Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gentile da Fabriano Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child alla Gentile da Fabriano
by jojo sabalvaro tan
Acrylics, gold leaf on 9" x 12" Fredrix Archival Watercolor Canvas Board

CB, one of my high school classmates, suggested that I paint a spiritual Madonna and Child for this year's Christmas card. When I think of spiritual, to me it evokes the Madonna and Child paintings produced by the Renaissance painters such as Boticelli, Da Vinci and Raphael, to name a few. I am an admirer of the work of the International Gothic style artist Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1427) especially what I consider one of his masterpieces, his Adoration of the Magi.  I saw this piece for the first time when we visited the Ufizzi Museum in Florence and I was in awe. Even though the scene is familiar to every Catholic (it commemorates the time when the three Magi paid homage to the Baby Jesus), every time I observe this particular  painting I find something unexpected, exquisite and even funny.

Adorazione dei Magi (Gentile da Fabriano) - Wikipedia
Photo from Wikipedea - Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano

A detail from Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano. If you look closely at one of the magi, there's a man crouched by his feet adjusting his shoe ornaments. I found that very amusing.

So, for my spiritual Madonna, I decided to copy another one of my favorite paintings by Gentile da Fabriano called The Madonna of Humility.

The original Gentile da Fabriano The Madonna of Humility (painted around 1420-1423) featured in an Italian postage stamp released in 2006. The original painting is housed in the Museo nazionale di San Matteo, Pisa.

While the original was done in tempera, I abandoned my watercolors in lieu of acrylics since I felt acrylics mimicked tempera a little better. Similar to the original, I used a lot of gold in the painting - both gold leaf and iridescent acrylics. Someday, I hope to master the use of gold leaf.  Gold leafing techniques are taught  in iconography classes which I hope to be able to take in the near future. Iridescent metallic paints just do not capture the feeling of being totally immersed in spirituality that the Medieval and Renaissance folks experienced as they prayed in candlelit churches in front of paintings of Jesus, Mary and other Saints enhanced with the  luster of real gold.

For the surface, I used Fredrix Archival Watercolor Canvas Board to get a closer feel to the panel used in the original. My canvas board I'm sure is a lot more textured than the smooth gessoed panels used then. Making smooth gessoed panels for Icon painting is another one of the skills I would like to learn.

Here are some of my painting-in-progress photos:

After the initial tracing of the cartoon sketch, I started basecoating, Mary's Robe and the skin.

Continued basecoating the background (drapes and floor)

Painted Mary and Baby Jesus and added details to the floor

Added gold leaf and paint and shading and highlights

The completed painting, Madonna and Child alla Gentile da Fabriano, 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

In the interest of full disclosure, here is a photo of my work table as I was working on the project. Pretty messy, huh!

This was a challenging and intimidating project since I was attempting to copy directly from an old master. I knew the finished product can not be and will not be an exact replica of the original. But, I do feel that there's a lot of me  in the painting too. I think I can use this painting for our personal Christmas card especially since I am not making money out of it and it is my own painting albeit an adaptation  from an almost 600 year old original work. Can some legally minded friend or reader tell me if my assumption is right. Unless I am breaking any laws, this painting will definitely be a candidate for our 2015 Christmas card.

So now, there are three paintings to choose from. Let me know which one is your favorite by commenting as an anonymous guest below. So excited to see what you think.

Contemporary Madonna and Child (#1)

Kalinga Madonna and Child (#2)

Madonna and Child alla Gentile da Fabriano (#3)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Mellerstain Tapestry Project

Mellerstain Tapestry embroidered by jojo sabalvaro tan from kit by The Crewel Work Company (16" x 20")

After I saw the Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, France, I was itching to make an embroidery project similar to the Bayeux tapestry style which I blogged about earlier in  In Bayeux - Art, Architecture, History and Embroidery.  Across the street from the Bayeux Cathedral there is a little needlework shop selling embroidery kits and patterns based on sections of the original Bayeux tapestry. But, being one who analyzes all the choices, there was just not enough time to make a choice since we only had a few precious hours in Bayeux.  The shopkeeper  informed me  that their kits can be ordered from the store on line, so I decided that I would just wait and make my purchase from home.  As soon as I got home, I started scouring the net for Bayeux crewel embroidery projects, which are done with thicker wool threads instead of the thinner cotton threads or floss. My search took me in a different direction from the Bayeux Tapestry kits I was searching for when I came across the British embroidery company run by Phillipa Turnbull and her daughter, The Crewel Work Company (http://www.crewelwork.com/ ) , which specializes in historic British needlework. I decided to purchase a kit from them called the Mellerstain Firescreen. (purchase info here, if interested). I love the Jacobean style embroidery that flourished in the early 17th century and this pattern reminds me of the ones produced  during that period replete with fanciful and exotic flora and fauna.

Photo from www.crewelwork.com

I ordered the kit so I would get it in time for another one of our European vacations. I like to bring needlework on trips to work on to ease the wait at the airport, tedious airplane ride  and for down time at the hotel after a whole day of sightseeing. Unfortunately, this kit did not arrive in time for our trip which was a bit disappointing but then again, I pacified myself with the thought that I can just plan another trip somewhere. The kit arrived beautifully packaged and organized with the Jacobean linen twill screen printed with the design, Appleton 2 ply crewel wools and gold plated needles, along with instructions and stitching charts.
The Mellerstain Firescreen Kit
Sit-On Embroidery Hoop/Frame Holder
My friends and family know I have this thing about tools, gadgets and accessories for my projects. So I just had to buy this sit-on embroidery hoop frame to work on this project at home to keep in character with those 17th century ladies.

The actual embroidery of this project was completed in a span of almost  two and a half years. I took my time, embroidering bits while watching TV but most work was done when we go on trips. It was fun stitching satin, long and short, french knot stitches. It reminded me of the first time I learned how to embroider when in grade school. Back then I learned to embroider on a fine linen square that was to be a handkerchief. I used my handkerchief proudly, until I eventually lost it.  I am really happy with the way the Mellerstain tapestry turned out although I would like to stitch this again in slightly brighter color as I imagined the original from which this was based on would have been when it was first stitched. It does feel like I have just made a piece of needlework history. I am now in the process of preparing the tapestry for framing. It would have been nice yo use an antique firescreen frame just like the original they were a bit pricey and I can not be sure that the tapestry will fit.. So I just bought a stock  frame from a big box arts and crafts store with a 16"x 20" opening, it fits but the embroidered area touches the edge of the frame. I may have to go up in size a bit.

To be honest, I was sure this project would end up in my U.F.O. (unfinished objects) pile but working on it bit by bit, before I realized it I was done. Now, I am a little  sad it is completed.

Details of the birds

Details of the squirrel

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Contemporary Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child 2015
5.5" x 7.75"
Watercolor on 140# Arches watercolor paper plus gold leaf
by jojo sabalvaro tan

This is another Madonna and Child Painting I completed a few weeks ago. I am now on a mission of producing a painting for our 2015 Christmas card. I thought that I would go the more contemporary route this time. This painting was a little bit more playfully executed. 

First, I dropped a variety of colors on the paper and let them intermix and flow down the surface. To add more texture, I sprinkled salt on top of the still wet paint and when the paint completely dried out unexpected patterns materialized. I dusted off all the salt and then lightly sketched the Madonna and Child image on the paper using parts of the  textured painted surface to my advantage. I did some negative painting to enhance the figures and painted the faces. In negative painting, the subject is not painted directly. Instead, you paint around the shape of the image to produce a positive image. This technique is helped a lot by the background colors.  

I debated whether to add gold leafing to the halo which I ended up doing since I felt it elevated the painting. This painting took me a while since I was not used to negative painting and so it was not a natural process for me. But, I really liked how it turned out. I love the tender moment that Mary and Jesus shared in this painting. On a side note, I really have to quit watching a certain TV show since when I finished the painting, Mary's face reminded me of the lead character in the show.
Streams of paint treated with salt created a pleasant texture for the Madonna and Child image I started to showcase with negative painting.

 The painting in progress.

This painting is the second of the Madonna and Child paintings I did this year which is in contention for our Christmas card. The first one is the Kalinga Madonna and Child (below) featured on omy blogpost Kalinga Madonna and Child Painting.

"We never give more honour to Jesus than when we honour his Mother, and we honour her simply and solely to honour him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek - Jesus, her Son."
--Saint Louis de Montfort

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon - Madonna and Child 2015 #2

Madonna and Child 2015 #2
by jojo sabalvaro tan
 Watercolor on Arches watercolor paper

While on a long vacation in Manila, I took along my basic watercolor art supplies for travel sketching. A friend of mine requested that I paint a Madonna and Child for her. Since I did not have time to paint before we left for the Philippines, I decided that I would paint the piece there. And that was the first Madonna and Child I did for 2015.  I usually end up making several paintings of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus throughout the year, one of which will end up as the image on our Christmas card.  In addition to the Madonna and Child I painted for my friend, I decided to make one for the family home of my husband. They have a large altar that is filled with images of Jesus, Mary and other Saints. I still remember my mother-in-law sitting in front of the altar praying. The piece I painted was going to be placed on this altar.  It is based on The Our Mother of Perpetual Help icon, an icon whose original is said to be painted by St. John himself. I thought it was fitting since my mother-in-law was a devotee of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Icon of St. John Painting the first icon of the Virgin Mary (from campus.udayton.edu)

The icon I painted placed on the Tan Home altar
The veneration of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is very popular in the Philippines. At the Baclaran Church in Metro Manila thousands of devotees come to the church every Wednesday for the traditional novena to ask for a special favor or to offer thanksgiving for the hope and help Jesus had bestowed upon them through the intercession of the Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
baclaran church
Inside Baclaran Church on Wednesdays

<b>Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Baclaran</b>, Parañaque) (Photo by Noli ...
Altar at Baclaran Church with the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon as centerpiece

When I was growing up, you would find this  devotional prayer book in almost every household in the Philippines. At that time the Philippine population was over 90% Catholic.

Through the intercession of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we offer prayers for all our relatives and friends who have passed away. May they rest in peace. we  also implore the aid of Mary, Mother of God to provide succor to our family and friends who are sick. We thank God for all our blessings  and keeping us safe. Amen

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

T'boli Woman Painting

T'boli Woman 2015
Watercolor on 140# Arches cold pressed watercolor paper
10" x 14"
by jojo sabalvaro tan

When I started posting about my paintings of indigenous women from the Cordillera Region of Northern Luzon in the Philippines, my cousin's wife mentioned that one of her favorite textile are those hand woven by the T'bolis, one of the more than 40 ethnic groups in the Philippines. They are also one of the 18 tribes from Mindanao, a large island in the Southern Philippines. I must confess that I did not know much about the T'bolis or Mindanao, for that matter. My family came from the island of Luzon in Northern Philippines and I lived there through part of my grade school and then high school and college so I was more affiliated with the northern part of the Philippines. My limited knowledge of Mindanao is from what I learned in school. Back then, we would refer to the people of Mindanao in general terms as Moros, a term used to refer to Muslims in Spanish-conquered lands. Now, the indigenous people of  Mindanao are collectively known as Lumads and the T'bolis are one of the tribes of the Lumad indigenous group.

Map of Southern Philippines showing Cotabato where the T'bolis live
For this painting, I needed to learn more about the T'bolis  and their culture. Legend has it that the T'bolis are descendants of survivors of a great flood. According to Ronald de Jong, a freelance photographer and writer based in Mindanao, the story goes like this:
A man named Dwata warned the people of an impending great flood. But the tribe refused to listen, except for two couples, La Bebe and La Lomi, and Tamfeles and La Kagef. Dwata told them to take shelter in a bamboo so huge they could fit inside and in this way survive the flood. The story tells that the first couple are the ancestors of the T'boli and other highland ethnic groups The second couple descended the other Filipino indigenous groups."

The T'bolis settled in Southern Cotabato in the fertile valleys around Lake Sebu but as more and more settlers from different regions arrived in the area, they were gradually pushed up to the mountains slopes and highlands where they continued to employ slash and burn farming techniques to plant corn, rice, vegetables and root crops. They have managed to stick to their traditional ways with a culture that is richly tied with and inspired by nature. This can be witnessed in their metal craft (mostly brass ornaments and jewelry)  lively dance and music, complicated beadwork adorning their outfits and worn as jewelry, their elaborate and colorful attire featuring intricately and uniquely patterned woven fabrics especially the sacred T'nalak made from abaca fibers and their core belief that everything has a spirit that must be respected and revered.
My painting is of a T'boli woman wearing the  traditional T'nalak's red, white and black colors which are regarded as a symbol  of their cultural heritage. The woven sarong or malong adds even more color to the outfit, so does the salakot (hat) covered with more woven fabric decorated with beading. According to legend, the T'bolis were taught to weave by the goddess Fu Dalu through dreams and  weaving is considered a manifestation of the tribes collective consciousness since the designs and patterns come to them in dreams. A note about the lady in my painting who I rendered as a little heavy set. In all the pictures I found on the internet of T'boli women, I did not come across one that is even a bit overweight. Right diet and exercise or plain genetics?

T'nalak Fabric
On my next visit to the Philippines, it is my goal to see the T'boli women in action as they weave the T'nalaks and hopefully, purchase one or two for my collection of textiles woven by the indigenous people of the world. I do hope that in some way this blog serves as a plea for the conservation of the fragile indigenous culture of the native tribes of the Philippines. There is no need or advantage to destroying these ancient culture and forcing our own upon them.

Let me end this post with following quote from C.S. Lewis:
"Human life has always lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Illuminated Letters/Alphabet - More Painting on Vellum

Resurrexi (I am Risen) - Illuminated Letter R, 2015 (8"x7.5")
after a cutting from an illuminated manuscript choirbook (c:1520) attributed to artists from Lombardy, Italy
on vellum with gouache, acrylics, watercolor and gold paint
by jojo sabalvaro tan

I am continuing to experiment with painting on vellum since I wanted to have an authentic feeling finished work in the illuminated manuscripts I am attempting to paint. A few years ago, I started an illumination manuscript project where I depicted the Five Joyful Mysteries (see Illuminated Manuscripts - Book of Hours). My goal was to make an illuminated manuscript page for each of the mysteries of the holy Rosary. I used watercolor paper, watercolor and gold  acrylic paint on the Joyful Mysteries series. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, I did not go on to the rest of the mysteries.  Then a few weeks ago, I was inspired to do the first Sorrowful mystery - The Agony on the Garden (Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden) on vellum, using watercolors and gold acrylic paint.. I really liked how the vellum looked, wrinkles on the paper, notwithstanding.
For this project I decided to do an illuminated letter. An illuminated letter is usually the first letter of a page or paragraph of an illuminated manuscript. The illuminated letter is quite ostentatiously decorated with gold, color and sometimes painted with scenes from the Bible, people, plants animals or mythological figures and the letter is enlarged as compared to the rest of the manuscript which is in small black calligraphy letters. As I was studying the calligraphy in an attempt to translate it, I found out that the monks liberally used abbreviations in their writing. I do not know why and if I had to guess, I would say due to space constraints. For example the word quod would be written as q' or Domine as Dne.

An Illuminated Letter S
From Wikimedia Commons
For this illuminated letter project, I worked on vellum again but I decided to use gouache paint which I thought would lend the painting some body and brilliance. During the process, I  switched to liquid acrylics since I felt that the gouache was way too opaque for the effect I wanted. I was not very happy with the acrylics either and ended up using watercolors in the end. So this piece is a combination of water media. I tried to stick to the steps/processes of the illuminators of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period. So I made a rough sketch of an illuminated letter R  from a work auctioned by Christie's titled RESURRECTION, historiated initial R, cutting from an ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM (http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4393910.). I chose this subject matter since I intended the piece for my sister-in-law who is named after the Resurrection. Coincidentally, this is also the first mystery of the Glorious mystery, The Resurrection. After I completed the sketch, I went over it with a waterproof ink pen (Pigma Black #01) since I was going to be painting over the lines with water media and did not want the ink to bleed. Then I applied gold paint (Jacquard Lumiere 554 Sunset Gold). On this particular piece, the background is gold. It took about three coats of gold paint. After the gold dried, I painted the border and then the inner motif, the risen Christ.

To finish, I penned the Latin  prayer "Deus in adjutorium meum intende. Domine ad adjuvadum me festina." English translation: "Incline unto my aid O God. O Lord make haste to help me." This is a prayer that appears at every opening of the prayers from the Book of Hours. I sprayed the whole thing with matte varnish which I found dulled the paint and gold on the painting. I still have to find the best way to protect the surface of the painting on vellum. Now, if I can get my husband to make me a mat for the piece, at least it will be halfway secure when we mail it to Australia. I hope my sister-in-law will like it. I guess, if she doesn't,  she can give it to one of her siblings since all their names begin with R.
All in all, what I learned from this study/experiment with vellum is that I should stick with watercolors. I am not discouraged with working with vellum since it does lend an overall  bona fide feel of an illuminated manuscript. I love doing this project since through painting I am able to meditate and reflect on the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary and pray for family and friends. I imagine the monks of the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period felt the same as they prepared the parchment or vellum, scribed the prayers and hymns and created the illuminated letters and decorations on the pages.

Detail from Resurrexi (I am Risen) - Illuminated Letter R, 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ifugao Painting Collection - Talungko Studies

Talungko studies 2015
Watercolor on Moleskine watercolor sketchbook
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Ok,  I am still obsessed with the indigenous people of the Philippines, so I continue to crank out painting after painting of the Ifugaos from the Cordillera Mountain Region with emphasis on their woven fabrics which I love. These are my latest and I am calling them my Talungko Studies since all the women are sitting on the ground with their arms crossed over their upraised knees in position referred to in Tagalog as atalungko (squatting).  It seems like this is the Ifugao's favorite sitting position since many strike this pose when they are resting, eating, smoking, playing a musical instrument, gossiping or just plain hanging around watching the world go by.  The women in the painting's pose reminnd me of the wood or stone carved deities that are called anitos, which are mostly depicted in the same squatting position. One of my relatives had  one at their house. I do not know how it got there, a gift or souvenir from travels to the Cordilleras perhaps. But I remember it since the dark wooden statue scared me when I was younger but as I grew older and learned more about anitos, I started to appreciate its cultural significance and artistic merits. The anitos are household deities that may represent deceased ancestors, nature spirits or dryads. The ancient Filipinos used these statues to ask for favors, guidance and protection. I am not sure if they are still in use today for worship since many in the Cordilleras have been converted to Catholicism.  Today these statues are prized by collectors and displayed in homes as works of art. I think they go very well with any décor. They are very traditional but at the same time very modern.
An anito statue

Below are my studies. No more than quick practice sketches on my sketchbook, I had so much fun painting these ladies, so much so that they have become "virtual" friends. As I worked on these paintings, I thought about and imagined what kind of life they have had. Their faces leathered and lined with deep creases inform me of their hardiness, determination  and strong will and yet behind the eyes there are a variety of emotions - sadness, worry, amusement, determination, wonder, even despair but above all I see their love for their land. In the Cordilleras, women transplant the rice from the seed beds to the fields since it is believed their fertility in child bearing leads to a richer and more abundant harvest.

I am told there are still areas in the Cordilleras where clothing and headdresses like the ones shown in my paintings are still worn but, most of the women now wear western-style clothing for everyday. For the most part, you will see the Ifugao in these attire/costume at a festival, special occasion or for show for the tourist trade. Much is being done for the preservation of their culture but westernization is quickly taking over. I really hope that the Philippine government make the preservation and retention of the culture, heritage and mores of the indigenous people a priority.

These sketches are very small, about 4.5" x 3". Maybe after doing these studies, I will be temporarily rid of my obsession with the people of the Cordilleras and jump into other projects or clean the house. Tough decision... Not!!!! The dust bunnies just will have to wait.

Talungko study #1 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #4 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko Study #5 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #2 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #3 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Talungko study #6 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Steps from start to finish
Talungko Study #6, 2015
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Here is a very nice film on YouTube from Living Asia Channel about the Ifugao people


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Painting a Miniature

Verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made Flesh 2015
Watercolor on porcelain 4.25" x 2.25"
by jojo sabalvaro tan

Challenge by the early medieval artists who painted miniature paintings on parchment or vellum in great detail, I decided to try my hand at it. Instead of paper or canvas, I chose to paint on porcelain without really knowing how it is done. So running on just inspiration, I dove into it.
Sketch on porcelain blank

I had a 4.25" x 2.25" porcelain blank shaped as an oval lying around in my studio for years. I do not even remember when, where or how I got it. Must be one of those thing I thought was a must-have years ago. I started out by sketching my subject, The Annunciation, which I tried to replicate from the work of a Georgian master iconographer, Amiran Golidze. I really admire his work and thought that I might use one to emulate his style only for the sole purpose of honing my skills. Unfortunately, my work turned out folksy and amateurish as compared to his exquisitely and exceptionally delicate and refined work. Someday, I hope to come to even at least I/100th of his talent. As they say, practice, practice, practice!!!

Original work by Amiran Golidze
The  Annunciation is the moment where the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Son of God. I love this story since it represents one's unwavering faith, embodied by Mary, whose consent epitomizes acceptance, trust and belief in God. This is also the story of God's generosity in giving mankind  the gift of his Son, Jesus, in His human nature. 

Work in progress
Porcelain painting proved to be as difficult as painting on vellum. the paint (I used watercolor) did not absorb on the surface and you had to wait for each layer to dry before adding more paint or risk removing previously applied paint. I did use that to my advantage by just using a clean moist brush to remove some of the paint for highlights. The brushes I used were small  rounds with sizes running from 2 to 10/0. It was important that the brushes came to a sharp point since I was working n a very small image.
I added a border of gold surrounding the oval motif, where I wrote the prayer "Hail Mary" in Latin. The title inscribed just below the image of the piece is "Verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made Flesh)". I derived the title from the Catholic prayer, The Angelus, which is a daily devotional that reminds us of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and the Incarnation of Jesus. This passage is also found in the gospels in the Bible.

The gold edging with the prayer "Hail Mary" in Latin

The Angelus Prayer

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to your word.
Hail Mary. . .
V. And the Word was made flesh. R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary. . .
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

John 1:14 New International Version (NIV)
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden

Illuminated Manuscript - The Agony in the Garden 2015
(9.5" x 6.25")
adapted from work by unknown artists from the Middle Ages
Watercolor on Vellum
by jojo sabalvaro tan

What do you do when you are grieving? I find myself painting. I lost my dear friend Tessie just a few days ago and although she had been ill with cancer for more than two years now, the news that she was close to the end proved unbearable.  We met in high school when we were just 10 or 11 years old. All her life, she had been kind and generous in her affection, amity, allegiance and care; and even in her death, she left us a rare gift -  an example of complete trust in God which allowed her to accept the inevitable with dignity, grace, courage and even good humor. Her passing saddened me deeply and I fell into lassitude until I realized this is not what she would have wanted. It is important to her that life is enjoyed to the fullest every minute of the day. So I  abandoned my funk and decided to paint something in her honor. I usually use my painting time for meditation and prayer especially when I am working on my Madonnas or religious themes and this time I would reflect on the life of my friend.
Detail on border work

For the painting, I chose the theme of The Agony in the Garden since my daddy would often paint or sculpt this subject whenever someone he loves passed away. It was his coping mechanism. When my grandfather died, he painted a large Agony in the Garden mural (fresco) on one of the walls of our terrace at home. I also decided that I would be adapting my painting from an  illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages.   Parchment and vellum were typical materials used for Illuminated Manuscripts so I decided to use vellum as my paper for a more 'authentic' feel. It is a leap of faith since I have never painted on vellum before.  I quickly found that the thin and translucent vellum is a difficult surface to paint on. Blending colors and glazing is almost impossible since the layer underneath will almost always be lifted off.  The colors sat on the paper with minimal absorption so I had to be careful that each layer was absolutely dry before I proceed. Vellum also crinkles when wet and taping was no help at all.  Crinkling was a little less of a problem when I was working on the border since each motif was small. When I got to the actual Agony in the Garden image and had to apply larger washes, the crinkling problem became worse. What to do, what to do????  Frustration sets in.

Ok, this is the time I need to place myself in the woven leather sandals of the monks in the Middle Ages who were working on illuminated manuscripts. I imagine them painting  surrounded by cold, damp stone walls, crouched on a stool bent over on a table  with  very little light, probably one dim candle perched on the table. To make the blue for the sky or the gown of the Virgin Mary, they had to make their own by  grinding lapis lazuli with a mortar and pestle into fine powder and mix it with egg yolks. They also made their own brushes from the hair of the goat or boar in their livestock pen or the tail of a badger or squirrel scurrying in the woods surrounding the monastery.  They probably could hear Brother Alwinus and his fellow brothers chanting some prayers in the chapel. Working from dawn to dusk, they stop only for the occasional meals and daily prayers such as matins, lauds and vespers. My 21st century reality is quite different -  I am in my studio, with three bright lamps pointing at my painting, in a comfortably temperature controlled room and use paint and  brushes bought online delivered to my doorstep by the postal service. Oh yeah, I do have to take care of mundane tasks from time to time such as cooking so my husband and I can eat. For music, I listen to Gregorian chants on my IPad for a simulated ambiance. And let's not forget that monks were producing manuscript pages of about 5.5" x 3" where my page is 9.5" x 6.25", about double the size. Painting those miniatures in great detail and in low light with their hands numb from the cold had to be unbearable but, because the monks are doing God's work, they were happy and content. Even with all the 21st century comfort and gizmos , my work can not hold a candle to the work of the medieval monks. So, in the scheme of things, there is no cause for me to be distressed.
Monk writing an Illuminated Manuscript
Source: sunysuffolk.com

Working on an illuminated manuscript requires a contemplative, meditative and prayerful mindset. Each leaf or flower represents the beauty of God's creation and each subject matter a reflection on Jesus' life. One of the most common Latin inscriptions one will find on illuminated manuscripts is from Psalm 70, "Deus in adjutorium meum intende and Domine ad adjuvandum me festina ( O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me") which I repeatedly invoked as I worked on this project.
Completed border work
I started the painting the day my friend died and, with what I am sure is divine inspiration and guidance, I completed it two days after she was buried. The crinkles on the paper are there, many, many more than when I started  and now to me they like the chinks in our life or wrinkles on our faces  that give us character and embodies our experiences and lessons learned. While working on this project, I cried and laughed as I reflected on Tessie's life, especially the times we spent together and I prayed fervently, not just for her and her family but also for my family and friends, especially my classmates. I thought that the Agony in the Garden theme is perfect for Tessie since like Jesus who knew what was going to happen to Him when He was praying at the garden of Gethsemane, she surrendered her will to God.  This painting which is dedicated to my dear Tess is a cathartic release. Tessie, you will always be in my heart.
What do I do when I am grieving. I paint.