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Al Young Studios Newsroom

Ten disastrous minutes

Steadfastly Minded (Mary Soar Taylor)was painted by the artist in the studios at Ben Haven.

dimensions (unframed width x height)
23.75 in. x 36 in.


Painting research begins — 2014 May
Brushwork begins — 2014 October
Painting completed — Because of a studio accident, this painting was never completed

equipment created or modified for this project
Dress form (torso) created by the artist for studio costume-display

costumes, miniatures, and props created for this project

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.

As noted, above, this painting was never completed; however, in 2017 and 2021, two photographs of the painting in progress were discovered in The Ben Haven Archives.  The image of the painting presented on this site is a CGI reconstruction of the oil painting as it appeared in December 2014.  Elspeth's project diary provide insights into the creation of the image and the unusual circumstance of its loss.

2014 November 7, 2014
I've spent the last week leap-frogging paint sessions between my painting for the Sapporo Temple and my portrait of Mary Soar Taylor Moore.  The latter has already been keeping me busy for some time.  The need to give Mary's costume concept a complete makeover from what my model was originally wearing, inspired me to create a long-wished-for addition to my studio: a dress form.  I've been waiting to afford one, but the need for one during this painting couldn't wait any longer.  So a web search, a glance at DIY tutorials, and about 15 hours of work later, I have my own duct tape, shredded paper, paper mache, gessoed sculpture.  I fitted the form exactly to a vintage reproduction-Victorian dress that doesn't fit any model I've met yet.  Not being very handy at 3D, I'm very proud of the form.  I propped up the completed, sculpted torso on a high chair in the northwest corner of my studio, draped it in the costume I plan to paint, and am ready to paint the entire outfit from life.  Somehow, it thrills my costume-lover's (and my doll-lover's) heart.

I also find the creative energy from my Tokyo Temple painting feeds my portrait of Mary, and vice versa.  Wednesday I visited the Springville Museum of Art.  They have two exceptional exhibits currently on loan.  One features portraits of children and some material culture from our early church history.  The second is a series of Soviet-era Russian paintings, both impressionist and realist.  The bold, thick, expressive brushstrokes I saw in painting after painting captured my artistic fancy and I've been a new artistic creature the past two days.  I am using thick, undiluted paint to sculpt with impasto, allowing divots and grooves and pools of thick paint to build the structure of whatever I'm painting.  These new techniques are lending strength and vitality to my subject matter.  And what I learned about color planes from the work of artist Franz Schwartz last year, is also loosening my style in exciting ways.

The influence of the Russian School has a long history in terms of Elspeth's painting, as attes...
The influence of the Russian School has a long history in terms of Elspeth's painting, as attested by this journal entry four years later.
November 11, 2014
I didn't realize yesterday and today would be International Paint Fabric Meticulously From Life Days, but I've been enjoying every minute.  For both my Sapporo piece and Mary, I have set-ups in my studio so that I paint the fabrics I need from life.

December 10, 2014
I've been very Mary-centric since I last wrote.  I turned my windowsill into a rose terrarium for about a week so that I could paint her bouquet from life.  The dogrose bouquet in her hand turned out to be a marriage of five different, yet highly similar, rose varieties.  (I even borrowed some single-flowering roses from a stranger's home in Pleasant Grove at the base of Battle Creek Canyon.)  Mary's kerchief and dress continue to undergo mass scumbling and glazing layers as I continue to paint the costume from life.

I repainted all the under-layers of her hands.  I awoke the other day to a drip disaster: overnight.  My alkyd medium must have dripped slowly over the hands and dried in unattractive rivulets.  Solvent and a knife were the only way of removing the unwanted grooves of plastic-y medium, and repainting the hands has become essential.  I'm two layers into the repainting, and have a long road ahead.

January 1, 2015
My work on the portrait of Mary has been excruciating.  Each day seems to be one step forward and two back.  Very emotionally costly.   I'm finally breaking through some creative barriers, but it's been such an uphill battle that I'm facing the canvas to the wall and letting time help my cause.  Having "done all" in my painting vineyard, it is now time to do the only thing left I haven't tried, and that' to spare it a little longer (see Jacob 5).  Believe me, I was ready to burn it, literally, just two days ago.  I'm often surprised by which paintings turn out to be simple, and which are painfully tricky.  Something about the lighting, the mood, its surreal glow, and the subject matter—are all much more ephemeral than I had anticipated.  Every element needs many more layers than I had anticipated.  (And that's before any real glazes to speak of!)

Building a face is always an intricate balance of internal structure, blood, spirit, outer texture, reflected glow, and finally some finely-crafted flattery.  But this painting Do beat all!  My model Shannon's face is so uniquely beautifully featured and many faceted, that her face and expressions literally change from every angle and or height at which the painting can be observed.  (Every human face is just millimeters different from the next person's, but she is microscopically diverse within her own expressions!)

Meanwhile, painting a black satin dress amidst a dark background has also presented unique challenges.  Painting such a dress from life in the hourly light shifts of a north and west facing studio is already daunting, but to capture within the painting's compositional context a black dress with three distinct light sources (one of which includes direct, raking sunlight), is even more insane for me to tackle, than usual.  And black naturally absorbs the colors around it, bleeding them dry, so that trying to paint reality without creating a drab painting (both chemically and visually) is proving time-consuming and paint gulping.  (I remember similar issues with my painting of The Treasure and its frustrations are familiar.)

Black fabric is more colorful, I find, than even I had supposed.  It is layer upon layer and glaze or scumble upon glaze, of Payne's gray, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, chromium oxide green, white, white-ultramarine, Scarlet, quinacridone violet, yellow ochre, and even cadmium yellow.  Burnt sienna has been my best friend (every highlighted fold is traced with burnt sienna to separate it from its shadow) and has helped keep some color-vitality alive.  (I once went through this same trial while endeavoring to paint white fabric—learning painfully through trial and error that white fabric is just about every color except white—but I did not expect the same experience painting black.)

And Oh! the kerchief!  I think I've painted the design and fringe six times, all the way from scratch, only to paint it out in white highlight anyway.  About the only thing that's been super smooth traveling on this painting has been the roses, and the lace curtains at her left.  The lace is a panel of real Swiss lace my great-grandmother's stepbrother sent from Switzerland about 50 years ago.  In my painting, it covers my already-painted diamond pane-window, which itself was already covering a wall and another version of the window.  Get the idea?

January 26, 2015
There has been an accidental painting death at my studio this past weekend.  I had hoped to only remove one week's worth, or maybe two, of painting layers from my oil painting of Mary Taylor, but odorless mineral spirits removed the lot.  Careful, and then more vigorous rubbing with rag and odorless mineral spirits seemed to do nothing at first.  So, I innocently poured a thin layer of OMS over the painting's surface and let it set about ten minutes.  Still no response.  But, to my horror, after several hours of dry-time something went terribly wrong.  The panel itself felt cold and limp, a very worrying sign.  I thought a little light sanding might help.  Suddenly, layer after precious layer of painting came away as clots with the consistency of clay and pastel.  The very layers themselves seem too chalky and sticky, that shifted and moved -about in patterns resembling Pangea.  At last, as my painting seemed to disappear in sheets, I gave up all for lost.

The good news, however, is that the damage, though irreparable, seems purposeful.  I believe Providence is prodding me on to create something even better of Mary, someday . . .
EpilogueJournal entry from 2017 December 11Bittersweet story: three years ago, I was working on a po...

Journal entry from 2017 December 11
Bittersweet story: three years ago, I was working on a portrait of Mary Soar Taylor Moore when a studio accident destroyed the original oil painting.  But the other day, we were surprised to find some high quality pictures in our photo archive, showing the way my painting looked half-way done.  Now we can offer small reproductions of the painting in progress for anyone who might like to have a remembrance of the faith and perseverance of this Martin Handcart Company pioneer, whose journey left her crippled for life, but ever true to the Church of Jesus Christ for which she gave her all.

Tags: Steadfastly Minded, 2021, Project commentaries

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