Saturday, January 28, 2017

Oh so shabby

So here is my latest find, the most tattered old thing in my collection. A paper and bone fan most probably dating from the early-to-mid 1790s. Torn, stained and almost falling into pieces, with several broken ribs and one guard stick missing, it was really cheap. As you probably guessed.

But just look at the pretty little stipple engraving of the lady and her little dog under the tree ... And interestingly, the thing still gives off a faint scent of perfume after more than two hundred years. Just like all the other antique fans in my modest collection.

I do wonder what she's carrying in the handle on her arm. It's either a very very long and narrow reticule (er, no) or some kind of wind instrument ... anyone who knows?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Miniature painting: Do not try this at home ;-)

So, I just put the last hand to a tiny portrait of a familiar face, an old friend of mine in need of a present for her husband's birthday. For those of you interested in miniature portraits, I'd like to share the process behind it all... Or rather, snippets of it. ;-)
This time I'm working on vellum (=calfskin, poor little baby ;-( ), which wasn't the material par préferénce in the 1700s, but it was still used from time to time along with enamel - the favoured material for miniatures of the previous century. Vellum has a nice sheen to it which is comparable to ivory, another not too animal friendly material which was the preferred base for miniatures in the 18th century. (Ivory and vellum can be replaced with synthetic surfaces like ivorine or polymin, by the way.)

Well, here we go..

1. Sketching, sketching... As usual I'm using a photo for reference and drawing according to the classic sight-size method.

2. After cutting the vellum to shape with scissors, I transfer the outlines of the drawing onto the surface using the carbon paper technique... For the first watercolour layer I'm using light blue for the skin and gray for the hair, building up transparent layers of shadows. For midtones and highlights, the vellum should be left more or less blank, making the natural glow of the material shine through.

4. Putting on the first layers of colours... not easy since vellum - like ivory - is a non absorbent surface so one has to keep the brush as dry as possible too keep the separate layers intact. One should always dilute the colours slightly with a good medium (I'm using Eliza Turk's Aquarella) or gum arabic. Be careful with the latter, though, too thick layers of gum arabic can make the colours crack and peel off the surface (been there, done that!)

5. The second layer. Time to do some highlights in pure, opaque white.

6. Done! Kind of...

7. I always prefer to use frames with (convex) glass, but this particular frame didn't have one so I had to use (a non water soluble!) lacquer, a firm backing for the vellum (which has an annoying tendency to warp) and glue. But the glittering paste locket is lovely anyway. :-)

One word of warning though - DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME without prior experience of portrait and/or watercolour painting as well as field studies of original miniature paintings in museums and antique shops - and handbooks (there are several out there). Unless you want an opportunity to invent new swear words... ;-) After all, it's about trying to paint a person's likeness in a tiny scale onto a non absorbent surface, so if you decide to plunge into it - expect a lot of trial and error.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A fan for a man

While the fan has been regarded as a feminine accessory for hundreds of years in the Western world, men who used fans were of course not unheard of in the 18th century. For obvious reasons, this phenomenon was more common in the Mediterranean climate. In Northern Europe, it was usually seen as exclusive to effeminate fops. 

I may have failed to find a picture of an
18th century "man fan". So here's a
picture of a man who definitely did use
fans: Lord John Hervey (1696-1743),
aka "Lord Fanny". Image source:
For example, an Italian who visited Stockholm in the early 1700s stirred some attention when he fanned himself with a small Chinese fan ”in the manner of women”. This attitude seems to have changed as the century progressed, however. Many men bought tourist fans (much like the ones of today) on their Grand Tours and travels, and most of these men probably didn't abstain from using them when they needed to cool themselves off. Fans with hidden erotic motifs also seem to have been popular.

Fans for men are usually described as quite plain, unadorned things which were generally darker in colour than their female counterparts. (Which I find interesting, considering the fact that the 18th century man was not afraid of wearing bright colours, sparkling jewellery and elaborate flower embroideries.) Anyway, during all my years of research, I still haven't come across a ”man fan”– at least not one that has been identified as one of those plain, dark things made specifically for a man. Some examples from previous centuries, like a leather fan that reputedly belonged to Charles I of England have been preserved, but so far I have yet to see one from the 18th century.

Italian "Grand Tour" fan, ca 1790.
Image source:
So when I was assigned with the task to make a fan for my friend Armand, I had to rely on guesswork. Using a set of plain black wooden sticks, I made a leaf out of black laid paper, with a monogram letter and silver sequins as the only decorations. Simple but very elegant.

(And no, the leaf is NOT stained. I just couldn't be arsed to remove the strange dots/dust particles/whatever in Photoshop. The photo happened to be taken in a very haunted house, by the way... ;-) )

Sources: Kulturen 1976- 1700-talet (Kulturen i Lund)
Aristocrats- the illustrated companion to the television series- Stella Tillyard

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A 1790's fan

Well, I'm back, after a rough year with house moves, a book release (not 18th century related, but you can read about it here) and a big art exhibition, to mention just a few things. And even though I haven't been able to attend more than two costume events during this time (!), I have managed to make myself at least one new fan, based on an original from about 1790...

It started with this lovely little thing that I won on Ebay a few years ago. (as you can see in my earlier posts, I have made two other fans based on this design, but I never tried to make a full reproduction of it before.)

I like that hat :-)
I have no idea of its country of origin, it was bought from Ireland so perhaps it is British. Anyway: it has a double paper leaf with a plain white reverse side and sticks of cattle bone. The leaf is adorned with a stipple engraving of what appears to be a dairymaid resting by a tree, and sewn-on sequins, Just like the other fans in my small collection, it is quite tattered. The leaf has stains, the right guard stick is broken and the once golden sequins have turned into a matte verdigris. I hope it would be possible for an expert to restore it to its former glory someday, but since antique fans shouldn't be used anyway I was determined to make a reproduction of it. Or the leaf at least, since I couldn't make a replica of the sticks.

I used a set of plain bone sticks from the late 19th or early 20th century. The vignette is a printed photo of the engraving, and the patterns are hand painted.

My inkjet printer is quite good really, but
this copy still ended up a lot paler than  the
original engraving... :-/

The result is pretty, albeit not quite as pretty as the original must have been about two hundred years ago. Because of the modern paper (which is always too thick, no matter how thin it may seem) and the bone staves which are also a bit thick, it is MUCH heavier than the original fan. My copy has a few other flaws as well, but I'm still glad I finished it - as a matter of fact I started working on it back in 2014...!

Friday, July 24, 2015

A fan for all fans of the Queen of fashion

I just could resist the temptation of making a peachy pink Antoinette fan. Pink, black and silver sort of takes me back to the 1980s but despite being a typical colour combination of that much maligned period in fashion history, these colours really do go well together. And it's excellent for the 1780s too.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Smell the roses!

Wehey! I'm at it again... this new fan is all hand painted with a classical motif in the form of flowers (oh yes, there's always flowers: roses - pink roses, blue roses, forget-me-nots and god-knows-whats) and urns and sparkling gold sequins.

I matched the design with black wooden sticks painted with chinoiseries... While it is impossible for me to imitate elaborately carved and gilded sticks made of ivory or mother of pearl, these sticks are supposed to look exactly like what they are made of: namely black and gold painted wood.

Anyway, no matter how long you've been doing it, fan making is ALWAYS about trial and error (and inventing new combinations of ugly words), at least when you're not working full time in a fan factory in the 18th century. The thing turned out imperfect because of my experimenting with a new, super thin antique looking paper. Because of the thinness of the paper, I was determined to make a double leaf this time, which ended in a slightly wrinkled leaf... and major headaches!

I'm crazy for doing this sh**, year after year...

Anyway, this product of my enduring madness is still very pretty, and due to its imperfections you can get your hands on it for less on Etsy.
More fans (which hopefully will be perfect) are in the making... (why am I doing this?) ;-)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Dairymaid fan

Finally, there's a new fan available in my Etsy shop: yet another one of those simple but elegant 1790s style fans with a printed vignette. An original fan from my small collection provided the inspiriation as well as the print - I will show you that pretty little specimen in a later article...