Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Beginnings of St. Lucy Project

This past June I had the privilege of attending my friend, Emily's, reception of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity.  I had been in contact with Emily for approximately a year before being able to finally meet her in person in June to celebrate her consecration-- I was blessed to be able to stay with her for about a week. 

The better part of a year ago, probably during one of our early phone conversations, one of us threw out the idea of me painting a picture of St. Lucy with Emily as my model.  Sounded like an exciting project, but seeing as how we live on opposite sides of the country it didn't seem like so much of a sure thing that it would actually be realized.  But when it worked out that I'd be flying down for her consecration, I made it a point for us to arrange a few modeling sessions, where I could draw her and take some reference photos. 

In the months leading up to my visit with Emily, I was coming to discover my appreciation for Spanish Baroque painters, really connecting with their style.  One series of paintings I got really excited about and inspired me a lot was Zurbaran's series of female saints.  Here's an image of one of these fantastic paintings from the series posted below. There's a good selection of paintings from this series on this blog post.  I saw that doing such a St. Lucy project influenced by Zurbaran's female saint paintings was an opportunity for me to put myself in dialouge with a great Catholic artist.  I recognized this as a step towards inserting myself into the tradition of Catholic art. 

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"Saint Apollonia" 1636 oil-on-canvas painted by  Francisco de Zurbar├ín

So even before I had Emily model for me, I had a fairly good idea about the general way in which I wanted her posed, as I sought for this project to be in response to Zurbaran's women saint paintings.  In other words, I posed Emily in a way that I felt was "Zurbaranesque", echoing his female saint paintings...her body facing one side, holding attributes of St. Lucy.   Once I posed her during our first modeling session, I made this first drawing:

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She is holding in her one hand a palm frond, the standard symbol of martrydom in Catholic art...Emily just happened to have the perfect one lying around in her room.  In her other hand, which you cannot see in the above drawing, she is holding a plate on which I will depict a pair of eyes...St. Lucy's unique attribute.  (If you are unfamiliar with Catholic art, saints are often depicted with objects called "attributes" which have some association with them in their lives and are used to indicate who they are).  Like I mentioned above, a palm frond is an attribute or symbol of a martyr. It is a convention that martyrs, like St. Lucy, have as an attribute an object associated with their torture and death.  Legend has it that part of St. Lucy's torture was having her eyes gouged out, with God later restoring her eyes,  St. Lucy for this reason is the patron saint for the blind, with her name also meaning "light".  For more on St. Lucy, refer to this article.

In a later session (one which nearly had me miss my flight home as I was so into it and was pushing it for time)...I did another drawing for this project focusing on her face.  I wanted to make sure I had enough information for the face in my completed painting.  I was struck by the power of Emily's gaze and the intensity and beauty of her eyes...I wanted to make sure I captured this element as best as I could as I recognized that it would give this piece power.  As I was posing her initially, I didn't come in knowing that I wanted the subject to make eye contact with the viewer, but once I had her make eye contact I knew that it was right.  Not only is it consistent with many of Zurbaran's female saints which make direct eye contact with the viewer, but I felt that for a depiction of St. Lucy that it was particularly appropriate and striking.  This is because of the aforementioned legend involving Lucy and her eyes, her being the patron saint of the blind, and her name meaning "light" (with light of course being linked with vision).  Here are a couple photocopies of this drawing of Emily's face from which I made some slightly varying versions for the sake of expirimentation:

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In this above version I played around by adding some shading.

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In this one I emphasized the eyes a bit.

As a last image for this post I'll share a reference photo I was able to take the day of her consecration, while she was in her wedding dress.  From this reference photo I will develop the figure's dress in the painting:

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I've been changing my reference photographs to black and white not just to conserve on color ink in printing, but also so that my painting will not end up looking like a photograph. In putting the image in black and white and then doing drawing studies from it, I hope to distance myself or abstract from the photo (while still of course preserving a likeness to the actual dress). I want to do this so that the information I draw from my photographic references are processed or modified through drawing so that it integrates in naturally with my drawn references...which I want to guide the project stylistically in a more dominant way than my photographs.  Her dress is just perfect for me to work with in my painting, it has the qualities which I want in the figure's dress...it is simple and neutral and timeless enough to be suitible for a representation of St. Lucy, yet at the same time it has a particularity which draws out the individuality of my model. 

This project is particularly exciting for me because I feel that my model has a real connection with the saint she is portraying.  Emily expressed an interest in modeling as St. Lucy, so I'd say it's safe to assume that she has some sort of personal devotion or affinity towards the saint.  But beyond this, St. Lucy recieved the same Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity that Emily has now recieved. She modeled for this project the immediate days surrounding her consecration (and the day of her consecration) which gives this piece a certain power or gravity.  Also, legend has it that St. Lucy was very beautiful...Emily is likewise connected with Lucy in this regard-- I may be a little biased because she is my friend, and I haven't really been to a lot of weddings, but she's the most beautiful bride I have seen yet. This painting will have a richness with layers of meaning. One thing that I hope to do through sacred art is to make the mysteries of the faith, including the saints, contemporary-- yet at the same time preserving a sense of timelessness.  In other words, the faith is ever ancient yet ever new.  St. Lucy is a saint of antiquity--yet she is relevent to us today.  It was an honor for Emily to model for me for this project as she was the one that God placed in my path to help me to make present to our time and place St. Lucy, with whom she shares the title of "Bride of Christ". 

I have made some more progress on the project than I have shared here in this post...but I feel this a natural breaking point--I will share more soon.

If you're interested Emily has a blog about vocations and discernment you could check out. (She writes under a pen name).

St. Lucy-- pray for us!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A little bit of progress on Madonna and Child project.

Currently I have three projects underway depicting religious figures.  There is this one of The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Christ Child which I posted on in my previous entry and then I have two other images I'm working on, each of a female saint.  I will share about these last two projects soon.  Here I just wanted to update my readers on what I've done with this Madonna and Child project since I've last posted.

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First, after taking an artist's advice, I softened the expression of the Marian figure in  my drawing reference/ photocopy of the original drawing with its subsequent modifications.  It's just a few very slight changes I made to give her a slight smile, but I feel it is a big improvement and does serve to make her more approachable.

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Next, I made another minor modifaction to my paint study of the Christ Child, where the same artist who advised me to soften the Virgin Mary's expression observed that the forehead of this baby image was elongated, making him look too adult-- so I fixed that as well.

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Another way I've progressed with this project is that I started to seek out a better idea of what my color scheme for the finished painting will be.  I made this study by painting directly over one of my photocopies of the drawn image.  I made some paint swatches as well of variations of red and blue, but this is the only developed color study I've done in the sense of seeing how the different colors of the image relate to each other.  I may do some other color studies before I actually do the final painting.  One thing I remember about making this color study is tweaking it so that the white in the image seemed more balanced.  Initially, the skin tone was darker and the white of the blanket that the Christ Child is wrapped in was lighter.  It bothered me how the white of the blanket popped out without tying into another light color of similar weight, as the color scheme is pretty dark.  I sought to address this by bringing the value of the skin tone and the value of the blanket closer together--by lightening the skin and darkening the blanket.  Also, another way I sought out some balance of the light fabric in the paint study was by incorporating white into the clothing of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Through my study of different paintings of the Virgin Mary, I noticed that it was a convention in many images of her for there to be a layer of white fabric closest to her body, peeking out from under the layer over it...I'm assuming to symbolize her purity. So I adopted this in my paint study.  Speaking of conventions in regard to the clothing of the Blessed Virgin Mary in art...I have been told by an art historian the reason as to why she if often depicted with red clothing covered with blue.  The red I was told is meant to symbolize her humanity and the blue is mean to symbolize heaven, purity, or divinity.  I am fascinated how even her clothing can drive home the theme of the incarnation...of heaven and earth meeting within her, and her giving God in the flesh to the world.