[retrospective post] Part 5, project 2, exercises 1 and 2: Adding other materials – preparing a textured ground and mixing materials into paint

14 March 2017. I decided to report on the two exercises in this project in one post, since I combined them in some of the experiments I carried out.
This post is going to be somewhat difficult, because I threw away some of my experiments – they had nothing to do with my assignment pieces and went into the bin after I had submitted my portfolio.
I did a whole A2 watercolour paper with glue, dilute violet watercolour and writing ink. In order to at least describe the effects I made this bullet list for effects noticed:

  • wet glue spread thinly had no influence on dilute paint or ink dripped on it, both spread through the glue into the paper uninhibited
  • dry glue spread thinly repels some of both ink and paint, but much less so than anticipated
  • wet glue in strings will attract ink to travel underneath and into it. The ink spread slowly into the strongs of glue to add a greenish hue
  • dry glue will hold ink to a large extent, although a little will always travel for some small distance in the paper under the glue, paint will be repelled and the pattern produced by the ink stands out
  • wet glue placed on wet ink or paint repels some of the pigment contained, so that unpigmented rings develop around it. The degree of repulsion depends on the type of pigment involved
  • wet glue placed on dry paint or ink has no further effect

For the remaining experiments covering these two exercises I have photos. A few of these appear in other posts for this part of the course, since due to my failed rearranging of exercises they combine approaches (e.g. preparing a textured ground and dripping paint).

Since the effect of glue was a bit disappointing, I repeated the same with acrylic binder (in preparation for an assignment piece in my project “A Shadow on His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a) (Fig.1-2):

Figure 1. Sketchbook – experimenting with enclosing paint and ink in acrylic binder
Figure 2. Sketchbook – experimenting with producing the effect of a person’s “soul” showing on the outside, acrylic binder spread roughly, then painted over after having become dry

The following two experiments (Fig. 3-4) were already described in my “impasto” post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b), both using serrated spatulae to create a rough texture to be used later in painting portraits of Bashar al-Assad  for my assignment project “A Shadow on His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a).

Figure 4. Creating texture using a serrated spatula on a thick layer of acrylic medium
Figure 5. Creating texture using a serrated spatula on a thick layer of white acrylic paint

Continuing the series by examining the special properties of acrylic binder, which I developed a liking for over time, I added sand, charcoal and white as well as writing ink at various stages during the drying process (Fig. 6 below):

Figure 6. Sketchbook – examining effects with acrylic binder, sand, crushed willow charcoal and inks to create texture effects to be used in the assignment

In the series of experiments on mixing other materials into paint I had produced a background of white acrylic paint with dried, crushed leaves mixed in. In a dripping experiment I had used this background to see whether a shadow effect might be produced with applying ink with a pipette from one edge (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c). While the former did not work at all, I found that emphasizing the existing texture with a combination of writing ink and Persian Red antique ink would result in an incredibly beautiful metallic lustre and interplay of structure with the charateristics of the applied inks (Fig. 7-8):

Figure 7. Black writing ink mixed with Persian Red antique ink on top of background consisting of a very rough mix of acrylic paint with dried crushed leaves
Figure 8. The same as in Figure 7, but with an emphasis on Persian Red ink

Following an impasto experiment using acrylic paint and crushed willow charcoal (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) I decided to investigate the properties of this type of background for my assignment painting project covering Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Shadow” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016d) (Fig. 9):

Figure 9. Sketchbook – experimenting on background layer of acrylic paint with grated willow charcoal, adding layers of different inks as well as acrylic paint

I very much enjoyed experimenting with texture. This was only a taster of a world of endless possibilities, but since it was dedicated to serve a particular purpose, I was also quite happy to have come up with a working background layer solution for Andersen’s tale.


Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:  https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) [Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 1: different ways of applying paint – Impasto [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/retrospective-post-part-5-project-1-exercise-1-different-ways-of-applying-paint-impasto/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016c) [Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 2: Different ways of applying paint – dripping, dribbling and spattering [blog] [online]. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/retrospective-post-part-5-project-1-exercise-2-different-ways-of-applying-paint-dripping-dribbling-and-spattering/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016d) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/assignment-5-subject-3-hans-christian-andersen-the-shadow-an-attempt-at-an-illustration-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]


[Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 1: different ways of applying paint – Impasto

Retrospective post following tutor feedback.

14 March 2017. In her feedback to Assignment 5 my tutor suggested that I rearrange my blog for Part 5 of the course for easier cross-reference in assessment. Since doing this with the existing blog posts would in my opinion produce more trouble than clarification I decided that I would produce retrospective posts fitting the project exercises in the sequence of appearance in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011, pp. 123-134). I apologize for double-posting images already contained in the posts covering the work for my assignment pieces.

So, here is my exercise work for testing the impasto technique of applying paint. In Part 3 of the course I had already started using my palette knives (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a) (Fig. 1). After an awkward start I had found them increasingly good and easy to use:

Figure 1. Drawing with paint – Part 3 exercise work using impasto technique

Also part of my preparatory work and assignment piece for Assignment 4 was mostly painted using impasto (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b). The finished result unfortunately suffered from a deplorable longer-term change of colour in the black paint I had used then (it turned a very unfortunate indifferent dark grey after I had taken the photo, which swallowed all the beautiful elements visible in Fig. 2 below), but I was quite happy with the structural quality of the rocks produced. I also noticed that my confidence in using palette knives grew quickly:

Figure 2. Assignment piece for Part 4 of the course – impasto painting technique used for creating the rock structure

For the present exercise I first produced an intuitive multi-layered impasto piece, in which I examined the emergent properties of depth and light effects. This 56 x 42 cm acrylic paper would later become the background for one of my Assigment 5 pieces (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c) (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Multi-layered impasto examining light and 3D effects

Next I produced some monochrome structured layers on 42 x 56 cm acrylic paper, first using acrylic medium only on top of a dried white background (Fig. 4), then using acrylic paint directly (Fig. 5). The structures were created using two different kinds of large serrated spatulae. Both the exercises below were later used in my Assignment 5 project “A Shadow on his Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016d):

Figure 4. Spreading acrylic medium with a serrated spatula
Figure 5. Producing a rough structure in acrylic paint using a serrated spatula

Some more impasto effects I also tested in preparation for my third Assignment 5 project. In particular, I mixed finely grated willow charcoal into white acrylic paint and applied it with a palette knife. The charcoal dust mixed with the paint to give a wonderful cool grey, while the larger pieces moved with the direction of the palette knife to produce a very attractive pattern (middle row in Fig. 6 below. This type of mix I later used to prepare the background layer for my third assignment piece (Lacher-Bryk, 2016e).

Figure 6. Impasto techniques tested for assignment project 3. Middle row: acrylic paint mixed with grated willow charcoal. Bottom row: Thick layer of acrylic paint applied with coarse paintbrush, then different types of ink added

Impasto for me is an incredibly versatile technique, which I will without any doubt come back to regularly with great joy.


Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Part 3, project 1, exercise 1/2: Portrait and Figure – drawing the human figure, linear figure study [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/part-3-project-1-exercise-12-portrait-and-figure-drawing-the-human-figure-linear-figure-study/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Assignment 4: “Claustrophobia” [blog] [online]. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/assignment-4-claustrophobia/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016c) Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/assignment-5-subject-1-a-shadows-only-painting-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016d) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:  https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016e) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/assignment-5-subject-3-hans-christian-andersen-the-shadow-an-attempt-at-an-illustration-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, pp. 123-134.

Part 3, project 2, exercise 4: Looking at faces – conveying character

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

17 August 2016. This exercise should be my home territory as a caricaturist, but I do not want to take the obvious route here. A normal caricature does not usually aim at conveying character by a careful choice of painting materials and techniques. Most people working in this field tend to develop a recognizable style with an unchanging set of methods, many stay with watercolours and/or ink as I have done for a while now (Lacher-Bryk, 2017) or opt for computer-aided drawing. The latter are now often preferred by the media, because they tend to look neat and clean and the reproducing of colour is more straightforward. I think that this is not my way, I feel uncomfortable with the computer between me and my developing work. But also, one of my main goals in studying with the OCA is to acquire the skills required to create large scale satirical paintings. This is a field of painting with a short history and only few artists, where William Hogarth (1697-1764, UK) is my favourite for his keen talent of observation and courage to tackle controversial subjects at his time in history (see e.g. “The Humours of an Election”, c. 1755). I have not been able to find many comparable approaches. Throughout the history of painting most works labelled satirical are not what I am planning to do, since – very likely for the good reason of the painter wanting to keep his head on his neck – the satire is usually hidden behind symbols almost impossible to interpret correctly by the everyday viewer without professional guidance. In contemporary art of Germany and Austria we have now a relatively young tradition of high quality satirical painting. My absolute favourites from Austria are Horst Haitzinger (*1939) and Gerhard Haderer (*1951, see e.g. Karikaturmuseum Krems (2016)), and Ernst Kahl (Galerie Richter, n.d.)) from Germany for their talent and wonderful intelligence. The Salzburg Museum der Moderne has just opened an exhibition on satirical drawings over the last 200 years (Salzburg Museum der Moderne, 2016). Hopefully I will find the time to go and see it.

So, what is in the task of “conveying character”? It most certainly is not about capturing some fleeting expression on a face, but about carefully studying the character of a person and pick an expression which reveals that part of a character I need to convey the message of my painting. If the painting is a portrait only without surroundings to help the viewer interpret the facial expression, it is important to be quite familiar with the personality and habits of the portrayed person. This is the reason why most portrait caricaturists pick world famous persons as their subjects and which is what I need to do here for the same reason.

18 August 2016. A few days ago I made a caricature of Donald Trump, whose campaign has been given me a constant headache (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Donald Trump

His personality and intentions are an utter mystery to me and so I decided that I would stay with the subject for this exercise. Looking at his life, the least one can say about him is that he is a colourful character, which translates into “schillernde Persönlichkeit” in German, an expression well suited to transport a marked ambivalence. “Schillernd” means “iridescent” and this connects directly with mother-of-pearl. What I would like to try out in this portrait exercise is to find a way to capture this pearly iridescence with paint and see whether this, together with creating a likeness, can be interpreted by a viewer in the intended way.

Next I had a look at hints on how to paint iridescence. What I found was, to summarize, that this goal is futile, since iridescence is a structural property (Remsen, 2013). I should have known better, since in my museum work I came across this subject more than once, but in this exercise I am not after a technique allowing me to imitate iridescence by buying pearl effect paint, mixing in mica (Art Apprentice Online, 2011) and such like. My aim is to create an impression close enough to allow viewers a correct interpretation of my intentions. My first exercise was thus one aimed at analysing the systematics behind iridescence. To this end I looked for photographs of Paua (abalone, Haliotis iris) shells and a scientific explanation for their properties (Tan et al., 2004): The nacre is made up of stacks of thin crystalline calcium carbonate platelets, on which interference and diffraction occur to produce the rainbow-like unfolding of the spectrum.

In a first attempt at copying part of the shell I noticed a regular succession of colours despite the seemingly random “waves” (Fig. 2-3):

Figure 2. Sketchbook – examining the properties of Paua iridescence
Figure 3. A first attempt at imitating colour succession

The Paua pattern is however far too strong to be used in a portrait. So I went to look up  materials such as artificial iridescent fabrics, all of which work by applying the principles of thin layer interference and diffraction (not to be confused with the sheen in silk, which is made by using two different colours in weaving) (Fig. 4 below) In all of them the spectrum of colours is identical and follows the folds in a predictable manner. I chose a one of these for comparison and then tried to apply the principles on a printout of Donald Trump’s face, using watercolour pencils (Fig. 4):

Figure 4. Sketchbook – Iridescence in fabric and the visible spectrum

The colour sequence was as follows: White in direct reflection, then with a fold bending away from the vertical first violet, followed by blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Following this principle I first identified on a printed photo the parts of Trump’s face perpendicular to my line of view and coloured them white because of the direct reflection from these areas. With increasing angle between my line of view and part of the face I changed the colours in rainbow-fashion to end up with dark red. I am not sure, whether my interpretation is correct in all places, but it gives the face the appearance I am after (Fig. 5):

Figure 5. Sketchbook – Applying the principles of iridescence to Donald Trump’s face

With the above drawing as a reference I decided to try and paint Trump’s portrait with a pearly appearance. Since the above colours are still far too bright for my intentions, I needed to find out first whether a layer of fresh acrylic painting medium would make a good surface for paint to float on.

21 August 2016. The experiments with the acrylic medium went a lot better than thought and so the finished painting is forming in my mind. I am going to paint the portrait in the shape of an actual pearl in situ, while still in its mussel. A pearl forms to coat and render harmless any noxious objects inside a mussel and so the ambiguous analogy with the Republican Party as the mussel and Trump as its pearl seems rather nice.

Here are my experiments with the acrylic medium: On a white background layer I put a rather thick layer of acrylic medium, on which I first “floated” streaks of paint (two bottom images). Since these were still too bright, I diluted them down to near transparent and in a new field mixed the streaks carefully with the painting medium laid down in circles, one with a thin film of medium (top left), one with a thick layer (top right). This way I produced an effect near enough a pearly sheen without the aid of iridescent paint. What my scanner unfortunately fails to reproduce is the shimmering surface in the top righthand image (Fig. 6):

Figure 6. Sketchbook – Using acrylic painting medium to “float” paint

With the above results in mind I prepared my canvas, an 80 x 40 cm painting carton. This I covered with a cloudy background layer mixed loosely of Paynes grey and a yellow-pink mussel flesh colour. When dry I added a layer of white off centre, where the pearl was going to sit (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Prepared background

On the white I loosely sketched Trump’s face with dilute paint, then started the experiment with floating paint on the acrylic medium (Fig. 8). Since the adding of paint to the acrylic medium is something which has to be watched closely and corrected while drying, I decided that I would work my way forward in small steps rather than painting the face in one go. At first I was far too hesitant and this is obvious on the forehead and the area around the eyes. It was far more difficult to achieve a pearly sheen that way and also I had not anticipated that the flowing effect would not be as smooth on the canvas as it had been on the paper in my sketchbook. When I had developed some more confidence, it was easier to float the paint, but then it became difficult to control the colours. I ended up with the brightness I had set out to avoid. Only with some more experience, on Trump’s hair, the effect started to show. Then however the acrylic medium began to form bubbles for no obvious reason (top righthand corner).

Figure 8. Painting Donald Trump’s face using the “floating” technique

Here is a side view of the face to give an idea of the shiny surface (Fig. 9):

Figure 9. Side view of painting in progress

23 August 2016. I left this layer to dry completely, then covered the whole drawing plus the rest of the “pearl” with a very dilute mix of acrylic medium and the set of colours used to paint the face.

24 August 2016. The covering with dilute mixes of acrylic medium and paint I repeated about five times. Then I changed the background of the painting to resemble roughly the view out of a half-open giant clam. Here is the finished painting and some details (Fig. 10-13):

Figure 10. Finished painting
Figure 11. Detail of the inside of Trump’s shell

I am quite happy about the pearl-like quality of the portrait, although the person would very likely not be recognizable as Donald Trump any more, and the contrast to the normal background painting. It was very difficult to take a photo representing the real colours on the pearl. When taking the photos of the following details I changed the exposure in order to allow the structure of the paint to show up:

Figure 12. Detail of Trump’s face (1)
Figure 13. Detail of Trump’s face (2)

I am not sure what to think of the result. On the one hand the process of developing the idea and technique was great fun and the finished painting was better than I had feared at the start. On the other hand the message I originally want to transport is intimately connected with an instant recognition of the portrayed person, a goal which became less important while painting. But then again it could apply to no one in particular, because the facial expression I was after, one of barely hidden contempt, is very much there.


Art Apprentice Online (2011) Acrylic Painting Techniques – Mixing Iridescent Acrylic Colors [online]. Art Apprentice Online. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BQXRPDMdMc [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Galerie Richter (n.d.) Ernst Kahl [online]. Galerie Richter, Lütjenburg. Available at: http://www.galerie-richter.de/ernst_kahl/ernst_kahl.html [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Hogarth, W. (c.1755) Humours of an Election [engraving print on paper] [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Available at: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1157957/the-humours-of-an-election-print-hogarth-william/ [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Karikaturmuseum Krems (2016) Gerhard Haderer. Think Big! [online]. Karikaturmuseum, Krems. Available at: http://www.karikaturmuseum.at/de/ausstellungen/gerhard-haderer [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Political Caricatures [image gallery] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: http://boesekarikaturen.jimdo.com/political-caricatures/ [Accessed 11 March 2017]

Remsen, S. (2013) Structural Colour: Why You Can’t Paint Iridescence [blog] [online]. Prospecting Patterns, Boston. Available at: https://prospectingpatterns.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/structural-color/ [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Salzburg Museum der Moderne (2016) Bildwitz und Zeitkritik [online]. Salzburg Museum der Moderne. Available at: http://www.museumdermoderne.at/de/ausstellungen/aktuell/details/mdm/bildwitz-und-zeitkritik/ [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Tan, T.L., Wong, D. and Lee, P. (2004) Iridescence of a shell of mollusk Haliotis Glabra [online]. Optics Express, Vol. 12, Issue 20, pp. 4847-4854. Available at: https://www.osapublishing.org/oe/fulltext.cfm?uri=oe-12-20-4847&id=81312 [Accessed 17 August 2016]