Fixing mistakes (HrK)

Rookie mistake. Too much glue on the board, and it started to set while I was still spreading it around. So I end up with pebbles of glue, much like rubber cement you rolled up and played with in art class.

How do you fix it? In general, most places that tell you how to do this will tell you to avoid putting down too much glue, as it will set and get uneven and pebbly. But what do you do to fix it once you have already done it?

I find that using more glue, heated up quite a bit, will smooth down the lumpy bits. Also, just a cup of very hot water to dip your brush will have the same effect, but will also lift off some of the glue. Applying heat with the brush, whether with just a bit more hot glue or hot water is the trick.

Remember, that in general you aren’t too worried about a cosmetic issue with the glue, as it will be completely covered with gesso. But large lumps can start to cause lumps in the gesso surface.

For this piece, I am worried about cosmetic issues in parts of the glue surface, as it will be visible in the finished piece.



Supporting the Raven King (HrK)

Good Morning;
After a short hiatus to take pictures in Ireland, I’m back online. See my webshots link for some new photos, and bump into me at shows to share travel stories in the Burren.

The silver on DoL is darkening, but I’m still not happy with it. BI is done, so I’m digging in to the next piece, one of my largest. An illustration for ‘Hall of the Raven King’. See the Poetry page for the poem itself.

The first step is to select a support. I have chosen a large, pieced panel of mahogany. It is a good thickness for its size, being just under an inch thick. When I bought it as scrap from a cabinet making company, they planed it smooth for me, but it did not get squared up. For a few years now, I’ve been meaning to do that. But now, I believe I will not. Thus the board is a bit uneven.

One of my thoughts for HrK is to expose parts of my process within the art itself. I want an unfinished feel to the piece, and the raw edge will add to my image. Will it work? Not sure.

As we speak, the board is drying from an application of rabbit skin glue solution. A first layer in the process. The glue will seal the board and protect it from the wet gesso and paint.

After the warping of the BI panel, I expressed the thought that I don’t trust pieced panels, and I still don’t. This one will be carefully prepped, hopefully mitigating the tendency of the pieced boards to curve.

The panel is pieced along the long edge, meaning the pieces are short, and stacked to be vertical on the landscape format I am using. If there is any warp, it will appear much as it did on BI, bowing out into my painting vertically like the face of an upright can. Not my plan for it, I assure you.

The first step is to coat the panel in glue. More than once. I use a standard ratio of the dry grains to water, of one glue measure to seven water measures. This can be easily adjusted to create smaller amounts of glue solution by using a smaller measure. In this case I used a 1/3 cup for the glue grains to 2 and 1/3 of water. It’s a big panel. I usually use a 1/4 measure or a jigger measure obtained from a bartender friend. As long as it can be easily evened up, any measure will do. Just remember one to seven.

Soak the grains overnight, and heat SLOWLY in a double boiler to avoid bubbles. You are looking for a completely clear, golden solution, smelling vaguely of wet dog. It may take just a bit longer than you think, as the final grains seem to take forever to finally go away. This is a basic solution, which can be used for sealing, or mixing with chalk and whiting to make gesso.

Coat everything with warm glue. If you end up with bubbles or gloopy bits that dry quickly, add more warm glue and it should melt it smooth. End grain is difficult to coat, so make sure you get it into the grain.

My second step, though not required, is to soak a piece of raw muslin in glue and apply it to the face of the panel. It gives the gesso more tooth to hold onto. It is more necessary when creating an icon due to the requirement of applying so many coats of gesso. Usually I make sure it fits snugly over the edges of the piece, trimming to keep it clean and tidy. Here, wanting a more unfinished look, I will probably leave some rougher or unraveled edges.

The muslin, in iconography, represents a veil between the painter and the heavenly plane. This is essential for the creation of an icon, as the heavenly light is overwhelming, and can blind the artist if he is not humble enough to shield himself from its glory.

I will coat the whole panel again after applying the muslin. Then, because I do not trust the pieced panel, I will apply glue and screws to long slats of hardwood, affixing them across the back of the panel at a right angle to the pieces. Later I will also use the slats to affix hangers to the piece, as I do not intend to include an additional frame.



A means of support

A few years back, I was researching the techniques of Byzantine icon writing. I prepared three boards from scratch. One board was hand carved by a man who prepared icon boards for an Eastern Orthodox community in Pennsylvania. Pieced from strips of birch, it was a thick slab, with a lovely indentation at the center, providing the requisite broad border area for this sort of art.

I will go into greater detail on this process when I prepare another board from scratch, suffice to say that I began with rabbitskin glue sealing all sides, and a piece of glue-soaked muslin laid over the face of the board. Then I mixed a rabbitskin glue/chalk/whiting into a traditional gesso and applied it in 12 layers as specifically described, gradually thinning the mixture every three layers until I obtained a deep surface of it, with the smoothest and thinnest layers on top.

I let the boards cure, but shortly thereafter I obtained a job contract that left me little time for the elaborate process of icon writing. When checking back at six months, it became obvious that the birch board had warped from left to right, leaving it straight from top to bottom, like the side of a can. This is not acceptable in an icon writing support. I have since found much better results with cradled boards, or uncradled boards which are not pieced in any way. When using boards, I am more careful to seal all sides with multiple layers of rabbitskin glue before applying gesso.

I couldn’t bring myself to throw out the birch board. A lot of good energy had been invested in it, and the curve was so smooth and symmetrical. Only a single, thin crack had developed in the gesso surface, easily repaired. This meant that the surface itself had been well-prepared, with no extensive cracking during the movement of the warping board, and was unlikely to be damaged further as time went on. A light sanding was all the preparation needed.

So, in reviewing my options, seven years later, I decided to use the birch board, curve and all, in one of the Angelus pieces. Birch Interlace was a perfect fit, both physically and poetically, and considering I prepared the two at separate times, it is really amazing how it has worked out.


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