Sunday, January 29, 2012

Old Masters, and fashion notes

A few weeks back I went to the Portland Art Museum to see the traveling masterpiece by Titian that is now on display. There are billboards of "La Bella" up all over town, and newspaper articles have claimed that she is the "elusive ideal of beauty." OK, that sounds worth checking out, no?

My impressions are as follows:
  • The museum did an amazing job of setting the tone of "this is a very important painting" with the signage and other related pomp. It was really fun watching folks walk into the special alcove where La Bella is displayed--wide-eyed, unsure what to do with their hands, unsure how to react to what is clearly supposed to be a Big Deal Painting. 
  • La Bella is a nice portrait. It doesn't strike me as especially superior to the other portraits in the European Art collection that are already on exhibit, though.   
  • All of the promos you see of La Bella in the billboard promos and the newspaper articles zoom in on her face--the pale skin, delicate arch of eyebrows, youthful smoothness of the face. But what those photos don't reveal to you is her outfit. La Bella is a cute young woman who is entirely overshadowed by her enormous poofy sleeves. Oh my goodness. We're talking the height of Renaissance decadence here: blue and gold wagon-wheels at the shoulder, that transform into extraordinary oxblood arms that are slashed open at regular intervals with glorious meringue-like poofs of the white silk lining pulled through to the surface. The girl herself is like a pale, soft-focus afterthought tacked on to an extraordinary riot of gleaming gold embroidery on mediculously-rendered velvets and silks that catch the light in beautiful ways with every wrinkle and crease. 
See the full glorious outfit! Granted, this is after the painting has had a good cleaning; the dissonance between La Bella's face and dress seems less jarring when she had hundreds of years of soot to balance the composition out.

Today is the last day to see La Bella at the Portland Art Museum. I might have to go back and get a better look at those amazing sleeves today, just because.

Oregon Live has a good article where you can read more about the history and context of La Bella. (They're less snarky than I am, hee hee.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Library Nerd

Took myself to the Portland State University library for the first time this week. I was looking up books on the philosophy of biology for work, but of course had to wander through the illustration section of the stacks as well. Was captivated by a book of posters by Maurice Sendak--man, that fellow can blend cross-hatching with delicate watercolors like a dream. Found this illustration from his interpretation of Ozma of Oz: look at Dorothy's oversize shoes with no laces, and how she almost looks sad-eyed in his rendition. Captivating.
I also came across a book from the 1600s that was full of home remedies for various ailments. It wasn't illustrated, but I loved the crazy archaic fonts and the spellings of common words. (Ah, the "long s" always makes me nostalgic for my Renaissance Faire days!)

I suppose that's one benefit to visiting libraries where you don't have borrowing privileges; it makes you take good visual notes on what you are excited about. (Or, in the case of the biology of philosophy articles, it lets you spend quality time with the photocopy machine.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fractal Season

New Year's Eve was a clear, nearly-sunny day in Portland. We went for a long walk in Washington Park, and I couldn't keep from admiring all the amazing patterns in the bare tree branches. Fractals, fractals, everywhere! "I love it when trees do the math for me," I declared aloud as we squelched down the muddy trails.
Japanese Garden sketch
 When we wandered through the Portland Japanese Garden, at one point I sat down and tried to capture an impression of the branches, the balance, the lovely asymmetry. It's just a simple sketch, but it did get my eye better-tuned to looking at those branch patterns.

Chinese Garden sketch
New Year's Day saw us out exploring town in the sunshine again. The Lan Su Chinese Garden was closed for the holiday, but I enjoyed sitting on a sunny bench in the entry plaza, using a tube of watercolor to sketch a fabulously eroded rock with--you guessed it--a fancy pattern of bare branches behind it.
I omitted Bill's wheelbarrow here. Gotta pick your battles sometimes.

On January 7, I met up with Urban Sketchers Portland to have a group doodling-party at a member's art studio. The shed in the yard was framed by bare tree branches, and I tried combining ink and watercolor to establish a foreground/background effect. And, as you can see, I'm starting to tackle more and more complex branch patterns. It's still very sparse compared to the detail on the real trees, of course. (See more sketches from Jan 7.)

Now, as you can tell by my weird self-portaits-while-peeking-out-from-behind-the-sketchbook, I'm having some scanner issues nowadays.We recently moved, and have not yet discovered which box holds the oh-so-precious power cord to my lovely, lovely scanner. This has me in quite a tizzy, but it's good to play with options on how to frame one's images from a sketchbook, right?

I've treated myself to a membership at the Independent Publishing Resource Center, partly so I can use their scanners until I get my own up and running again. While most of my scans on January 7 turned out fine, the scanner did have a few moments of adding random crazy orange stripes to the page.
Oh, IPRC scanner. I think these orange stripes are signs of Yeti meddling.
While this makes me flinch in a lot of ways, it also reminds me of the work of Deb Rossi, who adds big "colorblocks" of watercolor over the top of her ink sketches. Maybe the scanner artifacts are a way to start exploring that sketching approach?
It would be prettier with real watercolor, rather than Photoshop.

Hmmmm. That's the joy of sketching in groups (and wrestling with persnickety equipment)--you can find yourself exploring all new ideas.