Thursday, July 14, 2011

From Clothlets to Bleeding Art

The sketch above was made by Anne Rippy, a woman on our sketch crawl to the Screen Door last Sunday.  She did the drawing as well as the painting right there.  I asked her if she would send me her sketch and her explanation of the mediums she used because her method of getting color onto this sketch was not only extremely handy, but also a very interesting revival of an ancient process by which colors could be stored and easily transported.  First, here's Anne's explanation:
When Anne showed us her sheets of super-pigmented tissue paper (the Spectra Bleeding Art tissue), I remembered reading a while back about a Medieval process called the making of clothlets.  I hunted around until I found my copy of Daniel Thompson's The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting,  and sure enough, on page 143 there's a discussion of clothlets, which I am quoting here at  length:

"The method of making the colour out of the seeds of the Crozophora [sunflower] is described in many medieval texts.  It was prepared. . . in the form of "clothlets," bits of [linen] cloth saturated with the juice of the seed of capsules.  The capsules were gathered in the summer, and the juice extracted from them by squeezing gently, so that the kernels, the seeds proper, were not broken, but the juice of the capsule was expressed.  When a good supply of this juice was ready, cloths were dipped into it, dried, and redipped and redried over and over, until they had soaked up a substantial amount of the colour."

Thompson goes on to explain that in some cases the cloths were first soaked in lime water in order to neutralize the natural acidity of a juice and render the color of the juice more blue.  In other cases the already-soaked cloths were then exposed to the vapors of ammonia to further increase the alkalinity and make the color more violet.

He goes on to explain that after drying, the clothlets were stored between the leaves of a book.  "Clothlets were a most convenient form of colours for illuminators.  It was only necessary to put a bit of clothlet into a dish, and wet it with a little glair [egg white] or gum water [gum Arabic, another binder] , and the colour would dissolve out of the cloth into the medium, forming a transparent stain.  A good many colours were prepared in this way for late medieval book painting, as transparent colours came to be more and more prized by the painters of miniatures.  Almost any coloured vegetable juice could be prepared in this way with at least some temporary success;  and everything possible was tried;  but the turnsole [sunflower] colours were the most satisfactory and important."  (page 143- 144)

I'm playing around with making some clothlets using the bright orange sap of a celendine poppy plant from my front garden.  Have any of you ever made paints from vegetable or mineral sources?  I'd love to hear your stories in the comments section here. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Strange Appeal of Headlessness

While sketching yesterday with some friends at an antique place that is NOT the Tobacco Barn, I found a lovely concrete statue of a headless Virgin Mary.  She was looking fine, stepping on that snake as usual, opening her hands to send out peaceful, calming rays.  The only thing missing was her head.  I wondered if they were selling her.  She was stuffed back in a corner behind a metal chair, and her head was nowhere in sight, not even on the floor under the chair.  But there was a tag on her, and it read "Headless Mary" with a scribbled-over price that looked like $29.  A great price!

I saw my friend over in another area, so I told her about the Mary.  She was very interested as she already has a headless Buddha and we agreed that headlessness can be a good state, sort of a No Mind, No Problem state taken to pleasant extremes.  We went back over to Mary, but this time it was clear that the price was not $29, but $59, sadly out of our reaches.

So I drew her again, and then went over to the wonderful opium bed across the room and drew it quickly, noting the translation of the Chinese characters carved over the opening:  5 Thousand Years of Prosperity and Longevity, and noting that the price has been reduced from $3800 to $3400.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making a Coracle

Last summer Jacob, my grandson, and I decided to make a Welsh coracle, a small boat of ancient design, traditionally made of willow branches and animal hide.  We searched out directions for making it, our favorite being Francis Galton's 1860 book The Art of Travel, in which he says in step 3:  "Kill two bullocks and skin them" , with no details on that operation.  (We found newer, less grisly alternatives for the boat's skin in The Whole Earth Catalog and in several YouTubes.)  Above is Jacob seeing if the boat would float in shallow water in a small river near my house.

Above is a page from our notebook.  We first spent a lot of time finding sufficient willow to make the boat.  My friend Maggie Cheney told me about a friend of hers' pond that had willow trees growing along the banks, so we went out there with Maggie one evening last summer and trimmed around 30 long branches and brought them to my house.  We peeled all the willow and saved the bark to make willow paper, then stood the branches up to dry.  Later in the summer we had to soak the branches to make them flexible.  They were so long that we improvised a trough for soaking by lining the ditch in front of my house with a big piece of plastic and filling it with water.  After a couple of weeks the branches were flexible.
We stuck the ends of the branches in the ground in an oval shape and wove a large basket as shown in the first notebook on the right side of the page.  After the basket was secured with tarred twine at the joinings, we made a seat out of ash wood and lashed it into place.  Then last week we covered the boat frame with heavy canvas, as shown above.  We sewed it in place and then painted it with roofing tar to waterproof it.  Two coats seemed to do the job.  So then we set out for the river with the little boat tied to the roof of my VW.   The river is walking distance, but the boat was a little awkward for us to carry down a hill and along a road, so we drove.

When we got to the river we had to carry the boat down a trail until we found a good place to put it in.  Then came the big moment of seeing if it was waterproof and if it floated, and finally, if it could hold us, and most importantly, if we could balance in it.  The above photo shows Jacob enjoying the boat.