Following up on my post about the reed pen, laid paper is what Van Gogh used for many of his drawings. The only laid paper that I’ve tried are a “business” paper that is actually found in an office supply store and a sketch paper made by Arches.
On the smooth and glittering surface of the river Bystryanka, sprinkled here and there with snow, stand two peasants, scrubby little Seryozhka and the church beadle, Matvey. Seryozhka, a short-legged, ragged, mangy-looking fellow of thirty, stares angrily at the ice. Tufts of wool hang from his shaggy sheepskin like a mangy dog. In his hands he holds a compass made of two pointed sticks. Matvey, a fine-looking old man in a new sheepskin and high felt boots, looks with mild blue eyes upwards where on the high sloping bank a village nestles picturesquely. In his hands there is a heavy crowbar.
“Well, are we going to stand like this till evening with our arms folded?” says Seryozhka, breaking the silence and turning his angry eyes on Matvey. “Have you come here to stand about, old fool, or to work?”
“Well, you . . . er . . . show me . . .” Matvey mutters, blinking mildly.
“Show you. . . . It’s always me: me to show you, and me to do it. They have no sense of their own! Mark it out with the compasses, that’s what’s wanted! You can’t break the ice without marking it out. Mark it! Take the compass.”
Matvey takes the compasses from Seryozhka’s hands, and, shuffling heavily on the same spot and jerking with his elbows in all directions, he begins awkwardly trying to describe a circle on the ice. Seryozhka screws up his eyes contemptuously and obviously enjoys his awkwardness and incompetence.
“Eh-eh-eh!” he mutters angrily. “Even that you can’t do! The fact is you are a stupid peasant, a wooden-head! You ought to be grazing geese and not making a Jordan! Give the compasses here! Give them here, I say!”
Seryozhka snatches the compasses out of the hands of the perspiring Matvey, and in an instant, jauntily twirling round on one heel, he describes a circle on the ice. The outline of the new Jordan is ready now, all that is left to do is to break the ice. . .
But before proceeding to the work Seryozhka spends a long time in airs and graces, whims and reproaches. . .
“I am not obliged to work for you! You are employed in the church, you do it!
He obviously enjoys the peculiar position in which he has been placed by the fate that has bestowed on him the rare talent of surprising the whole parish once a year by his art. Poor mild Matvey has to listen to many venomous and contemptuous words from him. Seryozhka sets to work with vexation, with anger. He is lazy. He has hardly described the circle when he is already itching to go up to the village to drink tea, lounge about, and babble. . .
“I’ll be back directly,” he says, lighting his cigarette, “and meanwhile you had better bring something to sit on and sweep up, instead of standing there counting the crows.”
Matvey is left alone. The air is grey and harsh but still. The white church peeps out genially from behind the huts scattered on the river bank. Jackdaws are incessantly circling round its golden crosses. On one side of the village where the river bank breaks off and is steep a hobbled horse is standing at the very edge, motionless as a stone, probably asleep or deep in thought.
Matvey, too, stands motionless as a statue, waiting patiently. The dreamily brooding look of the river, the circling of the jackdaws, and the sight of the horse make him drowsy. One hour passes, a second, and still Seryozhka does not come. The river has long been swept and a box brought to sit on, but the drunken fellow does not appear. Matvey waits and merely yawns. The feeling of boredom is one of which he knows nothing. If he were told to stand on the river for a day, a month, or a year he would stand there.
At last Seryozhka comes into sight from behind the huts. He walks with a lurching gait, scarcely moving. He is too lazy to go the long way round, and he comes not by the road, but prefers a short cut in a straight line down the bank, and sticks in the snow, hangs on to the bushes, slides on his back as he comes — and all this slowly, with pauses.
“What are you about?” he cries, falling on Matvey at once. “Why are you standing there doing nothing! When are you going to break the ice?”
Matvey crosses himself, takes the crowbar in both hands, and begins breaking the ice, carefully keeping to the circle that has been drawn. Seryozhka sits down on the box and watches the heavy clumsy movements of his assistant.
“Easy at the edges! Easy there!” he commands. “If you can’t do it properly, you shouldn’t undertake it, once you have undertaken it you should do it. You!”
A crowd collects on the top of the bank. At the sight of the spectators Seryozhka becomes even more excited.
“I declare I am not going to do it . . .” he says, lighting a stinking cigarette and spitting on the ground. “I should like to see how you get on without me. Last year at Kostyukovo, Styopka Gulkov undertook to make a Jordan as I do. And what did it amount to — it was a laughing-stock. The Kostyukovo folks came to ours — crowds and crowds of them! The people flocked from all the villages.”
“Because except for ours there is nowhere a proper Jordan . . .”
“Work, there is no time for talking. . . . Yes, old man . . . you won’t find another Jordan like it in the whole province. The soldiers say you would look in vain, they are not so good even in the towns. Easy, easy!”
Matvey puffs and groans. The work is not easy. The ice is firm and thick; and he has to break it and at once take the pieces away that the open space may not be blocked up.
But, hard as the work is and senseless as Seryozhka’s commands are, by three o’clock there is a large circle of dark water in the Bystryanka.
“It was better last year,” says Seryozhka angrily. “You can’t do even that! Ah, dummy! To keep such fools in the temple of God! Go and bring a board to make the pegs! Bring the ring, you crow! And er . . . get some bread somewhere. . . and some cucumbers, or something.”
Matvey goes off and soon afterwards comes back, carrying on his shoulders an immense wooden ring which had been painted in previous years in patterns of various colours. In the centre of the ring is a red cross, at the circumference holes for the pegs. Seryozhka takes the ring and covers the hole in the ice with it.
“Just right . . . it fits. . . . We have only to renew the paint and it will be first-rate. . . . Come, why are you standing still? Make the lectern. Or–er–go and get logs to make the cross . . .”
Matvey, who has not tasted food or drink all day, trudges up the hill again. Lazy as Seryozhka is, he makes the pegs with his own hands. He knows that those pegs have a miraculous power: whoever gets hold of a peg after the blessing of the water will be lucky for the whole year. Such work is really worth doing.
But the real work begins the following day. Then Seryozhka displays himself before the ignorant Matvey in all the greatness of his talent. There is no end to his babble, his fault-finding, his whims and fancies. If Matvey nails two big pieces of wood to make a cross, he is dissatisfied and tells him to do it again. If Matvey stands still, Seryozhka asks him angrily why he does not go; if he moves, Seryozhka shouts to him not to go away but to do his work. He is not satisfied with his tools, with the weather, or with his own talent; nothing pleases him.
Matvey saws out a great piece of ice for a lectern.
“Why have you broken off the corner?” cries Seryozhka, and glares at him furiously. “Why have you broken off the corner? I ask you.”
“Forgive me, for Christ’s sake.”
“Do it over again!”
Matvey saws again . . . and there is no end to his sufferings. A lectern is to stand by the hole in the ice that is covered by the painted ring; on the lectern is to be carved the cross and the open gospel. But that is not all. Behind the lectern there is to be a high cross to be seen by all the crowd and to glitter in the sun as though sprinkled with diamonds and rubies. On the cross is to be a dove carved out of ice. The path from the church to the Jordan is to be strewn with branches of fir and juniper. All this is their task.
First of all Seryozhka sets to work on the lectern. He works with a file, a chisel, and an awl. He is perfectly successful in the cross on the lectern, the gospel, and the drapery that hangs down from the lectern. Then he begins on the dove. While he is trying to carve an expression of meekness and humility on the face of the dove, Matvey, lumbering about like a bear, is coating with ice the cross he has made of wood. He takes the cross and dips it in the hole. Waiting till the water has frozen on the cross he dips it in a second time, and so on till the cross is covered with a thick layer of ice. It is a difficult job, calling for a great deal of strength and patience.
But now the delicate work is finished. Seryozhka races about the village like one possessed. He swears and vows he will go at once to the river and smash all his work. He is looking for suitable paints.
His pockets are full of ochre, dark blue, red lead, and verdigris; without paying a farthing he rushes headlong from one shop to another. The shop is next door to the tavern. Here he has a drink; with a wave of his hand he darts off without paying. At one hut he gets beetroot leaves, at another an onion skin, out of which he makes a yellow colour. He swears, shoves, threatens, and not a soul murmurs! They all smile at him, they sympathise with him, call him Sergey Nikititch; they all feel that his art is not his personal affair but something that concerns them all, the whole people. One creates, the others help him. Seryozhka in himself is a nonentity, a sluggard, a drunkard, and a wastrel, but when he has his red lead or compasses in his hand he is at once something higher, a servant of God.
Epiphany morning comes. The precincts of the church and both banks of the river for a long distance are swarming with people. Everything that makes up the Jordan is scrupulously concealed under new mats. Seryozhka is meekly moving about near the mats, trying to control his emotion. He sees thousands of people. There are many here from other parishes; these people have come many a mile on foot through the frost and the snow merely to see his celebrated Jordan. Matvey, who had finished his coarse, rough work, is by now back in the church, there is no sight, no sound of him; he is already forgotten. . . . The weather is lovely. . . . There is not a cloud in the sky. The sunshine is dazzling.
The church bells ring out on the hill . . . Thousands of heads are bared, thousands of hands are moving, there are thousands of signs of the cross!
And Seryozhka does not know what to do with himself for impatience. But now they are ringing the bells for the Sacrament; then half an hour later a certain agitation is perceptible in the belfry and among the people. Banners are borne out of the church one after the other, while the bells peal in joyous haste. Seryozhka, trembling, pulls away the mat . . . and the people behold something extraordinary. The lectern, the wooden ring, the pegs, and the cross in the ice are iridescent with thousands of colors. The cross and the dove glitter so dazzlingly that it hurts the eyes to look at them. Merciful God, how fine it is! A murmur of wonder and delight runs through the crowd; the bells peal more loudly still, the day grows brighter; the banners oscillate and move over the crowd as over the waves. The procession, glittering with the settings of the ikons and the vestments of the clergy, comes slowly down the road and turns towards the Jordan. Hands are waved to the belfry for the ringing to cease, and the blessing of the water begins. The priests conduct the service slowly, deliberately, evidently trying to prolong the ceremony and the joy of praying all gathered together. There is perfect stillness.
But now they plunge the cross in, and the air echoes with an extraordinary din. Guns are fired, the bells peal furiously, loud exclamations of delight, shouts, and a rush to get the pegs. Seryozhka listens to this uproar, sees thousands of eyes fixed upon him, and the lazy fellow’s soul is filled with a sense of glory and triumph.
As usual in the beginning of the year I think of all the millions of things that I want to do and this year I’m going to start with focusing on one thing. It’s a huge thing, sort of overwhelming at times, but, I think I need to do it …… and it will consume the whole year.
For the past two years I’ve been participating in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) held in November – which is a challenge that Tara Lazar has organized. So, now I have two files of ideas, about 65 in all (not all good ideas) and it seems there ought to be something worth pursuing. http://taralazar.com
This year I’ve joined Julie Hedlund’s group – 12 x 12 in 2014, which is a writing challenge to write 12 children’s book drafts during the year, one a month, from the ideas generated in the aforementioned idea challenge. http://www.juliehedlund.com/
So I’m challenged and motivated to get some work done this year.
Originally my plan was to write about Sorolla and his palettes, however while researching I found the definitive article written on Sorolla, his palettes and technique. The article was written in 1990 by Charles Sovek as a cover article for The Artists Magazine.
Sorolla’s palettes were different for portraiture or outdoor landscape, as stated in the article:
“Varying with the subjects he painted, Sorolla used essentially two different color palettes. For studio portraits, he favored one that included black, burnt umber, raw umber, rose madder, burnt sienna, raw sienna, yellow ochre, Naples yellow, vermilion and cobalt blue. Occasionally he would add orange, pink or purple, but he usually emphasized strong tonal contrasts over ambitious color effects. His outdoor palette was completely different and included cobalt violet, rose madder, all the cadmium reds, cadmium orange, all the cadmium yellows, yellow ochre, chrome green (since replaced by permanent green light), viridian, Prussian blue, cobalt blue and French ultramarine. In both cases, he used lead white.”
Unfortunately Charles Sovek passed away in 2007, however his website remains and is loaded with valuable information and is maintained by The Charles Sovek Estate.
On the top of his section “Speaking of Art” he talks about the palette based on the color wheel, or a rainbow palette, which is similar to what I use, sometimes less and sometimes more, depending on what I’m painting, but a good color wheel palette in any medium keeps your paintings bright and less muddled.
Personally, most of the time I don’t use the purple, thalo green, cerulean blue or black and try to mix those instead. Sometimes I’ll use thalo blue (carefully – it’s a strong color). Also I use Veridian. But basically it does stay fresh and is a rainbow palette.
In the past I’ve discussed palettes for pastels and do in fact use different palettes for portraits and landscapes, more earthtones for the portraits and more of a color wheel selection for landscapes.
Because of copyright issues I haven’t included one of Sovek’s paintings here but strongly urge you to visit the website and look through his galleries as well as the “Lessons from the Easel”. He was a wonderful painter and teacher. You can get his books and dvd’s there also.
This website is also interesting, Sorolla’s paintings and biography:
The reed pen is a very simple instrument that van Gogh used to perfection during his time in Arles. Vincent made his own pens and after buying some I see why. The pens that you can buy at art supply stores are made of bamboo and the ones that I bought were marked small, medium and large – all the same price. It took me a little while to figure out what the sizing meant. The sticks were similar in size and it was actually the points that were different sizes. After using the pens, I’ve decided to modify them to suit my needs because I find that the finer points aren’t very useful.
Drawing with a reed pen is fun and requires a mark making language. Mine needs more development. The paper I used was a heavy weight, 140 lb., hot pressed watercolor paper. van Gogh used laid paper and I did find some at Staples but haven’t tried it yet, other than to scribble and see how it feels. The reed pen flows better on the stationery than the watercolor paper. I’ll keep trying other papers until I find one that works best for me.
The drawings that are part of Vincent’s letters to Theo are interesting and all his talk of etchings and drawings by other artists, as well as his own, led me to the catalogue by the Metropolitan Museum “Vincent van Gogh – The Drawings”. (The catalogue is from a 2005 exhibit.) It’s too bad I missed this exhibit but maybe some day I’ll see his drawings in person. Years ago I saw a number of his paintings in Boston and was completely awestruck. I think the drawings would have the same effect.
Here is a synopsis of the exhibit/catalogue by Eric Gelber on Art Critical:
It is said that his best drawings, the drawings considered his most important, were the ones that were done during July and August 1888 in Arles. (also, notice – done with the reed pen.)
from Vincent’s letter to Theo:
“Now the Harvest, the Garden, the Sower, and the two marines are sketches after painted studies. I think all these ideas are good, but the painted studies lack clearness of touch. That is another reason why I felt it necessary to draw them.”
Usually artists draw as a preliminary step to a painting – working out the kinks. But, many times Vincent would draw after a painting to study it further or to show his brother Theo what he was working on.