Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life with natural objects (step 2: testing background colours)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

25 April 2016. Last time I went to our local art supplier I bought some acrylic gloss medium, with I wanted to test during the course. This exercise is a good opportunity. Since my not too good experience when diluting my type of acrylic paint with water over the last three months made me look for alternatives. So I will use the gloss medium for that purpose this time and also test its finishing effect. The instructions include a warning that the application of too many layers of medium may cause fogging, so I will need to plan carefully.
The first tests on acrylic paper revealed an increase in transparency of the mix paint/medium. It was also much easier to spread the colour, although I still noticed large differences in layer thickness when using a flat brush. The only chance of getting a totally even layer was to apply a relatively diluted mix, which was then of course very light in tone and – something I need to be very careful to avoid – had hundreds of tiny bubbles enclosed, which would not disappear during the drying process. What I will do here is the same as with custard powder stirred into milk, which is wait a few minutes before using the mix.

27 April 2016. The results of my experiments are summarized in Fig. 1 below. First of all I prepared small areas of my acrylic paper with 3 mixes for a white background:

1. Paper only
2. Acrylic binder on its own
3. Acrylic binder with about the same amount of acrylic white mixed in
4. Acrylic white on its own

Next I prepared a mix of gold ochre and primary magenta to produce Sahara sand orange (or what I think it might look like during one of those golden sunsets) and mixed some white into half of that. Both of these I again mixed with acrylic binder at a 1:1 ratio. All these I then tried out on all of the above backgrounds, finding the following:

  1. On the paper only ground the undiluted colours left dry-looking edges, an effect I quite like. When mixed with binder, the dry edges were gone, the paint was easier to spread and the chroma was enhanced, particularly in the mix without white.
  2. Doing the same on the binder only background reduced the chroma of the binder-added mixes strongly and the difference between the mix with and without white disappeared altogether. The colour only mix had no dry edges and dried without a glossy sheen, i.e. not surprisingly the varnishing effect is blocked by a layer of paint on top of it.
  3. The ground consisting of binder and white appeared to enhance colour and tonal difference greatly in all the mixes.
  4.  Painting on white only ground the binder-added mixes appeared somewhat darker, Applying the colour only mix was accompanied with noticeably greater restistance.
  5. Applying a finishing layer of binder on the paint only areas did not increase brilliance in the same way as mixing binder directly into the paint – probably because the amount required for dilution was far greater than the ultra thin film I put on in my first attempt.
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Figure 1. Testing different backgrounds and mixes of acrylic colour and binder                          (explanation see text)

The above tests left me with a clear favourite for an indifferent ground layer, binder and acrylic white mixed 1:1. This I used to prepare the second half of the paper, then divided it up into triagles in the way I had selected from my photos taken in the previous step and experimented with different colours, colour and binder mixes and surface structures I thought suitable to represent sand, sea and volcanic rock (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Testing composition and colours for the background

Since my intention was to emphasize that these areas interact, since the above seemed a bit dull, because it was too symmetrical, because I was not satisfied with the edges and, more importantly, because the chosen colours would not provide enough contrast for my objects, I spent another hour or two changing tonal values and edges (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. New variant with changed tonal values and attention to edges

Later in the day I was going through a great number of screenshots I had taken during Drawing 1 and which had been sitting around on my computer’s desktop for a year to be cleared away. I came across one, whose origin unfortunately I cannot remember at this point, dealing with composition rules and there were, more or less, my triangles (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Some composition rules. Source: [n.k.]
This discovery helped me decide that I would use this background to work from and, to do a quick test, I placed my objects on the background (Fig. 5a-c):


From the above it is obvious that contrast will have to be enhanced further. My intention here is to get acquainted with the structure of my objects by drawing (ink, pencil, watercolour and/or similar) in the next step and to adapt the background only after successfully translating them into painted objects. I have an idea for this, which might look quite interesting if I succeed in making it visible, but that will have to wait a little longer.

 

 

 

 

Part 1, project 2, exercise 4: Monochrome studies

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

6 March, 2016. I am not sure why, but I found it very hard to make sense of the instructions to this exercise. Looking at the respective work of some of my student colleagues did not help either: In both paintings the ground can be a wash and in both I paint over that with a predominantly opaque layer. In both sheets, opaque and transparent paint need to work together. The only difference I can see is that in one case it is the background, which remains transparent if I choose this approach, in the other it is the tree. In particular I am unsure what to make of the sentences “Mix up a light grey and apply this to the shapes formed by branches … Modulate this grey as you move away … “. I guess that this instruction is meant to apply to both paintings, but if I paint over either the positive or negative representation of the tree, it will mean to cover up the only real difference between the two. Since I understood the goal of this exercise to compare opaque and transparent approaches to painting a tree, I decided to – for the moment – ignore the above instruction and wait for tutor feedback. I got ready choosing two sheets of acrylic paper and mixing a dark wintery colour by combining primary magenta, gold ochre and bluegreen, with white or water to be added where required.

7 March, 2016. Finished the two paintings today, having decided to paint the apricot tree in our garden, which is getting ready to grow its buds.
Here are the results. On top is the “positive” tree, which I decided to paint with relative coarse brush strokes on top of the light grey opaque ground in order to make visible the bark characteristic of this species (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. “Positive” tree: solid mix on top of opaque light grey ground

The dark wash prepared for the second part of the exercise I had to produce in two layers, otherwise it would not have been dark enough to compare to the solid colour in the first painting. I quite liked the brush strokes and decided to set them diagonally in order to emphasize the relative direction of growth of the tree (Fig. 2). Despite the help of charcoal it was not easy to reproduce the negative spaces correctly and I had to literally talk myself through the exercise. In a few places I painted over a twig, but most of it seems more or less correct.

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Figure 2. “Negative” tree: negative spaces painted with solid mix of light grey on dark semitransparent wash

I am unhappy with both paintings for the coarse approach to the subject, but again it may have been me misinterpreting the instructions.
Asked to assess the strengths and limitations of each technique I would – cautiously – assume that painting a positive object on a prepared ground will produce a more realistic feeling of space (object in front of background). The greater transparency of a background wash will most likely produce a more credible feeling of air, while a completely opaque background will suggest a dull day, probably in stifling weather. Also, I found that an object as complex as a tree is by far easier to paint positively. However, I like the effect produced by painting the negative spaces better. Probably due to my lack of practice in doing so the tree is more alive and seems to physically make contact with the air surrounding it. Since both paintings are silhouettes only, I am so far not able to compare the respective strengths of the two approaches regarding credible representations of trees.

What I also learned in this exercise was to be wary using acrylic paper. The “professional” paper I had bought rolls up in the most unfashionable way and is almost impossible to reshape. I had therefore to place a glass plate over the sheets in order to take the required photos and unfortunately could not get rid of all the reflections. Also, the colour is not quite correct and the brush strokes are hard to see. I will retake the photos if I am instructed to have another go at this exercise.

Part 1, project 2, exercise 3: Transparent and opaque – opaque colour mixing

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 March, 2016. The title of this exercise reminds me of a tough point we are, at the moment, trying to digest: the local legal authorities, which we have now contacted in the hope of a resolution we had hitherto been naive enough to believe to be accomplishable by talking to the hospital people and an out-of-court settlement, appear to, seemingly arbitrarily but no doubt with a goal in mind, select from and distort the crystal clear evidence we presented in the case of our son. It is like a painted story told in bright and transparent colours, which now becomes opaque and difficult to read by mixing in inappropriate paint. So I decided to use the skills learned in this exercise and the previous ones in this project to make an abstract painting telling the above story.

First however, I had to do the experiments mixing opaque colours. In order to try out the mixing technique described in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011, p. 37) I nicked a flower tray from my husband’s collection and used a palette knife and medium sized brush to achieve an even mix of paint (Fig. 1). While this worked relatively well I was not happy about the amount of paint required to make mixing possible in the first place. I therefore compared with my old “palette” and mixing by intuition: the first attempt (Fig. 2 below) using ultramarine I did with the new method, the bluegreen one (Fig. 3 below) with the old method. Since I think that the intuitive method works better for me, I will not, at least for the moment, use the tray.

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Figure 1. New mixing tray on the left
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Figure 2. Ultramarine opaque mixing using pre-mixed paint
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Figure 3. Bluegreen opaque mixing using intuitive method

The only immediately obvious differences to the transparent washes made during the first exercise were, on the one hand, a more even result, since I guess that paint is less readily absorbed by the paper than water, so there was more time to correct the transitions, and on the other hand, a more homogenous surface produced by the thicker layers of paint.

Next I prepared a bluegreen opaque layer and after that had become completely dry painted over that an ochre opaque layer. Here the difference was, as was to be expected, striking: The transparent wash allowed both colours to really stand out (Fig. 4, left), while the large proportion of white paint in the opaque mix subdued the colours (Fig. 4, right). The result has more body, however. It may therefore be possible to paint a form using opaque mixes and then go over the result with glazes of the same colours. This, if done correctly, should allow the creation of quite stunning representational paintings.

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Figure 4. Bluegreen-ochre mixes: left: transparent washes, right: opaque layers

In order to see whether it would make a difference to the result, if I did not let the first layer to become dry first, I prepared another sheet using ultramarine and pure yellow. Although the first layer was definitely wet at the time of painting over it, the addition of white to the yellow layer nearly blocked out the ultramarine (Fig. 5). A wet-in-wet technique using this set of media and supports may therefore not be achievable.

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Figure 5. Wet-in-wet opaque mixing of ultramarine and pure yellow

In order to see whether leaving out the white from an opaque mixing would cure the above effect, I had another go at vermillion and sap green (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Vermillion and sap green mixes: left: transparent wash, right: opaque mixing without white

It was immediately obvious that for some reason the vermillion in the opaque mix somehow “lost the battle” against the sap green. Only at the far end of the sheet, where I used vermillion only it started to radiate. As long as there was any green in the mix, no matter how little, it would become olive green. The transparent wash, on the other hand, retained the brilliance of the individual colours except for a central band, where the mix would appear grey. I am not sure whether in this case the opaque and transparent mixes would go well together. It seems as if there were excluded combinations and I will try and find out why.

Finally, returning to my initial thoughs for this exercise, I produced my legal authorities painting using bluegreen and gold ochre. I used, for the first time in my life, acrylic paper, put on some parallel strips of masking tape, painted over that with a transparent wash of bluegreen (as in exercise 1). After this had become dry, I removed the tape (damaging the paper in the process as some of the surface came off with the tape, but made it more interesting that way) and put on some more tapes at a 90° angle. Over this I painted another transparent layer, this time using ochre. This I left to dry, then started experimenting with opaque layers. When these had become dry again, I put on transparent washes to see how the different mixes would behave (Fig. 7):


There were many different interesting effects, but the best in my opinion was the blue ball (Fig. 8). The final glazing with a very dilute wash of ochre produced a beautiful, vivid sheen, which had not been there while it had just been an opaque mix of bluegreen and white. Interestingly, the opposite, the ochre and white opaque ball glazed with bluegreen was not nearly as successful. I will have to remember this effect and do more testing of appropriate colours throughout the course.

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Figure 8. Bluegreen and white opaque ball glazed with transparent wash of gold ochre

References:

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 37.