Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Baby Sweaters!

This is a sweater I made several years ago, with bright red
buttons to keep things interesting.

As December approaches, I get the urge to knit. With the onset of the cold weather, gardening isn't an option, so I turn to indoor activities. I don't have the patience to knit grown-up sized sweaters, so I knit for babies - for the children and grandchildren of friends.

I was taught how to knit a simple scarf when I was about 11 years old. The rest I have picked up along the way. Decoding knitting patterns can be an adventure, especially when your stitch-count doesn't match the pattern. I've learned not to stress over mistakes... it just means the sweater was made by hand and isn't perfect.

Life wouldn't be complete without "help" from my rescue
kitty, Pumpkin.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lustrous Lines Exhibition

I am honored to be included in the group exhibition, Lustrous Lines: Contemporary Metalpoint Drawing. Curated by Jeannine Cook and Jeffrey Lewis.

Nov 21, 2015 - Jan 3, 2016
Humboldt Arts Council in the Morris Graves Museum of Art, 
Eureka, California

Images in the invitation: top, Dennis Angel, Claire's Paper Airplane, middle, Lori Field, Unicorn, bottom, Susan Schwab, Toccata #9.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Watercolor on Vellum

©2015, Karen Ackoff.
Lately, I've been painting with watercolor on calfskin vellum.

Calfskin vellum goes through a complex preparation, and even then requires some work before a piece can be started. Before I begin, I rub the surface with a fine pumice powder to remove oils, so that watercolor will adhere. Because I work on paintings over long periods of time, oil seems to rise to the surface and repels the watercolor. I found that erasing the area with a white plastic eraser just before I paint removes surface oils and the watercolor then adheres beautifully.

In medieval manuscripts, paintings were made using opaque paint, similar to what we know as gouache. For examples of medieval miniature painting, check out work by the Limbourg Brothers. I was fortunate to see some of their work on exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum in 2010. 

Working with watercolor, rather than an opaque paint such as gouache, lets the color and translucency of the vellum influence the painting. Because vellum presents what is basically a fatty surface, wet washes of color cannot be applied - the result would be blotchy and would likely cause the vellum to buckle. To avoid this, I apply dilute color using small strokes in the manner of hatching. I build up color by adding more layers. The result yields vibrant colors with subtle shading. 

Below is a detail of a piece in progress. The design is based on a medieval allegory, The Siege of the Castle of Love. It is slow going, but well worth the effort.

Dilute watercolor is applied using the technique of hatching. Color is built
up by layering, taking care to let the surface dry thoroughly to prevent
the vellum from buckling. Work in progress. ©2015, Karen Ackoff.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Drawing with Silver

Detail (enlarged) showing hatched lines of silverpoint drawing.
Silverpoint is a lesser known technique, but one that yields beautiful and delicate results.

Silverpoint literally involves drawing with silver. Silverpoint is a type of metalpoint – lead, silver copper or gold could be used, but silver was the most common. Paper must be prepared, and a ground of gouache, casein or acrylic gesso can be be applied. The ground is often tinted a pale color, such as pale grey or pale green. The silver wire is drawn across the prepared surface and leaves a residue of silver behind.

Making a modern silverpoint stylus is easy. You can use a drafting pencil (which takes 2mm leads). Ask a jeweler for a 2-inch length of 12 gauge sterling silver wire and ask that it be straightened out. Then place the wire into drafting pencil. You will need to shape and smooth the point. Initial shaping can easily be done on a small diamond sharpening stone. I refine and polish the point using a nail buffing board. The point needs to be smooth, with no burrs. If the point feels scratching when you use it, it is either too sharp or there is a burr that needs to be polished off.

Depth of tone is achieved by layering, usually via hatched or cross-hatched strokes. Pressing harder does not make darker tones – rather, it damages both the point and the surface of the drawing. Once a point is shaped and prepared, it will need periodic shaping/polishing, but not often. I polish my points about once a month. While not impossible, erasing is difficult and can damage the surface of the drawing.

The darkest tone you can get with silverpoint is not nearly as dark as a graphite pencil, but it yields a lovely, silvery surface. Over time a silverpoint drawing tarnishes and develops soft, brown tones.

Silverpoint drawing on tinted casein ground. This drawing is a demonstration of how a silverpoint drawing is developed by building up layers of hatched strokes. The left-most section shows the beginning stages where  basic tones are established; the right-most section shows the finished drawing. 4.25 x 4.24 inches. ©2007, Karen Ackoff.