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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2480 - 2483

 2480. The mural was one of those crowd scenes so popular in the Renaissance in which groups of people throng together in order to see some religious event taking place, the skinning alive of some saint for example. The crowd provides the painter with ample opportunities to show off his skills.

 2481. Here you might see an old woman on the way to the market, unaware of the drama going on, she drags a young boy by the arm who strains backward to looking over his shoulder to get a glimpse of what is happening. His sister of the same age is self-absorbed in carefully examining a bird she has by a string in her hand.

 2482. Right behind this group are some angry young men brandishing their weapons, their faces distorted with rage, are shouting something at someone, and beyond them some indifferent spectators wondering what the commotion is all about.

2483. Each portrait is an opportunity to reward some rich donor who has given to the church and so the old woman might be the wife of an important cloth importer, and the boy and the girl are his grandchildren. The master worries that the merchant will not be happy with his grandchildren’s portraits, because grandparents never are.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2476 - 2479

 2476. To kill some time until he learned more about the process he decided to simply paint another face right next to the one he already painted. He took his trowel and trimmed off the edges of his first face, and made his edges as straight as he could and then he plastered another rectangle. The first rectangle measured  8 by 10 inches, and the new patch was the same size and just to the right of it.

 2477. That evening he painted his second face and it was just as bad as the first. Like the first face, it looked straight out at him symmetrically, with the nose in the middle. There were black lines around the eyes, the lips were red, and the nose was a mess because it was a shape with no lines in it to go by.

 2478. The nose has those two little circles called the nostrils, and he tried to paint then into his portrait but when he did his painting looked like a portrait of a pig, so he had to wash it out and do that part over. When he did it over he could not get his colors to blend quite right, so when he was finished the second face looked like a person whose face had been in an accident.

2479. The master at that time was painting a series of faces into the almost finished mural. Faldoni was especially fortunate because of this as it afforded him many opportunities to see how certain impossible problems of drawing a simple face might be dealt with.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2472 - 2475

 2472. The master said to his students, “If you would learn to paint, here is what you must do. Follow these two rules, and you will surely succeed. The first rule is: take a paintbrush, stick in some colors, and then apply different colors all over the surface of your little painting. That is the first step.”

 2473. “The second step is, repeat the first step over and over for twenty years, and the sooner you begin the better.”

 2474. Only Faldoni understood what the master painter said, as all the others thought it was just a jest. He returned to his cell that evening and had another look at the face he had painted. If he was going to paint the entire back wall of his cell as a fresco painting he had to do one of two things.

2475. He had to scrape out the face he painted and start over, or he had to compose a drawing that would incorporate the face into a large composition. He was unable to do either of these things. He could not conceive of a picture for the entire wall, much less one that would utilize the face he had completed.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2468 - 2471

 2468. All fresco painting becomes lighter and whiter as it dries out, and the old masters had to adjust all their colors accordingly, but to Faldoni it was an inexplicable surprise, and he decided that what he must do is watch the master very carefully, and figure out exactly how this kind of painting was to be done.

 2469. Yes, Faldoni imagined that he could learn how to paint a face by watching a master painter paint a face, and simply making a mental note of the steps involved. How many steps could their be? Perhaps there were eight or nine steps all together, and he would watch the master do several faces, note down the steps, and then he would be able to do a face himself.

 2470. This is an odd idea that Faldoni had, although many people share the notion. Who would ever imagine that you could learn to play the violin by watching a violinist play. Could you learn to speak Chinese by watching Chinese people talking? No, you cannot learn a complicated art by watching it being done. There is only one thing you can learn by watching, and that is how to watch things. And even that is not certain.

2471. The master was well aware that his students thought they could learn to paint faces by watching him paint a face, and the notion was irritating to him, because he though it belittled his art. He expressed his disdain for the idea with this little lecture.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2464 - 2467

2464. The colors he had were a sort of leaf green, a sky blue, a kind of sickly yellow in which brown got in by mistake, and also black. Having no drawing to go by, he started right in and painted a face. It was a green-blue face, and the background was partly yellow and partly black.

 2465. If he had painted his blue-green face in Germany in the time between the wars it would have been considered a work of German Expressionism: like something by Otto Dix, or George Grosz. But this was not 1928, but 1290, and such painted faces would not have been appreciated in his convent.

2466. Nevertheless, he liked the face he had painted, for some inexplicable reason, and he did not scrape it out, as he intended to when he began. Perhaps he liked it because he had painted it, and that was all there was to it.

2467. In the morning the first thing he did when he got up was to take a careful look at his painting. The plaster had dried completely during the night, and all the colors had changed very much for the better. It was as though a little bit of white had been mixed into each of his colors by a very skillful hand, bring all his tints into a sort of unexpected harmony. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2460 - 2463

 2460. Faldoni peered down into the remote recesses of that hard-headed brain of his looking in vain for an image to paint a picture of, but even in the most obscure corners of his mind there was not a single image he could call his own. 

 2461. There were images in his mind of course, but every one of them belonged to someone else, and had a signature, so to speak, or as we would say now, they had a copy-write. The best he could do was picture one of the paintings of his master that he had seen in another nearby church.

 2462. Having pictured these other paintings to himself, he attempted to alter those images in his minds eye, but his alterations were so painfully inadequate that the original image quickly restored itself in his head. So, with every thing in readiness he put off beginning to work. Waiting patiently for the good Lord to put some pictures into his head for him.

2463. Just as a test however, he plastered a small section of his cell, right in the middle of the back wall. He plastered a patch only about one foot square. Earlier in the day he had mixed up a few colors, even though he did not have any idea what he would paint. But that was how the master did it, so he did the same thing.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2456 - 2459

 2456. But it wouldn’t have mattered if Faldoni had a huge sheet of good paper because he had a more serious problem. He did not have a single idea in his head to use as the basis for painting the walls of his room. This odd problem had never crossed his mind during the time he was gathering all his materials and plastering his walls.

 2457. Somehow he thought that when it came time to actually paint, a good idea for a painting would come into his mind as if by magic, and he would just sit down to work and execute it just like a servant doing the bidding of his master. 

 2458. It certainly is very odd that this most difficult and perplexing problem, the shipwreck of so many artistic and creative endeavors, is often not even considered until the moment of truth arrives. The moment of truth is that time when, after all the careful preparation of the materials has been done, the first marks have to be put down onto a piece of paper.

2459. The paper may be blank for a long period of time, and then the hopeless new artist puts down a few chicken scratching sorts of marks with a pencil, and just as swiftly erases them out, and looks around in fear lest someone notice such impossibly stupid shapes. What was supposed to be a face looks more like an unbaked lump of bread. And who does not begin by attempting a face? 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2452 - 2455

 2452. After this he would cut up the big drawing into sections, planning each piece of the work according to how much wall he wanted to plaster and paint in any one given session of work. Then he would be ready to start.

 2453. The above is how fresco painting is done. It is not the method for oil painting, and it is of no use for watercolor, it as not to be considered when doing a work in egg tempera either. Only the art of fresco painting has these elaborate steps, and this is the reason hardly anyone has done it for hundreds of years. 

 2454. All of these preparatory steps could not be attempted by Faldoni for the simple reason that he had no paper, and no way to procure any. Back then in 1290, you could not go to the store and buy a pad of a hundred sheets of pure rag paper for a few ducats. And besides, even if you could Faldoni did not have any ducats.

2455. There was no such thing as leftover paper, because paper was too valuable to waste. The cut off sections of the big drawings used for the mural decorations were dried out, flattened and stored, and then cut up to be used by the apprentices for preliminary drawings.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2448 - 2451

 2448. But back to the question of how Faldoni was going to paint the walls of his cell. He knew how he had to go about it. The first step was to consider the size of his first wall. As we mentioned, the back wall of his cell was 6 feet by 7 feet. He had to get a small piece of paper about 6 by 7 inches, and do a little sketch of his idea.

 2449. After he finished his little sketch, he might do a little larger and more complete drawing on a piece of paper, lets say: 12 inches by 14 inches. In the bigger drawing he would put more detail. 

 2450. After finishing the larger drawing he would grid it off. I am not going to tell you what “grid off,” means because you can see an example in the picture above, or in any art history book, or if you do a Google search under the subject, “How to enlarge a drawing.”

2451. After finishing the more detailed drawing and gridding it off, Faldoni would need to procure some huge pieces of paper, enough to cover the 6 by 7 feet of the back wall, and then he would grid that paper in larger squares in proportion to his small drawing.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2444 - 2447

 2444. This is why the pinnacle of fame is so precarious. Since an artist’s fame can never be based on any kind of objective criterion, only the shifting sands of taste determine how a thing is viewed at any given time. But, all of that you know full well, and even if you do not know it about the profession of painting, you certainly know about it in your own chosen field.

 2445. Whatever it is you do, you are well aware that in your field there are frauds who hold sway and command respect, and great minds who are being not only ignored but positively abused. “But,” you say, “what about chemistry, and what about botany, and the other sciences?” Well, that just goes to show that you are neither a chemist nor a botanist.

 2446. But the novices and beginners always hold on to the notion of the better and the best, and hope to search out their new field of interest and find out who holds the most exalted position. So it was with Faldoni. The reason he thought some paintings would be considered great, and others not so good was because he was young.

2447. God willing he will live to a ripe old age, and then, from a lifetime of  contradictory experiences he will laugh at the greatness of Michelangelo and heap scorn on works of Raphael, while at the same time extolling the virtues of the drawings  of the neighborhood idiot.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2440 - 2443

 2440. He tried to picture in his mind his cell completely painted in fresco, painted entirely by himself. Here was the special fact about this painted cell of his. He was allowed to lock his door, so if it was a masterpiece or if it was just a mess, no one in the world would know. It was going to be his own painting, painted for himself. And if he was to be the only judge of the painting, then he would be justified in thinking it was the best painting in the world. 

 2441. But one thing he was certain of, it would be the best painting in his cell because in many respects his cell was his entire world.

 2442. Something has to be said about this idea of this or that painting being the “best.” One is tempted to ask, “How does one determine what is the best, and what is just ordinary, and what is bad, when it comes to the painting of pictures?”  Just considering this question for a short period of time, one becomes aware that there is no adequate answer to the question.

2443. Certainly the idea of the good and the bad probably has some use in many fields of endeavor, but in the field of picture painting it is not only useless, but even deceiving. For with concerns that are ultimately subjective, the insertion of ideas of better and best only leads to unresolved arguments, condescension, insults, and even ridicule.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2436 - 2439

 2436. He was especially interested in how the master painted the faces to completion so rapidly and deftly without any trouble as if it was even easier that laying the plaster on the wall in the first place. Faldoni would have liked to be allowed, just as a favor, to paint in some small and unimportant section of the work. 

 2437. He was thinking it might be acceptable for him to paint some of the blue of the sky up in a corner, or perhaps he might be allowed to paint some section of the ground, with a few stalks of grass sticking up here and there. He might make a mess of it, but then it could be easily scrubbed out with a sponge and replaced.

 2438. When Faldoni asked to be allowed to paint some something the other apprentices not only refused, but reacted in horror, as if he had asked to do some cutting of flesh in a delicate operation being preformed by some surgeons.

2439. At the end of the day there were always leftover materials scattered around on the floor in front of the mural, and whenever it was possible Faldoni started to save up these remainders, intending to practice painting all by himself in his cell.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Faldoni, parts 2432 - 2435

  2432. But that is only about one half the directions, and the remainder is no less complicated. Of all the colors the ancients used, this blue is the most complicated to prepare, and yet all the other colors are difficult as well in their own way. 

 2433. All the hours Faldoni spent mixing up mortar for the masons and bringing it to them in a wheelbarrow was excellent training for the work of preparing colors, because on a small scale it was the exact same sort of endless drudgery. It had only one difference. Anyone could mix up plaster with a hoe in a trough, but the grinding of stones into powder took more skill and the result was more precious.

 2434. It often happens with workmen in a crew on a huge task, that an incompetent workman, thought to be of not much use is simply ignored for long periods of time, and has to simply stand idly by while everyone else is working with great intensity. 

2435. This now happened to Faldoni. Whenever he finished one of the various tedious steps in the color making process, it would be two hours before he could interrupt the master to find out what he should do next, and how it was to be done. Finally he simply gave up and stood by like a lamppost, watching the work progress.