When I made this painting I was using rabbit skin glue to size the canvas and an oil ground. I had stretched this on a board, and after applying a layer of white oil paint began to draw into it with a soft graphite pencil. The oil was slow drying (and the room cold) so I had days to add drawing, and to erase with additional paint. The graphite embedded in the paint burnished to a surface with a soft shine in the process of working. No additional fixing or resurfacing was needed as the graphite was embedded permanently in the oil when it had dried. I later mounted the canvas on regular wood stretcher bars and added a frame.
Continued through the summer and fall to draw for a week or so before painting, and then in the later fall to draw directly with paint, generally working for one or two sessions. So I was able to try out one approach after another, and settled into drawing through several stages in one night, an initial drawing using a light violet/gray, then blocking in dark values, redrawing again in red and then to get contrast in immediately, again with black. Then the second session, begin by redrawing and move into color.
I took this painting as far as I could given the time, and would shift some values and color if I still had the model to work from—more interested to continue with new studies.
I picked up a book this past weekend by David Hockney, “Secret Knowledge, Discovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters”, as much out of curiosity as anything. Given what I have known about Hockney, it seemed an unlikely subject. As it is, the book first published in 2001 and expanded and reissued in 2006, has caused a stir in some circles, and chronicles Hockney’s conjecture that the very rapid improvement in the quality of naturalistic representation in drawing and painting over a period of only ten or so years in 1420-30’s may have been made possible by the use of optical projections onto painting surfaces using concave mirrors, lens and other devices.
His research and study, which he has obviously taken very seriously, is based on his own experiments with “copying” devices as used in the past, the visual evidence in paintings, and his observations of how the characteristics of these devices might influence an artists’ choices in mark making and that the look of images the devices create might have influenced the development of style.
These practices have not been widely known he argues, because the knowledge was intentionally suppressed, by the rules and laws of the guilds, for fear of the power and condemnation of the church and because artists naturally protected the discoveries they made that gave them any advantage in their work.
The premise at first seems far-fetched, but he raises so many surprising questions about the artwork and demonstrates plausible ways in which optical techniques could have been used to create certain qualities, that for me, it has changed the way I will look at art in that period, and later. Moreover, it directs my attention to what the idea I have is of what an artist does, and where that idea has come from.
The book is also a great collection good quality reproductions of works by many of the greatest of painters. I am so glad I let my curiosity (and confidence in Hockney) over-ride my caution.
I have been working on a painting at the Art Students League with Costa Vavagiakis that represents an welcome step forward in the way the image is made. A simple change—working with large brushes and no medium. I load the brush, strop away excess paint on the palette, and then drag the paint onto the canvas so that the color and value are built up in layers of pigment. I had been working with small brushes and thinned paint, brushing and drawing out shapes of color and value. This new approach feels better to me, and looks better.