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Cedric Day: Degas talk & workalong
(Fridays 24 & 31 October 2003)

Cedric Day provided us with a couple of marvellous evenings - entertaining, educational, amusing and inspirational. The Webmaster's informal comments follow:

First of all, remember that the "proper" French pronunciation of Degas is d'gah.

Cedric has a fine selection of slides which showed that Degas was much more than a painter of ballerinas - his later works were much more interesting (to me, at least). He was also a very competent sculptor but worked mostly for himself - making models from which he painted. Although he explicitly asked that they not be kept after his death, they were used to make bronzes etc. which we can now enjoy.

He was a lifelong experimenter, mixing media and techniques shamelessly. This presumably meant many "failures" and so he had no hesitation about tracing his original drawings several times, to form the basis of a number of final painting attempts. He also used photography for reference and did a lot of sketching.

A technique that Degas found particularly rewarding - monotype printing - was an important part of the second Friday's "Workalong". Monotype is not used for serious printing because of the variation from one print to the next. We painted an initial version of the picture wet onto a non-absorbant material (Degas used a metal plate - I used a sheet of glass with which I cut my finger). Before this has started to dry, one or more prints were taken from it by pressing the final paper(s) or board(s) onto the initial one. Each print is a mirror image of the original and, of course, much fainter than the previous one (three prints is typical). There is enormous variation as to which bits make good contact and which don't. For more detail visit http://www.waterbasedinks.com/newsletters/newsletterhist.html

Degas' initial version was usually in inks or oils. Oils proved easy at our Workalong. People also got excellent results with watercolour, pastel and charcoal (wetted, dropping extra water on between prints) and at least one person worked quickly enough to be able to get three prints off an initial version in acrylic. One then starts putting detail into the final prints with whatever medium takes your fancy. Quick application of pastel (working it into the still-wet print) proved very satisfactory but one can continue even after the print is dry.

For me, it was one of the most enjoyable Friday evenings I have ever had with the FCSA - the gorgeous model Cedric brought along had nothing to do with that in any way!

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