Master Copies with Crayola Crayon

Master Copies with Crayola Crayon

It’s been 4 years since I’ve completed one, but the Crayola bug has bit me once again! I recently was fortunate enough to be able to make it over to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston to see the van Gogh exhibit there – it was wonderful, and really, really packed for a Tuesday. I shudder to think what it was like to visit it on a weekend. There were several pieces I’d never seen before and some sketches as well. Seeing these paintings in person is sort of like hitting a ‘reset’ button for me. The daily monotony of working and then painting is pretty tiring sometimes, and seeing others’ art refreshes the well! It’s ecstasy to drink in these pieces in person! The MFAH has an incredible permanent collection as well, and it’s always a treat to visit with some of my favorite paintings in that collection. Last time I was there I was taken in by Georges Daniel de Monfreid’s self portrait, and it was so lovely to be able to visit it again. Another piece that captured me on this visit was František Kupka’s “The Yellow Scale”.

The first is my photo at the museum. In the second, sadly, much of the pinks are washed out.

Sometimes you see a piece of art that simply floors you, that sucks the air right out of your lungs and everything else in the room ceases to exist. You make a beeline for it, as if magnetized. This painting did that to me. Kupka eventually went on to make abstracts, and this self portrait makes me a little sad about that, even though it makes sense as he was primarily interested in color theory. This study of yellow is a commanding portrait. An artist friend of mine said “The sheer arrogance of it almost knocks you over.” It’s well said. You can’t help but to wonder as to what this artist was like in person and what he was thinking as he posed for himself for this piece. It strikes at the heart of what is so compelling about self portraiture – how intimate the self portrait is. While I believe that in its way, every piece of art made is a self portrait of the artist, literal self portraits are brazen and boldly open, honest and revealing. They are exciting and fearless, as personal and daring as an artist can get. To make one and then to share it, to remain in the world past your years as a picture on a wall for countless strangers to connect with you is a compelling act. This painting in particular, with Kupka presenting himself in his robe, holding out his cigarette, staring at you as if to dare you to look at him – this is pure gold, pure connection, an intimate stare into the human condition. He challenges you to accept or deny him, to really see him if you are willing to look. This is why when I copy master paintings, an invaluable tool for learning from those before you, I prefer them to be self portraits. I prefer to spend time with the artist, this allows me to converse with them in a more personal manner, going deeper then their composition, color choices and brushstrokes.

Georges Daniel de Monfreid “Self Portrait” 1905 and Henri Mattise “Self Portrait in a Striped T-Shirt” 1906 (See my earlier post “Painting at the start of the 20th Century” for more on that topic.)

My choice to do the majority of my master copies with crayon is also a deeply personal choice. It’s a challenging medium, an unforgiving medium. It’s hard on my hands, too. Every single one I have done harbors mistakes that can not be covered or hidden from view. They do not aim to create a copy that is indistinguishable – they celebrate their mistakes and differences. I enjoy the challenge of translating the medium, even when thick impasto brushwork must be sacrificed. Color correctness must also be sacrificed, the range of crayola colors is limited and requires extra thought into layering to achieve something that’s sort of similar. I could buy a wide range of fancy, adult artist crayons, ones with more pigment and colors with familiar names, but there is something soothing and reminiscent of the pureness of drawing as a child that I enjoy, the olfaction is a large part of it. The act of drawing with crayons keeps alive that sheer joy of just sitting and exploring with waxy color. Applying the drawing skills I have as an adult to the medium of early childhood is something deeply satisfying, it feels like coming full circle as a celebration.

My aim, over time, is to complete a series of 20 self portrait master copy drawings. On my list for the next drawings are Ludwig Meidner (second attempt), Gwen John, van Gogh (of course), and if I’m feeling extra fancy, Kahlo and Lucien Freud.

My Sister Subconscious

My Sister Subconcious_blog
My Sister Subconscious, 2019, 24 x 36 in

 

A philosophical topic that used to really capture my interest was the mind/body question. What bridges the gap between who we are and the physical transport we are housed in? What spark makes me ME, what binds soul to body? Over the last decade, I’ve slowly come to think that it may simply be explained by the electrical impulses and transfers of neurons, I find ontological queries much more captivating with an agnostic eye. I find the incredible world we live in to be full of natural wonders and mysteries in their own right, I find awe in that which we can see and in the prospect of what we have yet to learn.

Now that we are in the right frame of mind, this painting, My Sister Subconscious, has been maturing since 2010. This is the 5th iteration of the image and there will be one more before I am done with it.

The original, My Sister Subconscious, 2010 and two studies from 2017, attempts to transform the figure with realism and a choice to move towards moon vines in place of the geometric shapes that hide that magical, mysterious place where the conscious and the subconscious meet in a shadowed hallway of the mind. The night blooming flower, Ipomoea alba, while not technically a Datura, still of the Solanales Order, can easily be used, leaving the possibility for symbolic amalgamation. Conjuring the Datura is desired, but I could not resist the night blooming aspect of the Tropical White Morning Glory.

Our subconscious protects us. It functions to store memories and to filter out expansive experiences and information that allows the conscious mind to find presence, to get on with the business of living daily life. The amount of information (correctly stored or not, but for the sake of brevity…) kept there and how our conscious mind taps in to it or doesn’t – that is something that I find endlessly fascinating. What do we hide from ourselves? Is anything better left unexplored? How can we access it when we have the desire? I firmly believe living a life of introspection, which creatives must, and all people could, means exploring the hidden recesses within us. It means going to the hidden places, understanding our processes, revealing the cogs that churn into each other – the subconscious and consciousness, symbolized also as the seeing eyes peering out from behind the glazed over conscious mind. When we don’t look below the surface, when we live without examination and curiosity, the conscious mind gets away with a lot of bad behavior. Compassion is born of connection, of humility and of understanding we are mere repeating patterns in nature. It’s the kind of work that is never finished, human condition and all.

I may return to the conscious mind’s eye being totally blind in the final version as it is in the studies. In the 2019 version, I wanted to experiment with the figure being more accessible, more whole, then the original concept of a mysterious nocturnal creature with a split face. This removes the bud hiding the point of connection, however, removes exploring a pin point in philosophical and physical space that I will probably never stop fully questioning.

“Visual Reality” – A nod to Magritte

“Visual Reality” – A nod to Magritte

I just finished a piece that I’m very excited about, and as a fellow (and much admired) painter put it – Making an Art Joke. It is an art joke, and also dropping a big heavy anvil clue as to one of the artists I’ve drawn a great deal of inspiration from over the years. So much so, it crept into my psyche to the point where I wasn’t even thinking about it consciously as this piece progressed, up until it was a chuckle over how obvious it was. That is why I decided to just chuckle to myself, have fun painting, and stick a floating rock in the background. The rock is from Rene Magritte’s “La Bataille de l’Argonne” (The Battle of Argonne), and I relished in getting to have something of a conversation with him during this “master copy” inserted into my own work.

This idea for this piece was born in a PetSmart. I was browsing languidly to buy a food bowl, and stopped to look at the beautiful tiny birds for sale, and was struck by their gorgeous coloring and stripes. I took a bunch of photos deciding to paint one of them. I’d been thinking about making a painting exploring and weighing the concepts of Free Will vs The Law of Causality. This is a topic that has haunted me since college philosophy classes, which spun me around and pulled me in two directions at once while I struggled to blend the two ideas into something I could live with. As I age, I keep leaning more and more into Causality being the responsible party for our lunch choices and more, tugging at the strings of our hearts with a cold firm grip. But let’s keep it light, shall we?

Originally, I decided the live bird would represent Free Will and a stone bird to represent The Law. I thought about this for a long time before even sitting down to sculpt the stone bird (which turned out a little derpy to be honest, so the painted stone bird does not resemble the prop I made) for my model to hold during the photo shoot. The model is my friend Katrina, someone who works tirelessly to help those around her, supporting and building up her community of artists and volunteers.

kat hand detail wip_web
WIP Detail of looser paint application attempt!

I think my favorite part of the entire painting, to be honest, was solving the puzzle of painting lots of little braids. I still think they look a bit like dreads (which I’ve painted before and adored every moment), but I’m happy enough with the results. I had to figure out both the color and the application technique – darks down first, then mid tone, then highlights. Solving this was vexing at first, but as it started to click things flowed smoothly, and the experience was joyful. A lot of my painting time is trying to solve problems and failing! I go through a long list of what doesn’t work before finding something that does. The most vexing part of the whole piece was the clouds – I painted them several times, and now have a photo file of cloud reference photos, because making them up didn’t work out quite how I wanted. My clouds will evolve to be certain, needing a lot more practice! But those are fluffy and floaty and do fine for this piece. There will be more clouds in the future. Finally, I really enjoyed the flesh tones recipes I used here, but think next time I paint these wonderful tones I will use the limited pallet to develop more broken up color. The colors here are off a base of yellow ochre, cad orange, b. sienna plus titanium white, with the reminder that lead whites make for less chaulky mix.

Sandra as Chronos – “Get to it!”

Sandra as Chronos

Something I think about constantly – and you likely do as well, is time. It doesn’t feel like there is ever enough of it to accomplish what I’d like. This is definitely because I went back to working a day job and paint around that now, which is why my production slowed so much the past 6 months. One the one hand, working a day job is great, obviously for the financial security that being an artist doesn’t always provide, but also because it makes me appreciate the time I do have to paint more, and forces me to be more productive with that time. I had started back full time, and now getting ready for a bunch of shows, I’ve gone to four days a week, so I can focus more on painting again. It’s also great because it takes so much pressure off of what I do make. I don’t need the sale to pay the utilities, I’m free to make what I want, for myself, and then just put it out there and see what happens. If it stays with me for a time, that’s okay. I made it for me anyway.

This painting is definitely for me, I made it while ruminating over time, what I’m doing with mine, how I spend my nights after work, and it’s really just a little kick in the butt – a painting about getting back to the work of painting. I don’t have forever.  None of us do. The urge to paint for me is a compulsion, but if I don’t have the energy, I can’t always force it. If I go too long without painting however, I start to feel… itchy. Unsatisfied, lazy even. I feel unfulfilled. Once I get back to work, all feels right again, I’m doing what I am supposed to be doing with my time. The precious little I may have, and there are so many paintings I want to make! I struggle a great deal with maintaining balance in my life – work, painting, family and friends, and simple alone downtime, those things all need to happen, and they need to be balanced. Too much of any one thing, and everything begins to feel a little claustrophobic.

So this is my good friend Sandra, personified as time. It’s okay for her to tell me to get off my ass, because we support each other a lot. She’s never actually said anything like that, but it felt right for her to be the subject in this one. I had envisioned it as a female Chronos, the keeper of the ticking moments, though definitely sans the whole child eating thing. She’s staring hard at me, goading me, saying  “Hey, quit wasting time. Get to it.” The original reference photo has black lace draped over the chair, but I decided to leave it out because it didn’t need the extra reminder of death, it keeps it a little lighter,  more positive and I can’t bring myself to cover the peacock chair. Man, I love that chair.

Sandra in progressThe experience of painting this feels like a bridge in a strange way – I’m happy with the painting, I’m proud of it, but there are a few things about it that vexed me throughout and still do – it’s best to be seen as a learning experience for sure. Proportional issues and edge work, brushstrokes and all. I love painting large hands, because I love hands, but it really bugged me here once I got there. If slightly larger hands are a mark of my work, I’m for it, usually. I was working on it last night and listening to an artist interview podcast, and the artist said something that really struck me as being exactly how I felt at that very moment – the reason I’ve been so frustrated is because I’m learning and growing. All the things I see that are wrong with this painting are because I can now see what could be better about it. All my successes with it are points to be proud of, for sure, but the problems are glaring at me like a neon sign. The hand placements was different at first. I got over a week behind schedule dealing with it. Here’s a peak at what it was like, I felt it was unnatural looking and the entire arm was moved!

Wood vs Muscle

Wood vs Muscle

I posted before about one of my favorite pieces suffering an impact crack and how it broke my heart. I decided to paint the same image again, on a sturdy Ampersand panel, with a lovey 2 inch cradle that I stained cherry red. I’ll go ahead and say this was a really good choice on my part. The second piece turned out so much better then the first. I was able to apply all the new things I’ve learned in the 4 year span since making the original, and on a rigid substrate. Phew!

wood v muscle '16_web
Wood vs Muscle, 24 x 24”, 2016

I had mixed feelings about repainting a piece, it felt kind of strange, but the experience really was so different from the first time because I was so much more proficient in craft this time. The first painting was a plodding struggle spanning months. The second version was still a struggle, sure, but I had so many more tools at my disposal – a better eye and more experience. I also got to fix a couple of issues that really bugged me about the first painting.

 

I’m still working this formula – first layer verdaccio, second layer to refine. Then glazing flesh tones, but I admit some areas get too opaque, I’m still struggling with adding too much color over the shadows, where the paint is supposed to remain the thinnest to show the underpainting. My understanding is that the midtones are where the shadows blend into upper layers.

If you’ve been following along on this journey of self taught glazing, you might see that each time I attempt a piece like this they get closer and closer to what I’m aiming for. I’m not there yet, and I waffle between thinking this knowledge is finite or limitless. I’m slowing down though, a recent break of painting a landscape during sunset was a refreshing change of pace that I wish to repeat! It was so freeing and loose after these years of tightly controlled detail painting. As to whether or not I’m changing my subject matter, well, that’s what series are for, right?

 

Impact Crack in Painting! No!!!

*This post has been edited because I included information about mounting canvas to panel and I have learned a great deal about conservation techniques since writing it.  3/19/18

Hello again, so soon! I’m really sad to have discovered a circular impact crack in one of my most favorite paintings – Wood vs Muscle from 2012. This painting is the sister companion of a painting from 2007, Infrastructure.While not as technically proficient as earlier pieces, they both hold a special place in my heart for the concepts they broach. I have already talked about this piece, but now I have to discuss options for fixing it. It’s not looking good. Consider this instead, a cautionary tale.

Linda Wandt, Surreal Self Portrait, Self Portrait, Female Oil Painters
Wood vs Muscle, 2012 by Linda Wandt

Once you have a cracked painting, there isn’t much you can do for it. That’s why it’s best to be mindful of the Fat over Lean principle, and to work on high quality substrates, and to be so very careful during transport. This painting is from a short period where I was trying out linen instead of cotton duck canvas. I bought a few prestretched linen canvases, and I have had nothing but bad luck with this particular brand, which had been sworn off before I just recently discovered the damaged to this favored painting. I still stand by (more so then ever) stretching my own and not buying premade. I have read about stretching linen, and tried it once and it was much more difficult then stretching cotton duck. My understanding is that many professionals buy super expensive linen, stretch a large amount onto a chassis and then prime it. They then cut out the amount they need for a smaller chassis, and stretch the preprimed linen. I haven’t gotten this far yet, because I can’t afford the fancy expensive linen yet. (A hopeful “yet” indeed.) So I settled for trying the cheap kind, and I have regretted it due to cracking, now in both of those paintings. Not cracking from badly constructed paint films – a more painful kind, impact cracks. These cracks are certainly my fault, clearly the painting was not handled well at some point, and I have no one to blame but myself (I think). I don’t recall *when* this damage was done, but I do transport the pieces often, and surely that’s how this happened. But to be sure, never again will I paint on cheap thin linen. Linen is supposed to be superior to cotton duck – the fibers are stronger (it’s made from flax, the same as linseed oil!) and it will last years and years beyond the point when cotton duck will eventually begin to rot with age. Sure, the canvas will rot well after my lifetime. I don’t mean this will happen anytime soon. But longevity is what I am after, and linen is fancy and pro, and supposedly stronger. The elasticity is what gives it this strength, however what this means is it’s more elastic. Linen will loosen up while you work on it. It’s very different feeling then canvas.  So while being technically a stronger weave, linen damages and dents easily. I know, it’s a tough pill to swallow. All of this is prefaced however with the disclaimer that I have never painted on fancy heavy expensive linen. I would like to try it, but this experience has perhaps ruined me on the idea, and for medium to small images I might stick to panel from now on.

Let’s look at the damage and discuss what to do – life isn’t perfect, and shit happens. It can’t actually be fixed, but I tried to minimize the damage. When either cotton duck or linen start to sag or get loose, or you find a dent, the first thing to do is try brushing the back with water. That’s the most simple solution usually. You don’t want to soak it, just brush a small amount evenly and this will tighten the fibers back up. My best option for “fixing” it is a long hard road – removing the linen from the stretcher, mounting it to a panel with PVA* or high quality acrylic gel medium (I have found gel medium to work better then PVA, but you must work quickly and it’s tricky to do) and then I’d have to remove all of the varnish to paint over the crack. It’s not possible to remove just the varnish in one area, and replace it and have it look like that isn’t exactly what I did.  Looong Sigh. Removing varnish is a serious, slow, laborious task and I never want to have to do it ever. I am not a conservator, that is not a degree that I carry, and I have no desire to spend hours meticulously performing this act huffing harsh solvents trying to get it all off evenly and perfectly. I am now refraining from going off on a tangent about varnishes. Not the point of this post, not the point of this post… but real fast, if you haven’t tried Gamvar yet, I highly recommend it. I discovered its wonders a mere year ago, and I’m never going back.

Once I have theoretically removed all of the varnish without horribly damaging my painting, then I could use some Cold Wax Medium or Acrylic Gel Medium in the deepest part of the crack, to sorta fill it in. Then I could attempted to paint over the crack. Would this work? I have no idea. Oil paint layers thin and become more transparent over time. Back to the plate of spaghetti analogy. I highly suspect the crack would still be visible in the end, after all that work, but at least the crack would not be at risk for getting larger.

In the end, as seen in the photo above, I “fixed” it the lazy way. I used wax, referred to my amazing studio notes from 2012, found the recipe for the colors I used (at least the crack isn’t on the figure!) and painted – YUP! – over the varnish. I so totally admit I did this. Is is sooo bad? (The answer is yes.)  This painting will forever hang in my home now, it is absolutely not fit for gallery presentation now, so there ya go. I might make it again, on panel, for gallery presentation. I was never actually happy with the hair anyway, or how you could see the hard lines of the shoulders under the layer above. Many lessons to be learned, including this one – keep impeccable studio notes. You will thank yourself one day. Comments, suggestions and pointers are all very welcome.

*Edit – I say to use PVA or gel medium to mount canvas or linen to panel, and I really want to stress that this is NOT how conservators work. It might be done for a small piece that is going on archival panel, but in real painting restoration there are materials used to preserve the piece without permanently altering it. Using PVA is permanent. Cracks can be fixed to a larger degree then I thought, but it requires relining the piece on new linen and using wax as the adhesive. It also requires ironing the piece, and it’s a huge, tedious process. Spot touch inpainting could be done over a layer of varnish, the key is that it’s not on the original paint. Things are different when a conservator is working to preserve the piece, versus the artist them self.

Edit * I decided to go ahead and try the fancy linen after all. I don’t feel one brand is sufficient to make my mind up about the nature of linen et all. I special ordered a 39.5 x 42.5 sheet of Artfix preprimed Belgium Linen and I will definitely describe my experience with it once I try it out!

Creating “Smokescreen”

Creating “Smokescreen”
Linda Wandt Smokescreen, Political Art
“Smokescreen”, 2016 30 x 60” by Linda Wandt

I haven’t made a post in a while because I’ve been so consumed with finishing this painting around working fairs and shows for the last few months. It’s done now though, and I’m back! I thought it would be fun to show how this painting came together. I’m really happy it’s done, clocking in at around +/- 200 hours, so it’s quite an accomplishment, and it really tested my dedication at times. It also showed me some serious weaknesses that I need to focus on improving if I am going to continue making paintings of this scope. If you have tips or tricks of your own, feel free to share! I don’t normally graph, and this piece was too large to *not* graph. This really challenged my poorly developed left brain, since I spend so much time in the right side. Wait, maybe that has been disproved at this point? In any case, here’s the photo of the finished 30 x 60” canvas. Without getting into the meaning of the piece at all, (unless someone really wants to discuss that, in which case I’m open to it, as it is a pointed piece) let’s dig into the details!

I began with a print out at half size for graphing. I picked up this trick from a really talented painter I’ve met along the way, but she recommends always printing out at full size. I figured at half, it would be really easy to simply enlarge 2x and that turned out to not work out as perfectly as I had hoped. I spent a lot of time working out the graph, and then realized the figure wouldn’t be large enough to fill the canvas in a satisfying way and also to satisfy my love of painting faces and hands and feet. What I wound up with was a figure with a head, face and feet that are a touch too large for the body. But forward I marched! The lesson here – don’t do that. I’m cool with it for this painting, because I do so love to paint those features as large as possible, and I don’t want to deal with canvases that won’t fit in the back of my pick up truck.

I have been experimenting with different flesh tone palettes over a verdaccio underpainting for several years now, and I’ve hit some that I kind of like, but haven’t really found *the one* yet. It took me awhile to even really figure out the verdaccio recipe I like most. I have now, I go for the Flake White, Ivory Black and Yellow Ocher route, and I’m very happy with it. When I first tried it with Oxide of Chromium, the figure was REALLY green, like alien green. I refined it for a bit with different ratios, and then tried it without the actual green – yellow ocher and black mix to somewhat of a green, and found I like the subtle green-gray much more, and it’s the correct mixture used back in the day anyways I believe. I did the full figure in verdaccio first, attempting a refined layer but only somewhat succeeding.

Verdaccio, Linda Wandt
More refined layer upon previous. There’s likely a quicker way to go about this. I’m not there yet.

Getting the background in and the dress  was a slow process. The Dress -what an ordeal! Stay away from Lamp Black unless you use a drier, it takes FOREVER. I’ve been waiting three weeks for this dress to dry enough for me to touch up a couple of spots, and then I’ll be stuck waiting another month before I can even think about Gamvar varnish. I can’t use a drier for the final touch ups because I’d risk cracking if I did so. So. Much. Frustrate. I have an actual gallery waiting to see this piece, and I’m stuck cooling my heals for a bit now.

As for creepy owl, which was extra creepy because I love owls, I created a paper-clay model of a dead owl so that my model would have something owl shaped and I could get her fingers perfect for the photo shoot. My only thing about this is that I wound up painting a super stiff owl, because my reference was super stiff and I didn’t succeed in giving it a little droop. So goes that, I get so focused on my references sometimes. It’s a really great thing to be able to separate the piece from the photo, it’s crucial actually, sometimes when you are making creative imaginary things from based in reality images. At a certain point you should ditch the photo and focus on the painting, and what makes it a good painting! It’s way more informative to work from life, but for images like this, and for my financial ability, I can’t ask a model to pose for the whole time I am working on the model. I hire a model to come in for an hour, pay the best wage as I can afford, and have a photo shoot. I also give the model a print of the painting for free. I think that’s good form.

Linda Wandt, Smokescreen
Flesh tone funsies! Also laying in the grisaille for experiment – single pigment glazing on roses!

Here comes the fun stuff about the skin tones. Most of my attempts to glaze over the verdaccio obliterates the verdaccio. The point is to build up paint over the light areas, and leave the shadows thin. I have failed over and over, and with this one it started to click a little better. I found a full list of Adriane Gotleib’s palette on his website, and substituting several of the colors I didn’t have for ones I did have, sticking to mainly transparent colors, I came to a pretty good place with the mixtures I made from this. They didn’t work well for me when I tried it over a white background, but over the cool verdaccio… yesss. I substituted another couple of colors for ones I liked more, and arrived at something similar but different, and I’m really happy with it. For my next piece, I am working with a grisaille underpainting, but I am going to use the same base colors to compare between what it looks like over grisaille vs verdaccio, because I want to know how much the green plays in. If it doesn’t work so well (I suspect it won’t but need to see for myself) I can always tweak it to better suit the grey scale without the cool green. I went for a Mars Black grey mix, so we shall see, experiments continue as always! I’ll probably blog about it too, cause if you are as dorky as I am on it (if you have read this far, you are. It’s okay. We’re in this together.) you may want to know as well!

If you’d like to view a video of me applying flesh colors over the verdaccio you can see it here. (It’s really helpful I think, and I wish there were more videos out there for people learning like myself.

The single glaze for the flowers mostly worked, but a couple of the lower petals didn’t have good enough variation in the grey scale for depth. But not to worry! A little bit of glazing Viridian over the red (complimentary colors, they are your friends!) and VIOLA! Depth where I needed it so the shadows popped, giving the petals the full forms I wanted. I spent a lot of time on the necklace and belt buckle as well, I love those details! While conceptually the meaning of the piece is a little away from Instinct vs Intellect, I view them as sister pieces. I find full series to be a bit tedious, but love pairing paintings, and sisters pop up a lot. To me this is a series of two. Not quite a series, I know. But I like to think they have companions at least. Please feel free to ask questions, make suggestions, share your knowledge, or to just leave a comment! Thanks for reading!