Happy 2011

It's cold in my studio this morning. I'm wearing two sweaters, my painting smock and double wool socks.

Here are my (less chilly) predictions for this coming year:

The economy will be going gangbusters.

The people of our nation will wake up and stop listening to FOX News and Hate Radio, begin to check and discuss facts and vote accordingly.

Your boss will give you a raise.

Your family situation will be stable.

You will feel the best you've ever felt.

And the demand for art will be so great that all artists will be employed for years to come.

I could be wrong about something here - but I hope not.

"The three grand essentials of happiness are; something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for"
- Alexander Chalmers

Happy New Year!

Father Guido Sarducci on Art School

Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) explains the advantages of being an artist. Produced by George Manupelli and William Farley in 1982 at San Francisco Art Institute.

Gaping at Gaudí - OR - If You Must Use Graphite to Transfer a Drawing - Here's How To Do It Safely

One has to go to all the way to Barcelona to see the work of Antoni Gaudi but it's worth it. Weeks ago I saw his Spanish Catalan Art Noveau Architecture for the first time. Wow.

That's me (lower right) gaping at the ceiling of Gaudi's unfinished masterpiece "Sagrada Familia" - under construction since 1882.

The interior of the church is open and accessible giving a spectacular view of the expansive forest-like interior. The use of external light through the stain glass windows and the 'Glory of God' window in the roof is ever changing and dynamic.

I am making a little 6"x9" painting of the following detail from Gaudi's work - an angel - to illustrate the use of graphite in transferring a drawing.

Normally I do not use graphite for archival reasons. It tends to "rise to the top" of an oil painting over the years and can unintentionally wreck the surface.

However, if you must - here's how I do it:

I never use tracing paper any more - I use acetate instead so I can see through it to correct lines if necessary during the painting process.

On the right you can see a graphite transfer sheet. It doesn't matter if it is homemade graphite paper or commercial - same thing. Even drawing on the canvas with a pencil....it's all the same when graphite is applied to a surface that will have oil paint over it.

I am putting this drawing under the imprimatura. (Over is OK too.)

This is a photo of the pad of Graphix Acetate I used. I often use different brands and weights of acetate.

I always use a fine point black Sharpie to draw on the acetate because nothing else will stick.

I always use clear acetate - never matte or frosted as it defeats the purpose of being able to see through it. Prepared Acetate comes in rolls (which are cheaper) and pads - I use both.

The .003 weight tears easily but wrinkles less.

The heavier .005 weight is stronger but doesn't always want to lie flat.

When the lines are transferred with graphite to the surface, I often use a dip pen and ink (as shown above) to re-draw those lines. I always use a warm color - this ink is orange (you can see it in the upper left hand corner).

To illustrate another way, I will finish drawing over the graphite lines with a fine point Sharpie in any warm color. Shown are orange, red, yellow ochre, and brown.

I finished the job with an orange fine point Sharpie. It is quicker and easier than using ink....but because it is oil based, it can smear if you "scrub" too hard when adding the imprimatura.

Water-based ink won't smear when it comes in contact with oil.

I use a kneaded rubber eraser to lift every speck of graphite from my surface - only the ink and/or Sharpie lines remain.

This is important as I do not want to wreck my work before I even begin.

Next, I add the imprimatura (raw umber mixed with Liquin). I could continue to work but I decided to block my corners and darken my edges and let it dry before the next stage.

Sometimes I forget to tell you the most basic thing I do....like blocking edges and corners as illustrated above.

I begin with a glaze of raw umber over all. And then I paint a mixture of two values of titanium white and raw umber onto the wet surface and begin to build the angel figure.

I finish the raw umber and white rendering the angel in situ. As you can see, I some of my lines "took a walk" - but I let it dry as is anyhow.

Next stage - I correct by laying my acetate drawing over the dry surface to see where I went wrong - so I could correct. I do NOT use graphite if I need to trace a line....at this stage I'd use a chalk (pastel) transfer paper.

This is the finished piece - an "oil sketch" of one of Gaudi's musical angels, 6"x 9" oil on panel. Maybe because it was raining, the different colors were easy to see.

Gaudi's angel was cement but had subtle colors...intentional pigmentation, air pollution...who knows? But I liked the play of warm and cool in his sculptural facade and added touches of red, yellow and blue in my oil sketch based on Gaudi's angel.

I found that angel over the doors of Gaudi's "Sagrada Familia." This magnificent building is so huge and so ornate, my camera just couldn't capture the feeling of it.

Here are some more pictures I took that give you the flavor of some of his other amazing works:

He had a grand imagination and developed his own distinct sculptural style.

He contrived highly original designs – irregular and fantastically intricate.

Gaudí's architecture is a total integration of materials, processes and poetics. However, his originality was at first ridiculed by his peers.

"Gothic art is imperfect, it means to solve; it is the style of the compass, the formula of industrial repetition. Its stability is based on the permanent propping of abutments: it is a defective body that holds with support… gothic works produce maximum emotion when they are mutilated, covered with ivy and illuminated by the moon."
- Gaudí

His work is highly organic.

Gaudí, throughout his life, studied nature's angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs and mosaics.

This serpentine garden bench is oddly graceful (and uncomfortable).

"Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the Creator."
- Gaudí

Because of his rheumatism, the artist observed a strict vegetarian diet, used homeopathic drug therapy, underwent water therapy, and hiked regularly.

Gaudí was a devout Catholic, to the point that in his later years he abandoned secular work and devoted his life to Catholicism and his Sagrada Família.

In 1926 Gaudí (at the age of 73) was hit by a tram. Because of his ragged attire and empty pockets, many cab drivers refused to pick him up for fear that he would be unable to pay the fare.

He was eventually taken to a paupers' hospital in Barcelona.

Nobody recognized the injured artist until his friends found him the next day.

When they tried to move him into a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying "I belong here among the poor."

He died three days later.

Gaudí constantly changed his mind and recreated his blueprints.

Completion of the "Sagrada Familía" is planned for 2026, the centennial of Gaudí's death.

Me again, taking pictures.

As time passed, Gaudí's work became more famous.

Gaudi did not like to have his picture taken - so this photo of him taken by Paul Audouard is very rare.

He stands as one of history's most original architects.

2011: The Chinese Year of the Rabbit

I love bunny rabbits.

The Chinese Year of the Rabbit is traditionally associated with home and family, artistic pursuits, diplomacy, and keeping the peace.

Therefore, 2011 is very likely to be a relatively calmer year than 2010 both on the world scene, as well as on a personal level.

And now it's almost time to say goodbye (and good riddance) to the feisty Year of the Tiger 2010.

On a National scale, the Tiger was often unpredictable, overwhelming and frustrating. It always felt like danger was just around the corner.

For example, the biggest lie of the Year of the Tiger was: "Government Takeover of Health Care"

This tiger-sized lie stuck like gorilla-glue.

Sadly we had to drop the "public option" concept that was derided as too much "government intrusion."

The bullies smelled opportunity and didn't let facts get in the way of a great punchline.

Is there any animal more gentle than a rabbit?

I am really looking forward to a saner, sweeter and kinder 2011.

Unexpected Art at a Shpping Mall Food Court

Like all beautiful art - this piece doesn't require a fancy "frame" to delight the soul.

Enjoy the season.

Imprimatura Basics

For starters, think of a brown paper bag...

Imprimatura is a term used in painting. It is an initial stain of color painted on a ground (like my gessoed canvas shown below).

It provides a painter with a transparent toned ground. I prefer to use the approximate color and value of a brown paper bag.

The term is Italian and literally means ¨first paint layer" and it helps the classical painter begin with a middle tone and then establish value relations from dark to light.

I cannot think of anything more impossible to paint on than a stark white canvas!

An imprimatura is usually made with an earth color - for a portrait I like to use Raw Umber mixed with Winsor-Newton's Liquin Medium.

Some people use turpentine + color but I prefer to seal the canvas with Liquin.

Note the cheap "hardware store" white britstle brush above...I "use 'em and then I lose 'em.".

The first layers of a painting establish value and composition, color comes much much later.

Here are some examples from the works of Rubens:

In his oil sketches, you can see the imprimatura underneath it all.

It is easy to see - especially in these works.

I once saw a show of his oil sketches at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and that is when I first understood the importance of the imprimatura.

The imprimatura is the "mother color" that makes it all hang together. The painting above appears to have a darker imprimature - and thus is a darker painting.

This painting bleow - I have not see the original - but it is a mini-lesson in how to (sometimes) underpaint paint dark areas and shadows.

All of the darks and shadow areas appear to have been painted in red - a clever way to make those areas luminous, warm and lively when overpainted.

Note that in a landscape, I'll often use an "earthy red" (or sometimes cadmium orange) as my imprimatura and allow that color to peek through the final layers of the painting.

Even in the Old Master's drawing, a toned paper is used....and it is just the color of a brown paper bag!

Many of my paintings at KarinWells.com begin with an imprimatura.