And Then the Crow Flew Away With a Strand of My Hair
Vitreous glass and gold smalti on MDF, 24″ x 24″, 5/8″ thick (60.96 cm x 60.96 cm, 1.58 cm thick). A study in black and white, and a challenging one. This will form the centre panel of a triptych, illustrating a not-yet-written but well imagined faery tale. I wanted to incorporate text from the story directly into the panel; my inspiration was book illustrations of the great American author-illustrator Howard Pyle.
There are four whites and five black shades used, in addition to the thread of gold smalti. I grouted it in two stages, using charcoal coloured grout for the crow and sky, then carefully masking off those areas (with rubber cement and tape) when they were dry, and then grouting the lettering and sea with a stark white grout.
In this sequence you can see the piece from nearly start to finish. I started by drawing the cartoon on architect’s vellum (a high quality, opaque, and quite durable paper product, not to be confused with the animal product parchment or vellum). I then transferred the design to the MDF panel with a heavy black marking pen.
My cartoon is quite simple, as I only need to see the basic outlines of major shapes. And the idea in my mind kept evolving as I went. I’ve prepared the 24″ x 24″ MDF (medium density fibreboard) panel (cut from a full 4’x 8′ sheet) by painting it with two coats of white shellac. This gives me a good white ground to draw on, and offers moisture protection to the finished panel if I hang it in a damp (not wet) environment.
In this photo you can see that I have – after an interminable seeming time period – finished both the black lettering itself and the stark white background to those letters. I also have moved the promontory down in the design, allowing me more room to draw the ship outlined against the full Moon. Stacked on the face of the panel you can see some of the blacks and whites, still uncut, which I was considering for use in the background sea and sky. I’ve also gotten the gold smalti laid in for my hair; to draw the hair I pulled out one of my own hairs and dropped it on the board over the crow’s beak to mimic a natural placement, and then traced over that real hair. Detailing the individual feathers of the crow with four different black shades was immensely satisfying, and more than made up for the tedium of the white letter background.
Here I have finished all the tesserae work including the border edging, and now I am ready to grout. I’ve tried to capture the sweep of the ocean waves in that rough sea by laying the tesserae on at an angle, and crowning the windblown tips of the waves with whitecaps. The sky is rendered with narrow horizontal cuts of tesserae (by cutting the 13/16″ (2 cm) tessera in half and then half again, leaving four long pieces). The snowy background to the crow’s ascension is fairly large blocky pieces of a slighter softer white than I used on the letter background.
The completed panel, after having been grouted in two stages with first charcoal and then white grout.
I don’t know why I have not yet committed the story to paper; somehow I cannot. It is as if I must draw it first. I am already at work on the cartoon for the second panel of the triptych. I know if I can just keep drawing it the entire story will reveal itself to me.