Friday, April 5, 2013

Inspiration, Epiphanies, and Insights

March 28th, 2013

Upon arriving to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) for a recent show  (The Treasures of Kenwood House, London), I found the majority of the exhibit being works from English painters.  Included in the exhibit was Rembrandt's "Portrait Of An Artist."  (Yes, I know, Rembrandt is Dutch and technically didn't fit into the crowd, but who was I to tell them to take it down?  I sat on the bench and stared at it in awe like everyone else.)  I was unprepared for the impact this venture was about to bring.

"Portrait Of An Artist" -Rembrandt, painted c. 1665–69
This wasn't the first time I viewed Rembrandt's originals; it was the third. While each time I've reveled in the privilege of seeing his masterpieces, none has had such an impact of the third viewing.

The first time was several years ago at the Portland Art Museum (PAM). Haha, SAM and PAM.....
The trip to PAM certainly changed my entire attitude about art and how I saw it.  I always knew I wanted to paint like the Old Masters, and I've tried to learn as much as I could through books, online images, and the never-ending pit of knowledge that is my mother.  (Not to mention she's the inspiration for my love of art.) But, nothing can prepare a person for standing face to face with (in my opinion) one of the greatest artists of all time.

The second time I saw Old Master originals was in the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  What was so impacting in that gallery was the vast quantity of works.  I was able to walk through art history and see first hand the discoveries made by the greatest artists who ever lived.

And yet, after all of that, I still felt something lacking in paintings I create.

Sitting in awe of Rembrandt at SAM, I decided to pull up one of my own pieces (on my nifty new iPad) and actually put it side-by-side with the "Portrait Of An Artist."  That's when I saw it; the one thing I was missing.  It was so simple.  How I never saw it before I'll never know.  I was missing black.  Yes, black.  All my life I've heard so many artists and teachers tell me how to keep my paintings pure, I must never use black.  Ever.

So I never did.  I mean, sure, if I were painting something that actually was black, I would pull out Ivory Black, but only with an immense sense of guilt that I was betraying some unwritten code.  (Which is another thing, I don't get my attitude here. I mean, I was standing in front of a Titian in the Washington Gallery and I SAW the dirtied colors; the "real life" essence he put in his work that changed art forever.)

Nonetheless, there I was, sitting in the gallery with my mom and sister, having an epiphany of epic proportions.

It just so happened that upon my return home, I had a modeling session scheduled for a portrait idea, with my inspiration being the old famous photo of Humphrey Bogart in a trench coat.  My friend (and now star model) has a coat I saw as perfect for the "feel" I wanted to capture.

© 2013, Maranda Schemanski
I was still unaware of the connection this art show and my friend turned model shared.

As I began pouring over my reference photos and brainstorming the perfect pose, I settled on a position and began drawing.  I'm sure I will paint this one; I love the idea so much.

Then another artsy friend came over to see what had me so excited and losing sleep.  I showed her my reference photos, my inspiration photo, and we discussed technique, lighting, positioning, and all the things that go into a masterpiece.  Then I showed her the "Self Portrait As Apostle Paul" and she had one little thought...

A little work in Photoshop, some sketching on vellum, a little mock-up, and her idea came to life.  I. Was. Stunned.  This was the culmination of everything I've absorbed over the last several years brought to life in one afternoon.

"Self Portrait As The Apostle Paul"
- Rembrandt, painted c. 166
Preliminary sketch for Rembrandt inspired portrait. © 2013, Maranda Schemanski

I knew that I had to abandon the modern conveniences and take this on like the production art as it used to be.  I bought a hard board, gesso, and sandpaper.  I spent a day prepping, sanding layer after layer of gesso until my board was as smooth as eggshells.  Perfect.

Usually, before I paint anything, I painstakingly draw everything exactly how I want it, transfer that to canvas (using some very cool technological methods) and only then start painting.  This time, that just felt wrong.  I penciled on a few key points for proper placement, then grabbed my brush, took a deep breath, and began.

Beginning work for Rembrandt inspired portrait. © 2013 Maranda Schemanski

This changes everything.

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