Art Deco Sampler

My inspiration for projects rarely comes directly from other artworks I have seen and wish to reproduce. The piece I have just completed however, is an exception. I came across this Art Deco sampler the other day whilst doing some research and for days I could not get it out of my head.

Samplers such as this one were originally published in journals for decorative painters. Various elements of the sampler would have been copied or modified and used in future projects.

Reproducing these patterns was a lengthy process necessitating patience and skill. Today, with the help of modern technologies, it is very easy to take an image and reproduce it without such hardship. However I feel that we have forgotten just how much skill and time was previously required to obtain a simple decoration; therefore I decided to give myself the technical challenge of reproducing this sampler by hand. I used oil paints on canvas- my first time using canvas in my own work. The canvas was pinned down to a wooden board so that I could apply pressure whilst painting, although it is more common to stretch the canvas on a wooden or metallic frame.

The canvas was prepared by applying around eight coats of acrylic gesso, then sanding the canvas down to create a smooth surface. The more coats of gesso, the smoother the surface; although oil paint has wonderful qualities of evening out by itself if applied correctly. Acrylic gesso is not technically gesso at all, and artists tend to have different opinions as to which one is best. The sole reason it was used here was convenience. Acrylic gesso is cheap, easy to find and easy to apply. However the next time I work on canvas I will make my own gesso using rabbit-skin glue, chalk and pigment.

The pattern was transferred on to the canvas using the pouncing method, once I had applied a background colour of white, raw sienna and raw umber. I used oil paints diluted with a glaze of linseed oil, turpentine and a bit of siccative (drying liquid). This is the traditional painting method, and one I have adopted for most of my work.

As this sampler is rather complicated, the work was split in to four stages:

  1. Block in large shapes in roughly the right colour. I always apply two coats (or more) of paint to achieve a very solid finish; as the second coat can always be adjusted I do not worry about finding the exact colour straight away.
  2. Spend the time to mix up final colours and apply with precision. This stage will make the paint opaque and uniform. I also rectify any contours if necessary.
  3. Concentrate on details; dots, white lines, most elements which require one brush stroke.
  4. Clean up if needed. I always keep some extra paint for ‘touch-ups’.

I have made a beautiful deep blue made up of ultramarine blue, cobalt blue and burnt umber. The final coat of red is a mix of mars red and van dyke brown. The light cream is made up from white, raw umber, Cassel earth and mars red.

These are not the exact same colours that are on the original image of this sampler; I have a personal preference towards richer colours with more depth, and feel that in this case the overall harmony of the work has not been challenged. You will also notice that I have modified a few of the motifs to suit my personal aesthetics. As a trained decorative painter, I am very capable of matching specific colours when required. In this case, it was not imperative and I followed my intuition concerning colours and form.

I’m very pleased with the final result!