This interview features as part of our A Day With series – where we step into the studios of some of our favorite artists.
Having worked as a professional artist for almost 40 years, Michael Price has a wealth of knowledge, experiences and perspectives to share. Focusing on precise proportion and technical dedication, he uses art to explore the archetypal worlds that live within us. He’s a renaissance man who makes his own color pigments (and even wrote a book about it!) and we’re thrilled to be passing some of his insights on to you.
Let’s get to know him…
Good morning, Michael! What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
I like to think about where I am in my life and work before making breakfast. After breakfast, I check my email before my morning workout. Then I have a 15 minute walk to my studio.
What inspires you to create every day?
I know I’ll find something unexpected, so I’m always eager to start the daily “journey” and see where it leads.
What does your work space look like?
My studio is on the third floor of a townhouse with three skylights. The long open space is a dream – I waited a long time to find it. Although it’s in northern Manhattan, it’s very quiet most of the time.
Describe the core of your technique or style.
I work with natural mineral pigments that I prepare from rocks and crystals – the palette of the Renaissance. This is the result of years of research which led to the publication of a two volume book. I had to do many tests with the help of the Doerner Institute in Munich, as well as the Technical University in Vienna.
Pigments such as azurite, lapis lazuli, malachite, orpiment and realgar could not be bound exclusively in oils and it took years to find a balance between what I read in manuscripts and what I observed in my studio. This palette of color has a completely different chroma compared to modern synthetic pigments in universal usage such as tubed oil or acrylic paint.
How exactly do you make your own color pigments?
This begins by crushing the rocks in mortar with a pestle. After sieving the crushed rock, it needs to go through a levigation process (flotation) in a weak casein solution. Throughout this process, the impurities are identified and float out of the solution. Next, different particle sizes are collected in different bowls. This is then dried out and according to the purity of the original rock, the pigment may need further grinding and levigation. Experience tells you when you have reached a pure chroma. It can be very time consuming, especially with lapis lazuli, but I let the process become a meditation on color.
What are your top 3 studio essentials?
Good daylight, clean bowls for the levigation process, and a supply of a wide range of brushes that work well with water-based binding mediums, as well as brushes for working with fir-balsam resins and oils. I like to work in complete silence so I am as conscious as possible to respond to what is happening in the painting. In between, I love making a mixed blend of teas and perhaps reading a poem to relax.
What did Renaissance art offer that we could better remember today?
An answer to this would require an essay! Over the past almost thirty years of my research into a lost world of natural color in the European tradition (which includes a variety of binding mediums from casein, hide-glues, egg tempera, fir-balsam resins and oils) as well as the data I collected of the exact image sizes of Renaissance paintings and their relationship to Greek harmonic rectangles, all that I can say is I am left with the feeling that we have lost so much due to industrialization. The nineteenth century brought the change to industrially produced color and the preparation of canvases became standardized. When I see paintings that are over 500 years old and in better condition than contemporary works after 50 years, it becomes obvious that so much knowledge has been lost.
How do you know or decide when an artwork is finished?
Sometimes, I wish I knew! Some works are resolved quite quickly, whereas other paintings may remain elusive in terms of resolving the original intention with what has happened on that particular journey.
What do you like to do to unwind after a day’s work?
When I get home from the studio, I like to think about something nice for dinner with a glass of wine. I like to prepare dinner – sometimes I do this on my own, sometimes with my wife. I also bake my own bread and have quite an expertise for French apple cakes – full of apples and just enough sugar to complement their acidity. Unfortunately, American cakes are just sugar bombs!
We always try to make our evening dinner something special, rather than mundane. Classical music is a also a very important part of our lives.
What’s your overall favorite aspect of the creative process?
The creative process makes each day memorable and special.
Check out Michael’s Singulart page here. You can learn more about his two volume book – Renaissance Mysteries, Vol. I Natural Colour and Vol. II Proportion and Composition at www.renaissancemysteries.com