Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Having a go

A couple of months ago I signed up for the Patreon page of Ikonographics, run by a woman, Julia Hayes, from South Africa - who lives in Athens - and has been studying Byzantine iconography for many years.

She has essentially the same idea I have about art; learn to do it the hardest way possible. Do all the traditional techniques, learn the practices and materials that created the great works. Once you've mastered the super-duper hard stuff - like learning to draw icons free-hand, no tracing or even copying, you can have the freedom to do work that just learning the cheap n' dirty, easy way can't give you.

This is obviously not the way to do a finished icon, on watercolour paper. It's just an exercise in things like getting the drawing proportions right, colour mixing, using the paint, getting used to the way egg tempera goes on with a brush, what kind of brushes work best - and what tools and materials I'm going to have to buy.

I spent an hour yesterday just doing pages and pages of ovals. I bought a box of cheap-o copier paper to practice drawing on, so I can just cover the pages in doodles and scribbles, and not feel bad about tossing them at the end of the day. It's amazing how hard it is to draw a simple oval shape - not pointy on top like an egg, or flat sides, or bumpy or lop-sided - just by eyeballing it. I've got several pages in my workbook of hands, eyes, noses...

Today I thought I'd have a go at using the paint.

Wobbly oval on a centre axis line. Hilariously difficult. (It's off-centre on purpose.)

Finished the drawing, but then you go over it with a gum eraser to pull the graphite off, or it shows through too much.

First few layers are yellow ochre, mixed with egg medium and thinned way down with distilled water. (Yes, it's supposed to be streaky.)

It's certainly not at all like any painting technique I'm used to. You do one colour at a time, and you just paint right the heck over top of your drawing. Then you mix up a little dark tone and go over the drawing - which shows through the translucent paint.

I've been using egg medium mixed with artists' quality gouache - Windsor and Newton among others - and have been very pleased with the way it changes the gouache as a medium. Gone are the frustrations with it drying darker or lighter, it flows and lays so much easier.

Drawbacks with practicing using watercolour paper is the drying time. Egg tempera paint dries in seconds, but the paper absorbs the water, so the pain won't set as well. This means if you do the next layer too soon, before the paper has had a chance to dry out sufficiently, the water in your next pass will reactivate the paint underneath, making it lift. So, you just have to wait a lot longer between passes. I got the hair dryer out, and tried it for a few seconds but then the thought, "There's no way this will not end badly." So, never mind impatience. Let it take the time it's going to take.

The neat thing about iconography, as you can see in this video that I'm using as a model...

...that you do it dark to light. You start with the darker values and slowly layer by layer build up to the highest highlights. So it's like the figure is emerging towards the viewer out of the darkness.

Another hilarious fun-fact about egg tempera paint: "How come Byzantine and medieval painters mixed their paint colours in little cups or sea shells and not on a palette, like oils?" Egg tempera is runny. You use it very thinned down.

This was three colours when I started. Live n' learn.

Of course, the traditional method is to use raw powdered pigment, to mull it yourself with egg medium and paint on a board treated with many layers of home-made gesso. I do have a bit of powdered pigment, but I think for me, learning something like this is best treated like algebra; add only one variable at a time. (Also, glass mullers are hella-spensive.) I also bought the makings for rabbit-skin "True Gesso" a while back, and hope to give it a go soon.

Learn one new thing each time. I'm a long way to mastering the drawing (don't look at the hands!) and just starting to get used to colour mixing. One thing at a time, I figure.



Gerard Brady said...

I am about to paint a wooden figure of Our Lady of Mariazell I bought from Val Gardena. I have sized and gessoed it and after sanding am about to do the fun bit. I came across a great instructional on YouTube the other day on Tempera. It seems to be getting very popular.

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Shubham Jain said...

I loved the way you made your art! It was absolutely awesome.