It was three years ago I saw my first Grisaille enamel up close and personal at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati. It literally took my breath away. My heart started beating faster. I knew I had to try and do this - but I had a problem. I couldn't draw.
This was the kind of piece I was up against!
I know you will think that I am lying. Since I am a full time artist - you will think "She can draw!" but actually my designs have been very stylized, and I use a lot of templates and guides to make them turn out right. I can 'sort of' draw - or I could years ago - but I was terribly out of practice.
At first I it felt like I would never be able to do it. But, as I often tell my students, being an artist is having the courage to fail. I have a lot of stubbornness in me - and a lot of patience. I find that these two qualities are more than all the talent in the world!
This was my first attempt:
About a year later I had progressed to this
Last night I did this:
Here is the process I went through
First layer of white painted (two coats of Imperial blue on front and back)
First layer of white fired
Second layer of white painted
Second layer of white fired
Third layer of white painted
Third layer of white fired
Fourth layer of white painted
Fourth layer of white fired
The breakthrough came while I was working on the classical series. At first I was using a very opaque white that only needed one coat to cover the dark underlayer. But the white I was using was some that I had had around the studio for years. I was running out, and the company that I had gotten it from was out of business - so I asked another supplier what they had to offer. I got some white paint - but it wasn't nearly as opaque - and I had to do two or three layers before getting the same effect as the original product. At first I was annoyed - more layers and more firing meant that the piece would be more expensive - but suddenly the penny dropped. I had looked out some grisaille enamel pictures on the Internet, one of which was this lovely little piece from the Louvre.
This was my first attempt - so I can see flaws (I don't have the detail that was achieved in this piece - but after all it was made by a third generation grisaille enamelist from one of the greatest enamel houses in Europe!) - but I was pretty excited. I could see that I had had a breakthrough on the technique - and that now it was just a question of practice, practice, practice!
I have been wanting to do a post on practice - so here it is! Practice in every sense of the word. Art is my practice - and I have to practice all the time! People know that you have to practice in order to be a good musician - but they think that if you can't pick up a pencil and draw something beautiful right away you 'can't draw'.
No matter how bad you are - if you pick up a pencil and draw every day, at the end of a month you will be better! Of course - this will not make you great - but it will make you competent. I think for me it is a compulsion to make the idea that I have in my head into something concrete that drives me.
I still have a way to go to reach my own personal goals - but I am well on the road now - and can see the end in sight!