Monday, November 30, 2009

How to paint like Peter Paul Rubens

After studying the work of the seventeenth century Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens in College, books and at the museums, one can conclude that there was not only one set of steps or fixed formula this particular Old master followed. In art school I was taught that he started out with a "grisaille" (underpainting with grays) and then glazed over this underpainting with transparent colors.  This seems to fit perfectly well  into the nineteenth century French Academic painting protocol but Rubens to me seems to be far more spontaneous and even less methodical.  Before the French Academy there was little or no systematic way of teaching painting. You learned how to paint becoming an apprentice to a master in his workshop and every master had a  different approach to their craft. Having a closer look at the work of Rubens at the Metropolitan Museum , National Gallery of the Philadelphia Museum of art, the work seems to reveal a different set of steps.  I had already thought about this debatable issue a time ago and devised for  my Old Master techniques class two useful demos. These demonstrate the two possible ways that someone like Rubens might have worked. The first follows the protocol I was taught at The Savannah College of Art and Design. The second derives from my own observations on the different noticeable layers Ive studied of Rubens work. Ive written many notes about how he worked by observing his work up front.  What I'm showing here is super simplified information. Both protocols should be valid approximations to the original. Of course there are many books on techniques of the old masters but they don't seem to agree all the time on how a particular painter from the past painted so most of the time I find it  even more useful to go on directly to the work of a painter I admire and see for myself what the painting has to say about how it was done.  Every time you go to a museum you should be able to learn something new about art. Take many notes and make the museum your school. That is my best advice. So here I share with you my two demos. Enjoy!

Note: I have substituted Flake white by Titanium White for those who are afraid of being poisoned with lead.
I myself use Lead white as it gives  a warm, metallic semi translucent  and fast drying quality that is so much appreciated in the work of Old masters.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sharing my own approach to painting Sixteenth Century Venetian Way

Venetian painters at the time of Titian used a different technique from that of
later painters. The modern artist usually paints the forms directly on the canvas
with color mixed in his palette. This is essentially a one‐step method, although
the artist may paint over a preliminary sketch. By contrast, theVenetian painter
from the sixteenth century used  a two‐step method. First, he defined the forms
of his composition in monochrome, and only after that was completed he applied
color. When he applied color, he did so in translucent layers called glazes.

To demonstrate the Venetian method of painting for this book, I have illustrated a
step by step of the process. The intention is not to show how exactly someone like
Titian painted this picture (The Gipsy Madonna) but to illustrate the main steps of
work in a simplified demonstration of fundamentals. By emulating this process one
can understand the importance or order, structure, discipline and patience involved
in making a painting. Something that most of the contemporary art world has forgotten.

This is the original Gipsy Madonna  painted by Titian in 1510

The following is part of a demo I used in a class on how to paint like the Old Masters .I taught this class at the Maitland Art Center. 

Step #1: “Bozzetto” ( Preliminary Sketch)
Prepare a pencil preliminary study of the composition on paper

Step #2: “Disegno” (Drawing)
Transfer and draw the composition on to canvas with vine charcoal.

Step #3: “Sotto Disegno” (Underdrawing)
Draw and re‐define lines with Burnt Umber and Turpentine
(This is called “The Sauce”)

Step #4: “Imprimatura “(Toned canvas)
Over the underdrawing, apply a light tone of Venetian Red or Red
Ochre (PR101) with a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine.

Step #5: Togliere Strofinare” (Wipe out technique)
Wipe out the strongest lights in the composition. This is done with a dry
fine cotton rag and gently rubbing out the selected areas where the
lights are supposed to be.

Step#6: “Sotto Dipinto” (underpainting)
With black, white and yellow ocher paint and define values with grays
present in the composition.

Step #7 Velaturas (Color Glazing)
Thin color glazes are applied using the “motherload” glazing medium. Semi‐dry
paint scumbling is applied over the dry glaze. Additional elements in the
background are added to the composition. You may apply various layers of glazes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Latest painting: El Juicio (The Judgement)

"El Juicio" 23" x 24" Oil and Goldleaf on Wood

In this latest piece titled "El Juicio" or "The Judgment" I am inspired on various old master compositions on "The Judgment of Paris" This famous episode from Classic literature tells the story that led to the Illiad by Homer, of young Prince Paris before he learns about Helen and abducts her to the city of Troy. In this scene he is accompanied by Hermes and holds a golden apple that reads καλλίστῃ (kalliste)"To the fairest". Hermes sent by Zeus, the king of the gods, gives Paris the task of choosing from three of the Olympian goddesses who is the most beautiful. The goddesses stand in front of Paris awaiting for him to judge who might be the winner. Each one of them bribes the prince with tempting rewards. Hera holds a scepter and offers him to become king of the known world. Athena offers him infinite wisdom and victory in war. Aphrodite offers him the heart of the most beautiful mortal woman living at that time, Helen. Paris chooses Aphrodite's gift and there after Homer's story of Troy begins. I have reflected much on the idea of this famous "apple of discord" and seen an interesting relation with the apple of the tree of knowledge in the book of Genesis. The apple in many ancient civilizations signified many different things but many coincide with the idea of being blessed and cursed at the same time with knowledge beauty or immortality by consuming a special fruit. There is also the theme of free will and choice. Today we have many beauty contests and juried art shows that seem to be very subjective in their means of defining whats beautiful and who deserves to be called a great artist or gorgeous Miss universe. The problem of judgment goes back to the story of Paris. Who is to decide? By bribing, how corruptible is the jury? Today the apple of discord may well be called money and still we fall for these shows where someone well respected and apparently "on top" decides what we should consider adorable and beautiful, what we should spend time looking at and consuming. This painting is not only a tribute to the classical theme of the Judgment of Paris but also an open reflection on the question of judgment. There are many symbols hidden and not so hidden in the work  and I could write a lot about the meaning of these. But  in the end all brought together in this context ask the same eternal question QUIDNAM JUDICARE (Who is the judge?)

"El Juicio" (triptych doors closed)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Allegory to Foreclosure

At last I finished two more paintings today. Tomorrow I should be able to photograph and post them later on my blog. One thing I've noticed: Paintings are taking me much longer to finish. One thing is to start a painting and have it sketched with colors on panel or canvas and even look semi-finished but to really finish the work requires more than that. A painting takes me from one  to two weeks and in some occasions even a month. One of the paintings that I left at Comma Gallery is titled "Allegory to Foreclosure". I consider this piece to be part of the new series as it moves away from religious subject matter. It is as the title suggests an allegory or symbolical narrative representing the current critical situation of the loss of property that can be quite evident not only in Florida but elsewhere.

Allegory to Foreclosure Oil on Canvas and 
Goldleaf on wood 24" x 24" (2008)

Even though it is not one of my most common studio practices I did use  for this painting a dressed mannequin I made myself with newspaper and junk mail I received when I lived in Altamonte Springs, Florida. This mannequin served as my model for the work, I also took pictures of the beautiful Florida skies and worked from one of the pictures I took. The houses are inspired on the cookie cut houses of Clermont. The demons represent bills, banks, mortgages and other economic pressures that besiege the poor mother and child. These small creatures have been inspired on the work of Hieronimous Bosch.

Example of a hand made miniature mannequin

This studio practice has been used since antiquity and  many painters like El Greco, Vermeer, and Josep Sert had their own miniature or even life-size dressed mannequins posing for their paintings. This enabled them to pay more attention and study fabric and draperies and how these intricate patterns of clothing responded to light. It has been widely used by royal portrait artists who painted the King or Queen and then had a wooden mannequin dressed up as the royal character so the person portrayed did not have to sit for long hours while the painter replicated in his painting the effect of jewelry, armor and silk of any kind of richly ornamented clothes. This studio practice is also very useful when one wishes to paint unreal characters such as flying angels or resurrected beings floating over clouds. By using simple materials such as wire, tape, newspaper and fabric a spotlight and some imagination you can recreate your own character and model for your work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Athena and her owl

On this second painting I was inspired by the divine figure of Athena, the Greek goddess of Wisdom, culture and the arts.  In ancient Greece she was the protector of the state, agriculture, industry, culture, law and order. She also stand for the virtue of prudence specially in war. The owl and the serpent are her sacred animals. There are many surviving representations of the ancient virgin goddess in statues, vases, coins and paintings. After doing some research on her story and attributes I started a painting based on a classical sculpture and from there added my own updated interpretation. I decided to portray her solemnly at night holding a spear and  a  white owl. Behind her lies a cemetery with a large pantheon like tomb housing a figure that subtly resembles that of the Virgin Mary and child. In the background we see electric posts that seem desolate and functionless as vegetation starts to grow over them. In the distant dark landscape we find artificial lights that hint the existence of a distant city. This picture is asking us to think about the myth of Athena in relation to our own civilization and its so called "modern progress". The goddess stares right at us as if waiting for us to respond to our current state of the world. Where are we heading to? It is a small painting measuring 10.5 inches by 14.5 inches. It is an oil painting on wood panel. The frame was made by my wife Blanca. It is wood and gold leaf with an application of the metal embossing technique in the inner part of it. This is the second completed piece of the series of paintings for "Eradorada" (Golden Age) There should 21 in total.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Proud to present: "Rebirth of Venus" (Venus Revive)

After several weeks of hard work one of my new works is finally done and here am sharing it in blog

"Rebirth of Venus"   (Venus Revive)
Oil and gold leaf on wood carved frame retablo 25.5" x 17.5"

The work is a tribute to classical antiquity and mythology but at the same time it is imbued with a message about contemporary culture. It is a reminder of how ephemeral our world today can be in comparison to ancient notions such as beauty and love.Venus is 'revived' in a new world where we find dilapidated billboards  a sunken ship and ephemeral consumer junk around a contaminated coastal area. Out of an old broken tire a plant grows persistently and in the center Venus stands sensuous unveiling her nudity unashamed. Three angels representing the races of man accompany the goddess. The depction of the yellow cloth Venus is holding, the yellow necklace worn by the black angel and the shell he carries suggest that the Santeria Orisha Oshun and the Greek Olympian Aphrodite are the same and one entity, both sensual and spiritual. I am even more interested now in bringing these belief systems together in opposition to the materialist world where we live in. With this in mind I intend to remind the viewer of his of her forgotten spiritual heritage buried under so much mass media waste and consumer products. But as it is implicit in the work, in the end, Nature and what is pure shall prevail.On the top escutcheon  an epithet reads Vivat Venus, which in english would be translated as "Long Live Venus".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Steps and Filters in the Painting Process

Today I finished the painting Of Venus I was working on recently. It has taken me more time than expected for the reason that Im working on various projects simultaneously. I find this custom quite fit for my style, that is the style of the Baroque and late Renaissance  old masters, which involved the application of layers of transparent paint called glazes. If you are like me you might find it quite tedious  and boring to be working for a month on a single painting. This has now become an average completion time for me. Instead I have about 5 paintings   sitting around and work on a different piece each day. This enables me to keep unity on color and technique in the body of work and also retains my interest in a single work for a longer time. It wasn't like that when I used to work in an expressionist manner and with acrylics. The painting process has slowly evolved over the years and I have refined my  techniques by implementing self discipline and an established working method that is inspired on the work of  old masters such as Rubens and Titian. I believe we have many advantages over these masters from the past and we should take advantage of all of these tools at our disposal. For instance the use of Photoshop just makes my work so much easier and less time consuming. Also having access to an excellent archive of reference material from good photographed material to reproductions of the old masters at high res that I view from my Computer monitor. Technology is a very helpful ally at my studio and I use it in every way I can. Allow me to illustrate in simple terms my working process: Here's a perfect example for it
Recently I received a commission to redesign a public mural project for a library building in  my hometown of Aguadilla. The municipality already had a design but were not pleased by it and asked me to  improve it
Here's the image that I had to work on.
I usually would not agree to work upon the design of someone else. I respect the artists vision, but I had to make an exception on this one. It was quite evident that the original design presented to me had some serious flaws that needed to be fixed or even replaced all together. Since the building had windows and there were certain limitations like nearby buildings that would obstruct vision I had to take all of these facts in consideration  plus try to preserve the main characters position within the composition. So the first thing I did was draw, draw and draw. Then scan some of my drawings and prepare a preliminary Photoshop montage. Here's how it looked like inicially:

After this I then started to work on my next filter; Creating a poster size preliminary drawing that would serve as my starting point placing all of my characters in place and rethinking the composition without dealing yet with color, just position the on things and the spacial relationships. Here's what came out of it:

Here the elements and characters are much more clear and sent this version first in order make sure it suited the purpose and was approved by the municipal committee. They suggested a few changes and I suggested some more. This is the time to make those changes and make sure everyone is happy with the design before moving on to the next stage: The Painting

Too bad the photograph I took does not make much justice to the work, I must confess I still need some good photography lessons to learn. It came out too dark but there it is. Here's the final design after going through several filters. I think this is the word that should stick out and be learned from this and its the word: Filter. The more you filter ideas, concepts, and even techniques, the better result you will end up with.   Filters come in many forms. A filter can be a gesture drawing or a collage. The more you explore an idea or composition, the more you learn from it and the better you will get at it. Of course I dont normally go on trying to please a client when I paint. I paint for my own pleasure and with my own set of goals and convictions in mind and don't have an assigned committee telling me what to paint and what should I take out or add. But its good to think about having an evaluating committee in order to guarantee good results.  So why don't we imagine one for a moment and imagine that each filter of step of the process is a member. The more filters or steps you add to the process (lets say a Photoshop montage, a drawing, a few other sketches)  the more imaginary members you are adding to your committee. Any work of art in which you have spent a good deal of time in the creative process itself, will bear fruit and the results will talk for themselves. On my next Blog Ill post a picture of my latest painting "Long Live Venus" and explain in detail the techniques I have used for this particular painting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Christianity, Mythology and The problem with "Passe"

I've been working all day today on a painting which the subject matter is mythological. I have depicted in this painting on center stage Venus, the goddess of passionate love and beauty. I have taken inspiration on several references and models for this painting. I will describe the work in detail and even post a picture of it. But first of all It would be good to explain why I'm so much interested in this mythological figure. Before I developed any interest in religious subject matter in my work, I already had mythological figures in it such as Icarus, the goddess Athena, Ares, and the Sirens among others. What lead me back to this path once more? I guess art as life is cyclic and one always goes back to what feels natural and myth since childhood felt quite natural to me. It has been my main source of inspiration even when I was painting Christian saints, I must confess Ive been thinking about the gods and goddesses. A gallery owner not long ago told me "We dont want mythology in our gallery, it is "passe", meaning out of fashion. I replied inmediatly, "what about religion? isn't that "passe" as well?". "No, that is current" she said. Maybe she is right but then again I can't help but question these assumptions on whats outmoded and whats not. When we refer to religion in any country in Latin America you can be quite sure we are talking about Christianity. If you want to probe this, just visit any bookshop in a country like El Salvador where the section titled religion only offers you Christian books. Christianity is so pervasive that I bet there are more churches than gas stations or as many as shops. Actually many are both churches and shops and sometimes I can't even tell the difference. They are simply everywhere. Now tell me that Christianity has no resemblance to consumerism. On top of that it has been around for nearly 2000 years and you tell me its not passe? Classical mythology had a very brief revival in the Renaissance and trough the nineteenth-century. After the impressionists and post impressionists, painting became more about paint rather than about history, religion or mythology. This to my understanding is what got us to where we are today. In a place and time where we don't even know whats what with so much intellectual BS. I say classical mythology  is calling for a serious revival and as an artist I shall heed that call. And no its not passe.

Perseus rescuing Andromeda By Paolo Veronese

Of course if you judge art by being outmoded or "In" fashion then you will not see favorably anything that resembles classical art. If you are too preoccupied by current trends the art world today you might not even see the value and transcendence in a great work of art done by a master no matter of what era. See, someone like Titian, Michelangelo or Raphael were not trying to keep up with trends, instead they looked back in time and rescued that which what they thought had significant value and should be kept alive in their own time and culture. Many people blinded by novelty and their own definition of "originality" seem to miss a very important aspect behind a great work of art. This aspect is Transcendence. By this I mean an aspiration and achievement to go beyond one one's time and culture and boundaries. Some call it to be ahead of time. I see it as being back in time. Either way it goes beyond our temporal limitations. Any work of art that is remembered trough the ages transcends time. Fame overcomes death and this immortalizes the artist  and his models. This is also considered a Classic, having lasting significance or worth,  . Think about the Victory of Samotrace of the Pyramids of Giza they have endured through the ages and this makes them great. Ok, don't get me wrong here because it is not my intention to say that contemporary art cannot be great. Of course it can! But it has to remember who his parents and great grandparents were stop behaving  and amnesiac childish. In order to do this it really has to go beyond trends, beyond "passe". Perhaps by taking a closer look at Christianity and Contemporary Art one can discover some surprising similarities. Both are relatively new, both are dogmatic in their views. They become systematic, predictable and pretend to be the only choice and the only way to salvation. And they really believe to be the only path and brainwash people into believing their doctrines. They convert millions and disregard any stories that might look very much like their own and  came before them as works of the devil. Think about it, Im sure you will find even more similarities.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Relfections on the Golden Age

Its been raining a lot lately in El Salvador. At this moment Im still working on my next project that will be part the exhibition I have scheduled for my next exhibition in, Puerto Rico, 2010. I already thought of the title for it. EraDorada. (Golden Age)

The work has evolved over this short period of time. Now Im more inspired in Classical culture and mythology but still keeping some of the Christian imagery and symbols. Since I have been drawn more and more into mythology and to the past I thought about an interesting and deep concept that Christianity might share with Paganism and one that calls my attention is the belief in a Golden Age. In Christianity it is the Garden of Eden. In Ancient Greece and Rome it was referred to the Peaceful Age of Saturn of Cronus, where the god reigned and there were no hardships suffering or war for humanity. It is was in a true sense, long ago distant Utopia.  My work is very retro and nostalgic of the past and I notice that many of the European painters from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century shared this feeling for antiquity. From technique to subject matter I identify myself with Classicism and its long artistic tradition. I see there is still too much to be learned from it.

 The Golden Age by Lucas Cranach the Elder

My work has also dealt with the current issue of consumerism. Given our current global economic crisis (funny I still see many people shopping) I see even more reason to reflect on the past and how we got to this point. In my work I got to a point of exhaustion where I was sick of painting consumer products and advertisements in the hands of Christian saints. After a while it becomes pointless even though there is much argument to see direct and indirect relations between religion and commerce. In fact my M.F.A. thesis was all based on these solid arguments which I could take my time and discuss in detail in another blog entry. But today I feel things have changed a bit. Or at least from my point of view and personal experience. Our system is in decay and our values have lost their meaning. After watching the news and hearing people talk about the current situation one gets a very dark and pessimistic picture of the world. it makes me wonder if we are still living in the "Dark Ages". What do we need to get out of it if we are? All of this has inspired my work. There is much to learn from the world and its people and there is much to learn from history and ancient civilizations. I would love to learn and talk more about these things as I believe they become even more relevant in todays global culture.

"Old Mcdonalds"

The belief in a Golden Age is present in many more cultures, not only ancient Greece and Rome. Many of these cultures also believe time is Cyclic and that the Golden Age will return. When I see the decadence of Contemporary Art I like to think of a New Renaissance that might come in the future. I dream of a new art that does not feed itself on drugs, urban artificiality and plastic, ephemeral shock value mentality. This art could be an art that cures the moral and spiritual illnesses of our time. I share this vision of art with artist Alex Grey and author Alejandro Jodorowsky. By providing a connection with the distant past, with nature and the original source of all, I hope to get closer to that which is meaningful and transcendental in art. I hope  to create a bridge that leads us back to the original source of nature and humanity.

In Arcadia by Friedrich August Von Kaulbach

Antoni Gaudi  once said: " Originality consists in returning to the origin" I could not agree more on this notion of originality. In my next blogs I hope to explore the deeper meanings of the concept of the Golden Age and its relevance and meaning to our society today. Hope some of you share this exploration with me. I will be blogging frecuently.