Saturday, November 27, 2010

Story of Baba Dojda (Granny Doyda), Part 2

The background story;
The painting of Baba Dojda, featured in the previous post, is in fact the second incarnation of the character. It was at first conceived as a preliminary drawing for one of my paintings done in 2009, and named  Hans, Greta and the Old Lady.  In that first incarnation she was  a proper witch, and took part in a retold version of the famous fairytale Hans and Gretel. As a witch she behaved quite badly, which she later on bitterly regretted, and therefore decided to return as a good dwarf Medicine Woman in her following incarnation, and repair the damage she had caused during her previous existence.

The sketch of the witch

Hans, Greta and the Old Lady

The witch, detail

At the beginning of the spring of 2010, I found myself wonderfully submerged into  already mentioned Banished Demons book project. I was being busy with the project for several months already, and  was enjoying  it very much.  It was one of those “ my cup of tea” projects and I was in a kind of uplifting state of mind, that I unfortunately do not experience every day. One morning, I was in the bathroom trying to free myself from my beard, at least 10 days old, when a picture of a tiny dwarf lady flashed through my mind (I often get the inspiration while shaving myself). The story quickly followed and soon I had to stop shaving in order to write down the words that were popping up in my mind.
Then I remembered the preliminary drawing of the witch and knew I had to incorporate it into the new composition. So, I took the old sketch, added an extra sheet of paper to give the  drawing more breathing space, and redrew it.  

Finished preliminary drawing

When the preliminary drawing was finished, and realizing that I would need a good reference photo for the picture’s background, I took the photo camera, jumped on my bicycle and went into a very nice piece of nature located at the edge of the place I live in. I was riding along the meadows with my eyes fixed to the ground in search of the floral “models”,  regularly stopping to shoot photos of the plants and the flowers. After many miles of bicycling and numerous photos  I still had the feeling of not yet having made the right reference photo. I even started to criticize myself for spending  so much time in vain, searching for the reference in the wide nature, while I could get the photos of all sorts of plants and flowers on the internet in just a few clicks. As I was approaching my house I passed by  the garden of  my first neighbor. In the middle of the garden there was a beautiful full grown apple tree. Beneath the tree there was a circle paved with the pieces of stone. There I spotted a few tiny white flowers pushing their way through the narrow strokes of soil between the stones. The spot was lit by the sunlight that was piercing through the branches of the apple tree making the fragile flowers gleam.
Instantly I knew I found the right spot.

When the painting of the background was finished I approached my younger colleague Dragan Bibin and asked him to do the last step in the process of making this image. He then skillfully put the drawing and the background painting together in Photoshop and -  Voilà! -  the Baba Dojda picture came into being.

There is an anecdote in connection with the first BadaDojda incarnation that I want to share with you. When the painting Hans, Greta and the Old Lady was finished, and during one of my visits to my parents’ house in Serbia, I showed the reproduction of that painting to my father. I said to him that I used an old photo of the grandmother as an inspiration.
 He looked at the picture for a while and recognizing the posture of his deceased mother, said: “ Shame on you, my son. You have made a witch of my mother!”.
He was deadly serious and angry, adding that I hurt his feelings with the picture. I was shocked and pleased at the same time. It was the FIRST TIME that my father reacted emotionally to one of my paintings.  In fact, he never supported me in my intentions to become an artist, and with a good reason, I must say. He was always afraid I would not be able to earn my living as an artist. Well, several times in the past, when I was desperately struggling to earn just enough money to buy food and to pay some of  my monthly costs, I found myself on the brink of admitting that my dear father was right after all!

Photo of my grandmother from around 1969. That little troll standing next to her and pretending to be a good boy, …that’s me.
And, at the end, for some of you who still question the existence of Baba Dojda, here are her shoes. Beside the story, it’s everything that is left of her.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The story behind the picture

Most pictures tell a story of some kind. Some of the pictures are created just to evoke a certain emotion. Still, the most of them do both things, for the emotion goes with the story, especially with a good one. Beside the known, visible story every picture has a hidden and untold story, too. It is  a story of its genesis.  The story of the picture’s creation is often not exciting enough and therefore it is doomed to stay in the shadow of the main story. Yet, some of these background stories appear to be worth telling.

The Story of Baba Dojda (Granny Doyda) – Part 1

The main story;
“ Baba Dojda lived on the slopes of the mountain called Vitorog, in Bosnia. There, a long time ago, her mother, who was a woman of small proportions, and her father, a dwarf from the mountain Rudnik, were struck by a sudden death, while trying to escape the Ottoman Turks. The little girl, whose name nobody knew, grew up among the forest  animals and birds. Later on people would call her Dojda,  by the sound dojda – dojda (come-come) which she was making when calling the animals. Many years later they would add Baba (Granny) to her name, as well. Baba Dojda knew the hidden secrets of the plants and the mountain springs,and their healing powers. Using this knowledge she helped sick and wounded animals, without making the distinction between the wild and the domestic ones. It was told that Baba Dojda occasionally helped women too, especially the pregnant ones. People who saw her said she was small, hunchbacked and somehow appearing to be gray; she could laugh quite infectiously though. When she laughed everything around her would became jolly and started to grow exuberantly, and because of that many thought she was a witch.”

From the book Prognana bića  ( Banished Demons ), chapter Dwarfs.
Story Baba Dojda written by Petar Meseldžija
Text edited by Milenko Bodirogić
Text Copyright © Petar Meseldžija, 2010

The story of Baba Dojda – Part 2, in the next post…

Monday, November 22, 2010

Svjatogor and Alla-prima technique

One proverb says: “ There is no shortcut to the place that is truly worthwhile of being at.”
There is an anecdote about Picasso that illustrates the wisdom of these words in a very nice way.
Once, a man visited Picasso in his studio with intention of buying an art piece from the great master. At that time Picasso was already famous and quite rich artist, whose work was sought after by many collectors from all around the world, and was selling for significant amounts of money. So, knowing that, the visitor looked around the Picasso’s studio in search of a small piece of art that wouldn’t cost him that much, and which he intended to sell later on for a higher price. Suddenly he spotted a little drawing, one of those famous Picasso’s simple but brilliant line drawings, and he asked the artist how much he would ask for it.
“2000 Dollars”, Picasso answered.
“2000 Dollars for this simple drawing!!!, replied the astonished visitor. “But, sir, how could you ask so much money for a drawing you apparently did in not more than 2 minutes”.
“ You are wrong, sir”, said Picasso with a discrete smile on his face. “ It took me more than 2 minutes to make this drawing. In fact, it took me 20 years and 2 minutes!”

This is the sketch for the painting of a mountain giant known by the name of Svjatogor.  Although Svjatogor  is mostly to be found in the Russian folklore and in particular in the Russian epics, called Bylines, according to some scholars, he in fact represents a divinity from the Slavic mythology . This illustration was done  for the book on Serbian mythology named “Banished Demons”, just like the “Giants - The Bull Figh” painting  from the previous post.

This is one of the reference photos I took after the sketch was done. As you can see, there is not much of the mythological feel in this picture. The question which I often ask myself at this stage in the process of picture making, especially in case of this particular kind of compositions, is the one I believe,  many of the contemporary fantasy illustrators wrestle with. And the question is: how do you produce a painting that has to reflect that timeless and grandiose feeling we often refer to as the Mythological dimension, from the photo of a model holding a broom stick in his hand and wearing a torn worn-out nightdress, and posing in the artist’s studio, or the guestroom, in case of this particular photo?
As far as I am concerned, the answer is - there is no clear and universal answer to this question. If there was an universal answer to this question, we would probably be able to define Art through the mathematic formulas. But, fortunately, we all know (at least I hope so) that it is not possible because Art is not Science. Therefore the solution to this problem lies in the artist’s emotion, the depth of his artistic insight and his ability to connect himself to this abstract planes of the mental universe. Of course there are a few tips that might be useful in avoiding the trap of making an image that is glittering on the surface, yet empty from inside. This might especially be useful to the young  aspiring artists who still did not fully develop their own artistic personality. In my opinion the most important tip is - use the photo only as a reference, as an inspiration. Do not copy the photo, unless you have a good reason for doing that, and let your imagination lead the way. You might think - it’s easier told than done, which is also true, but I think it will be better to leave this topic to a future post. There is much to be said about it.
Anyway, I tried to tackle this problem in the Svjatogor painting in my own way, which is of course, one of many ways that lead to (mythological) Rome.

The final preliminary drawing.

After the first day of painting.
After the second day.

The pictures from above show some details from the finished painting. The painting was done in so-called alla-prima technique. It  means that it was painted in one layer, not counting the monochromatic underpainting which was done a few days before that.  From my experience I can tell you that the alla-prima technique is quite tricky, complex and that it requires lots of practice, dedication and perseverance in order to be mastered. It is also quite an exhausting way of executing the painting. Because almost every brush stroke counts, it requires outermost concentration.There is not much space left for making the mistakes. There is no “delete button” of any kind. Of course you always can scratch away the paint from the painting surface and start all over again. When practiced in its purest form, alla-prima technique implies that one should apply the paint to the painting surface and leave it as it is, without adjusting or polishing the brush stroke. For many years I found this very complicated to except and to perform .
I spent many years trying to master this technique. Many brushes were broken and a few holes in a number of canvases and wooden boards were made in anger, before I finally started to feel confident about it. The complexity of alla-prima technique lies in the fact that, generally speaking, one brush stroke has to contain everything that is necessary for making a good picture, like: the right color, the right value and hue, it has to be applied in an expressive way and on the right spot in order to define the form correctly. Also the brush strokes have to reflect or communicate the right feeling, depending of the nature of the painted object or a situation.I must not forget to mention the devilish disobedience of the wet oil paint. But, as with most of the demons, once you have found the way to tame this particular demon, it will become your friend and obey your wishes.
One of the golden rules of the successful alla-prima technique is not to mix the different colors on your palette for 100%. One should leave a certain amount of each particular color within the mixture more or less visible. In other words, if you mix blue and yellow, don’t mix them until you get even, smooth green color. But rather leave the traces of pure yellow and blue within the mentioned green mixture.  If done properly, the results of this “trick” can be quite amazing. Its secret lies in, as well the Physics as in the way we humans perceive and experience the visible world. It appears that the optical mixing of colors produces a greater impact that the physical mixing.  Think of the Impressionists, the Pointillists in particular, and their use of this principal. Is there more beautiful color spectacle in this world than the Rainbow? Certainly not for me!
If you take a closer look at the details from the finished Svjatogor painting you will notice that many of the brush strokes consist of thin lines of different color.  When looked at from the right distance, these different colors come together forming the desired color.

This is the finished painting. It is painted on a wooden board, size 27 x 56 cm (10 1/2 x 22 inch).
It took me a little more than 2 days to paint this  picture. Or, should I be more precise -  it took me 20 years and  a little more than 2 days to paint it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Post

Well, there we go!
Welcome to all of you who are so kind to spare some of your precious time and visit this tiny particle of the vast Virtual Universe, and  to share with me some thoughts on Art, my approach to it and everything else that is connected to it. This is the first post of my first Blog and I will try to come with new posts as often as possible. I am a busy person who spends much of his life with a painting brush in his hand, and has trouble finding time for other things. So, please be patient with me and my blog, because after all “Patience is a virtue”.
First of all, I want to thank Dragan Bibin and Vanja Todoric for convincing me to start with this blog and for their generous offer to help me create and maintain it.

Giants - The Bull Fight

This painting was created for a book on Serbian mythology called “Banished Demons” ("Prognana bića"). It deals with a group of giants who  are amusing themselves by watching a bull fight. The painting is inspired by one of the most celebrated paintings from the history of Serbian art named “The Cock Fight”, and as such it is an homage to its creator Paja Jovanovic, who is one of the greatest Serbian masters from the 19th and 20th century. 

This is a preliminary drawing done with graphite pencils. I started sketching on a relatively small piece of paper without a conscious intention of making the drawing of the whole composition.  But the sketch progressed well and soon, crossing the invisible line between Sketch and Drawing, it grew into a proper preliminary drawing. Hence the vertical line across the drawing which is a consequence of me adding a new sheet of paper to accommodate the needs of the growing composition. What else could you expect from drawing the giants, who somehow always tend to be bigger in size than my drawing paper. This preliminary drawing consists of three separate sheets of paper.

This is the underpainting done on Masonite board. I usually mix several of different colors on my palette  in order to get a kind of reddish ochre,  which I use to do the underpainting. I paint in oils.

After the underpainting was sufficiently dry I proceeded by painting the background, mixing the paint with enough painting medium. The applied paint is transparent and permits the reddish underpainting to come through and enrich and infuse the painted shadows with a certain glow. I often try to keep the shadows transparent because mighty  Rembrandt “told” me to do so (more about that in a future post).

More giants are starting to appear making their way through the brush strokes.

People say “Less is more” and it is often true, but of course not always. Anyway, it works well  for me and my painting technique and therefore I try to paint, or better say to suggest the form  through  the expressive brush strokes  (more about that  in a future post, as well).

This is the finished painting. The size of it is  90 x 55 cm, or 35 1/2 x 21 1/2 inch. 

A detail from the finished painting showing  the faces of a few giants. As you can see, beside enjoying an exciting bull fight,  the giants also love to smoke pipe and to drink a proper size glass (at least a few of them) of strong ale or brandy, especially the famous plum-brandy named Sljivovitsa. No wonder they often could be seen dancing as crazy through the countryside, as the image from below clearly shows.