Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Caravaggio Study

I have been studying and reading quite a bit about Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, or as he is more simply known: Caravaggio.
I wanted to learn about his painting techniques in particular.  I have heard many rumors about this; he never made a preparatory drawing; he worked directly on the canvas; he used mirrors or camera obscura. whatever.  no one will know.  He has been dead for 411 years.  my job is too try and learn how he did it in paint.

I was able to deduce his palette: mostly earth tones (they were the most available) like yellow ochre, raw and burnt sienna, ivory black and lead white (but I use titanium). He also used intense reds too.

Supposedly he toned his canvas with a mid-deep pigment.  I chose burnt sienna.  one coat.  This was painted on linen too (my first time using it- I didn't stretch it as tight as I could have...)  a very smooth surface.*

The secret: tie for first: excellent drawing skills and superb composition. Then: hit your whites first and build your glazes off this.  let the canvas color (burnt sienna in my case) fill in your midtones for you and then layer in the shadows slowly and let the canvas color come through.  When you have areas settled (you are sure of the placements) hit the darks and lights again and define your volumes.

After I was working this up for a bit, I was thinking about the narrative I was creating, and it seemed like the 'wise men' in my canvas were oblivious to the dominant Jesus above them.  He also looks a bit distraught in my version.  I started to think what it would be like if he were incarcerated in a modern prison, and given a tattoo.  I decided on a solid black cross. only fitting. It made him look more human and less like a super man.  also more a bit more bad ass and a little like a thug. I REALLY like this idea of adding tattoos and will explore it further. I am thinking about giving him a few more- need to do some research on symbols...

I will go back into this and glaze it more.  I want to give it a more "jeweled" tone that can only be achieved through glazing.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Thanks to everyone who read the step x step posts.  I got some great feedback.  I'll try to do it again some time soon.  "Autumn" is finished and you can see it here.

I thought it would be fun to show an evolution.  This one is 4 years in the making.  The above image was "finished" today - it measures 12x24"  but it is a re-paint of a much older painting.

If you click on the image you can get a better view of it.  But the real reason you should look at it is because of the texture on it.

Texture?  The texture on there is made up of about 5 layers of thick latex paint from 2007 when I was "spinning" canvases.  I built a steel rig out of the "free wheel" gear off a 10 speed bike and would bolt a 4' canvas to it and spin it like mad while dripping paint on it from above.  It was fun.  they would look like this:
After doing this kind of thing for a few months I decided to become a more "serious" painter and start using oils- and stop spinning canvas.

When I moved into my new studio, fresh canvas was hard to find, and I had all of these spinners stretched and doing nothing. 

* So I scavenged them *

I kept 4 of the better ones, but took the others off the stretchers and used them for my first forays into oil painting.  I cut up the lame ones and stuck them over new stretcher bars, gessoed them up, and started painting.

I took an orbital sander to them to try to knock down the texture, but it was serious stuff...  and I didn't want to go through the canvas.  besides. it was practice.

Needless to say I found one of them the other day.  And I painted over it AGAIN!

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I had a picture of what it used to look like.  I put all 3 images next to each other so you can see what I mean. It is all on the same canvas...

The middle face was painted very early in 2008 just as I was getting into painting.  I was happy with this at the time. I remember I spent some time trying to get it to come out...

Long story short.  I was cleaning out the studio the other day, found it, popped it on the easel and re-did it.  I had to rummage around a bit to find the source photo I had used.
I gave it a little Caravaggio treatment and pushed the black.  I suppressed my colors and kept it basic to focus on form.

Ivory White, Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Ivory Black
- what a difference a few years make...