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But are you bad enough?

kitty

It is one of my great regrets that I never visited the Museum of Bad Art when I was in the States. It’s in the basement of a movie theater in Somerville, Mass. I had a job right around the corner; I could’ve nipped out at lunch.

But with a gargantuan sigh of relief I note — nothing of mine has made it into the collection. Yet.

When I moved, see, my studio was a complete mess, so the real estate agent suggested I take out everything I wanted to keep and let the disposal guys hoover out the rest while I was out of town. Less traumatic for me. Lots and lots of bad early Weasels ended up in the dumpster, or worse.

On May 6, they’re hosting a free event inviting the public to bring along horrible art for evaluation. You have to think anything truly MOBA-worthy will be something somebody plucked from the trash. No genuinely awful artist is capable of recognizing his own horror; quality blindness is a necessary prerequisite.

Anyway, do spend some time browsing their collection and reading the captions. Never fails to cheer me up!

Oh, and happy National Tea Day. We celebrated by buying a teapot today!

Nah, not really. We bought a teapot today because Elbows here knocked the old one over and smashed it earlier this week. Good weekend, all!

April 21, 2017 — 6:54 pm
Comments: 13

Blacker than a very black thing indeed

vantablack

You’ve probably seen this stuff in the news: Vantablack. It’s called “the blackest black.” It’s a coating developed by a company called Surrey Nanosystems made out of teeny nanotubes (I mean, I realize there are no big nanotubes, but bear with me). The thing about these little pigment fragment things is that they’re something like five times longer than they are wide and this, somehow, makes a nest that traps upwards of 98% of the light that falls on them. It gets closer to 100% with every generation.

In practical terms, it means things painted with Vantablack throw back so little light that we simply cannot perceive them as three dimensional. In the still above (taken from this video) a spherical lollipop shape is dragged across a flat shape, both coated in Vantablack, and your eyeballs just cannot deal. Follow the link and look at some of the other videos. It’s very cool.

This has obvious military applications, which is what funded the development, I feel sure. But it has obvious artistic applications, too. And here follows a fun bit of drama.

There’s a London-based artist named Anish Kapoor who works with architects to make those big dreary public sculptures that are, like, simple shapes supposed to be chock full of meaning or some shit. The mirror finish ones are okay; at least they reflect things around them in an interesting way. Anyway, he stepped in and bought the license to Vantablack for art. In other words, only artist Anish Kapoor may use Vantablack.

I can’t imagine many artists would have a use for this stuff, outside the kind of people who paint bullfighters and Elvises on velvet, but that’s just the sort of dick move that pisses off ‘the art community’ to no end.

So there’s this other London artist named Stuart Semple (his art sucks too, by the way) who worked with paint chemists to develop what he calls “the pinkest pink.” Anybody can buy it, except Anish Kapoor. You have to tick a little box that says I am not Anish Kapoor before you can check out.

As security goes, that’s not the strongest, and it wasn’t long before Anish Kapoor posted a picture of his middle finger coated in the pinkest pink.

So yesterday, Semple fired back. He went to his pet paint chemists and they developed what he calls Black 2.0 — not quite as black as Vantablack, but much cheaper, needs no special handling and, most important, available to people who are not Anish Kapoor.

I’m trying to talk myself into buying some (he’s selling it for what it costs to make, in a mad frenzy of virtue signaling). But I can’t imagine I have a use for it. I hated Elvis.

Good weekend, everyone!

March 31, 2017 — 7:58 pm
Comments: 30

First!

first

Finished my first miniature. Not sure how I feel about it. It’s not the ‘painting small’ part — most of the things I’ve painted in the past had patches of super high detail. It just feels a little cramped. Closeup here.

I liked working on vellum, though. Watercolor doesn’t actually stick to it, so you can lift the paint if you make a mistake. But to make an area super dark, you have to go over it and over it with tiny dots or streaks.

Trying to apply a heavy, wet color wash on vellum is a disaster. It rumples, then dries hard. Live and learn, but whooeee that stuff is an expensive sacrifice to the gods of the learning curve.

Anyway, for a first effort, it isn’t awful. A bit boring. I can’t really do anything with this first one, though…I was getting so wadded up with artist’s block that I finally threw up my hands, went to Google Images search and typed “crowing rooster.” Not usually how I source my subject matter!

March 16, 2017 — 9:13 pm
Comments: 21

Things on my shopping list that probably aren’t on yours

oxgall

It is what it says it is, though why ox gall and not sheep gall or weasel gall, I have no idea. It’s a very traditional wetting agent.

I’ve decided I’d like to try my hand at proper miniatures. I’ve always painted small — sometimes really small — but it takes more than little to make a miniature.

Certain paints, certain techniques, certain brushes, special frames with convex glass to let the surface breathe and not be touched. And holy shit all that stuff is expensive!

I’ve always been intimidated by the prospect. I know a bit about it, but never tried my hand. I mean, what’s the worst they can do — send the miniature police around to break my fingers?

Oh, the ox gall, in this case, is to brush lightly over vellum before you begin. It degreases the vellum (it is skin, after all) and makes it more receptive to watercolor.

Wish me luck. Mooooo!

March 13, 2017 — 10:18 pm
Comments: 7

Speak to me, Ozymandias!

pharoah

Another one to file in the “cool things you will never, ever find in your back yard” file. They drained some standing water in a Cairo slum and found this. They found most of the rest of it, too. They think it’s Ramses II (the Big Guy), and there’s probably more where that came from in that particular small and trash-strewn corner of the city.

You’ve probably seen this one, too — it’s all over the news tonight. But, hey — I’ve been upstairs painting chickens this evening.

By which I don’t mean applying coloring agents to Mapp. I mean painting teeny, weeny, tiny chook portraits. Rendering minute burbly wattles is fun! I’m’a spend my whole weekend doing it.

Hope your weekend is just as awesome!

March 10, 2017 — 10:44 pm
Comments: 13

Wednesday is the New Saturday

chickenpainting

So, my work schedule is slightly amended: I don’t go in at all on Wednesdays. This means sleeping late and (I’ve decided) painting. You know, like art.

I am determined to get some work in at least one show this year.

That shouldn’t be too tough, considering I’ve just joined an amateur art society with a requirement to show two pieces in their annual. That is, the judging shouldn’t be tough. I still have to paint some shit.

When I first moved here, surrounded as I am by sheep, I thought they’d be a natural. Turns out, they’re really fun to draw and harder’n hell to paint.

It’s the fleece. Use cool colors (blues) and they look dead, use warm colors (browns) and they look dirty.

So, chickens it is!

I don’t suppose I can make a whole career out of chicken painting. I’m discovering they only have one facial expression — pent-up rage. Seriously, chickens have the most awful ‘resting bitch faces.’ It’s the downturned beak. And the glarey eyes.

Chicken painter. Sixteen-year-old me would be so humiliated.

March 1, 2017 — 10:01 pm
Comments: 16

No, not this one

moons

I think this would be a difficult piece of furniture to live with. “Twin moons stare down one-eyed space aliens fresh off the mothership, 1769” we’ll call it. It’s got a certain…mmm…I dunno.

For our anniversary this year, Uncle B bought a beautiful 17th C coffer to replace the Ikea entertainment center eyesore in the living room. It arrived today, and it’s spectacular. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and it’s perfect (and, yes, it has the set-top box on it, but somehow it still manages to look dignified).

We’ve been meaning to buy one for that spot, like, forever. When this house was built (sometime between 1500 and 1610), oak coffers like this would have been the one for sure piece of furniture they would have had; probably a number of them. The chair was a newfangled contraption (at least in terms of furnishing a humble household), so these things would have served as storage, seating, working surfaces. We had no lack of ones to choose from — Britain is lousy with them, still.

Anyway, I found our friends the moon-aliens while looking for a picture of a coffer similar to ours to show you, on account of I’m too lazy to try and get the difficult shot of ours in situ. Mostly, though, I wanted to tease you guys with the sort of antiques easily available here. Tease, tease.

Oh, and thanks to Brexit jitters, the pound is nearing parity with the dollar. You can buy a whole English £ for $1.20 today.

February 22, 2017 — 10:10 pm
Comments: 8

Here, let me waste your afternoon for you

monster

The Sea Monk (Umi Bozu) is a sea monster with a smooth round head, like the shaven head of a Buddhist monk. This woodblock print illustrates the story of the sailor Kawanaya Tokuzo, who decides to go to sea on the last day of the year, which other sailors consider unlucky. A violent storm breaks out, and the Umi Bozu appears. In a ghastly voice the apparition demands, “Name the most horrible thing you know!” Tokuzo yells back, “My profession is the most horrible thing I know!” The monster is apparently satisfied with this answer and disappears along with the storm.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) did woodcuts for popular consumption. They were like 19th C Japanese monster action comix. There’s a nice selection of his pictures here.

He was a contemporary of Hokusai, the Great Wave guy and they both belonged to a school of painting called Ukiyo-e. The word ukiyo means “floating world” and describes the lifestyle rather than the subject matter.

Edo (now Tokyo) saw a boom in the 17th C and suddenly merchants who had been at the bottom of the heap could afford to go to the theater and hang out with the professional ladies. And go watch the fat guys rassle in their underpants. And buy art for the walls. This stuff caters to that taste.

If you go to the Wikipedia article (previous link), look at the pictures in the sidebar (you’ll surely recognize some of them), take a name to ukiyo-e org, you can spend happy hours paddling around the art.

I think Kuniyoshi is my favorite, though. Lots of soldiers and monsters and ghosts.

February 21, 2017 — 8:35 pm
Comments: 6

Art geekery

muller

When I was a teenager, I was the spergiest art geek EVER. Art lends itself to geekery. It has so many moving parts.

One of the coolest is pigments and colors. All that ancient boogidy-boogidy alchemy survived as (among other things) paint chemistry – some of the experiments they did on the way to the philosopher’s stone resulted in paints and dyes that we still use.

In art terms, at least, a paint is made up of little particles of colored pigment, often mineral, that don’t dissolve in the medium. A dye is made of a colored stuff, often vegetable, that does dissolve in its medium. So, proper oil paints are a paint but most ink is dye. Dye is inherently fugitive (but often gorgeously colorful).

Between the two are the lake pigments, which are organic dyes that are stained onto an inert material making them kinda sorta pigments, more stable than most dyes. The best are just acceptable to use in an artist’s palette. My favorite color, Alizarin crimson, is a lake; it was the very first natural pigment (madder) to be synthesized in a lab in the 19th C. It’s usually regarded as the least permanent of the acceptably permanent pigments.

Folks, I could burble like this for hours.

Anyway, I made my own oil paints for a few years. They refer to this as “grinding” paint, but it’s a misnomer — you don’t grind the pigment particles into smaller pigment particles, you spread them out as thinly as possible to make sure each little particle is surrounded by oil. To do this, you use a sheet of glass and the thing in the picture, a muller (that’s a purty one, available here). A little pigment, a drop of oil, and you go round and round and round and round. It was the shitty job given to the newest apprentice in the studio.

Over and over again, you’ll read that modern paints are far better than this. That machine methods ‘grind’ paint better than any snot-nosed apprentice ever could. That the old masters would die for the kind of paint we have now.

I read it for years before it dawned on me what they were clearly, obviously, blatantly saying — modern paint is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from the stuff the masters used.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound like an all-caps moment to you, but I assure you it was one of the stonking thinks of my lifetime. I felt like flinging off my clothes and running down the road yelling “URETHRA!”

And it’s true: you have a better chance of reproducing some of the masters’ techniques with paint that is slightly less well ground. In fact, some of that beautiful, globby lace that Rembrandt painted wasn’t even ground at all, it was just pigment lightly folded with a drop of oil. Turns out, though, that it only really matters in the bright opaque colors, particularly white.

I’m not going anywhere with this. I’m just happy to be playing with my paint box again.

Good weekend, all!

February 17, 2017 — 9:07 pm
Comments: 21

I joined a thing!

paint

I joined a local art society. Been meaning to do it since I moved here. I was going to describe it as prestigious, but it isn’t that at all. It’s…venerable. It’s an amateur society set up fifty years ago to complement the local professional society.

You don’t apply to join the professional society. If they want you, they’ll let you know.

In addition to monthly lectures of various kinds, the real appeal is the annual show. And the appeal of the annual show is to kick me in the ass and make me paint some shit.

Behold, my ancient pile of watercolor tubes! (Here it is in color, because honestly that looks pretty cool).

Now I just have to paint something.

February 16, 2017 — 10:42 pm
Comments: 29