Blue Circle, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 7 x 5 1/4 inches.
The painting gods were angry with me when I began work on this painting, just as they were with White Behind Red. After working on the painting for 2 or 3 days, suffering with dust and lifting paint leaving white spots, I calmly wiped the entire painting off, down to the bare parchment. My second attempt was a success as far as achieving the color and form I wanted, without any dust whatsoever. A mystery to be unraveled.
This underpainting from my first attempt gives me a clue. I tend to want to load the paint on when I begin (as much as one can with the thin egg tempera), as I search for the correct color balance. Here, I'd put a light layer of color over a darker one, because white mixed with a color will make it more opaque; the blues are quite transparent pigments. But I went too light, so had a very hard time, using many layers of paint, trying to get to the colors I wanted. The more layers, especially if the paint is thicker, the more they seem to attract dust. The winter dust from my wood stove probably doesn't help matters.
In my second attempt, I decided to begin with darker, more saturated color, so that the transparent pigments I was using––ultramarine blue, cobalt blue light, and cerulean blue––weren't fighting the light underpainting. I worked with more thin layers, building them slowly, using the quality of the paint, its transparency, as a positive force rather than something to argue with. Yesterday I started a new painting, and noticed right away that I wanted to quickly layer color, one atop the other––warmer, cooler, lighter, darker––as I searched for my color ideas. I saw that the loaded brush brought dust with it, so began to work more slowly, in more transparent layers. Now I have to remember that lesson going forward, as it seems to keep slipping away from me.
This is a detail of the painting that gives some sense of the different hues of blue, and of the painting surface. For the darks which look close to black, I simply painted many thin layers of ultramarine blue and cadmium red deep, mixing the colors and alternating them. I put a teeny bit of cadmium yellow medium in there to warm it a little. You can see some of the layering in the process image above.
This composition uses a flat, frontal grouping of overlapping forms, an idea I work with occasionally (see for instance Red Construction). I think of cubism and of artists such as Liubov Popova, and of minimalist abstraction, in making this painting and in all my work. My challenge is to transform a group of abstract forms so that they have presence, and feeling, with or without the lurking metaphors.