Tuesday, February 24, 2009


For the last few days, I have been trying to make paper - from old paper, not wood.
This is a messy process. One starts by shredding the old paper in a mixer, with lots of water.
The pulp-gruel is mixed with a little glue, and kept suspended in a large vat, or tub, of water.
Then one uses a wire mesh on a frame, or some such implement, to scoop out just enough paper pulp to make the right thickness of sheet, squeezes most of the water out, and waits for it to dry.... sounds easy enough, but quite tricky to get just right.

Here's the fourth sheet I made, and the first one that didn't become thick as a biscuit, and didn't have holes.
I tested some watercolor on it, and it is a little like painting on a paper napkin. Absorbent and weak.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Burqa Series

I became interested in the Burqa, partially because a friend of mine is
currently stationed in Afghanistan.

The first picture here is a portrait of a young, exceedingly beautiful woman,
done with a plastic spatula, the shape of a credit card or so. This style of
painting is suitable for some subjects, it is arguable whether it works here.
One needs to back a bit away and squint a little, then it looks sort of OK.

(Acrylics on paper, ca 50 x 65 cm )

The second one I have done in this series is entitled "A Sunday morning in
Gethsemane Park" and features a peaceful family scene. This is done with
regular brush and "dry" acrylic paint. I was aiming to show the folds of the
fabrics, but probably got carried away.

(Acrylics on paper, ca 50 x 65 cm. )

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Pharmacist

Here is an artificial setup of my father at work. He is a retired pharmacist, and spends some time working at the Pharmacy Museum in Seltjarnarnes (near Reykjavik). The setup is built of shots from inside the museum, arranged around the image of my father, who was photographed sitting still, in front of his computer.

Acrylic on paper, ca 50 x 65 cm

Larger Portrait - in triplicate

Here is a larger painting (90 x 70 cm) of a close relative and family friend.
This time, I decided to put three poses onto the same picture -all drawn
from photographs made at a recent family gathering. Since the subject
enjoys telling stories, I thought the storytelling poses were suitable.

Acrylics on canvas, 90 x 70 cm

Icelandic Gothic

Here is another painting I did of my friends, in acrylic on canvas, ca 90x90, if I remember correctly.
I hope the influence from Grant Wood is clearly visible, but not overwhelming.
I used a couple of photos as a reference for this painting, and the painting from 1930 of course.

This painting took a few evenings to complete. The original isn't quite so dark, as the photo would indicate.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A portrait of my friend Herbert

Here is another portrait from late 2008, of my friend Herbert. Once again, it is acrylics on paper, 50 x 65 cm.
What a difference it makes to have a proper frame. (Again, I forgot to photograph the painting until it is was firmly behind glass.) But I think the frame, passepartout, in gray, and the sharp white of the cut, really makes the picture stand out, and make it look much better than it did when it left my hands. The framing was done by a professional, "Innrömmun Renate" which is found at Samtún 40, Reykjavík. Well chosen, I'd say.

Family portraits, late 2008

I tried to paint portraits of my relatives; they are all done with acrylics on 50 x 65 cm paper, and were drawn after one or more photos. I display one or more photos on the screen of my Mac, and draw the image onto the paper, using pencil and eraser.
It isn't the same as drawing from a live model, and I will eventually ask people to come sit for me. When I get better at this.

The first one here is one of my father, wearing a hat in the style of the Czech 'Good Soldier Svejk':

My mother (who was it that said 'a portrait is a painting of a person's face, where there is something not quite right about the mouth'? ):

And my mother-in-law: (This one is probably the best of the bunch)

My first portraits in acrylic paint

The last two days of the course described in the last posting, I got tired of the standard subjects of sun-drenched Tuscan ruins, etc., and wanted to do something different. I ripped a couple of pages out of a fashion magazine I found somewhere, and tried to paint portraits.

The first one ("Girl in blue top") was made the morning after I went and saw a large exhibition of Van Gogh's drawings and paintings, some 150 items, at the Albertina in Vienna.  

One of the pieces on display was Van Gogh's famous self-portrait with diluted oil paint (he didn't have more paint left, reportedly, and had to dilute it), where he sports a straw hat. This is my first portrait painting, 30 x 40 cm, on canvas.

Encouraged by this, I did the other one, on paper, 50 x 65 cm, whipped out in the last two hours of the course.   This is the second portrait painting of my life.  The night before, I had bought some cheap acrylic paint in a set, from EduScho, including a tube of Gold color.  I used some of the gold in the woman's hair, but this is not easily visible in the photograph.

These two paintings, such as they are, changed my view of acrylic paint.  I hadn't thought it possible to use such paint in portraits, expecting the work to be too slow and painstaking.

Start of my "Acrylics Career"

In september 2008, I attended a course in painting with acrylics at the KunstFabrik Wien, in Vienna, Austria (their website).  It was a solid 5 days of painting, instructed by an active professional artist named Erwin Kastner (his website).  
The course was not cheap, (around 430 Euros) but the factilities were exceptionally good, and the instruction was quite fine and professional.  And, it was a solid 5 days, nine till five.

I had somehow had the idea that acrylic paint could not be used in all "serious art" applications, but Kastner quickly rectified that view.  He demonstrated the use of acrylic paint in three different techniques: as aquarelles, with spatula, and traditional painting with brush.

Here, Prof. Kastner is demonstrating the very wet aquarelle style, with highly diluted acrylic paint.  The main difference between this use, and regular aquarelle colors is that once acrylic paint dries on the paper, you can't get it off again.  So no "lifting" or "erasing" is possible. 

I didn't have much success in adopting this technique. I have trouble distinguishing between artistic freedom and sloppiness, and this, for some reason, is most manifested in the very wet aquarelle style painting.

I don't want to use his own demonstration piece here, who knows what copyright issues might ensue, so I put up one of my own, done at the course.  ("Fruit", on paper, 65 x 70 cm.)

For the spatula applications, he actually used plastic cards, similar in size to a credit card, but made of softer plastic. These produce nice broad strokes of color, when you want, and do not scrape the paper or canvas, as one is more likely to do with the traditional metal spatulas with handles on.

(One fine day, I will figure out how to color-balance digital pictures for display on the web.)

For this purpose, the relatively cheap, liquid acrylic paint is ideal, pliable and opaque.  Indeed, the other participants in the course had brought half- or one litre bottles of each color, or even a 5kg bucket of white.

Finally, the paint can be used (almost) like the traditional oil colors.  I say "almost", as I find, as an amateur without much experience, that one needs to worry a little more about the state of the paint and the brushes.  The paint dries up in a few minutes, unless one sprays it with water, mixes retardant, or whatnot, and the brushes may dry out in your (my!) hands.

Here the instructor is showing me some fine point, or maybe just telling me to give it up.

A benefit, though, of using the acrylic paint instead of oils, is that the solvent is water (and a little soap, sometimes), and this isn't hazardous, and doesn't stink.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Making Drawing Charcoal at Home (for fun & profit)

Last summer, I wanted to see if I could make Drawing Charcoal.  It turned out to be easier than I thought, without any fancy equipment.  All one needs is a few sticks of wood, a couple of cans, and a dinner barbequeue.

I had been cutting some shrubs and saved a few nice-looking sticks.  The best results are obtained with narrow, straight branches.    It is best to use thoroughly dry ones, and one must remove the bark, otherwise the charcoal sticks will be sticky with goo.

I found that the wood will shrink in the charring process.  Some of the pictured sticks became too narrow to be usable.  Branches about the width of a finger will be fine.

I used two Tomato Paste cans, and sealed the join with aluminium foil and some wire.  
I poked a hole (visible in photo above) in the foil, to let the gases escape.  The cans went on the barbequeue, after the fish was cooked, the briquettes heaped over.  Once the fire was out, the charring process was done.  

Some of the sticks were damaged, as I had not wrapped the join carefully enough, and some of the aluminium had burned away.  The sticks had started to burn.  I have since started to use a three-can setup, where a third can seals the join between the other two.  This also allows for using longer sticks.    The cans can be re-used, at the next barbequeue, after brushing the soot off.  

Cheap and Easy!