27 August 2010

emperor 1

today i finished the first color pattern in my "emperor waves" project. this is a photograph of the full sheet coverage. the image below shows the type of pattern that had to be copied.

i promptly discovered that i had to rule the sheet in a 1" grid in order to make any progress. that's 2430 square inches, if you're counting.

i also found that these forms, which are really fractal in structure, had a strongly stupefying effect on my hand eye skills. i had to break the shapes down into the outline landmark points, then connect these by landmark points, and so on down to the complete form. progress was very slow and incredibly fatiguing: my pace averaged about 3 of the 6" square blocks a day.

at that pace, i wouldn't finish the painting until next spring. but this red was difficult because it was laid on bare paper. the remaining colors are woven into and through the red, which acts as the trellis, so i'm expecting the work will go more quickly.

the insight i gleaned from this is that structures we are habituated to see as textures or patterns are extremely difficult to render as discrete forms. there is no dynamic gestalt, no holistic integration, the way there is to a tree or a human figure, nothing geometrical in the way of cezanne's cubes and cylinders and cones. instead there was an exasperating, nattering landscape of little turrets, boxes, squiggles and blotches, repeated over and over in different orientations, proportions, sizes, configurations. over and over and over.

not for the faint of hand.

this is the working setup. to protect the painting, the laptop with reference image rests on a large sheet of foam core, and i worked with my arms resting on a large piece of cardboard. the paint dishes are placed on a rimmed dish, to guard against accidental spills or drips. i learned not to work in a sweater, which left cashmere lint on the paper.

so ... next up is the pattern of gold figures, which will populate the bottom of the painting and thin out toward the top of the sheet, the spatial complement to the red. after that i lace in some dull yellow, and stitch together the reds with ultramarine violet. that fills out about half of the painting, and the remaining colors are largely ornamental.


Jeanette said...

Good heavens Bruce, you are glutton for punishment! However, your planning and patience will pay off in spades. I can see how the unstructured shapes in water create confusion as there is no predictable patterning.

I took some images the other evening of water patterns on a lake and may try on, but on a much much much smaller scale.

Finn Hart said...

Going back & forth from the laptop to the painting just *sounds* exhausting. Did you given any consideration to using a projector so you could trace the colors in-place? Or would that be "cheating"? What does "cheating" mean in this context?

Bruce said...

good to hear from you, john. tracing is never "cheating", it's just another tool; i've posted in the past comparisons of different drawing methods -- freehand, tracing, freehand plus correcting from a superimposed photo ... and using a grid, as here.

the main considerations were: tracing just means doing the whole thing twice, with pencil and with brush; tracing is itself hard work, physically; tracing all the outlines of all the color areas would be horridly confusing to interpret later (many of the areas are extremely small, a sixteenth of an inch); doing the tracings separately would mean quite a lot of handling of the sheet (scuffing, fingerprints and hand oils, taping to a wall, etc.); and all that pencil lead would mean quite a lot of carbon buried in the painting, which would dull the color.

the big problem with working from the computer was *seeing each shape*. if you see the letter "A" or a square or a familiar object, you can immediately reproduce the general form. fractals and blobs evade that generic visual capability.

Finn Hart said...

Bruce, your original explanation of why it was difficult to go grid-to-grid made a lot of sense (holding the almost random noise pattern in your head as you went from screen to canvas).

I was thinking of projecting a high-contrast single-color image onto the painting and directly filling in that color, no pencil involved at all. One difficulty would be detecting what has been filled in yet vs. what hasn't, but I assume the eye would be able to tell projection-only from projection-vs-watercolor areas. Gotta make sure you're not keystoned, though! Maybe "tracing" is the wrong word for what I meant.

Ah, just thinking of working under the light of a projector brings back fond memories of making a fake ID "board" during my late teens. I'm still sad I threw away the photo album of reject polaroids during a fit of paranoia.

Bruce said...

john, i contemplated the "paint in" method you describe and decided it wasn't feasible.

first, it's terribly fatiguing both to do detail visual work in dim light, and to hold the arm vertical on a wall hung paper, at least when you're and old man. then it's hard to apply paint evenly when it's "overprinted" by the projection, avoid drips with the paint, and avoid smudging areas already painted but not dry. finally, as you say, the projector has to be directly perpendicular to the paper, which means either moving the projector around the big paper area (a lot of fussing with alignment, focal distance, focus, etc.) or moving the paper around on the wall in front of the projector (a lot of fussing with alignment, secure taping, posture compromises, etc.). and finally, the work can only be done at night; i don't have window shades in the studio.

i thought of circumventing some of those issues by building a projector stand that would project vertically downward onto a table, but that only solves somewhat the problems of drips, fatigue and positioning. (the commercial stands are supported by a pipe that clamps to the table edge, which means you cannot project into the center of a large sheet.)

i actually may try building a vertical projection stand for future projects, depending on how this work goes. but in terms of *expediting* work, i can't visualize how the other methods would be faster with the same accuracy.

Adam Cope said...

" .... at that pace, i wouldn't finish the painting until next spring."

bruce - now it is nearly next spring. i do hope u r well!

intersting post as per usual. i first thought was that working on such a large scale flat, using a the squaring up technique, esepcially of something essentailly abstract... there is a danger of not being able to stand back & get a distant ovrall view of the art work. pin it up on the wall from time to time!

i didn't do this when doing a poster sized half-tone of the giza sphinx...it ended up with a pyshotic frown rather than the quaint enimgatic know-it-all expression!