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04 September 2014

An Experiment in Acrylic Painting

Women in Cultural Context, a group show, is currently showing at Tansey Contemporary,  on Canyon Road, is currently exhibiting. I went to see Teri Greeves’ large scale wall pieces—beadwork mosaic appliqués on raw silk. While there, I discovered the work of another artists in the show, Patrick McGrath Muñiz.

Muñiz is Puerto Rican artist who uses Renaissance techniques to make biting and clever social commentary on today’s global society. Besides his portfolio website, he maintains an informative blog. I poked around and discovered his post “Sharing My Own Approach to Painting Sixteenth CenturyVenetian Way.” Artists willing to share their hard-won techniques are rare and should be celebrated for their magnanimity.

These days, since launching First American Art Magazine, I don’t have any time left to paint; however, I agreed to participate in ImagoMundi. This international art exhibit showcases Luciano Benetton’s collection of artworks from around the word—all 12 cm x 10 cm—Imago Mundi is presently focused on Native America. So I had a tiny panel to paint and a new method about how to paint it. We’re running an article about Mapuche silverwork, so I thought perhaps I could paint something on that subject.

When I work from historical photographs, I try to find works in the public domain, such as Gustavo Milet Ramírez’s 1890 photo of a young Mapuche woman from Traiguén, Chile. The French-Chilean photographer, who lived from 1860 to 1917, was known for his photographs of Mapuche people.  Milet Ramírez took several shots of the same girl, many of which were made into postcards; I chose the photo in which she was grinning. Being extraordinarily nearsided, I’m fairly adept at teasing out information from grainy black-and-white photographs. The texture of her clothes and mantle are different; coarse woven material versus fur, which might be a quillango, a guanaco-fur cloak. Guanacos are the increasingly rare, wild cousins of llamas and alpacas, and their pelts are tawny with creamy-white underbellies.

The day before I had painted the wooden panel purple, so I began sanding it down to create a drawing surface; however, the texture was appealing, so I left it for the background and just gessoed the area that the girl would occupy. Gesso is far easier to draw upon than white paint. In composing the piece, I included the hands, since hands can be an expressive as the face

Step #2 Disegno (drawing)

In his blog post, “Sharing My Own Approach to Painting Sixteenth Century Venetian Way,” Patrick McGrath Muñiz’s Step #1 is Bozzetto (preliminary sketch). He recommends drawing on a separate paper and transferring it to the canvas for Step #2 Disegno (drawing) I just draw the girl’s basic features and jewelry directly on the panel.

Step #3 is Sotto Disegno (underdrawing)
His Step #3 is Sotto Disegno (underdrawing), in which he suggests paints the lines with burnt umber and turpentine. I should mention I’m painting with Golden acrylics, not oil paints, so mixed the Burnt Umber with Golden Acrylic Flow Release, which reduces surface tension and makes the paint “wetter.” The end result looks something like an R. Crumb illustration, and her eyes are way too big—but it’s painting; it can be fixed!

Step #4 Imprimatura (toned canvas),
Step #4, Imprimatura (toned canvas), requires a translucent wash of Venetian Red thinned with linseed oil and turpentine. Golden recommends substituting Red Oxide for Venetian Red. I used my typical concoction of Acrylic Flow Release, Retarder, and Acrylic Glazing Liquid. Typically this makes a wonderful “soupy” transparent wash that doesn’t dry quickly; however, I found Step #5: Togliere Strofinare (wipe-out technique) challenging. With oils, you can wipe the light areas clean with a cotton cloth; however, my wash dried quickly. I could wipe away sections but the transition was not smooth, so I just touched up the lighter areas with Titanium White. I’m impressed that at every stage of the painting, Muñiz’s sketch of Titian’s The Gipsy Madonna was gorgeous. Mine had ups and downs, but wacky looking stages can be redeemed.

Left: Step #5: Togliere Strofinare (wipe-out technique). Right: my typical painting formula
Step #6 is Sotto Dipinto (underpainting) involves two processes—painting the cool, backgrounds with a grisaille, a range greys mixed from Ivory Black to White, and a citronage, a range of colors mixed from Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, and White. I’m a huge advocate of underpainting, especially for fleshtones. Typically I use a verdaille, or an olive-green underpainting, which makes fleshtones pop beautifully.

Palette for the citronage: tones of Titanium White mixed with Yellow Ochre,
and shades of Ivory Black mixed with Yellow Ochre


Step #6 Sotto Dipinto (underpainting)
The heavy lifting is done, so Muñiz’s final step is Step #7 Velaturas (color glazing)—the fun part! First step—I hate the Red Oxide wash over the purple, so to move the background back to the back, I gave it an Anthraquinone Blue wash. I also painted her clothing blue, then used Payne’s Gray and Titanium White for her silver jewelry.

Step #7 Velaturas (color glazing)
I laid down the base colors for her guanaco fur cloak, then painted on the furry texture. Here soupy paint bleeds too much; the paint should be less diluted, because the individual strokes should show clearly. I had to fight myself and use the No. 2 brush as much as possible before skipping to the extremely fine 0/20 brush. I tweaked out too much on the right side of the fur, so tried to stay loose on the left side, then went back and smoothed over areas on the right side of the fur cloak. More work does not necessarily mean a better painting, nor does more detail. The detail should be concentrated on the composition’s focus—in this case, the girl’s face—not every corner of the painting.

Step #7 Velaturas (color glazing)
Finally the time has come to cure the girl’s extreme case of jaudice! Her eyes and teeth both look okay as is, so I add color to her lips—the challenge being to make her look natural, not as if she were wearing lipstick. Dramatic shifts between the lip color and dots of white highlights help make the lips appear moist.

I can finally give her skin some color. My typical palette for fleshtones include Titanium White, Naples Yellow, Pyrrole Red, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber, and Payne’s Gray. In larger, more detailed portraits, Violent Oxide is fantastic for shadows, but not needed here. Here’s where the paint should be extremely soupy, with generous portions of Acrylic Glazing Liquid for transparency and blending. Each stroke is nerve-wracking because the slightest shift to a mouth, an eyelid, etc. completely changes the expression of the subject.

This is a seriously tiny painting: 12 cm x 10 cm
The purple dress was annoying me, so I gave it a glaze of Alizarin Crimson Hue (Golden doesn’t create toxic colors, so approximates the more historical toxic colors as close as possible). Her jewelry was lumpy, so I tried to straighten it out with bolder edges. It’s a gamble whether to paint silver-like colors or actually to use silver paint; however, this can often look fake and cheap. Gold paint is very attractive, but silver paint can flop, so I opted to leave the jewelry blue-white.

In lieu of a frame, I sanded down the edges to the white gesso. So small, kind of funky, but finished!

Mapuche Girl after Milet Ramírez, 2014, acrylic on wooden panel
While painting I have hours to ponder issues such as cultural appropriation. Why am I, a Swedish-Cherokee artist painting a Mapuche person when I’ve never even been to Chile? By painting a portrait, hopefully I’m not stepping over the line of respectful outsider. I’m not trying to assume Mapuche identity; it would be bizarre if I tried to create Mapuche silver jewelry or painted drums—to attempt usurp their style.

Painting portraits based on historical photographs, although a ubiquitous practice is not by any stretch of the imagination cutting-edge art, and yet it does have some value. Our tribal histories are still invisible in mainstream culture. Painting is not a neutral representation—it’s a time-consuming practice laden with its own ancient history. Painting someone puts them on a pedestal, exults them. Taking this antique image and bringing into the 21st century, in vivid color, is a form of time travel and a statement that this person and her culture are important—that we in North America should look at and learn from South American tribes. I kept thinking about the idea of an “Indian princess,” because a “princess” is most ready European archetype to describe this young woman—confident and smiling—draped in luxurious furs and extravagant silver jewelry.

Thanks to Patrick McGrath Muñiz in sharing guidelines for this small experiment in painting!

21 June 2014

Newark Earthworks

Deer on one of eight barrier mounds at the gap of the Octagonal Mound of the Newark Earthworks
Will post soon!

19 June 2014

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park + Jarrod Burks presentation

Hopewell Mound Group, as mapped by
Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis, published in 1848
Today we went to the primary site for the Middle Woodland societies known as the Hopewell Tradition: the Hopewell Cultural National National Historic Park in Chillicothe, Ohio. I'm beginning to appreciate the extent that manmade earthworks—mounds, earthen enclosures, and ditches, some lined to hold water—covered the landscape, particularly in Ross County, of Ohio.

In the Ohio River Valley, the Early Woodland society known as the Adena culture flourished from 1000–200 BCE. This culture evolved into the the Middle Woodland cultural tradition known as Hopewell, who flourished from 200 BCE to 500 CE. The trade network of the Hopewellian Exchange, while originating in Ohio, ultimately spanned from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

This little redwing blackbird is one seriously angry bird.
First we visited the Hopewell Mound Group on a tour led by Dr. Brett Ruby, who has also studied Hopewell sites in Indiana and Tennessee. He said that vegetation management is the park's greatest challenge. Ohio is incredibly lush. Since the earthen enclosures of the Hopewell Mound Group are no longer clearly visible, the park mowed a large swath into the foliage to reveal where the earthworks once stood. From north to south, the enclosures run 2,800 feet.

In 1891, three connected mounds were excavated and many of the Hopewell artifacts in museums today came from these burial mounds. All the other mounds at the site were excavated several times in subsequent years.

Copper repoussé, possibly representing a Carolina parakeet
The Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park maintains a number of close but not adjacent sites. We drove to the immense Siep Mound. Mound City is next to the museum includes 23 mounds, enclosed by earthen embankments with openings at regular intervals. The US Army destroyed most of these mounds in WWI, so they have been rebuilt. A walkway leads down to the nearby Scioto River.

The interpretative center has numerous artifacts and reproductions on display, including mica cut-outs, copper repoussé objects, ear spools, shell bead necklaces, and the characteristic effigy platforms pipes for which Hopewellian artists are so famous.

Muskrat (?) swimming in the Scioto River
Jarrod Burks gave a presentation to a packed house about his success mapping ancient earthworks with remote sensing technologies. These include LiDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, which allows earthworks to be seen through forest canopies, and the magnetometer, which through variations in the magnetic fields can sense underground trenches. Through walking carefully over a site with a magnetometer, either handheld or rolled, Burks can create a map of the underground site, which reveals ditches, earthworks, and post holes.

Remote sensing technologies are extremely exciting developments since they allow archaeologists to glean valuable information about sites, without disturbing burials or sacred sites by excavating them. Tribal archaeologists often couple remote sensing with surface collection, since both are non-intrusive, allowing tribes to know about their ancestors without disrespecting them.

Siep Mound

Mound City—these mounds have all been reconstructed

Fort Ancient Earthworks

Sorry, no time to write much but here are images. More later!

Fort Ancient Archaeological Park museum. This site is the largest hilltop earthwork enclosure, located near Oregonia, Ohio. The edges of the hilltop were flanked by earthwork enclosures built by the earlier settlement of Woodland people who were part of the Hopewellian exchange. It was late settled by the Fort Ancient peoples.

Mica bird claw cut out, sometimes considered a peregrine falcon claw
"Stone circles" mean something else here in Ohio. The original stones are buried.
These replicas are carefully marked with coins laid down underneath so no one will mistake them.

Insanely beautiful view. If not covered in vegetation, this would overlook two serpent-shaped
effigy mounds, one marking the summer solstice; one the winter. Apparently the larger sites mark
both solar and lunar calendars.

18 June 2014

Holder-Wright Earthworks, Jeffers Mound, and Kerr Mound

The 40-foot tall conical Jeffers Mound is covered in vegetation,
including approximately 40 trees and ring of poison ivy
Ohio State University’s American Indian Center sponsored Linda and my trip here to observe the prehistoric earthworks. The Newark Earthworks Center co-sponsored our trip, and our hosts are Marti Chaatsmith (Comanche-Choctaw) and Christine Ballengee Morris (Eastern Cherokee). Earthworks are ubiquitous in Ohio, and OSU and NEC are striving to protect them by increasing awareness about them.

Ohio has no federally recognized tribes; however, a number of historical tribes lived here before being relocated to Indian Territory and other regions. These tribes include (but are not limited to):
  • Anishinaabe (Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi)
  • Delaware (Lenape)
  • Eel River people
  • Erie
  • Kaskaskia (enrolled today in the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma)
  • Miami
  • Mingo (enrolled today in the Seneca-Cayuga Nation)
  • Piankashaw (enrolled today in the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma)
  • Sauk
  • Shawnee
  • Wea (enrolled today in the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma)
  • Wyandotte (Wendat).
 What's interesting is that the Miami, Shawnee, and Wyandotte people arrived in Ohio from the East in the 17th century and openly state they did not build the earthworks. Adena earthworks date back 3,000 to 2,200 years, and Hopewell earthworks date back 2,200 to 1,500 years, so in truth, it would be extremely difficult to determine what tribes are connected to the earthworks. It is debated whether or not Fort Ancient culture, which only dates back 1,000 to 250 years, descends from the Hopewell tradition. Did Fort Ancient develop in situ or emigrate from another region into Ohio?

A Miami scholar told Marti Chaatsmith that Miami weren't connected to the earthworks and had no specific language about them. He suggested that verbs would be the place to look—to planning and building major earthworks. What Indigenous language has these terms? Seems like Anishinaabemowin would be an intriguing candidate to study.
During our busy first day we visited the Holder-Wright earthworks in Dublin, Jeffers Mound in Worthington, and the Kerr Mound located between two residential houses in Pickerington.

I’ll share more details when there’s time!

16 June 2014

Ohio Earthworks

Map of precontact sites in Ohio by Heironymous Rowe
Thanks to American Indian Studies Program at the Ohio State University, Linda Lomahaftewa and I are embarking on another precolumbian journey—this time to explore Ohio's Ancient Earthworks!

Ohio is the birthplace of three major civilizations:
  • Adena culture (ca. 1000 - 200 BCE)
  • Hopewell Exchange (ca. 200 BCE - 500 CE)
  • Fort Ancient culture (1000-1750 CE )
Marti Chaatsmith, the Associate Director of the Newark Earthworks Center, and Christine Ballengee Morris, Professor of Arts Administration and Policy at OSU, created an amazing itinerary that includes:
  • The Great Serpent Mound
    Hopewellian copper bird, the Mound City, Ohio
  • Fort Ancient Earthworks
  • Mound City [Hopewell Culture National Historic Park],
  • Newark Earthworks: the Octagon and Great Circle Earthworks
  • Panther Mound
  •  Jeffers Mound
  • Wright-Holder Earthworks
  • Ohio Historical Society
  • Flint Ridge State Park
  • and, for fun, the Longaberger Basket Building.
We'll post our discoveries and adventures here. For more information about Ohio's precontact earthworks, check out:

26 March 2014

End of pop-ad spam!

Thanks so much to Scott Andrews for pointing out the problems with pop-ad spam on this blog. I thought Google had allowed pop-ads on their blogs, so I just abandoned this blog. However, it turns out that the gadget Sociable was too blame and having removed it, I feel like actually blogging again!