Thursday, December 31, 2015

So, didjer 'av a noice Christmas or wot?

Mine was fun because all the good buds came up from Rome and Dingleterra and all manner of other places and kept me'n'a kitties company. We ate much and drank much and had many fires in the nice camino.

Yeah yeah... I know. I thought about it. I thought about ditching the blogs entirely. I think we're done over at WUWTS, and around here we might be good an done with ter whole Francischurch thing and well done. Who cares. Me n' my buddies have been trying to warn everbody for freaking decades, man. Those who were going to listen have listened by this time. If you want to keep hearing about it, go read the Remnant. I'm on there now and then, but strictly for the money, you understand.

What I did do in the last month that I'm actually happy about is I finished my first big painting. It's in the monks' shop and they've put a pretty respectable price tag on it, but it occurs to me that there is a wider audience for my stuff than just our local Nursini and the tourists.

I had a huge struggle over it, and mostly the kind you have between your ears and your ribs. I didn't actually really think I could produce something worth looking at, the sort of thing I saw in my brain-o. What I came up with was not perfect, but was a good deal better than I had been expecting at the start. The other big struggle was with the medium, since I'd never really painted before except with oils and very briefly and under close supervision in Andrea's classes. I'd certainly never used gouache before, and had a heck of a time getting some reasonable level of mastery with it.

It's quite terrifying to put brush to surface when you're aiming at the thing you're doing being at least some level of quality and you don't really know how to do what you're doing. I realise the solution would have been to do a number of little studies and smaller practice pieces. But as I was going along, I figured it would be a pretty good lesson to do the hardest and most complex thing I was capable of right off the bat so once I was done it, I would have crammed in as much knowledge and skill as possible in one go.

It's a lesson I learned from fencing. I used to play safe and only fence with people mostly at my level. One day I was asked, "Wanna fight?" by the son of the coach, a boy whom everyone acknowledged was heading rapidly for the BC Summer games. We fought furiously all day, and from then on I only fought with him at every practice. (I also had a terrible crush on the handsome and suave fellow). I never once got a touch on him. Not one. But after three weeks of fighting Oliver, I kicked the asses of everyone I had used to fence with without even trying. I remembered that.

Reach waaaaaay higher than you think you can go. It won't matter at all if you miss that goal; you will get to the top of your own set in no time.

This is the first of my "sort of medieval" paintings for sale. I didn't want to do anything very formal. There are already a number of artists in town who do very formal and correct by-the-book icons and they're very beautiful. But I wanted to do something a little more friendly and informal. I wanted it to have a sort of fairy tale look and remind people perhaps of their childhood or of Narnia. It really follows no rules at all for anything, neither the iconography nor the style. It's vaguely based on a number of 13th - 15th century manuscripts and is an amalgam of styles. I guess I could say that I was mostly messing about and experimenting and wanted to end up with something cheerful and nice to look at, both from far away and close up.

It's done on an old terracotta tile, the kind the Italians have used to build their walls for centuries. Treated with a layer of plaster and then gesso. I dug it up out of the ground at our community's "old monastery," the property the monks are renovating up on the side of the hill. It's impossible to date the tile, of course, since it's exactly the kind that have been made forever around here, but the monastery dates to the 13th century. It was mostly knocked down by earthquakes in the '70s. (Yes, I got permission! Shee, what d'you think?)

Here's some pics.

The text turned into rather a disaster. The thing with calligraphy is the ink has to sink into the paper or parchment a bit to sort of stick. But since I was working on ceramic tile treated with gesso, it just sat there on the surface and got messy. Next time I'll just do the text in gouache which will look much tidier. The red-pen work around the D had to be completely redone in gouache, since the Windsor and Newton "scarlet" ink came out much too orange. It was a bit of a struggle, and took quite a few tries and my studio is festooned with little slips of paper covered in spidery red pen work.

I think the little cinghialino looks a bit more like a rabbit, but I guess it's pretty medieval to have the animals look a bit wonkey. 

At about the time I started the painting part, there was a great population explosion of coccinelle in town, and the little critters were all over the house.

I have been drawing butterflies and bugs for some time now, and they were so fun that next one is going to be all bugs and vines and gold.

It's a pity the camera can't pick up the glitter of the gold on the wings and elsewhere. I was very liberal with the gold, which, sadly, is just paint and not real. Real gold would have required me not only to learn a whole set of skills at the same time I was learning just to control the paint, but would have pushed the final selling price way past what I was aiming for. I want people to actually buy the things.

I kept thinking, "What if we treated both the vines and the clouds as real? Which would go over top?"

I was told by one of the monks who knows lots of formal rules about medieval art that Benedictine monks are not usually pictured in adoration. I shrug. Time to correct the oversight, I think.

Apparently the monks have been discussing which of them was the model for my little fellow here. But he's none of them. An amalgam. He does look quite a lot like Fr. Basil, though his beard is more like Br. Augustine's. 

And here's the red-pen work in the original orangey-ink. The test with gouache that you can see here brought it up to a much richer scarlet.

I'm especially fond of this angel. He will be appearing again and again.
I was just going to do one little flower, a lily, at the angel's feet, but it turned almost by itself into a field of wildflowers. 

I was very pleased with the way the border turned out. In the real medieval manuscripts, the blue would have been decorated with white lines and swirls, and I've done that but was worried it would end up looking too busy. But the borders were so fun that the next one is going to be all border and bugs.

The background is supposed to suggest Norcia and the Valnerina. The only thing I added from life were the mountains and the cross on top, which we have here, and the mist that rises from the valley every morning and hangs about the hills. For at least some of it, I just looked out the studio window and more or less painted what I was looking at.

I learned a great deal, and when I started I'd never used this medium before, gouache. I think I've mostly got the hang of it now, and I'm moderately pleased with the results. And as a friend kept saying all through my process of agonizing over it, "This is the worst one you will do. After this, it will be better and better every time."

Either way, I know that as I was doing it, I kept getting bright ideas for more and more, and when I was done, I felt sort of at a loss as to what to do with my time, and wanted quite badly to start another one right away. Which I will do just as I've caught up with a couple of writing deadlines.

It's in the shop right now. If you want to buy it, send me a pm. The monks say it will probably go pretty fast.