23 September 2016. Here is my self-evaluation for Assignment 3.
1. Demonstration of technical and visual skills
Coming through this part of the course I think that I managed to gradually improve my acrylic painting technique in all respects, regarding setup, use of negative space, using transparent and opaque layering as well as the introduction of methods new to me, e.g. roller and spatula as well as painting on unusual supports (aluminium foil).
Throughout this part I used my sketchbooks to draw everyday situations and found increasingly that a first look, supplemented by a few correcting glimpses, would be sufficient to create believable human forms and likenesses. My goal here was to sharpen my observational skills so as to be able to stop having to take and make use of reference photos at all.
2. Quality of outcome
The paintings I produced in this part are of varying quality. It took me some time to adjust to my new high quality brand of acrylic paint. While adjusting I switched to smaller size supports, but have now returned to my usual formats, mostly A2 and similar. I think that I am becoming increasingly aware of and sensitive to the processes occurring while creating a painting and am more aware of the preparatory steps necessary at the outset. If there is a finished painting in my mind, as in my assignment piece “Lady in Pool” I probably do less hard-copy preparatory work than I should, but there is so much developing and discarding going on in my mind that no sketchbook would be sufficient to truthfully replicate this process.
3. Demonstration of creativity
I think that for reason of worrying about our son’s health I was less creative materialwise than probably expected by my tutor, but I am immensely happy that I still hold out despite the massive time constraints we experience at the moment. We expect the situation to relax somewhat in the months to come, but I need to accept that I may not be able to achieve my full creative potential under the given circumstances.
4. Context reflection
The human figure and condition are my main interest also in my work as a caricaturist. So the choice of subjects was easy in this part of the course and I hope that I will have fulfilled the requirements set out in the study guide. In the wider context I did a very large amount of research on contemporary art both set by my tutor and on own initiative and find that I am increasingly able to relate to artists working in the 21st century.
20 August 2016. A few days ago we were given a day off to spend at the local spa and sauna. The totally relaxed lady we found floating in the pool was so impressive that I found I had to try and make her the subject of my Assignment 3. Although she would probably not count as a true portrait with her face half hidden because of the extreme viewing angle, I just had to take the risk.
08 September 2016. The lady reminded me a lot of the work by Jenny Saville and in preparation I had a look at a large number of Saville’s paintings. Her wonderful delicate handling of skin tones is something to remember, although I know that my own approach is somewhat rougher and I do not want to avoid it on account of trying to copy someone else’s style. Also today I did some intense research on the science of painting pool water. There was a very detailed tutorial (at the time of updating this post the tutorial had unfortunately been taken off the web for copyright reasons and is available only if bought from the author (Mural Joe, n.d.).
15 September 2016. Today I started on the assignment by making a preliminary sketch in order to position the lady correctly, since foreshortening was very strong in her case. As in the exercises preceding this assignment I decided to avoid referring to any photos, in order to see whether my knowledge about human anatomy and memory imprint of the floating lady would be sufficient to produce a hopefully believable form (Fig. 1).
Next I prepared an A2 canvas carton with a watery mix of blue and turquise (Fig. 2).
23 September 2016. I noticed how my recent use of acrylic paper had let me forget about the qualities of canvas and the preparation of the background I wanted took me a long time. The smoothness of paper is something I have come to like, since it allows the production of fine detail with ease, while the roughness of the canvas I use leaves, at least at my level of expertise, more than a fair share of the outcome to coincidence.
On the finished background I quickly painted my lady as I remembered her without further reference to other work or photos. I also tried to see her from my caricaturist’s viewpoint, which proved extremely useful in the construction of a loosely painted first layer. My main goal was the creation of a form unusual enough to allow it not to be easily forgotten and in analysing this form to both find and emphasize, if necessary by exaggeration, the innate rhythm in the sequence of arms, breasts, thighs and feet, while trying to take great care in designing a pool atmosphere, whose orderly shapes and cool colours would make a hopefully interesting contrast to the lady’s well-rounded forms (Fig. 3).
This painting is another one in which I found an intense communication to develop while working. A small change to one detail – and it was small changes throughout – would instantly cause my eye to focus on something else requiring adjustment in answer to the former. This experience is joyful and satisfying and, at least to my feeling, probably one of the most essential parts of a working painting (Fig. 4):
Here comes the final result. It took me a while to decide, observing it under different lighting conditions, but I have come to the conclusion that I should leave it as it is. I might change my mind before I send my portfolio to my tutor, but for the moment I am very happy as it is (Fig. 5):
7 September 2016. As the basis for this exercise I used a sketch I made while staying in the hospital in Aschaffenburg. There is a a sort of square next to the hospital’s main entrance, where patients and visitors gather to chat. Under a tree there are some “benches” made of concrete blocks with wooden lattices on top to sit on. In that scene is struck me how closely related joy and distress are and on the same bench some people would laugh and play with their children, while literally centimetres from them a lady would put a comforting arm around her partner’s shoulder. This is my picture for this exercise (Fig. 1):
As in the previous exercise I decided to stick to a smaller format (A3), but this time referred to my sketch in planning the composition. Since moments like this are highly fleeting in nature and only seconds later will change to something quite different in composition and emotional content I decided that I would try and attempt to paint in a way that is able to transport the ephemeral nature. This gave me the idea to paint in semi-transparent layers, which are somewhat displaced with respect to the adjacent layers, as, say, in printed 3D images looked at without the required glasses or even a misprinted photo in a magazine, where the differently coloured layers fail to lie exactly on top of each other.
13 September 2016. What a week that was! We hardly left the kitchen for need of learning to prepare modified Atkins meals as quickly as possible. Yesterday our son returned to school and that means preparing school lunch at home as well now for the three days he stays for after school care. I still managed to start my painting for this exercise. Here comes the first layer, which I prepared with my roller again to get acquainted with its properties, then sketched in the persons in watercolour fashion. Except for the pair on the right I planned to paint all people “out of focus” as described above, and as indicated already e.g. in the man standing left of the tree (Fig. 2).
23 September 2016. Amidst all that cooking a demanding diet it took me ages to finish this exercise. I tiptoed my way through the effects by stepwise increasing the difference between the time-arrested couple and the persons moving around them and in the end came up with something I would have liked to have avoided in a painting course. I had to get out my ink pens and enhance the unsatisfactory feeling of unrest I had produced with my undeveloped out of focus technique. Here is the fist sequence of steps to the final result (Fig. 3-5):
I think that it was important to let the surroundings shine through in the moving persons, which made them look more ghost-like and movement more believable. The ink pens did help to highlight the aspect of movement, although I am not pleased with myself for having failed to use paint only. If I find the time (haha, only a joke), I might try and see whether there is another solution to the problem.
Overall I am not unhappy with the result however and I believe that in the two details to follow it is quite clearly visible how time is arrested in the couple, while life keeps going on around them (Fig. 6-7):
17 September 2016. Since my son is back at school now, the everyday waiting routine gives me a few spare minutes to observe and draw people doing the same – move around and wait for something else to happen.
Here are a few of the latest drawings (and one or two I forgot to post before the summer):
The above (Fig. 1) is another of my little density series, which I started in Innsbruck last year. I choose a setting (here people walking in the hospital grounds in Salzburg – yes, I do spend a horrible amount of time in hospitals) and try to document every movement occurring during a certain time, say 10 to 15 minutes. The result appears quite dynamic to me, it is a record of “mass movement”.
In the next sketch I tried to capture the absolute essence of the scene, girls standing at or sitting on a table tennis table in the playground (Fig. 2).
Again the same playground, in the next two sketches obviously bored parents are waiting for their children to finish playing (Fig. 3-4):
Two more sketches I made while waiting at the train station. These were extremely difficult to draw, because waiting people have nothing else to do and immediately sense my presence. So what I do now is draw the very first impression I gain to check a few more times through half-closed eyes. Still I am happy with the result and I can see how my ability to observe and reproduce correctly has improved over the years (Fig. 5-6).
The last sketch is not about people on the move, but the gate to a garden and house long abandoned by their last inhabitants. I put it in this post, because to me the gate looks alive somehow, as if it were a store of memories of people walking in and out for a very long time (Fig. 7):
24 August 2016. In most of the portraits I made in this project so far the environment already played a role, so I decided that I would take a step further and tell a little story. Since we will need to go to Aschaffenburg this weekend and may come back with a son to be fed mostly on fat for as long as he can stand it, I wanted to have him as the subject of this exercise.
7 September 2016. We are back from the hospital in Aschaffenburg. Our son will have to stick to the modified Atkins diet for as long as he can stand it, ideally for at least two years to hopefully achieve a positive result. It did not take him long to realize that he will have to go, for an endless time in the world of a nine-year-old, without sweets or pasta or bread, fruit or vegetables. He is allowed ten grams of carbohydrates per day, which is next to nothing, say 3 gummi bears or 12 medium-sized grapes. Thankfully there is a growing market for quite nice alternative products, which we are trying to get acquainted with. We are a bit tense at the moment, because medication and diet will not tolerate any mistakes.
Since I lost more that two weeks from the course and the preparation of the unfamiliar diet needs to find its place in our daily routine, I will need to plan well the preparations for the following two exercises and the assignment to be able to meet the deadline at the beginning of October, while also having to consider the requirement to send my parcel by carrier. I already know my subjects for all of them and I might switch between them as I go along. The exercises will be on smaller size acrylic paper, the assignment on canvas carton.
Of all the moments during the week spent in that hospital room I remember most vividly my son sitting on his bed, getting more or less ready to hop down, while obviously in deep thought. This moment I want to capture as I have it in my mind. I decided not to take any photographs to help me remember, but would like to see whether I would be able to build a paintig from memory while taking the opportunity to fill the “gaps” in photographic detail with the associated powerful emotions. As I write this I realize that there are two nested sets of emotions, as I will be able to portray my son’s state of mind only through my own. In order not to disturb the flow between memory and my paint brush I will paint directly on my paper prepared with hospital greenish-yellow and glazed over with a transparent foggy layer of Paynes grey.
13 September 2016. I came up with the following, which is exactly what I had hoped for. First I produced the background, which is not as straightforward as it may look at first and consists of about ten semitransparent glazes, using a foam roller. The latter I had not used in years, because it would get clogged with the different types of acrylic paint I had used then. With my new brand of paint using the roller is a great experience, allowing – with practice – the praparation of interesting backgrounds (Fig. 1).
On this I painted with the same mix of colours, using a slightly denser texture, but also with several glazes on top of each other. My mix of turquoise, yellow and white produced an uncanny glow on the painted structures. The interior I deliberately reduced in detail so as to focus on my son’s emotional situation. I really like the result (unfortunately difficult to reproduce digitally), so I decided to stop working at that stage. For the scaffolding on which to attach my story I placed three small focal points of pure red on the paper, in strategically important positions on the patient monitor, the alarm button next to the door and my son’s mouth. By the way, the bed was as small as it looks: five more centimetres in height and my son, who is not exactly a giant for his age, would have got stuck :o) (Fig. 2).
I think that I managed to tell the intended story and am glad that I did not continue working past the present stage. To me the finished painting radiates some of the uncertainty of the situation my son was in and I also think that I managed to investigate both my own and some of my son’s emotional state.
8 September 2016. While staying in the hospital I had one or two opportunities to sit down outside the main entrance and see whether I would be able to produce something I would call “lightning portraits”. A hospital is not the best of places to go and stare at peoples’ faces in order to draw them, so I decided that I would look at a person for a second at most – after which their sixth sense makes them, invariably, turn their heads to find out why they feel uncomfortable – and then draw the imprint on my mind. Since this method does not carry a lot of detail, I filled a page in my sketchbook with a number of quite small portraits. This is the evil result (Fig. 1):
In our room I took an opportunity to catch my husband lying on my bed, reading a magazine, and my son staring at our laptop while checking the weather (Fig.2 ).
And finally some people I found in magazines, two famous and two from adverts, in another test to see whether I would be able to capture a likeness and something of a person’s personality in very quick sketches taking between 20 seconds and 2 to 3 minutes (Fig. 3-6):
7 September 2016. A choice of two or three examples for paintings of persons in interiors is not a lot to gain a comprehensive overview over the subject. On the other hand, a careful selection may allow to see changes in perception of the relationship between rooms and their occupants over the centuries.
First an example for Northern European genre painting, i.e. that period of time starting in 16th century Flanders, when the middle class first came into wealth, which allowed them to become interested in the interiors of their homes and surround themselves with paintings. The everyday situations depicted preferably – i.e. persons in their interiors – exerted a special appeal and became immensely popular at that time (Meagher, 2008).
Having to pick a painting I found that I was eerily uncomfortable with most scenes, no matter how brilliant the painting. For some unknown reason they felt both familiar and totally dark and foreign, so I went for a more lighthearted watercolour by Adriaen van Ostade (1610 – 1685, Dutch Republic) (Fig. 1):
The scene looks tidy, pleasant and at ease (maybe this is the special appeal to me, overwhelmed by our own situation as I am), the people look well-fed and comparatively well dressed. The weaver’s family is seated in a makeshift arrangement near the open door, presumably in order to allow the reader of the newspaper to see the print. As stated by Meagher (2008) the Dutch Republic was a poineer nation to publish newspapers on a regular basis at a time when being able to read the news and interpret the contents was by no means natural. I guess that one of the purposes of the depicted scene is the presentation of the family as well-educated and involved in the public affairs of the country. By producing a stable triangle consisting of the three grown-ups the primary focal point lies at the centre of the lower half of the open door, which at the same time is one of the brighter areas of the interior. While there is nothing in particular to see in that spot this setup might carry a message, although I might be totally wrong here: By opening the door light, and thus enlightenment, can enter the inside of the house. Both lie at the foundations of a prosperous family and this is what the commissioner of the painting may have had in mind.
When flicking through “Vitamin P2” (Schwabsky, 2011) in order to gain an overview over the trends of the present decade, I got the impression that there might be an increasing interest in fusing interiors of buildings with the interior, so to speak, of their occupants, and even the paintings themselves with the interiors of the buildings they are presented in. It is as if artists were investigating the limits of dissolving boundaries between all insides and outsides. After Vitamin P2 the concept of figures in interiors appeared somewhat outdated.
So I had to go elsewhere for more information. Looking for contemporary examples I came across the following in the Saatchi online gallery, by Sherre Wilson-Liljegren, called “Gallery Visit” (Wilson-Liljegren, n.d.). The style is described as magical realism. There is nothing like a gallery visit to be seen in this painting, two cuddling baboons are seated on a stylish sofa in a living room, which is bare except for an electric fan on the floor and a painting above a tall radiator. I like the setup, the extraordinary idea, the colours and the wonderful light in that painting. There is not a lot I could speculate about on the artist’s intentions for choosing such an arrangement, but it is a nice and at the same time worrying concept that other primates might take over seamlessly from what a failed human species left behind. Here the interior does not fit the occupants at all and this is what creates an impulse to have a closer look at a subjectwise inconspicuous painting.
A more typical example for what a present-day painted representation of figures in an interior might look like I found on Saatchi, too, by Pavel Kryz, “The Television” (Kryz, n.d.). The piece radiates that weird uninvolvedness, which I mentioned before in a number of research posts and which seems to have infected 21th century artists at a pandemic rate. Both the room and the person seem totally exchangeable, there is nothing there to help guess whether the man belongs in that space or was left there by the owner of the room. He seems unable to change anything about his position or the situation and his hovering near the wall radiates discomfort. Personally I find this style unspiring, because I feel that whatever there is to see in such a painting will make no difference to me or the world whatsoever. I rather wish for 21st century artists to take responsibility and get involved with all their strength. At least this is where I want to see myself with my own work.