Three words (HrK)

‘Hall of the Raven King’ is proceeding apace. I have finished two layers of rabbitskin glue, added the muslin sheeting, and the gesso is drying.

NOTE: Forgot to mention two things about rabbitskin glue. First, do not boil the solution as it loses adhesiveness. Second, do not reheat congealed glue, as it also reduces adhesiveness.

Anyway. Gesso. The undercoat of a piece of artwork is something to consider when planning your colors. Gessos are primarily white, as white does not add anything to the colors of your paints. Even opaque paints can be affected by the undercoat.

I do not use acrylic paints very often, as I like the luminosity of watercolor and I’ve mentioned the list of reasons I like to work with tempera in another post. I find acrylics a bit rubbery and lacking a feeling of light. This may be my lack of experience with acrylics, but I usually avoid using them. In this case, however, I wanted to be able to layout color blocks of background and layer on the detailed Celtic design without having the background and foreground do any blending. Acrylic is very useful for this sort of technique, and I am using ’soft body’ acrylics by Liquitex which will suit my more watercolor style as they are far more fluid than tube acrylics.

I have an extremely detailed layout, primarily a seascape crafted of Celtic design elements. It has a very stylized and ‘old manuscript’ feel to it, especially as I used an old medieval illumination of Jerusalem to help me layout the towers and gates of the Hall.

I decided to challenge myself with a drastically limited color palette, selecting two colors to go with black and white tones. Quinacridone Violet and Permanent Green Dark are my color selections. They fall nearly opposite on the color wheel. Shadows and tones will be provided only with black and white. I am hoping, with these colors, to maintain a feeling of things being ‘bleak’ and ‘unreal’ as I work up the spirals and twisting knots.

To add to this, I have used black gesso as an undercoat, and black as a mixer on the palette. One of the first things you learn in art class is not to use black, but to develop other colors within the painting to provide shadows and darks that are not black but appear so to the eye. Here, I am using black. I want the feeling of gloom that a black mix will provide. The black gesso will affect the colors, which are not completely opaque. I’m thinking of a mix between Patrick Fitzgerald and Edward Gorey. And if you get both of those artistic references, we should talk.

As a whole, the piece should feel a bit unfinished or even shoddy. Worn. Maybe damaged. The board is not squared, and I have allowed edges of the muslin sheeting to show. I kept the gesso thin and I did not build up a smooth surface. The texture of the muslin and glue is rough under my first layers of paint. Black gesso, applied in almost a dry-brush technique, is bringing out the fabric crosshatching and wood grain near the unsanded edges and corners.

‘Bleak, unreal, damaged’ are my words for this 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.



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