Sunday, June 10, 2012


Well its been a long time since my last post and a lot has been going on with this project!  Before I get started, don't forget to sign your kids up for the second week of camp (July 16-20th) at the Oakland Mandinga academy!  That's the week that I will be doing a whole week-long super awesome project with the kids: the end result will be displayed as part of this art installation!  (I also will be teaching a couple of art classes during the first week.)

I began working on a detailed pencil sketch in February.  At the same time, I began priming the stretched canvas.  After coating the front and back of the canvas with clear acrylic size using a 4-inch bristle brush, I began applying layers of white acrylic gesso (I used Liquitex) to the front and side of the canvas  with a 3 inch rubber brush.  It works sort of like a squeegee, and presses the gesso into the fibers of the canvas without leaving brush strokes.  I like to build up a really smooth surface by applying lots of coats, in this case, 7-that's right, 7 coats!-and sanding in between each layer.  Each coat takes about an hour and a half to apply, and after it dries, over at least 24 hours, I gently sand the canvas using a very fine grit sandpaper.  Its important not to breathe in the dust, so I try to wear a mask when I do this part.

the first coat of gesso

While I was gessoing the canvas, Mestre Marcelo was devising and testing an ingenuous system of pulleys and ropes to raise and lower the canvas from the ceiling down to the floor.  This system allows me to move the canvas out of harm's way when they are a great number of people at the capoeira academy for an the batizado on May 26th! 

The canvas hanging from the ceiling after being lifted by the pulley system.

My pencil drawing allowed me to figure out a number of details that I wasn't able to resolve in the photoshop collage.  First I printed my photo-collage out at a size of 12 cm x 24 cm, then I drew a grid on the photo so that I had 6 rows and 12 columns, forming 72 squares, each 2cm in height and width.  (I knew that this would cause me to do some major math later on, but for now the simplicity of measuring in millimeters was extremely attractive!)  Then I drew a similar grid on the paper, except that I doubled it in size, so my new grid was contained in 24 cm x 48cm rectangle. For this drawing I used nearly my whole box of pencils, using the H series for the lighter areas (a 2H or 3H pencil is great for those really fine light lines, while  6H to 9H pencils are so dry they will basically just scratch your paper), and the B series for darker areas (a B is a good medium grade for sketching, 2B is equivalent to the standard No.2 pencil, and a 9B leaves such rich mark that you only use it for the darkest shadows).  For erasers I always use a kneaded eraser (its a lot like a piece of gray poster gum) that I can form into tiny points for hard to reach areas.  I also like a pink pearl eraser for erasing larger areas...I usually trim the ends with an exacto knife to keep them fresh.

the finished pencil sketch!

The drawing took me just over 2 months to complete.  Twice it traveled to the east coast with me on unexpected trips, rolled up in a cardboard giftbox intended for a bottle of wine.

After finishing the pencil sketch at the beginning of April, I was ready to have another kids' workday at the academy.   I wanted to transfer the drawing to the canvas using the time-honored method of the grid, and I needed some help!  I put out the call, and I was lucky enough for 3 very patient and focused kids, Josh (Cola), Lily (Mariposa), and Monika, to come lend a hand along with Instrutor Sumido.   I'll mention here that Instrutor Sumido has been an invaluable help with this project so far!  In addition to being a sounding board and source of inspiration for ideas, he's been there every time I needed someone to help me plan a kids workday, move equipment, or just raise and lower the canvas using the pulleys!

Cola, Mariposa, Monika, and Pintora

So to transfer the drawing on paper to the canvas, I needed to create a grid on the canvas.  Since this canvas is pretty big at 6 feet by 12 feet, I wanted to use a plumb line to mark the lines on the canvas.  This device is really just a string that winds up into a container full of dust (I used artists' graphite powder).  You pull out the length you need, lay it gently against your surface and gently pull it taut, then snap the line, and voila! You have a nice straight, 12 foot line.  In theory its easy, but it can be tricky to place the string just right and even so it does create a bit of a mess!  Luckily these kids were up to the challenge!

Sumido and the kids doing some capoeira moves in front of the finished grid!

Now to transfer the drawing onto the gridded canvas!

Well, this blog post takes me up through mid-April.  Since I'm a little behind, I'll end it here for today, but stay tuned, because the next post will show paint on canvas!

Finally, a very special thank you to our supporters: Y’all made this whole thing possible!

Patron Sponsors

Ms. Janice Batchelder

Ms. Susan Kumagai
Ms. Joyce Hicks and Mr. Eric Behrens
Mr. Gary Lafayette

Gold  Sponsors
Ms. Donna Lee (Algodao)
Mr. Mitchell Slade (Eco-struction)
Mr. Warren and Ms. Elizabeth Ludwig

Dr. Michael Whalen
Ms. Keri Lloyd
Ms. Catherine Jordan
Ms. Elizabeth Blase
Ms. Ola Dlugosz (Mel)
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bentley
Ms. Clara Marigmen
Mr. Eli Batchelder and Ms. Simona Agnolucci
Mrs. Terry Ludwig

...and thanks to all the individuals who donated to this project!

This project is supported by a grant from the East Bay Fund for Artists and the East Bay Community Foundation.