This is the third posting about my painting for the Santa Barbara Presidio in California. I've finished the painting now, having gone through several steps to get here. It can be a tedious process, but I think it is worth it in the end. Let me show you what I've done.
The tight drawing was reviewed by the client to make sure not only that it tells the story they want - a typical family of Santa Barbara Presidio in the late-18th and early 19th century - but that the details are are historically authentic.
An important part of the story is the fact that the people of Santa Barbara Presidio, and 18th century Spanish California generally, were drawn from several ethnic backgrounds. Based on period records, I was asked to show a family where the father is mestizo - of mixed Native American and Spanish ancestry; the mother is mulato - of mixed African and Spanish ancestry; and the children reflect in their appearance all of their heritages. Here the casta paintings of New Spain (Mexico) are of some help, but luckily I live in a wonderfully ethnically mixed neighborhood and I've spent a lot of time looking at friends and neighbors.
The clothing I show the family wearing is drawn from a variety of sources. The mother's is based on what was captured by the artist José Cardero, who visited Monterey and Mission San Carlos, California, in 1791. These women were shown in their best clothing, but we know that daily wear was essentially the same, just of simpler materials. There are also the fabrics found in the Santa Barbara Presidio's own documents of the annual supply shipments from Mexico.
I also looked at casta paintings from late-18th century Mexico for details such as the striped rebozo, the red and black neckerchief and the yellowish panel trimmed in red ribbon at the top of the blue wool skirt.
I've modeled the father, a Spanish soldado de cuera, on similar documents, including a little-known picture from the 1780s that shows a soldier with a long mustache.
His cuera (white buckskin armor) is plain, which was probably typical of enlisted men, and is based on this same picture.
The father wears his armor and carries a shield (adarga) because he's going on patrol or perhaps an expedition. The shield is based on several examples of this same pattern that survive. One is in the Mission San Carlos museum, another in the Smithsonian Institution and the third in the Museo del Ejército in Toledo, Spain.
The color scheme of black, red, and yellow ochre is based in part on the Mission San Carlos shield which, though allowed to deteriorate sadly, still retains traces of its original paint. I remember it from years ago when it was not so warped and had far more paint remaining.
It's not yet clear whether shields of this kind were made locally or imported from New Spain. They don't appear in Santa Barbara Presidio's supply list, but the level of craftsmanship is high. One way or another, they probably had to be painted, or repainted, over time.
Though pigments were imported twice to the Santa Barbara Presidio, the first was for decorations to the chapel and the second for dyeing cloth, I chose these colors because they were also used by Native Americans in California, who mined and produced the minerals for painting murals, objects, and themselves.
We know from oral histories collected in the 19th century that young children growing up at this time in California wore only simple shirts (cotoncitos). Older children adopted more adult styles, but continued to go without hats, jackets, or shoes until they were fully grown. The younger boy's cotoncito was based on examples found in Mexican casta paintings.
Other details were drawn from actual objects in California State Parks museums, such as this splendid spur from Monterey.
And this iron hoe head, excavated at La Purism Mission, near Santa Barbara.
Though I posed models for all the figures in this painting, what I could not do is gather five humans of various ages, a sheep, a cat, and a basket full of produce together at the same time. So in order to understand how the light would fall on a group such as this, and the shadows, reflected lights and highlights it would produce, I built a small diorama and filled it with figures I sculpted and painted.
Though the figures are crude, they allowed me to experiment with various lighting schemes and gave me the information I needed.
I've promised my client, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, not to publish the entire painting until after the interpretive sign for which it was commissioned is unveiled, probably at the end of the year.
But I can show you the painting at its initial stage - with flat washes of acrylic defining the color scheme. I then went over the pictures with gouache (opaque watercolor) in thin and thick washes, and spattering and dry brushing for textures and transitions. A bit of the finished painting can be seen at the top of this page.
A. Detail from the finished illustration of a Spanish colonial family, courtesy of Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.
B. Final drawing for the illustration - on 100% rag illustration board, ready for painting.
C. De Mulato, y Mestiza, nace Caurteron (From Mulato, and Mestiza, is born a Quadroon), casta painting, Mexico. Private collection.
D. Detail from a wash drawing by José Cardero, one of the artists on the Malaspina Expedition. It is of the plaza at Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel Mission), California, 1791, and shows a man who is probably a soldier without his cuera (civilian and military dress were nearly identical) and two women. Museo de America, Madrid.
E. & F. Casta paintings from Mexico, last half of the 18th century, showing the red and black scarf I put on the mother, along with a blue wool skirt with dark yellow cotton top panel. The little girl's red skirt is also seen in figure E.
G. Copy of a painting showing the 1786 visit to Carmel Mission of the French exploration party led by Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse. There are two known versions of this picture, but only one shows the figure of a Spanish presidio soldier standing on the left, hat in hand and wearing a cuera. Museo de America, Madrid.
H. Detail from figure E showing the soldier. He wears a mustache and his leather armor, a cuera, is plain.
I. An adarga (rawhide shield) in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. This was purchased in the late-19th century from an antiques store in San Diego, California. A very similar example is in the Museo de Ejército, Toledo, Spain, that was donated in the 1850s by a Mexican gentleman. And a third example is in the Mission San Carlos collection, Carmel, California. This suggests that these shields were manufactured in Mexico and sent to the frontier.
J. Here is the shield at Mission San Carlos, Carmel, California. It belonged to the illustrator, Jo Mora. I've watched it deteriorate seriously over the years, so that it is even more warped than shown here and has shed most of its paint. But traces of red and black can still be seen.
K. As it is currently displayed, the Mission San Carlos shield has a miniature version mounted below to show how the original may once have been painted.
L. The kinds of pigments used for paints that were manufactured by Native Californian peoples since prehistoric times. Such colors could have been used to paint or repaint soldiers' shields. From Paul Douglas Campbell's Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians: Meaning and Technology (2007).
M. De mestizo y de india, coyote (From a mestizo and an Indian, a coyote), by Miguel Cabrera, 1763. From the Col. Elizabeth Waldo-Dentzel, Multi Cultural Music and Art Foundation, Northridge, California. Note the boy's striped shirt.
N. Californio spur on display at Monterey State Historic Park, California.
O. Wrought iron hoe head on display at La Purisma Mission State Historic Park, California.
P. Figures I've modeled from wire and polymer clay. These figures were then baked and painted.
Q. This is the simple little diorama I set up in order to study various lighting schemes.
R. Here the shadows and lights have been worked out in charcoal on a photocopy of the drawing.
S. The entire painting was covered with thin washes of the basic colors, to seal the board and to kill the white. Over this the painting was built up with layers of gouache (opaque watercolor).
Campbell, Paul Douglas, Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians: Meaning and Technology (2007).
Katzew, Ilona, Casta Painting; Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico, (New Haven and London: Yale