Microcosm

I’ve completed another painting, and another experiment in flesh tones. During my blog about creating “Smokescreen” I discussed the palette I’ve been developing over a verdaccio underpainting, I said I was going to try the same palette over a grisialle painting so that I could see the difference in how the paint mixes optically. Welp, it was a total failure, just as I expected! That likely sounds moronic to some people, but to me it’s merely a science experiment. The failure went exactly how I expected it to go, and that gives me a great deal of information about the process of what colors work well over what monochrome underpaintings.

Grisaille Underpainting Linda Wandt
Grisaille Underpainting by Linda Wandt

This piece served to show me how and why the warm flesh tones I was using don’t work in a transparent manner over a grey underpainting. The colors together work great over a green-grey underpainting, because the cool greenish hue neutralizes the warm flesh hues over it. When I started laying the color on, everything was really peachy and not natural looking. I knew this could be that the layering process is complex, and would require more then one layer to look natural. Unfortunately, I was working with a very pale skinned model, and I had to alter my recipes to work with the skin tone. I switched from a warm red flesh tone base (transparent red oxide) to a cool red – genuine rose madder – an expensive color I use rarely and sparingly that interestingly is somewhat fugitive so it was replaced greatly by Alizarin Crimson, and then by the synthetic Quinacridone family of pigments. I find Rose Madder creates such a gorgeous color that is different from both more modern alternatives however. This does not mean I recommend using the pigment, but I do have some and love it greatly. With this recipe, things began working out much better, but it still required several layers and a lot of guess work to get things where I wanted them. I got so lost for a bit, I had to even ask for an outside opinion to help with the issues I was having from working from a photograph of a fair skinned person sitting in the shade. Le Sigh. Working from life really is better. It’s so absolutely true that you loose so much color in the shadows when working from photographs. What I really needed to do was simply keep plugging away at it, slowly adding color layers to create form. Here is what I ended up with.

Macrocosm Linda Wandt
Detail of “Microcosm” Linda Wandt

So camera phone photos are not all that for reproduction. The skin is pinker in reality. Also keep in mind, I’m learning, and on top of that mostly teaching myself. I’m leaving out the meaning of the piece altogether, and focusing on the technical aspects, and I’m still honestly tweaking some of the details around the figure, so I’m only showing a detail at this point. Sorry about that. I’ll have it photographed all pretty and nicely lit and put that on my website in the next week or so. But the journey toward the flesh tones in this painting was important. Neutralizing the skin with blue in some spots and green mixed in others into the base flesh tone and then adding other colors has been a huge step in the right direction for me, and I’m really excited about the results as I do this more. I’d love to streamline this process in future paintings, but I feel like a few more with this method are merited before I get real crazy and start attempting my flesh tones in a single layer, like I see some people doing. I’m really curious though, and feel like if I can gain these principles in transparent colors, trying it all in one shot will be an easier process for me. There are so many possibilities for flesh recipes, it gets really overwhelming sometimes, and it’s very easy to get lost in the realm of possibility. A smarter painter then myself recently told me that limiting your palette is really wise, and I think she is absolutely correct. I also think that would make a fine subject for the next entry.

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In order to make successful paintings, you have to make a lot of unsuccessful paintings. Each one you make is a building block to the next. There is no such thing as a waste of time if you make a bad piece. You’re simply learning how to make it better next time. In this post I’d like to show a few of my more successful older pieces, and go into some of the details surrounding where they come from. I’ve been told by quite a few people and artists that I trust at this point that I need to “settle down” and to stop jumping from style to style with each piece if I want to get picked up by a gallery already. While I would like that very much, I also really enjoy varying my style. I get comments however that my portfolio looks like it’s work from several different artists. Not everyone says this, and I have gotten feedback from a few people who say they can see the same hand in all, but it’s a less often made observation. I understand the need to remain recognizable, but after a month or more of creating an indirect painting, layering layer after layer of glazes, I need to paint thick and chunky with a palette knife and slop the paint onto the surface and take joy in the sheer act of painting! I love what I can achieve with the slow approach, but the active aspect of painting thick and the expression you can get with the paint strokes is SO GOOD.

Queen Small
The Queen of Bones, 2006 Linda Wandt

 

I made the Queen of Bones in my painting II class. I fully admit it was a little too intense for people watching me make it. It’s the result of a bad relationship with a poet, a line from one of his poems about our bad relationship (“Heart of Sticks, Heart of Stones, No One Owns the Queen of Bones”) and a trip to the MET in NYC where I saw a collection of African Funerary Masks on display. While it shows off my lack of planning and technical skill at the time, it still holds up to me, a decade later, as a strong piece. It’s about death and change, and it’s incredibly personal. It’s glazed with damar varnish around the borders, which means it would be difficult to clean up if I had ever wanted to do so. The writing at the top and bottom is vine charcoal – under the damar. Look, it’s a mess. I’m proud of it, but I didn’t understand the materials yet. We learn best from mistakes though. If we aren’t making mistakes, we aren’t trying new things. A quick word on Damar Resin – while it’s a very traditional ingredient, I personally believe it is no longer needed in painting. Since it’s a true resin, it will yellow with time. I’d need actual turpentine to remove it from the piece, and that stuff is awful.

Gemini Twins_S6
Gemini, 2006 Linda Wandt

This is the last painting I made in school. I created a collage from images I cut up from Art in America magazines and I liked it enough to create a painting off of it. Each element is a different painting, I added in the background, mirrored the figure and tied the two figures together by extending the feathers into a bridge connecting the two figures. I became very intrigued by metaphysics for a while, before realizing what a giant waste of time it had become. It’s important to question both reality and our place in it, but only up to a certain point, when it becomes more important to stop sitting around pondering questions that might not have answers and go do something with yourself. I am a firm believer in positive existentialism – it is up to each individual to create their own meaning. I find comfort in the knowledge that I am a speck of dust in the universe and that I am empowered to create my place in it, for whatever that is worth. I am a somewhat indecisive individual at times as well, so I am fascinated by duality and the choices we make when creating ourselves. The theme of “versus” pops up in the paintings a lot. Gemini, the twins, represent two halves of the same whole. They are two sides to the same entity.  I’ve been asked about the little figure of the man in the yellow shirt. Does it ruin anything to admit I left him there because I think it’s humorous? He’s quite out of place, but so is everything else, so it felt fitting to leave him when all I had really wanted was the splash of yellow to make up the shirt.

Linda Wandt
My Sister Subconscious, 2010 Linda Wandt

 

This piece is called “My Sister Subconscious” and it was made in 2010. I sold it during a music festival I had a table set up at in downtown Austin. A man came over to my table where I was selling $10 prints and asked me how much the painting cost. It would be really bad form for me to admit how little I sold this piece for, in hindsight, but it was during a short period of unemployment and this sale ensured I would have electricity for another month, which was wonderful. It was a wonderful thing indeed. He whipped out his wallet, handed me cash, and asked me to mail it to him in Houston. I was speechless, and elated, and it felt like a lot of money at the time. This painting represents the conscious mind, which is blind, and the subconscious seeing eye. It is also about duality, and there is also a bridge present, the strange shape separating the two faces. I’m interested in the spark that exists between our minds and our physical bodies, but I can never delve any deeper into that mystery of consciousness then I can explore with these images.