Friday, July 27, 2007

Domination Underpainting

Today I've underpainted a small picture on a panel called Domination of the Fishes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Introducing the Membraphone

New idea of the week is a new musical instrument. I was considering how synthesizers tended to suffer due to a lack of expression and came up with a truly three dimensional keyboard that allowed control over pitch on the x axis, like a piano, volume vertically on the z axis, and filter on the y axis. The flexible membrane could be slid left to right to shift pitch, slid up and down to shift filter or pushed harder in to make it louder. A guide beneath the membrane, or perhaps projected onto it, could show the notes for accurate playing. I call it a membraphone after the flexible membrane that is played.

Oil Painting Repulsion Problem

I've been thinking about the repulsion problem. Repulsion of oil, the beading of medium, an effect like painting water on wax, has been a noted problem for fine oil painters for centuries.

The traditional solution to this problem is to rub a raw onion or raw potato onto the picture between layers, and the few traditional painters that I could find still do this. I also found an article report from an egg tempera painter with a similar problem, which he solved by applying a layer of ox-gall (a fluid most commonly associated with watercolours). He had also found that the powerful solvent acetone worked but stopped doing this after he was told that the integrity of the underlayer might be damaged by this. Dali recommended a raw potato, then stated that it's best to take the precaution of rubbing the potato through a fine silk rag, then washing the picture with water, drying it then apply retouching varnish.

I wanted to know what caused this problem and what the onions and potatoes did, and I've come up with a theory. I read from a conservator that all oil paintings crack, it's just a matter of time. This made sense when I thought about it.

I imagined that each layer of paint was not the smooth cellophane of plasticised oil that a glazing artist might imagine, but full of gaps. The gaps might be caused by uneven oil application or solvent evaporation. These gaps, like holes in a bag of rubber bands, the bands like the long oil molecules, grow to become cracks over the years. The fatter, more polymerised, oils would be more long and bandlike, more flexible but have smaller holes.

These holes also give a tooth to overpainted layers, making the application of future oil possible without repulsion. Where the paint is applied evenly and with no solvent, the gaps do not appear or are too small to have this tooth, and so the repulsion of oil occurs.

If this theory is correct, the adhesion problem can be solved by either damaging the existing paint surface to roughen it, or applying a new layer that adds tooth. I'm not sure what the onion does but the potato deposits a layer of starch which must act as this tooth. What it does not do then, is dissolve or digest or absorb the oily surface below (which is what many painters of old seemed to think). Washing the starch away will only stop it working, which might explain why Dali appended the rather odd postscript about adding retouching varnish (which would add the tooth and disrupt the paint surface alone, without the need for the potato at all).

Acetone would damage the molecules to add these microscopic cracks. Perhaps the acids in the onion do the same but I suspect it only deposits starch too, especially as fine sweet Spanish onions were preferred. Depositing a thin tooth layer that is not disruptive to pigments or oils is the solution then, and if starch does not discolour, and to my knowledge it does not, then the good old raw potato should be fine.

If this theory is true then it would be ironic that the smoothest, most stable and crack resistant areas of oil paint are the ones that are impossible to paint over unless the painter first damages that perfect surface.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Chaplin Glazed

The Chaplin picture is now glazed although the bright red neck definitely suffers from the lack of planning the colours beforehand. On Sunday I glazed the top layer on another new picture called The Time For Love Has Nearly Flown and today had a few disasters and partly damaged one nice underpainting with a failed attempt to glaze with opaque colours (this is not too bad because the picture was a study for the big Saint Andrew painting to test this very idea). The second of today's was an underpainting of a dandelion and an arrow which I rather rushed, although it was not complicated. So three less than ideal pictures in four days and so overall today is a miserable day. It seems that two out of every three paintings are more of a lesson in disappointment than the great artworks I always desperately aim for. However I can gain some solace by looking back at famous pictures of the past, each with their failures and mistakes glaring the world in the face, and know that perfection will always be as elusive as antiperfection, total disaster.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Charlie Chaplin 1

Today I've glazed the first layer of a picture first planned and drawn last December. Charlie Chaplin Disappointed at not Being Able to Stop Global Fascism is a surreal portrait in the classic 30's style; a standard face but with symbols too. Tomorrow should complete this first and most important glazing layer which, as is usual for me, is on wood and incorporates the excellent amber varnish in walnut oil in its media.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Many Updates

Good progress on my artwork is being made and this intensive period is starting to reap real rewards in terms of picture quality and lessons learned. There are a few pictures in various stages of progress at the moment:

1. Perseus and the Burning Tree is a picture about ecological destruction, split down the middle with a cowering green forest on the left, a burning screaming tree in the middle and dark rose pink buildings on the dead right where Perseus holds aloft the head of Medusa as a symbol of man's power.

2. Charlie Chaplin Disappointed At Not Being Able To Stop Global Fascism is a surreal portrait in the classic style of these things. This is underpainted and awaiting a top layer.

3. The Time For Love Has Nearly Flown is a very small panel that plays upon visual themes of love hearts and hourglasses making us of my ideas of symphonic painting where a visual motif or theme is repeated throughout the picture with modification like the theme in a musical work.

4. Reaching For The Untouchable Strawberry features a beautiful reclining lady whose golden clothing becomes a desert, as her outstretched arm changes into a gaping mouth achingly reaching towards a strawberry pricked with steel needles on a rope that swings away.

5. Heavy Clouds Over A Misty Desert Landscape plays with heaviness and light, with iron rock clouds chained to the sky over a soft fluffy desert.

6. The Arrow and the Dandelion is an overt picture about ecological damage and parallels a flower with the pose of an arrow that pierces the floor.

7. The Domination of the Fishes is a small panel that plays upon the ideas in my other picture Bye Bye Little Fishes (and thank you).

8. Artificial Venus is a simple female figure study, light on near black like an old Dutch portrait.

There are about four others in waiting too. I can announce that lifesize limited edition giclee prints of both The Last Days of Rapa Nui and Half a Broken Heart are now available. Limited to 12 signed copies the prints are made on archival velvet rag (100% cotton) with lightfast Canon Ultrachrome inks. The current price is £30 ($60 US) plus postage. Please email me if you would like a print.


I've mainly been working on some exciting new sound effects for IndieSFX this month with some painting progress too. I'm experiencing lots of worry this month as the summer blues hits Internet game sales, plus a weird scare where I couldn't seem to download files from my web space. I must have faith and keep working despite such stresses.

My Crying Invader from 2006 is now on public display in Shrewsbury at an interesting exhibition about artificial intelligence. It is not very finely finished but the picture about emotion in computer games does explain itself. More than half of the other exhibits seem to have nothing to do with A.I. and you need to read the text to work out what on earth the artist was trying to get across. Many displays are good though, from a huge LED version of Conway's Life, to a war between dolls and robots.

The picture is of Somebody to Love, my latest finished painting and I think my first of full figures.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Recalling the Canal

One of three recent poems.

Recalling the Canal

Old, like the dragon
in a silver-green sun.
The evening begun.
Birds of steam, and our son.
The fish blinks a message,
then sinks with a smile.
In silence we'll dine,
until dinner is done.

There in the window.
Hole in the sky.
Grey are the eyes
of a lost lullaby.
Memories past,
in a lingering light,
as bright as the sky
in the dragonfly's eye.

Old, we remember,
the boat on the plate.
Canal, brown in state.
Cold, our son on the gate.
Drift and recall,
in peace, our minds flow,
to a long dead September
so long far ago.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Day Four Of The Perseus Glazing

Day four of the Perseus glazing. If anyone ask me if I'd ever painted a lawn one blade of grass at a time I can now answer yes.