Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tuesday at the Conference

On Tuesday I attended Homage to Fayum, an all-day workshop taught by Francisco Benitez at the Fourth Annual Encaustic Conference. This was terrific and Francisco a/k/a Paco is a great teacher.

Those Fayum portraits are so compelling that they are admired throughout the world and leave many people wondering how they were made. Paco has spent a lot of time researching them and other ancient works in Greece and Italy, and in this class he explained that the portraits were painted with just four earth (mineral) colors: red ochre, yellow ochre, black (from ash) and white (powdered gypsum or powdered calcium carbonate). Francisco was a visiting artist at R & F and demonstrated the process there. The R & F colors that we used in our workshop were Mars Red, Mars Yellow Light, Mars Black and a mixture of Titanium White and Neutral White.

Above: One of the original portraits found in the Fayum district of Egypt (now in The Metropolitan Museum, NY) 125-50 A.D., encaustic on wood, 14 5/8” x 7 7/8”

Right: A mummy portrait in place on a mummy (This mummy and portrait are dated to 80-100 A.D. from the Fayum district of Egypt. The portrait is encaustic on limewood.) The portraits were painted to depict deceased people. Whether they were done earlier in life when the person was still youthful or made as idealized portrayals after death is unknown.

I'm reviewing this information for you so that you will have the context in mind for the work that Paco has been able to analyze and the process he has recreated.

It has been difficult to discover exactly how the ancients worked because so few tools and no real treatises have been found about it. One of the few finds of artist's tools was made in northern France with the discovery of the tools of a Greek woman artist.

These are ancient spatula-type tools called "cauderia" in Latin. The ancient process was to work vertically and apply the melted wax with a brush or spatula and fuse it by bringing near a cage containing hot coals mounted on the end of a stick. (This so reminds me of Jasper Johns' method of a hot plate on a stick for fusing.)

There are three processes that Paco uses in his contemporary work: a brush in one hand and a heat gun in the other, a heated tool connected to electric power, a non-electric cold tool that can be used alone or with a heat gun or even a hair dryer.

He begins his works by preparing a cradled panel with rabbitskin glue pigmented to a dark greenish black. He lets this dry overnight. and the next day he makes a sketch on the panel with charcoal or conte. He applies a coat of encaustic medium to preserve the sketch and seal in the rabbitskin glue.

The beginning colors are a cool dark, mixed from black and yellow ochre, and a warm dark, mixed from black and red ochre. A sketch is made on the greenish black ground with the warm dark (reddish) so that it is visible.

Francisco Benitez did this sketch of an eye in our workshop. The greenish black in the center is the rabbitskin glue ground. The darkest color is the reddish black mixed with black and red ochre. The red color that will underlay flesh tones is mixed with red and yellow ochres.

Francisco Benitez blending colors and fusing paint with an electric tool.

Working on the sketch with a brush and heat gun.

The process is to work from dark to light. (A procedure known as tenebrism.) All the skin tones are underlaid with a red mixed from red ochre, yellow ochre and black. The whites and light yellows are laid on only at the end of the process as the volume of the figure emerges from darkness. Note that the tools or blending brushes both blend the colors together to give volume in the portrait and at the same time fuse the encaustic with heat.

Hot tools are cast tips that are attached to handles with temperature-controlling regulators. They are the type of tools used for woodburning and only the heads are different. R & F Paint is working with Sculpture House to manufacture the specialized heads, which will be available in August.

Cold tools - Many of these tools are used in sculpture and are currently available from Sculpture House.

This is an unfinished portrait that Paco painted in his demo class earlier in the conference.

Here is a closeup of the portrait showing the modeling and marks made from the heated tools.

This is our model Arielle (I hope I have the spelling correctly.) who sat for us all day long. She was also the sitter for Paco's sketch above.

Here is my portrait completed in the workshop. I haven't painted a portrait in 20 years so my modelling leaves a lot to be desired, but I had a lot of fun mixing color with just the four hues. It's amazing how much variety you can get with such a limited palette. My color does not follow the standard of the Greek painters who used much more yellowish skin tones. I think I'll keep working on this portrait and see if I can push back that Jay Leno chin in my painting.

And just to show the wonderful results that can be achieved by a master of this technique and a beautiful painter, here is one of Francisco Benitez's finished portraits from his website.

Epithimia, encaustic on panel, 24" x 20"

I enjoyed this workshop a lot even though, or maybe because, it was so different from my way of working and the works that I usually produce. Sometimes it's really beneficial to make an extreme redirection to appreciate what you already have.

Post Post-Conference
Julie Shaw Lutts, a conferee (and a member of New England Wax, I might add) graciously invited post-conferees to a barbecue at her home in Salem on Tuesday evening. She has a gorgeous Architectural Digest-type home located on a marsh in the next town over from Beverly.

The setting looking out from Julie's yard.

The food was absolutely delicious and the deserts were to die for. Many of them were intensely chocolate, including the birthday cake that Julie made for Sarah Bartlett, her friend and one of the conferees.

Sitting on the lawn in Julie's yard. (Thea Haubrich in the foreground.) Through the trees in the distance is one of the coves on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in Salem.

This was quite an end to the conference for me. All the chocolate that I consumed was enough to keep me wide awake for the two-hour drive back home to western Massachusetts, and I barely had to sing to keep my eyes open. I was mighty glad to see my little homestead and to sleep in my own bed last night, but I sure did have fun at the conference.


Unknown said...

Thank you so much for this blog post. I really wanted to attend this workshop, but I had to rush back for an exhibit. Thanks for sharing your photos!

Nancy Natale said...

You are welcome, Nancy. Too bad you missed it. It was great. Maybe next year.

CMC said...

Nancy... I am so happy there are blogs and pictures to view. After my fall on the way to the conference I didn't take pictures or blog like I planned to do.