Animal Friendly Vegetable Ivory

One of the most lovely surfaces to paint on is

Ivory. But I realize it is the most offensive, as well. There is another option. Through Boone Trading, I found Vegetable ivory or tagua nut, a product made from the very hard white endosperm of the seeds of certain Palm trees. It resembles real ivory, is extremely hard, and has a grain. It also has a lovely dark brown textured coating that gives a nice contrast if left along the edges, (much like the Mammoth Fossil ivory.) Boone Trading polished a window on one side of the nut at my request, and the other side was simply sanded but not polished. I can get at least two pieces from the one nut by slicing the cabochons off each side, and a possible unbordered slab from the center.

Unlike copper or real ivory, there is not much preparation of the surface needed. The nut is very dense and hard, and even dark dyes do not penetrate far past the surface. But the paint will stick, especially well on the unpolished surface.

Slicing the nut was another story! It took quite an effort using a table top vise and a jeweler’s hack saw. I’m not keen on using power tools, but I’m sure it would have been easier and faster. Another benefit of using this nut as opposed to ivory is it’s stability during the heat produced by the saw. Ivory, on the other hand, can burn and split easily, and you must saw slowly to avoid overheating.

For this pendant

I chose to keep the coating border irregular and organic, and only along one side. I roughed in the head shapes with an oil wash of sepia and medium. To go with Chloe’s nature-loving personality, I decided to keep this monochromatic in browns. It will look more like a wood burning than a painting when it’s done, which will keep that biotic effect.

As luck would have it, this nut had a natural hole at the top, which will serve as the “bale” for a lanyard.

A sepia version of the young couple

is the reference photo for the double portraits. I really like backlit faces and in this case, it seems to emphasize the love they feel when they look at each other.

For the most part, Joshua’s face is done.

But I have a problem with the darkness of Chloe’s features and how the contours of her face are lost in the shadows. I was trying to achieve the portraits with transparent washes, but I’m going to have to introduce white into the paint mix, and take advantage of the covering properties of oil paint. On second thought, Josh’s features could use some contouring and highlighting as well.

Part Two of this post will illustrate the process of finishing and detailing the portraits. One mistake beginning artists make is to panic when things seem to go wrong. But these “stumbling blocks” can actually help build character and dimension in the finished image. When I painted from live models, it was almost impossible to get the model back into the exact same pose each time. So you paint what you see, adjusting and tweaking each time. After a number of sessions, you can see the image take on a life of it’s own, and it’s because of all the changes hiding beneath the surface. So if you are a painter, never throw out a painting that you think is not working out… fix it! You’ll be a better artist because of it.

Stay tuned for Part Two. And don’t forget to browse the prints on sale in my shop! Very limited quantities – specially priced till May 8.

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