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….
18, November 2009 § 1 Comment
After spending a month in Italy looking at some of the greatest oil paintings in the world, I was both intimidated and inspired to start painting when we got to Paros. Learning to work with oil paints is something I have always wanted to do, and I am amazed at how much I have learned in just six weeks. I feel extremely grateful to be able to work with Jun and Jane: at each stage in a painting, their guidance has helped me to understand how to take the painting further and how to apply a range of techniques to my work.
We started with a monochromatic under-painting to set up the painting in terms of tonality. We used only black and white to paint in the first layer, paying attention to the relationships between the objects. In the next layer, we used the earth palette (ivory black, white, burnt sienna and yellow ochre) to further build up the objects. One of the most important things I am learning is to work on the painting in several layers. Instead of getting caught up in minute details in the first layer, I am learning to lay out general shapes and tones that provide a basis for the subsequent layers. While the first layer(s) are invariably covered up, if they are carefully applied, they glow through and enhance the following layers. If they are careless, they are detrimental and far more difficult to cover up in the future.
Using the earth palette has helped me to grasp the relationships between colors. For our second assignment, I placed a bright blue boot against a crimson bowl and an orange. With the limited earth palette, my challenge was to make the boot appear blue against the other objects. The “blue” I mixed using white and black did not match the color of the boot as I saw it, but the warm tones in the bowl and orange provided contrast and created a fairly convincing illusion of blue.
Incorporating reflective surfaces for our third painting helped me to observe objects more carefully so that I paint what I see instead of what I imagine. The transparent green glass of a wine bottle was luminous and filled with so many distinct colors and shapes that I needed to analyze individually and then bring back together so that the final product still looked like a transparent green bottle. I was anxious to paint the light and the dark details in the objects at the same time, but I am learning to be more patient and to use the first layers of my painting to give form and volume to objects instead of trying to do everything at once.
For “heightening with white”, we started with a dark imprimatura (a mixture of burnt sienna and black). We then used white to lighten areas on the canvas. Instead of starting with a white canvas and using dark paint in large areas, heightening with white allowed us to carefully use white to understand the interplay of light and dark. This technique has been used by several masters: we looked at work by Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Velasquez as examples. I chose to copy a Velasquez painting, “Head of a Stag”. I was initially very nervous about how I would be able to accurately mimic Velasquez’s delicate brush strokes, especially in the fur. As I used white to lighten the canvas, I felt the form of the stag’s head emerging. After this layer was dry, I glazed back the dark areas using black and burnt sienna. The technique of glazing (using liquin and transparent colors to darken the painting) allowed me to draw attention to the subtle transitions in the dark fur. I loved working on this piece: it gave me the opportunity to study Velasquez’s painting in depth and gain a better understanding of his technique and brushwork.
We then shifted from the earth palette to the prismatic palette (cadmium yellow, bright red, ultramarine blue and white). We looked at the work of the French impressionists to understand how they used color and looser, more distinguishable brush strokes to paint. From the religious scenes and lifelike portraits of Renaissance art, the impressionists favored landscapes and scenes of ordinary life. I gathered my painting supplies and went up to one of my favorite sunset spots in Parikia. Painting outdoors is a challenge in itself, with the wind threatening to knock white spirit all over my work. Painting the sunset added a whole new dimension to the challenge because the light changes much faster than I can paint. This made it difficult to apply the colors on my canvas because every time I looked at the sky, the color I had just used had changed completely!
I write this after having spent a significant part of the weekend in my painting studio. I started this painting with an imprimatura using the prismatic palette and spreading the colors over the canvas at random. We then set up a still life with brightly colored objects (mostly fruits and vegetables). The bright and arbitrary imprimatura helps us to see colors we would not conventionally think of using to paint a particular object: for example, my still life has a blue vase that I am painting over a bright red and orange layer. I would never have noticed purple tones in the vase if I hadn’t been forced to see it against my red canvas. As I stare at a seemingly green piece of Broccoli, I find blues and purples and reds and yellows. Paying attention to these subtleties has helped me to paint with a greater likeness to reality instead of using flat colors. I am also enjoying working on the fabric in this painting because I feel as if I am beginning to understand how to depict folds and movement in cloth.
With each painting, I become more comfortable facing a blank canvas, setting up the painting with some drawings and the under-painting, and then going back to it several times to add more form, color and detail. I find that my brushstrokes are no longer arbitrary and uninformed: I am able to think about what I want my painting to look like and then work to get there. Most importantly, I am inspired to keep working and keep improving, because every day I feel overwhelmed with how much there is to learn.
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…
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!
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)