Friday, 4 April 2014

Drawing No Conclusions

Recently I sold one of my watercolours at the Warranwood Art Show. I had a ceramic piece in the exhibition as well but Avis Gardner had a much more intriguing little treasure and deservedly scooped the ceramic award.
I love drawing and painting and years ago went through a crisis of confidence when I decided no one was buying 2d art so I stopped doing it. I felt that ceramics were more useful and functional and of course there would be a market for them. There is somewhere.

But I miss drawing and painting and it is a heck of a lot easier to store. I received a book on egg tempera many decades ago and fell in love with the images but felt the discipline of it was too daunting for a flibbertigibbet like me. Recently I came across a beautiful blog  by an egg tempera painter who also loves his garden and the food he can produce from it. I still felt overwhelmed reading through the instructions on egg tempera but there was one brief mention about milk tempera.

 I didn’t wait to find details but raced off to play in the studio and experiment.

 I think what appeals to me about it was that there was nothing to lose. I always feel a greater sense of achievement in producing something from nothing by just adding effort. Like the production of this grass basket from a grass that grows at my back door and delightfully sheds shafts with seed heads in autumn.

  A tablespoon or two full of milk and a sprinkle of 3 different food dyes will last for hours and every layer is exciting to develop. So this week I have had fun and feel inspired to keep going and experimenting.

The first experiment was just on good quality recycled printer paper and was just to see if it was possible to do. The paper warped and bubbled but a lovely sheen built up very quickly. The milk dries quickly between layers and subsequent layers can be built up without disturbing the underlying layers too much.

 Milk has fat in it which combines with the pigment to form a suspension. It also has casein in it which is an early ingredient in plastics. We have all seen milk drips spilt on tabletops dry to a sheen. What you end up with is a sort of primitive acrylic watercolour surface.

 With egg tempera it is important to have a stable surface on which to paint so wood panels have traditionally been used and gessoed with a toothy surface for the paint  to hold onto. Gesso is a mixture of whiting and a binder. Traditionally rabbit glue was used but that all started sounded complicated until I read that you could use gelatin as the binder. Gelatine, milk, whiting, pigments (especially earth) were all within my spheres of knowledge and interest. I haven’t got to the stage of gesso but that is on the agenda. I have made one experiment with clay and milk and will be on the lookout for different coloured soils to use as pigments from now on.

I have also done a preliminary test on some bisqued work to see if it has a similar effect to terra sigillata, something that I have done for some time now with my work. Terra sigillata is an application of the finest particles of clay which are applied in several thin layers. The tiny particles fill in the minute pits on the clay surface and develop a refractive sheen. I will try this on an unfired piece(greenware) and see if it is effective.

I have been happy with just experimenting on thicker quality cartridge to prevent the warping problem but will progress to gesso on Masonite for a more formal painting when I understand more of the qualities of the paint.

There is a dreamy 60s picture book texture to the images.

And my paintings are tiny. I found some old A7 sample paper pads that I bought in an art shop a few years ago and since I no longer remember the price of the bundle they have lost their overwhelming preciousness which always daunts me in experimenting.


The subject matter of my fourth painting was tiny and insignificant as well.
I visited Cairns last weekend and all forms of life there were new and different for me. My son photographs underwater life but I found as a land lubber that the tropical land surface was teeming with minute life forms and I saw a tiny little yellow bug clutching onto a miniature pink dandelion like, flower in the overgrown lawn.  I am trying to see the world as I once saw it as a child and as I wish to explore it with my new grandchild to be born in a few short months.

This week I also read about Zentangling  a groovy name for doodling. If that is what it takes for you to get into drawing and finding something else within yourself, go for it. Combine it with milk tempera or stitching or quilting or printing. It’s little enough to hide away until you become more confident and feel proud enough to display it. 

My face painting daughter's milk painting

I remembered after starting this that milk is really good for lifting ink stains!

And while you are at it check out this great article on allowing kids to draw before they write.     
Love it! Have a great week trying something new. 

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