Recently I came up against a frustration that I thought was worthy of writing about as it was a good lesson for myself.
So I started consulting with my friend Luca in Ravenna who works with Luciana Notturni and her associates who were my teachers.
Luca started pointing out “less regular shapes, less regular shapes, you must mix up the size and dimensions and angles of the shapes”
Luca reminded me of my roots in Ravenna where Luciana Notturni encourage us not to use perfect cuts so as not to make it look machine made but hand-made.
Now, I teach my students that the way you lay the tesserae is much more important than having perfect cuts, but in my own practice I had lost sight of this and wasn’t practicing what I preached!
I teach andamento principles and cleanliness so much that I had forgotten this until His Majesty the Emperor appeared on my easel.
But when it came time to lay the gold in the background I worked with the existing andamento lines but cleaned them up in my usual fashion and found that it looked terrible.
Totally missing the character of the imperfect cuts and imperfect laying lines of the original.
After consulting with Luca in Ravenna, even when I tried to consciously vary the shape of tesserae I found myself laying in clean lines unlike the original.
It ended up looking more like some Venetian styles where everything is perfectly fit together, than it did the Ravenna style the original was done in. This resulted in it being clean and correct, but completely unsatisfying style-wise or character-wise to me.
My friend Michael Photopoulos, who works a lot with iconography, compared the looser Byzantine Ravenna styles to a textured velvet; meant to be seen from a bit of a distance. As opposed to some more modern Venetian styles to silk; that look perfect and seamless even up close. I like that comparison.
It took a conscious effort to not adjust it and get it out of my hand and laid in the approximate background andamento with not such clean interstices. BUT in the end I was absolutely thrilled with the stylistic outcome and had to go back and roughen up what I had already cut and laid the previous day. There’s way more to do but I’m staying with the rough cuts for the background. Another advantage of working the gold looser is that you have the ability of tilting the tesserae slightly in various directions as the Byzantines did to reflect the available light from many directions.
For myself I had to take a lesson to beware of the perfection trap. I think that sometimes with too much perfection you may sacrifice the human element in the look of a mosaic. We want to see YOU and YOUR hand. Not a machine’s perfection.
I like to say "Strive for excellence, not perfection. There is a difference."