Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Archival considerations

Do you remember that great children's story by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit?  There's a wonderful stuffed toy animal mentioned as having been loved so well that all its hair had been worn off.  In the book you see how the Skin Horse had been worn to a frazzle by thousands of hugs - handled with love so often it was way beyond used - it had become "real"!

My wife's childhood Raggedy Ann wasn't quite that worn when I used it as the subject of this (partial image here) birth commemoration piece, made for a friend's newborn in 1971. I'm not sure where the rag doll is now but that child, a young woman today with a lovely little girl of her own, has kept that "certificate" all these years. She now wants to hang it in her own child's room but it slipped in the frame and she has asked if I would reposition it. Hey, I said, no problem!

Once back in my studio with the illustration unframed, it was obvious there were real problems, some age related but others...!

Just a note here, - a framed work of art on paper is a 'sandwich' consisting of a stiff backing, art work secured to that, a window mat with glass on top, all held in place by the frame. With a traditional wood frame you'd likely glue a layer of paper across the
back to ensure a tight dust free environment for the work.

The frame I'd used forty years ago was high quality aluminum based on the original Robert Kulicke frame made for the Museum of Modern Art in the 1950's. No problem there! And, yes, I had matted the piece to keep it flat, isolated from the glass so that any possible condensation under the glass would not come in contact with the art. All right there too! The big problem was the material of the mat board it self!  It was a common brand I'd used often, as they say, back-in-the-day, but being made from wood pulp it was definitely not acid-free. Gases from this board had acted on the drawing paper, yellowing the surface and could have over time destroyed the piece. In extreme cases professional restoration / de-acidifcation is an excellent and not excessively expensive option.

In this Raggedy Ann case, it's a good thing it had slipped now, allowing an archival reframing, saving it for this little girl and perhaps her own child in the future. I love it!

Replacing the old mat with acid free museum-quality board made from rag pulp will minimize the acid damage. Using acid free tape to secure the artwork in place under the mat is also important. (Check diagram) The adhesives on tapes like masking tape destroy paper. Avoid their use at all cost!  Foam-core backing boards, the most frequently used with metal frames, do have an acid potential but since that is activated by light and are in back of the framed item, this isn't a huge problem. Never use ordinary cardboard anywhere in framing! All in all, use the best materials you can afford in all stages of your production, isolate your work (done of course on acid free paper!) from all destructive materials to ensure longevity. When it comes to final protection good archival framing is the best defense! You may really love your work but you don't want to treat it like the old Skin Horse!

For more details,  http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/reports/paperframing.pdf

"Every authentic work of art is a gift offered to the future."   Albert Camus

"To remember where you come from is part of where you're going."   Anthony Burgess

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Expressive line

This week's drawings are a real turn around from last week's post. There we had a highly realistic portrait, (Yes, it was a dog!) - done with the help of reference photo's and preliminary sketches. Today we are talking about expressive work, direct drawings that are reactions to the spirit of the moment. They owe more to Egon Schiele or Alice Neel than John Singer Sargent and Rembrandt.  BTW, If you don't know all these artists, look them up, do a Google search or check a site like art.sy where you can find multiple examples of an artist's work and that of related artists.

Here again after a long absence is Kristy, drawn with Prismacolor pencil on Canson 98 lb Pastel paper. (use the back!) I would apologize to her for distorting her features but I'm sure she knows what I wanted in the drawing and it was not photographic realism. Working loosely in this manner - not worrying about a tight rendition - brought happy results as far as I'm concerned! It's a case of stop worrying and start loving your work - relaxing and just enjoying the moment without worrying what your public will say!
- I say, draw!

This second one was done the same day in a similar pose but again with an even freer hand, moving quickly, drawing one line at a time. By setting aside any attempt at actual likeness in both of these we captured her spirit of with a lively line. As usual, slowing down to add a few white high-lights introduces a sense of form more solid than that shown with line alone. If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you know I do like that combination!

"I have spent a lot of years on the outside looking in."  Joseph Barbera

"It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do." Winston Churchill

Thursday, April 18, 2013


This good dog's portrait, one I had foresight to scan and print for my commercial portfolio, is my one painted portrait that has worn well over time. I've done several others, drawings that were successful but none had the strength of this acrylic piece. Where the drawings were done from life, this particular painting was done primarily from photographs, an obvious advantage in dealing with a frisky animal but that could be a risky deal for artistic development.

You might think it easiest to copy one good picture directly but real understanding of your subject needs more. First of all, one photo, one view just doesn't do it!  Unless you are intimately familiar with (in this case) a particular type of animal, it is best to take several photos from a variety of angles to provide understanding of general structure and particular characteristics. Even then, unless you have just the right lighting (and the right animal!), photos rarely provide all the information you'll need.  Doing a series of direct sketches as supplement will contribute to your understanding and help you produce work with convincing characteristic qualities. Without complete knowledge it's much too easy to produce dead, flat work rather than the lively portrait you want.

Naturally, whether pet or person, the same principles apply. I did a child's portrait years ago before I came to understand those ideas. While my drafting skills were good,  the poor kid looked much too much a photographer's subject, - almost a snap-shot! You see the flash in the little boy's face and even sense the position of the camera. It's a great picture of a happy little guy but regardless of paint application it still is a photo,  Even when doing realistic work, You don't want to be a slave to reference photos! The lesson?  Know your subject through reference, experience, and observational drawing!

"If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere."   Vincent Van Gogh

"If skill could be gained by watching, every dog would be a butcher."   Turkish proverb

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ink plus

As I worked to put up last week's post I came across a few additional sketchbook pen pieces I thought might be interesting to discuss.

The little drawing on the left is an offhand doodle in which I played around with two pens, just checking possibilities and testing control. It included some typical snake-y shapes of the period but the rest meant nothing until this funny image grew. I started with an ordinary blue ink ball-point-pen then did some additional work with my Rapidograph #2 fine point.  I liked the dynamic look in the combination of two inks and in later pieces used the two ink idea to more advantage.

The one below, still just a sketch, is a combination of ordinary ball-point pen and, not ink, but #2 pencil.  I love the softness of the gray graphite more and more these days. There's a nice delicacy in it impossible to produce with even very fine pens. 

BTW, The Rapidograph was wonderful for extremely fine work but often needed refilling with its special ink. When it clogged, and that was often, you had to remove the tip with a special wrench, flush it out and when the tip was replaced you really had to work to restart the ink flow. I made some great drawings using a combination of various size nibs but in the end when disposable pens like the Steadtler Pigment liner came along it was just no contest! Aside from the clogging problems and the need to often add ink, the tips wore out and had to be replaced with new nibs, not exactly inexpensive!

This last one is more than just multiple marks. The snake-like cloud shapes above the plane are Rapidograph black ink plus some touches of color pencil. These drawings date back more than 35 years so I think it was early times of my using Prismacolor. It's hard to see here but the plane itself was drawn on a separate sheet, cut out and pasted into the sketchbook page with the clouds, -  collage, I guess!

Speaking of collage,  somewhere in an old portfolio is a very large ink drawing, 30x40 I think, made up of several different parts, all sewn together! To do it, I used high quality heavy rag paper which would support stitches without tearing.  It was very affective and made for an interesting look!

As you can see, there are many ways to approach drawing with ink and certainly at least as many creative ways to combine ink with other media.  It's all Fun Stuff -  So break a leg!

"Collage is the twentieth century's greatest innovation."   Robert Motherwell

"Different is better when it is more effective or more fun."   Timothy Ferriss

"It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities."   J. K. Rowling

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Pen stroke

This nude, done several years ago, is shown only partly so that we can zero in on the subject of this weeks blog, the pen stroke and the "artist's hand".
 Working with a fine line Staedler pen I've drawn simple outlines and added hatching to indicate shadow/shading in order to show form.  I've included a close-up so that you can see how little hatching is needed to suggest shadow and form.   You can see how quickly those hatchings were done, one quick line after another in which you see the slight curve in each line because of the wrist action's arc.  Really, it's all in the wrist!

 Sometimes it's not fine art that is the object but a record, a plan, or a nebulous idea that needs to be visualized, - then those hatchings tend to be quicker, less substantial, - just enough to get across the idea of shading or volume .

The jug and antique shears were part of a book illustration idea of a few years ago. You just never know where or how your talents with a pen in hand may be used!

  And .... you can always draw the cat!

"Art is skill; that is the first meaning of the word."   Eric Gill

"The song of the curved line is called happiness."   Rene Crevel