Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Technique for Chiaroscuro: Pastel, Pencil, Vine Charcoal

Today's medium you never heard of is more of a technique made up of several media that you have heard of, combined in a different way. The drawing at the right shows the broad range of light to dark that can be acheived with this technique, and the subtle and smooth transitions make it an ideal method for rendering the human figure.

While it appears that this drawing was made on a piece of tan paper, the paper was actually white to start with. The first step for this technique is to prepare your surface by rubbing the entire page with a thick piece of vine charcoal. It has to be vine charcoal, not compressed charcoal, as you just want enough coverage to protect the tooth of the paper (the rough surface of the paper that absorbs the pigment or pencil). This step will leave the paper a sort of uneven light gray. Next, get out your soft pastels and pick out two or three (or more) colors that range all over the color wheel. This particular drawing used a teal green, sienna, sky blue and yellow ocre. One color at a time, rub the side of the pastel across the whole sheet, not worrying too much about evenness--that'll come later. As you mix, you should be able to see your neutral background forming, and you can adjust it by adding more of one color than another to get it the way you want. Once you are satisfied with the tone, overlay with another layer of vine charcoal. This second layer of charcoal should even out the tone of the page somewhat, but if you would still like it smoother, take a wad of soft tissue (like Kleenex) and gently rub the surface in a circular pattern until the tones are even and smooth.

From this prepared surface, you will create all of the lights, darks and midtones using three tools: graphite pencil (6B to 9B, very soft), a kneaded rubber eraser, and a wad of tissue. The pencil is used to create any tones darker than the paper tone, using crosshatching or other techniques to achieve the darkness you desire. The kneaded rubber eraser is used to gently lift out the pastel colors to create the highlight areas, and you are able to lift out as much as you please, from a little lighter to all the way back to white. The wad of tissue acts as sort of another type of eraser, but this one helps blend unwanted lights or darks back to the background midtone.

Overall, the technique is very versatile, fairly forgiving, and gives extremely satisfying results. Try it for yourself sometime!

The above images were created by me, Julie D'Arcy, and are for sale in my Etsy shop!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Artistic Media You Never Heard Of: Embossed Prints

For my second installment of Artistic Media You May Have Never Heard Of, I have chosen embossed prints. A striking example of this medium is shown in the banner at the top of this blog. This medium comes under the category of printmaking because the image is transferred to the paper by running a plate of some sort through a press with a piece of damp paper. If you would like to read more about printmaking in general, please go to my lens on Squidoo entitled Printmaking in the Modern Era. While there are various methods for embossing an image into a piece of paper, this method allows you to emboss a permanent image cleanly, create a reproducible image many times, and even gives you the option of adding color to parts or all of the image at the same time. The paper used for this medium is specifically printmaking paper, I like Stonehenge or Rives BFK, because you want to have a fine art paper that can be soaked in water without curling or drying unevenly. This paper will be soaked thoroughly, excess water gently blotted off, and run trough the press with your plate or matrix.

The plate can be practically anything that can be safely run through a printing press. You can use an etched metal plate (the two koi fish in the banner at the top of the blog were created using a deeply etched zinc plate), a linoleum block plate (The Green Man featured in this article was carved out of a linoleum block), a collagraph plate, which is basically a collage of stuff (paper, plastic, found objects, lace, fishnet stockings) glued together to create texture and depth, or even just a simple flat layer of stiff board or flexible plastic (I once saw an embossed print of an angel where the plate had been cut out of a Pringles can lid!). The materials you use for your plate will determine several things: How many prints you will be able to make before your plate is no longer good, and what sort of control you have over the depth and detail of your image. Metal plates will last practically forever and make hundreds, if not thousands of prints, but the etching process requires a great deal of time and monitoring of the etch and the etched lines are decidedly sharp. Linoleum blocks are very versatile, easy to carve, and one can achieve subtle patterns and deep lines, but the force required to emboss the image is strong enough to destroy the plate after a few dozen prints. Plates created by a collagraphic process, where the 3D image is pieced together with found objects, is as versatile as you can make it, but the plate is only as strong as the materials that make up the plate, so it is this strength that determines how many prints can be created.

Whatever materials make up the plate, this method of embossing has the advantage of being rather permanent because of the quality of the printmaking paper. These beautiful papers will hold their images forever unless creased or bent, and make beautiful displays in shadow boxes.

Here are some embossed prints from my Etsy Shop to get you started!
Green Man, linoleum block print
fishy.fishy, a zinc plate etching
Coiled Snake Card, a handmade blank card printed from a linoleum block

Friday, June 6, 2008

First Medium You Never Heard Of: Silverpoint

Rembrandt's Portrait of His Wife
I decided to start with a medium that was near and dear to my heart. This technique was invented in ancient times, was revived during the Renaissance by the great masters, and then revived again in more modern times by late 20th century artists such as Picasso and Joseph Stella.

 Silverpoint (broadly referred to as Metalpoint) uses a thin silver wire (usually Fine Silver, which is 99.9% silver, or Sterling Silver, which is 97.5% silver) to draw very delicate, fine lines on a specially prepared surface. The technique is not limited to silver, as I have used 22K gold wire and pure copper wire, and in ancient times, lead, bronze and possibly other metals were used. This thin metal wire is usually wrapped with or around something so the artist can hold onto it better while drawing. Historically, the wire could be wrapped around a pencil or stick, allowing only the tip to extend out past the end. In my own experience, I use modern mechanical pencil holders, as they come ready to accommodate a variety of widths.

The specially prepared surface (support) can be virtually anything--canvas, wood, parchment--but is most commonly paper. Whichever support is chosen must then be treated with a primer to give the paper some "tooth" (grittiness). In ancient times, this primer was a mixture of binding agent (think something sticky--gum arabic, spit, other stuff that is even more nasty sounding) and white pigment (could be anything--ground up bone, chalk, ashes). In modern times, artists generally use common gesso, an acrylic-based primer. This painted surface can be sanded gently with very fine sandpaper to eliminate brushstrokes.

Once the artist has prepared a metal wire he or she can hold onto, and has a prepared surface, all that is left to do is start drawing. The fine lines on the page resemble the marks made by a very hard pencil, and must be built up gradually to reach the desired darkness. Generally, crosshatching, laying down many tiny parallel lines in different directions across one another, is the best way to create shading. These lines will be very silvery and even show a bit of metallic appearance at first, but over time, the metal will oxidize upon exposure to the open air and turn dark and a little brownish, as can be seen in Rembrandt's portrait of his wife at the top.
Shes Come Undone
Newer metalpoint drawings will appear silvery or like they were drawn with a very hard pencil. The drawing at the right is an example of a metalpoint (silver and gold) that I made a few years ago. This drawing will probably take a long time to oxidize, as it is already framed under glass, and it currently hangs in my home, in the middle of the desert. The speed at which oxidation takes place can depend on all sorts of things, like moisture in the air, pollution, salty air. I have read about techniques to accelerate the process using dilute egg yolk solution, or an acidic solution, but have never tried any of them (so much work goes into a drawing, I can't stand the thought of ruining one).

So, the next question that comes to most people's minds is, if this technique looks so much like pencil drawing, why do it?  There are a variety of good reasons.  The fine lines you can obtain from this technique are much finer than those you can achieve with a pencil.  Another huge advantage to the artist is that these fine lines won't smudge! (Well, okay, I've gotten them to smudge a tiny bit, but only on purpose.)  Granted, because they don't smudge, lines are very difficult (but not impossible) to erase, but since most markings are built up from many small lines, you can make a few stray wrong marks with little harm.  The final reason that I can think of is the durability of the medium.  Drawings in metalpoint should last for at least as long as a pencil drawing, and the primer on the paper will help prevent the drawing from getting crumpled or bent.

So are you all ready to try it for yourself?  Go to this great site to find all of the expert advice, detailed history, and even supplies you will need to get started!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Artistic Methods You May Have Never Heard Of

I was brainstorming about what unique wisdom I could contribute to the blogging community, and I decided that traditional art techniques or other people's work probably wasn't going to get my blog noticed. So I have decided to go on a quest to seek out art forms that my readers may not have heard of before, and explain why they are worth a second look.
Off the top of my head, I've thought of embossed prints, silverpoint, encaustic, TTV photography, wire-wrapped jewelry and double-walled pottery. I'm sure there are many cool techniques out there that I haven't thought of, so if you happen upon my blog and don't see your cool medium of choice there, leave me a comment, and maybe I'll get to learn something new myself! Stay tuned!