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So Far, So Good

Here is the final product from one of my latest projects. I had posted ‘work-in-progress’ photo of this work on Instagram and in my earlier post, so if you are looking for the final version, this is it.

What happened while working on this portrait?

Squid Game: So much has happened since beginning to paint this portrait. Probably the most relevant update is that the entire planet has gone nuts watching “Squid Game“. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the series just yet.

Oil on Canvas, 16” x 20”

Covid-19: Seriously speaking, all has gone okay here in New York City since reopening businesses and schools. According to New York Times Covid Tracker, in the last 7 days–ending 15 October 2021–there has been 1,316 Covid Cases and 12 deaths in New York City. When looking at the entire U.S. data, though, one can see that we are still not out of the woods, showing 98,560K cases and 1,587 deaths in the same period. So in many ways, perhaps, things are not so good, but both case and death counts are trending down.

Economy: Global supply chain is under stress. What does that even mean? Basically prices of many things that we purchase at supermarkets and items that we need have gone up.

So these are some selected stories behind this portrait. Things are returning to normal, but it’s going to take some time to be really normal.

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See and Believe

There are many reasons to start painting—or drawing. I can tell you thousand reasons.

I love to see the world with my naked eyes, and painting gets me there faster than any other way.

A zoom drawing from October 8, 2021

Making art is an art itself. And, there are many reasons and ways to do it.

Seeing is believing, but one can’t see if you don’t believe.

What do you see?

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The Great Escape from the Labyrinth

It has been a pleasure to reunite with one of my favorite models from NYC. As you many recall, my painting of him, Daedalus and His Wings, was completed in early 2020, just before NYC shutdown businesses due to COVID-19.

Do you know the story of the Daedalus? If you are not familiar with the Greek Mythology, you can read about it from Wikipedia-Daedalus.

I plan to name this new painting, “The Great Escape from the Labyrinth”.

Following are photos of my color study for this particular project.

Day 2 – Oil on Paper, 9” x 12”
Day 1 – Oil on Paper, 9” x 12”

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Burnt Umber

After a few pencil sketches, I was ready to start painting. I enjoy drawing with pencils and all, but I would rather be painting. This entire oil sketch is done with 2 colors: Burnt Umber and White.

Oil on Paper, 12” x 9”— 28 September 2021

While painting today, I kept thinking about the time when I went to see Michelangelo’s drawings at the MET Museum some years ago. There were so many impressive drawings by him, but the one that caught my attention was his hand-drawn grocery list for his guests. The list is owned by the Casa Buonarroti museum, Florence, Italy. Sometimes, when I am executing an oil sketch–and as hunger strikes–I think about that grocery list.

In the same spirit of sharing grocery lists, here is one of my simple meal to go when I am painting elsewhere: homemade bread, sardines in olive oil.

Je’s Sourdough Bread Recipe

  • 280 grams of sourdough starter
  • 200 grams of water
  • 5 to 10 grams of salt
  • 360 grams of unbleached flour

Instruction: Mix all the ingredients together & knead for 10 minutes or so–keep in mind that this is very wet and sticky dough. Put the dough into a proofing basket, let it rise for 2 – 3 hours in the room temperature (or leave it overnight inside your refrigerator), and then thrown the dough in the oven for 40 minutes at 500 degrees F.

This is my simplified version of the traditional sourdough bread making process. I encourage you to search the internet for detail versions.

Making sourdough bread requires a similar patience required when painting with oil colors–one must plan ahead, and execute flawlessly when the time comes.

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A Long Pose after a Long Pause

To me this painting sums up a bizarre chapter that we have lived through since our lives have been disrupted by Coronavirus–this is my first painting from a long pose that lasted 3 weeks. I have done smaller paintings from shorter poses in the recent weeks, but they were color studies.

Painting from the Art Students League of New York
16″ x 20″, Oil on Canvas–Livia, our model, posed for Sharon Sprung’s class at the Art Students League of New York. Inside the studio, only the model was allowed to take off her mask.

It has been a pretty intense three weeks. There is never a dull moment these days. Everyday, I worried that the painting sessions would be interrupted by another surge of Covid-19. I suppose, every painting is influenced by internal and external factors, but it’s pretty terrible when a project comes to an unexpected halt.

While filled with what seems to be all around bad news around the world, there we were, in a studio full of ~20 fully vaccinated artists and 2 models, painting away. For 3.5 hour stretch of daily painting session, my attention simplified by shutting down the distractions and by focusing on basic necessities: lighting, heaters for our model, colors, and accuracy of my drawing.

All has gone safely thus far after 3 weeks of painting at the Art Students League of New York. I am grateful that the League has reopened and that I am able to continue my search, whatever that maybe. Thank you.

The long pause has forced me to reassess and adjust my plans so I can continue to paint. The change of plan was absolutely necessary.

What’s Happening?

  • The Delta Variant of Covid-19: The confirmed cases and death have been going up in many parts of the U.S.
  • Cryptocurrency: China has been cracking down on cryptocurrency. In their latest move, it stated that all cryptocurrency transactions are illegal.
  • The Debt Limit: Unprecedented spending by the U.S. government will likely require increasing the debt limit.
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Oil on Canvas, 16 inched x 20 inches

As you can imagine, there are lots of different canvas size choices for a painting. After spending 2 weeks drawing and painting from the same model, I finally experienced the “A-ha” moment, allowing me to decide on a canvas size: 16 inches high and 20 inches wide.

On the easel – After 1st sitting

I had bought some cotton canvas some months ago, and I decided to prepare it for this project. I know it’s a lot easier to make use of already prepared canvas and all, but I do enjoy building every aspect of my project. For this particular job, I built a frame which allowed me to stretch the canvas so I can apply gesso.

There are so many materials to choose from when preparing canvases. One can spend considerable amount of time going through various options. For me, the most important aspect of canvas preparation for oil painting is to ensure 3 things:

  1. Smooth surface – I like little to no texture on my canvas
  2. Low oil paint penetration – There is nothing enjoyable about painting on a surface that soaks up oil paint.
  3. Portable – Whatever the size, it needs to fit through NYC subway.

I look forward to continue working on this painting next week.

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A New Beginning

After months of anticipation, I have returned to the Art Students League of New York earlier this week, painting among familiar and new painters at the league. It has been beautiful to paint from life once again as it has been done before the pandemic.

You see, the League and the artists there had survived the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 2018. Fast forward 100 years, we are now in the middle of battling Coronavirus Pandemic, but better equipped to fight thanks to multiple vaccines that are now available–I suppose only time will tell what happens next. At the moment, New York City is preparing all its school students to start 2021-2022 school year on Monday, 13 September, including under 12 year old students who couldn’t be vaccinated.

September 13, 2021 — I spent some extra time with the model today, getting the likeness by moving some paint.

September 10, 2021 — Here is my first oil portrait that I have worked on this week. I chose to work on a small canvas board to test drive all my materials, including some new brushes and colors.

On the easel – 10 September 2021 – WIP
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What are NFTs?

There has been a lot of conversation about non-fungible token (NFT) and cryptocurrency in the recent months, but many folks don’t understand what these mean to artists so I am going to break it down for us–even traditional oil painters like myself–need to know about what these are, because through understanding, we may be able to better protect our works and to profit from our art, including photographs, videos, and other digital assets. 

Cryptocurrency gained momentum and use when companies like Twitter and Tesla openly purchased Bitcoin, one of the better known cryptocurrency. Fueling the fire, this month, June 2021, El Salvador announced that it made bitcoin a legal tender, making it the first country to accept cryptocurrency–countries and people who hold unstable currencies will soon learn to embrace cryptocurrency. While bitcoin still is a risky investment, the technology–called blockchain–that powers cryptocurrency is a reliable way to keep track of digital records. Why is that important for artists? Because all things digital can be recorded using the same technology, allowing artists to (1) profit and (2) protect their digital works. It’s a way to put a fingerprint on digital assets.

Buying and Selling NFTs

The following examples show the difference between the traditional way of selling art vs. using NFT:  

  1. Traditional: Susie was a talented artist who made a modest living from selling her paintings.  She sold a painting for $10,000 USD to Jack. Years later, Susie’s artworks gained recognition so Jack privately sold Susie’s painting to Nancy for $100,000 USD. Sadly, Susie didn’t get a penny from this transaction.
  2. NFT: Tara sold a digital image–using NFT–for $10,000 USD worth of Cryptocurrency to Jack. Tara also specified that she would receive 10% of future resale value of the digital image. Days later, Jack resold Tara’s digital image for $100,000 USD worth of Cryptocurrency, $10,000 of which will be sent to Tara.  

Protecting Your Digital Assets 

Okay. Making profit is great, but another way to use NFTs is to protect digital assets from theft. Digital images and sound have been stolen from artists since the beginning of the digital era–NFT is a way to digitally sign your original work and have a record of it online. So when someone steals a digital asset, one can refer to its record.

Next Steps

I hope this short introduction has sparked your interest. Here are some additional information and how to get going with NFTs: 

Leading NFT Market Places

Related Reading

Follow me on Instagram (@jesoundkeepers) for your chance to purchase my first NFT in the future!

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May 2021: Online Auction

27 May 2021 — Congratulations to the lucky bidder! If you are reading this, Thank you for your support. The framed Limited Edition of the Little Red Lighthouse will be delivered this afternoon and it will be ready for pick up.

Front view

22 May 2021 — Please allow me to take a moment to thank all of you that have bid on the Limited Edition of the Little Red Lighthouse. Thank you for supporting the organization that we all love.

I am happy to inform you that the Little Red Lighthouse is ready to be delivered to the lucky winner. This is a unique and framed version, especially prepared for the auction. Handling frames–especially with glass–is a delicate business, so this will be delivered inside a custom built shipping crate as shown below.

Little Red Lighthouse inside a shipping crate
Little Red Lighthouse inside a shipping crate

Good luck to all the bidders. – Je

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What are my favorite oil painting surfaces?

Over the years, I have painted on almost any surface that I can think of. So what is my preference? Well, I like all of them. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Oil primed linen – I wouldn’t try to prime your own unless you have months to wait for it. Oil primed linen doesn’t absorb much of your oil paint
  • Acrylic primed linen – This is my recent favorite. I put one or more layers of quality grade Gesso with marble dust (a.k.a. calcium carbonate)
  • Acrylic primed cotton canvas – This is fun for messing around.
  • Aluminum panels – Painting on aluminum panel can be fun. You can also put linen canvas on it. Be super careful with this, though.
  • Acrylic primed wooden panels – Put a few layers of Gesso on the wooden panel to get going. You can also put GAC100 medium from Golden so the oil paint doesn’t go through the wood.

Are you interested in painting over Acrylic Gesso? Read these:

General Recommendation

Do some research before you purchase expensive painting surface. If time allows, you can experiment preparing your own canvas from scratch. Use cotton to practice and gradually move on to linen canvas. And, if you really want to use oil ground, save it for the last layers. Remember that it could take a while for oil primed surface to dry.