Art Surgery

With Barry Whitehouse - article featured in the magazine during 2016

The Arty Bit

Should you sign your artwork?

Many centuries ago, paintings were not signed at all. Artists were merely people doing a job – whether it be staining a saddle, painting heraldic shields, coats of arms, a religious painting for a church, or a religious fresco for a wall. A good artist was known by their reputation, and their work had a distinct style. However it was not thought important to sign work, no more than any decorator would sign the corner of your living room wall after putting up wallpaper!

Signatures started to appear when the age of celebrity in the art world began round the mid to late Renaissance. Good artists were in high demand and the owners of the artwork wanted to ensure people knew that they could afford the work of these highly skilled artisans. Signatures were also important for another reason: these masters of their craft began taking on pupils to train them to paint in their style. In time a student’s work could often be mistaken for that of their tutor’s, so a signature would ensure that there was no confusion over the creator of such pieces of work. In most occasions the students wouldn’t sign their work as they were copying the work of the master.

Problems would arise if several students learning from the same tutor had an almost similar style, and paintings would on many occasions be altered or cropped to fit different spaces or new walls over time meaning that signatures usually went missing. At other times, some artists fall out of favour and the way they signed their work would no longer be recognised, especially if using monograms. One such problem occurred concerning the 15th Century Dutch artist, Judith Leyster. By the age of 27 in 1633, she became a member of the Haarlem Guild of St. Luke, the first female painter to be registered there.

There were more women active at that time as painters in Haarlem, but since they worked in family workshops they did not need the professional qualifications necessary to be able to sign works or run a workshop. Within two years of her entry into the guild, Leyster had taken on three male apprentices. Records show that Leyster sued Frans Hals (a contemporary and now a more well-known artist) for accepting one of her students who left her workshop for that of Hals, less than three days after the student entered the studio.

She signed her works with a monogram with her initials JL with a star attached. This was a play on words as “Lei-ster” meant “Lead star” in Dutch, which was the common name for the North star used at the time by Dutch mariners. The Leistar was also the name of her father’s brewery in Haarlem. She was also known as a ‘leading star’ in the art world at that time.

Although well-known during her lifetime and esteemed by her contemporaries, Leyster and her work became largely forgotten after her death. By the end of the 1800s her work was virtually unknown and often attributed to other (male) artists. Her rediscovery came in 1893. A dealer in 1892 had purchased a painting as a Frans Hals only to discover it had been painted by Judith Leyster.

The painting was signed by Leyster with her monogram, but the monogram was unrecognized. In 1893 Cornelis Hofstede de Groot recognized it and wrote the first article on Leyster.  Since then Art Historians have often dismissed her as an imitator or follower of Hals, although this attitude has changed more recently. Her relationship with Hals is unknown. Now rediscovered, her reputation is secure as a highly skilled, successful female in a field dominated by men. There are now only 19 surviving works by Leyster.

You can see the similarities between the style of Hals and Leyster, so without knowledge of the signature, it would be easy to confuse them. Sadly all too often, the skilled paintings of many female artists throughout the centuries were attributed to their male contemporaries. Fortunately,  many of these paintings are now being reattributed to the female artists and their names are once more being known.

So a signature on a painting is extremely important!

The Art Surgery

Painting Flowers in Acrylic Inks

Materials needed:

A4 watercolour paper. Acrylic inks in indigo, flame red, white, olive green, process yellow, and purple lake. Pot of water, two plastic tubs for mixing ink, size 8 round brush, size 1 rigger brush.

Acrylic inks are often an underrated as people are unsure just what they are for. Basically they are a dilute acrylic, but with a higher pigment load giving more intense vibrancy. They are also highly permanent and may are lightfast giving a long life to pictures. They come in a wide range of opaque and transparent colours, and can be mixed with each other. Acrylic inks work best when they are diluted, as they can be too intense if used neat.

For this demonstration I have chosen to show you how to paint a purple iris.

Step 1. Draw out your flower, showing each petal.

Step2. Mix your iris colour. In a small tub, I added a little water and a few drops of purple lake,

indigo, and flame red ink to make the desired purple. I then wet each petal, but left the white area dry. While the petal was wet, I added small amounts of the mixed purple ink from the edges of the petal so that it blended into the centre gradually. I then used the rigger brush to add the purple veins over the white areas of the petals.

Step 3. With a wet brush use a little of the purple lake ink straight from the bottle, and paint some of the darker areas of the petals, and part of the stem. Let this dry.

Step 4. Using the original purple mix and a rigger brush, paint the veins on the petals and any additional marks. Allow to dry before continuing.

Step 5. Using a damp brush, dip into the process yellow ink and paint the centre of the flower, and down the stem. Allow to dry.

Step 6. In a separate tub, add water, process yellow, and a little olive green ink to make a bright green. Wet all of the remaining white paper and add the mixed green ink all around the flower. Paint right up to the edge of the petals and stem. While wet, drop  a little of the olive green ink out of the bottle randomly around the background and blend in with a damp brush.

Step 7. Use the olive green ink and a damp brush, paint the stem Where it goes over the purple, it will create a lovely dark green/brown tone.