March 17, 2014

Slapping Onself Silly Over Medicine

I made a painting of a cat with its arms and legs a tangle of movements. I thought that I had been influenced by Picasso and perhaps was. But after having developed vocal and motor tics with my present illness I realize that to an extent it was a self portrait. Even the nervous miniature paintings around the perimeter of the painting are about movement. They were meant to represent the fly that the cat is attempting to catch.

The irony is that as I was on the cusp of being sent to a movement disorder clinic to try yet another medication I decided to check the medication I am already on, doing a thorough search this time for an extended list of possible side effects. Sure enough, involuntary movements was on the list. Pays to check carefully.

March 7, 2014

Revisioning the Cat Book

With a commission completed and no more scheduled and an exhibition nearing a close, I am about to draw and paint for myself for a while. Yet as I was about to slosh around in acrylics I remembered that there was one more work in progress that could use some attention: The Small Book of Marvelous Cats. What was needed was two more illustrations for the last two unpictured rhymes and the updated version of the first draft of the book. The first draft became a first draft after I started illustrating a new batch of rhymes for the cat with pictures that were twice as large as the former ones and much more detailed. After much hesitation because I knew that it would entail a lot of work, I decided to bring the first group of illustrations up to the level of the second.

Above is the first attempt at a redo. The illustration at right is the original one for the poem “Little Cat up a Tree.” The first one was adequate but the second version is definitely more refined and detailed. Something else changed in the remake. The first drawing is from the perspective of a person observing a small cat up in a tree. The second rendering seems to be more from the perspective of the cat looking downwards.

March 6, 2014

A Painted Box

A commissioned art work is always a challenge. An artist’s artistic abilities are tempered by a client’s need for a particular kind of interior decoration. I don’t mind at all tailoring my painting or mosaics to suit a particular location. It is certainly different, however, from painting freely in the studio. Technical considerations often come up which create a need to learn a few new skills. A client’s tastes and interior decor are factored in as well.

I recently completed a painted box that is to be displayed on a mantel underneath a reproduction of a Piranesi. I didn’t look at my client’s Piranesi print and perhaps I should have, because for some reason although he said “Piranesi” my brain heard “Nicolas Poussin.” Images such as the painting reproduced here danced in my head: dark shapes against a turquoise blue sky. Piranesi, conversely, was more famed for his black and white etchings. Nevertheless, my painting was influenced by classical traditions and hopefully will look just as well beneath a Piranesi as it would have with a Poussin.

My client was interested in a box painted with images of birds and flowers. He is a bright and discerning fellow, with a formidable musical career as scholar, educator, and performer. For this reason I made two mock up studies in acrylic on a long piece of paper that would wrap around the box so he could see what it would look like and have personal input into the aesthetic process. My first painting study was basically a dark on light design. But my second design was based on my visions of the wrong painter, Piranesi, and was dark on light. Good thing I made a second version because that was the one my client chose.

Making the box was somewhat problematic. The top was made from picture molding and the rest from hand crafted poplar. I didn’t have the equipment or skills to create it so I had to find a picture framing willing to take the trouble on. No one wanted to do it. I finally found someone in Charleston willing to make a lid with a matching box because after conversing with him for some time we found that we had attended the same graduate school in New York and knew the same people. Connections and New York “bonding” always come in handy.

The box arrived from Charleston and although well crafted, needed something more in the way of finish. Once again, it turned out to be a wise choice to have my client look it over before I painted it. We decided that the interior needed to be refinished and painted, the inside lip and base sanded and coated with shellac. A final addition was four squares of vitreous glass on the base to raise the bottom of the box.

Before painting the box, I had to finish each side in the traditional way that icons were prepared - several coats of rabbit skin glue followed by several coats of cooked marble dust gesso - applied hot, then cooled and sanded between coats. Because it was a box instead of a flat panel, each side had to be prepared, dried, then turned to do the next side. The process made me recall why I had stopped making painted boxes some years ago. The final step was to seal the gesso with my home made ruby shellac - which added a nice golden glow to the gesso. My client approved of the as yet finished but unpainted box.

For subject matter, I chose images of wildflowers that were local to South Carolina as well as Carolina wrens. The wrens, however, I painted more gold than brown so that they looked a bit more like canaries - more in keeping with Piranesi. I used some rather pricey colors on this painted box; real lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite green and sedona. This made the overall effect jewel-like and very much like a classical painting. The nice thing about painting small on a slick surface is that expensive pigments go a long way.

The commission finished, I can now turn to my haphazard, whatever inspires me art work.