez seminar. We began painting with a putty mixture, which is a technique that Velazquez and many of the Old Master painters seem to have used. We made our own putty out of marble dust and oil. Jane purified the marble dust that she got from a local construction yard through an extensive process of rinsing, allowing it to settle, pouring out the impure water, and drying it out. With the clean, dry marble powder, we experimented with adding various mediums to make putty. We tried three different consistencies of oil, liquin, and egg yolk. Each medium gave the putty a different structural quality and drying time.
Making putty was something new to me and I found it very satisfying. New research into many old paintings (by Velazquez or Rembrandt for example) shows that artists often mixed putty with their paint pigment. Using putty in this way instead of oil is a way to make the paint more transparent, more sculptural, and quicker to dry. Linseed oil will yellow with age and crack on the canvas’s surface, but putty will not. We found that using putty doesn’t make the paint chalky and opaque like adding white does, but it does make a little pigment go a very long way.
When I experimented with putty, I immediately loved it. It is a very economical way to prolong your oil paint since it is extremely cheap and easy to make – just mix marble dust and oil together! I chose to paint a knotty old olive tree that I saw in Lefkes on one of our hikes. One of the wonderful benefits of living in such a beautiful place as Paros is that nature is everywhere and it serves as a constant inspiration for artwork. Putty is especially great for painting organic shapes and it helped free up my brushstroke, which is usually more tightly controlled. I felt like I was sculpting and molding the paint as I applied it in thick gobs. I went in with several layers of paint and subsequent glazing into the knots and dark shadows. I am pleased with the final effect; the paint quality, particularly in the sky, has a unique semi-opaque yet luminescent feel. Because I had so much fun with this painting, I plan on painting another olive tree using putty.
In Jun’s painting class, I have done several new paintings. I chose to paint a scene of rather pissed-off cats perched on a dumpster. It is an image that we see on every street corner and I find it quite humorous. Cats, which I traditionally think of as cute cuddly animals, lurk threateningly around big trash cans and I can’t help but wonder what goodies they are gruffly guarding. I wanted to dramatize the scene so I used a slight worm’s eye view to look up at the cats who glare down at me, enhanced by a harsh sense of light with raking cast shadows. The background was a struggle because at first it flattened the sense of space and felt artificial, like a wallpaper that the cats were stuck on top of. I tried to subtly gradate it, which helped but I am still not pleased with it. I played with various textures on the cats, the trash cans, and the landscape, and worked up gradually with many layers. I enjoy people’s reaction when they look closely at the cats’ expressions; it’s a painting that’s ok to laugh at.
I also did a reflection painting. I began it much like the portrait I did of St. Paul, with a burnt sienna monochromatic, then heightened and darkened the details. My still-life set up was dominantly black so I went over everything with a black glaze but that left the fabric feeling very transparent so I added positive paint on top of it. This was rather frustrating because I had gone into so much detail in the underpainting and I ended up covering it over with the next layers. Having the framework laid out so thoroughly did help because I had studied the folds and crevices so intently that I understood the fabric’s form and how it was draped, thus making it easier to paint. For me the painting was a concentrated exercise in breaking down a complex subject into shapes and forms.
While I was working on the more arduous reflective study, I did a smaller side painting for fun. In Liz Carson’s photo history class, we were looking at early photographs of hazy cityscape scenes. I was attracted to the symmetric forms and shapes and I wanted to create a simple city line and play with blurry abstracted reflections. I have been meaning to experiment with letting watery paint drip and blend together since this is a texture I want to incorporate more into my work. It was a good way for me to loosen up and focus on paint quality rather than on form. I used many layers of glazing and a limited palette consisting mostly of pthalo blue, burnt umber, ocher, and black.
In keeping with geometric forms and combining watery paint and dripping methods, I painted the view from our school’s courtyard, looking up at a studio window. I sketched the scene in Draw Club one morning because I was drawn to the harsh morning shadows cast on the wall and all the sharp architectural angles that went off in odd directions yet all seemed to flow harmoniously together. I also found the simple color planes soothing and liked how they juxtapose the sinewy wire forms. I built up my color carefully and gradually with several layers of paint scumble and glazing on top. I integrated dripping on one of the walls and I painted the sky with very watered-down paint. The final piece conveys a rather simple relationship between shapes and colors. Next we are working with a limited color palette, setting up still-lives with only white or grey objects. This will force us to focus on subtle differences in hue and tonality.
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…
Student Post: Melissa Henry
15, December 2008 § Leave a comment
It is hard to believe that my time at the Aegean Center has ended for the semester. What an incredible opportunity it has been. From Pistoia to Paros, I am so lucky to have lived and learned with such amazing individuals and experienced such magical places. In my time here, I have grown and developed as an individual and as an artist. With the mentoring and guidance of our brilliant professors, we have been taught to see the world differently. As I look around myself I am more observant of the ‘art’ in our daily lives: the temperature of the shadow cast across the wall, the negative space between the tree’s leaves, or the subtle gradation between the colors of the Aegean waters. Our instructors have shared with us the beauty of the natural environment through examples from art and with our favorite ‘Friday hikes’. Many of us have been inspired by the paradise of our surroundings and have incorporated it into our own art.
In my last two paintings of the semester, I was inspired by the delicate play of light and shadow in spaces that I am so fond of. The first of these depicts the student apartments, where the side terrace to my home is. I am intrigued by the white, geometric simplicity of the local Greek architecture and I find it a refreshing breath away from any of the structures I am used to from home or our visit to Italy. The way the shadows bounce off the forms attracted me and I decided to convey this in a painting. It was a huge challenge and honestly, I am not completely happy with the result but I must see it as a ‘learning’ piece.
Achieving the subtle differences in the white walls was difficult. I used scumbling for most of this effect. Where I wanted to convey a sense of depth, as in the staircase, I used glazing techniques. I enjoyed painting the stone tiles in the ground since I find repetitive actions like this rather meditative. The reason for my discontent with this painting is that there is little ‘personality’ in it to me. I see nothing that is ‘me’ and feel there was and perhaps still is something lacking. Maybe it needs some highlights of color, or personal objects that say something about who inhabits the space. Instead I feel as though it may seem a bit depressing and empty. I hoped to add a little ‘life’ with the vibrant (yet tiny) geraniums. I am working more on personalizing my work so it is not merely a recreation of what I see.
Ironically, I feel as though my final painting may be missing something as well, and again I wonder if it is something personal to make the painting more of a narrative. I painted the printing press and easel outside my studio. I wanted to capture the wonderful afternoon light that streams into the space and creates beautiful shadows on the walls and the press. From the outset this was a more enjoyable painting to paint. I worked with countless layers of glaze and made a point to save the whites of the canvas like I did in my reflection painting with the onions so many weeks ago! This gives all of my light areas a luminous quality that cannot be achieved by using chalky white paint, since white paint creates a cooling effect. One tricky part was sketching out my composition from life. The press is such a complicated, intricate contraption with many angles. The precise perspective was difficult for me to depict and there are parts of it I wish I could re-sketch.
I found that the major constraining factor was the short time period when the daylight fell at the appropriate angle, which was only for about one hour each day, and that was only if we were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunny Paros day which ironically did not happen too much when I was working on this painting! This was actually quite good for me to learn to be less dependent upon the ‘model.’ The way I am most comfortable painting is when I have a setup that allows me to control the lighting and movement. But this is rather limiting so I need to begin to try to capture transient effects more. I began using my own judgment and asking myself what would ‘look or feel right’ in terms of temperature, color, and value. My favorite parts of the painting are the light effects in the lower left region, the wall with the paper reflections, and the back of the canvas. I painted these passages using my own judgment more than direct observation and found that these came out the most relaxed. The reproduction here unfortunately doesn’t capture how the light shows the many transparent layers of glaze.
I used very few colors in my painting and I think this helps me achieve a harmonious unity. The underpainting is in burnt sienna and ultramarine blue in various combinations. Even the over layers of paint, all glazing included, is essentially these two hues. I did introduce green in back of the press and after this I chose to add very subtle green glazes throughout the painting. As with my apartment painting, I again felt there is perhaps something personal missing but I am fairly pleased with the way I captured the luminosity of this special space.
I have many goals for my future in painting, but currently my major goal is to loosen up and be less focused on the exact depiction of my subject. I have more fun when I am freer with my color and brushstroke, which I learned from my impressionist painting (bowl of oranges and pitcher). I need to remind myself that I am not creating a photo but a painting. I want to involve the viewer in an interactive dialogue with my work. This could mean doing things like including exploratory or playful marks that aren’t necessarily in the scene, using more open, less controlled brushwork, or including colors that may not be there (or making subtle ones more prominent). Most importantly, I need to keep an imaginary ‘veil’ up between my subject and I so that I must constantly ask myself how I WANT to express/convey it in paint, regardless of what I see in from of me. I have learned a tremendous amount but I have a lot more to discover, experience, and explore. I am excited to share that I will return to the Aegean Center this spring to continue my studies. I am looking forward to another semester on Paros, experiencing the local culture and environment, and learning from Jane, John, Jun, Jeffrey, and Liz.
Student Post: Melissa Henry
27, November 2008 § Leave a comment
In Jun’s painting class we have moved beyond the Earth palette and onto the “prismatic palette,” which consists of cadmium yellow, a true red, ultramarine blue, and white. We found that the range of colors we were able to mix with these was a lot wider than what we can achieve with the Earth palette, but we now have to consider the boldness and intensity of the hues more, since they can be very vibrant if they come directly out of the tube.
Most of us painted from still life setups again, which I find are the most conducive to learning about painting technique. They are consistent in terms of form and position, and we can control the lighting (assuming you work quicker than the speed of ripening and soon to be rotting vegetables).
We began our paintings with a blue monochromatic underpainting which was different from the warm burnt sienna underpainting I normally use because it gives everything an underlying cool temperature. It is hard to eliminate or alter this cool tone if it is underneath, say, a warm layer of paint, so I tried to plan out my tonal values and temperatures fairly well and stayed on the lighter, warmer side of the spectrum since I figured I could always darken things, but it is difficult to get the luminosity back once it is lost.
I decided to go bright and bold with my paint as a change of pace from the neutrality of the Earth palette, so I chose my subject accordingly: vivid, vibrant, vivacious vegetables! I also wanted to create a ‘fun’ dynamic composition for this piece, so I ‘zoomed’ in to crop my view. I tried to incorporate diagonal axes to add interest and draw the eye around.
I found depicting the eggplant particularly tricky because of the subtle change in color and tone. At a quick glance it looked to be a flat plane of deep purple, but I found I needed to exaggerate the gradation to suggest its form and position in space. I also tried to minimize my use of white to preserve the luminosity, intensity, and warmth of the vegetables since white has a ‘cooling’ effect and can give a chalky, opaque appearance. Incorporating the glazing techniques I used in my older paintings was very helpful in giving the peppers their rounded form.
In continuing with the prismatic palette, we dove into Impressionism, led by Jun, always the enthusiast. This was a fun break from the more careful, step-by-step approach that I have taken thus far. Impressionism, as we learned, is about capturing the essence of the subject with attention to the varying plays of light and color. Paintings are expressive and often involve visible brushstrokes and bright hues. The process I used involved wet-on-wet application of paint more or less all at once, without re-working or going back into it. This helped me capture the spirit of impressionism – to give the viewer the feeling or sense (hence “impression-ism”). Like Matisse said when he was criticized for his skewed form, “This is not a woman. This is a painting.”
For my subject, a pitcher with flowers and a bowl with oranges, I tried to use my brushstrokes and the tonal values of the paint to suggest the objects’ forms since I was not going to go back in with scumbling or glazes. The inside of the rounded bowl or the spherical fruit, for example, show how I attempted to capture where the light hit, and I used direction of brushstroke to imply the curvature of form.
Because complementary colors (especially when used side by side) intensify each other and make both colors appear more vibrant, impressionists used them frequently. I used complementary colors particularly in shadows. Instead of using a dull green or neutral blue for the shadows in the green bowl, I used the complement of green: red (and varying hues of red).
I find thick paint quite satisfying, and I found myself gravitating toward my Brown painting education as I ‘chunked’ thick globs of vibrant color onto my canvas. Part of the beauty of impressionism is the attitude, or maybe just the attitude I took on of “Anything goes! My impression of my subject is just as good as any, so all I need to do is express that.” This was liberation from my usual intentions of creating a disciplined, carefully considered rendering of my subject. I find that I like to find a happy medium, to paint realistically with glazing and scumbling techniques, but at the same time incorporate passages with thick, visible brushstroke and bright paint. It makes a painting more enjoyable to both look at and to paint – it keeps things interesting.
Read Melissa Henry’s first post here.
Student Post: Nadya Keating
26, November 2008 § Leave a comment
I am from Sydney, Australia and I have come to The Aegean Center to develop my skills in the visual arts, to enrich my understanding of art history, and to enjoy Italian and Greek culture. I have just completed a Bachelor of Education (Hons) at the University of Sydney and am hoping to start working as a visual arts teacher next year. My university degree focused on education theory, art history and theory, and literature, but after graduation I felt that, as a teacher of the visual arts, I lacked knowledge of practical visual arts skills. While at The Aegean Center, I have been studying basic drawing, life drawing and oil painting. In addition to these set classes the school also offers more casual, extracurricular activities, like the Draw Club.
Draw Club meets in the school’s courtyard on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 9:00am. Here, under the olive tree, we draw the surrounding nature, still lives, and each other’s portraits. Draw Club is open to all students, including students who are not taking any drawing classes. Members often arrive sleepy-eyed to meetings, coffee in hand, but are very serious about the club and its longevity –- club t-shirts and other merchandise are currently being designed.
Most recently, Draw Club has been working with Jane Pack in re-designing the school’s logo. After brainstorming, tracing, cutting out and studying pigeons around Paroikia, the group has collaborated to come up with some wonderful designs.
The Club has also ventured outside the school courtyard to draw from important cultural sites in town. Our visit to the Temple of Athena was particularly beautiful. The temple is situated on top of a hillside looking over the Aegean Sea. Many students took advantage of the clear day and drew the view from the temple. Others took the opportunity to study the ancient architecture and to closely observe the majesty of carved marble.
Draw Club offers students the opportunity to practice their drawing skills in a relaxed and social setting. It is an example of one of the many simple ways we can use the visual arts to enrich our everyday lives. When I return home I am planning on founding my own Draw Club!
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)