I’ve made a good start on my new album, a collection of my favourite paintings from the history of Western European art. I am not working on the pages in any particular order, but they will probably be bound in chronological order once they are finished.
Today I can show you the Van Eyck double-page spread as far as I have got, step by step.
The painting I have chosen is an intriguing one. It is Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, in the National Gallery in London. It shows a rich merchant and his wife, who, contrary to popular belief, is not pregnant, but simply showing off the full-skirted fashion of the day. The picture is full of mystery; the mirror on the rear wall shows the back view of the couple, and a further two figures in the doorway, one of whom is sometimes considered to be the artist, but he is placed in such a position that it is not possible that he should be invisible in the foreground of the painting. If we, the viewer, were standing in the correct position to view the picture as we do, then we would be visible in the mirror also!
This 15th century Flemish picture is a fine example of a very early oil painting with exquisite detail and a complete understanding of perspective, and the play of light and shade. At the time, the use of oil was revolutionary; Mediaeval paintings had been executed in egg tempera, a medium quite incapable of portraying the subtleties of light seen in this portrait. The detail on the reflective surface of the hanging lamp, for instance, is quite astonishing; the brass appears to glow with the light reflected from the window on the left of the painting. This painting is significant as a landmark in the history of Western art. There is so much in it, and I never tire of looking at it and finding ever more detail.
In the above picture, you can see the page I have cut, with an aperture, behind which I will adhere the Arnolfini Portrait.
These are the acrylics I have used for the Van Eyck pages. I have chosen colours which will reflect the colours in the painting, and I have also used some gesso and some regular matt acrylic gel medium for sticking down the various images on the pages.
Painting the pages roughly with the acrylics, to give a good dark background.
This is a technique that I’ve been looking forward to trying. I laid one of my stencils over the page and spritzed it lightly with water, and let it settle for a few minutes, and then gently blotted it with kitchen paper, before rubbing it in places with a baby wipe to remove the top layer of paint from the holes in the stencil. In this way you can turn a stencil into a mask! I love how the colours have brightened. You can see the actual stencil to the left of the page.
On this next picture you can see the Arnolfini Portrait laid temporarily underneath the aperture, and the first of the graphics on the second page.
This is the back of the aperture page. I first painted around it with yellow ochre acrylic paint, and when that was dry, with metallic gold acrylic paint. I dried each stage of this project with my heat gun to speed up the process. On balance, I think it would have been better to paint the back before cutting the aperture, because I had problems with the paint bleeding onto the front surface, and only the quick administration of a baby wipe was able to remedy the situation!
Turning this page right side up again, I was then ready to create the frame for the portrait.
I did this by rolling each side of the aperture around a barbecue stick, exposing the gold painted surface to the front.
Here is the completed frame, with the image laid temporarily underneath.
The next stage was to start applying the images to the right-hand page. I did this with regular matt acrylic gel medium.
I printed out an enlarged version of the mirror in the back wall in the portrait, and cut this out, and repeated this with Van Eyck’s signature written on the back wall of the painting, above the mirror. This in itself is another mystery in the painting – translated, it says “Jan van Eyck was here 1434” – a sort of 15th century “I woz ’ere” – is that Van Eyck that we can see in the mirror after all? Who knows for sure? That aside, the signature itself is incredibly beautiful. The realism in this painting is so extraordinary that I almost feel that “Shoshi was here” in 1434 as well!
Before sticking down the mirror picture, I painted a circle in white gesso, and when this was dry, I edged it with a mixture of yellow ochre and burnt umber acrylic paint (as I did for the signature above) so that the edges blended into the dark background. There will be some journaling in black around the mirror. I am also thinking of adding some Glossy Accents to the mirror to enhance its convex surface, and the ten medallions surrounding it, depicting scenes from the life of Christ.
The final steps on these pages will be to fix the portrait where it should be behind the aperture, and add some journaling using a white marker. If this looks too stark, I shall apply a sepia colour wash over the top to give a more vintage feel. I shall then add a border to the pages, which will be reflected on subsequent pages in the album.
I am excited at the start that I have made on this project! This has been something I’ve wanted to attempt for a long time. As I move further away from traditional card-making (having been a bit demoralised recently at the lack of appreciation of the amount of work involved, and the ephemeral nature of cards) I want to be creating something more lasting. There are many important things in my life that have enriched me in a unique way when they all come together, and I am so grateful for all the wonderful blessings I have received, and thought that making albums might be a way to celebrate these things in a more tangible way, and to give them the honour they deserve.