PART 5, CLASSICAL ACADEMIC APPROACH, MARBLE GESSO

Did you complete your cartoon transfer yet? (See Part 4)  Keep in mind that working from a photo is not a lifetime sentence–it is a great beginning and learning tool, becoming simply reference material later on as you gain skill and begin to build a morgue of artist references.

At this stage, you should have transferred what is in each acetate grid section, box by box, triangle by triangle, to each identical grid section of your painting panel.  If you begin to think about your drawing as specific objects, turn the panel and acetate upside down and continue.  This way, it helps you to stay in the abstract and be more objective.

PaintingProcessStep2

Are the acetate and panel drawings exactly the same?  When the acetate tracing and the panel look exactly identical, you can either erase most of your grid lines, or just leave them in case you need refer to them later at some point during the charcoal drawing and underpainting.  I usually just leave them.  If your drawing has been accurately reproduced, spray it with fixative so it won’t disappear on you.  Remember that the Old Masters taught and used this same grid method to execute extremely accurate drawings, so you are in the best of company.

Now, it’s time to move on to the marble dust gesso and gelatin padding, and inking of the drawing.  Your surface should look sculpted when complete, but only to the degree of the Golden Mean.  In other words, you should aim for about thirty-three percent or less, or sixty-six percent or more of your surface area “sculpted,” but never 50-50.  Of course, this will generally be applied in areas throughout, so you will have to guess the aggregate amount.  Also, make sure you emphasize the illuminated, higher-value areas only, areas you want to advance.  The lighter the area, the more gesso or gelatin you can add.  Darker-valued areas should remain smooth and recessional.

If you plan to add any gesso or gelatin for textures, do it now during the drawing/charcoal/inking stage. Remember that the process of sculpturing your work with the marbled gesso is completely optional.  I don’t do it for every painting, but whenever I do, I never regret having the additional dimension that oil paint alone can simply not provide.

Here is an example of Rubens’ Roman charity painting, “Cimon and Pero,” where I extensively padded on the marble dust gesso to varying degrees on the man’s muscles in the light.  You can see why it is so important to study your anatomy and know the shapes of the musculature.  On the daughter, I added extra gesso to the face, breast, forward arm and hand, and on the dress folds, only on areas of light and those nearest the viewer.  Gelatin was added to stone areas only.  It is finely granulated, totally permanent and used just as it is, right out of the box.  It can be used in gesso or mixed directly in the paint, and creates a more crude surface–perfect for things like rocks, stone and bark:

Colony Website Pics1 020

If you zoom it on your computer, you can actually see where I have added marble gesso (those areas appear whiter) on this painting in progress of Titian‘s “Venus at her Toilet.”   I have built up gesso on the pearls, hair, face, the sternocleidomastoid, the breasts, abdomen, hip, arms, hands, jewelry, the angel and wings, and spent a great deal of time on the tiny trimwork of her wrap.  It’s an amazing tactile experience to literally feel the shapes as you run your hand over the painting and yes, it takes time, but it is so much worth the effort:

TitianVenus

Remember that not just any old plastic-y gesso works for this–you MUST have quite a bit of marble dust in it AND have a surface with tooth to apply it to.  You can make your own, or buy Bonded Marble Gesso from Frank Covino.  Several other companies are emulating Frank and finally beginning to make it also.

Working on a marbled board allows you to scrape, carve, and shape without ruining your surface.  Just remember that this gesso dries very quickly and becomes quite hard (like marble), so whatever your plan is, you should execute it as soon as the gesso is touch dry.  For instance, when I build a muscle, I keep adding coats with an older bristle brush until it’s the thickness I want.  Then, I sand it thoroughly, paying very special attention to the edges, as soon as the gesso will let me.  If you let it cure and come back a couple of days later, you’ll find it nearly impossible to make the edges smooth–it’s just too hard to work at this point.  Remember that paint will not cover up whatever textural accidents or sloppiness you leave.  The texture will still telescope through the paint, so make sure you are thorough with those edges.

All the best,

Marsha

P. S.  Just a note to remind you of the upcoming workshop

Hello, dear readers.  Here is some information I just sent out to all members of The Arizona Renaissance Art Guild, and I would like to share it with you as well.  We are having a one-week workshop where we intensively work on our paintings for one committed week.  If you will be in the Phoenix area on October 7-11, 2013, we would like to invite you to attend and perhaps make some new painting friends.  Respond to this post if you are interested.

Dear Artists:

Great news!  Karen has confirmed the dates for the Arizona Renaissance Art Guild’s one-week workshop. So, are you ready to paint those gorgeous works of art???

It’s PAINTINGPALOOZA time, one whole week to devote to your Classical painting for about $60 – $85 (total for the week), where we artists help each other make our work better and better.

The workshop is scheduled for the week of October 7 – 11, 2013, at the museum.  Workshop hours each day are from 9:00 a.m. until ?.

Signing up is simple–just send us an email and please include your phone number in case we need to contact you.  We have space for a maximum of 12 people. The more people that sign up, the less the cost!

There is no need for you to send a deposit ahead of time: just RSVP via email to confirm your attendance, and then pay your share when you get there.

And as always, if you see someone who didn’t get this email but who should or wants to be on the mailing list, please feel free to forward this on to them and us so that we will be able to include them in our next mailing.

Call if you have any questions.  Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Karen and Marsha
Arizona Renaissance Art Guild

PART 4, CLASSICAL ACADEMIC APPROACH, THE CARTOON

Although you are copying an Old Master and placement has already been decided for you, here are some thoughts to keep in mind in the future when you begin composing your own work:  if you leave a large space above the head, you will signal to the viewer that the person you are depicting is diminutive, whereas, with less space above, you will give the impression of a taller, more imposing figure.  This knowledge is especially useful psychologically when you want to make a woman seem more feminine, or a man more masterful.  For example, you would probably not want to paint a commissioned portrait of a farmer, a CEO, or a king, with a lot of space above their heads.

Drawing well requires an extensive understanding of proportion, so to help you get a headstart on drawing and line, we will adopt the OMs’ method of using a graph to facilitate a highly accurate enlargement of your chosen painting.  Then, as you progress in skill and knowledge of the “rules,” you can begin to break them because you will find you need these guidelines progressively less and less.

Now that you have collected your painting supplies and materials, it is time to do an acetate overlay cartoon, or line drawing, over your 8″ X 10″ reference.  Then, you will transfer that same cartoon onto your painting board.    Both the acetate AND the board will be gridded.  Remember those algebraic equation days where what you do to one side of the equation, you do to the other side?  Well, the same idea applies here: what you do to the acetate, you do to the board, no matter how short a guideline may be.

The Cartoon
Work from your grayscale reference from the grided transfer and cartoon, through to the rendering stages.  When you “scale up” your reference material to fit your painting surface, the proportions of that reference material must be maintained; otherwise, you will have a final drawing that is out of proportion with perhaps ears too big or fingers too long.  Here is an easy procedure to ensure you get it right.

Procedure for Enlarging Reference While Maintaining Correct Proportion
Let’s say you are working from an 10” X 8” photo reference, and you want to paint it as a 26” X 20”.
1. Divide the long length of your desired enlargement by the long length of your photo reference to get a ratio:

26 ÷ 10 = 2.6″

2. Multiply that ratio by the short length of your photo reference.  This will tell you what your enlargement’s short side should be in order to maintain correct proportion:

2.6 X 8 = 20.8″

Your painting size will be 20.8″ X 26″

In this example, the size you wanted was 26″ X 20″ but the closest you can get is 26″ X 20.8″—so what can you do?  You have a choice at this point of either:

a) increasing your desired painting size to 26″ X 20.8″ (which would leave you with an odd size for framing),
b) rounding down to 26″ X 20″ (more standard size), or
c) decreasing the photo image content by leaving off a small bit of the sides.  This would be a very slight adjustment and probably worth it to be able to maintain a more standard size frame.

The Graph
Once you have the correct proportions, use a thin-point red or blue Sharpie and draw a rectangle on the acetate that corresponds proportionately to the size of your board and place it over your drawing.  Use pieces of masking tape to secure each side or corner.

  • Very lightly draw a big “X” on your surface from corner to corner.
  • Draw a cross through the center of the “X.”
  • Connect the cross around to make a diamond.
  • Finally, divide the graph into fourths by adding two horizontal and two vertical lines.

PaintingProcessStep1Grayscale

Lay another piece of acetate on top of the grayscale reference and grid.  As with the gridded acetate, also tack this one down with tape.  Trace the figure, including as many detailed features as possible.  You can use dotted lines or denser lines to indicate shadows or clothing folds.  If you make a mistake, remove it with alcohol and a cotton swab, as mistakes made at this stage will only look even more pronounced in your enlargement.  Strive for perfection–it will pay off and save you time later on.

*You can take your cartoon outline further, if you find it helps you, by turning it into a value study.   Do this by continuing to draw on the acetate to create a value study with lines–closer together indicates darker–farther apart creates lighter areas.  When your acetate drawing looks exactly like the reference and you would deem it a good drawing by itself, you are ready to begin transferring it to the painting surface.

On your board, and just as you did on the acetate, draw an “X”, then a cross, then a diamond, then divide it into fourths, both horizontally and vertically.  You can use charcoal or pastel pencils for this.  Do not use graphite because it can telescope through oil paint over time.  You can draw additional lines to aid you, connecting any two points at any angle.  Use as many of these as you need to help encase difficult areas like eyes, nose, and mouth.  Keep in mind that whatever you do to the board, you do to the acetate. Note where I placed my extra lines:

PaintingProcessStep2

We’ll continue with inking and gesso/gelatin buildup in later posts.

All the best,

Marsha

P. S.  Just a note to remind you of the upcoming workshop

Hello, dear readers.  Here is some information I just sent out to all members of The Arizona Renaissance Art Guild, and I would like to share it with you as well.  We are having a one-week workshop where we intensively work on our paintings for one committed week.  If you will be in the Phoenix area on October 7-11, 2013, we would like to invite you to attend and perhaps make some new painting friends.  Respond to this post if you are interested.

Dear Artists:

Great news!  Karen has confirmed the dates for the Arizona Renaissance Art Guild’s one-week workshop. So, are you ready to paint those gorgeous works of art???

It’s PAINTINGPALOOZA time, one whole week to devote to your Classical painting for about $60 – $85 (total for the week), where we artists help each other make our work better and better.

The workshop is scheduled for the week of October 7 – 11, 2013, at the museum.  Workshop hours each day are from 9:00 a.m. until ?.

Signing up is simple–just send us an email and please include your phone number in case we need to contact you.  We have space for a maximum of 12 people. The more people that sign up, the less the cost!

There is no need for you to send a deposit ahead of time: just RSVP via email to confirm your attendance, and then pay your share when you get there.

And as always, if you see someone who didn’t get this email but who should or wants to be on the mailing list, please feel free to forward this on to them and us so that we will be able to include them in our next mailing.

Call if you have any questions.  Looking forward to hearing from you soon,

Karen and Marsha
Arizona Renaissance Art Guild

PART 3, CLASSICAL ACADEMIC APPROACH, THE PALETTE

The other item you will need right away is a 9-value (+black and white) palette.  12″x24″ is the most useable size.  Any smaller and you won’t have enough mixing room; any larger and it gets cumbersome and harder to reach over it.  Making this yourself is an excellent learning experience and begins to train your eye to see nine values in 10% increments, plus black being the absence of light on one end, and white being the absence of dark on the other end (based on the Munsell system).  You will have eleven value strips total.

Frank Covino created this and he calls it the “Controlled Palette.”  As of this writing, I don’t know if he still sells it.  A couple of years ago, he began making it smaller than the one I bought (and love) from him nearly ten years ago, and now I see on his site that it seems to be all a 5th-value gray, similar to Richeson’s Grey Matters palette paper (another excellent tool to provide that extra paint mixing space you sometimes need).  I suggest you contact Frank if you would prefer to buy a palette that is ready to use.  If you find that it is now indeed all gray, I strongly advise you to make it yourself instead.  Your acuity for values will be considerably heightened and, in the long run, you will become a much stronger artist for it.

Here is my palette in use. I still have Saran Wrap (the most non-permeable brand–I have tested this) over the colors. The flesh is still in verdaccio, since it’s always best to remember that “what surrounds the form affects your perception of the form’s values”:

JimAndAlma

Here is what it looks like:

PaletteFront

Front

PaletteBack

Back

You can print this value scale for reference.  Remember, there is a white strip to include at the right end:

PaletteColorChartValues

Supplies needed (all available at Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, etc.):

2 pieces 12″x24″ thin Plexiglas–glass is better for scraping or cleaning if you’re not going to be traveling with it.

1 piece 12″x24″ 1/8″ Masonite

6′ length of 2″ wide gray Duct tape

1 piece of 12″x24″ Contact paper of your choice (wood grain shown)

1 12″x24″printed or painted value scale on lightweight card stock, not paper

Coat one side of Masonite with contact paper, then assemble “sandwich” from the bottom, up, as follows: 3. Masonite (Contact paper on underside), 2. value scale, face up, 1. 1 piece of Plexiglas (or glass) to cover.  Duct tape edges with half the tape width showing on top and half on bottom, long edges first, short edges last.  Palette is complete.  The extra piece of Plexiglas is used on top of the palette to mix paint on and keep the actual palette clean.  When you use it, make sure to very lightly rub it with olive oil before you put the paint on, thereby making it easier to clean.  When the top gets scratched and mangled after many uses, just toss it and get a new top to go over your palette.

Test the measurements of this palette before you make it to ensure it fits in your freezer (adjust, if needed), as that is the way to store your paint for as much as six months.  This saves money because when you mix a flesh palette, for example, you can just use the remaining paint for another portrait.

All the best,

Marsha

PART 2, CLASSICAL ACADEMIC APPROACH, THE SUPPORT

You will need a support for your painting, and rather than make it yourself (what I normally do), you may want to go and buy a pre-primed gessoed Masonite  board for expediency. The reasons for a hard support as opposed to canvas are many, not the least of which are longevity, durability, and more control.  If you absolutely need canvas, make sure to choose a fine linen weave on board, rather than on stretcher bars.

You can buy an 18″x24″ Ampersand Gessobord, uncradled 1/8″ flat panel, at Utrecht for about $17.  It is a sealed hardboard panel with an acid free, acrylic gesso ground that you can start using right away.  Or, you can buy Utrecht’s excellent cradled, 18″x24″ unfinished wood panel and gesso it yourself for about the same price.

Buy the best marble-inclusive gesso from Frank Covino.  If you gesso your own, make sure you protect it on the back as well so that it cannot absorb moisture and warp.  To save on the cost of expensive gesso and to give them a clean, fresh finish, I coat the backs of my boards with oil-based Kilz, a fabulous and reasonably priced protectorant/primer/sealer, then apply gesso on the front only.

Decide on the size of board, based on the Old Master work you have chosen.  For example, for most lifesize portraits on a 16″x20″ panel, the figure will end at the armpits.  A size approximating life is best, as a giant head can look grotesque–unless that’s the effect you want to achieve.  Keep in mind the following parameters for face sizes on the panel–smaller than life is fine but these are LIMITS you should not exceed:

babies:  5″ from chin to hairline
children 3-12:  5 1/2″
teens to age 27:  6″ maximum, male or female
adults:  7 1/2 for men with large heads, 6 1/2 for women with large heads

The other item you will need right away is a 9-value (plus black and white) palette–more about that tomorrow.

MORE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF VALUES

Excerpt from French Art: Classic and Contemporary Painting and Sculpture by W. C. Brownell, 1901. Download and read the book for free from the University of California Archive, http://archive.org/details/frenchartclassic00browrich

Manet‘s great distinction is to have discovered that the sense of reality is achieved with a thousand-fold greater intensity by getting as near as possible to the actual, rather than resting content with the relative, value of every detail. Every one who has painted since Manet has either followed him in this effort or else has appeared jejune (a.k.a. simplistic, superficial, dry, uninteresting).

Take as an illustration of the contrary practice such a masterpiece as Gerome’s “Eminence Grise.” In this picture, skilfully and satisfactorily composed, the relative values of all the colors are admirably, even beautifully, observed. The correspondence of the gamut of values to that of the light and dark scale of such an actual scene is perfect. Before Manet, one could have said that this is all that is required and the best that can be secured, arguing that exact imitation of local tints and general tone is impossible, owing to the difference between nature’s highest light and lowest dark, and the potentialities of the palette. In other words, one might have said that inasmuch as you can squeeze absolute white and absolute black out of no tubes, the thing to do is first to determine the scale of your picture and then make every note in it bear the same relation to every other that the corresponding note in nature bears to its fellows in its own corresponding but different scale.”

GeromeEmeninenceGrise1873

WHAT’S THE VALUE OF THIS?

You must have a thorough understanding of the critical role values play in order to create significant paintings.  I think back to the days when the concept of values was enigmatic to me.  I read about it in books and heard teachers refer to it, but somehow the true “value” of this eluded me, partly because I didn’t want to stop and take the time to learn it–I would rather play with all the beautiful colors.  So at first, the idea that values of gray would make up much of most of my paintings did not excite my visual sense—boring is the word springing to mind.

But once my thorough, process-oriented teacher, Frank Covino, explained it, the light came on in my head and I understood–then I was able to do it, kind of like riding a bike. This may seem to be an odd comparison, but this was how it felt to me. Once I understand something, many related things make more sense, thus giving me that aha moment when I can finally experience the ride, rather than falling off the bike because I’m still searching to find my balance.

Anyway, it was when the “aha” happened that values became real to me then, and I started actually seeing instead of just looking.  I went around squinting at everything, internalizing and honing my newfound ability.  My husband told me that people were staring at me.  He used to tease me and say, “your eyes will get wrinkly doing that.”  And then he started doing it himself just to see what the fuss was all about.

People all learn in different ways, and I am one of those who needs a process—I have a hard time with things when people put something in front of me and say, “Do this,” without explaining how. That’s what a process provides for me. You can make an entire painting a monochromatic green or even pink and, as long as those pinks have correct values, your painting will “read” and make sense to the viewer no matter what color you make it.

And that’s why I say you must know your values because value analysis and then value duplication is the basis of all perception.  It is the common denominator for the replication of all things, whether landscapes, still lifes, or portraits.

Yes, but so what? Where’s the “how?” Well, first you have to learn to squint enough at something until the color disappears and you are left with a percentage of light. What amount do you see? Keep your eyes squinted and go look at the world in a new way, and we will talk about values more in-depth in later posts.

Here is a value scale showing values 1-9 with the addition of black (the absence of light) and white.  The lowest value is 1, or 10 % light; the next is 2, or 20% light and so on, up to value 9 at 90%, with white being 100% light:

value scale