Nicholas Hilliard was one of the preeminent miniaturists of the Elizabethan period, and completed portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and other prominent people of his time. This manuscript, written by Hilliard himself, discusses his process for the creation of portrait miniatures.
The Craftsman’s Handbook, Il Libro dell’Arte, by Cennino Cennini is a compact but useful book for the medieval artist. In this book, Cennini describes a variety of techniques and tips for the making of pigments, the preparation of panels, gilding, and other techniques.
Original Treatises on the Arts of Painting, by Mary Merrifield, is a series of translations of medieval painting manuscripts, including dozens of original recipes for pigment production and other studio practices. Many of the translations include the original text in Latin or Italian on the opposite page, so the reader may refer to the original language if desired.
Below is a link to the print version of this book; it is also available as a Google E-book in 2 volumes.
A few years ago, I was frequenting the Cleveland Museum of Art Library to visit a book. I was researching construction of historical panel paintings and “Let the Material Talk” was one of the most thoroughly researched and detailed analyses of a specific set of paintings from the Cologne region. I did finally purchase this book, and continue to refer to it frequently.
Over the past several years, I have been studying the process of historical paintings. This particular painting was made in conjunction with Pearce Arts, and we took turns working on various portions of it. Here are the steps to this final painting:
An oak board was obtained for the panel, and cut to size.
3 coats of rabbitskin glue were brushed on to the panel. Because this will gel at room temperature, the glue needs to be kept in a double boiler when applying. A piece of linen was soaked in RSG and placed atop the board. This was left to dry.
Plaster was slaked to a silky finish, mixed with RSG and water in a double boiler, and 8 coats of slaked plaster were applied.
The surface was pounced with charcoal and scraped smooth.
The design was transferred to the surface and inked.
The areas which would take gold were prepared with size.
2 layers of gold leaf were applied.
Egg tempera was prepared with pigment and applied.
Oil paint was prepared as a second layer atop the egg tempera.
Final details were added.
The frame was prepared and gilded.
A few months ago, I visited the Art Institute of Chicago with a few fellow artists to view a medieval art exhibition there. We all brought our sketchbooks and wandered around the hall looking for subjects to sketch. I sat down on the floor and sketched the model of knight and armored horse for the next two hours.
Finding unusual places to sketch, such as museums, may offer you a chance to draw unusual and complex subjects. The foreshortening, the angle, and the costuming all presented challenges that had to be solved within a relatively crowded environment. People would walk in front of the subject constantly, and my angle was limited to where I could sit unobtrusively to draw. However, working through these challenges all provide growth opportunities as an artist, and I left feeling a sense of accomplishment in having drawn this complex subject.
By giving yourself the opportunity to try challenging subjects in less than ideal conditions, you will develop resiliency and grit as an artist, and you will open yourself up to the possibility of expanding your ability and subject matter.