Jennifer Letchet Paintings

My work explores fundamental elements of painting, the relationship between colour and line. I intend my paintings to affect the viewer optically with the illusion of shapes moving and receding. Colour theory is very important to my work. I use specific hues to symbolise ideas or emotions. The contained shapes on canvases seem more like objects than lines. My recent work explores natural and man-made disasters and the impact this has on our environment. I want to record the changing landscape through simplified shapes and colours.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Gesso Demonstration 14/11/2011

Evaluation of Methods & Materials: Introduction to Gesso & Egg Tempera 14/11/2011

Lesson Plan
Helped me to structure the session, to gauge time keeping, and to maintain an even pace
More beneficial in planning stage: I knew what I was doing and when, I did not need to refer to it
Allowed me to identify what teaching I was doing relative to the students’ learning
I did not run over the specified time slot of 10-11.15am

Handout
Artists Images: too painterly, need to relate to the project brief, the reading list (in handbook) and mostly to drawing

Gesso & tempera recipes: needed to refer to them more throughout the demonstration, i.e. “We will now add another layer when matte, all of this is on the recipe in the handout, should you want to do this later,” and “No need to make notes, its all in the handout for future use”.

Delivery of demonstration/teaching
I started really nervously – my first demonstration session, met some new students, had two observers; one of them behind me which was a little off putting
Once we had all moved to the Bain Marie, I became more at ease and so did the students.  We all relaxed into a more informal atmosphere with questions and answers.
Once they were occupied with the gesso and egg tempera painting, I was at a loss as to what to do with myself, and spent too much time walking around and talking to them individually.  Not necessary.
Should have linked it to the project more

Practical Activity
Students seemed really engaged and interested
They seems apprehensive at first, as a response to my nervousness
Good interaction with students: giving them feedback, making sure they were all at the same pace and no one was missed out
Practical advice, tips, anecdotes, using personal experience to help them relate to the process

Positives/Negatives
Negatives: Too nervous at the beginning, need to gain confidence with experience
Relate artists and benefits of gesso to project – I had chosen too many painterly artists and not linked them with chosen reading list
Did not give them further references, reading lists to go away with
A student arrived late; I did not acknowledge her thoroughly.  She applied the gesso wrong and so it won’t work for next time.  I should have welcomed her, asked her to sit down and to go through what we were doing and how to do it. 
I forgot her name and should have asked her for it.

Positives: Good response from group, enjoyed new process, engaged with the medium.  Lots of questions, which were thinking around the subject showed real interaction and attention.
Had a finished painting to show them the desired effect
Natural length of session was good; structure was well planned with a resolution at the end and a follow up session (and homework – sanding!) in November/December (TBA)
Informal discussion kept their attention plus 1:1 chats for feedback on technique and to gauge their opinions
Students cleared away responsively
Organised: had all the materials prepared and at hand

Points to improve
Relate handout to project and reading list
Refer to handout
Give further reading
Next time set up a table for gesso and a table for egg tempera to give more space and room to manoeuvre
Mention health and safety
Engage with latecomers
Be more confident and relaxed
Address students more personally with first names

Sunday, 13 November 2011

My Gesso (Chalk ground) recipe


  • A chalk ground needs a hard surface (such as board, as it is prone to cracking. Therefore a flexible surface like stretched canvas is inappropriate)
  • Prepare the board for the gesso by applying 2 coats of rabbit skin glue.  Leave 2 hours drying time between coats
  • To make the up the rabbit skin glue use a ration of 14 parts water to one part rabbit skin glue grains
  • Leave to soak for at least 30 minutes to an hour
  • Heat the glue in a Bain Marie, do not let it boil, just gently heat and stir away the lumps.  If you do not have a Bain Marie, use boiling water in a bucket and put the rabbit skin glue mix in a smaller bowl into the bucket and stir.  It takes a little longer to heat, but is just as effective
  • Once the glue has been mixed, add the whiting until there is a mountain in the liquid
  • Stir with a spoon until there is an even and smooth consistency like double cream.  If you put your finger in, the gesso should stick and be white in colour
  • Time is of the essence here, mix quickly, don’t let it get cold
  • Make sure you are doing this on a flat surface, as the board will dry in this position.  Otherwise it may warp.
  • Apply the first coat in even layers.  Flood the paintbrush and apply quickly and gently. 
  • This is a wet-on-wet process.  Do not let the layer dry before adding the next.  Using your fingers, create ripples of texture in the surface to allow for the next coat to stick.  Apply the second coat without disturbing the first layer
  • Apply coats in alternative directions, i.e. coat 1 horizontally, coat 2 vertically
  • In total, you want to apply 7 coats of gesso, with the 3rd, 4th, etc layers, wait for the layer to go from glossy to matte, before you add the next coats.  Do not let it dry completely though.  Still flood your paintbrush and apply quick even coats without brushing through the layers beneath.
  • Do not worry about loose stray hairs; you will sand those away when dry.
  • When you have finished, leave to dry for 2 days
  • Once dry (it will have dried to a paler colour), wet and dry sand using a sanding block and very fine sandpaper.  Use circular movements.
  • Rub up with a cloth to remove dust and polish

Gesso and Egg Tempera Painting

Gesso is an Italian word for white mineral gypsum and was used as a primer for wood or canvas.  It is a traditional mix of glue binder and chalk used as a primer for painting.  Its absorbency makes it work for water based paints: egg tempera and watercolours.  It is not suitable for oils as it is too porous a surface.


Gesso resembles paint in appearance, but is thinner and it dries hard. It is applied with a brush and must dry before the surface can be painted on. Gesso was first created for use in painting, to give the surface the right properties to receive paint. In Gothic and Renaissance panel painting, gesso was applied over a panel of wood to give the paint something to which is could adhere. It created a slightly rough surface and prevented the paint from seeping into the wood.  Gesso can be quite a brittle surface and if mixed wrong can crack.

Egg tempera is a permanent drying medium consisting of coloured pigments and egg yolk.  Egg tempera painting was the primary method until the development of oil paints in the 1500s. Tempera also refers to the paintings in this medium.  Tempera paintings are very long lasting and examples from the 1st centuries AD still exist, for example Egyptian sarcophagus painting and early panel painting by Michelangelo.

Egg tempera is traditionally created by mixing small amounts of pigment with egg yolk and distilled water.  The egg is separated to remove the white and then the egg yolk is pierced to remove the outer membrane.  The mixing and amounts cannot be measured, but must be judged by eye.  The consistency should lie somewhere between watery and greasy.  Some pigments are unstable and therefore require more binder, i.e. yolk.  Depending on how thick you wanted your tempera to be, you would add more or less water.  Despite being a water-based paint, it is not water resistant and therefore the paint will not keep more than a few hours.

If you wanted a quality of paint more akin to oil paint, you would mix a ratio of 1:1 of yolk and linseed oil to your pigment.

Tempera paint dries very quickly and is best applied thinly in semi-opaque layers.  You will build up the colour in layers and it allows for experimentation with different coloured layers.  The finished appearance is matte and smooth.  The advantage over oils is that oil colours will yellow in time, but egg tempera colours do not alter over time.

Tempera adheres best to an absorbent ground with a lower oil quantity than itself, which is why oils are not suitable.  Tempera and gesso requires a hard surface like board, and not a flexible one like canvas as it would crack otherwise.

Tempera painting became out of favour in the Late Renaissance but it was rediscovered by artists such as William Blake, and the Pre-Raphaelites.