Assignment 2: Reflection on tutor feedback

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

21 July 2016. Such wonderful feedback, with eerily to the point comments and suggestions for development. Many thanks!

Although I think I may have said so before at one point or another in the course of both Drawing and Painting 1 ;o), I am finally beginning to understand now where we need to go as students. My tutor put this in her feedback as having to place myself as a developing artist in context with 21st century art trends and working artists. I find this concept very hard to incorporate into my own small art world (although it is exactly what I would be expected to do in my natural science work!), because, and this comes with a very uncomfortable and familiar feeling of inadequacy, I do not see myself as an artist yet. I get the strange feeling that my work is not good enough to allow any sort of comparative analysis, since I am still struggling with the basic techniques, but I understand now that the task comprises something more expansive, nothing less than a perpetual analysis and sharpening of what I want to be in and to the world. I started doing this with my political cartoons several years ago, but necessarily from a much more distant viewpoint. Here on the other hand the goal is to connect with my soul and hence the instructions to take risks in a large way. My soul does not sit on the sofa with me and has never done for fear of getting hurt. It has been hiding for a lifetime and it makes me feel very vulnerable having to go and look for it. I envy the grace with which some artists solve this universal dilemma for themselves and this is where I will start following the advice given by my tutor to extend my research on contemporary art.

Regarding feedback to the individual exercises my tutor’s suggestions make me feel that I am not only allowed, but rather required to sort of step out of myself. In that context I remind myself to be more aware of and treat with care impulses and inspiration that emerge from internal communication. This sounds very exciting in theory, while in practice many of these are of a precarious, fleeting kind, crossing my mind in the most inconvenient, bland everyday situations, where it is impossible to internalize even an afterglow before it is overwritten. It is these situations of course where sketchbooks come into their own and I will try and follow more closely my tutor’s advice to note down every such impulse to save it from passing into oblivion.

I know that I will have to be a lot more rigorous with my referencing. Living in Austria with no access to English language library books and precious little time to visit galleries and exhibitions it is dangerously convenient to rely on internet sources, especially if cross-referencing is required. I have the set book Vitamin P and in a previous post I stated that not a lot of energy seems to flow from the book to me. Maybe it is time to sit down again and have another look at it.

Also, as I noticed myself, I have not yet quite made the transition from drawing to painting. I will have to start being much more liberal with my brushes and paint, and whatever materials and techniques come in handy. At the same time I am advised to look more closely at and emulate rather than illustrate what I see. I am not quite sure here yet what I am required to do, since the definitions make a muddle in my head, but at the moment I interpret this as having to take what there is, in reality, and experiment with that, rather than start painting with a fixed idea of what I want it to look like. I have emailed my tutor for advice and hope to get there eventually.

What I also have not realized in researching painting in all its facets is the requirement to immediately connect to works of art exploring or utilizing these effects, both historical and much more importantly contemporary as well as my own (and not only in painters, but practically any medium of interest). I do find, however, that these things start to come more naturally now, not in the desired intensity and conciseness yet, but they increasingly become part of the processes involved in each new exercise.

A very exciting note my tutor put in her comment was the idea of both making my work fit for the 21st century and travel into new and/or under-researched areas. This is something that has always had an extremely high appeal to me, and something I used to try and pursue in my job as a museum exhibition planner. This is also why I started the OCA course in the first place, because I felt that it is exactly this part of being an artist for which I am not fit yet technically and emotionally.

Although I have started using my sketchbooks in the required way and I am immensely enjoying the process – so much more spontaneous and somehow liberating than the writing of this log, I find that I barely have the time to do it, too. I may have to slow down the overall speed I am doing this course at. Which my tutor already considered when suggesting a submission date for Assignment 3 nearly a month later than my own set goal.
I have never before thought of actually painting in my sketchbooks, since I tend to need lots more space than A4 when working with paint, but I will take the advice and take my water brush filled with watercolours.

Something I have not noticed before is that my blog does not seem to be organised in a way that allows people to find their way round easily. Especially, there seems to be a muddle regarding the dates of my posts. On my computer, however, they are all presented in an archive sorted by months, one exercise after the other, since I make no changes to the sequence set by the study guide. I may have to look at the blog from another computer and see where the problem may arise.

I will intensify my research as suggested and present it in a more scientific way by supporting my results with published work. Also I will add, stepwise, to my relatively meagre collection of art books and magazines. Yesterday we went to my favourite art supply shop to stock up on canvasses and paint. Although there is a large selection of art books, most of them are very straightforward artist or technique based and not what I think I am supposed to be looking for. I will therefore use the links suggested by my tutor and start from there.

The suggested research will be covered, step by step, in separate posts to follow.

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Part 3, project 1, exercise 1/2: Portrait and Figure – drawing the human figure, linear figure study

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to contents).

18 July 2016. Since there is very little time available at the moment and my tutor suggested that I paint my sketches for this exercise rather than draw them, I decided that I would combine exercises 1 and 2. My husband sat for me in my workshop and despite our everyday worries the sketches with watercolour on A2 sketch paper (Fig. 1-3) went somewhat better than expected. Since I want to paint my linear figure study with palette knives, I also tried my favourite flat watercolour brush in one sketch (Fig. 2 below). Here I found that it requires a lot of practice to switch from the flat side to the edge in rounded objects such as the muscles in my husband’s arm, so there is ample scope for improvement here, but I enjoyed the experience (despite both of us nearly falling asleep after a demanding day).

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Figure 1
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Figure 2
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Figure 3

I like the setup in the third sketch best, because there appears to be – at least to me – a pleasing combination of tension and relaxation. The chair my husband was sitting on is playschool size, so he had to find a position to give his legs the necessary room (tension), while the weight of his upper body was supported by the arm resting on the backrest (relaxation). We’ll see whether I will be able to include both in my painted study.

Before jumping right into the exercise I had a look round the internet to see some palette knife painting tutorials and find some artists, who use a technique I like. What I do not want is a very rough approach, which to me produces paintings looking like the tiles on a stove of the nightmare kind we sometimes used to get in our area (not surprisingly I cannot find any examples on the web, horrible stuff): Some painters seem to be making a habit of placing the same kind of knife mark at regular intervals, which have no connection with the actual subject and consequently appear to drain all tension from a painting. What I would like to try is to see, whether I am able to “draw” with the palette knife in a way that creates believable organic structures.

In order not to get overwhelmed by the new technique I decided to reduce my palette to the denim range of blue and the colour of skin (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Testing the palette knife and colour range

The background I prepared with a mix of dark brown and titanium white, which dries close to skin colour. Since this was to be my first experiment using palette knives and I am not confident yet regarding my drawing abilities in that respect, I drew the outlines first with charcoal (Fig. 5).

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Figure 5. Background and charcoal sketch

It took some time to get used to the properties of the palette knives, but I think that with some practice it shoould be possible to produce volume and tension with just a few marks. I was surprised to see how easy it was to mold the thigh and folds. But the way, my husband’s hair is not quite that flashy – it was the result of having put too much pressure on the palette knife, which went flying and left some interesting hairstyle in its wake ;o) … (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. My first attempts at using a palette knife

It was relatively straightforward to outline the chair as well, and then things got difficult. I have no expertise yet in forming limbs and faces and I found the palette knife awkward to use in tight places. Also it was necessary to carefully think ahead. The paint had to be in just the right place on the knife in just the right amount and the mark-making does not yet come naturally. I also had to take into account whether a structure would have to be rounded and smooth, come with a darker and/or sharp edge or merge with another structure (Fig. 7).

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Figure 7

After a bit of a struggle I started seeing some progress. Human forms are still very awkward, and especially faces, where I have not found a solution yet to correct mistakes (sorry, Franz, I promise to be more experienced next time!). Still, when looking at the overall result, the composition, selection of colours and part of the outcome I am not unhappy. In particular I do think that my intention of showing tension and relaxation is visible in the finished piece (Fig. 8):

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Figure 8. Finished palette knife “drawing”

 

 

Research: Painting the human figure using line

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and change to contents).

13 July 2016. How time flies! Three weeks since my last post and what a busy time that was. Hopefully we will be able to achieve a major step in dealing with hospital issues, but also we may have to change our life completely, in case a childrens’ neurologist we have to see in Aschaffenburg (Germany) at the end of August finds that our son responds positively to the ketogenic diet. We still find it hard to imagine that he may have to switch to eating hardly anything else except eggs and oil in order to improve his condition, but if it is so it cannot be helped. We are trying to have a nice summer anyway …

Regarding coursework I have just started Part 3, looking forward to painting the human figure again. I find that the recent extremely demanding events regarding our son have made me feel tight and unimaginative and I am struggling to shake off the giant weight sitting on my shoulders. But maybe I should adjust my painting intuitively and not by planning to sort of succumb to exactly that weight. It could be an interesting experiment and I would not need to work against my feelings. In her initial contact my new tutor suggested that I should emphasize drawing with paint, since it can have a liberating effect, and this is exactly what I am going to do. This means that I will have to ignore some of the instructions given in the study guide, but it feels exactly right.

In order to jump right into the new part of the course we were advised to have a look at the work of some painters using line in painting the human form, such as Degas, Ingres or Matisse. The French neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867) was famous mainly for his elaborate portraits, and when looking for drawings in paint I could not find but a very few – maybe I did not understand the instructions correctly. What I found, however, was a very pleasing and delicate combination of line and tone in the lovely example below (Fig. 1). It is as if the shadow behind the lady’s face somehow made her withdraw from the world:

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Figure 1. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: “Madame Edmond Cavé (Marie-Élisabeth Blavot, born 1810), ca. 1831-1834, oil on canvas. Source: Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) [Public domain] via The Metropolitan Museum of Art
When looking for work by Edgar Degas (1834-1917, France) I deliberately gave his ballerinas a wide berth, not only because the human form appears to get drowned in the horrible tutu dresses the girls wear, but because in my opinion he has by far better drawings such as the wonderfully soft pastel drawing below (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Edgar Degas: “The Tub”, 1886, pastel on card. Source: Edgar Degas (1834-1917) [Public domain] via Musée d’Orsay
While the approach used by Degas comprises subtle tonal gradation to shape the 3-dimensional form of the body in a very traditional though beautiful way, Henry Matisse’s (1859-1954, France) famous “Dance” (1909) (Fig. 3) provides the effect without any tonal variation. Also, since the outlines are deliberately incorrect in places in all the dancing figures, they add little objective information about the actual form of the bodies involved in the dance. It seems to be more about a feeling of togetherness in a similar situation personally (all naked) and socially (all dancing together).

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Figure 3. Henry Matisse: “The Dance”, 1909, oil on canvas. Source: Henry Matisse (1859-1954) [Public domain] via Wikipedia
I cannot write about line and the human body without referring to Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria), whose masterly use of line in describing the human form is both incredibly strong and sensitive. The line becomes part of the subject, i.e. the line describing the form of the dancer appears itself to be in the process of dancing, but never does so outside its task of accurately describing the outline of the dancer’s body (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Egon Schiele: “The Dancer”, 1913, colourized drawing. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
All the examples above have in common a more or less dark coloured line used to describe the outline of the body, combined with a very cleverly selected range of colours communicating with the line in a way to turn the outline into a vibrant, living organism.

When looking for more contemporary artists I came across Pop-Art painter Jim Dine (*1935, USA), who recently donated 230 self-portraits to the Vienna Albertina (Salzburger Nachrichten, 2016). I particularly like the way Dine combines line and tone. Line is not always used by him to provide a complete outline, while as a consequence coloured areas are not always contained within the limits provided. Since Dine does not seem to tire of his mirror image it is highly instructive to compare the superficially similar and still so different approaches to his self (fARTiculate, 2011).

Also, the interesting approach by Ryan Hewett (*1979, South Africa) using line and tone in a non-conventional way is well worth studying in depth, e.g. in his portrait of Lucien Freud (Hewett, 2015). Both elements are contained in the portrait itself and the impact by the interplay of light and shade is stunning. Hewett’s website contains several extraordinary, powerful examples of this technique (Hewett, 2017). I was also impressed by his use of palette knives, how he uses them to draw and paint simultaneously, which makes the result all the more believable, since there is no artificial boundary between line and tone (watch the “About Ryan” video on the website – you need to scroll down a bit and look for it, it is hard to describe its position).
Which makes me think that this may be what I may need to approach Part 3. Out with my set of palette knives, which has been sitting on my workshop table ever since last Christmas, waiting to be used. This might also be a good way to capture the weight on my shoulders.

Resources:

Degas, E. (1886) The Tub [pastel on card] [online]. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Available at: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=4041 [Accessed 13 July 2016]

fARTiculate (2011) Jim Dine, Selected Drawings & Interview [blog] [online]. fARTiculate, 9 February 2011. Available at: https://farticulate.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/9-february-2011-post-jim-dine-selected-exhibition-interview/ [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Hewett, R. (2015) Lucien Freud [oil on canvas] [online]. M. Contemporary Gallery, Woollahra. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/ryan-hewett-lucien-freud [Accessed 4 March 2017]

Hewett, R. (2017) Ryan Hewett [online]. Ryan Hewett, Cape Town. Available at: http://ryanhewett.com/ [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Ingres J.-A.-D. (c.1831-1834) Madame Edmond Cavé (Marie-Élisabeth Blavot, born 1810) [oil on canvas] [online]. The Met Fifth Avenue, New York. Available at: http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/436707 [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Matisse, H. (1909) The Dance [oil on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:La_danse_(I)_by_Matisse.jpg [Accessed 13 July 2016]

Salzburger Nachrichten (2016) Albertina zeigt Selbstportraits von Jim Dine [online]. Salzburger Nachrichten, 23 June 2016. Available at: http://www.salzburg.com/nachrichten/oesterreich/kultur/sn/artikel/albertina-zeigt-selbstportraets-von-jim-dine-201883/

Schiele, E. (1913) The Dancer [colourized drawing] [online]. Leopold Museum, Vienna. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Egon_Schiele_-_The_Dancer_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg