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Project Commentaries: Tåkesangen (Song of the Mist) by Al R. Young
By Al R. Young
Tåkesangen (Song of the Mist) by Al R. Young
Tåkesangen (Song of the Mist) was painted by the artist in the studios at Ben Haven.
dimensions (unframed width x height) 30 3/8 in. x 42 3/8 in. — lefthand panel 8 ft. x 4 ft. — center panel 30 3/8 in. x 42 3/8 in. — righthand panel
milestones Painting completed — 2020 August
Based on regular entries in the project journal for this painting, creation of the artworks involved approximately 83 sessions (from composition and panel preparation to completion of brushwork).
equipment created or modified for this project Owing to toxic and allergenic materials involved in creating this painting, it was necessary to create an outdoor studio. An already roofed and partially walled enclosure was selected and the following equipment and built-in features were added to the space:
Bug (glazing) tent Overhead lighting Painter's taboret (made from a moving dolly) 4x4 post easel Installation of iron garden shelves for equipment storage Installing a flat screen television Creating a large, drafting-table-style easel
costumes, miniatures, and props created for this project None.
methodology This section presents only one or two items that may be of interest to professional artists, amateurs, and others interested in the work of the Studios.
Every project undertaken by an artist or a studio, shapes the artist, the artist's work, and the studio.
This particular commission was several years in coming (i.e., a proposal was submitted long before construction was tentatively scheduled to begin). After the proposal, a significant period of waiting ensued. When a decision was finally made, the project was instantly coupled with the horsepower of business management's focus on profit and loss, which was--as is always the case--quite short on time. I have never known such a coupling to be otherwise. A business that is not tight on time, even in funding its research and development efforts, probably isn't really a business. Additionally, by the time design proposals for this project were reviewed and accepted, much of the substance of the Studios' original proposal had changed materially. For example, the triptych was not originally to have been a triptych, but a single, large oil painting. And the painting, part of the Studios' portfolio, had been completed fifteen years earlier.
In 2020 February, interior design team leaders for the project confer with Al preparatory to redesigning the concierge area. In addition to functioning as a creative consultant, Al's primary objective was to stand in the space for which the paintings were to be created so that all subsequent compositional and presentational aspects of the Studios' deliverables would be fully informed by the space. This involved envisioning not only the space as it was, but at it would become.
So, with the deadline clock already ticking and a timeline that would turn the project into a racetrack sprint, I embarked upon the creation, from scratch, of what would turn out to be nearly 50 square feet of hand-wrought oil painting. Considering the oeuvre of my work as an artist, whatever else this triptych might be thought to represent, it certainly ranks among the craziest things I've ever attempted. I share this because it's one thing to be an artist, which all by itself is a lifelong journey, but it's something else entirely to be an artist for hire.
Following the February site visit, the Studios prepared a design document setting forth principles influencing image composition and content. The purposes of this design document included: Confirming with the client the Studios' understanding of client objectives for the commissioned artwork. Secondly, customizing the paintings to the strengths and weaknesses of the space in which they would be displayed. Thirdly, shining a light into the realm of artwork creation so that client and team members might more fully understand both the artistic process and its result.
The most foresighted, competent, and diligent efforts in design and even construction are invariably subject to changes arising from a breathtaking spectrum of sources. That's just the way things are. In fact, design that seeks to preclude all surprises actually winds up precluding creativity and outcomes better than could have been anticipated. Creativity is best aided by absolutely thorough and enlightened preparation; nevertheless, along the way toward implementation and completion of the work itself, possibilities will inevitably arise, usually in the guise of problems. And how those problems are addressed determines whether a well planned project turns out okay or becomes something far better than imagined.
Knowing that paint doesn't dry on any schedule but its own, the Studios worked closely with the design and construction team to build into the work as much elasticity as possible in terms of the paintings, and to preclude, to the greatest possible extent, any collisions among construction work and deliverables that might jeopardize not only the creation of the paintings, but might actually result in damage to them, particularly in the event that the artworks had to be installed before they had had sufficient time to dry.
These considerations were addressed by the team as a whole from the inception of the project, with the result that the work got done, installation was successful, and even changing deadlines were met. For example, the Studios was invited to participate in the on-site visit that launched the design project. That foresight on the part of this design team ensured that Studios' expertise concerning the myriad considerations involved in creating, delivering, and installing the commissioned artworks was present and active from the outset. For that foresight alone—something all too rare—the design team deserved a medal.
By the time the site visit occurred, the pandemic was just beginning. The team would weather a full-scale societal shutdown and pandemic considerations all the way to project completion.
This photograph shows the initial underpainting of the sky on the center panel of the triptych. This work was performed in the indoor studio, before the move outdoors was anticipated. The panels in these photograph are housed in studio crates to facilitate the handling of large sheets of Masonite (prone to bending), to protect panel edges and corners, and to transfer much of the work of a traditional easel to the panel.
As part of creating the triptych, I went through seven significant alterations to the composition of the paintings, and most of those changes occurred after brushwork began. Some of those changes originated with the patron, others arose from my own work with the image as I discovered unforeseen problems. As it turned out, the way the patron changes were addressed by the Studios actually helped shorten the production timeline.
Health considerations (unrelated to the pandemic), surrounding our at-home studios, escalated to the point that it became necessary to move the entire project outdoors. This occurred midway of the brushwork.
With the expansion of the plein air studio ready for work, the first task was to coat the underpainting on the center panel with Gamblin's Solvent Free Medium gel. Once the application was completed, the painting was encased in the bug tent to dry.
We had a plein air studio, but the limitation presented by its low ceiling meant that I couldn't stand and paint. The narrowness of that studio also meant that I couldn't paint any of the triptych panels side by side. Resolving these roadblocks meant devoting valuable weeks to a significant enlargement of the plein air studio. I decided that the time-cost of such an enlargement was justified. Accordingly, we completed not only the renovation of an adjacent and suitably spacious area, but we created a drafting-table-style easel flanked by enough space to accommodate the triptych's thirteen linear feet. Having resolved the space problem, it was also necessary to outfit the area so that I could work anywhere along the linear footage of the paintings.
The left and right panels of the triptych were clamped to the easel in the old plein air area. They appear here after the initial underpainting-sketch had been applied. The sketch was done with Chelsea Classical Studio Lavender Spike Oil Essence. This application dried quickly, precluding the need for bug-proofing the panels.
Thin plastic sheeting is used to improvise a bug-free envelope in which one of the side panels can dry after having been covered with oils.
I remained far too busy to keep track of bugs removed from paintings, but an early experience with only the righthand panel netted, or perhaps glued, about fifty red clover mites to the surface of the artwork during a single drying session. The project journal for these paintings even includes a few suggestions on pest removal techniques that avoided smears.
As it turned out, I only rarely had all three panels in line, preferring to paint on them individually and, as often as possible, to put the wet panel up on one of the other easels in the plein-air area to dry out of harm's way. Of course, drying a painting outdoors presented its own wildlife problems. That's why the foregoing list of equipment created for this project includes a "bug tent" large enough to house the center painting. For the flanking paintings, I simply used plastic sheeting to enclose the panels individually, taking care to protect the wet surface of each panel from the plastic as well as bugs. And, since bugs weren't enough of a problem, itinerate neighborhood cats required the regular use of a bird net to keep cat paws and hair from becoming part of the paintings while panels rested on the draft-table-easel.
The 4x4 post easel is used to complete the underpainting of the righthand panel and the right side of the center panel of the triptych.
Looking southward along the drafting-table easel, the center panel of the triptych is mounted across from the 4x4 post easel, along the wall. Floods mounted near the ceiling can be used to illuminate either easel. The pipe, mounted under the ceiling and running the length of the drafting table easel, serves as the ridge-pole for the bug tent. In this photo, however, a garden net (typically used to keep birds from eating fruit and other produce) has been draped over the pipe to serve as a cat net. Roaming neighborhood cats frequenting the garden surrounding the plein air studio are prevented from marring the surface of the painting when the studio is not in use. The top of the dolly-turned-palette, with its paper-towel rack, stands in the foreground.
A large, flat-screen is mounted at the end of the drafting-table easel so that digital images can be displayed for reference. In the foreground, the righthand panel of the triptych and the ride side of the center panel are side-by side for convenience in painting the two panels as one.
The signed, righthand panel of the triptych dries in the old plein air studio.
Of course, commuting between the long-established routine of the indoor studio and the need to campout in the plein-air area required the arrangement of tools and materials in such a way that I could spend as little time as possible setting up, taking down, and running back and forth between indoor and outdoor studios. Lighting was its own problem.
With workspace and equipment once again ready for work, I had to deal with completing the paintings in the longest stretch of record-breaking summer heat in the region's recorded history. That was accomplished simply by working during the coolest hours of the day; even so, L learned to be wary of the signs of heat stroke. Like the bug tallies, I didn't take time to record everything, but looking back over the period from July 25 – August 25, the average daytime high was just over 95F.
The move outdoors also coincided with the most active wildfire season on record, not only locally, but in regions feeding our prevailing winds so that wildfire smoke, as it always does, piles up against the western slopes of the Wasatch Range even if the fires are burning on the west coast of North America.
Finally, in the closing weeks of the project, the deadline for delivery of the paintings was moved up.
The lefthand panel of the triptych is mounted into the raised paneling to the left of the concierge desk. The center panel of the triptych is mounted to the wall behind the concierge desk.
The center panel of the triptych is mounted in a custom frame designed and created by Al and Ashton.
The righthand panel of the triptych is in the foreground. The triptych's center panel is mounted to the wall behind the concierge desk.
Lessons learned from projects like this last a lifetime. Much has already been gleaned, but hopefully it's obvious from the focus of this summary that one of the most important considerations in taking on any project is the integrity, experience and maturity, motivations, and character qualities of team members. The normal course of things in such collaborative efforts, not to mention the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me things that arise unexpectedly, make choosing the right team paramount.