PREPARING THE PAINTING SURFACE
For artists the word canvas means a fabric that is used as a painting surface. The difference is that some canvas is made from cotton fibers while others are made from linen fibers.
I will be using linen canvas produced for the Utrecht art supply company by Claessens. The technical description is: Double Oil Primed Belgian Linen Roll, Type 820, Smooth Texture. This double primed Belgian linen is a professional-grade, woven to exacting standards and prepared by hand.
In 1906, Victor Claessens founded a company to produce top-quality artist’s canvas. Almost a century later, Claessens is still operating in the original buildings in Waregem, Belgium. The descendants of Victor Claessens have made a conscious choice to keep a small-scale approach to production and to honor the traditional methods for treating artist’s canvas.
Linen is strong and durable, and remains the preferred surface for many artists but it is expensive. It is made from the fibers of the flax plant and top quality flax is harvested mainly in Western Europe. Linen retains its natural oils, which helps to preserve the fiber’s flexibility and stops the canvas from going brittle.
Claessens principally produces canvas from flax. This provides the best quality and is by far the most durable. When the fabric arrives at Claessens, it is first checked with great care for any weaving faults.
Two layers of synthetic adhesive are applied. After each layer the canvas is dried. Zinc white is used as the primer, bound with linseed oil. The paint is applied on to the glued linen and dried for three days. Double-primed canvases undergo the same process once again and then dried for ten days. After that, the canvas is sanded and a finishing layer based on titanium white is applied.
I am using stretchers made by Upper Canada Stretchers in Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. They are a small company that produces stretcher types and profiles have been sold across North America for the past 10 years.
They have become the stretcher of choice for hundreds of professionals, artists, restorers, conservators, who need quality canvas stretchers for their work. They focus on crafting of professional stretchers made with the best designs and materials found anywhere on this planet. They guarantee their stretchers will be straight & square, free of defects and will not warp or twist over time.
The stretchers are made of straight-grained, kiln dried, clear white pine for exceptional strength and stability. Each frame piece is finger-jointed. Precision tongue & groove joints ensure a perfect friction fit and rigid square corners. The cross braces are mortised and tenoned for strength and a superb fit, with hidden keys. The keys are wide and made of hardwood with serrated edges to ensure grip in the grooves.
Stretching the canvas on stretcher bars is the first step in the construction of the frame for the Viking Family Portrait painting. The frame maker needs to get the exact measurements of the stretched canvas and check for the squareness of the stretched canvas. The frame is then made to fit the canvas.
The story of the canvas has finished and the story of the painting can now start. Tomorrow I will be shooting preliminary photo reference of my models - the Soderholm family. Then I will make a preliminary drawing to guide the final photo shoot in July. This week end Kelsey Patton, the costume maker will deliver the costumes.
While Kelsey is in the area, Steven Henning, Producer / Director at Lakes Country Living, will be interviewing her and shooting video for a documentary film on the making of the costumes for the Viking Family Portrait painting.
THE VIKING COSTUME ACCESSORIES AND SHOES arrived today at the museum! All of these brass accessories are made from molds taken from the real thing found in Viking graves. The shoes are also made to the specs of those found in Viking graves. Things are coming together! Kelsey Patton is working on the costumes. I am getting ready for a preliminary photo shoot next week. Those photo references will be used to create a preliminary drawing to guide the final photo shoot.
I quoted illustrator Howard Pyle in an earlier post, "You can't create an illustration without a story. Pictorial art should represent some point of view that carries over the whole significance of a situation. It should convey an image of the meaning of the text."
My general painting concept now has a story to interpret more specifically. The Story went through eight drafts. I am thankful for those who helped me write the story. I heeded their suggestions and the story began to breathe. I am sure they would not say it is perfect at this point, but it is so much better because of their input.
Lois Walfrid Johnson (http://www.lwjbooks.com) gave me several hours of her time coaching me on story and character building. She loaned me her best reference books on Viking history and made helpful suggestions along the way. Please consider reading her Viking Quest Series. They are full of adventure and Viking history - excellent for children and adults. My long time friend and writer, Patrick Day (http://pyramidpublishers.com) gave me his careful suggestions and corrections. DuWayne and Jackie Paul contributed their expert comments on the story and grammar. I appreciate "word" people. I wish they could follow me around and clean up the things I write. In the end we compliment each other. I am the picture guy and they keep a tight rein on words.
A special thanks to my wife, Ellen, who helped me to get the story rolling in the right direction as a reader and with constructive comments.
The Viking Age 793-1066 A.D.
THE STORY: A VIKING FAMILY PORTRAIT IN 1048
IT WAS THE YEAR 1048 in western Norway. The trumpet sound of migrating swans echoed across the waters of Hardangerfjord. The morning mist veiled the mountain landscape. A cool breeze lifted the fragrance of spring blossoms.
Brita gathered her children for a last look at their father until he returned. Anders turned to face them, but he seemed to find no words to respond to the sad expression of his wife and children. He awkwardly turned his attention and loaded his sea trunk on board the Sommar Bris, the Viking ship he would command for the next six months on the north seas.
Brita’s husband, Anders, had been a master of his own ship in her father’s fleet for five years. He was a respected and trusted seaman by his crew. This would be his last of many trading expeditions to Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland, until the growing-up years of his children were over.
Their two sons, six-year-old Peter and four-year-old Jonas, were feeling anxious on the dawn of their father’s departure, but momentarily were distracted by the family dog, and their father’s weapons lying at their feet. Seven-year-old Greta pressed close to her mother for comfort as she watched her father trek supplies down to the ship. Brita understood her daughter. She too had experienced the same feelings as a child, on the advent of her father’s voyages.
Greta’s name means pearl, an endearing nickname her father had given her. She loved the stories of her Nordic heritage told by the elders of her community and by her mother and father. She loved words and the opportunity they gave her to express her thoughts about life and nature.
The boys had already distinguished themselves in the family and community. Peter had strong character and wasn’t easily swayed by his peers. He was an artist at heart and felt the joy and beauty of the craftsmanship he saw in Nordic weavings, woodwork, jewelry, and weapons. He was fascinated by the bold beauty of the Viking longboats and vowed he would one day carve the dragon on a ship’s prow.
Jonas’ blonde hair twisted and turned in rhythm with his busy little hands and feet. He had a gift for encouraging people. He enjoyed scurrying around his community bringing joyful greetings. One day he wanted to be a ship’s master like his father.
At 24, Brita had been married to Anders for 9 years. Her husband won her heart with his kindness. Over the previous years Anders had won her fathers’ admiration and approval with his courage on the high seas.
Brita came from strong stock. Her father was a Viking-age chieftain and her mother’s first born. She had a shrewd sense of her high-risk world and was known for hard work, generosity and kindness. She built these same values into the daily lives of her children.
Brita’s children would not stay children long. Like most boys and girls they would marry by age 15. She made sure they learned how to help milk the cows, make yarn, weave cloth, cook meals, gather berries, repair things, and care for and enjoy one another.
Brita was grateful for Anders’ gifts of beautiful jewelry and bright fabrics, from his last expedition, but she would rather have him home more often. She had a deep concern for Anders’ safety on this next expedition. Sea storms and the risk of trading with Skraelings, the native peoples in Newfoundland, worried her.
She expressed her concerns to her father about dangers Anders would encounter. She wanted Anders to live and have a strong influence in their remaining years at home. The chieftain listened to her concern and remembered her childhood struggles during his frequent absences at sea. For now he needed Anders’ experienced leadership for one more expedition to Iceland, Greenland and Vineland, to fulfill trading obligations he had for skins, furs, and sea-ivory at home. Upon his return he agreed to give him command of a fleet of ships trading closer to home.
In the past, while Anders was on the north seas, Brita managed her household well and worked hard to meet the needs of her family. She often expressed herself with wit and humor. Her children were delighted as she retold stories she had heard from her elders as a child. She encouraged her children to lean to express themselves on any subject; if they didn’t, others would be poorer because of it.
The ship was finally loaded for the long voyage and Brita had too little time to say all she felt as she and Anders’ exchanged farewells. He returned to his men and the ship. She and the children waved as he stepped aboard. He turned, smiled and waved back. As the ship disappeared into the fjord landscape, Brita spoke quietly to herself, “Anders come home safely, I need you. Greta, Peter and Jonas need you.”
THE FRAME for the Viking Family Portrait developed in my head as I was reading and thinking about the painting idea and while Jim Bergquist was writing the grant for the Runestone Museum. It seemed reasonable to create a frame that would help tell the Viking Family story. Museums are about stories, stories of people, their culture, history, their things and much more. A nice professional frame would work, but a frame created by the two major cultures (Viking and Native American) in the museum would be even better.
So I began to think about the obvious - Nordic wood carvings on Viking ships and structures like Stave Churches. The Native American culture contribution to the frame didn't present itself as easy. Then I began to think "texture". The weaving texture on Native American baskets came to mind and the idea of the frame began to develop in my mind and in my sketch and "think" book. The idea has evolved through talking with Jim, the Director of the Museum, April StoneDahl on her Native culture, Phillip Odden, the Nordic carver, and Rich Kephart, the cabinet maker.
THE DAY APRIL'S WEAVING SAMPLES CAME IN THE MAIL, I became very excited The same day Phillip and I talked on the phone about shape and size of his carving. Connecting with both of these artists put me back on the drawing board to work out the construction of the frame shape that would hold the carving and weaving. The drawing on this page is where things are at right now.
RICHARD KEPHART, THE CABINET MAKER, put his mind to the drawing and talked me through the structure and construction. The frame will be made of oak since the Vikings used oak to build their ships, another part of the story in the frame! I want a straight oak grain rather than the typical cathedral grain you see at most lumber yards. Rich wants make sure the wood is dried to his specs to minimize shrinking or warping.
He has offered to go with me to Renneberg's in Menahga, Minnesota to pick out Rift Cut Red Oak for the project. I have always enjoyed picking the boards I want for a furniture project. It is much like shopping in an art gallery where God is the artist.
I will let Renneberg's speak for themselves. "At Renneberg we strive to be the best! We start with the finest raw northern hardwoods, which yield the tighter grain and preferred rich colors of the abundant, slower-growing forests of the Great Lakes region. We do our own northwoods drying, by fresh air and in steam kilns - a carefully controlled process. We take up to double the time others do -- slower drying, personally monitored -- a knowledge gained over 30 years -- to give us the finest colors and a stable flat product. Each board is individually inspected and graded."
There may be slight adjustments made to the design to make sure there is beauty and function, but Rich has given me confidence in his ability to take April's weaving and Phillip's carvings and put this frame together in a beautiful and lasting way!
THE PURPOSE OF THE FRAME is to serve the painting by separating it from its surroundings - to bring it into focus. It also serves to protect the painting. I think this frame will do both as it also yields a deeper appreciation for the history of the Viking age and the Native Americans they encountered - dare I say here in the Alexandria area. I do dare to say it!
Phillip Odden will be creating two relief carvings for the painting's frame. His Nordic designs will bring this Viking carving tradition into the Viking Family Portrait story. As I said before, I am excited to have Phillip part of the creative team working on the frame. April StoneDahl recommended Phillip while the grant for the painting project was being written. Phillip and his wife, Else, are leading tours to Norway this summer. Oh how I would like to go with them!
Phillip and his wife Else Bigton make their living as wood carvers and furniture builders in the Norwegian traditions. Else was born and grew up in Norway. Phillip’s paternal Grandparents emigrated from Norway to Northwestern Wisconsin. Their carving business, Norsk Wood Works LTD, was established in 1979. Phillip and Else together with their son Ole and several fjord horses live on a farm in a community where there have been Odden's now for four generations. In addition to training fjords Phillip and Else have melded images of fjord horses in their carvings and furniture.
APRIL STONEDAHL (pictured on the left) will be creating panels of basket weaving for the Viking Family Portrait frame. The frame will display Nordic wood carvings next to the Native American basket weaving. I will introduce the Nordic wood carver in the next post. Early in my research I was fascinated with what is known, what is probable, and what I imagined happening as the Viking culture and the Native American culture came together in North America. The Runestone Museum has an extensive Native American collection on display near their Viking diorama. With these connections it seemed reasonable to do something with the painting to show the Native American influence on the Viking culture and history.
April understands this historical connection and has that connection with her Scandinavian husband.
April is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa/Ojibwe. She began weaving black ash baskets in 1999. She came to realize she was the only ash basket weaver making baskets in her band and among just a hand full in all of the northern Chippewa/Ojibwe in Wisconsin. Starting with the hand gathered and prepared raw material, April weaves baskets that are meant for use and takes great pride in her work. Besides teaching from her studio she teaches ash basketry in her community on the Bad River reserve and in the neighboring reserves, and at different venues through out northern Wisconsin and Michigan.
She and her husband, Jarrod, decided to call their business Woodspirit in the late 90's after nearly 10 years of research and learning about the how's and why's of utilitarian craft. Though not aware if it at the time, through the learning of how to use the natural materials that made up the baskets, spoons, bowls, snowshoes and toboggans they were making, their personal philosophies were being shaped as well. They come to understand and believe that through the use of these items they could gain an insight into the natural world and the interconnectedness of it all.
April says, "These items connect us to the past, present and future. The past, our heritage or culture, is steeped with the making and using of handmade utilitarian items. In the present, these items have mostly been replaced by items made of cheap inferior material and poor design which have brought the making of these items to the point of near extinction. The future, our hope, is a movement back into recognition that making and using quality hand made items not only supports local artisans and local economies and carries on an age old tradition, but also gives the user a sense of satisfaction.
Please look at the frame design on the color comp in the earlier post to see how the weaving will be used. I spoke with Rich Kephart, the cabinet maker, today and Phillip Odden the Nordic wood carver. The frame is a story in itself with these three contributing their skills and cultures to the project. Rich is Jewish, April is Ojibwe, Phillip is Norwegian, and I am Swedish and Norwegian. A very fun group of artists to work with!
KELSEY PATTON is the costume maker for the Viking Family Portrait painting project. She and her husband, Phillip, live in St. Paul, Minnesota. They are both Viking reenactors and take part in many Nordic events in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. Kelsey studied History, the Classics, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska. I have not asked her a question that has stumped her. Kelsey is a full time historical costume maker. You can view her blog at http://costumegirl.wordpress.com/about/. Here is a wonderful video of her made by the NORSK HOSTFEST FILM SERIES, "Seeing History As A Perfect Fit" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1PRRhZ6dLw.
I have been working with Kelsey for a few months by phone and email on this project. I met her for the first time last Sunday. She and her husband, Phillip, stopped by my daughter's house after an afternoon of activities at the Danish American Center. We had a few decisions to make about the costumes.
In this photo we are discussing tablet weaving colors and design. Tablet weaving is a ribbon with a design all hand made from wool yarn. The finished weaving will be applied to the costumes at the neck line of the father's tunic and the children's clothes. The mother will have the weaving at the top, bottom and cuffs of her apron dress.
Viking women were always making yarn and weaving fabric as a necessary part of life. Below are photos of the color specs I sent to kelsey and a picture of Kelsey, Phillip and me on Sunday, June 1st. Thanks Kelsey and Phillip for your expert help on this project! It is a privilege to work with you and to develop a friendship as well. Your enthusiasm for the Viking Age encourages me to do my best on the painting.
The Viking Family Portrait project has several components. The 4' x 6' painting will be the center piece for the exhibit. The historical costumes, tools and weapons will be another focus along with an improved diorama.
I needed to have just enough of the painting decisions made with the general story and color harmony in order to give the costume maker color and design specs. Accessories needed to be ordered. Models needed to be identified and contacted. The frame design will require three different artist/craftsman.
After studying color harmonies in my artist files, I chose a primary color theme. The mother would be the focus of the painting story because I felt the Vikings are usually represented by their violent warrior history. It was not all like that. Their culture gradually changed and life at home had many similar needs and relationships like our own. A mother softens life and provides strong moral leadership when a father is absent. Viking fathers were absent often. I wanted to tell the Viking story through a loving, strong, and courageous mother of her children.
In this color comp, the figures and other elements are place holders for my final composition. I will be doing two photo shoots with the models. A preliminary shoot without costumes to get direction for the final shoot. I will be looking for the right body language, facial expressions, and relationship of the figures to each other and the landscape.
I will take this reference and create a drawing of the composition to guide the the second and final shoot with costumes and correct lighting. My two daughters, Maja and Joanna will be helping me on the second reference shoot. My youngest daughter, MAJA SAHLBERG, is a free lance photographer in Minneapolis, working primarily for General Mills. She keeps Betty Crocker hopping. My oldest daughter, JOANNA HALLSTROM, is the Communication Director for Woodland Hills Church. She is busy managing their web communications, signage, and the graphic design department. She is also a great painter and people person. These girls will get the job done!
THE SODERHOLM FAMILY
Andrew and Brita Soderholm along with their children, have agreed to model as the Viking family. Andrew is being a good sport to grow a little more hair. Brita has been reading my Viking story to the children. She says they are beginning to put themselves in character already! I like that. Andrew is an oral surgeon here in Alexandria and Brita is a nurse in their business. They have a wonderful extended family that will be watching their transformation to the Viking Age.
I will introduce the Kelsey Patton, costume maker in my next post.