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Fighting Fires: Step by Step

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Introduction

Last summer I set out to create an image data bank of photographs of policemen and firefighters holding aloft equipment of their respective trade. Then these photos would serve as sketches for more of my Up In Arms watercolors. (To see inventory from this series, please go to  http://www.scottponemone.com/portfolio/up-in-arms-2/)

I immediately ran into trouble getting cooperation from the Baltimore City Police Department.  I spoke to a district commander at a community meeting and was given a name and an email address to try.  But all I got was a terse reply: “Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to accommodate your request.”  That was not so surprising considering that just a year previous Baltimore was suffering through a spring of turmoil after the death of Freddy Gray at the hands of police. I decided I needed a new approach in order to address the use of firearms and the deaths that result. After a few false starts the answers came at the Sunday farmers’ market and an indoor shooting range in the burbs. But that’s a tangent I’ll tackle after the New Year.

Fortunately, the firehouse is a very friendly place. They keep the big doors open in the summer, for God’s sake.

Modeling for FF Paintings

In fact it was harder finding parking near the big firehouse on Lombard Street beside the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower than it was to enter the facility.  The middle door was wide open.  A mammoth truck stood silent just inside. Waiting on the cement floor on each side of the cab was a firefighter outfit–boots attached–arranged for speedy dressing.  But no one was in sight.  I shouted out “Hello” several times without response. I saw no one until I came upon a glass-enclosed office.  A woman–maybe an EMS unit member–was seated inside. When I explained my desire to have a firefighter model equipment for me to photograph, she gave a call upstairs.  A young man soon appeared, and once I showed him cellphone images of completed Up In Arms paintings, he agreed to help out.

ff-fuzzed

(Left) An oxygen tank and harness and (right) a Jaws of Life rescue metal cutter. (Since I didn’t ask him if I could make public the photos, I’ve blurred his face.)

First he modeled a hydraulic Jaws of Life cutter used to tear away crumpled car doors at accident scenes. Then he hoisted an oxygen tank with its harness that he would need in order to enter a burning building. Then he held up an ax and a manual metal cutter (an image I never used, not enough visual heft) and lastly a black helmet (an image I almost didn’t paint).

After printing out these images, I realized that there was at least one object sorely missing from my firefighter’s inventory: a hose. So I returned to the firehouse with prints of the Jaws of Life, the oxygen tank, the ax and the helmet images to give to my model.  This gesture was intended to give me the opportunity to ask him to lift a coil of hose.  Except he wasn’t at work that day.  I couldn’t convince either of the two black firefighters who greeted me to model.  (Too bad because it would have helped to illustrate the racial diversity of the department.)  Instead they called upon a young white guy whom they called the Hulk.  Good to his name, he did the macho thing an slid down a brass pole.

ff-hose-fuzzed

I don’t know about “the day,” but he seized the hose.

Step by step

The following are series of photos to illustrate the progress I made in painting the FF Jaws, FF Tank and FF Helmet watercolors.  Always the object being held aloft is painted first.  You’ll see I tend to paint from top to bottom on an image, and I also tend to complete areas of a certain color. For instance in FF Tank I painted the tank first with its mottled blues then the mostly black harness.  In FF Helmet the yellow-green plastic inserts were painted before the rest of the mostly black helmet.

What I didn’t photograph was the simple penciled line drawing.  I use a #4 pencil, and it leaves a very light mark.  By itself it wouldn’t make a good photo. You can see some of the drawing in early images of each sequence.

FF Jaws

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Finally for online presentation’s sake, I white-out the unpainted paper.

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Scott Ponemone, FF Jaws, watercolor, 30 Sept. 2016, image 24 1/2″ x 21 1/2″

FF TANK

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ff-tank-pair-b

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ff-tank-whiteout

Scott Ponemone, FF Tank, watercolor, 10 Nov. 2016, image 26 3/4″ x 18 1/2″

 

FF Helmet

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Scott Ponemone, FF Helmet, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2016, image 26 1/4″ x 15 1/2″

 

FF Hose

 

I forgot to record the steps in painting FF Hose.

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Scott Ponemone, FF Hose, watercolor, 31 Oct. 2016, image 23″ x 20 1/2″

 

FF CPR

Actually the first firefighter watercolor was painting last year after a visit to the 2015 Maryland State Fair in Timonium.  There I came across an ambulance with two EMS workers seated nearby. And on the ground beside them was an inflated dummy used to practice CPR.  I remember first walking past toward a row of carnies with their games of chance and plush toy prizes. But I couldn’t help myself.  The dummy was just too queer. (I can’t think of a better word.) Fortunately one of the EMS guys was a willing model.

CPR

Scott Ponemone, FF CPR, watercolor, 11 Sept. 2015, image 29″ x 16 1/4″

 

The FF quintet

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Right click to view image larger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Sky Aipens Go Big

Introduction

One of the things I wanted to discover after returning to Baltimore last winter from a month in India was how my lessons in the traditional Uttarakhand painting style called aipen would affect my Planets series of watercolors. (To see a portfolio of the Planets, go to: http://www.scottponemone.com/portfolio/planets/)

Aipan 2 planets

(left) Scott Ponemone, Planet VIII, watercolor, 7 Sept. 2015, 20″ diameter, (right) Scott Ponemone, Planet IX, watercolor, 22 Jan. 2016, 20″ diameter

Here are two from the Planet series. Each has a border 2.5″ wide.  Oddly enough the two here share a motif of anthemions. The ones on the right are from an ancient Greek vase at the Walters Art Museum; those on the left from frescoes in a 14th-century Eastern Orthodox church in Metéora, Greece.

In both cases the border was carefully drawn in pencil. The lighter colors were painted first; while the black was painstakenly painted second.

Apin planet X

Above (left) shows my planning for the border to Planet X. My first attempt (the pair to the top) I decided was too wide.  So I reduced the width a few degrees (of the circle) and decided it looked closer to the original, which was a  mosaic from Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. Then I drew this pattern all the way around the border.

Aipen borders required a whole new procedure simply because there could be no drawing of the border on the watercolor paper. My previous ART I MAKE post describes aipan, its tradition, and the process in detail: http://www.scottponemone.com/lessons-in-aipan/

Aipan working

(left) Photo by Isabel Moreno Cortez, a PECAH artist from Mexico. (right) Detail of Aipen II, watercolor and gouache, 4 March 2016, 12″ diameter.

Here is a photo of me taken during PECAH 2015, an artist residency near Manila, a village in the Himalayan foothills. I was working on a traditional aipen grid pattern (Chowki) on top of an opaque ground of Indian red pigment.  Except for a few reference points and a penciled circle, I worked freehand. Needless to say, this took a great deal of patience and persistence and a steadier hand than I have now. Hence my right hand assisted the left.

The fun part of painting that aipen was that, once the grid pattern of straight lines and pointed arches was complete, I had many options on finishing up. For instance, what meander pattern should run around the outermost band; what to fill in the squares with (I chose a traditional Sun and pinwheels); and how many of the arches to fill in.

Aipens 3X

(from left) Sky Aipen I, watercolor and gouache, 5 March 2016, 12″ diameter; Sky Aipen II, watercolor, 6 March 2016, 12″ diameter; Sky Aipen III, watercolor, 7 March 2016, 12″ diameter

I scrambled during the last few days of the PECAH residency to make roundels of skies with aipen-inspired borders. At only 12 inches across they are like miniature Planet paintings. Sky Aipen I used the traditional Indian Red gouache for the border background; the other two had watercolor backgrounds.  It was an intense workout, and I thought the results were pretty exciting. But what would happen when I made Sky Aipens as big as the Planets with their 20″ diameter?

BIG Sky aipens: step by step

I decided to record the steps I would take to paint big Sky Aipens. Except for the first one (of three), I even photographed the steps in painting the skies.  Recording the steps was useful not only for making this presentation possible but for slowing me down and allowing me to thoughtfully consider what would come next.

For the big Sky Aipens I decided to make my own gouache Indian red paint.  As it turned out I had all of the ingredients because I had regrained all of the doors on the parlor floor of my house.  They had been stripped of their graining by the previous owners.  Then the doors were stained black walnut. Fortunately the two pairs of pocket doors separating the three parlors retained almost all of their 1850s graining. And black walnut was the fashionable wood at the time.  But the look of the black walnut graining of the pocket doors and that of the black walnut staining on the other doors was night and day.  So I taught myself how to grain paint.

Aipan paint labeled copy

The ingredients: A apple cider vinegar; B powdered gum arabic; C gum arabic dissolved in E distilled water; D powdered Indian red pigment; and F the finished paint.  Formula: Stir 1 part pigment into 1 to 2 parts vinegar, then add half part dissolved gum arabic. Source: Ina Brosseau Marx, Allen Marx and Robert Marx, Professional Painted Finishes, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1991.  See “Country Graining” on page 233. (Note: You can purchase gum arabic pre-dissolved with a preservative. My mixture will mold if not refrigerated.)

SKY AIPEN IV

SA border sketch

As with the Planets, the big Sky Aipens begin with a full-scale sketch of the border. It appears that I first thought of making the border 3″ wide instead of the 2.5″ width I used on the Planets. You can see that I scaled back the scalloped outer edge a half inch. So I started intending to alternate large scallops with smaller ones peaking out between the larger ones. But it didn’t turn out that way, and I’m pleased that it didn’t.

Aipan 1 steps

In the topmost pair I followed the initial plan. Then I thought better of it. Why not connect the small scallops to create a wave pattern?  And so I did as seen in middle row left.  Then I filled in the lower band pretty much as intended. Finally I added the sun in the smaller scallops. The sun appeared in the initial plan but only when the border was 3″ wide.  And I left out the wavy plant-like device that was in the 3″ border.

Aipan 1 whole

Here are four stages of Sky Aipen IV, starting with a finished sky and only a penciled-in scalloped edge.

SA finished

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen IV, watercolor and gouache, 4 April 2016, 20″ diameter. NOTE: the painting is positioned on Arches cold-press watercolor paper so that the framed piece would be a diamond.

 

Sky Aipen V

PECAH Aipan 4

The source for parts of the borders on Sky Aipens V and VI is a aipen painted on cotton at the home of author Jugal Kishor Paithshali, near Almora, Uttarakhand. For Sky Aipen V it’s the wavy, plant-like device repeated three times under the arches.  For Sky Aipen VI it’s the white inverted teardrop with a hook at the bottom.

Aipan 2 skies

First, here’s the stages of Sky Aipen V’s sky.

SA2 sketch

Sketch with three variations on how to fill the spaces between the arches, and practice painting the wavy, plant-like device under the arches.

Aipan 2 borders

Details of the five steps of painting Sky Aipen V’s border.

Aipen 2 whole

Four views of Sky Aipen V in production.

Sky Aipen V

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen V, watercolor and gouache, 21 April 2016, 20″ diameter.

Sky Aipen VI

JP aipen 1 full

For Sky Aipen VI I broke away from the regular boarder shape by adding ears inspired by another aipen at Jugal Kishor Paithshali’s house.

SA3 sketch

I modified the ears, as seen in this sketch, to resemble elephant profiles. I inadvertently first drew the teardrop shape (upper right) upside down.  The other six have the correct orientation (the hook toward the center).

Aipen 3 sky

Sky Aipen VI’s sky, step by step.

Aipen 3 border

The border, step by step.  Unlike the source material, I didn’t white-in the teardrops.

Aipen 3 whole

Six views of Sky Aipen VI’s production.

Sky Aipen VI

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen VI, watercolor and gouache, 11 May 2016, 22 7/8″ x 22 7/8″.

The sun (top), moon (below), bell and conch are auspicious Hindu symbols that are often used in Aipan.

 

Lessons in AIPAN

PECAH aipan feature

INTRODUCTION

Despite having two blog categories–Art I See and Art I Make–I could use a third called Art I Synthesize.  Last week I returned from a month in India, mostly in the northern province of Uttrakhand, as one of six international artists learning local arts traditions as part of the PECAH (Program of Exchange in Culture and Art of Himalayas).  I want to extend a hearty thank-you to director Sanjayy Rikhari and coordinator Val Jaune-Bleu for inviting me to participate.

When you apply for PECAH, you’re asked to select four activities.  My first choice was a painting style called aipan or aipen.  The image above is in the aipan tradition–mostly opaque white-line/white-dot design on a terra cotta colored ground. Aipan designs are often round with a central medallion surrounded with multiple borders. For an artist who spent much of last year working on watercolor tondos that I call Planets–which juxtapose the unfathomable in the form of daytime skies with borders of patterns that reference man’s constant need to make order out of chaos–aipan seemed a perfect match.

PECAH planet III

TOP Scott Ponemone, Planet III, watercolor, 20″ across, 29 May 2015 (with detail left)

BOTTOM Scott Ponemone, Planet VI, watercolor, 20″ across, 12 Aug. 2015 (with detail right)

PECAH planet VI

My other painting choice was pattachitra, which focuses on painting Hindu dieties colorfully on cloth. Then I chose to learn how to cook Northern Indian vegetarian cuisine. And finally a week of yoga and meditation. As it happens, these activities were offered in reverse order, i.e. aipen was last.

AIPAN

This folk art is associated with the Kumaoni-speaking people of Uttrakhand. According to the D’source website (http://www.idc.iitb.ac.in/dsource/gallery/aipan-uttarakhand-part-1):

Aipan is a traditional folk art specifically made by women of Uttarakhand. This art is done on floor over brick red background with white paste made out of rice flour. The typical art is done on all special occasions and household ceremonies and rituals. It is believed that these motifs evoke divine power which brings good fortune and wards off evil.

Uttarakhand Aipan painting has its unique identity which is always done on the empty walls and on the ground which is a symbol of fortune and fertility. The art form is used to decorate floors and walls at the Puja room (place of worship) and entrance of homes and practiced by many other communities of different regions.

I found this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW9f20VQOOI which provides an excellent illustration of how a accomplished aipan artist paints with her fingers.

I first saw aipan paintings when the PECAH crew visited the home and private museum of Jugal Kishor Paithshali, a well respected compiler of Indian folk tales. He had four that were done on cloth, then stretched over frames.

JP aipen group copy

Himanshu Sharma (from left), Nicole Schlosser (Canada) and Julie Parenteau (Canada) admire aipan paintings at the house of Jugal Kishor Paithshali. (Photos by Scott Ponemone)

Here are the four paintings, each with details.

PECAH Aipan 1

D’source says the central motif is a Chowki design, normally used for seating the idols of gods and goddesses.

PECAH Aipan 2

PECAH Aipan 4

PECAH Aipan 3

When I asked Paithshali about the significance of the aipan dots (done with the touch of a finger tip), he simply said and emphasized that it all begins with the point. From Project Aipan website (https://projectaipan.wordpress.com/category/aipan-art/):

To understand the Aipan art better, it is very important to know the significance of ‘Dots’ in the Aipan designs.  A ‘dot’ signifies completeness and life.  According to natural science, a dot is like the seed through which the world has originated.  Mathematical science also has a special emphasis on the dots. While meditating too, the axis of concentration is none other than a point or ‘dot’.  It is thus that a dot is included as an important part of the Aipan art. …

An Aipan without dots is considered inauspicious. On the death of a person, the Aipan is drawn without dots.

The central motif shown of the aipan immediately above is made from a pattern of nine dots square. It’s called a bhadra and is drawn at a place of worship.  The number of dots in a bhadra can vary. I practiced making a bhadra like the one above.

PECAH grids

After making the grid, the first step is the central swastik.  Now as a Jew, making a swastik requires overcoming great resistance. I need not explain. But it’s impossible to practice aipan without making swastiks. The Uttarakhand Worldwide webstite (http://www.uttaranchal.org.uk/aipan.php ) explains:

Swastik has great significance in Aipan. It is drawn in some form or other during most of the religious rituals as swastik in Hindu mythology represents all Gods and Goddesses, known or unknown. … Swastik represents the creation and progress. All four arms of swastik inspire to move forward. Thus swastik is the symbol of marching ahead for success, towards success with success.

When I first tried to connect the dots in a bhadra, I reproduced a pattern of Christian-like crosses in black defined be white lines.  Then I realized that the swastik is formed by two branches. One branch connects three dots horizontally with two legs, going either one dot up or one dot down; the other branch connects three dots vertically with two legs, going either one dot left or one dot right.

The top row, right image shows the horizontal branch extended out. The second row, left adds the vertical branch extended out.  The second row, middle image adds two other horizontal branches. As a result two more swastiks are created. The last image adds two vertical branches, and as a consequence six more swastiks.

PECAH grids compare

Finally, I connected the last of the dots, leaving the corner dots free. Compare this to the central bhadra of the large aipan at Paithshali’s house.

PRACTICING AIPAN

Before PECAH’s aipan classes begin, I borrow the aipan book from instructor Manav Joshi and make up a circular aipan-like design in watercolor.

Aipen I black

Scott Ponemone, Aipen I, watercolor, 9 3/4″ across, 26 Feb. 2016.

While it mimics the red-brown ground, the triple lines, the paired feet and the use of dots of aipan, this looks more like an East/West amalgam. Note the anthemions from Greek tradition around the rim. Then I get serious.

Aipen II black

Scott Ponemone, Aipen II, watercolor, 12″ across, 4 March 2016.

PECAH me at work

Fellow visiting artist Isabel Moreno Cortez (Mexico) photographed me at work.

This took work and concentration. Besides the swastik, I included the sun, moon, bell and shell of aipen tradition. The central motif and all of the pointed arches conform to the Chowki design seen in one of the large aipans at Paithshali’s house, except that I painted four parallel lines instead of five. In internet searches, I now learn that (from Project Aipan website):

Lines also have a special significance. They signify continuity. Odd number of lines is used in Aipan designs.  It is believed that even numbers are complete in themselves, but odd numbers are incomplete and seem open-ended. It is suggestive of the wonderful message of continuity and eternity.

 

MannuFinally, Manav Joshi starts classes. Part of me thinks: “I’ve done that.”  Yet another part of me wants not to be so aloof.  What convinces me to join in is that Manav has us connect with the folk tradition of aipan by grinding presoaked rice between two stones (which looked like limestone, perhaps with a history in a cemetery) to make aipan paint.

PECAH aipan rice milling
With Manav Joshi’s (above) guidance, a PECAH artist grinds rice to make aipan paint. (Photos by Scott Ponemone)

Each aipen student painted a circle with a water-based red-brown paint on the deck of the PECAH hotel near the village of Manila. Then we literally tried our hand at aipen painting. I for one did a pretty miserable job of dipping my fingers in rice paint and attempting to make lines with the tip of my middle finger.

PECAH aipan making copy

Isabel Moreno Cortez (top) and Julie Parteneau work on their aipens.

PECAH aipan fingered

My effort.  Pretty rough, no?

AIPAN/PLANETS SYNTHESIS

So much for finger painting.  I return to brushes and watercolors to see how I’d do adapting aipan motifs to borders for my sky paintings. I was limited to a 20″ x 14″ Arches watercolor block that fit into my suitcase.

Sky Aipen I black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen I, watercolor, 12″ across, 5 March 2016.

After many days without any clouds, a few formed over the Himalayas, which were usually hidden in an inversion of smoke and dust. These became my sky. The aipan border is quite traditional.  The problem was that the border overwhelmed the sky. But it was a good start.

Sky Aipen II black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen II, watercolor, 12″ across, 6 March 2016.

An interesting sunrise propelled my second effort.  I reduced the border width and changed the background color to indigo.  The alternating feet and suns are in the aipan tradition.  This, I feel, is a real success.

Sky Aipen III black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen III, watercolor, 12″ across, 7 March 2016.

Finally a dramatic, thundery sky.  I made the ground magenta. This too is super.  Note that these three Sky Aipens were painted on consecutive days, with the third  completed on my very last day at the PECAH hotel.  I was on a roll, then I suddenly stopped. It was time for the two-day PECAH festival in Ramnagar, the hometown of most of the PECAH instructors. Afterwards, I would take a train to Delhi to deal with my visa problems.  But that’s another story.

ADDENDUM

I did attempt a pattachitra painting, using fabric pigments on cotton. The central figures are really just a copy of a line drawing from a book, which also provided the border pattern. But it’s pretty successful in its own right.

Pattachitra

 

Scott Ponemone, Gaja Singha Bidala, pattachitra with fabric paints on cotton, 16″ x 8 3/4″, February 2016.

Himanshu Fortunately, Himanchu Sharma, who instructed us on pattachitra, has emailed me with a description of what I depicted:

“Gaja means elephant, and Shingha Bidala means lion cat. They represent body and soul: Lion represents our body, and elephant represents our soul.  The paintings says that our body controls us in general, where as it should be our body must be controlled by our soul.  That is an ideal condition that never comes about. So the artist depicts the practical world instead.”

Himanshu Sharma (Photo by Scott Ponemone) ►

 

 

 

 

 

FLOORCLOTH: Painted canvas for 1806 hallway

Well, they say that you never forget how to ride a bicycle. I got a chance last December to see if I had forgotten how to do a floorcloth: a canvas painted to simulated marble laid out in a geometric pattern. It had been at least a dozen years since my previous effort, and that one was for the middle parlor of my Mount Vernon townhouse. My last previous commercial floorcloth was installed at the Baltimore Museum of Art a good 15 years ago. (The wing of the museum in which it was located is now undergoing renovation. I wonder if my piece will be reinstalled when the work is done.)

 
For background information on floorcloths please go to: http://www.scottponemone.com/floorcloths
 

Production

FC-hall before

The process began when a couple with a 1806 federal house on the Maryland Eastern Shore invited me over last summer to discuss the possibility of creating a floorcloth for their entry hallway. As you can see their hall has two widths. When you enter the house the hall is 6.5 feet wide, but, where the stairway is, the width decreases to under 4 feet. The couple had two principal requirements: 1) the pattern had to be continuous despite the change of widths and 2) the colors had to match the hall wallpaper. So I set about to measure the hall. The clients wanted it to nearly fill the hall, leaving approximately 1.5 inches of floor visible around the perimeter. I drew a rough sketch of it. Their seemingly compact hall measured over 29 feet long. The first thing I told them was that I would have to make it in two pieces. Then I calculated the square footage in order to arrive at a price (which went into a sequence of negotiations, which I won’t be detailing here).
 
Fortunately the clients wanted a simple diamond pattern with a narrow border. All I had to do was figure out the appropriate scale of the diamonds and the math to make it work out. It turns out that, if I use diamonds 8 inches on a side, a continuous pattern of diamonds could be accomplished if I narrowed the piece beside the stairs by only one inch. This is what I came up with. (The colors particularly of the border are approximate at best.) There would be yellowy cream diamonds and dark green diamonds, while the border would have stripes of the same yellowy cream on both sides and a wider center stripe of (as it turned out) two-toned magenta. Except for one small area where the stairs reach the hall floor, the half diamonds (and the quarter diamonds at the corners) that touch the border would be dark green.
 
FC Minor plan
 
This design was agreed to, and a contract was signed in September. The client realized that I won’t begin until December and that the work wouldn’t be ready for installation until mid-January. The delay on the start was due to an October residency I was awarded by The Studios of Key West and wedding plans (thank you Maryland voters and then the Supreme Court) in November. The actual painting would take a month. Then the three clear acrylic top coats would need two weeks to cure.
 
Essentially the following is a photo gallery of the process. Here are the steps I would take:
 
1) Clear the dining room for the wider floorcloth piece and my studio (on the floor above) for the narrower piece.
 
2) Roll out the 84-inch-wide #8 cotton duck (canvas) in the dining room, measure it, cut it and staple it to the floor.  Measure out the studio piece, cut the width to 6 feet and staple it down.
 
3) Using foam pads on an extension pole, put two coats of gesso on both pieces of canvas. Sand after each coat.
 
4) Again using foam pads, put three coats of the base color (yellowy cream).
 
5) Drawing out the pattern should have come next. But I froze. Were my measurements last summer accurate? I wasn’t positive. So I made a second trip to the Eastern Shore only to find out they were. Only then did I pencil in the pattern. (I had fears as well that I wouldn’t keep everything square–fears that wouldn’t be soothed until installation day.)
 
6) Marbleize the lighter diamonds in two steps: first using a very light cream paint, then veining with magenta to reference the border color.
 
7) Tape around what were to become the dark green diamonds.
 
8) Two coats of dark green paint on those areas, then two passes over those diamonds to marbleize them.
 
9) Remove tape surrounding the green diamonds and then clean up areas where paint leaked under the tape (fortunately very few places)
 
10) Tape around the wide stripe of the border.
 
11) Three coats of the magenta paint and two coats of dark grape paint that was feathered toward the center of the stripe.
 
12) Remove that tape and clean up edges.
 
13) Apply three coats of clean acrylic over everything (and try to remove any debris–mostly pet hairs–after each coat).
 
14) After a week, cut out the floorcloth and let cure another week.
 
FC- DR spreading
 
In the dining room, I’m spreading the first coat of the base color onto the canvas upon which two coats of gesso had been applied.
 
FC-1st graining
 
A closeup showing the penciled grid of diamonds and the first pass of marblelizing of the lighter diamonds.
 
FC-green painting
 
I’m applying the first coat of dark green paint to diamonds delineated by tape. Note that the lighter diamonds have a few streaks of reddish paint.
 
Fc-taping pulling
 
Michael (my life’s partner and now my husband) is pulling tape that surrounded the green diamonds which have been marbelized. Note that the marbelizing of the green diamonds generally runs perpendicular to that in the cream diamonds.
 
FC 3 ways view
 
[Clockwise from top left] Closeup of the finished diamonds. The narrow section of the floorcloth (upstairs in the studio) with the diamonds done. The first coat of magenta being applied to the border.
 
FC-border done
 
Completed border with the outside edges toned with a dark purple paint.
 
FC-DR cutout
 
The dining room section of the floorcloth after three coats of clear acrylic have been applied and the canvas has been cut down to the finished size. Count the diamonds to see how demanding even a simple pattern can be.
 
FC-cutout for stairs
 
This is the part of the wider section of floorcloth that will wrap around the base of the stairs and meet the narrower section that was produced in the studio.

Installation

The big question as we drove to the Eastern Shore was whether the floorcloth would fit. The tolerances were quit small. A little mis-measuring along its 29-foot length could create a big problem. Yet there was a surprise even before we started to unroll the two pieces. The corner to the right (as you enter) the front door was not a right angle. It was canted (two 45-degree angles). A tall-case clock stood there when we measured. I just assumed the corner behind it was square. I would have to slice off a corner of the floorcloth. The client, who never mentioned the canted corner before, was unfazed by this decision.
 
FC-corner up.
 
So it was time to roll out both pieces. Drum roll please. But the suspense was unnecessary. It fit as drawn. Notice in the photo the corner sticking up to the left of the door and the little wall at a 45-degree angle. And notice to the right of the bottom of the stairs the line across where to two pieces of floorcloth meet. Actually at this point the narrow piece is 6-inches longer than needed. The extra length is under the end of larger piece. I made it this way so, if necessary, I could trim the narrow piece at a very slight angle so it could properly fit the far end of the hall. It turned out that the precaution wasn’t needed. But it meant that I had to cut the narrow piece in situ. I also had to cut out pieces in two places to accommodate floor registers.
 
FC-install trimming
 
I’m finishing the cutting of the narrow piece.
 
Fc-install- cutout
 
Here I’m making cuts for a floor register.
 
FC-taping
 
I’m cutting double-sided carpet tape for the underside edges of the floorcloth.
 
FC-installed hall
 
The rear of the floorcloth installed.
 
FC-installed bench
 
The front of the hall with the client’s Baltimore painted bench.
 
FC-scraps
 
Scraps of canvas from when the floorcloth was originally trimmed before delivery.

Operation Operating Room….. In The Beginning

I didn’t think this would be so difficult. All I wanted to do was extend my prolonged exploration of hands into an arena that I previously had welcomed me, namely the operating room. In 1983 a surgical resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital invited me to photograph him at work. I donned a mask and gown and booties and stayed outside a 10-foot perimeter with my 1950s vintage Yashica-D twin-lens reflex. (Those were the days of B&W 120 film and horizantal-reversed images in the viewfinder.) The photos served as my sketches for five watercolors; three sold; the unsold ones are below.

 

 

Sterile Field, watercolor, 1983, 21.5″ x 19.5″ (top); Surgeons, watercolor, 1983, 21.5″ square (bottom)

 

 

Then in late 1989, the Anesthesiology Department at Johns Hopkins contacted me. The department head wanted me to do a portrait of a retiring anesthesiologist, who wasn’t aware of the nature of my appearance in surgery. The painting would be a surprise going-away gift. More commissions followed. By July 1991 I painted four acrylics on canvas (the first two were finished during a deep-snow January at the Vermont Studio Colony in the tiny mill town of Johnson) and two watercolors. Below are two of the acrylics. (Sorry for the image quality. I hand-held slides to photograph them.)

 

 

Dr. B, acrylic on canvas, 1990, 40″ x 42″ (left); OR, Acrylic on canvas, 1990, 45.5″ x 40″ (right)

 

So the OR doors swung open in the past. What about today? I began my quest by posting my interests in photographing in surgery on Facebook. A former Baltimore Sun colleague proffered the name of a former Sun reporter now working in PR at Hopkins. I emailed her and soon I was set up to photograph a living-donor kidney transplant operation in a few weeks. I was psyched! For fun, while waiting, I bought a box of thin plastic gloves that mimicked the type used by doctors and had my partner Michael model putting them on one at a time. This effort resulted in two watercolors: one putting on the first glove in three views (not in sequence) and one putting on the second glove in three views (again not in sequence–I didn’t want the paintings to be read from left to right).

 

 

One Glove, watercolor, 2013, 10″ x 29.25″ (top); Two gloves, watercolor, 2013, 10″ x 28.375″ (bottom)

 

 

But then the Hopkins PR person emailed me: “I hate to do this but I have JUST been informed that our policies regarding photographs and video in the OR are under review and I have to ask you to postpone your filming session. When this is resolved, I am happy to get the ball rolling again. My apologies.” Drats! (in so many words) So now I get the bright idea to contact the Curtis National Hand Center at Union Memorial Hospital. What better place to photograph hands than where hands are working to repair hands? So I start making inquiries there. In the meantime, I decide to do wood engraving variations of the One Glove, Two Gloves paintings. Using both sides of a 6″ x 4″ maple block, I made small editions of the following images:

Glove, wood engraving (second state), 2013, 6″ x 4″, edition 20 (left); Gloves, wood engraving, 2013, 6″ x 4″, edition 20

 

The door to the OR partial opens. I’ve been invited to photograph what they call “carpal therapy,” a euphemism for young hand surgeons practicing techniques on a cadaver arm. But what the heck, I go. I’m not too crazy about painting the wrinkled digits of the preserved dead. So the two paintings that result just feature the living.

 

 

Carpal Therapy, watercolor, 2013, 13″ x 22″ (top); No Cadaver, watercolor, 2013, 14″ x 22″ (bottom)

 

 

Well it’s a “no go” at the hospital, but the surgeon who led the practice session said he would welcome me into surgery at a satellite facility in Lutherville. He gives his card and writes out the name of the head nurse there. So I start emailing and talking to her. It seems that she needs to get permission from the administrative director there. I wait word. I eventually speak to this person, who asks me to write up a letter that would be handed to patients to read before being asked to sign a waiver (allowing me to photograph). She approves of the letter. The only question is on which Wednesday would I be allowed to photograph. THEN, she phones me: Didn’t the head nurse tell me “no”? And the chief surgeon said “no” too. Well, that’s the first time I get that message and the last time I seek permission from the Greater Chesapeake Hand Specialists.

 

After a week’s funk, I call the head PR persons at two other Baltimore area hospitals. The quest continues.

Mini-Retrospective at Jordan Faye Contemporary

In over 30 years as an artist, until now I’ve never had the opportunity to have a retrospective. Now thanks to Jordan Faye Block and her recently relocated Baltimore gallery–Jordan Faye Contemporary–I have one, although a limited one in the number of works shown but an expansive one in that it spans 20 years. It’s her genius to make the selection. The largest pieces–Procession F, Procession J and Anxious For Love B–had only been shown in Washington, DC, at the greatly lamented Gallery K soon after they were painted. Most of the rest–done while traveling abroad in 1996, 2007 and 2012–had never been shown anywhere. Jordan came up with the title “Divine Fantasy” for the exhibition. I’m not sure that it fits me or the art. But if you find a spiritual continuity, then bless you. I bow to your higher power.
 
I’m not going to try to describe the ideas behind each painting. But I’ll give it a go on Sunday, Feb. 10, from 1 to 3 p.m., when I discuss the work at the gallery, 823 Park Ave., 20201. I hope to see you there.

 


 
Procession F, watercolor, 1997, 63 1/4″ x 28″

 


 
Procession J, watercolor, 1996, 63 1/2″ x 49 1/2″
 

 
Anxious For Love-B, watercolor, 1992, framed 58″ x 47″
 

 
[from left] Rochefort E, watercolor, 2007, 24″ x 18″; Rochefort D, watercolor, 2007, 24″ x 18″; Csopak II-B, watercolor, 2005, 24″ x 18″
 

 
Nine paintings from the Tuscan Sky series, watercolors, frame size 25″ x 21″. From top the bottom, left to right: #2, #7, #12, #3, #9, #11, #13, #5, $4.
 

[clockwise from upper right] Colegiata, Toro, watercolor, 2003, frame size 17″ x 13″;
Icarus, watercolor, 1999, frame size 17″ x 13″; Orb, watercolor, 2003, frame size 17″ x 13″; Barcelona Uno, watercolor, 2003, frame size 17″ x 13″
 
 

On the Fence

One of the dividends of being taken to the Reno Air Races (formally called the Reno National Championship Air Races and Air Show at Stead Field) this September was the chance to photograph sun-weathered hands. While the races were fine, the air acrobatics between races were better. And the jets dutifully rattled your eardrums. But except for a few photos of folks glued to their binoculars, I didn’t have much material for my hand paintings . . . that is until we were leaving the infield. That’s when folks leaning against the top rail of a low chain-link fence running between grandstands caught my eye. What perfect sets of hands from my perspective. So as I followed Michael, sister Cynthia and brother-in-law Bill, I maximized the point-and-shoot capabilities of my Nikon. Here’s a prime example of a painting-perfect photo:

 

 

For the first Fencing watercolor I chose these two images:

 

 

When I took these photos, I had no idea the top rail of the fence would become an image unifier, literally a supporting actor. In the past objects that weren’t being held in hands would be edited out. But as I was studying printouts of these images, I quickly realized the value of keeping the bar in. Here’s how the first of these paintings turned out:

 

 

And the second looks like this:

 

 

The photo of the couple (above) probably will become the model for it’s own painting. And I plan another with two tiers of rails with two actors apiece. Stay tuned for that one. In the meantime, check out larger images of the first two paintings in the Latest Hands gallery: http://www.scottponemone.com/gallery/latest-hands/

 

I’ve also returned to the Maryland Institute College of Art printmaking studios now that I tote a MICA ID reading “visiting artist.” Many thanks go to Prof. Quentin Moseley for making this possible. Using the image running atop this blog I cut a 6″ x 4″ resingrave block to create this white-line print in an edition of 16.

 

Sometimes even the most casual photographer captures an image that doesn’t need translation into a different medium. Here’s an example of one photo what will not model for a watercolor or a print:

 

Black and Blue

If you make art long enough, you start recognizing the cyclical nature of your work. Not that you repeat yourself exactly, but you tend to return to a former way of doing things or to a former subject and giving it another look. In this case, it was a return to both how I was choosing colors and what my subject was. Before I set out on a trip to Istanbul and the Turkish Aegean Coast in 1990, I decide to try painting in monochromes or dichromes, i.e. just one or two colors per image. Here’s an example.

 

 

Ascleplion, Pergamum
Watercolor on paper, 1990
15 1/2″ x 14″

 

Later that year, I turned the same color scheme to Baltimore’s historic Greenmount Cemetery. I added a kink to the drawing process. None of the objects depicted were adjacent to each other. I chose the nearest object (front right) and drew that. Then I moved to the next nearest (the pyramid); then the third nearest. So it’s really a collage of the cemetery experience.

 

 

Still Life
Watercolor on paper, 1990
19″ x 14″

 

Then while waiting for settlement on my Mount Vernon (Baltimore) townhouse in 1993, I followed the same scheme (limited palette and rearranged objects) in doing a series of paintings in Mount Vernon as a way of getting to know my neighborhood-to-be. Here’s as example. Do you recognize the source for the figure?

 

 

Mt. Vernon 1
Watercolor on paper, 1993
12″ x 9″

 

So why did I return to this color scheme 19 years after that Mount Vernon series? Because last spring I hung the Asclepion painting in my front hall and later replaced it with Mount Vernon 1. “Not bad,” I said to myself, “worth a second look.” So when Mark Luce, a fellow watercolorist, wanted to do a plein air painting in the city, I suggested Greenmount Cemetery. Because I didn’t want to get too detailed, I set up about 50 feet from my subject. And I chose a weathered statue because the loss of facial features added to the sullen nature of the image.

 

 

Greenmount 1
Watercolor on paper, 2012
12″ x 9″

 

And last week I returned by myself and painted:

 

 

Greenmount 2
Watercolor on paper, 2012
9″ x 12″

My Process: 1 Spoon 2 Cones

It’s easier to show what I do than explain why I do it.  This post will take you through my working process, not why I choose to paint what I do. As to the latter issue, let’s just say I’m fascinated with hands and how looking at hands and how they are used can tell as much about an individual and about a culture as looking at the whole person or a whole society. Anyway this painting began with photographing at Artscape, Baltimore’s summer carnival.  When I began the middle phase of the Hands series in 2009, it was my first use of photographs as a sketching medium since the Parade series of 1995-6. Here are the two photographs that are the basis of 1 Spoon 2 Cones.

 

 

 

The first step is figuring out the scale of the painting. In this case the drawings are 1.5x the size of the photos. I plot just enough points so I can drawing simple outlines of the parts of the photos I want in the painting. I hope you can see this in the next set of images.

 

 

 

The next three pairs of images document how I build up pigment to create the flesh tones. First I establish the highlights. This is important because I use the white of the paper, not white paint, for the brightest highlights. I literally paint around these whites.

 

 

 

Then I establish the darks, starting with a deep sepia-red tone.

 

 

 

 

Finally I paint the midtones to unite the hightlights with the darks.

 

 

 

 

Lastly I paint the non-flesh parts of the images and then paint a thin wash to establish the rectangles that hold the two images. Click here to see 1 Spoon 2 Cones in the Latest Hands gallery.

 

 

Italian Skies: Series Complete

 

When this blog was being set up early in July, I had finished 9 of the 14 Italian Sky paintings begun in the hillside hamlet of Ombreglio di Brancoli north of the small Tuscan city of Lucca. And Brooke Hall, my talented and patient webpage designer, only asked for four blog entries for each of my two blogs. Finally last week Brooke instructed me on working the back end of my website. Now I’m on my own, but presenting painting-by-painting entries on this series seems a little old. (The last sky was finished three weeks ago.) Instead this entry will be a summary of the Italian Sky series. To see all the Italian Sky series click here.

 

I had intended to present before and after images for each painting, such as these for Tuscan Sky 4.  And I would discuss the source of the border pattern, in this case the vining part of the border came from the La Collegiata di San Cristoforo in Barga, a hiitop town in the in mountainous Garfagnana region of northern Tuscany. The quatrefoil flowers in the corners were adapted from a carved Etruscan tomb seen in Volterra. I had to use two sources for this border because the Barga source didn’t show how this pattern would meet at a corner.

 

The following paintings are particularly successful. Tuscan Sky 5 turned out to be surprising. I had no idea this simple, but bold border of half circles would, once painted, make the sky seem to float in front of it. The border came from the stone pavement of Florentine church Basilica di Santa Croce.

 

 

Tuscan Sky 9 worked well because of the colors chosen for the border seem to capture and enhance the mood of the cloudy sky. The geometry of the border, from the floor of Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca, was tricky because adjacent corners differed. Identical corners were diagonally opposite each other. I chose it because in a very flattened way the wide band wound its way around the central pole.

 

 

I’m particularly proud of Tuscan Sky 12, if only because the sky was painted in five minutes, in other words in just a single layer of paint. Wet the paper; add some paint; let it dry; you’re done. Cirrus clouds force you to work as quickly, as sparingly as possible. No building up layers of paint, my normal procedure. The border pattern is a quite literal rendition of what I sketched from the floor of the magnificent Duomo di Siena.

 

 

Lastly I’ll highlight Tuscan Sky 13 because it let me use a variation of the border seen in Tuscan Sky 5. Now the half circles become partial rings. This border was sketched in the museum beside the Pisa duomo. (If the Leaning Tower was the magnet that drew us to Pisa, it was the complex as a whole that thrilled. This is a photo taken from upstairs at the museum.

 

 

This border also seems to levitate the sky in front of it. Who needs 3D?

 

Tuscan Sky 3

Even though I sketched three border patterns during our trip Monday, April 23, to the wonderful Etruscan hill town of Volterra, the border pattern I chose to work up for Tuscan Sky 3 can be seen on the same journal page (far left) as the one used for Tuscan Sky 1. I had to first work out how the corners would meet since the source pattern only ran along the sides of a doorway to Lucca’s duomo. Here’s a roundel with a single zigzag border from the duomo entryway. The sky was seen from our house after we returned home the following day from Firenze – once again backlit clouds like in Tuscan Sky 2 but this time a few low, grey clouds drifting in from the Mediterranean.

 

As in all of the these paintings, the question at hand when it’s time to paint the borders is: How to do so to enhance the sky and create a dialog between sky and border. I offer images of before and after so you can judge for yourself.

Tuscan Sky 2

Rains were becoming less frequent by Saturday, April 21, when we drove to Pistoia, a small city about halfway between Lucca and Firenze (Florence). We parked just outside a remnant of the city wall and found a very soggy market-day scene toward the old city center. More startling displays of Romanesque black-and-white church facades greeted us, San Giovanni’s in particular. Inside San Domenico I drew two marble floor borders. I used the quatre-lobate one as a basis for my next border. I reduced the spacing between the elements to exaggerate its jumpy black-and-white aspect. The sky, as I was driving back west to Lucca in the late afternoon, was littered with backlit cumulus clouds that were becoming quite ragged as drier air was filling in with a promise of fairer weather ahead. This is the sky I attempted to paint the next morning at our home in the hills north of Lucca.

Tuscan Sky 1

The idea for the Tuscan Sky series happened quite quickly on Friday, April 20, when we spent the day in Lucca, beginning with the duomo. The entryway to this Romanesque cathedral had a number of black-and-white stone borders as well as painted borders in color. I was dazzled. Inside the pavement was replete with patterns that begged to be sketched. So back at the house I chose the second border from the right for my first painting. And that evening I painted a stormy sky – a sky that produced numerous thundershowers, some with small hail. Never leave home with an umbrella when visiting italy in the spring. Or you’ll likely have to purchase a cheap one from one of the Africans who hawk them almost instantly whenever it rains.

 

This is the first Tuscan Sky painting with only the sky finished and then as it looks now with its border.

 

Intro

I knew I was going to paint in Tuscany this trip (April 16-May 15, 2012). I certainly packed paints, brushes, palette, and paper. But what would I paint? Would it be straight views painted plein aire? See the (Greece, Turkey & Morocco Travel watercolor gallery for 1981 Morocco paintings.) Would it be plein aire views but with a two-color palette? (See the same gallery for 1990 Turkey paintings.) Or would it be images composed of various historic artifacts. (See the same gallery for 1995 Greece paintings.)

 

It turned out to be closer to the third option but with a twist. Yes, they would be composites, but the elements would be reduced to two: a sky that I would paint in Italy and a border (from my journal/sketchbook) that I would design in Italy but paint back in Baltimore. My use of skies in a composite painting actually began in France in 2007. (See the Spain & France Travel watercolor gallery for the Rochefort paintings) But those paintings were rather more complex than what I painted this time in Italy. Those had a sky, historic fragment(s), plus a trompe l’oeil additions, like the shells in Rochefort C. The 2012 Tuscan Sky paintings also harkened back to my 1995 Parade paintings, where each central image had an historic border. (See the Parades watercolor gallery).

 

So these new paintings would take the sky element that had been my sole subject for over 50 paintings that I began once I returned from France in 2007 (see the Sky watercolor galleries) and add an historic border such as seen in the Parade paintings. This, I hoped, would give me the immediacy of a sky and a slice of Italian Renaissance design which I love so much.

 

This combination also solved a logistical question which all artists need to resolve when traveling with a companion: How do you create art without taking up so much of the day doing so? The skies I would study during the day and paint from memory in the early evening or morning back at our house in Ombreglio di Brancoli, a hamlet north of Lucca, and the borders I would quickly sketch in my journal during the day.

 

 

The trick, however, was to choose a border before painting a sky, because a border had to be worked out geometrically so that the repeats in the pattern would meet at the corners properly. So I would work out a border on scratch paper and then on watercolor paper pencil in enough of the border so I would then have a window in which to paint a sky.