I know blogs are supposed to be short entries that can be read quickly. However, I have too much information from emails back and forth between Tad Spurgeon and myself. I’m having a hard time editing.
After speaking to a few encouraging people who are reading all of the e-mails I’ve been posting, I figured I’d pace myself and keep most of the information in order of dates to accurately show the process. Sorry these entries are SO LONG! I promise in the future, I’ll go back to speedy blog entries, filled with colorful pictures and minimal text. 😉
In the meantime, with pressure from friends and fellow artists who are keeping up with this blog (which I was told was reminiscent of an artistic version of Downton Abby, less the drama ;)), here are emails and photos of a work in progress. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to ask questions about the blog, or the artwork. -LS
PS – Spoilers…the work was completed in January 2013. There’s only a couple more blogs until the final work will be shown!
August 29, 2012
Thank you very much for sending out the oil. I’ll let you know as soon as I get it.
I’ve attached a photo of my paint palette. It’s more than I’ll probably need, but better to be prepared. I tried my best to stick with one brand…while there’s actually 3, I’ve tried both and they’re comparable. The Charvin needs to be the Super Fine version, because the Extra Fine, feels like a slightly better version of Winsor Newton…not my favorite.
You’ll also see my new magnifying lamp on the table. You’d think by now inventors would figure ou a sleeker design for these clunky things…but, I’m very happy I finally own one! It will make painting teensy details so much easier.
I’m a day behind with drawing out the painting. This will be done tonight.
I think I’ve finally decided to do a Verdaccio underpainting…keeping it light. Mars Black with Yellow Ochre and Flake White.
To thin out the paint, what do you recommend? I have always used turpentine, but not sure that’s a good choice. I want to keep it very thin so it dries fast. I always spend the most amount of time on the underpainting, making sure its a perfect tonal map.
I’m going to Houston over the weekend to check out some museums. I’m also contemplating a move there next year. The economy in Austin is great for real estate, not great for artists.
I found out the only city in the US that is getting the Lucien Freud retrospective is Ft. Worth, TX. I’m planning on going in October. I heard its totally mesmerizing. I’m a big fan, and I’ve only seen a couple of his drawings in person while in Hong Kong. I’m really excited about it.
And, as I prepare to get into the painting mindset…big changes so I don’t get distracted…I’ve deactivated my Facebook page, no more political news, swimming schedule in the morning and a new gluten-free diet. I guess this means business! ;). If nothing else I’ll have lots of energy and time to work.
Hope you’re well.
August 30, 2012
Dear Laura —
The paint can be thinned with solvent, but doesn’t have to be. The white lead will help it dry quickly. You may want a little density because of the cast itself, not sure. Gamsol is nice, no odor, there’s also Shellsol from Kremer which is low odor. These should still be used with ventiliation if possible.
That’s great that you’re getting in training! I do this periodically 🙂 but it always helps. Painting definitely requires something physical in the day to balance it.
I’m sending along the Predimensional Palette concept, not sure if we went over this. This is the way to get a few colours to appear like a lot. If you like it, you can set up your second layer this way and see how much more dimension appears from the contrast of the colours cut with black, white, or gray with the actual colours themselves. In this case you will have just red earth and yellow earth to balance the black and white, but setting it up will still show you all the colour types necessary for accurate dimension first. Not necessary, of course, but it tends to keep things from getting muddy.
Please feel free to send any photos or questions as you go!
August 30, 2012
Thanks for that information. I’m going to print a copy of the color palette to have on hand as a friendly reminder.
I got the oil! It smells divine! I can’t wait to use it. And, I liked your postcard, which is now living on my refrigerator. 😉 Thank you so much!
I promise to send photos as I’m working to keep you up on the progress. And, I hope you’ll continue offer opinions as I move along. I really appreciate your help.
Thanks again for all of your help and encouragement – and that gorgeous oil!! This is possibly the most exciting painting I’ve worked on.
September 18, 2012
Hope you’re well.
I went to the Houston Art Fair on Sunday. Some interesting work on display. There’s a lot more variations of styles in comparison to the Singapore and Hong Kong art fairs I’ve seen. There were still a few giant paintings with big pink heads…leftovers from China’s heyday upon entering the big stakes art bubble.
The Houston dealers were so nice that I thought I wasn’t actually at an art fair, until I stumbled upon the meanest/ rudest British gallerist that ever was….instantly remembering I was but a lowly artist at an art fair. ;)…
… I’ve gone another 6 hours on the underpainting. The lighting isn’t the greatest in the attached photo. It’s a bit lighter in person, especially the lower right corner.
I have to decide if I’m going to paint the negative space behind the foot.
I’m going to blend out the fabric creases on her chest. I love the 3-d effect, but that’s more me than the painting I’m recreating. The lines photograph much too severe.
Holy cow, this is a long process…
What are you working on these days?
September 23, 2012
Thank you for sharing your paintings with me. They already look beautiful. I love the thought of “painting air”. It’s such an elegant quest.
I was able to sneak another 6 hours in on my painting. I have to send the update photo in a separate email since I’m on my iPad.
You weren’t kidding when you said Lead White dries quickly. I’m running out of turpentine faster than paint.
I think I’m going to finish the basic underpainting, then go back again for tonal corrections. I keep finding mistakes or slight alterations along the way. I’m paranoid to go too dark, even if the painting I’m copying has what looks like black in it. Oh, Da Vinci and his Sfumato techniques! I keep wanting to make solid shapes! I kind of suspect he must have been afraid of commitment. 😉
I’ll look up Pissarro’s letters. I wonder if they can be found at the library? Validation in the arts is always a welcome feeling.
Speaking of painted air, there’s a painting of icebergs that I saw at the Dallas Art Museum, which I think may be the most beautiful landscape painting I’ve ever seen. I’ll find the name of it and send it to you.
Updated picture on the way.
October 1, 2012
I think I finally finished the first layer of underpainting! Now, I think I’ll go back and do one more sweep in the same palette to tidy it up a bit. It looks like it was done in 3 slightly different palettes…I’d like to try and fuse them together a bit more.
I’m still not sure what to do with the white spaces behind the cast. In a normal Museum Anatomy, (painted on the body), I would either fill it in black, or continue the closest color to the blank space , to fill in any gaps.
I’m still thinking on that. This may be a good way to kind of “freeze time” so people can see how it usually looks on the body. It may also take away any question (if there is someone dumb enough out there- which there usually is…), that it’s not a forgery..and that it’s an interpretation of the original painting, (of which, I’ve never seen in real life…I’m working from a rather low resolution image printed from the Internet). However, I’d value your input as a viewer.
One thing is, it’s kind of difficult to paint those back areas with any grace or detail. I would literally need to break a brush and tape it to some heavy gauge wire to get in there….which makes a solid color background sound more pleasing.
That’s a great question you posed about the finish. I haven’t even thought that far yet…
I have a couple of questions for you….
What kind of wax would I use if I did add it into the oil? And, you mentioned the ratio would be 5% for mixing? would I add it to the entire amount of oil you sent? And, does it tend to dry out the oil faster? Would this literally create a type of encaustic? Or,does the wax only alter the final look of the sheen, to bring down the gloss of the oil?
I may do the glossy route, just to be on what may be the “safe side”. But, then varnish it down with matte varnish. Do I need to wait 9 months to do this part?
I want the final result to resemble the painting on skin. If you can imagine, it’s matte/dry, with the oil from the skin surfacing…so a slight sheen.
After I finish the underpainting…should I be going straight into glazing with walnut oil? Just paint + oil? Any tips on how much oil to use for the first glaze?
Your B-day question…June 11- smack in the middle of Gemini. I tend to fit the dual personality stereotype perfectly…reclusive OCD painter/ publicist and organizer.
Thanks again for all of your help. I’m so excited to see color on this painting! Hopefully, the oil glaze will fill in any tiny white spots I couldn’t cover on the plaster with the underpainting.
Please send updates of your landscapes. I’d love to see them!
Hope you’re well!, Laura
October 1, 2012
Dear Laura —
Wow! Thanks for those photos, they give a much clearer idea of how the image becomes many different things depending on the point of view.
Beeswax in 5% or so will give you a more matte look. It can be melted in at low heat, or dissolved in solvent, mixed into the oil well that way. It brings down the gloss, makes the paint set a little more. It moves oil paint away from the older look, so, may or may not be right for this : ) The situation is complex, the complexity of the reflections may add to it in a good way. But, very easy to change with a matte varnish. You might want to just try a small test with beeswax in a little thicker oil, paint it out and look at the sheen. Mixing wax with thicker oil, you can get a saturated but soft look that is very attractive, not old master but not blunt either.
Try to get those tiny white spots when you redo the underpainting, it is odd how independent they can be. After you finish the under painting, you can go straight to glazing. The paint itself does not need to be thin, but the application does, so it will dry quickly and you can keep going. You might use that little bottle of clear linseed oil with the 5% wax addition, and do a pass over the whole thing with that. If you like the look of that, you can keep going. If it seems a little dry, you can add some of the thicker oil I sent. Not much! 🙂 or things will get goopy and this is not a goopy project. Or, you can do two tests now, one with the thin oil and 5% wax, one with that combo, and a little bit — 5 to 10% — of the thicker oil added. You’ll know what you like when you see it.
Also, you can always remove paint, a rag can really help if something gets too dark too fast.
After a glaze layer, you can do a layer with a little white in it. This is optional of course but is part of that older look. Then a final layer of glaze, so the paint layers are thin, but of contrasting temperatures. It’s always possible to darken things with a glaze, but if things get too dark, too soon, this is where it’s hard to backpeddle. So: thin, fast drying layers that stretch the value scale slowly.
I’m sending you this weeks landscape, a quiet one. It’s hard to get the feeling in the little jpeg, but if you squint at it it emerges. In life I’m liking the sense of the light that’s part of a gentle rain it has, but I’m leaving the rainbows out. Sheesh, nature has no shame 🙂 It will take more layers, the thing I’m working with now it how much to paint it “up” in terms of adding the light. It looked pretty good this last layer, then dried down. Right now though, I’d rather keep the atmosphere and add the light on top bit by bit.
Please send anything in the way of questions or in progress stuff as you go!
October 9, 2012
Thanks for the all the information you sent. I have been so distracted with trying to find money, that I had to wait to finish my underpainting.
Good news …I have finished my underpainting! I covered all the tiny white dots and just balanced the colors throughout. The top is no longer super ochre yellow by comparison. (I’d send a photo, but I’m writing from a coffee shop on my way to photograph doctors for one of my million other jobs)
I’m going to wait a day or two to make sure the underpainting is thoroughly dry. I don’t want any surprises!
I was told today that I have a final date for an upcoming exhibition. The pressure is on! It’s the first show we’ve had in the US, since 1999 in NYC. This show is at the new Georgetown Art Center. The dates are May 17th through June 23rd. I’m telling you now, in the off-chance you find yourself in Austin/Georgetown during that time. Or, if you want to send friends/family if they’re in this region.
Did I tell you I’m strongly considering moving to Houston? It’s too difficult to make ends meet in Austin and I’m getting a bit old to hold down 12 different jobs a week. I’ll have a better chance of getting into Biomedical photography (photographing actual surgeries)…
Question for you….
How do I melt wax into oil? What is the literal directions to do this without messing it up? I’m imagining I need to purchase a dedicated small pot for this procedure.
Also, what do I put the mixture in once it’s melted together? Would a glass dropper bottle be appropriate?
I haven’t purchased the wax yet. Is there a specific type/name brand/place where I should buy it?
Do I still wash my brushes the same way? Or, are they one-time-use brushes from this point onward?
I’m currently using a giant tub of brush cleaner (can’t remember the name), it comes in a dirty yellow looking plastic tub…solid soap that doesn’t foam, but is great at restoring brushes…and smells good. 😉
I can’t thank you enough for all of the help and knowledge you’ve been so generous to share.
How is your landscape painting coming along? Rainbows. Whoever can paint a rainbow and not make it look like cheese (most impossible task!) – should just win.
By the way, do you/have you taught painting before? Someone asked me the other day, and I didn’t know.
October 9, 2012
Dear Laura –…
With the wax, simply shave it into the oil, melt on VERY LOW heat, stir well, and bottle or jar. It will be a little cloudy. If you melt wax at 5% into a thicker oil, it will have more body and set, but still dry shiny. But a thinner oil will dry more matte. Tell me what you want to use it for, and I can be more specific. The pot can be cleaned with hot water, then soap and water.
If you know of a good health food store, they often have beeswax. This is fine if it is yellow, new wax, rather than brown old wax. Kremer has nice beeswax, from those busy German bees. You can also get something called Cosmoloid H80 from Kremer or Talas, this is a mineral wax:
With wax, you may need solvent to get the wax out of the brushes for real. I know that brush cleaner, it is surprisingly good so it might work for wax too. A nice solvent is Gamsol, but it is expensive and has NO odor so it’s hard to know how much is in the air. Kremer has Shellsol, which I like, low odor but cheaper. There may be a conservation place in Austin or Houston though, cheaper shipping.
The rainbow is on hold 🙂
Have fun with it all, and send me any questions that come up when you get going with the next layer, which should go much more quickly. When in doubt, less paint, less darkness, you can always do more.
October 9, 2012
Thanks for the wax explanation. I’m going out in the morning to see if I can hunt some beeswax down. I also found this, which I can pick up locally if you think it will work:
Is it possible to do the first layer without wax, using the thin oil, then add wax to matte it down a bit in the later layers with thicker oil?
I’m hoping for a slight sheen to the final painting so it actually resembles painted skin. If you can imagine what it would look like to paint acrylic paint on skin, but a bit less shiny and dense – that’s what may best describe how the paint looks like on Chadwick. I’d love to emulate that type of finish on this painting.
i know this painting will have much more depth than my usual paintings on the body…but, I think capturing a “painted fleshy” texture would be amazing. I’m also thinking of those really old wax dolls- creepy Victorian dolls or those anatomy dolls for inspiration.
I’ll admit I’m a bit shy and intrigued to mix and melt wax and oils. It’s something I should learn to do…but, since its a whole new ball of wax for me, (bad pun intended), I’m scared I’m going to mess it up. 5% seems like a teeny tiny amount of wax…how on earth could I really mess it up right? 😉
Any last minute advice?
October 10, 2012
Dear Laura —
Yes, that wax is fine.
Yes, you can add wax later. But not the reverse, not a good idea to paint over wax without wax as far as adhesion.
Adding wax later might be better. You’ll get more of the look of skin, the glow, from the combination of wax with thicker oil. This can be saturated without being glossy, which sounds like what you want. Do a test of this if you can before using it, while you’re doing the next layer.
I have every confidence that you can melt 5% wax into oil successfully. Go Laura! 🙂 But maybe don’t make too much at first, so you can see how it behaves. Voice of many mediums that were supposed to be much better than they turned out to be. This also means it will not take ong, that the heat cannot be high. When materials are very different, a little can mean a lot. If you put 5% egg yolk into your paint, for example, you’d know it.
You can do this next layer in two stages. My concern is that things may look dark if you do just a glaze layer. So, for every chunk of the painting you’re working on, you can glaze it down, then work in colour with a little white as well. So this would mean a transparent pass, followed by a pass that lightened things as needed. But, you can also just glaze it, then come back with paint that has white in it.
October 10, 2012
I’m on my way out the door to pick up all the necessary items.
I’m now switching to Titanium white, right?
I’ll do the first pass without wax.
And…when I do melt the wax, do I melt it alone and pour it into the oil?
Or, do I melt it with the oil at a very low temp, while stirring it together?
And, to clarify, am I starting with the Walnut oil, or the thickened Linseed?
Just being on the safe side! I can do this. I can do this. 😉
October 10, 2012
Lead white makes a stronger paint film, and is less opaque. You might use titanium if you need its covering power. It is ten times more opaque than lead white, but the look of that painting is the lead white look. Titanium can be very “blank” in comparison.
I melt the wax into the oil.
I think I sent you slightly thickened linseed oil, pretty light in a round with a black cap, and a thicker walnut oil in a hexagon? Try the linseed oil, it will dry quickly. You can thin it if you need to but I think it will be fine as is. I can send you more.
Report in on anything that happens as you get going, especially if you don’t like it! 🙂
October 17, 2012
I hope you’re doing we’ll. is it cold where you are already? It’s still warm here and I’m missing the leaves changing color and any prospects for snow.
I finished the second layer of glaze. It’s tricky, like a puzzle. I’m not worrying to much about details yet.
I’ve read a lot about switching back and forth between cool and warm glaze layers. This was my cool layer. When this dries, I’ll bring her dress to red and sort out the other colors.
It’s very warm, rich and vibrant so far.
When should I start using the walnut oil? Or, should I use it at all?
It’s very difficult to photograph. It looks better in person, as most paintings do.
BTW, the Lucien Freud exhibit was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it. Paintings from 1940-2011. Just sublime. I’m a huge fan.
Also, I stopped by The Kimball Museum, and they had a special 40th anniversary show. You’ll appreciate this….it was curated by date of acquisition. Seriously. So there were Buddhas next to Miro’s next to Carravaggios…and so on and so forth. It was the weirdest show I’ve ever seen. I kind of liked it in a non-conformist sort of way.
I feel like writing the curator to do Museum Anatomy with art in their storage facilities, but instead of asking to work with pre19th century art, i want to ask to work with paintings acquired between 1975-1983. 😉
Please point out any mistakes I’m making.
Thanks! Cheers, Laura
October 18, 2012
Dear Laura —
Thanks very much for the latest photos, I woke up in the middle of the night and one of the many things I wondered about was your painting!
It looks very good. Given the complexity of the situation, you are right to go slowly and ponder each step, so it always stays whole at each level.
As you develop the colour further, think in terms of the red-yellow-blue balance of a given area. In landscapes, for example, I’m always forgetting about pink. But it’s there. So, if an area is orange, it may need blue. If an area is green, it may need red. This is an abstract way of looking at it, but colour can be hypnotizing.
Here are two suggestions. The first is to bring some of the outlying areas more to the same level as the figures. The second is to drop the lightest areas down in value a little bit, so you can put some lighter paint on top of them. So, the lamb, the faces, come down in value in order for the subsequent brighter paint to have something to react with underneath. The tricky part about glazes is to develop the colour relationships fully before things get too dark and dramatic.
You can just keep using the linseed oil, I was concerned that it might dry too quickly but it’s a little cooler now. You can use a little lead white in a glaze to produce something that sort of shimmers. The same is true of a glaze with chalk, it will be a little foggy. This would be logical in the cool layer, but can be used whenever it feels right.
Yes, the more paintings get involved in translucency and layers, the more the pixels make arbitrary decisions. It’s sort of a complement, the machine can’t handle it 🙂
That’s great about the Freud exhibit, nothing is better than wandering around in a room full of work that is inspiring!…
Did you read the article about the cats in the Hermitage basement in the New Yorker? What an amazing underground world that must be. Of course, the practical purpose of the cats is not mentioned!
It has been relatively nice here, on the sunny and mild side, the leaves are just starting to get brighter, not that bright this year, which is fine with me, I like the reds that are knocked back a little. Global warming has been good for Vermont in a way, Spring now exists, and Fall goes on longer. We are supposed to have snow this winter, which is good. There was almost no snow last winter, very sad somehow. Snow is also really good at purifying linseed oil because of all the ions it has in it. Oh boy!