Post 2: The Good, The Bad, and The Painting

So, it’s been a while. Over the past few weeks, I have been working on my large-scale painting of Portuguese churches while also reading about the architectural history of the area. For this post, I intend to discuss the former, including the process behind my painting, what each element is intended for, and what I have learned from this endeavor. I will go into more historical detail later in my summary post.

Onto the painting.

I began with a rough sketch of my composition on the canvas (image 1). This was then covered with a watered down, neutral brown acrylic paint wash. The wash fills in the gaps of the canvas with a more muted color so that white won’t peak through. it also acts as a base layer of paint that will make the subsequent layers apply more easily.

Image 1

Image 1

As you scroll down, it will become clear that the original sketch is quite different from the finished piece. I feel this really shows how much I have learned over the course of this project; I knew when I began that I wanted to incorporate elements of roughly five churches onto one canvas, but looking back now I realize that I did not have a clear idea of how to do this. I wanted it to be abstract, while also maintaining a sense of order–something I did not accomplished very well in the initial drawing. In all likelihood, my excitement over all the different buildings overtook any eye for tasteful compositing. Additionally, having never done a work of this scale and having rarely painted much other than portraits, this was a new challenge for me. However, after coming to my senses, I was able to regroup, re-plan, and begin to see the subject matter with a new perspective.

Image 2

Image 2

The regrouping involved adding a bit of the background as well as painting the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Piedade in the upper left corner (image 2). I painted the rest of the background a radiant green, blue, and white mixture; these colors representing the cleanliness and serenity of the region, evoking the atmosphere of the rolling hills and ocean of the Algarve. Doing all of this helped me visualize the style of the painting which was moving farther away from my initial plan. Consequently,  I began to look back through my drawings and photos from Portugal, eventually deciding upon a new idea for the final composition. I sketched this lightly on top of the background with a white colored pencil and moved on to the next phase.

Image 3

Image 3

This is where my final composition began to take shape (image 3). In the bottom right of the painting, I added the beginning of the Igreja de Carmo’s upper left tower, as well as a sketch of the Igreja de San Sebastian in the center of the mosaic border, itself inspired by the mosaic on the Igreja de Sao Lourenco. Placing it directly in the center offers a sense of symmetry and stability to the piece. I felt this would work well, as the buildings in the Algarve elicit this same feeling of strong stability after having stood for centuries. Additionally, I felt this placement mirrored the original mosaic located in the center of the facade of the building.

I then added detail to the mosaic (image 4). This brought with it a unique challenge, as the in-person effect of the brilliant blue of the tiles was extremely difficult to replicate on the canvas, particularly as my color scheme was nearly monochromatic. The tile maker at Sao Lourenco used a mixture of blues to create such a unique hue, thus I attempted to do the same to the best of my ability. This meant lots of sketching, painting, repainting, and glazing. Notable in the mosaic are the many swirls and floral motifs common in Christian and Islamic art of the period, a testament to cultural interaction and exchange.

Image 4

Image 4

Moving forward, I kept adding details to the mosaic and the churches, as well as adding a tile cross (from the Igreja de Sao Lourenco) to the left end of the painting (image 5). The cross with “INRI” (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum) on the top and a number on the bottom is incorporated in each church that I visited, often carved into stone and subsequently attached to the outer wall. This addition to the painting exemplifies another of the beautiful mosaics that are so integral to the architecture of the region, while also representing another common architectural element of the Portuguese church.

Image 5

Image 5

The next step was incorporating a second framing device on the right, as well as adding detail to all of the other elements (image 6). The framing pillar comes from the main door frame at the Igreja Matriz de Alte. I wanted to include this due to the ornately decorated stonework, as such handiwork is highly representative of the architectural tastes of the region. Floral motifs here capture the Islamic influence on Portuguese work, while also maintaining a uniquely Portuguese taste for decoration. Additionally, by adding framing devices on the left and right, I was able to give the piece more stability while also incorporating enough asymmetry so as to not lose visual interest.

Image 6

Image 6

Next I continued to add more detail to the mosaics, color corrective glazing to the door frame, and detail to the churches (image 7). I also painted clouds on the bottom left, slightly obscured in this image by the bright lighting. These clouds I lifted from the interior of the main mosaic and place here in order to unify the various elements of the painting. I also felt that it gave a nice atmospheric quality while also allowing the buildings to be more noticeable.

Image 7

Image 7

And then, it was time to finish the piece (image 8). I added and finalized details on all of the individual elements before then incorporating the interior ceiling of the Igeja Matriz de Alte on the upper right of the painting. This added balance to the composition and incorporated the interior molding and tile work of Portuguese churches. The interior of Alte derived a lot of influence from both the Baroque and Manueline styles, both highly influential in southern Portugal as a whole.

To finish everything out, I outlined the central mosaic in gold paint (fading outward) so as to evoke the glorious atmospheric beauty found in and around these buildings–as well as to contrast the blue tones. Similarly, the gold paint represents the ornate gilded interiors of the churches.

image 8

Image 8

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. The calming atmosphere of the painting accurately represents how I felt at these locations. The scale of the work coupled with this atmosphere also creates a sense of grandiosity that only old religious buildings can truly inspire. I’m excited to see how I can contrast this piece with the piece for Lynchburg, as all of the church buildings I saw in Portugal were catholic–quite different than the cultural landscape of the southern United States. The uniformity of the color scheme of this painting as well as overall symmetric composition elicits this homogeneity, so I might incorporate the opposite for the other.

I learned a lot from this process. Ideally, I would have worked with oils, but as time constraints do exist, I decided to use acrylic to achieve the same effect. The fast-drying nature of the medium brought with it challenges in blending that I had to learn to work around. Also, the subject matter and abstractness of the piece were completely new to me. As someone who works primarily in realistic portraiture, learning to rely less on my one reference and more on the attitude of the piece, an intriguing composition, and a combination of references was very difficult, but also very rewarding. I’m aware that architecture can often be more difficult to artistically read and digest than your average painting in a museum, but studying the work that went into the designs for these buildings has given me a newfound appreciation of the artistry involved–something I hope comes across in the painting. I wanted to primarily depict this artistry, hopefully bridging the gap between the architect’s masterwork and our average conception of what artwork is.

I apologize for the delays in posting. I unexpectedly had to send my laptop in to get fixed, which set me back a little bit. However, things are on track to be finished soon. I am nearing the end of work on the Lynchburg painting, and will hopefully have that up and posted soon. I also have been reading up on history of some of the architecture in both locations and hope to write a short blurb on that and have it posted as well. Finding information has been difficult, as finding scholarly content written towards specific locations always will be. However I intend to broaden the scope of what I’m looking at to find the necessary information.

Until next time!

Comments

  1. Hey Martha, I found this post to be incredibly thorough and well-organized. As a person not well familiarized with Portuguese architecture, I appreciated your incredibly detailed explanations. When considering the obvious visual component to architecture, I find your choice in medium (painting) to be quite fitting. More so, this medium will likely allow a general audience to approach your (relatively) specific topic. A spectator could appreciate your work for the historical content, visual beauty or some combination of both! Speaking of your painting, I have a few lingering questions. First, I was wondering: Does the symbolism contained within your color scheme have a basis within Portugal’s architectural history? In other words, did greens, blues and whites historically represent various Portuguese landscapes? Regardless, the attribution of geographical symbolism to background’s (aka Portugal’s) colors strikes me as being quite clever. On a similar note, I’m curious as to whether the placement of different churches relative to one another holds any value. How did you decide upon which churches to place center vs which ones to place on the sides? Was it based upon the church’s antiquity–or perhaps the architectural example set by said church? Finally, I was also wondering whether you plan on creating any additional guides/pieces that include reference photos for the various churches. It might be worthwhile to pursue an inclusion of photography into your project. A mixture of photography and painting might showcase the processes by which you arrived at an intersection between academia, architecture and artistry. I’ve been following your project since its inception and have consistently found it to be impressively innovative and cross-disciplinary. I apologize in advance for any clumsiness with art vernacular—I’m not particularly familiar with the inner workings of visual arts.

  2. Sammy,
    Thank you so much for the feedback! Those are some really great questions. As far as the first is concerned, blue and white are indeed colors widely seen in Portuguese architecture. For example, the Sao Lourenco’s interior main chapel has floor to ceiling (literally the entire room) white and blue tile detailing, while the outside of most of the buildings are white and often incorporate some form of blue tile work. The green is rarely exhibited in the architecture itself, but as it is a color often associated with life and nature I felt it would fit well for a region with little industry, providing a bit of grounding and context to the floating buildings. Now for your second question regarding the placement. I chose to place the Sao Sebastion in the center, as a great deal of the churches there featured that same triangular shape with spirals all the way down. As the center most point of the painting, I felt it would give the best representation of the prolific nature of this style. Nossa Senhora de Piedade (upper left) is a unique church as most of it was remodeled in the 20th century, making it an example of modern/future Portuguese church architecture. This, coupled with the church residing on one top of the one of the highest hills in Loule, made me want to put it towards the top of the painting. The site it rests on–that of a 15th century church–also gives it a foot in the past, for which I placed it on the left. The Igreja de Carmo is an example of a famous older church with very baroque architecture, and so I placed it on the painting as well, this time on the bottom. The varying height of the buildings serves to create movement and visual interest in the painting.
    I really appreciate your input for the final presentation of my work; I will gladly incorporate photos into the showcase for a bit of context. I will likely have this on a poster alongside my sketches and some notes.
    Thanks!

  3. kjwiese16 says:

    Martha,

    This post was so fun! I loved being able to follow along and see your piece at each stage. I am really impressed because I love art and drawing, but mostly in pencil and charcoal because I struggle with paints. Your final project is also very impressive! The gold shading really lights up the middle, but contrasts nicely with the starry sky in the center. I was wondering though, at what point did you decide to cover up the majority of the blue/green background? It seems that at each stage you covered up more and more of it, but I was just curious if there was a specific point where you decided it would be mostly gone, or if you knew it was headed in that direction all along.

    Also, I was wondering why did you pick Portugal? I visited Spain a couple years ago and was struck by their massive Cathedrals. In particular, the Great Mosque of Cordoba is truly amazing. It is an enormous mosque that was added on to every few years so the architecture changes throughout. In addition, there is a Cathedral nestled inside. Even if you didn’t necessarily include aspects of the building to your art I think you would find it intriguing to learn more about, (if you didn’t know about it already)!