Dijon Mustard

I’m not going to lie. Being an art student stuck in the middle of Florence, Italy is rough.

Monday through Thursday. I’m expected to be fully alert during my three-hour long studio classes. I’m all but held hostage in a Renaissance Palace that has been repurposed into a functional modern school of fine arts. I don’t have any income, and I certainly don’t have any meetings to attend.

Then there’s the fact that I’m only allowed to make art here. What else could I possibly do? I find that my distractions have been distorted into shapes of giggling Italian children, live classical guitar, the quirkiness of pigeons, the hum of a city so alive… And around every corner seems to stand a detailed statue of an important figure whom I know nothing about… simply gazing out into the distance with a thoughtful expression of wonder or a silent plea for divine intervention. Either way, the more I look around, the more human and insignificant I feel. And then I become so inspired that an insatiable craving to create art completely takes over. When I’m not making images, I’m thinking up new ideas for future projects. Simply torturous.

Ah, and if you couldn’t tell, I’m actually enjoying my time overseas immensely. This time has given me a great opportunity to break away from what I endearingly call “the real world,” and piece together my expectations and desires for my education and artistic future. During the past two months, I have had plenty of ups and downs but already feel like I am a brighter and more invigorated me.


And now, onto my latest art.

In my Sketching Florence class (an advanced drawing class that pulls inspiration from the city), we keep a working sketch book of our ideas and complete a final (a sustained larger drawing) around every two weeks.

For my 3rd Final, my curiosity got the best of me and I inquired about casein paint. For a touch of history: back in the day this paint was created as an alternative to oil paints for those with an allergy to the chemicals surrounding oil techniques. This paint dries quicker than oil and with a satin-like finish. I thought it was a beautiful effect and eagerly wanted to try it. My professor replied something along the lines of, “Va bene! I think you should experiment with egg tempera,” in her rich Italian accent. Egg tempera is kind of like a cousin to casein. She promptly sent us scurrying along to the art store in search of materials to make egg tempera paint and its medium (what makes the paint stick to the surface) from scratch. This medium looks and smells like Dijon Mustard and I ironically stored mine in such labeled container.

So, several hours later with pigment all over my clothes and egg yolk drying on my fingers, I was ready to begin (continue) making a very big mess.

Above left, dry powder pigment to be mixed with medium and water.
Above right, my work station with various media.

This work was inspired by a tourist couple I saw walking in front of Santa Croce. Their expressions and postures are what drew my eye. I wanted them to be the focus of this piece while also creating a mysterious and beautiful atmosphere. The church is very large and this piece does not give a definite to its size. Enjoy!

A Stroll at Santa Croce.  Approx 30″ x 42″. Egg Tempera, Conte, Chalk Pastel, Willow Charcoal on Paper.

* Because of the inflexibility of the egg tempera, this piece is to be cut in the middle (gray line) for transportation purposes!

Emily Shirley

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