Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eco-Madonna: A retablo painting process

As part of my current project "M@donnas. contemporary re-interpretations of the image of Mary", I have documented the painting process of one of the pieces in the collection. I shall discuss the technical aspects behind the work in this article. 

First of all, the retablo triptych used for this piece was created in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala by the Camargo brothers. Every time I travel to Antigua, I visit their shop and hand them drawings and designs of what I want them to carve for me or I simply purchase work they already have created. Their work in wood is pretty unique and it is inspired in colonial art and architecture, a very good reason why I like to incorporate their frames and supports into my work. 

The first part of the process involves an imprimatura or thin layer of oil paint, usually made of umbers and/or siennas. The neutral earth colors allow me to work from a middle tone ground towards the lights and darks. 

After I have applied the imprimatura, I proceed to rub off the brushstroke marks off the surface with a soft cloth. This is also done to take off any excess of paint so it will make the job much easier for the next step.

Once I have a more or less even surface that is not too wet to work on, I will start my underpainting. I usually start off  by replicating from a photoshop collage and some preliminary drawings I made.

I am using a 5/0 Kafka pinstriping scriptliner brush, one of the best for this kind of work.

 I am not too concerned about making mistakes at this point. If I don't like what I see, I simply rub off and re-draw over. I am basically drawing with oil paint, which is very thin and usually of the same color of the imprimatura (just concentrated or slightly darker).

I do not need a super detailed piece at this moment but just a general outline of where the characters will be and the overall setting and space relationships. I can detail later on.

Once the underdrawing is complete, I start adding lights with another thin round sable/synthetic brush. I am using titanium white for this but I could be using flake white as well or a mixture.

My primary attention always goes to the protagonists of the composition, I feel once must have a hierarchy in mind well in advance when painting. I spend more time on the planned focal point from the very start.

Notice I have also added some darks into the composition. For this I have used Ivory black and Burnt Umber. I keep my color palette very limited for this part of the painting process.

With a little of Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber I start defining the darker skins of my characters.

With a larger brush I start working on the skies. I often use two colors and blend in with a larger blender brush. The best kind of brush for this should have soft and dry. At this stage I have started adding temperature variations to the piece. A cooler blue sky turning into a warmer yellow contrasts with the even warmer portrait of the Virgin Mary.

At this point I start to define specific features of not only my characters but of important objects and surrounding elements.

Assigning colors and values to each brush speeds up the process even if you have to spend an extra time cleaning up afterwards. By doing this you will save time while painting and avoiding muddying colors in the process.

For this type of work I prefer to allow one day for the imprimatura and underdrawing to dry before applying subsequent layers of colors.

As I paint and define background skies and characters I make sure I lighten the background a bit more when characters are darker and darken background when characters are lighter. This will allow them to pop out and become protagonists  in the composition.

 Although much of the work requires sound drawing and detail, I should point out that I am also blending and blurring out edges as much as I define just so things don't look too sharp and become more atmospheric. This of course should be a conscious decision and not repeated over every element. Be selective and consider the implications of blurring or erasing edges for this will inevitably be tied up with the content and meaning of the narrative you wish to project. 

With every piece, before I finish I take a step back and look at the overall composition, lighting and spacial relationships. At this point I may decide to add or edit elements and minor changes occur until the piece becomes cohesive and satisfies my intended narrative. Often a piece is finished earlier than one has planned as certain planned elements are omitted as they seem to become unnecessary add-ons.
Remember to just keep the essentials in a narrative. Narrative works that become too complex become too overwhelming to read.  Below, an image of the finished piece:

Oil and metal leaf on carved wood triptych
18" x 23.5"
by Patrick McGrath Muñiz

This piece along with 12 other paintings will be part of my upcoming solo exhibition "M@donnas" at La Antigua, Galeria de Arte, in Antigua, Guatemala. The opening will be on November, 9th, 2013. For more information about this exhibition you can contact the gallery at  artintheamericas@gmail.com
More updates on this project will be be announced soon so stay tuned!