Sunday, May 2, 2010

The 7EVEN guiding principles of my art (part 2)

On my last blog entry I started a list of seven principles that guide my painting practices at my studio.  Ideas have been evolving and I must confess that I'm constantly revising myself in order to improve my teaching art philosophy. Some changes have been made to this septenary structure but It keeps evolving. For now I will explain these initial  guiding principles in order to avoid confusion. On future blog entries I shall keep redefining these. 

In art, things that seem quite complex are actually reasonably simple and easy to understand. When it comes to developing a preliminary sketch or study for a painting A thought it born, inspired by a world event, mythology, history or personal experience. I usually find connections between two different stories,  one from the present with one from the past. I draw the general forms and create a composition. Then I make studies of the different parts for this composition. I go to the specifics of it. It’s that simple. These first three steps make up the three first principles or "Trivium" that I have categorized as: thought,  general form and the study of its specific parts. This triadic process defines how mind moves matter and ideas are materialized on paper as preparatory sketches.

 Study of Vitruvian Man with Zodiac Wheel
by Patrick McGrath Muñiz 

  Within the septenary system there is a division between three and four. Three often represents matters of time and spirituality (The Holy Trinity, The past, Present and Future and other similar concepts). Four often represents matters of form, physicality and space (The four cardinal directions the four elements, the four humors and other concepts). This is the reason why I have divided "The 7EVEN guiding principles into two parts. The first three called the "Trivium" concern ideas and preliminary drawings and the last four  called the  "Quadrivium" deals with how I incorporate these drawings and ideas into a painting or finished work.

 The human head divided into three parts face and four parts head
Illustration provided by the artist and author Patrick McGrath Muñiz

Once I’m satisfied with the idea, the composition and its components I proceed to the next sequence of principles to be implemented. I am now ready to paint. The "Quadrivium" is a fourfold stage process of painting that not only illustrates the four parts of my painting practice, it also embodies the four seasons in nature, four cardinal directions and alchemical processes. I shall explain these relations in depth later on. The following remaining four principles are related closely to the process of materializing ideas and fixing them onto a surface as paint.


Preliminary drawing for "The Path" Charcoal on gray paper 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz (2008)

 Once all of the parts are solved and a composition is clear and concrete in my preliminary sketches or journal, I measure the elements in my composition; make the proper adjustments and placements in space. This is the part where I make sure everything is in proper proportion and perspective.  I apply the golden mean to my composition and make sure there is a good grade of symmetry, harmony and proportion between the parts. Of course this is more easily said than done and not always one can have it perfectly right but at least try and filter any defects as much as possible at this point. It is of vital importance that every component of the composition including the conceptual core is examined cautiously. All corrections are made as the drawing is not only completed but also transferred onto canvas or panel. This part is known as the "underdrawing". The "underdrawing" is like  a solid structure or inner skeleton that holds everything together.  I may reproduce my drawing accurately on a primed and toned panel or canvas by various means.  A projector, a grid system or transfer paper would do.

 Copy of a Rubens I made for a class I offered on Old Master techniques. Here I used a grid system to transfer my drawing  more accurately.

I like to compare this part of the process with the season of spring, love, air and youth. It is like falling in love and the first kiss. Everything feels new, pure and fresh. It is a very exciting part of the painting process and one of the most enjoyable moments in the birth of a work of art.  A defining element in my work is the sense of humanity, humor and personality in my characters. These qualities are fixed onto the picture at this part of the process. With the principle of spatial relationships I make sure all the parts of my composition live in harmony with each other before moving up to the next principle.


The principle of illumination applied to the oil painting  on canvas titled "The Path"

At this stage I start shading and defining the drawn forms  by creating the illusion of the third dimension. It is very important to solve light and shade or value issues before going into color. This was practiced by most academic painters of the 19th century French Academy. This part of the process is also called an "underpainting". It makes much sense to work on a monochromatic (with variations of a single color) "underpainting" because one is not distracted by many vivid colors that compete with each other for attention and often swallow the well rendered forms. It is better to solve one problem at a time so illumination comes with what is known as a “Grisaille”(French term for an "underpainting" executed with grays).
  "Grisaille" step completed for the oil painting on canvas titled "The Path"
If the "underdrawing" is to a painting what the skeleton is to the human body Then the "underpainting" must be to painting what the muscles are to the body.  With light, shade and the grays in between, the artist endows the drawing with a volumetric body.  By illuminating or lighting a drawing the artist crosses the threshold of linear drawing to  the world of painted forms. I can see the principle of illumination connected to the intense light of the of summer, strength, fire and maturity. When I work with grays I can meditate on the meaning of light and darkness. In my work I often present a visual dialogue between negative and positive forces in history, mythology, religion and politics. The predominant grays reveal that most things in life are not black or white but rather different gradations of either. 
 Finished version of "The Path" Oil on canvas 18" x 24" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz (2008)
Once the "underpainting" or "grisalle" Is fully resolved and dry it is then time to unleash the wild living creature called color.  In Western painting traditional practices, line and drawing have often been associated with the methodic organizing and rational mind. With color it has been the opposite. Color is often seen as life, creation, and pure expression.  Unrestrained color can become chaos and ruin any painting as each color competes with each other and fight to take over the territory . Color is subjective and the perception of it may vary from person to person and culture to culture. If the drawing represents the skeleton, values represent the muscles then color must certainly represent the skin. Its outer appearance, its superficial look may be deceiving. It is like the label or wrapping of a consumer product concealing the true contents.  At the same time color can beautify and enhance the facade of any object. It mesmerizes the senses, sweetens or spices up anything to be blissfully consumed.  A mastery over this principle makes any artist into a master of illusions. 
"Who watches over us" Oil and gold leaf on canvas diptych 20" x 20" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz (2006)
The principles of color can be associated with the multicolored falling leaves of autumn and with water reflecting the color of the sky and a rainbow crossing over the horizon. Color can be applied heavily or thinly as veils of subtle semi-transparent color called “glazes”. I aim towards unity when I use color on my work, so when I apply a color on a specific part, I then spread some of that same color on other parts around that area. Color is emotional, subjective and poetic so imagination and personal associations play an important role in choosing the right palette for you. In my work color is limited and used with moderation. I do not trust color as much as I trust form. But as with anything else, it’s not a matter of how much  of it you apply but rather how well you apply it.


 With a simple painted ball I have illustrated the three previous principles  
With the Principle of spatial relationships I create an "underdrawing"
with the Principle of Illumination I create an "underpainting" or "grisaille"
and with the Principle of chroma I have added color

As we move on to the seventh principle, the painting or drawing in question should be completed. The principle of contemplation reenacts a part of the story of the creation In the book of Genesis when in the Seventh day of creation God decided it was time to rest. I find it highly rewarding to sit back after a long day of studio work and contemplate my creation. It is also a good time to analyze and study the work under proper light conditions. Sometimes I feel compelled to make a few touches here and there, add a detail, a glaze or darken an area. In any case, these changes are minimal as they are given at this point.   

Detail of "The Judgement" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
As a basic rule, I will not photograph a painting or take it to a show unless I feel proud of the piece.  By contemplating the work for an hour of so I make sure the work has the right hues, with right elements in the right values and right relations with each other. The focal point of the composition is located at an interesting strategic point of the space and it is full of purpose and meaning. When everything seems right, I sign the work and consider it done. I like to think of this part of the process as old age, winter, earth, and history. It's related to the fact that I am moved by the past as much as by the present and the work itself becomes a part of history. The work I produce remits to the work of many of the old masters and it is to these and other ancient sources that I owe much of my inspiration.  

"The Judgement"  Oil and gold leaf on carved wood triptych 23" x 24" By Patrick McGrath Muñiz (2009)

I found this latin quote quite interesting and relevant to this last principle:
respice, adspice, prospice" (Examine the past, examine the present, examine the future)

 Detail of "The Judgement" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
This concludes the seven guiding principles to my art which I'm sure will be useful to other artists as well. They are an attempt to reconcile many different philosophical and art practices I have studied and followed throughout my life. As I have said before, ideas keep evolving and the more I study and research, the more sense these principles make. From the seven chakras, to the seven days of the week named after the pagan gods I find many interesting connections that have enriched my life and art with mystical implications and deeper meaning hidden behind every creative act in my studio. As I see it, painting is truly a ritualized magical practice that elevates the soul on a seven step ladder toward s the heavens. It is a reenactment of divine creation that brings us closer to God.

All material including text and images on this blog post is copyrighted material© by the artist and author Patrick McGrath Muñiz. This  material may not be reproduced by any means without the artist permission