Category Archives: Art Articles

Painting Eggs – using the Zorn Palette

Anders Zorn Palette

 

Students often ask how they can practice their portrait skills when away at home and if they should work from photographs. I firmly believe, that although photography has its place, the best use of your time, if a model is unavailable to you, is to paint eggs from life. We may want to go into the details of the eyes, but we should wait until the planes of the head are understood and the modelling of the large form is captured. This is why painting eggs is such an amazing resource.

I was asked by Artists & Illustrator to write a series of articles on practices for painting using the Zorn palette.  

In the 4 articles, we looked at the Zorn palette: seeing how we can use it in our paintings and how it can benefit our working practice.

 

Here is the transcript from my first article, though of course, the formatting by Artists & Illustrator was much more attractive than my attempts at WordPress.

 

We looked at the Zorn palette in detail: colour, colour relationships through a colour chart and its advantages with portraiture.

 

What is the Zorn Palette?

The Zorn palette is also known as the limited palette. The colours are limited to 4 basic colours: Black, White, Red, and Yellow.

I consider these the primary colours with the addition of white (where Black is the substitute of Blue). Some also regard the Zorn palette as two colours: yellow & red, where black and white serve to control the chroma and the value. Either way, the colours are definitely limited.

 

Why is it called the Zorn palette?

The limited palette has been ascribed to Anders Zorn (1860-1920), a Swedish painter, who predominantly used a limited palette. He was not the first to use it, and nor did he use it exclusively, however, he is an artist who greatly excelled at it.

Many artists throughout the history of art used a limited palette, including Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez, though most artists would use other colours when needed and vary their pigments. During the 19th century, many more pigments and colours became available to artists, so the use of a limited a palette became less prevalent. Yet many artists remained loyal to their limited palette and continue to do so today.

 

There is much debate about whether Zorn truly did use such a limited palette. In Zorn’s self-portrait, he holds a palette with the four colours, laid out from dark to light, proud of his bravura. I think he is showing us how his skill as a painter is in the fact he can create such ambience through his brush handling, despite his limited colours. But of course, there are times when he did use other colours.

1.Image of Zorn and Self-portrait

 

The Zorn palette is really used more in portraiture and figure painting, not in landscape painting (apparently we see more variety of greens than any other colours). Zorn would also use blues and greens and other colours when landscape painting and when painting with watercolours.

There is also evidence from his studio of a very varied selection of paints, but my studio also includes many colours that I would not usually use: as a painter I am often gifted tubes of paint and I like to experiment with different colours. After all no artist should be completely formulaic, as where would the space be left for creativity?

 

Teaching colour

There are many schools of thought when it comes to teaching colour and colour theory for painters.

An abundance of Colour

There are those who believe that all that we see is colour and therefor we should have access to the most amounts of tubes of colours as possible. This is not what I subscribe to. I think this presumes that as students we understand colour completely. I think we understand hue, but colour, with all its varying temperatures and values, is a much more complex and subjective topic.

Furthermore we can rarely get exactly the right colour from a tube. Painting colour involves relationships, and mixing colour. The colour we see is only in relationship to its neighbour. If we have an abundance of colours to mix from then we have thousands of options and combinations of colours available to us. How could we keep track of which colour combinations give us which colours?

 

A Limitation of Colours

By limiting the colours available to us we have to be much more disciplined and scientific about colour combinations and colour mixing and relationships. Of course as we learn we can add more colours to our palette. There is an expression we use when teaching that “values do all the work but colour gets all the credit”. How true this is. People often look at my paintings and say, “oh I love your colours’ and yet the colour is nothing without the design of shapes and values.

 

John Singer Sargent said that there is no point putting a brush stroke down unless it is the correct brush stroke in terms of colour, shape, value, and direction. This is very true, but we believe that learning every step all at once is much harder than breaking down the learning practice: from drawing shapes to proportions, values and then colour. A well-proportioned monochrome image is still representational even if devoid of colour. So it is best to introduce colour gradually.

 

The irony is that limiting our colours is in actual fact so liberating and can teach us so much. And we will see in article 2 just how many colours can be created despite the limitation of only having four pigments.

 

 

Painting an Egg

For the first exercise I have chosen to paint an egg. An egg is a fantastic teaching tool. Before we hire a model, an egg is a much cheaper and reliable alternative! The colour of an egg is so flesh like, and the shape of an egg is so similar to a portrait. It really is an amazing tool.

 

The palette set-up

I would suggest you do not work from a white palette. It is very hard to gauge the values and colours; everything we mix seems deeper against the white. In the same way that we should tone the canvas or panel, we should also work from a mid-tone palette: a wooden palette, a grey tear-off palette, or a piece of glass with grey paper laid underneath.  Some people like to put theirs on a table so a glass palette is good and it is much easier to keep clean. I am using my wooden palette, as I really like to hold my palette and I tend to walk back and forth from my easel and I can easily tilt it if there is glare.

Lay the colours out far apart from light to dark just as in Zorn’s self-portrait. Black, Red, Yellow and White, more specifically I use ivory black, cadmium red, yellow ochre and titanium white. I will go into more details of colours in the second article. I am always reminding students that the palette is limited in size, so we don’t want any of the palette to go on holiday, we need to access all of it.  I would suggest laying your colours far apart from each other and near the edge to give you the greatest area to mix in.

2. Image of the Palette and colours

Toning the canvas

With the Zorn palette you have black and white, which gives you values, light and dark. As a canvas panel is white we can tone it with a little black so it appears a mid-tone grey. It is always best to start from a mid-tone. Traditionally we often add a little red to the black. This is for two reasons, a) black is a very weak pigment and the red can add strength to it so that cracking is less likely and b) adding a little warmth to the original tone can really help when painting flesh tones.

3  Image Toned canvas

The Light set-up

When using a limited palette we are most likely prioritising light effect, drawing and values are going to be the anchor as opposed to colour. Therefore make sure you have a strong light set-up. Can you place your subject near a window (preferable north lit so that the light stays constant), or use a desk lamp to beam a strong light onto the subject. In this was you would have a clear and defined value pattern of light and dark. Don’t put your subject against the light or your back to the light. Ideally you want light on your canvas and a nice balance of light and dark on the subject.

4 Image of set up

Placement of shapes

After toning the canvas, start by mapping out the shapes with exactly the same mix you used for the wash, just a little darker. Black and red are also both transparent colours. Don’t use ochre or white at this stage. They are opaque colours and will make your painting milky. As a little analogy, if we have a cup of tea and want to make the tea darker we can always add another teabag. If the tea gets too dark we can add more water. But when we add the milk we have lost the transparency, which adds such a wonderful quality to a painting. When painting we want to try to achieve a variety of transparent and opaque paint.

 

Map out your shapes and then add your shadow lines. This is the edge or the transition between the light and the dark. Try to keep your painting very simple and just look for 2 values at first, a light and a dark mass. Be careful with the red, it is a very strong pigment so we don’t want it to overtake the drawing; it is just being used to slightly strengthen the black. We now have the shapes and value pattern established with just two pigments.

2 Images of egg on mid-tone background, lines with shadow lines, 2 mass

For the lights mix the other two colours, the ochre and the white. The light appears a little too yellow. Add a little red to warm it up. Does it appear a little too chromatic (saturated in colour)? A little touch of black will soften the colour.

6aSimple egg drawing with lights added

6b dipping into ochre

Modelling the paint.

It is very hard, but try not to soften the transition between the values. In painting we always say you should paint the transition. It is very tempting and seems like a quicker solution to take our brush and soften the paint between the transitions, but this can make your painting look muddy. If you work with a loaded brush (lots of paint on the brush) and paint the correct transition (shift in value), then the brushstroke will do all the work of the modelling. The painting will also look crisper and cleaner. I then added the simple light background which really helped the egg jump out

7 More transitions in the lights

The Background

In the first painting I used a white background, which helps bring out the warms of the egg. In this second exercise I placed the eggs on piece of wood and in front of a hessian background. The composition is more interesting because you have a relationship between the two objects.  The background was more fun to paly with as its colours and values depended on the colour and values of the egg; the value pattern and the colours belongs as much to the subject as to the background. I had to look more at relationships of colour than just the local colour.

8a Stages

8b 2 Eggs

 

 

Conclusion

My students always ask me how they can practice at home and can they paint a portrait from photographs. I think you will learn so much more by painting an egg with a strong light source than copying a photograph. In a photograph, the work of translating the 3d onto a 2d picture plane has already been done for you. By painting an egg, you are learning about how the shadows on a portrait work and how the mass relates to the background. Ideally set your egg against a mid-tone background so that the play of light and dark of the background relates to the light and dark on the egg. You can change the colour and value of the background and the position of the egg to create hours of practice and experimentation.

 

In this figure painting, the flesh is so beautiful, but each area is really just like another painting of a beautifully painted egg. The value shifts are so clear but not hard. There are no unnecessary brushstrokes and the design of the background in itself is quite abstract but beautifully balanced both with values and such limited accents of colour.

9 Figures

 

I will post my article on looking at the large range of colours we can create using the Zorn palette. We will be making a colour chart and discussing the break down of colour to values, temperature and chroma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Art For? 3. The art of creating ourselves

representational art naturalistic

Notes following a talk by Charles Whitehead at LFAS on Wednesday 20th November 2019

representational art naturalistic

From the age of 8, children’s representational art becomes increasingly naturalistic, though decorative features are still common.

 

Art Rembrandt Rijksmuseum

After puberty, children want to emulate adult art, but computer games are a more likely source than art galleries.

“Art” – however you define it – is a social display. By “social display” I mean any behaviour that enables us to show and share experiences and thoughts (sensations, moods, emotions. perceptions, ideas, beliefs, etc). That includes not only language and facial expressions, but also childhood play and all the cultural arts. By this definition, even giving someone a hug is a social display – a demonstration of affection.

Scientists confess that they find it “difficult” (they mean “impossible”) to define precisely what makes us human. But my kids, at the age of four, knew what makes us human, because they laughed at cartoon movies where much of the humour depends on animals behaving like humans, and our implicit awareness that this is absurd. Children know that animals don’t talk, but what makes Bugs Bunny funnier is his Bronx-cum-Brooklyn accent and other human-like behaviour. He chomps carrots with the aplomb of a tycoon smoking a cigar, struts around showing off his street-wise savvy, and even dresses in drag without loosing his cool. He hatches ingenious plots to outwit Elmer Fudd. Biologists call this “tactical deception”, and search for evidence of it in animals. Only great apes seem to have this ability, which depends on awareness that individuals can have false beliefs, part of what they call “theory of mind” or “mindreading”.

Social morroring Disney Drawing
Did you see what I saw?

One clip that made my kids laugh (redrawn by my son Jon because Warner Brothers could not identify the original). Surprise is uniquely human. The last frame (a wordless “Did you see what I saw?”) is a simple example of social mirroring.

Cartoon animals express surprise, which also requires insight into mental states (their own as well as others’). Autistic humans, having limited insight into false expectations, fail to express or understand surprise, often mistaking the surprised face for an expression of fear.

From the above examples we can see that much of the humour in animal cartoons concerns uniquely human social displays, along with the self-awareness and insight into the minds of others which depend on such displays.

Social mirror theory holds that mirrors in the mind require mirrors in society. That is, social displays (or social mirrors) make subjective states objective and salient so that, as children, we begin to notice that we and others have such states. We become self-conscious (aware that we are aware) and other-conscious (aware that others are aware) at the same time. “Cogito ergo sum” should read “Cogitamus ergo sumus” or even “Sentimus ergo sumus” (“We feel therefore we are”).

Our unique abilities to share experience is what makes us human. Humans have a formidable armamentarium of social displays – we have three broad classes of social display, each of which comes in at least four modes (depending on how you count), making twelve or more categories in all, often with more than one kind in each category. The table shows some illustrative examples, including two kinds of visual art and their cultural applications (in red type). No other animal comes close – two or three types of display at the most.

So art is part of a system that makes us human.

 

Art Humanity London Fine Art Studios                                                                                                

The complexity of the human mind and brain led scientists to expect that the human genome would have many more encoding genes than other animals – maybe 100,000 base pairs at least. So they got a surprise when human DNA was finally mapped. It turned out that we only had about 22,000 base pairs – little more than the genome of a mouse. It would seem that the differences between human and mouse minds and brains require very little in the way of genetic programming, and that the human mind and brain must be underdetermined by genes.

The genetic code carries the basic instructions for making babies. But genes can never do anything on their own – they need a provident environment to supply them with the building blocks and fuel (delivered through the placenta), and the chemical machinery in the mother’s egg to start the process off.

Then other factors start to play a role. Even in the womb, babies start to learn the sound of their native language. They hear their mother’s voice transmitted through her body, and turn their heads when they hear other vocal sounds – even coughs and sneezes. And they turn their heads more often to hear voices speaking their mother’s language than those speaking a foreign tongue.

After birth, babies get turned into adults by a process called “childhood”. The power of childhood has been uniquely expanded in humans.

First there is “secondary altriciality”. “Altricial” is the opposite of “precocial” or “precocious”. Many herbivores have precocial infants who can run with the herd soon after birth. Many others have altricial babies who have to be nursed or carried around until they are mature enough to fend for themselves. “Secondary altrciality” means more than that. Human babies are not only born with immature bodies, but also rapid brain growth continues after birth. So much so, that in humans 75% of brain growth occurs outside the womb.

Secondly, human childhood is extended by slowed bodily growth and delayed sexual maturity. After puberty, an adolescent growth spurt puts human bodies back on the growth curve they would have followed if they had no childhood.

Growth in humans and chimps

These two factors give our social displays unprecedented power to sculpt our minds and brains. Which means genes do not have the final say on the functional anatomy of our brains. The brain sculpts itself through two phases. In each phase neurones grow lots of connections to other neurones (branching or arborisation) and then many of these are pruned away. Connections that get used a lot get strengthened, and those which are rarely used are eliminated.

1.         The first phase begins before birth. The most rapid spurt of arborisation occurs between 18 months and 2 years, followed by a period of extensive pruning. The greatest change in brain structure occurs between the ages of 2 and 5 years.

2.         The second begins just before puberty, with the most intense branching and connecting around the age of 11 or 12 years. Subsequent pruning begins to tail off around the age of 15, but continues throughout life. Maturation of the frontal lobes in particular is not complete until the early 20s.

So human infancy and adolescence each has its own phase of intensive restructuring. I think these two phases have distinct functions: the first establishes human levels of social awareness (which are indeed established by the age of five), and the second is particularly necessary for enculturation and adaptation to adult life in a given culture (again, this fits in with developmental changes).

These changes are driven by the individual’s own behaviour. One of those behaviours is art. Even if children are not given any art materials they will spontaneously make marks on any surface, including their own bodies, whether with jam or faeces. Mark-making starts around nine months. In their third year they will also make pictures and patterns, drawing in the sand or earth if necessary, or mould figures out of clay. The following pictures illustrate the progression during childhood, taken from my own children:

London Fine Art Studios Drawing Children Art Coour Crayon

I don’t want to repeat the details here, but the take home message from this part of my talk is that there is a spiral co-development of social displays and self/other awareness. That is, the build up of displays in one mode scaffolds a higher mode of self/other-awareness, and this makes possible a higher mode of social displays. In the diagram below, the diagonal arrows represent the major watersheds in child development, which have no obvious parallel in non-human apes. The first transition around 9 months is the shift from primary to secondary intersubjectivity, the second around 24 months is the onset of the “terrible twos”, and the third is the emergence of explicit “theory of mind” – which means intersubjectivity at the level of epistemic mental states (such as knowing, believing, imagining, guessing, etc). The fourth is the more gradual adoption of “economic-moral personae” – the roles we are obliged to play in adult life. This developmental spiral is powerful evidence supporting social mirror theory – as opposed to other theories which are more popular with cognitive scientists, who don’t want to know about anything that doesn’t work like a computer.

London Fine Art Studios Art Graph Drawing

The spiral co-development of social displays and self/other-awareness

I think this developmental spiral takes the form it does because this is the only way of achieving human levels of self/other-awareness. If so then human evolution must have followed a similar spiral path. The archaeological record is not inconsistent with that idea (see Part 1).

If you want to know more you can download most of my publications from my website, www.socialmirrors.org. Go to the page “About Charles Whitehead” (near the bottom of the menu) and scroll down to “Selected publications”. I particularly recommend:

Whitehead, C. (2016). ‘Health, development, and the culture-ready brain’. In The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience (New York: Oxford University Press). Download DOCX

Whitehead, C. (2014). ‘Why humans and not apes: The social preconditions for the emergence of language’. In The Social Origins of Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Download PDF

To summarise: Art is a social display, and social displays (including two kinds of art) function through infancy and adolescence to sculpt the brain, to shape its functional architecture, to achieve human levels of self/other-awareness, and to mould the minds of enculturated human adults. I might add that visual art, in contrast to other kinds of performance, seems specifically apposite for the development of body image, and how this can be modified (in the eyes of others) through costume, self-adornment, and design.

In Part 1, I noted that two kinds of art can be seen developing in the archaeological record, and the same can be seen in child art. Mark-making develops into iconic representations (which are not necessarily aesthetic) and decorative patterns (which are necessarily aesthetic). Both features often occur in the same artwork (in “house” above, Phyllis folded the top corners of the paper to represent the roof and a door is shown on both sides of the paper, with windows and curtains on the inside view – but the rest is jubilant decoration. Notice also the fanciful hats in the last picture, which is a detail from a computer painting of a firework display).

Patterns occur throughout nature, which is why physicists can describe natural laws with “beautiful equations”. Mathematics is a system for describing patterns, and modern maths teaching begins by encouraging children to make and discuss patterns using peg boards, blocks, crayons, etc. Educators point out that all aesthetic arts feature patterns – music, dance, poetry, and visual art (even in iconic “fine art”, composition is carefully judged, and must depend on some kind of intuitive geometry). So pattern seems to be one generic aspect of aesthetics, explaining why mathematicians, scientists, and engineers – as well as artists of all kinds – find beauty in their work. Linguisticians find poetic structure even in the most mundane human conversation. As long ago as 450-420 BC, the classical Greek sculptor Polykleitos wrote an influential Kanon describing the mathematical proportions of male athletic beauty, based on symmetria (relations of the parts to each other and to the whole), isonomia (balance), and rhythmos (rhythm). He may have been the first to use contrapposto (the way the hips sway one way and the shoulders the other as the weight falls on one leg). Many artists have attempted a mathematical understanding of human beauty, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man being an example, and modern cosmetic surgeons claim to have mastered this, commonly invoking the Golden Section. Of course, canons of beauty vary from age to age and culture to culture, so many of these mathematical conjectures are probably wrong.

Beauty Art London Fine Art Studios

 

But regularity of pattern cannot be the whole story. Musicologists point out that the regular patterning of music enables us to predict what will come next, but really satisfying music has to include some surprises – things we do not expect but which, after the event, still make musical sense. So you need patterns which are not obviously regular, but have novel and interesting twists and turns, for full aesthetic satisfaction. Take a tree, for example. There is a roughly logarithmic progression in the thickness of trunk, limbs, branches, and twigs. But countless tiny (or major) influences, caused by the prevailing wind, the dappling of light and shade, and a myriad unknowable accidents, cause the branching and leafing pattern in a tree to deviate in multiple ways, which enhance the beauty of the tree.

There are mathematical relationships between the wavelengths of light in a sunset, but truly dramatic sunsets result from the fortuitous fall of light on nearby clouds. Clouds have characteristic shapes – which means we can always identify a cumulonimbus cloud from its shape, and yet no two clouds are ever the same, being endless variations on a theme. If you look at the patterns created spontaneously by children, they seldom have the regularities desired by the teachers of mathematics. In Phyllis’s “House”, there are certainly rhythmic and repetitive patterns, but also wild juxtapositions of geometric and colourful invention. They are not predictable, but at the very least are aesthetic explorations. Some children’s patterns are so irregular that it is difficult to understand why they are patterns at all, yet they are certainly impactful and aesthetic. I give a couple more examples below, by Aspen:

Maybe children just know more about aesthetics than the scientists and philosophers do.

 

Maybe children just know more about aesthetics than the scientists and philosophers do.

Le Petit Prince is a book by Antoine de Saint Exupéry (1943), based on an experience he had of meeting an imaginary child after being shot down in the desert during World War 2. It’s said that everyone should read this book twice – once when a child, and once when forty years old or so. Children recognise the magic, and older people discover just how profound the wisdom is. Here are a couple of quotes:

Here is my secret. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; What is essential is invisible to the eye

Only children know what they are looking for.

Etching: A Survey – History and Techniques

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Francisco Goya Aquatint

What is etching? The word etch itself is a Germanic word for eat, where the acid would literally eat the metal. Etching is an intaglio method of printmaking, intaglio methods include hard and soft ground etching, engraving, drypoint, mezzotint and aquatint. All these methods share a common ink transferring process. The design is etched into the plate and the ink is added over the whole plate and a scrim or starched cheesecloth is used to force the ink into the etched areas and remove excess from the plate surface. The plate along with dampened paper is run through a print press at very high pressure forcing the paper into etched areas containing the ink.

Etching Course, London Fine Art Studios Etching Method

The other common method of printmaking is relief printing i.e. woodblock and lino cut prints. Here, areas of the block are carved away and a roller is used to transfer the ink to the areas that haven’t been removed. As the process doesn’t require the pressure used in intaglio prints to transfer ink from areas, hand printing or relief presses can be used.

The most historic of intaglio methods is engraving, evolving originally from goldsmithing, although being a truly ancient technique finding the source would be impossible. Examples of engraving can be seen in museums across the world in the form of intricate designs of jewellery, armour, guns and other precious and non precious metals. It is said that as early as 1446 sheet music was printed using engraving techniques along with playing cards.

Engraving requires the use of a burin, a sharply pointed tool of a hardened metal. The engraving process is a long labour intensive one, the design is drawn onto the metal and then slowly cut away using a burin. The engraver must have patience and skill to not make mistakes as there are no shortcuts to correcting one.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Burin Etching Tool
A Burin (Engraving Tool)

The armour below is probably the work of Italian armourers brought to England by Henry VIII in 1511. Some of the earliest examples of etchings are in the form of armour, particularly that of Daniel Hopfer (1470-1536). This is an example of an etched piece of armour, thought to be attributed to Hopfer dated around 1515-1525 . Yoou can see the differences etween the engraved and etched armour, the engraved armour have much sharper lines with deeper reliefs than the shallower etched metal.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Italian Armourers
Engraved Suit of Armour

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Daniel Hopfer Etched Armour 1515-1525
Etched Suit of Armour Edward Hopfer

Hopfer was a craftsman from Augsburg,Germany who would have used an acid resist probably made from  asphaltum, rosin, and beeswax to cover the particular peice of armour. When the resist was dry the etcher would draw the deisgn on the resist and, using a needle, reveal areas of the metal to be etched by the acid. Etched armour and other forms of etching became a much quicker and more economic process than the slower method of engraving.

The earliest known signed and dated etching is created by Urs Graf in 1513. This was etched onto a steel plate with one line weight. Here is a similar example titled “devil captures solider” dated 1516.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Urs Graf Devil Captures Soldier 1516
Urs Graf ‘Devil Captures Soldier’ 1516

Hopfer though was to popularise the medium and become the first well known craftsman to apply the etching process to flat iron plates. Here is an example of a etching plate with five soliders, etched into steel and dated around 1520-1536. Here, Hofper has considered the fact that the prints are a mirror image of the plate and so his initials in the central figures drum are reversed and the soliders have their swords strapped to their right hip so it will print on their left.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Hopfer Etching Plate with Five Soldiers 1520-1536
Hopfer ‘Etching Plate with Five Soldiers’ 1520-1536

Here is an example of a zinc plate with hard ground, being drawn through with a needle. Note the fact that this plate is unsmoked. Traditional ground has a translucent appearance and so etchers may “smoke” their plate with beeswax tapers to darken it. This will allow them to clearly see the lines being created.

Of the most famous printmaker during the 16th century, Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) only made 5 etchings that are known and mostly he tried to imitate the far more formal qualities of the engravings that he was used to producing before. Here are two examples, ‘Man of Sorrows’ and ‘Agony in the Garden’.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Albrecht Durer Man of Sorrows
Albrecht Durer ‘Man of Sorrows’

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Albrecht Durer Agony in the Garden
Albrecht Durer ‘Agony in the Garden’

There were artists during the same era as Durer, most notably Italian artist Mazzola (1503-1540), who made great use of the free movement given by etchings and created a series of brilliantly expressive prints. 100 years before Rembrandt, he is showing the same understanding of cross hatching and developing rich tonal areas just as Rembrandt will come to achieve and surpass. All these are dated in the early 1520s.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Mazzola 1520

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Mazzola 1520

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Mazzola 1520

It was really the French printmaker Jacque Callot from Lorraine who lived between 1592-1635 that began to use step biting or multiple bites within his etchings. Developing a sense of distance by stopping out areas further away first, many earlier etchings had a single bite time for all the lines exposed to the acid.

Callot was one of the most prolific printmakers of his time, rivalling that of Rembrandt for output, during his life working exclusively as a printmaker he made over 1400 plates.

There are reports of Callot incising the metal after the original etch with an engravers burin to help reinforce the lines created. Examples of this can be seen in his series the “Miseries of War” produced around 1633.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Jacque Callot Miseries of War 1633
Jacque Callot ‘Miseries of War’ 1633

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Jacque Callot Miseries of War 1633
Jacque Callot ‘Miseries of War’ 1633

Callot is credited for inventing the echoppe etching needle, this needle has a slanting oval area at the end and in a similar way to a fountain pen will allow etchers to swell and fill lines in a similar manner to engravers.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Callot Echoppe Etching Needle
Echoppe Etching Needle

Callot has also been attributed to the development of an improved hard ground for etching, instead of using a wax based formula he used lute makers varnish. This allowed for lines to be bitten for longer without the risk of fouling biting, foul biting occurs when acid gets through the ground where the etcher had not intended, normally resulting in spots on the image. Because of this etchers could create highly detailed and clean prints rivalling that of engravers.

One of the followers of Jacque callot, one Abraham Bosse, spread his innovations all over Europe with the publication of the Manual of Etching in 1645. This was translated into Italian, Dutch, German and English. While no direct link can be made between the publication of Bosse’s manual and the explosion of printmaking during the 17th century, the information in the manual gave the readers everything they needed to start printing, including making a press, hard and soft etching ground recipes and tools used.

Of course Rembrandt, alive between 1606-1669 the most famous etcher of all time was active and prolific during this age, capturing subtle tones and atmosphere in line alone. Rembrandt’s early etchings like many before him were fairly timid compared to his bold use of the medium later on in life. In “The rest on the flight into Egypt” completed in 1626.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt The Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1626
Rembrandt ‘The Rest on the Flight into Egypt’ 1626

‘The Rest on the Flight into Egypt’ shows an artist just beginning to get to grips with a medium that would come to define him and this golden age of etching. You can see how much of the plate is bitten for a single etch and the tones created by the density of line, although when looking through his early work you begin to see the familiar style coming through, like that of The artist’s mother produced in 1628 and Old man with snub nose in 1629. This etching was etched for some time asyou can see the lines are very bold and there is foul biting around the etch.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt The Artist's Mother 1628
Rembrandt ‘The Artist’s Mother’ 1628

Rembrandt Old Man with Snub Nose 1629
Rembrandt ‘Old Man with Snub Nose’ 1629

 

Some of his most famous work is of course his self portraits, ‘Self Portrait in a Cap’ 1630 (image 21) shows his development using freer more expressive lines, also one of his most famous etching self portrait. Note difference in style and confidence to his first known etching – ‘The Rest on the Flight into Egypt’.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Self Portrait
Rembrandt ‘Self Portrait in a Cap’ 1630

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt The Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1626
Rembrandt ‘The Rest on the Flight into Egypt’ 1626

In his mature works Rembrandt begun to really push the mark making potential and improvise directly onto the plate. Below is an example in ‘Self Portrait Drawing at a Window’ from 1648. We can see the use of both hard ground and drypoint where Rembrandt has wanted to push areas darker. Probably a first print would have been taken using just hard ground and then using a needle Rembrandt would of scratched directly into the plate creating burs along the edge of the line where ink will get trapped and create the rich dark velvety lines that stand out from the uniform lines of a hard ground.

In the second state you can see where he has begun to push the darks in the background and within the portrait. The amount of states (the name given to each development in the etching) would completely vary depending on the plate. There are records of up to 11 changes, and some plates like the smaller ones would be more of a sketch on copper and little else. Here, in the third and final state you can see that the darks have been pushed to their full potential and an indication of a landscape out side of the window has been placed.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Self Portrait Drawing at a Window 1648
Rembrandt ‘Self Portrait Drawing at a Window’, State 1

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Self Portrait Drawing at a Window 1648
State 2

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Self Portrait Drawing at a Window 1648
State 3

 

Another extreme example of this is ‘The Flight into Egypt ‘, from 1651. Here the first state shows the figures in clear light, but in the second they are almost completely darkened with only the lamp standing out.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt The Flight into Egypt 1651
State 1

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt The Flight into Egypt 1651
State 2

Aswell as adjustments, Rembrandt would make significant changes to his plates. Here we see that in  ‘Christ Presented to the People’ completed in 1655
(image 27)and the second state shows where Rembrandt has completely removed the figures in the centre foreground (image 28). You can still see the ghost lines for the figures.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Christ Presented to the People 1655
State 1

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Christ Presented to the People 1655
State 2

Two tools would have been used in removing the figures, a scraper and burnisher. A scraper is a three sided sharp edge that is pressed flat against the plate where you want a line to be erased, and is then scraped over that area, making sure it does not dig into the plate as this would create more areas for the ink to hold. A burnisher is then used to flatten the area completely so no ink can be held there. The time this takes is greatly affected by the time the line was etched for, and in some instances ghosts lines might always persist.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios A Scraper and Burnisher
Scrapers and Burnishers

Hard ground has been one of the most direct and popular form of etching, and still is. Throughout the ages different printmakers have utilised it brilliantly. A few of my favourite etchers to use hard ground include James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903), Anders Zorn (1860-1920), Ernest Lumsden (1883-1948), Frank Short (1857-1945) and James Mcbey (1883-1959). As you can see, in over 500 years of etching history people are still reinventing and finding new ways to use the most traditional of etching techniques.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios James McNeil Whistler 1834-1903
James McNeil Whistler

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Anders Zorn 1860-1920
Anders Zorn

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Frank Short 1857-1945 Aquatint
Frank Short

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Ernest Lumsden Aquatint 1883-1948
Ernest Lumsden

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios James McBey 1883-1959
James Mcbey

Although hard ground line etching takes most of the limelight, there are two common types of ground: hard ground and soft ground. During the late 18th and early 19th century, soft ground became very vogue This technique involves carefully placing a peice of tracing paper over the grounded plate and using it as a bridge to rest your hand on. The etcher then can “draw“ into the tracing paper and remove the ground below. Because of this, the lines of soft ground etching are usually more unclear and have a more pencil-like quality, allowing for them to look very similar to drawings. Unlike hard ground, soft ground will remain somewhat tacky, allowing the etcher to press objects like leaves in to the ground and take a print. Here is an example of leaves and fabric being pressed into the ground to create an impression.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Soft Ground Etching

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Hard Ground Etching

Soft ground by its nature creates a lot of foul biting, and so I believe for that reason it tends to be put to one side when considered work is required. Nelson Dawson was an etcher at the turn of the 20th century who made great use of soft ground as a preferred method of etching, creating wonderful lively etchings with a soft draughtsman’s like touch.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Nelson Dawson Soft Ground Etching

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Nelson Dawson Soft Ground Etching

Other artists of note that used soft ground were Degas, Pissarro and Cassatt. The contemporary etcher Joel Ostlind makes superb use of soft ground in order to capture atmosphere and gesture deftly and with ease.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Joel Ostlind

The final of the early etching techniques is drypoint. Drypoint is the most simplisitic and direct form of printmaking: the printmaker would scratch into the plate using a fairly blunt needle, known today as a ‘whistler’ needle. The “bur” that is kicked up similar to when a field is ploughed will hold a lot of ink and create a unique velvety soft line. Almost all etchers who utilised line will at some point use dry point in their work. The duality of strict regimented hard ground lines and smokey black drypoint lines are a timeless combination. Here a few drypoint examples by Whistler.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Whistler Drypoint

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Whistler Drypoint

However, unlike soft and hard ground etchings which are etched into the metal, Drypoint gets it characteristics from the burr it creates, and these burrs will slowly wear down over time through the force of the press resulting in the prints becoming gradually fainter and fainter. Rembrandt would often completely rework a plate once the burrs were worn down enough, developing it into a new etching of similar composition. ‘Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses’ of 1653 is an excellent example of this.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves 1653
‘Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves’ Version 1

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves 1653
Version 2

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Rembrandt Christ Crucified Between the Two Thieves 1653
Version 3

Apart from line and cross-hatching, one of the eariest ways of producing a tonal etching was through the use of a mezzotint. The mezzotint process was developed in the 17th century in Amsterdam. The earliest known example of mezzotint work, done in 1642, is a portrait of one Amelia Elizabeth, showing the tentative development towards fully tonal etchings.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Mezzotint Portrait of Amelie Elizabeth 1642

A mezzotint is a print made using a copper plate which has been “grounded” but with a mezzotint rocker. The rocker is semi circular with very fine teeth, and is rocked across the whole plate and then again perpendicular to the first rocking, repeating the process in every direction. The idea is too create a surface or ground that is evenly roughened, because in this state the plate will print a solid black. The artist shown below is starting from black and then using a scraper and a burnisher to slowly develop the print. Initial guidelines can be drawn on with pencil or chalk.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Modern Day Mezzotint Rocker
A Mezzotint Rocker

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Modern Day Mezzotint Process
The Mezzotint Engraving Process

 

By the 1680s mezzotint was well known and it became the preferred medium for reproducing portraits due to its painterly effects. Here we can see two examples of those painterly effects in full use:

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Valentine Green Reproduction Joseph Wright
Valentine Green, reproduction of ‘An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump’ (Joseph Wright)

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios George Stubbs Sleeping Cheetah (A Tyger) Mezzotint 1788
George Stubbs ‘Sleeping Cheetah (“A Tyger”)’, 1788.

As you can see mezzotint has a very recognisable soft characterist which is very hard to achieve in other forms of etching. Here are a few modern day mezzotint prints.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Modern Day Mezzotint Print

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Modern Day Mezzotint Print

 

The last and in most cases the hardest of all intaglio methods to work with is the aquatint. An aquatint is a way of producing tonal values, and is named for the ink or watercolour wash effect that it creates. Credit is given to Jan van De Velde IV for inventing the technique in Amsterdam in the middle of the 17th century, around the same time that the mezzotint technique was developed – but unlike mezzotints, the aquatint was largely forgotten until the 18th century.  To create an aquatint the artist traditionally used powdered pine resin. The resin is placed in a box and a crank or bellows are used to blow the fine powder into the air. Before the resin settles, the artist places the plate in the box, which allows the resin powder to settle on the plate in a fine coat. Next, the underside of the plate is heated until the resin melts onto it. The resin will now cause a partial resist to the acid, causing a similar effect to a very high resolution half tone print as shown below.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Aquatint

As you can see, from far away the dots appear as an image but upclose you can see the individual dots. This works the same way in aquatints, but on a microscopic level on an etching plate. The tones are achieved by stopping out, going from white to black. This means that you would start by stopping out the whites and gradually working down to black. Test prints would be used to let the etcher to know how long to submerse the plate in the acid for.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Aquatint Test Print
An Aquatint Test Plate

The most famous etcher to use an aquatint is of course Francisco Goya. Goya used a line and tone approach to aquatint. First a line etching would be produced and then an aquatint applied over the top to help accent the tones.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Francisco Goya Aquatint

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Francisco Goya Aquatint

Through the years various etchers have found their own approach to aquatints including Australian etcher Sydney Long, Ernest Lumsden and Frank Short.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Sydney Long Aquatint
Sydney Long Aquatint

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Ernest Lumsden Aquatint 1883-1948
Ernest Lumsden Aquatint

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Frank Short 1857-1945 Aquatint
Frank Short Aquatint

One of the greatest masters of this technique would be Norman Akroyd, an etcher sitll alive today who almost exclusively uses aquatint as a method of printmaking. Recreating the brooding skies of the Scottish Highlands, Akroyd uses a technique called spit biting extensively which is a method of painting acid straight onto the plate to achieve the smokey soft edges. Traditionally the etcher would spit onto the plate before brushing the acid on, as this acts as an adhesive for the acid to stop it from beading on the plate.

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Norman Akroyd Spit Biting Technique

Etching Course London Fine Art Studios Norman Akroyd Spit Biting Technique

As you can see, while etching has been developed throughout the half a millennia it has been around, the fundamentals have not changed, allowing us to have a medium that is as much the same as it ever has been or ever will be. The rich historical background of these methods means that there is a very deep connection between everything you use. Etching is a process that requires thousands of hours of dedication and developing a feel for not just the etching process itself but the inks, paper, wiping of the plate and the press itself. These other factors warrant many articles of their own and we would be here for quite some time to discus it all. However despite all of this hard work, every time I lift a print I get the same excitement from it that I did from the first print I ever produced, and I am reminded anew of the subtlety and uniqueness of this medium.

THE HISTORY OF THE COLOUR BLUE

London Fine Art Studios Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770

Sophia Burnell, our summer term de Lazslo scholar gave a wonderfully insightful lecture this term on the history of the colour BLUE.

Hippoptamus. Musee du Louvre. c3800-1700
Hippoptamus. Musee du Louvre. c3800-1700

The colour blue defines the majority of our world – the sky reflects the sea, and therefore informs everything else we see, but it wasn’t widely used in art until the Renaissance. According to psychologists, the popularity of the hue may take root in our evolutionary development. In the hunting-and-gathering days, those drawn to positive things—like, say, clear skies and clean water—were more likely to survive, and, over time, this preference for the colour blue may have become hard-wired. Scientifically speaking however, the sky and the sea aren’t really blue – it is impossible to take the sky or sea and grind it up to make pigments, unlike many earth colours. This is why in any ancient cave paintings or a lot of ancient art there is no blue. Since it is so much more difficult to produce, the history of the colour blue becomes much more interesting.

 

Nebamun hunting in the marshes, fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun. Late 18th Dynasty c1350BC
Nebamun hunting in the marshes, fragment of a scene from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun. Late 18th Dynasty c1350BC

EGYPTIAN BLUE

Invented in ancient Egypt around 2000 BC, around the same time as the pyramids were being built. It was made by combining limestone and sand with a copper-containing mineral such as azurite or malachite, this solution was then heated to between 1470 and 1650 degrees Fahrenheit. This produced an opaque blue glass, which could be crushed up and mixed with egg whites, gums or glues to be made into paints or ceramic glazes. This blue remained popular for the majority of the Roman Empire, however the process was difficult and it often created more of a green than a blue, so was forgotten when other methods of producing blue came about.

 

Lapis Lazuli. Found in the mountains of Northern Afghanistan
Lapis Lazuli. Found in the mountains of Northern Afghanistan

ULTRAMARINE

Made from Lapis Lazuli, a stone found in the mountains of northern Afghanistan. The Egyptians had this stone yet didn’t find a way of making it into paint. When it is ground up as it is it turns into a grey powder, so the Egyptians used the stone to make jewelry and headdresses. Lapis Lazuli first appeared as a pigment in the 6th century in Buddhist paintings in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. In the 14th and 15th centuries Italian traders brought Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan to Venice, where it became known as ultramarine, which translates from latin ‘ultramarinus’ to beyond the sea.

6th century Buddhist paintings Bamiyan Afghanistan
6th century Buddhist paintings Bamiyan Afghanistan

– How it’s made:

1. The mineral is first ground in an electric mill.

2. The fine particles are then mixed with alcohol and poured over a magnetised channel to remove magnetic pyrite particles.

3. It is then kneaded with wax and water and pressed through a fine cloth and the less valuable ‘ultramarine ash’ stays in the cloth.

4. The finest particles pass through the cloth and are the highest quality ultramarine pigment.

London fine art studios, lavender hill colours, Ultramarine, the process
Ultramarine, the process

The deep colour was a revelation to painters working in medieval Europe, it was however very expensive and was deemed to be as precious as gold. Ultramarine was reserved for the most important commissions, for example the Virgin Mary’s robes.

In the Scrovegni chapel in padua by Giotto, Lapis Lazuli was used on an enormous scale, which would have cost a fortune. In these frescoes blue becomes an emblem for the divine, with the ceiling depicting heaven. For Giotto, heaven is clearly blue.

Giotto; Srovegni Chapel; the ceiling and altar
Giotto; Srovegni Chapel; the ceiling and altar
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. Giotto 1302-1305
Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. Giotto 1302-1305

Church’s claim over Ultramarine – the church tried to control the use of blue, they restricted its supply and inflated its price – it became more expensive than gold. In the 1300’s laws were passed to ban citizens from wearing the colour, reserving blue solely for the Virgin Mary.

In Venice, Titian started to liberate the colour blue. In the Pesaro altarpiece in Venice, the Virgin Mary is radically not in the center of the painting, but St Peter is, wearing a rich swathe of ultramarine which takes center stage.

London Fine Art Studios, Titian, Pesaro Madonna, 1519-1526
Titian, Pesaro Madonna, 1519-1526

Titian Bacchus and Ariadne – almost half blue when you look at it diagonally, which must have cost a great fortune.

At this time the colour was strictly controlled by the church – how much you could use and where you could use it. And in this painting Titian goes to town with blue. The purest ultramarine is on the dress of a reveler who couldn’t be further away from the Virgin Mary – She hasn’t even bothered to pull up her dress.

Perhaps it is here that blue is stripped of its religious connotations and social hierarchies.

London Fine Art Studios, Bacchus & Ariadne, Titian 1520-1523
Bacchus & Ariadne, Titian 1520-1523

In the 60s this painting underwent a dramatic restoration, Arthur Lucas and Joyse Plesters remove huge amounts of yellowing varnish, revealing the true vibrant blue that we recognize in the painting today.

Some facts about ultramarine:

It is said that Vermeer’s love for the colour pushed his family into debt

Art historians believe that Michelangelo left his painting ‘The Entombment’ 1500-1 unfinished because he couldn’t afford ultramarine.

London Fine Art Studios Michelangelo, Entombment 1501
Michelangelo, Entombment 1501

 

 

London Fine Art Studios Timeline of Blue; Lapis Lazuli, Prussian, Cerulean, Cobalt, Ultramarine, Phthalo
Timeline of Blue; Lapis Lazuli, Prussian, Cerulean, Cobalt, Ultramarine, Phthalo

A TIMELINE OF BLUES

Lapis Lazuli/Ultramarine- I have already spoken about.

Prussian blue – was one of the first modern synthetic and inorganic pigments. Created by the paint maker Diesbach in Berlin in 1704. It is a dark blue pigment produced by oxidation of ferrous ferrocyanide salt. Produced accidentally when Diesbach used potash tainted with blood to create some red dye. Made a blue rather than a red.

Prussian blue is why blueprints are blue. The colour would react with light and create a copy of the technical drawing.

Cerulean – a very expensive pigment. It was discovered in 1789, by a swiss chemist Albrecht Hopfner. Cobalt stannate is the chemical makeup of the pigment and it was introduced in the UK 1870 under the name “Cerulean”, i.e. sky-blue, in imitation of a Roman pigment of that name.

Cobalt blue – used in Chinese porcelain in impure forms for a long time, but it was discovered as a pure pigment by Louis Jacques Thénard in 1802.[2] Commercial production began in France in 1807.

Ultramarine – Due to the high demand in 1824 France’s Socité d’Encouragement offered a reward of 6000 francs for the production of a synthetic ultramarine blue. A French chemist and a German professor found the solution within weeks of eachother, however the French committee gave the award to the Frenchman naming the pigment ‘French Ultramarine’

Phthalo (phthalocyanine) blue – 1927. A more modern pigment, a cheap cerulean blue hue is often phthalo blue with zinc white mixed in.

GAINSBOROUGH’S BATTLE FOR BLUE

London Fine Art Studios Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770
Gainsborough, The Blue Boy, 1770

Painting in the late 18th century Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough had a life long feud. Reynolds, the president of the Royal Academy wanted to create timeless works in keeping with the traditions of the old masters. Whereas Gainsborough, one of the founding members of the Royal academy, wanted to make paintings with free, painterly marks and wasn’t as interested in traditional conventions.

An example of one of their clashes is over the colour blue.

REYNOLDS IN HIS DISCOURSE FOR ART 1777

‘It ought, in my opinion, to be indispensably observed that the masses of light in a picture be always of a warm mellow colour, yellow, red, or a yellowish-white; and that the blue, the grey, or the green colours be kept almost entirely out of these masses, and be used only to support and set off these warm colours; and for this purpose a small portion of cold colours will be sufficient’

It is clear what Gainsborough thought of that… In this painting Gainsborough uses lapis lazuli, deeper indigo and a paler cobalt, with blue making up the large majority of the canvas.

EMOTIONAL POWER OF BLUE

There is a move from blue representing religious purity, to blue representing deep emotions and sadness.

There are many explanations for why this might have happened. Perhaps one is the same reason that the musical genre ‘the blues’ is called ‘the blues’. The term might have come from the phrase ‘the blue devils’ which was used in the 1600s to describe ‘intense visual hallucinations that can accompany severe alcohol withdrawals’ or just to describe sadness and melancholy.

London Fine Art Studios Lecture Emotional Power of Blue
Emotional Power of Blue

In Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ and Edvard Munch’s ‘The Kiss by the Window’ the melancholic use of blue is clear in these deeply emotional paintings.

PICASSO’S BLUE PERIOD

Moved to paris in October 1900 aged 19, with his friend Casegemas, where they were aspiring artists. In 1901 Casegemas committed suicide in a bar after attempting to shoot his girlfriend. This event was arguably the catalyst for Picasso’s blue period.

London Fine Art Studios Picasso's Blue Period
Picasso’s Blue Period

He made studies of Casegemas in his coffin, painted in a ghostly blue.

Other works by Picasso in his blue period ‘The Old Guitarist’ and ‘La Celestine’ outcasts became his main subject matter – the homeless, prostitutes and alcoholics, the blue palette communicating the sense of everyday hardship.

Picasso's Blue period Portraits
Picasso’s Blue period Portraits

Perhaps this blue period was a way for Picasso to process his grief (he had also lost his sister when she was 7 and his friend, also a painter, Hortensi Guell) for, after this period came a move to a palette of pinks “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions,” Picasso.

YVES KLEIN, Born in Nice 1928

London Fine Art Studios
Yves Klein

As a teenager whilst sitting on the beach with two friends, Claude Pascal (who later became a poet) and Armand Fernandez (who later became and artist) decided to divide up the world between them. Pascal chose language, Fernandez chose the earth and Klein claimed the Sky. The pursuit of the sky’s expansiveness came to define his artistic career.

‘The blue sky is my first artwork’ Klein

By 1957 he was working solely in blue. Spray-painting canvases in a flat blue, as well as everyday objects and casts.

“Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions,”

He even came to produce his own blue, with L’Edoard Adam in Paris. Klein wanted a pure blue to replicate the sea and the sky, and Adam created a specific medium that was colorless and kept the blue as pure as possible.

London Fine Art Studios
Yves Klein, IKB 191, 1962

It was called International Klein Blue “IKB’

ROGER HIORNS’ ‘SEIZURE’

Turned his south London flat into a blue cave, by flooding it with 95,000 of liquid copper sulphate boiled at 100 degrees. He wanted the work to be determined by the properties of the materials rather than his own choices, so left it alone for 3 weeks, and came back to find the entire flat covered in crystals. The work was nominated for the 2009 Turner prize.

London Fine Art Studios
Roger Hirons “Seizure” 2008

CONCLUSION

Throughout history blue has been used to represent religious purity, heaven, or depression and despair. It is certainly an emotionally charged colour that will continue to be used by artists in a multiplicity of different ways for generations to come.

From the Models Perspective

Debora our model from Florence Final

This beautiful piece of writing was sent to me by our lovely model Debora. She came to London from Florence, Italy to model at the studios in January this year and stayed until the end of June. The studio’s life and atmosphere is as much enhanced by the wonderfully creative and diverse models who pose for us so diligently as all the students.

I have interspersed her writing with paintings by myself, Jill Hooper and Michael Gallone.

 

What would happen if suddenly the work of art in front of you gave voice to its thoughts? It is said that Michelangelo, in front of his masterpiece, got angry, asking his sculpture “Why don’t you speak?”

Debora painted by Jill Hooper
Debora painted by Jill Hooper

Imagine that the model, who posed for you for twenty-five days, is now here to open her heart and tell you what gave her this experience.

This is what encouraged me every morning to wake up and come here:
A dialogue made of lights and shadows, shapes and spaces, colors and silences. The pencils dancing to the rhythm of the senses and the brushes flowing on my thoughts … relating the wonder of this meeting. The curiosity to see me always new through your eyes, as if I were meeting myself for the first time. Being interpreted by people from different cultures, countries, ethnic groups, but who all share the same love for “Beauty”.

Debora our model from Florence Final
Debora our model from Florence Final Stage

Debora our model from Florence
Debora our model from Florence

Oil painting block-in
Oil painting block-in

What I feel when I’m posing is an intimate bonding of knowledge, with myself and with he / her who is in front of me. A pure relationship, of mutual listening. A game of glances, where we can breathe the respect for the human being. Life vs Life, I learned the limits and the secrets of my body. A continuous search between Perfection, Harmony and Truth.

Your artwork will remain, forever, a testimony of this meeting.

Debora oil painting on aluminium plate by Michael Gallone
Debora oil painting on aluminium plate by Michael Gallone

Finally, a sincere thank you goes to those expert and attentive eyes, the teachers, who patiently gave us the instructions to live well these moments, transmitting their knowledge and bringing out the best in us.

Having said that, it only remains for me to bow and give thanks in front of the universal language of Art.

*** Debora ***

Our wonderful Debora, oil on linen by Ann Witheridge
Our wonderful model Debora, oil on linen by Ann Witheridge

The Mirror – History of the Black Mirror

London fine art studios Philip de Laszlo using a mirror in the studio

For centuries the mirror, or its equivalent piece of polished metal, has been used by artists to help them see the shapes and values of the image they are painting on a flat plane in reverse.

Indeed Leonardo da Vinci in his treatise on painting entitles ones section

“Come lo specchio é maestro de’pittori” The mirror is master of painters

There are so many advantages to using the mirror. If you hold it perpendicular to your strong eye and look in reverse at both your artwork and subject you are painting, it gives you a completely fresh view- retrieving the innocent eye. it also eliminates everything in your periphery. The flat plane of the mirror imitates the flat plane of your canvas, panel or paper.

In the book “Painting a Portrait by De Laszlo”, which Philip de Laszlo produced with his friend and art critic Alfred Lys Baldry he says that the mirror’s “chief value is that it gives me a new vision of both picture and sitter and therefor enables me to discover any faults there may be in drawing, or in the relations of tones. It acts like the fresh eye, which can often perceive defects that the painter, having got accustomed to them, has failed to detect. … the mirror is an honest critic.

The Black mirror has the added advantage of reducing the value range. I use my iPhone as a handy equivalent, though it can give you quite a shock when it rings mid concentration. We have recently got black mirrors in stock at the school shop Lavender Hill Colours.

 

Winnie-the-Pooh Exploring a Classic

pencil drawing

Just before Christmas I met up with a dear friend to take my girls on an adventure of sorts. We chose to go the V&A to see The Winnie the Pooh exhibition. I think I was a little more excited than they were and I was not disappointed, it is a wonder! You might feel out of place if you go without tiny children – mine were the oldest there, but they seemed completely unfazed by this fact and I did spot quite a few adults without children….it is well worth seeing.

Detail drawing of trees in Ashdown Forest

The marriage between the work of A.A.Milne and E.H.Shepherd is a phenomenal one. In my mind, both men are geniuses in their own right, who managed to transcend their own art form. A.A.Milne used his words in a most visual way so that as the narrator we are led to perform, rather than just read the text. The language is of course simultaneously simple and clever; prefiguring Roald Dahl, Milne manipulates language and creates words to aid our imagination, which have since become part of our lexicon, from a tiddely-pom to heffalumps and woozles.

Likewise E.H.Shepherd drawings are not just images used to illustrate but add weight and animation to the text, his drawings are an equally important  part of the narrative. A simple line can change the energy of the image. And like Milne’s language, his images have become part of our nostalgia.

Pooh climbing up the tree as teh words move down the paper

In using a child’s range of vocabulary for his text, Milne is quoted as saying “It is difficult enough to express oneself with all the words in the dictionary at ones disposal, with none but simple words, the difficulty is much greater’ but, perhaps the reduction of text available is the same as the perceived limitations of drawing and line as compared to animation and colour; it is indeed the simplification and purification of both text and image that is so wonderful and allows visual freedom in our imaginations.

 

Milne writes for all ages and levels, giving adults a delicate humour as they read aloud …

Once upon a time, a very long time ago now, about last Friday…

 

E.H.Shepherd’s drawings are equally sophisticated, despite the simplicity of the subject matter. He does not just illustrate the text but adds more, putting the characters and their stories within a context; in the landscape, amongst the trees of Ashdown Forest.

 

His drawings are a mixture of accurate draughtsmanship, value shapes, shaded with mass, with hatching, with squiggles or clear marks and with abstract accents, the distillation and simplification of subject matter with so many additives… this is much more than mere copying. The exhibition itself is interesting on the method he worked in from the block printing etc, starting in pencil and moving into pen and ink and then colour.

 

Vignettes of Eeyore within the text

We are not mere onlookers, Shepherd makes sure we are part of the story, looking on just behind the characters, inviting us into the story, partaking in the set.

The characters are composed for comic effect within their setting.

 

Pulling Pooh out of a hole – design around the page layout

We also see how Milne and Shepherd used the images within the text and around the text to add to the story. In “Winnie-the-Pooh goes visiting” all the characters are pulling to get Pooh out of Rabbit’s hole; Shepherd envelopes the text with trees and Pooh on one side and butterflies and bees on the other side whom obviously can’t help to pull Pooh out, but who do add to the drawing. Piglet is pulling the tail of a mouse and another mouse at the end of the line reluctantly moves to hold the hedgehog, all to help the pull!

 

Shepherd also adds little elements to his drawings to express the changing seasons, from the wind, cast shadows, sweeping leaves, ripples of water and slashes of rain.

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Pencil drawing of Pooh and Piglet in the Wind

Look at “Piglets ears …streamed behind him…like banners”. Shepherd animates the 3 stages, 3 little vignettes. The strong wind is explained with Piglet’s ears, his squinting eyes and one single leaf.

 

Drawing of Piglet in the wind – 3 vignettes – animation

The drawings all seem so naturalistic, but if you look at the drawing of Rabbit and Tigger you can see that Tigger is drawn from a toy with stumpy legs and expressionless, while Rabbit is from an actual Rabbit with squiggly fur (because Christopher Robin didn’t have a rabbit teddy so Shepherd drew a real rabbit). Shepherd creates his characterisation not through facial expression but postures.

Tigger the toy and a naturalisitc Rabbit

Pooh’s face hardly changes but his sturdy unflappable nature is shown in his solid stance, his arms behind his back listening earnestly.

Eeyore and Pooh with expression through gesture and stance

 

Shepherd and Milne worked together on the page layouts, “There came a loud buzzing noise”. The text and image work together so that the text pushes up the bees.

Pencil drawing of Pooh looking at bees
Ink drawing of Pooh looking at bees around the text

 

Both Milne and Shepherd add their own humour wherever they can; Pooh says ‘Ow. You missed the balloon” when Christopher Robin shoots him rather than the balloon. But Pooh is just a stuffed toy, and in the illustration the gun is just a pop gun …

Pencil drawing of Pooh & Christopher Robin with a toy pop gun

Often the images alert us to the story before the text, so that children are brought in on the joke before the text, as in when Pooh is looking for Eyeore’s tail and pulls Owl’s bell-pull.

Pooh at Owl’s house looking for Eeyore’s tail which is the bell pull

There are so many sophisticated little choices Shepherd has made, scaling down the size of Christopher Robin in relationship to the toy, creating character through gesture and stance rather than facial features, setting the toy characters within a naturalistic setting. The publisher also recognised Shepherds enormous contribution as he was paid not just in one off payments but shared in all royalties.

 

For me Shepherd’s drawing and Milne’s text are a pure joy and the perfect synthesis of two art forms which are in equal measure simplistic and sophisticated.

 

Ann Witheridge – London Fine Art Studios – Art Courses: Full-time, Part-time, Evening, Weekend & Short Courses 

Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

The Encounter
Drawings from Leonardo to Rembrandt

“Do you not see that among the beauties of mankind it is a very beautiful face that arrests passers-by and not their adornments.” Leonardo da Vinci

Today I went to see a wonderful exhibition of drawings at the National Portrait Gallery.

Its premise was so simple and yet revealing. The curatorial side was really nicely balanced; a little art history with well-placed texts and quotes. No convoluted dialogues about the socio-political context or the psychology of the sitter or artist, just informative text about drawing methods and the reason we draw.

‘Work hard and don’t on any account neglect your drawing.’ Michelangelo

The walls were painted a beautiful dark blue grey which set off the simple classic wood frames. Nothing from text, wall colour and frames, took away from or belittled the drawings; that they could be seen for themselves, uncluttered by words or theories. Some of the attributions were a little over ambitious but on the whole, it was a perfect exhibiting that achieved what it set out to do.

Rembrandt Sketches Drawings

Refreshingly the show was laid out neither chronologically or by country so that varying artistic styles could be better appreciated. The Dutch rather more linear approach with some amazing Rembrandt drawings all drawn on one page, demonstrating his thought processes and musings. The Venetian drawings displayed more mass and shadow shapes compared to the more accented and linear central Italians drawings.

Young Man Study

There was an especially lovely selection from the Carracci school who started the first Atelier as we now know them at London Fine Art Studios and across the States and Italy. My favourite was Annibale’s beautiful drawing of a study of a young Man. He must have known the arm was too long, but it is so touching to be irrelevant. I love the quote on the side which makes the drawing even more moving “Non so se Dio Me aiuta”. The softened mass with the red chalk balanced with little accents is so tender too.

“Stranger, do you want to see figures seemingly alive? Look at these, brought forth by Holbein’s hand.” Nicholas Bourbon

Hans Holbein the Younger
Royal Collection
Man Wearing a black Cap

The last room shows many of Holbein’s master drawings. Some feel so modern as if one of the characters is just in the room right next to you.
He is surely the master of exquisite variety of technique and line from the refined drawing in the portrait to the softening of beard with accents and then near scribbled clothing.

The last quote of the show is so encouraging and relevant.

“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be well worth while, and will do you a world of good.” Cennino Cennini The Crafstman’s Handbook, c1400

For drawing is not just about line, it is about the medium you use. It doesn’t have to be for public.( I’m sure poor Van Dyck would be horrified to see his drawing on show.)

So draw in a sketch book or doodle every day – not for end result but for the process itself.

A Fleur de Peau – Visiting Henri Fantin-Latour

2nd Year student and De Laszlo scholar Nneka Uzoigwe took the opportunity to visit the Fantin Latour Exhibition in Paris. It has now moved to Grenoble until 18th June. I remember taking a train to the Bowes Museum to see an exhibition of his work. It was definitely worth it.

 

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Coin de Table, 1872

This Spring I was lucky enough to make a day trip to Paris. It’s purpose was to go see, ‘A Fleur de Peau’, the first and rather monumental retrospective of Henri Fantin-Latour since 1982. As a favourite artist of mine the exhibition did not disappoint. Displayed at Musee du Luxembourg were over a hundred paintings and works on paper by Latour, as well a collection of rare private photos and lithographs displayed alongside working drawings, illustrating Fantin’s amazing imagination in translating reality through to mythology and symbolism.

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One of the things that surprised me the most, was the feel of optical illusion when viewing his work in person. I spent a lot of time in the exhibition walking back and forth in amazement. Fantin’s paintings are highly detailed but only more so from a distance and when flattened in photos. So this  made it hard to photograph certain area’s, when I wanted to take some personal visual notes on his possible processes of application and layering. Up-close a lot of the brush marks were broad and rough and built up in careful layers of thin to thick, which expertly brought to light what could be achieved by simply following the same processes we’ve been learning at the studio.

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A couple of notes I took –

Figures sketched in thin wash soft grisaille – then opaque mid tones brushed on showing form and brush marks – thick dry lightest lights then applied – then colourful glazes and thin opaque darks.

Warmth of background shown through leaves and stems.

If a cold background – a warm transparent umber wash applied first – before adding on opaque greens thinly and expressively for the leaves.

Background pre-prepared for still lives – flowers built up in thin colours and darks sketched in in rich glazes – lights dryly and thickly put in.

 

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Howard Hodgkin Absent Friends at the NPG

 

Howard Hodgkin; Absent Friends

National Portrait Gallery

23rd March-18th June

Yesterday I went to the Howard Hodgkin portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It would not be my show of choice but a dear friend absolutely loves his work and wanted to take a couple of us to see his work.

She was right to bring us; it was so lovely to go to an exhibition, which was just about colour and feeling. A disregard for representation and shapes and why not? If the colours and patterns of shapes work together and balance, which with Hodgkin they do, then the abstraction is rather refreshing and liberating.

This portrait of Peter Cochrane is the most figurative. I love the bold colour and patterns!

by (Gordon) Howard Eliot Hodgkin, oil on canvas, 1962
Howard Hodgkin, oil on canvas, 1962

 

Most shows zoom through an artist’s life chronologically or within subject matter. Here the show started with one of his later pieces and most abstract. It really helped put the rhythm of the subsequent paintings within a context: Seeing the end to understand the beginning. In his painting Absent Friends, is the title ironic or is it even prosaic of me to think that?

Absent Friends

During the war as a young boy, Hodgkin was an evacuee to New York City thereby having the opportunity to visit MOMA and be in a city not focused and devastated by war. This must have been a huge influence. What sort of an artist he would have been if he’d been an evacuee to Wales like my father?

On returning to England he studied at Camberwell under the tutelage of Coldstream. I love Coldstream’s paintings, not least because I was lucky enough that my dining hall at school was hung with Coldstream paintings, (apparently he partly paid the school fees with paintings).

So as with NYC and Wales… I wonder how my artwork would have differed if it had been Hodgkin’s paintings informing every mealtime rather than Coldstream.

With all of Coldstream’s measuring and observation, what they would have thought of each other.

Reclining woman

 

After Camberwell, Hodgkin went to study in Bath where the tutors were much more open to his ideas. Ironically the examples the NPG showed of his time in bath were his most figurative, some of the most wonderful and powerful portrait drawings in Pencil from around 1953, with a strong use of line and mass. I’m sure Coldtream with all his meticulousness and measuring gave Hodgkin a thorough grounding, to help the leap into abstraction.

Drawings

His philosophy on the abstraction from the figurative portrait is equally applied to his use and deconstruction of the frames. It is very playful.

To choose a favourite would be difficult, though the one that sticks in my mind is probably one of the most figurative. I just found the character leaning over very enchanting and the colours so refreshing. Perhaps it is its figurative nature that makes it memorable to me.

Figurative Portrait

 

If the paintings are about a response to people and memory, I would ask if he either has a very rich visual memory, or are his paintings an emotional response to the memory? – two very different things, and in my mind, the latter easier to access.

I wonder what was going on in his mind? Was he being playful or utterly sincere? I do hope a little playful, as this would give the work some freshness and would take away the pretense of some of the written word!

If you do go and see the exhibition it is a wonderful tour de force in colour and colour combinations, in patterns and juxtaposition of shapes.

Girl in Bed

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