Tuesday, July 31, 2012


This was by far the most complex and time-consuming piece I have ever done. Part of the problem was that I only had less than 2 hours of studio time per day in the past weeks (sometimes no studio time at all), so the whole thing stretched for almost a month and, as I guess is normal in such cases, it lost a bit of momentum. If I had had 10 hours per day to work on it it would not have been more than a week's work.
Isabella in the Kingdom of Love by Lorenzo Costa, 1504-1506
Originally, it was just supposed to be a study of drapery from a drawing featuring Isabella d’Este (a copy from a painting by Lorenzo Costa the Elder called “Isabella d’Este in the Kingdom of Love” - an allegory of Isabella’s coronation. I have never seen the original, although it is in the Louvre - I only had a relatively ugly drawing to work with). I had so much fun drawing that (and modifying the ugly face and hands of the original), that I went on and made another study of a Florentine woman of the same period from the same book (a history of costume). I put the two drawings one beside the other...and suddenly it seemed they belonged together and deserved a background as well. So I joined the sheets, collected reference of arcs, roses, gardens, a bas-relief from a church in Angers, etc... and gave them a context. 

The charcoal under-drawing looked good enough to go on, so I made a digital color study. At this point I wanted a quietly controlled, high renaissance flavor, so I browsed through a book about Raphael and aimed for the same limited color palette and feeling of diffused light. I built the picture in shades and tones of red and yellow only (some shades of green, purple and orange were thrown in as well), starting with the background, then the arch, then the faces. 

Digital color study
Work in progress, with all references laid out

I have a book about wrought iron-work that I collected from a public bookshelf, so I used some reference from that to build a iron gate behind the figures (I used the tracer for that). The figures were built last, so that I could pay attention to all edges.
The finished work with a digitally added background
Although it has cost me much more work that I anticipated, I am very happy with the result, especially if I compare the faces of the original with the ones I painted - without reference! Drapery is a fancy of mine, so I really enjoyed doing that and I think it turned out fine: velvet and linen and gold are quite believable. I also like the composition, although it seems maybe to lack a focus.

The original thoughts about the title were about a “Secret Garden”, “The Garden of the Heart” or something along those lines. Towards the end I realized it could make a perfect cover for a wonderful book by Maria Bellonci that I read a while ago: “Rinascimento Privato” - literally “Private Renaissance”. It is half historical novel, half documentary book and is written in the first person by the voice of ...Isabella d’Este! It could not be more fitting...just dreaming up a bit. This piece will definitely make it into my budding portfolio.
It is about time it was finished: I now have only five days left for my second GLA assignment  - for which I could secure the perfect model!

Friday, July 6, 2012


Auguste Deter was 55 years old when she died in 1906 in an institute for mentally ill in Frankfurt. Alois Alzheimer, who had been her doctor there, examined her brain after her death, discovering the typical fibrils, plaques and tangles as well as brain atrophy, that have become to be regarded as the clearest diagnostic sign of Alzheimer's disease. These findings were not new, but for a coincidence of events, the already well-described disease became to be known with the name of Auguste's doctor, and her name will be forever remembered as the first person diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, although this is actually not true: she was merely the youngest.
I find the idea of loosing one's identity and memory the most terrible nightmare that could occur in a person's life. Auguste had found the perfect description for that: "I have lost myself" she said repeatedly. These words and the haunting photograph of her in the year of her death have triggered an image in my head and I had to get it out. I had just got to know the work of the artist Dragan Bibin, so maybe the moths came from that corner of my memory. 

It's a study in charcoal on standard charcoal paper (a bit too rough for my taste, but I have 25 sheet of it, so I should use it somehow). Maybe one day I will make a painting of it. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012


In the 18th and 19th Century, it was common practice during the study of Arts in European Academies to copy masterpieces of other artists as part of the learning experience. The Louvre museum even issued special permissions to selected students, who were allowed to set up easel and work in the museum rooms. Just think of getting into a museum today with your easel, palette, turpentine and tubes of color and set up shop in front of – say – a Rembrandt painting. You would probably get arrested…
Anyhow, I have a couple of such “copying” assignments in my assignment box, directed mainly at pastel work. For this one, I set out to copy one of Mary Cassatt’s wonderful mother-and-child paintings, called “Sleepy Baby”, painted in 1910. I did it exactly as big as the original, 20.5 x 25.5 inches on Rives paper – though of course I worked from a photo and I have no idea which paper Mary used.

From the technical perspective, I faced a number of difficulties. One major one was to match the colors of the painting. I do not have enough Sennelier pastels to go even close to the wished colors and even my 96 NuPastel set fell short – plus Mary evidently used softer pastel. I tried my best, but you can see clear differences anyhow. According to Mr Maughan, she probably used blue or sanguine pastel rather than charcoal to do the drawing and either did not tone the paper or used a very light tone.  I used blue pastel for drawing, but I do think that Mary used charcoal: there are black lines visible in a couple of places. The color I chose for the toning was definitely wrong – on working on the piece I realized Mary probably toned either with a very light cold blue or with different colors in different areas. I think the latter is the approach I will follow in my next own pastel work, after establishing the value structure in charcoal.
Here is the process shots:

And the final together with the original. They are not fully identical: I swore to cut a finger of my left hand every time I trace (just joking...), so I always draw freehand. Of course it is possible to get identical copies also with freehand drawing, but it takes time and I thought it was not the point here. Needless to say, Mary's is better.
This is mine

This is Mary's 

When you copy a work of art is for the purpose of learning – so what did I learn? A few things:
  • The original has no hard edges anywhere. The center of focus is achieved by contrast and detail. The drawing is quite detailed and fine around the faces but it gets progressively rougher the farther from the faces it gets;
  • Mary was an impressionist. The richness of color in the shadows is what attracted me to the piece in the first place and it was a pleasure to follow through in the rich blues and reds. I liked very much the contrast between the warmish light and the cold bluish shadows.
  • The painting is extraordinaly high-key. I ended up using full white for big areas to get the same luminosity, shading it ever so slightly with yellow or blue.
  • The softness and delicacy in the rendering of the flesh tones and volumes is wonderful in this work – something really worth learning;
  • The work follows the Windmill principle. Here is the key: 1. Dark on light; 2. Light on light; 3. Light on dark; 4. Dark on dark