Sometime in November 2011, Chadwick and I began the process of casting using alginate (the pink stuff dentist’s use to take dental impressions), plaster gauze and powdered plaster.
We weren’t really thinking about the parts of the body that were being cast; instead we cast anything on Chadwick’s body that was within reach. We were trying to learn the varying results of temperatures, liquid consistencies, the hardening process and how clean the casts came out from the final molds. And, by “clean”, I mean free of air bubbles, breakage, mutations and warping.
Chadwick was in touch with several companies asking about options for material variations for the casting process as we worked toward creating our personal one-of-a-kind recipe. During the day, my freelance job photographing doctors allowed me to gain first-hand knowledge from dentist’s who cast with the latest materials.
We took lots of notes documenting several attempts at casting that were less than perfect. Some results included broken plaster fingers and toes, or watching molds wither and melt when the weight of liquid plaster was poured into them. We continued to find innovative ways to keep the household cat out of playing in the liquid plaster, and we filled in a lot of air bubbles on dried casts using putty, clocked a lot of hours finely sanding and scraping details and finally started building a collection of what we considered ready-to-use plaster body parts. With each cast, the dry plaster body parts resembled Chadwick more and more. At this point, we still hadn’t cast the piece that you’ll see in the painting this blog is about; we were just working up to that point.
The image we finally chose to recreate onto the final plaster cast was of a painting of Mary and Jesus, that was discovered in a barn in Scotland. It was a painting that was yet unnamed, potentially attributed to Leonardo DaVinci. The painting was thought to have been stolen and recovered in 2012. To this day, the original painting still lives in a state of limbo; experts are determining who created it and it’s value based on that information.
A couple of days after meeting Tad Spurgeon online, our lengthy painting-process conversation began. The following are excerpts from our e-mail conversations. The text is in chronological order, but at times taken out of context, or shortened, though not paraphrased. The photos however, are out of order with the dates of the e-mails. It would seem as though I actually started painting sometime in January or February. When I looked back at my photos, It appeared the actual painting began much later in August. However, it would seem unfair to share so much jargon and so few photos…So, I’ll fudge it a bit, just for you.
On Christmas Day, 2011, a wonderful gift arrived by e-mail:
December 25, 2011
Spurgeon: (Regarding oil painting) “I’m not really a purist. I just got interested, because something was obviously missing, and, the more I looked around, the more obvious it became that no one had any idea what it really was. There are plenty of shortcuts, we can talk about these in more detail as you get into the process more. As we go, the more you tell me about what you want, the more I can offer possibilities.”
January 9, 2012
Spurgeon: “… Also, thanks for explaining exactly what you are after. You need something like a very early system, kind of like early Raphael or even before, thin paint that will make tight detail.”
Spector: “I’m ordering marble dust this week to start experimenting. We’ve also set up times on the calendar to start the casting process. (Calendars are such an important part of the process – as important as a color wheel!). We don’t actually have a studio right now, so we will be working between the kitchen and a small back porch. It should make for some interesting photographs.
Time is one thing I’m currently lacking. It’s tough to fit art-making into the irrational needs of daily life – such as paying rent. I have no idea why my landlord and I don’t see eye to eye on this. ;)…
Trying to do something well is certainly a slow process…but, I know it will be totally worth it. And, I truly appreciate your help. Not a day goes by without me thinking about this process. In my mind, I’ve already finished about 4 of these things. 😉
Hope you’re well,
PS – I’m reading a book by Umberto Eco “On Ugliness”…it’s very interesting. Thought I’d mention it.”
Spurgeon: “…Except, your level of detail is pretty intense, so you might want the underpainting to be broad, then finish with a richer paint that would dry with saturation. But, generally speaking, older painting liked the viewer to see into the paint layer as much as possible. The paint layer itself was given optical dimension by keeping the darks transparent, the highlights opaque. This will take you a long way towards the look you want. You can make a transparent chromatic black, for example, from Trans Mars Yellow, Phthalo Blue, and Quinacradone Rose. A very helpful colour for an older look.”
Below is the start of the underpainting process. Each time I would sit, the colors were re-mixed, causing slight variations in the underpainting. I worked with a style of underpainting referred to as Verdaccio. It casts a green hue from mixing a bluish black with a transparent yellow and flake (lead) white, while creating a stable base.