I’ve admired the paintings of Bosch ever since discovering them as a teenager, in fact admired should read as fascinated by his paintings, who wouldn’t be? Well those who don’t wonder about the world I guess, or who can only judge paintings by technique. In fact Bosch is a very accomplished technician as well as a great ‘composer’ in oils, he was largely an ‘alla prima’ painter but there is much glazing in evidence too. The long and short of it is, he is very much an artist that I look up to and draw inspiration from, I never tire of looking at his work.
As someone who is appreciative of craft and technique, I used as mentioned elsewhere in my blogs, mediums that are made from recipes written in the renaissance, they are contained in the De Mayerne Manuscript from the seventeenth century and now made here in France, not a million miles away from chez moi. And so it is apt that I should paint an artist who painted right at the beginning of the renaissance with ancient mediums. I don’t use raw pigments often, although I do intend to much more so in the future, the oil paints that use are high quality contemporary tube paints.
For this painting I used an old canvas, (painters of Bosch’s epoch would have painted on a wooden panel), with a few wrinkles in it to add to the ancient look of the painting, I generally make my own canvases, I buy the supports and canvas or linen and stretch and size with RSG. I then cook up a primer, either distemper or just RSG and pigment. I prefer distemper, egg/oil/ water and pigment. I discovered distemper through my own, on-line research into renaissance techniques distemper, (egg/oil emulsion), it is an excellent primer, providing the artist with a silky smooth but still ‘toothy’ canvas to paint on. I apply between six and eight coats of thinly applied primer, sanding between each coat to achieve a very high quality painting surface. I prefer canvas to panels but I do occasionally use wood panels when the need arises, I use a chalk gesso on wood with many coats needed to produce a super smooth finish and thus enable micro-detail, if required. For the moment I’ll continue completing my under drawings with graphite and charcoal but it should be noted that Van Eyck drew in fine detail with silver-point and I believe this technique made a significant contribution to the remarkable results he achieved.
After the canvas was ready I traced the self-portrait onto the white primed canvas and sealed it with non-fat milk, I then created a grisaille, following Boschs’ drawing but adjusting it where I thought necessary, he seems to have fired it off pretty quickly and there are a few errors of proportion here and there. I had in mind to make him weather beaten, like my Uncle Tom who was a farmer and this approach seemed to work from the start. There is considerable glazing and some impasto and alla prima elements involved too.
The eyes are glazed twice with amber varnish, to create extra depth and then glazed again as part of an overall amber varnish glaze.
Next year 2016, is the 500th anniversary of the death of Hieronymus Bosch, he is established as one of the greats and in this crazy world where fundamental religionists try at every moment to drag us back to the 7th century or earlier, the subject matter of his paintings is just as relevant as ever.
Very disappointed about the awful photo but it’s the best that I can do for now.
NB. Margaret Muller, I have to thank her memory and her family for keeping her website running, as without her I may never have started using distemper as a primer. Margaret Muller was brutally murdered in London while studying art on February 3rd 2003 which is coincidentally my birthday. I’m sure we would have enjoyed each others company and I dedicate this painting to her, it is the least I can do after what she has given to me.
her paintings and more information about her can be found here.