Artist's techniques give her paintings the look of works by the old masters


June 15, 1994|By PAT BRODOWSKI

In a tiny art studio in a Hampstead townhouse, the Renaissance is flourishing.

At the easel, artist Josephine T. Startzel wields a soft paintbrush, capturing the character of weathered horse bits and bridle. Several other paintings await her. There's a basket of lemons on lace, and an upturned pot of gourds.

"I paint very representational, or realistic, work," said Mrs. Startzel. "My work is very much influenced by the Renaissance masters, the Flemish masters and the Baltimore artist Raphaelle Peale."

She began this artistic journey into the past about four years ago after getting a bachelor's degree in commercial art at Towson State University. Ten years in graphic design followed. She did work for such clients as Baltimore magazine and the corporate division of McCormick.

Then in 1988, she saw an altar piece at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore that had been painted by Flemish master Hugo van der Goes. She still keeps a reproduction of a small part of the painting at hand.

In it, St. John the Baptist leans to speak into the ear of a fearful, prayerful, believer. Van der Goes painted every nuance of facial expression so clearly you can almost hear the whispers.

"This was something I really wanted to do," she said, and began her quest to learn to paint with the skill and insight of great artists of long ago.

"There's so much that's awful in this world," she says. "I wanted my work to uplift those who saw it."

For two years, she studied with Union Bridge artist Richard Eichmann to learn techniques of painting in the classical realism style. Then she joined the studio classroom of the Schuler School of Fine Art in Baltimore.

Formed in 1956, the Schuler School teaches drawing and painting as they were taught centuries ago. Students draw the figure from plaster casts and live models.

They learn to grind pigment into paint, to build stretched canvas, to make the media that are applied to canvas or wooden panels to turn them into paintable surfaces. They draw with charcoal and pastel and paint in oil.

They teach themselves to see tone and color. They learn to capture the character of a person, of a bowl of fruit, of inanimate cups and bowls. They render form until it speaks.

"It's to fool the eye into thinking there is something three-dimensional in this window, the canvas," says Mrs. Startzel. She points to an area of her painting that glows in rich brown.

"In the lean areas, where the ground [the brown color] shows through, light travels faster and gives an illusion of depth. Painting really is an optical illusion. To me, this is the only way to paint.

"Painting is hard work. I spend six hours a day, Monday through Friday, in my studio, except when I teach," says Mrs. Startzel. She works on five paintings at the same time, sometimes until 2 a.m.

"I can work on something for a year, and keep working on it, and it's hard to stop."

Her background in commercial art has not been forgotten. She doesn't hesitate to use photographic images, particularly for portraits, including those of a favorite subject, cats. She caught them on film for a series of large pastel drawings in which cats "look magnificent and wild."

Most of those works have been sold.

"If the camera had existed for Leonardo da Vinci, I'm sure he would have used it as he wanted," she says. "I want to combine the old with the new in ways that work."

In her experience, translating a photograph is difficult, because the camera flattens the image, leaving out visual clues usually discovered by the artist when working from life.

Something unusual in Mrs. Startzel's work and of others at the Schuler School is the use of Maroger medium, a handmade concoction of boiled linseed oil, varnish, beeswax and several other chemicals. The mixture darkens the finished works so they have the dark velvety look of the old masters' works, which naturally have darkened with age.

The Flemish masters, active in the 1400s, were the first to mix pigments with oil to create paint and are called the fathers of modern painting. The Maroger medium simulates the earliest techniques of European oil painting.

Mrs. Startzel now teaches two students. Her lessons are individual, in her studio, for adults or teen-agers at least 15 years old.

"I teach people the way I paint," she says. She will accept students who have the desire to paint in this manner, even if they have no artistic background.

"I'm a painter who teaches and not a teacher who paints," she says. "I want my students to paint at their very best capacity."

Information: 239-7975.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.