4, November 2013 § 2 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Euphrosyne Doxiades is a painter and an expert on encaustic, the wax based painting method of the Ancient Greeks. She has been asked to contribute her knowledge of the technique to a conference in Athens which is examining the use of paint on marble surfaces, both architectural and sculptural. She asked my help to recreate a figure which is on a marble disk thought to be from the mid fifth century. The piece is in the museum in Paros and was found in the cemetery excavation near the sea. It was the lid of an urn which may have held the ashes of an athlete who had won a competition for discus throwing.
What remains of the paint is vermillion pigment and there were traces of gold on the head and on the discus which are now missing. We painted vermillion mixed with hot bees wax and mastic directly into the surface of the marble and added gold leaf to the hair and the circle of the discus. The paint was “burned in” using a hot tool and then scraped and polished to a soft shine. Euphrosyne had made previous tests which insured that the paint adheres to the surface even out of doors in full sun.
We had a joyful time recreating this beautiful remnant of ancient culture and perhaps it will contribute to the scholarship as well.
30, October 2013 § 1 Comment
I graduated three years ago from a well-known private university in New York City. Due to my interdisciplinary studies, I took a variety of classes in fine arts, business, economics, writing, Swahili and a slew of liberal arts courses. With each class I learned a great deal of knowledge about the topic and myself, but I was never inspired to act upon my education. In fact my life in New York City became rigid and stagnant; I no longer went with the flow of life, but tried to control each and every bit of life that I could.
Art had been a large part of my life growing up. In high school I even took two art classes a year, but in university, art began to slip away from me. After my second year of university, I no longer thought of myself as an artist, and I stopped creating art for four years. At that point, I lost a huge part of myself.
Late last February I woke up on a cold Sunday morning with the guidance to come to the Aegean Center. I had recently started drawing again and had a few brief stints painting and began to realize that creating art energized me. The program started in one week, but I knew as last minute as this decision was, that I was meant to be in Greece in the spring and to be a part of the program.
And I was meant to be here. It was here that I found painting and drawing classes with Jun and Jane that sparked my imagination and inspired me to learn in ways that I had not done since I was a child. As someone who has also worked abstractly, the classical foundation classes were challenging, but kept me motivated and interested. Jane Pack’s figure drawing course particularly inspired me. Jane’s innovative and straightforward teaching technique introduced me to the human form, the way it moves, the way it has density and even those obscure names for bones, like the iliac crest, or muscles, like abductors. I was a sponge, able to absorb information easily and often. I never got tired of my education, and in fact wished there was more time in the day to learn more.
I am grateful for my years at a traditional university; I have a strong business background and great memories. Had I come to the Aegean Center at the age of 18, I may not have been able to take from it what I am now taking from it at the age of 26. I know that I am at a point in my life where I am receptive to an art education and I am now able to accept my path as an artist and a creative because of the nourishing and exceptional two semesters that I have had at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts.
16, October 2013 § 1 Comment
As another Italy session continues on Paros, I am still surprised to find myself a part of it. After a year away from the Aegean Center, I am back in the darkroom and digital darkroom with John Pack, putting together a final portfolio and helping out in the digital lab. A new semester means a new group of eager classmates and more time to focus on the technical aspects of fine art photography.
When the opportunity to return this semester came about during a difficult moment of transition for me, I felt my return to the Center was a necessary step before moving on with my education. It is not only the wisdom and passion of the teachers here that make this school so unique, but their desire to share it and to inspire their students in all aspects of art and life. My decision to return to Paros was not based on my love of the gentle Parian hillsides, the striking Greek light, or the Aegean Sea that shimmers and transforms itself endlessly, but instead on the Aegean Center community and the possibility of once again benefiting from the insight of the teachers and students here. Paros is an inspiring place but it is John, Jane, and the school that create a profound experience that the environment only enriches.
24, July 2013 § Leave a comment
Today is the final day of the two week Figure Drawing Intensive at the Aegean Center. We are tired but exhilarated and all the participants have seen great improvement in their abilities to draw the figure. I see startling jumps in the comprehension of form and anatomy, exactness of position and character of the pose. In the last few days the ability to concentrate and focus has increased and a one hour drawing flies by without awareness of the time passing. We have worked in ink, finger paint, conte, charcoal and pencil. Yesterday we drew portraits. Now time is needed to allow the information to sink in and enter the subconscious.
It was a joyful experience to teach this group. Each student brought their unique skills and perspective and we all helped each other to achieve our best. Thank you to Eleni, Elena, Ellie, Maia, Cassie, Penny, Isabel, Anglelika, and Avril for your contributions.
19, July 2013 § 3 Comments
Nine students are attending the Figure Drawing Intensive now underway at the Aegean Center. Each morning we draw from the live model for two hours and every afternoon the class reconvenes to study some particular aspect of the figure, whether it be the form of the skull or the concept of negative space. We have worked in clay and cut figures from paper, learned names and parts of the skeleton, drawn cylinders and spheres. The ability to draw a geometrical form in any direction, from any angle, is a critical but often overlooked aspect to beginning figure drawing.
Our group is varied in age from 17 to 60 and although we are all women we represent five different countries. As a teacher my hope is that at the end of two weeks the students will be able to draw the human form from memory in varied stances. Drawing from the model then, with the level and degree of accuracy we hope to achieve, will enable the student to proceed on their own and improve with practice.
31, May 2013 § 1 Comment
There has been a flurry of paper flying in the digital lab as students mat their prints and make decisions on what will go into the flip files at the exhibition opening on Saturday. Painters are applying final touches and evaluating their best efforts. As the students clear out the studios there is sadness mingled with nostalgia as they will all go their separate ways in less than a week. Many will stay in touch over the next years as they have formed important bonds but the group energy disapates as they all begin to anticipate the next step. Some will return for the fall semester and play the role of the experienced returnees advising the newcomers. The rest go on to jobs and universities carrying a part of the Aegean Center with them. We wish them καλό ταξίδι. Good journeys!
15, May 2013 § Leave a comment
Euphrosyne Doxiades revealed secrets about the encaustic method of painting in a recent workshop at the Aegean Center. Encaustic is an ancient technique in which pigments and wax are blended together and applied hot to a surface. An electric hot plate kept the wax at the perfect temperature to dip into and spread with a brush. Small alcohol burners were also used to heat metal spatulas which spread the wax. Working on a dark imprimatura the wax strokes leave a highly textured surface which can be further manipulated with heat. Electric tools can be used as well. The four color palette was employed; white and black, yellow and red. Euprhosyne’s book, The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, shows how this ancient technique was used for mummy portraits in first century Egypt. Her book is published by Thames and Hudson.
8, May 2013 § 3 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Surprised by the ease of painting in the dark and upside down, I left the reader waiting for an update while our underpaintings dried.
The projection seems bursting with color and light inside of our dark room or ‘camera obscura’ as is the Italian phrase. How strange it was to apply color then and find our efforts were too garish in comparison. Our second surprise with this project– how neutral the image needed to be.
I first suggested we tint our underpainting with some generalized glazes while still outside the camera. This gave us a sense of the general warms and cools. The vase was glazed in a warm transparent brown very thinly applied and wiped back with a rag; the wall was tinted with a veil of blue. In truth this glazing just barely altered the color of the painting from its monochromatic state to something resembling an old fashioned tinted photograph.
After studying Vermeer I saw that many of his tones are neutral, darks are mostly without color, half tones are very grey, and only lights have true color. This matches what we perceive of the projection. Highlights are obviously colored yellow or blue, gradations are very soft, contrasts are muted. Selecting a very limited palette of raw sienna and cobalt blue, with just a touch of cobalt violet (plus black and white), I matched the underpainting’s tones and scumbled on color very lightly. My application of the colors, once viewed in daylight, was too colorful. I went back in a second time and added greys, warm and cool, softened transitions and added transparent color glazes into the darks. The feeling of cool light this gave was more northern in feel, the greyed out colors were more photographically ‘real’. The process is somewhat demanding, light off and on, white card up, down, staring at the image, mixing color, all in the half dark. But it goes fairly quickly nonetheless.
The students were anxious to try a portrait but we quickly discovered that a human model needs to be very still or the results are skewed. Given fifteen minutes one can attain a likeness; more time generally results in a slumping model and a frustrated painter.
This project has taught us much about the use of color, its potency if restrained in use, the use of selective focus, the beauty of grey. I don’t think we are any closer to answering the final question of whether Vermeer painted inside of a darkened room but we have certainly understood that it would be possible to do so.
19, April 2013 § 8 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
Have you ever painted upside down in the dark?
While visiting Rome this winter I had the opportunity to study several Vermeer paintings in the exhibit at the Quirinale. They were part of a larger show called “Vermeer and The Golden Age of Dutch Art” and although there were some other fine pieces in the exhibit, the Vermeers outshone the others. They seem to glow from within and the accuracy of the perceived space is extraordinary. Johannes Vermeer has captured modern interest not only for his dreamy women engaged in mundane tasks but also perhaps due to the mystery surrounding his life. We know little about his training, his personal life or his methods. I was intrigued by his use of the camera obscura, which seems to be an accepted fact among art historians, and I purchased a book which discussed his use of lenses, “Vermeer’s Camera” by Philip Steadman. This book suggests that Vermeer used a small booth type of camera which one sits in, and not the tabletop type. I felt Steadman’s work was intriguing and it raised some questions that I wanted to investigate.
Advanced painters, those that have already done one semester with us, work on a project with me during the term. This spring I suggested we put our energies into discovering what makes Vermeer unique. His subject matter is neither original nor particular to him. His power lies in his method.
We did some preliminary toying around with a magnifying glass and a black tent pitched over easels to get a sense of what a lens will do. When we determined that an image could indeed be projected by that means I took the time to build a small room out of PVC pipe and covered it in cardboard and black cloth. This served as our camera obscura. Procuring the lens was a bit more challenging but after some reading on the Internet I discovered that we needed a lens with a low number diopter and the local optician was kind enough to allow me to try many lenses until I found the one with the correct focal length.
Once we had the lens and fixed it in place the next challenge was to see if the image could be traced easily and how one might go about painting on the tracing afterwards. We set up the still life and used a mirror to reverse the image right to left because I thought we would need to see the real still life to paint from it at some point and the lens by itself reverses the image. This proved unnecessary but I didn’t know that at the time.
We found that inside the booth we had a beautiful painterly projection and that the light coming from that was enough to see the palette and mix tones. Following traditional methodology we placed five tones directly onto the imprimatura, moving from the extremes of black and white and then locating the middle three. It was not difficult to find and apply the tones even though the image was in color but my advanced painters have had experience using the five tone range before. We took extra time to blend edges and smooth gradations. It is necessary to check your work against the projection occasionally which we do by turning on and off a light inside the booth.
The extraordinary discovery was that a very credible image can be made, despite working in the semi darkness, despite working on a colored, upside down image, despite the lack of a preliminary tracing. I was thrilled to see the results, though each student had individual differences in handling and application, the paintings were all very beautiful, correct and nuanced. The next step was to add color once our underpaintings had dried. Again, working entirely inside the camera obscura, we mixed and applied color, both as glazes and as opaque paint. I am waiting for our group to finish this step and then I will report again on the results.
The exhibit at the Quirinale was a chance to view paintings I may not get an opportunity to see again. There was also an obvious fake nestled in among the real work, something a trained eye could see. It will no doubt be bought by a major museum in the near future and pass into the oeuvre of Vermeer’s genius with an appropriate exchange of millions. But cynicism aside, the purpose of our exercise is not to make fake Vermeers. Sitting in the dark, seeing the painterly vision of light causes nearly all to exclaim at its beauty. We learn so much about color, surface, transitions of tone and application of paint following in the footsteps of this great artist. We have all gained immeasurably just by going through the process.
8, April 2013 § 1 Comment
John Pack says “Create yourself a limit and it’s yours”. Pushing through, opening the door to a new place is difficult regardless of the task at hand. But, what I see around me in the Aegean Center are brave creative souls pushing through, limit after limit…for what is on the other side?
Art to me seems to be a path into ourselves, into greater consciousness. But what does that mean? One analogy is the ability of our heart to hear. As we step along the path our hearts open up to more and more subtle sounds, discovering worlds that were previously deaf to our ears. The singers experience this directly in the ensemble with Orfeas. I remember a conversation with my mother after the first class “It’s really fun Mum, you can pretend you are an opera singer and in public! You HAVE to pretend, it’s like a serious game. I love it!”…and that was it. As I began to sing out operatically, I felt like I had pushed past the barrier of feeling like a prize idiot, warbling out notes, to be able to sing seriously in a choir. End of hard work, bring on the pleasure! I was pleased I was in tune and singing more or less at the same point as everyone else. Quite successful I deemed myself. But then, the ear jumps on a little bit, and suddenly I hear breathiness in that warble, that indeed there is a warble and that the vowels are coming out warped by my broad northern accent. I hit the despondency key, a minor third, and worry if I am simply not in the right place, or the right class. But I keep going and slowly pick up confidence again to sing out. Oh how glorious to be weaving sounds! But almost as soon I am back into imagining big audiences, that little bugger of an ear jumps on ahead putting into painful display that I don’t have resonance, that my throat doesn’t know what open at the back means, nor how to push air into my nose cavity or sinuses. Head voice, what? Too bedazzled to even tackle the idea of vibrato, I still somehow forget to remember to breathe. And so it goes on, through perilous peaks and fertile valleys.
The safe conclusion would seem that, being on a path, any path, and especially the artistic path, one is never in their comfort zone for very long. It takes discipline just to keep going and to concentrate, instead of collapsing on the floor in your favourite type of fit, blaming the world for being unfair.
Sometimes in the choir it feels scary, and more so when you have to sing alone. Sometimes it is just downright frog throat embarrassing. I often have attacks of feeling simply ridiculous. But somehow I get the musical backpack on again, and again, and again, each time starting anew. And curiously through this process I am learning to sing! I am finding my own voice. I come out, having sang with others, feeling loved and loving, feeling high. As I deconstruct my ego fear of the unknown, I have another thin veil lifted, so I can see myself a little clearer, it is a mini re-velation (re-veil-ation). Consciousness is not only the heart hearing, but also the mind seeing.
What I really admire of the people around me here in the Aegean Center is that they are prepared to go through these unveiling limits into the new unknown. I see it in their eyes when Jane or Jun hold up their work as an example for others to see: it is exposure, it is uncomfortable and it is scary. In each piece, each person is expressing their real selves to the world, and it feels as if the light of attention would burn us alive naked without our blanket fears to protect us – and yet on the other side of that woolly limit we keep discovering that nothing happens at all: we are not rejected, but instead feel closer to the others, nor do people snigger at our lob-sided proportions, but are supportive…They know too well how we feel and that underlying a botched up expression are shifts and changes within helping us along the path to Beauty. Each class we discover that our drawings parallel how we are learning to see more consciously, when marvellously, magically, we are taught to allow our inner figures, once dull and flat, to dance into new dimensions onto the pages of life.
The same fear knocks about in the writing class. Unusual it is for someone to read without a slight quiver to their voice, a shaky hand, or having to repeat bumbled lines. It is really scary, especially the first couple of times, where one feels like throwing down the paper and collapsing into the rapidly forming pool of sweat beneath one’s chair, or screaming out “Fire! Fire!” and jumping out through the window. But thankfully, one does not. One continues through the torture, only to realise that the discipline of getting to the other side brings a deep sense of satisfaction.
On one public reading there was a girl who didn’t want to read, but Jeffery announced her to the public, unbeknownst to her, no prior warning. As she dazed to a stand her work was shoved into her hand. Crikey! I can imagine how she felt, the energy for holding her legs up disappearing into thin air, eyes unable to grasp that simple idea of focus, hands suddenly forgetting how to hold onto paper thin dimensions and the mind simply collapsing into autopilot, blindly flying through a war zone as all on board have fainted under the pressure. But did she scream and shout at Jeffery afterwards, accusing him of being a psychological criminal? No, she did not. She thanked him. He had pushed her through to greater self confidence, because she experienced in her body (she in-corporated) the fact that her fears were not real, that actually nothing had happened at all: she didn’t die, or faint, or collapse, she read her work, people liked it, and everyone moved on.
I think everyone can relate to feeling uncomfortable expressing their true selves. I was brought up in a family where farty is the adjective for arty, and where collage is something kiddies do in primary school to fill in time before they are able to do proper studies like maths. It has been difficult to fully believe my own belief that art is useful, but harder is the idea that I will not be shot down by some World War II fighter plane for enjoying myself. Somehow it feels like a crime to allow myself to become more who I really am. I struggle through this limit, wondering about bills, my waist line and raining bullets, and yet, nothing dire happens at all. Quite the contrary in fact: it is me firing up, exploding with excitement, and I find that instead of bullets raining down, work comes in.
My right brain is so thankful that after years of being tied up in the dark, damp dungeon of my mind, it is being given fresh air, it is allowed to go out to play…class after class, singing, writing, drawing. This intuitive, random, holistic hemisphere is being asked to take over, something that she has been ready to do for years, waiting for the day she can shine. As I continue through the exhaustion of dealing with the constant new, class after wonderful class, each little step is adding up. I can feel a shift in my brain, I am seeing a little more of this wonderful world that we live in, as new ideas greet me changing my inner landscape. I feel something in the world within me that I have never met before and yet feels like an age-old friend: I am contacting with my own creativity. It breathes a sigh of relief as I breathe a sigh of deep gratitude to the Aegean Center. I am sure I cannot be an exception to the rule. Feeling the others as they walk along their paths beside mine fills me with confidence that after exposing my inner world not only to them, but to (fear of fears!) to myself, I will not burn in the flames of chaos, but instead will come closer to a deeper understanding of who, and more importantly what, we are. Each class, each step takes us a little closer. Stepping through limits into a new open space, we begin to feel more confident expressing ourselves, motivated onwards by the joy of creating…until of course our ears open a little more, our eyes see wider horizons or our pens dig to previously un-delved depths, throwing us back into that un-comfort zone, into that red rawness that gradually, our brave creative souls, get more and more used to rising through.