Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jean Baptiste Carpeaux Sight Size Art Painting

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

I spent at least three hours per weekday now doing my first color copy of a plaster cast of a sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875). I am including two images that I was able to find of his work online. The cast that I am creating a copy of was cropped (the elaborate hair is too complicated for the intended purposes of this cast) and I wanted you to have a better idea of the kind of sculpture that Carpeaux created.

I am doing an exercise in subtlety, learning to paint with colors (yes, a simple palette), playing with tone, hue, and chroma. This first image shows you my basic Sight-Size setup. The Sight-Size Method refers to the process of setting up one’s canvas in such a way that the model (in this case a plaster cast) will appear to be the same size on the final artwork. In some ways it is a much easier way to train one’s eye/brain/hand coordination since mistakes will be more apparent.

I position myself, standing, about two meters away from my work. You may see the “scotch” (what we say here in Firenze for masking tape) on the floor where my right foot goes. I have also placed some scotch on the wall behind and below the easel to mark my “click-in point,” which helps me remember exactly where I have lined up my body (eye) with the canvas so that I can repeat my vantage point when studying the subtleties of shape.

I start by deciding where the top of the cast is, and then the bottom. I take my steps forward and place a sketchy thin wash of paint onto my canvas. (I am still heavy handed with this, hmmm.) After that, I step back to my vantage point and decide how much correction I need either up or down. It is very unusual to place the mark perfectly the first time. Try it!

I have continued in this way, pacing back and forth, until I have sketched in a construct for the outer (large) shape. Next, I go in and determine what is shadow and what is light within that larger form. Note that the jaw appears too thin, but I have not actually drawn the shape of the head or the jaw. I have designed the shape of that large shadow that includes the jaw, ear, neck, and part of the chest. You can see that my drawing is not exact here – although I did not see it as so far off while I was doing it. [The two marks of paint that you see in the top right of the canvas were demonstrations of the extreme types of stroke one can make with a brush, depending on technique and how much paint is in the brush. For this stage I use VERY little paint and more of a dry brush.]

In this next image, you may see how I have developed the shapes. Because I have been working over several days, my paint had dried and thus, my work got sloppy as I painted darker when refining the shapes in the area of the ear. Note that background is added as needed to help me see the shape. We see in form or mass more than in lines.

Now, I add the background. I am not a very good painter and I have discovered that this project intimidates me because I want to do it right and yet I know the areas in which I am weak. This Carpeaux copy will test me and train me. However, the approaching spring and my missing marble carving is adding to my lack of focus and fear of failure on this project. My background colors are too cold, even as I began to apply them with my palette knife. (That was fun and I would enjoy learning to paint with a knife!)

In this last image, you may see a plaster cast of an eye from Michelangelo’s “David” and a sight-size painting of it to the right (in “grisaille” – white and black). The artist working next to me must sit as he works, and rolls his chair over a carpet! [I am not sure why the carpet is needed because I would have thought that rolling over it would have been more difficult than the tiled, hard floor.] His lower vantage point gives us the ability to work in a closer space within the studio while working on different art projects.

Back to my Carpeaux: Once the background tone is in, I not only can start to determine the relative tones within the subject, but I can also clearly see that my sketch is too large! I had to laugh because when I walked into the studio that next morning, it was if I had experienced ”stone expansion”! “Stone Expansion” is a term that carver Scott Owens coined to describe that feeling (rationalization – ha!) when the marble is cut away to satisfaction, but the next morning appears to have grown overnight! I was hoping (or more accurately, my ego was hoping) that the drawing expanded because I had not wanted to lose my lines as I applied the paint and only painted beyond them. However, once examining the work, I saw that many shapes were off. I am still refining these as I continue the process.

Yesterday, I was told that, "Painting is merely a matter of correcting mistakes." Hmmm, maybe living is too.