Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What ME wait??

Well, I've begun work on other aspects of the project while waiting for the poplar panels to ship. There are quite a few aspects to this project! The painting will likely be the least unfamiliar territory, and because of this, will likely be the "easiest" part of the process. THERE, I've cursed it now!!
Anyway, as to what's been occupying my time lately. I've scanned images of the Mona Lisa framed and unframed, front and back, into my computer and sized them to the specifications given in the excellent book Mona Lisa Inside the Painting. The final piece is about 20.5 inches wide and 31 inches tall. framed, it actually looks pretty good sized. The frame is about 5 inches wide and very ornate. In Photoshop, I isolated a section of frame and shopped for molding pieces that gave the proper shape to the frame molding (see the accompanying picture of the moulding test layup). I cut and glued up the pieces into a section that I'm sculpting the frame detail on to. I've discovered that the painting is actually in two frames. The first is a flexible oak frame that is braced across the back with sycamore pieces that keeps the painting support from warping. This frame is hidden beneath the second frame, which is the decorative frame. The picture with the first post shows the decorative frame. After the frame detail is sculpted to my satisfaction, I'll mold the frame section and manufacture about 12 feet of frame that I can cut and assemble into the final frame.
I've also been reading a LOT of technical books about pigments and painting techniques of the Renaissance, I'll certainly be busy in the months waiting for the panels to dry. I need to test sizing and gesso formulae and find and purchase pigments and decide on and test painting media and glazing techniques. I got an A in Art History when I did my copy of the Mona Lisa 30 years ago, but THIS one is going to be a MUCH better product.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

First Things...well...FIRST!

My feeling at the outset was that unless a suitable poplar panel could be obtained, that the project wasn't worth pursuing. I cast around for a while looking at various lumber yards on and offline, asking about the possibility of getting a solid poplar panel measuring 22"W x 32"H x 1/2"D. No one supplied such a wide one-piece panel. There were plenty of plywood panels, or modern painter's panels that are cradled by a framework of pre-fab supports, or glued-up panels. No one had or offered a one-piece solid poplar panel that size.

Then, I found a Pennsylvania lumberyard online named Smith Lumber, that has its own sawmill. Intrigued, I wrote an e-mail asking about the chances of getting a custom panel of the size I need. No reply. Damn!

Then, probably a couple of weeks later...an answer. They COULD do such a panel, if I was not in a hurry. It'd take 2-3 months to dry in the kiln, they explained. I wrote back immediately and assured them that I was in NO hurry. And as a matter of fact, I'd like TWO panels! (I figure this way, I can choose the one with the better grain to do the painting upon.) I'll likely end up doing 2 paintings and photographing the better of the 2 for the blog pictures. This approach also gives me a test painting upon which I can try different techniques and formulae.

But I digress.

After my correspondence with Smith Lumber, I ordered 2 poplar wood panels. They've been cut, I believe, and are drying now.

And so I wait.

Pre-History and Introduction

I began to learn to paint at age 12. My parents bought me a small set of acrylic paints, I think it was for my birthday, and I accepted this gift greedily! The first painting I attempted was a portrait of my brother, Steve. The flesh tones were entirely too red, but the seeds for a lifelong study of the human face and anatomy were sown in that first experiment.

Through the years, my quest for painter heroes led me to the study of the works of Leonardo da Vinci. He was, in my teen estimation, the irrefutable champion of painting. His draftsmanship, his use of color and sfumato, chiaroscuro, and all those other mysterious sounding Italian words hooked me like an eager trout. I immersed myself in study, trying to emulate what I understood of the maestro's method and technique. I took a small sketchbook with me everywhere, and drew relentlessly. If Leonardo had drawn botanical studies, complete with copius notes, I was determined that I would, too. I became a student of the visual all around me. And yes, I learned to write backwards in a cursive style like Leonardo.

And I painted. At first on canvas panels bought from the local art supplier, then pre-made stretched canvasses, and finally, on hand-stretched, self-primed canvasses of my own construction. Religious subjects provided an opportunity to paint the figure and portraits of a sort, and were what the Masters Of Old had painted time after time. I graduated to oil painting during this time as well, and still own the wooden paint box and easel that my parents bought for me 40 years ago.

During these formative years, I also aspired to copy renaissance artwork as well, frequently choosing my favorite da Vinci works to replicate. I used these copies as learning tools, trying to replicate not just the finished surface of the work, but learning lessons in underpainting and glazing, trying recipes for different media.

When I was about 16, my dad (who had a pretty sly sense of humor) told me that he was amused by the concept of a middle-class family having the Mona Lisa hanging in their home. Someone would walk in the front door, and there's THE MONA LISA! I didn't quite get it. How could anyone have the real Mona Lisa in their home? It's in the Louvre! But I appreciated the chance to do a copy of a da Vinci! And at 16, I was too young to be terribly daunted by the task. It turned out to be a crude effort, of course, based as it was on the books and reference I had available to me in Montana at the time. I painted it on a 16"x20" canvas panel from reference that was VERY blue. I think it took me a week to finish.

And there it was. The ill-proportioned, blue Mona Lisa. Hanging over the fountain in our living room. Fooling no one.

But, it was the first painting of mine that my parents actually framed and hung in the family home!

In college, I again tried my hand at Mona, this time as an Art History final project. We were to re-create a famous painting; researching the techniques and methods used by the original artist and doing as faithful a copy as we could. I ended up using a masonite panel, cut to the proper size, and painted in oils using glazes and media better researched than my first attempt. I even tried to recreate the cracking on the original work. This painting hung in my parent's living room until my father passed away, when the painting was given by me to my brother Glenn. After his death, My sister Gretchen has been the guardian.

All of this past history has led me to The Mona Project. I recently purchased a pretty thorough book about the Mona Lisa called Mona Lisa Inside The Painting. The book has amazing photographs of the painting unframed, front and back, describing the work in great detail.

I was inspired to do yet another copy.

This time, the goal is to make the final product as close to the original piece as possible. I'll be painting on a poplar panel, using materials and techniques as close to the real thing as possible, based on all current knowledge that I can unearth. I'll reproduce the frame as well, and the system of braces that are used on the actual piece. My intention is to recreate, as closely as possible, front and back, including the intricately carved frame, a replica of Leonardo's masterpiece. The ultimate collectible.

Welcome to The Mona Project.