birdbrain

IMG_7543 The last two summers I’ve painted critters the cat brought into the house. I wasn’t planning to do this again. Though a few weeks ago she brought a small bird into the studio and left it for me – to see. My curiosity piqued and I wondered about the head and its anatomy. IMG_7578 Birds have brains wired very similar to humans. They have a large brain to body ratio which supports advanced and complex intelligence. The many arteries, veins and nerves in the head cluster together, like ours. Intricate eye anatomy allows for acute eyesight. And while they have no teeth, their notable beak is lightweight.
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Birdbrain
Casein collage on BKK Rag
11 x 18″

3 sheets of prepared paper, 2 sides to each sheet – 1 bird, 4 cats and 1 rodent

“For thirty years people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y! The truthful answer is that I don’t. Everything about me is a contradiction and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.”    – Orson Welles (1915 – 1985)


I never liked this first set of 2 cats that I painted. I thought them too sweet. Yesterday I was talking to a friend about polarities, after that conversation I knew exactly what I wanted to do to these small compositions that I was struggling with. It’s the same cat on the front and on the back, taking up the same area on the paper. Maybe I call it Two Sides to Every Story.

As of now, this first one is my favorite. It’s organic. It came to be, out of uncertainty. The cat itself is somewhat modeled after ROA’s work. I set up the skeleton in egg tempera and the cat in graphite, underneath is casein muscle structure. The background came about while I was trying to obliterate it.

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mixed media – casein, graphite, gesso, egg tempera

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early stage, casein under-paint

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early stage, egg tempera

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egg tempera

I guess I let go of the self-imposed set up, the idea of one side in pure casein and one side in pure egg tempera wasn’t working. I got another set of designs (below) and reworked them too. The graphite took so well to the prepared paper, how could I not use it. I brought in hard and soft pencils, an eraser, sand paper, a scratching tool, and gesso. And I mixed the casein and egg yolk. The cat above and the rat below, are pure and painterly egg temperas. But their other sides – mixed-media.

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egg tempera

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mixed media – casein, egg tempera, gesso and graphite

I began all this the first week of May after Carolyn brought me a sheet of prepared paper. The first 2 images in this post are that sheet, it’s the lightest in weight and the most flexible and was the most precious. I was going to paint cats – for the fun of it. Obviously I enjoyed the surface of the paper, and all the mediums. I pulled out all my longer and softer paintbrushes. I painted.

3 sheets of prepared paper – 1 bird, 4 cats and 1 rodent later, my studio is a mess. It’s too hot to have egg yolk lying around, it smells. I’m done for now with the experimenting, drawing a day or a week, thing. Time to pause, look – and reorganize.

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cielo / tierra

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  – Shakespeare


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early stage of bird image

I finally complete one set of two paintings on one prepared sheet of paper. This came about because Carolyn gave me a sheet of drawing paper prepared in the way she prefers to work with it. I prepped two more sheets and have been working on several 2-sided design. They all relate to a cat in one way or another. I should note again: Carolyn uses graphite and acrylic wash and does not work on both sides of the paper.

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Because I am experimenting I decide I will paint one side in casein, and the other in egg tempera. Normally I mix the two mediums, but I want to know how they each respond to the surface. Both mediums work well, laying bright and smooth. My brushes and my rags like the feel too.

These images are stages of the casein bird. I collage architectural renderings (I found in a trashcan the day I started all of this) onto this one paper and prepare it the same way. I have to adjust things so the design continue to show through. It’s how the background comes to be in this set. Look closely – you see the line work I follow, paint and scratch over.

Casein takes to the surface well – egg tempera even better. I’ve already showed you the cat at its completed stage, (I show it again here below), and here is the finishedl bird which I worked some more, until I liked it.

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Bird, Casein collage on prepared paper, 12″ x 12″

I did experiment with a hanging system. I have to finesse it. It’s very possible this work will hang in downtown’s 515’s art space,  in June for there 515 to the 5th exhibit where each member invites 5 artists to show a small 12″ x 12″. Mary Shindell invited me.
pajaro gato

Below is the (egg tempera) cat at an early stage so you can see the collage line work, and then the final image.

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car, casein colage on prepared paper, 12″ x 12″

I am thinking about the title. If you have an idea let me know.

Cat / Bird
Una Gata / Un Pájaro  … simple.

Earth / Sky
La Tierra / El Cielo … I like this one.

Earth and Air
Tierra y Aire … I like this one.

Aversion and Attraction … This amuses me.

or … The One That Got Away.

a casein bird and an egg tempera cat

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

        ― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

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As I play with these small paintings on paper, I am reminded that in the Spanish language the word used for a new-born baby is criatura, which translates to creäture. I’ve studied anatomy for a good amount of time now, and working these small compositions I am most aware of how much structure we share with the animals.  I believe I have a better sense of why a cat is flexible and can jump high, and why a bird is able to fly.

I decide early on when first looking at cat anatomy, that I will make 4 cats. Very naturally, a bird enters this one set up. And because I have one more sheet of prepped paper, I plan to bring in a rodent because I am curious about their bodies and I admire Banksy’s rats.

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I mention in the previous post I am experimenting with a new surface. Usually I work with both casein and egg tempera on one image, sometimes using casein as under-paint. In this case the bird is pure casein and the cat is pure egg tempera.  I wish I could give you a better sense of the surface especially in the image below. Texture shows nicely by the  lines I set in and the lines I carve out.  I think of aboriginal weaving while completing the pieces and play that up some.

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I want to mention that I deal very differently with these animal studies as opposed to my large figure work. Though I am looking at basic structure, the figure work is a much more subtle study. One more play with animal structure and design and I then I plan get back to the large paintings.

it’s about material – period

The smallest feline is a masterpiece.― Leonardo da Vinci


Last month Carolyn ( who worked out the Creature in Creature Man Nature ) gave me a prepared paper.  She preps a quality sheet of drawing paper on both sides and doesn’t necessarily frame the artwork though she does fix it. I  like how she attaches it right to the wall, with no glass. I experience the direct surface of a work on paper, including edges. Her materials are graphite and acrylic white, black and gray washes and gesso. I use egg tempera, casein, and work with color.

She gives me a small sheet and says – Here, this is for you to play with … it’s small and maybe you won’t think it so precious. You can experiment.  She’s coated both sides with 4 layers of moulding paste. The paper is thick, substantial and has an object-like quality to it. Each side feels slightly different.

Oh, it’s precious all right – I’m not wasting an inch of this. I paint both sides.

The first two works are cat anatomy studies. The same cat takes up the same space on either side of the sheet.

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Above, the cat is painted in egg tempera. The yolk and pigment mixture I’ve made glides smoothly across the surface. I enjoy the feel and so play with / rework the design many (many) times.  I don’t feel it’s complete yet.

The cat below, the flip side of the same paper, is in casein.  It takes well to the bit of tooth on the surface. The paint doesn’t glide, it sits different. I do like the quality though. I’ll continue to work materials and composition.

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I decide to prepare a few sheets myself.  I use a heavy Arches watercolor paper. I lay 4-5 coats of moulding paste on each side and at the last-minute I decide to collage in architectural drawings that I’ve collected.

I work on a bird (below), all the while considering what the other side might become. Mary ( the Nature in Creature Man Nature ) has invited me to take part in a group show at 515. These are sized for that exhibit, so maybe one will hang sooner rather than later.  I’ll have to come up with an interesting hanging system, that too appeals to me.

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Creature Man Nature closed this weekend. It was a good run. We hope to find an exhibition venue outside of Arizona next.