An article by (c) Cait N. 2000-2010
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Marie Curie. Albert Einstein. William Shakespeare. Pythagoras. Only a select few people in history seem to embody the very essence and spirit of the vocation they pursue. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was one such individual. His name is synonymous, not with the wonderful sculptures he poured his heart and soul into, but rather his one major painting commission, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Restoration of the ceiling has caused many art historians, and the public in general, to step back and take a new look at a work that has been around for some four hundred and eighty-eight years.
Painted between the years 1508 and 1512, the Sistine Chapel ceiling has been one of the greatest tourist attractions since the nineteenth century. The simple fact that the Vatican voluntarily chose to have the ceiling restored is amazing because for the last 150 years they considered the idea of any major restoration tantamount to sacrilege. The decision to restore Michelangelo’s frescoes was partly to celebrate the fourth centennial of his death, and also because glues applied to the surface of the frescoes by previous restorers was causing the plaster to flake and peel which, if untreated, could have destroyed the ceiling.
According to Vatican records, there was a darkening of the frescoes in Michelangelo’s own time due to dust and smoke from candles and braziers. As early as 1543, Pope Paul II hired a caretaker to look after, not only the ceiling, but also the frescoes done earlier on the walls of the chapel. The first restoration was done in 1635 by a restorer named Lagi. He first dusted all the frescoes and then scrubbed them with wadded up bread. It’s speculated that this only added to the problems with the frescoes instead of helping. Also, in the 16th and 17th centuries, rainwater seeped through cracks in the chapel’s roof. The water weakened the plaster, causing cracks and color loss. As the water evaporated, it left crystallized deposits of mineral salts that spell death for frescoes. A second restoration in the 18th century and subsequent minor interventions added layers of animal glue, varnish, overpainting, and resins. Dust from the over two million visitors to the chapel every year, and sulfur dioxide from combustible engines only compounded the problem. It was evident that something had to be done before the frescoes were obliterated entirely.
My inspiration for this painting once again came from photos. I sketch out the basic composition in my sketchbook and then applied that to the canvas using charcoal. I dampened half the painting where the sky would dominate the background. Next I applied a gradient of light blue at the bottom and dark blue at the top. Using dark tones I applied the shadows for the clouds and then worked upon that basis with lighter tones until I was satisfied with the cloud effect I created.
Following this I started work on the mid-ground, applying the dark under-coat of the hills and also giving the basic impression of the beach and sea. I try to get as much shape in as possible using different tones of the colours.
Next, I fill in the detail for the mid-ground. For the distant hills I add a very small amount of green to just highlight and give it shape, but retaining much of the blue as possible to give the sense of distance. The beach proved to be quite difficult. My first attempt didn’t look right so I had to paint over the whole area and start afresh. This is one good reason to paint layer upon layer, background to foreground getting all the detail in at each step because it makes it easier to correct mistakes. With my first failed attempt at the beach I had a very good idea of what not to do, which in turn made it easier to figure out how to get the effect I desired.
This part shows the start of the foreground. Initially I was getting very frustrated with detailing the rocks, I was getting impatient due to the previous mistakes I had made. Thankfully, when I had added the grass detail and finished the entire foreground I was very pleased with what I had done.
To view the finished piece, please visit my blog.
Three months ago Nin asked me to make a contribution here about my artwork. She suggested that I write about the process I go through in producing a painting. I have finally gotten around to doing it (sorry for the wait, Nin).
The first thing I need before starting a painting is inspiration. As I have been painting mainly landscapes, I tend to go out for walks with a camera and take as many photos as I can before my legs get too tired. I have been using these photos, and photos taken by family members for basic inspiration. When I find some elements I like in a selection of photos I now do a basic little sketch showing where each element will fit into the composition, so I have a reference to work from and an idea of what order to do things in.
As I work with acrylics, I keep a water sprayer close to hand and have to work fairly quickly because of the speed in which acrylics dry. I start the painting by wetting the canvas with a light mist before applying any paint. In this painting I added the sky and basic outlines of the clouds first because this will appear in the background behind everything else. I also add the basic colour of the foreground because elements from the mid-ground and background will overlap it.
Next, I start work filling in the detail of the background. After adding highlights to the clouds, doing a distant tree line behind a field, I added the first layer to some mid-ground trees on the left. I keep the detail somewhat simplistic so as not to distract from the main focus of the painting and also to allow for some depth in picture.
I finished off the detail on the mid-ground trees. I also start highlighting the path that leads to the foreground. I used several similar colours so the highlights don’t appear too uniform. Acrylics blend really well and often by doing this you get nice effects quickly.
The next image shows quite a lot of work since the previous one because I forgot to take an extra photo of progress. I added more detail to the mid-ground and started work detailing the foreground as well. I painted a dark shade where the stones would be and a much lighter shade on top to shape out the stones. I also started work on the spring. I wanted to try for an effect of very clear water and went about this by painting the pebbles and then adding layers of watered down paint.
By this point, the bulk of the painting is done. I just needed to finish off the details and I added a dead tree stump to the right of the painting. I added some extra bits of colour, detailed the stone and water further and continued to used watered down paint to great effect in detailing the ground, especially as it slopes towards the water. The final image can be seen here.