Monday, 1 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: Life With Diatoms

Usually on Artwork Mondays, I endeavour to put up new pieces of my work. Today, I thought I'd re-post a piece from my first month online, entitled Life With Diatoms.

This is a painting in oil, with some acrylic paints used for the enlarged diatoms. Here's a short breakdown of techniques and materials.

I usually enjoy painting on a dark ground; in this case a carbon black acrylic over double-primed gessoed cotton canvas.

As oils age, they become more transparent, and darken. A darker ground, usually a brown, grey or black was common in the Renaissance, and fell seriously out of favour with artists such as the Impressionists, who were trying to transmit the brightness of light. When using a dark ground, it was common to leave a lightened area under any foreground figures, so they would retain a glow compared to their surroundings.

It's never a good idea to mix water-based acrylics on the same canvas as oil paint. I confess I broke those rules here. I used some wonderful Pebeo dyna-colours for the greens in the diatoms.

Dyna colours have a paint made from reflective mica flakes, coated with obscenely thin layers of titanium dioxide. The thinness of the layer can be manipulated to allow only certain wavelengths of light through. When mixed with a base colour, as these have been, you can get crazy combinations: a fuchsia pink with a blue sheen that catches the light, and so on. Other brands, such as Golden, refer to these as "interference" colours - they work best when mixed or applied over top and the difference is Pebeo's are pre-mixed with a colour.

For Life with Diatoms, I used yellow-green dyna, and green-yellow dyna, as well as a gold in oil paint mixed into the algae and the red hair.

Once the painting was done to my satisfaction, I poured stand oil over it to give it a glossy, honey-like sheen. Stand oil is linseed oil that has been heated, and has the consistency of liquid honey. It's tricky to use: it pools, and leaves dry spots; it takes months to dry to the point it doesn't pour in slow motion off the edge when upright; it collects dust on its surface like no tomorrow. Bloody hard to photograph without moving twin light sources off to the side, as well.

The model for this painting was my wife and muse. I haven't often posted paintings of her which I have painted, since they feel a bit more personal than most. This is not the first time I have painted her with diatoms, however. That was in another work, entitled, A Diatomaceous Soul, which I have not (and will not likely ever) show online. I am aware that the anatomy of the face and shoulders aren't perfect, neither is the stomach. This piece was expressive, and I wasn't overly concerned at the time with high-realism. It captured the glow of her face the way I see it, and her beauty in repose. I can say I have another piece along these lines started; it is one of those rare times the whole painting sprung visible in my head before completion.

The association in my mind of my wife with diatoms springs in part from the diatoms' glittering beauty in their opalescent structures, and in their ability to create so much of the oxygen we all breathe. For myself, I cannot live without either.

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Follow some of the links about diatoms at Wikipedia. Then marvel that these wonders are all around you, on tree bark, ocean rocks and in the soil.

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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details. Please visit my
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traumador said...

Pretty... you're a lucky dude... dude.

Maybe I should do a pretty picture of Lillian! Do you think that would help me out with going out with her?

Glendon Mellow said...

Yeah, I am...thanks, Traumador!

Painting a picture or writing a poem are great ideas, Traumador. Lillian strikes me as being very very old-fashioned.

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