Sunday, December 13, 2015

Adventures in Art Conservation

I have been working, for the past two years, on gaining experience and completing pre-requisites for an art conservation graduate program.  The road is long, difficult and quite narrow.  For someone like me, realizing after undergrad that this is the career for me, there are classes to take and experience (mostly unpaid) to obtain.  What this means for me, with my BA in studio art, is taking 20 credits of college level chemistry and completing the 400+ hours of practical experience in a conservation lab.  Conservation is a very small field; there isn't a huge demand for it, worldwide.  Most jobs, found in museums and cultural centers, are hard to find.  Instead of taking the for-profit school approach of who cares if they'll get a job, let's collect their tuition (ahem, art majors...), the few institutions in the US (yes, 3) with a graduate program accept a small number of students per year, taking only the best of the best.  This means competition is fierce.  And while I think this is a good way to weed out those who aren't truly serious, it's nonetheless, daunting for those of us who are.

So here I am, 15/20 credits in chemistry under my non-science-brain-ed belt, almost a year of interning at a fantastic regional conservation center (MACC), learning so much, applying most of it and after every shift interning, feeling validation that this is my path.  Most of the work I've been assisting with cannot be shared with the public as it comes from private and museum collections.  One thing I can write about, though, is compo (sometimes called ornamental composition).  Compo is basically a compound of different glues/adhesives and chalk that, when made correctly and molded, makes up most of the fine ornate frames we see today.  Here's a great example thanks to a Google image search:

This specific frame, here, is in need of some tlc restoration.  The white pieces you can see, where the gilding has chipped off, is the compo (the white is a gesso, layered over the compo, allowing gilding to adhere).  To restore this frame, one would take a mold of the pattern with a silicone mold, cook up some compo, allow it to set, and affix compo to frame, re-gesso, re-guild and, voila, good as new!

I needed a project that would satisfy an organic chemistry lab that I had missed.  This idea of compo was very interesting to me, so I decided to take a mold and try my hand.  The wonderful conservators (in the object lab at MACC, who have been graciously inserting knowledge into my brain for the past 9 months) told me everything I needed to know and were on hand just in case I blew anything up.

So here I am in the lab....

Two hot plates (living on the edge!)
Silicone mold
Initial mixing with the chalk
Compo in the mold

Final product and original mold -- SUCCESS!

It was pretty satisfying to have a really wonderfully successful product on my first try!  The only thing that I didn't do well was not casting the mold quickly enough.  The 2-part silicone mold making material set faster than I was ready for.  This is why the cracks appeared in the mold, and why they translated onto my piece of compo.  The compo piece remained quite flexible for almost a day before it hardened beyond any serious bending.  This is one of the wonderful characters of this mixture, it holds a pattern, yet, for hours afterward can be manipulated to fit the desired shape completely.  

Not only was this project an amazing hands-on learning experience, but my lab write up (including illustrating the chemical reactions and explaining a knowledge of the properties of the molecules and why they react the way they do together) got full marks!  Conservator-in-training success.  One more positive step on the way!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

And now, this.

And now the restoration (really, reworking) of this piece is well underway.  I realized, while I was looking at my reference image, that I had completely screwed up the ear placement.  I'm a huge (stubborn) believer in not using a grid, so these errors of measurement and proportion definitely happen.  I know, I know, a grid would cut my time by so much....but....I feel like the challenge of eyeballing and measuring manually is so much more rewarding when you truly get it right.  So, here I am, completely repainting this face....and so absolutely happy with the outcome.  The proportions are now absolutely right.  The shading?  Better.  The ear?  Better.  Yes, the scratch is still visible....but I didn't want to use any fillers or mediums to make the loss less-visible.  Every line and crack caused by my inexperienced and uneven gesso work with an oil ground is very visible under bright lights.  This scratch should be, too.  It's all part of the piece's personal history.

And now I'm almost ready to call this piece done, again.

Soundtrack?  My happy place jams of The National (Alligator) and Father John Misty (I Love You, Honeybear).  Also, does anyone else have Adele's new song in their head on repeat?  Cause, that one too.  Sorry, Ivy Building, if you heard me belting that today......

Monday, October 12, 2015

Life's Little Surprises

There's this absolutely sublime feeling when a piece of work that has been labored on for hours upon hours is done.  Welp, take a picture, move onto the next one.  There's also a limited amount of space in one's studio to hang or nicely/safely store large paintings.  Then, there's the universe who says, well, Steph, you're renting a spot shared by 2 other artists, the building is dirty and unfinished, there's multiple machine shops in the basement, and open windows.  So, something falls, and this happens:
And then you cry.

For comparison, the earlier, finished product:
Smooth perfection, meet gash.  Trying not to loose my mind completely over this 8 inch long massacre, I remembered that I want to become an art conservator.  Isn't this the exact thing these lovely sciencartists fix?  Consulting the amazing team (that I also happen to intern for) at MACC, I looked into this nasty scratch to find out just how bad it was.  The scrape, from an unknown object, must have been sharp, and must have been at an angel-praising angle, because, would you believe it, there isn't even a dent in the canvas where the gash is.  Finding that it was simply a topical wound dried my tears.  After consolidating the flaking layers of oil paint and hard-work, my plan is to simply fill, cover, fill, cover, potentially repaint the face (EHH), cover, fill until the unsightly wound no longer exists.  And thus, my crash course into art conservation.*

And I was so proud of that ear.  

*Note, were this a piece by another artist, the covering and repainting of face aspect would absolutely not be involved.  A matching color impainted in the affected area that would be fully reversible would be the typical course of action.  

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

So far...

I haven't blogged since June, true.  I have been painting, though.  My current series, focusing on coping, mental/emotional conditions and fungus/growth is coming along.  For more background on the theme, please read past post here.

One of the figures I most wanted to paint was that of a mother.  Perhaps this is because, as a woman, a lot of life is focused on becoming (or not becoming) one's mother, and then becoming (or not becoming) a mother to brand new humans.  One experiences precautions to not become a mom and routines to encourage the seed to sprout.  Whether one has children or not, the majority of a woman's life is dedicated to "motherhood."

Early on in my art sponge-iness, I came across this sketch by Pablo Picasso:

I was moved.  As a teenager.  Completely and utterly touched by the body language in this mere sketch.

In regards to my newest piece in this unnamed underwater women series, I wanted to represent mothers.  As an honor, yes, but also to ask why.  As everyone has very valid opinions on this, I wanted to examine my thoughts on motherhood.  It can, to me, be a way to deal with the harshness of this life; a way to deal with the madness in our heads.  It's also a very biological thing that happens without planning (but not without action).  I've experienced being lost in the eyes of a perfect, innocent, amazing, trusting child that you love with all your heart.  You want to give them absolutely everything and more.  Even if that may mean sabotaging your life as you know it.

So, in this universe of invasive growth, lichen and fungus, this one takes the place of a child.  Where some figures are fighting, trying to escape, this one is nourishing it, calmly cherishing the company of it.

Perhaps this symbolizes resignation, perhaps it's hope of something good coming.  It may simply be nature taking it's course.  This one, more than others has been emotionally challenging to create.  I am hoping, also, that it's emotionally challenging to experience as a viewer.  Maybe more so when the intended context is understood.

And so I'm almost done with another piece.  I have a few pieces of the background to touch-up, but that's that.  I've been building and preparing 4 new canvases, so there's much more to come soon.  
The series thus far is shaping up:

Recent soundtrack:
The Beatles -- all of it.  Going back to my childhood :)
alt-J -- This is All Yours
Tame Impala -- Currents
D'Angelo and the Vanguard -- Black Messiah
Hozier (yes, still obsessed)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Monday, May 25, 2015

2015, how'd you sneak up on me?

Welp, just realized that I haven't completed a painting in 6 months.  In the past 6 months, I've been taking chemistry and helping with friend's weddings (and decor), working (of course), working on updating my website aaaaand found much happiness in my personal life.  This shocking realization isn't one of remorse, just one of motivation.  

Yesterday, I had an incredibly successful rainy day in the studio.  Here's my latest underwater lady, in progress:

I'm currently unsure if she will remain bald or not.  The question is more why would she have hair then why wouldn't she.  I still have quite a bit to go on this one, more layers, etc, but I think I'm done with the majority of her face, which is always the toughest and most enjoyable part.

In studio soundtrack : The National, Ellie Goulding