Pastel Painting – The Scala Contarini Del Bovolo during Venice Carnevale

During Carnival this year, I hosted an artist friend of mine, Marie Matthews for a couple of weeks at my rented apartment in Venice.  Marie and I went down to San Marco almost every morning to photograph the costumes.  These costumes are very elaborate, and take their wearers months to make, in most cases.  Most of them adhere to the styles of the 18th Century, tho there are some variations (for instance, a man dressed all in silver, portraying a time traveller).

One morning, when all of us – myself, Marie, my wife and our grandson – got up before dawn and went down to San Marco, Jeanne and Marie decided to go off on their own after the sun rose and the costumes drifted away, while I took Connor back to the apartment.  They wandered all around, Marie in her costume, Jeanne with our camera, and had several adventures which Jeanne has written about here.


One of the places they explored was the staircase of the Contarini house, which is spiral, like the shell of a snail, which is where it got its name – bovolo.  It’s a bit hard to find.  You have to turn down a narrow street that takes a blind turn, and then another narrow street which opens out on a small campo with the usual well head in the middle of it.  After taking several photos of the building and campo, they began to wander off, but met some of the very costumed figures we had just photographed at San Marco, coming back to their rented apartment to divest themselves and perhaps take a nap.  It turned out that they were Americans teaching in Germany, and were very forthcoming.  They’d been coming to Carnival in Venice for years, and always rented the apartment in the campo.  Marie, a novice at carnival costumes, took the opportunity to ask questions about their costumes, such as, “How do you get the neck drapery to stick around your mask?” “Glue gun.”  And, “Where do you get the hoops for your skirt?” “Turkey.”


They followed the costumed figures back to the Bovolo, where Jeanne took more photos, and thus was the idea for a painting formed.


The first thing I did was to make a pastel painting of one of the costumed figures as she unlocked the door to their house and went in.  I was enchanted by the view of the stairs behind her, and the look of invitation in her mask, tho she might well have been desiring only to be alone so she could remove the pounds of unwieldy costume.  I used a sheet of the paper I made and brought with me from home.  This painting is 8.5″x11″.


Then I made some studies of the costumes with pastel on handmade paper, also 8.5″x11″.


These figures were photographed on a nearby street, where they were first encountered, and so I left out the background to focus on the details of their costumes.  They were already very familiar, since I had photographed them in San Marco.  I don’t need to tell you that I used handmade paper, because you can see by the ragged edges that I made it by hand.


The next step was to get out a full sheet of Fabriano paper – 22″x30″, and start with the graphite drawing.  At first I only sketched in the details of the staircase and the house next to it, and concentrated on placing the figures.  I had decided to use all the figures that my wife had photographed near the house, instead of sifting thru all the hundreds of photos we had taken of figures at San Marco, and perhaps including people who weren’t staying there.  This was of minor importance, as we had formed the plan of giving a print of the final painting to the costumed figures, who had kindly given my wife a card so we could contact them.


However faint the drawing looks on the computer screen, it was dark enough for me to be satisfied with the proportions and placement, and to begin work in color.


I started with pastel pencils, which will take an edge, and put in the details bit by bit.


On a whim, I included a picture of Marie in the upper window, as I had plenty of photos of her in her costume.  The pose I used was taken at the top of the Rialto bridge, but that’s the wonderful thing about art – it’s better than reality.


The painting went thru several more stages than I managed to take photos of, but the finished painting is here.  When I get home, I suspect I will do a much larger painting, to do justice to the wealth of detail I couldn’t capture with pastel on paper, but we will see about that.


Here are some details of the figures.  The objects they are standing near are carved well heads, called pozzo in Italian.  They are everywhere in Venice, and it seems the people who own the Bovolo are particularly fond of them, because there is a collection of them in the yard.  None of them work, of course, as all the wells in Venice were capped when the city began getting its water piped in from the nearby alps.


Here is my tribute to Marie, without whom I would never have gotten up before dawn to go take pictures.



Finishing up the paperwork – 8

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One month before the opening of my show, and it’s busy busy busy here in the studio.  But first, a word about the showcard, which I scanned in and joined back to front.  Isn’t it a lovely card?  It’s all the work of Michael at Steem Creative, and I love what they settled on for a title.  I was thinking of calling the show ‘Jim Yarbrough, various unsaleable paintings,’ or ‘recent artshow rejects,’ but this puts it really nicely.  And a very kind sentiment it is, too.

Right now I’m busy making frames for eight etchings that we selected for the show.  Then I’ll have to make sure the proper hanging hardware is on each painting, and then I’ll have to go around and make sure the frames don’t need touching up or repairing.

one of 12 ‘nymphs and satyrs’ etchings

Then there’s the paperwork.  The lovely folks at the Marietta / Cobb Museum of Art emailed a spreadsheet asking for various bits of information, some of which is easier to come by than other bits.

Artist’s name, I got that, no problem.

Name of work, I can fudge that.  I’ll go around at the last minute and think up fancy names for everything.

Medium the work was executed in, if I can tell.  Sometimes I start with one medium and segue into another one without even realizing it.

Size – width and then length.  We had a little issue with the convention at first, but luckily I know which way is up on most of my paintings.

Then a few words for the wall card.  This is the hard part.  If left to myself, I’d just say look at the painting, but my friend Bob Meredith put down extensive verbiage on each painting when he had his show last year, and I’m trying to satisfy everybody by coming up with something meaningful.  And in fact, I’m working up mini-essays for several large wall cards, covering such subjects as my painting methods, my studio equipment, my relationships with my models, and my periods and series of paintings thru the years.  That is, if I can get around to writing them before time’s up.

Year painted.  Well, I can typically narrow it down to decade.

Sale price and insurance value.  Which is something I let my dealer handle, usually.  In this case, I’m fudging, so snap up the bargains before he gets his hands on the price list.

And then I put in a thumbnail of each painting.  Just so the museum folks don’t go crazy trying to figure out which conte crayon dance figure is which.

dancers viii
one of three conte crayon dance drawings.

The spreadsheet was actually due in a month ago, but it was a crazy month, and I got cleared to be a little late with it.  So I’m working on it now.  And, as I said, the descriptions are the hard part.

Checking my measurements twice is also crucial, because they will use this part of the spreadsheet to determine how far to space each painting from each other, which I understand is a major curatorial problem, and has destroyed many art professionals.

After all this preparation is finished, I will be pulling all the paintings into one place from wherever they’ve been (in the basement studio, in the attic racks, on display elsewhere, in the collections of others).  That means from now until next Thursday, the spare bedroom will be stacked with paintings, and there will be paintings in my bedroom, and paintings in the front parlor.  The huge paintings (the six to nine foot paintings) will have to be wrapped in blankets and set out for movers from the museum, who will be here bright and early next thursday.  I’ll transport the rest in the back of my truck.  Maybe in several trips.  The paintings all go in to the museum on December 20, even tho the show doesn’t open for three weeks.  Much of that is Xmas and New Year’s, so it’s really not all that much time.  I will, of course, document the hanging, because I plan to go in and touch up paintings and frames at some point before the show opens, and really wouldn’t want to miss the zoo that will be varnishing day at the museum.

At this point, there are 70 pieces in the show, from drawings to pastels, oils, acrylics, encaustics, giants to miniatures, with sculptures and figurines for all.

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Beach pictures

These are pastel paintings Jim did after a trip to Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina.  They are all painted using handmade pastels on nonwoven fabric, mounted on board.  They were all taken at sunset.

Looking north.

Looking off toward Ireland.

Looking off toward Spain.

Looking south.

While he was at it, he worked on several fanciful pictures featuring the maritime forest as seen thru the cottage window.  These are pastel on paper.

The study.

The final painting.