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Another year at the Aristides Atelier has drawn to a close.

Aristides Atelier Program Opening

Being one who thrives with structure (i.e. having to be in a set place, on a set schedule), this is a slight source of anxiety for me. Seattle has wakened in the beautiful (albeit distracting) glow of green and mountains and balmy Summer temperatures, and I’m faced with the less-structured months ahead. The remedy to this is writing my own schedule (write for the Atelier site, finish projects, illustrate, and/or work on color [!] charts on these days, at this time) and putting together some semblance of a workspace in our tiny, tiny apartment… but I digress.

What I am saying good-bye to after this, my second of four years in the Atelier, is grisaille: “a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey.”

I spent my first year of study drawing: I drew from still-life, from master copies, and from the model; I sharpened charcoal to needly little points (more on that later) and spent many a meditative and/or frustrating hour turning Fabriano Ingres paper into meticulously rendered velvet; I came close to losing vision when leaning my face this close to the surface in order to pick out that one microscopic fleck of dark that no-one but myself would ever notice. You’d think that I’d have been tickled pink to move on to paint, yes? Think again: I was terrified. I’d always been more frustrated with my lack of painting ability than I had with my lack of drawing ability, and here I was about to come face-to-face with my demon.

Deep breath.

It wasn’t so bad. It was, in fact, utterly frustrating and hair-pulling and tear-inducing… but bad? It wasn’t anything close to the frustration of panel-tossing and brush-snapping that I’d experienced prior to beginning my classical realist studies. I wasn’t fumbling blindly; I was given a set way to go about things; and that year of painstaking drawing turned painting into something that finally made sense.

I was given the proper way to mix my grey scale from a mere three tubes of paint (again, painstaking, but somehow soothing).

Grisaille Palette

I broke down tone to its simplest elements in the form of poster studies.

Poster Study of Courbet's La Bacchante

And finally, somehow, painting the figure and the still life started to make sense.

First Grisaille Figure Study: Handsclasped (Yma) - oil on panel - 2009

First Grisaille Still Life: Sleepyhead (Self Portrait Cast) - oil on panel - 2010

That’s not to say that, months after the above paintings were completed, I don’t still have my problems: why do my whites dry out so dark? Why can’t my transitions be smoother? Why isn’t my brushwork as even as her’s? And why isn’t there the luxury of a whole other year to spend on grisaille before plummeting headfirst into a new year of new terrors?

Au revoir, l’an deux. Au revoir (for now), Atelier. Grisaille? We will see each other ’til we part ways in September.

Arstides Atelier students with the donors to the Madison Studio - Best of Gage - 2010

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