Al Young Studios Newsroom

Heaven's help is the indispensable thing

Mga Bagwis Ng Umaga (Wings of the Morning)by Elspeth C. Young
Mga Bagwis Ng Umaga (Wings of the Morning)
by Elspeth C. Young
This handmade, original oil painting was created by the artist in the studios at Ben Haven.

Painting completed — 2021 September

equipment created or modified for this project

dimensions (unframed width x height)
48 in. x 65 in.


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.

The following is Elspeth's project journal for the painting (somewhat redacted):

2021 February 3

I rather thought when I sketched my original costume design (using ancient costume silhouettes indigenous to the Philippine Islands) that I was nearing my mark.  I even dug up costuming from our costume storage and dressed the part I had designed.

That was Monday.

But the same day, I felt impressed to run my sketch concept past more knowledgeable Filipino experts.  I contacted Terry (whose missionary journals from her years serving in the Philippines, I might add, calibrated my thoughts and feelings for this subject!), asking her advice.  She immediately put me in touch with Valerie, a Philippine native herself, who is currently serving in the Islands.

2021 February 5

It's been a whirlwind, but oh! I am pleased with the new concept for my Filipino costume.  Sketched below.  I've been researching like mad at all hours, watching Filipino films (with one eye shut—they tend to be rated something I never see) and scouring every online source I can find to imbibe the spirit of their National folk costume.

Every time I shut my eyes, images of Filipino peasants appear in my mind.  This sketch is the synthesis of what I find most beautiful and quintessentially Filipino.  I am thrilled by the pure elegance and simplicity and the way it will better focus the viewer's eye on her reach toward the Christ.

2021 March

I wanted to feel Filipino color in my bones, so I sat back and watched film footage of the beaches and vegetation of neighbouring Guam (it was the closest I could get during COVID).  These are the colors I observed in my travels.  We'll see how it plays out in the final oil painting.

I have also experimented disastrously with water mixable oils.  This may be a good solution for some chemically sensitive people, but not for me!  Back to traditional oils I go.  I had thought that perhaps a water mixable oil layer for the underlayer would speed drying time and could accelerate my process but no such luck.

2021 June 1

The last couple of weeks have been filled with miracles of every kind.

On top of the layers of background previously painted, I've been starting to paint the figures in oils, using my oil pastel sketch layers as a starting point for the forms.  It is working beautifully.   I knew today would be particularly challenging because I was starting the woman's face and her gaze has to meet the Savior's perfectly (difficult even on a good day!).  But this painting is so large, I can't see both heads at the same time in my field of vision.  They take in too wide a surface area.  Before I began today, I prayed that I would be able to, "paint what I couldn't look at, let alone see."  At the end of the session I stepped back.  The gaze is a perfect match.

2021 June 2

Well, the gaze may have been perfect, but good grief!  The facial structure went all African on me and I'm having the most excruciating time pulling Filipino back out of the facial features.  It was heartbreaking to have to wipe off everything I did yesterday, but it was better to face the music now…

2021 June 9

Every culture I paint is remarkable.  Each one reveals hidden facets of beauty which can only be described as "jewels," lit by the inner goodness and the divinity within, augmented by the Light of Christ.  As I sketched my model for the Urdaneta temple, I discovered eyelashes which echo the sinuous lines of a swallowtail's wings.  As I have painted her skin, I see the radiance of a brilliant tropical flower like hibiscus or fuschia.  Breathtaking.

2021 July 9

The last few weeks painting on Urdaneta have been exciting to say the least.

Some days I've just been careful, painterly plodding, but others have been excruciating.  At least I can say the overall result is always progress, whether I enjoyed my painting day or not.  But there are days I'll be glad not to repeat.  The worst was probably 1 week ago, trying to get my Filipina's overskirt just so.  That was exciting.  After pulling most of my hair out by the roots, (figuratively) I finally dragged out one of the collection of dolls I use as mannequins, cut old rags into the right shape, and started putting them to the dolls that I could paint from life.  Several hours later I emerged from my studio, having soiled a dozen nitrile glove-pairs, two palettes, and I don't know how many brushes.  But it's coming . . .

Today I've been collecting color samples from the Urdaneta temple interior designer, Jayna.  I've had the uneasy feeling I needed to check in again with their planned color schemes before I really nail down my costume colors for this painting.  Good thing I did!  I think I was headed in a direction far too acrid a yellow-white.  Speaking with Jayna also gave me the idea to include the vibrant fuchsias, reds, salmon, golds, and greens in foreground fauna instead of Andrea's costume, as previously planned.  This will allow the figures to stand out in pure white, but the painting will still have vibrance.

2021 July 14

Sometimes a painting session feels miraculous because it is so creatively and energetically happy a painting experience.  Everything seems to go right.

Other times it is a miraculous few hours while everything appears to go very wrong.

Today was one of the latter.

But all such days always bring me, usually at the end of the session when all hope seems lost, to my knees in desperate prayer.  Today was the day.

And again, as I always am, I can testify afresh of a God who answers prayers.  Even artistic ones.

We pulled through, Heaven and I.  And the Savior's face in my painting for Urdaneta is better and nobler and dearer.

2021 July 19

I'm beginning to think that I am to have daily miracles as I try desperately to make headway on this Filipino painting.  Whether it's being raised from insurmountable pain so that I can paint anyway, or painting better than ever despite puzzling creative problems, I am daily overwhelmed by the witnesses I am receiving of my own insufficiency and God's ability to make our weakness strong.

2021 July 22

I was surprised to realize that my whites and this painting were too cold, my yellows too sharp, and my blues too cold for the temple color palette in the Philippines.  All of my foreground needed to be cooled off and my background warmed up.

This morning I painted with the sunrise, and painted the sun rise itself, in patches over the existing sky, to establish my new color scheme.

I will try, exhausted though I already am, to go over the rest of the sky while it's at my fingertips.

2021 August 9

July 29th through August 6th we moved my Filipino painting to the Loft easel so that I can stand while painting the lower portions of the painting—much easier on my neck and spine.  My studio ceilings just won't allow it to be raised that high.  So I've worked cheek-to-jowl in Mom's work space and enjoyed the feeling of a holiday.

Saturday the 7th, however, I was ready to be home!  My studio may not be much larger than a phone booth, but it's MINE, and that gives a comfort which no expanse can replace.

Midweek last week I quite despaired of this painting ever feeling like I wish it to feel, but during Saturday's scumbling sessions I turned a corner.  Unifying patched-sky everywhere (where I've previously had to paint in and paint out bits and pieces over and over and over! again) with scumbled clouds, hints of sunrise hues, and the correct turquoise, is all doing more than I dreamed to convert the seemingly hopeless mess of elements heretofore visually flattened by something as simple as a patchy sky.

I also feel I owe much to my faith-filled "prayer squad" of loving family and close friends who have shared in my desire that this painting become all it can and should be.

The strength and sincerity of their concerns that I have the health and inspiration I need to complete this painting in time is enabling me to surmount otherwise impossible challenges.  Their faith "signatures" belong on this painting every bit as much as mine!

2021 August 23

The last few weeks of painting have been INSANE—twice uprooted out of my studio so that I can paint in the loft, or hours and hours of standing practically on my head or dangling from a step stool or hunched in a low chair trying to paint this ginormous painting as quickly as possible.  (I knew my foreground was closer to complete when the other day I was taping floral specimens to my easel so that I could paint from life.  Somehow my experience is never complete without blossoms, leaves and vines tangled and dying before my eyes as I'm madly trying to capture the essence of these plants while they fade away.)

Sometimes when I felt so fatigued my muscles couldn't bear the strain.   and, using my left arm as a makeshift mahl-stick, my right hand was shaking as I tried to make the most delicate brushstrokes.  At these moments, I could tell that I was actually being reinforced and strengthened, and Heaven's miraculous help was the only possible explanation.

I'm resting for a few days and then I'll recommence the beautiful struggle to completion.

2021 September 3

I wasn't ready to write anything about the last two weeks until I could say things were going better.  I've seen Studio disasters; I've felt painters panic, but I've rarely felt anything like the last 14 days, and certainly not in this heavy of a concentration.

Until yesterday at about 4:30 p.m., I thought I would never feel truly confident about this painting as seen from any height or angle, and that I&aposd never feel artistic satisfaction about it for more than seconds out of every day.  Torture is the only word for my feelings.

Rarely have I felt so assured of heavenly assistance during a painting with so little to show for the help.  I paint out, wipe away, scrape off the labors of the previous day each day fopllowing.  And just when I think I have a ride somewhere, I scrape off and paint out all over again, day in and week out.

It's not new to give my paintings such makeovers, but this?

It's constant, tortuous labor, seemingly to no purpose but heartache (and headache literally!).  I feel driven to ramming speed aboard a ship headed the wrong way.  Do I sound miserable enough?  There is no Emoji to describe my frustration and eroded self-confidence.

But here we are in the Fourth Watch.  Storm calmed, at peace, and tsunami over.

2021 September 9

Today I learned that when you don't use drying agents (which I haven't at all in this painting) there are dividends.  I had already learned that an artist has the luxury of working a wet-in-wet layer for several days and that a sculpted texture can result (which is very pleasing,; but today I discovered that the layers of paint I laid in yesterday could be used to erase what was beneath them!  A stubborn layer of oil pastel which had totally dried, would wipe off instantly or just work right into the next layer as a hue, having been softened by the oils on top of it overnight.

Second, such a layer can also smooth over a patch layer of heavy brush strokes, concealing unwanted layers, if the paint is only about 4 to 7 days dry.

It's like a giant texture eraser which can then, in turn, be worked for a day or two.  It's superb for knife work.

This is one of the busiest but sweetest painting days ever!

2021 September 24

Today I finally figured out how to preserve the vitality and energy, grace and visual essence of my sketch lines in the final oil painting.  I had previously thought they had to be buried in the sketch under-layers.  But they can reappear as the highlight and or reflected light "lines"!  They are the vectors, the plains, the "swooshes" off of which the sunlight gleams!

2021 September 28

Finished at 9:15 a.m.  Picked up for framing at 5 p.m. the same day.

Not every item of equipment in a studio is purchased for the purpose (or should be).  Nor ...
Not every item of equipment in a studio is purchased for the purpose (or should be).  Nor is everything handmade.  Ingenuity and improv that works is sometimes too much fun to pass up.  For example, an inverted plastic egg carton turned upside down to serve as a paint-tube tray.  And sometimes, improv lasts a long time: The inverted egg carton has long served as a drawer liner in a chest-of-drawers-turned-taboret in yet another work area.

Tags: Wings of the Morning (Mga Bagwis Ng Umaga), 2021, Project commentaries, Tips and techniques

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