Tag Archives: motifs

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

My maternal grandfather was a painter. Not by trade but by passion; by day he designed lingerie patterns in The City and by night he retreated to his Bronx basement to exorcise his demons with oils and canvas. Or so my narrative of his life goes, cobbled together from snippets told by his wife and children.

Grandpa Joe died of cancer when I was six, so I never had the opportunity to know him well. My strongest memories of him are of the kind man who walked us to the corner candy store on every visit, and of the dried soil in the flowerpot next to his sickbed, dappled with orange seeds.

The smell of cigar smoke still conjures hazy, pleasant images of his presence.

To this day you can’t attend a family gathering without seeing one of Grandpa Joe’s paintings. Every uncle and aunt had (and still has) at least one of his pieces, every one a silent witness to history, now thoroughly infused with lasagna fumes and family drama. Some have even filtered down to grown grandchildren; we have one proudly displayed in an honored spot in my house.

One of his grandest works hung in our home throughout my upbringing. It’s a huge painting by a six-year-old’s standards, and still looms larger in my mind than it actually is. He painted this in 1946, in a world still reeling from war.

1946

There are two distinct sides in this conflict; left and right are rendered differently in style and tone. Panicked innocents flee from the blast of a fantastic sunset in the center. Michelangelo’s God touches no Adam here and instead judges from the middle of the battle.

Staring down from the family room wall, this painting spoke to me like Sauron’s Eye to Frodo.

“I see you,” it rasped.

I’ve felt this painting’s pull all my life. If computers hadn’t caught on in the 80’s I’d have eventually made a living airbrushing heavy metal scenes on vans. But despite years of 10 PRINT "HELLO", the notion that I could be an artist myself had already been planted in my head by Grandpa Joe’s work.

Grandpa excelled at painting details. Look at the capitals of the columns on either side of the painting and you’ll see delicate details and almost-arabesques. These are exactly the kind of decorative motifs I’d like to include in the Faire Play parade armor. Another painting has an appropriate flourish I’d like to include as an homage to my precursor, so I’ll burgle from this:

1967

My guess is that this is a depiction of the Virgin Mary appearing to my uncle and mother as children. I don’t think this is a rendering of an actual event, because you can bet your britches if Mom had witnessed a Marian apparition we’d have heard about it every Thanksgiving for the last 40 years.

Here’s the detail that I’d like to use as a recurring motif, from the lower left of the painting.

flourish sample

My old workflow for this involved tracing the flourish in Illustrator, importing the EPS, creating a planar trim and then tessellating to produce a polygon model. That’s the quick and easy path, but ultimately that journey is beset by N-gons and nonmanifold geometry, difficult to seamlessly join to an existing model.

Instead I’ll bring the image into Maya and trace the outline with the combination of Create Polygon tools, edge extrusion, and vertex pulling. This helps me to keep a model that’s built exclusively out of quads; it’s much less likely to cause me problems later on when I boolean the many flourishes into the base cuirass mesh.

flourish grow

This is going to be a slow, but easy, process, so I sip my coffee, put in the earbuds and some Quirks and Quarks podcasts, and achieve Csíkszentmihályi’s flow as I work. Twenty minutes later I have this.

finished flourish

The translated flourish doesn’t fit the space in the armor exactly, so it needs a little lattice work to deform it to the space above the bird’s wing.

flourish molded

And finally some extrusion and mirroring and it’s ready to become part of the parade armor.

extruded and mirrored

I’ll be appropriating details from both of these paintings over the next few weeks while I decorate the Faire Play parade armor.

A note to my future grandchildren, yet unconceived, osmosing this post with retinal HUDs on the shores of Central Park: do not judge my low-resolution geometry too harshly, and please pilfer your ancestors’ work to better your own.

Also, thanks to Dad for photographing the paintings and sending them my way.