Assignment 4: “Claustrophobia”

Updated on 23 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

20 November 2016. In order to make it for cut-off I decided that I would need to start working on my assignment alongside the remaining exercises for this part.

The requirement is a large format. I will go for the largest support I have at home to fit the portfolio (60 x 90 cm grey carton). The landscape will be totally imaginary again and I will try and paint an extensive river gorge/cave in the rough painting-knife style I discovered to work well for me in one of the previous exercises (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a).

22 November 2016. Last night I went in my head through my personal spontaneous reactions when hearing the term “claustrophobia”, and what first appeared as an image in my head was that of a cave diver getting stuck with his oxygen cylinders in one of the rocky tunnels. So maybe this is a pointer for closing around, so to speak, my river gorge theme.
While leaving my last sketch and background for the exercise I am working on at the moment to dry, I embarked on some additional research considering the term “claustrophobia”, so that I would not base all my planning on the overwhelmig feeling of mental overload I have at the moment. I was particularly interested in approaches by different artists. Many works of art are interpreted as being “claustrophobic” by the art world, although they do not explicitly address the phenomenon as main subject of the work. The person shown in Expressionist Edvard Munch’s (1863-1944, Norway) “The Scream” for example is interpreted by others as showing a claustrophobic reaction (Bolton, 2013, p. unavailable), while Munch himself explained his inspiration thus: “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.” (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013) (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. Edvard Munch: “The Scream”, 1893, oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard. Source: Edvard Munch (1863-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
When entering the search term “claustrophobia” into my browser, it became immediately obvious that there does exist a need of visually transporting this feeling. There are many similar ideas, with persons trapped in tiny, bare, box-shaped spaces with no way out. Many of them with outstretched arms or arms crossed very tightly across the chest, as if trying to make the space (outside or inside the body) larger and/or avoid for it to get even smaller, see e.g. a collection of related images on Pinterest (Pinterest, n.d.(a)). Many of them do not feel related to what I am looking for, but the eighth photo down on Graphics Think Tank (2011) probably gets close to what I need. It appears as if there are many different kinds of claustrophobia, some of real places, some of real people, some of unavoidable overwhelming situations. And I will have to be very careful, because obviously the subject is a playground also of the horror movie gang.

24 November 2016. Maybe better to follow my own idea, especially since I do not want a person at the centre of this picture, but the landscape. A claustrophobic landscape, basically, is one that provides too little space for the person entering it. If I want this effect to work for everybody, I will need to employ strong signals, e.g. abnormally low ceilings in a cave. Today I came across the work of Ted Pim (*?, Ireland), who draws his inspiration from the Old Masters, but takes his dark subjects into abandoned buildings. What I found especially haunting at first sight was the location of one of his outdoor murals, “Bass Brewery” (Pinterest, n.d.(b)). Looking further for “claustrophobic landscape” I found the work of American concept artist and illustrator Jack Gallagher and his small series called “Obstructions” (Gallagher, 2016), which composition-wise comes close to where I want to get, although mine would be somewhat more complex.

However, while watching this short video documenting attempts at entering a cave via an impossibly narrow crack in the rock (Bennett, 2012), I kept thinking that I am looking in the wrong places. For me it is probably not so much the fear of getting stuck, but the fear of not being able to breathe. And this finally takes me to where I really need to be in this assignment. It is all about an operation I had when I was six years old. It was no spectacular operation, just having my nasal polyps removed, because until then I had been able to breathe through my mouth only. Back then, 44 years ago, it seems to have been common still to get etherised. At least this was what I got, black face mask pressed hard on my nose and mouth, sick, sick feeling of suffocating, wanting to scream and kick with my arms and legs only to be held down by doctors and nurses, taking ages (several minutes in fact) to fall asleep with operation theatre going round and round in dark circles. Just now I found a detailed German language article describing exactly my own experience to the smallest detail (Zimmer, n.d.). It is basically a trauma, which left me with horrible nausea every time I smell ether or related substances and an intense fear of places, situations and stressful experiences, where there might not be enough oxygen.
So I need a really tight place to transport the feeling. Like this (Vela, n.d.).

26 November 2016. I decided that the best way to proceed would be initially to produce several spontaneous large-scale (A2) charcoal sketches while trying to invoke the traumatising situation from the operation. Here comes the result of the first round, experimenting with an imaginary cave, which suggests a way out, but which by the looks of it is agonizingly narrow. The rock I want to feel heavy, but smooth, without too many sharp points and cracks, because this is what the increasing paralysis provoked by the ether felt like. While drawing it was difficult for me to breathe, so this approach is probably not far from what I need. Interestingly, the drawing worked in all directions (looking somewhat like a coloscopy image :o)) and I compared them for their relative properties (Fig. 1-4):

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Figure 1
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Figure 2
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Figure 3
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Figure 4

The second version was my favourite, since it appeared to provide the greatest resistance to leaving the cave, but I will have to increase the stifling feeling inside the hall. It is too spacious yet. So I produced another large-scale charcoal sketch on the basis of the former and tried to make the interior feel tight, with the way out near-blocked several times, while the sky is clearly visible (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5

Although the cave is not as dark as I would have liked it to be, the arrangement seems believable. Guessing from the chosen eye-level the size of the nearest crack is probably too narrow for anyone but the slimmest persons to fit through without squeezing. In addition, there is no way of telling whether the path behind that obstacle would not be narrow, too. The making of the cave was a very enjoyable experience (apart from indeed feeling claustrophobic), because the charcoal allowed whatever change came into my mind with absolute ease. It would incorporate any previous layers, which had looked completely different at various stages of developing the drawing. Overall I like the way the daylight falls into the cave with the innermost speck of light more or less mirroring the “window” to freedom.

27 November 2016. With this working setup tested for effectiveness on my husband (“I don’t like this, I cannot breathe.”), I started on the next step of the project. In my expectation the choice of colours would play an essential role. I would need a colour standing for freedom (a light blue most likely) to enter the cave to meet a combination of colours, which suggest a suffocating atmosphere. The latter for me always comes with a substance present in the air (ether!), so I went to have a look at the chemical properties of diethyl ether (University of California, n.d.). It is a colourless liquid with a boiling point of 34.6 °C. So it might be reasonable to assume that some (colourless) haze might be visible in the darker parts of the cave to support the message. The light falling into the cave could be made visible in “dusty” rays. I will first test this effect (haze plus light) to see if it would increase or decrease the primary effect. Apart from that I will try and apply intense colour only in areas exposed to the light from outside, the rest of the cave should remain as in the charcoal above, maybe in a warm dark grey in order to make the presence of haze believable (somewhat higher air temperature near cave entrance).

28 November 2016. After having tested a few painted thumbnail sketches with two warm (grey, brown) and cold (violet and blue) versions of the cave, I decided that I would stick with the brown version, because it is much easier to create a believable stifling atmosphere in a seemingly warm environment. Also I had the impression, when comparing the cold variants, that these colours tended to “push me out” of the cave, while the warmer ones “wanted to keep me in”, so to speak. The paper in my sketchbooks unfortunately is not ideal for loose painting, despite priming the paper tends to come off in tiny flakes and the colours grow dim while drying (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Sketchbook – testing colours

Next I tested how to reproduce the sunlight inside the cave (Fig. 7):

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Figure 7. Sketchbook – testing the painting of rays of sunlight against a dark background

28 and 29 November 2016. I prepared a mix of dark brown, primary cyan, primary magenta, gold ochre and white to produce a warm grey tone. With this I painted a uniform background on a 60 x 90 cm grey carton, then proceeded through several stages to produce the cave. It took a large number of correcting steps in order to create believable lighting conditions inside the cave and an arrangement of rocks, which would cause the required “closed-in” feeling. In the end I found that with this painting it was crucially important to always align my eye-level with the intended size of the cave. A few centimetres out would immediately cause the volume of the cave to “grow” and thus “widen” the way out.
Here are some of the stages (Fig. 8-12):

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Figure 8
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Figure 9
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Figure 10
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Figure 11
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Figure 12

After having finished the main painting, I found it difficult to determine whether I would be able to include the sunlight and haze interplay as intended. The viewpoint is slightly outside the cone of light, so it might be possible to see some of it, but I was not sure whether it would add to the atmosphere. So I left the painting to dry and returned a few hours later.
Here is the finished piece with the added sunrays. I noticed that extremely good lighting conditions are required for the colours to come out properly, but overall I am quite happy with the result (Fig. 13):

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Figure 13. Finished painting

For a detailed analysis of the finished painting please see my self-assessment report (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) posted separately.

References:

Art Institute of Chicago (2013) Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety and Myth: Quick Facts: Munch’s The Scream [online] Available at: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Munch/resource/171 [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Bennett, L. (2012) Tight Squeeze at Deep Cave [online]. Lee Bennett, [n.k.], 21 August. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAY-t32vyds [Accessed 24 November 2016]

Bolton, R. (2013) A Brief History of Painting: 2000 BC to AD2000 [online]. Hatchette Book Group, UK. Available at: https://books.google.at/books?id=eSKeBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT334&lpg=PT334&dq=expressionism+claustrophobia+painting&source=bl&ots=MM_e0wfahx&sig=OdJWIrqpYnRN_plpBuRnhNViW5o&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwij9b6SiLzQAhXDvBQKHXRyD2sQ6AEIJzAC#v=onepage&q=munch%20claustrophobia&f=false [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Gallagher, J. (2016) 5 Obstructions [blog] [online]. Jack Gallagher, [n.k.], 1 March. Available at: https://jackgallagherart.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/5-obstructions/ [Accessed 24 November 2016]

Graphics Think Tank (2011) 200+ Adorable Examples of Surreal Photography
[blog] [online]. Graphics Think Tank, [n.k.]. Available at: http://graphicthinktank.blogspot.co.at/2011/09/200-adorable-examples-of-surreal.html [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Part 4, project 3, exercise 1: Expressive landscape – creating mood and atmosphere [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 17 November. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/part-4-project-3-exercise-1-expressive-landscape-creating-mood-and-atmosphere/ [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Assignment 4: Self-evaluation [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 29 November.
Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/assignment-4-self-evaluation/ [Accessed 29 November 2016]

Munch, E. (1893) The Scream [oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard] [online]. National Gallery, Oslo. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Scream.jpg [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Pinterest (n.d.(a)) Claustrophobia and Other Things Of Fear and Anxiety
[image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/charlescooper18/claustrophobia-and-other-things-of-fear-and-anxiet/ [Accessed 20 November 2016]

Pinterest (n.d.(b)) Old Bass Brewery, Belfast, 2009 [mural] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=ted%20pim%20brewery&rs=typed&term_meta%5B%5D=ted%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=pim%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=brewery%7Ctyped [Accessed 24 November 2016]

University of California (n.d.) Standard Operating Procedures: Diethyl Ether [online]. University of California, Berkeley. Available at: http://www.cchem.berkeley.edu/rsgrp/SOPs2013/DiethylEther_Sarpong.pdf  [Accessed 27 November 2016]

Vela, C.M. (n.d) Cave Explorer [photograph] [online]. Cristian Mihai Vela, Caransebes. Available at: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-cave-explorer-image19113302 [Accessed 24 November 2016]

Zimmer, J. ( n.d.) Die Entstehung und Therapie von posttraumatischen Belastungsstörungen [lecture script] [online]. Available at: http://www.joerg-c-zimmer.de/57.html [Accessed 24 November 2016]

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Part 4, project 1, exercise 2: From inside looking out: Hard or soft landscape

Updated on 19 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

27 October 2016. In this exercise I would like to revisit the things I learned when investigating thermal imaging during Part 3 of this course and carry them over to capture the mood of my chosen landscape.

First I started a mini series of sketches looking through the gaps of park benches. The “landscape” of natural and man-made materials one can find under a bench tells a lot about the people who use that bench, but after a few instances I found that the view would be too 2-dimensional for the purpose of this exercise. I might come back to it at a later point during Part 4 or as part of my personal project in Part 5.

To be honest I am no soft landscape person and I very much enjoy the rough aspect of rocky mountains and cityscapes. In preparation for this exercise I did something dangerous and totally irresponsible, I had my camera with me and took a series of pictures of our city while driving home from my son’s school. There is a major crossroads next to our favourite hospital, where the most prominent feature is a circular landing platform for helicopters on the roof of the emergency department and the very best view on that is from the car. This view is what I wanted to try in this exercise.

First I produced two sketches, one watercolour, the other acrylic (Fig. 1-2):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – hospital crossroads, watercolour
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – hospital crossroads, acrylics

29 October 2016. After my two  preliminary sketches I decided that for the final painting I would try and stay with the rough mark-making, since it reflects the ephemeral impression I gained while driving, and carefully plan the introduction of colours corresponding to those associated with thermographic imaging.

But first a little research into contemporary art of a similar kind.
“Cityscapes” appear to be a favourite subject for countless artists, but I noticed that many of them are quite ugly, so I had to do some very thorough research in order to find what I was looking for. An overview over the history of the genre (Fernández, n.d.) traces the origin of the genre to Ancient Greece and Rome, where some very beautiful mural paintings prove its existence at the time. The changing styles in cityscape painting over the centuries reflect those found in all other genres, so that again everything has become possible in our time. Interestingly, the preferred subject – by far – appears to be New York on a rainy day and the next in the list is Venice on a sunny day, which always makes me wonder why. There are as many great views in our world as there are places to look from, but I guess that not everybody connects with everything in the same way.
An Austrian artist specialising in cityscapes – Venice mostly – who I have come across quite a lot in the book section of my favourite art shop is “Voka” (*1965), who created this own style named “spontaneous realism” (Voka, 2011). Although I do not feel comfortable with his prolific use of colour, I like his mark-making and hope to be able to introduce some of that into my own work, together with the beautiful handling of light using broad brushstrokes by Hsin Yao Tseng (*1986, Taiwan/USA) (Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara) (Fig. 3). So off to testing the effect of this sort of brushstrokes.

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – printout of Hsin Yao Tseng “Bush Street in the Mist” to serve as help with testing loose brushwork

I soon found that in my sketchbook I would not be able to reproduce brushstrokes like that, not least because acrylic paint, no matter how good the quality, tends to level out the texture of any support with an increasing number of layers. Also for me the 25 x 25 cm format is simply too small to work in such a rough way – maybe this will come with time and practice. And in addition, which is probably the main reason, the street and houses below came straight from my head with no intention of creating a painting at all. Most importantly, I failed to be “consistently rough” by never gaining true control over my brushstrokes (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Sketchbook – a meagre attempt at loose and accurate brushstrokes

The difficulties I encountered, however, were valuable hints for the preparation of my finished painting. Especially, I realized that I would need to feel the exact colour and place of every single brushstroke with care. My plan therefore was to find a largish glass plate, on which I could prepare the mixes I wanted to use. It is also immensely important to have a good idea of the wateriness of my mixes, because this has an immediate effect on the transparency and reaction with the dry paint underneath. Once the underlying layers are smooth throughout I find that a watery dilution will cause puddles of paint to form in any small dent in the paper – see last floor of small building on the left. It is fine if intentional, but not so if I want to create the illusion of an intact building. In Hsin’s painting above the roughness never leaves an impression of desolation. The buildings appear to be in very good shape despite the deceivingly careless use of colour. Mine on the other had appear to be crumbling without the “carelessness”. A weird effect. Need to find out while working on my finished painting for this exercise.

1 November 2016. I prepared the glass plate for mixing colours and found it wonderfully easy to use and clean (finally a working solution!) (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. My glass plate for mixing paint (nearly invisible on my table)

Next I started on the background for my final painting (A2 painting carton), intending to have some thermographic components to be included in the composition (Fig. 6-7):

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Figure 6. Preparing the background (1)
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Figure 7. Preparing the background (2)

3 November 2016. At first I found it immensely difficult to slow down and explore mark-making. Only when I had a relatively good idea regarding my choice of colours and after several background layers I was able to use the intended marks. Maybe this is the secret behind it all – have a decent working composition, then add the final marks. This is also what Hsin’s painting looks like.
Here is the long sequence for the last three days (but not quite there yet) (Fig. 8-12):

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Figure 8
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Figure 9
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Figure 10
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Figure 11

And this was where I felt that I was able to start loosening up:

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Figure 12

Here finally are some of the marks I was after, wanting to use them throughout the painting (Fig. 13):

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Figure 13. Finally some purposeful loose mark-making

5 November 2016. That was the idea, anyway. I should have known that I would not be able to remain focused on consistent mark-making, the format was too large for me. But it was the first time ever that I felt in absolute connection with what I did, and I enjoyed every bit of those few square centimetres. This I will try and remember throughout the rest of the course and always.
Here come the final two stages of the painting (Fig. 14-15):

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Figure 14
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Figure 15. Finished painting

So, overall, I am happy about some important discoveries made. Also, the mood of the place is about right, I wanted it to feel both real and at the same time disconnected in an eerie, somewhat threatening way. Not not so pleased with the technical aspects, however, especially the erratic mark-making and failing to capture the ephemeral quality of the impression. This came about, probably, because I wanted too many things at the same time.

References:

Fernández, G. (n.d.) Painting the City: The History of Cityscapes [online]. theArtWolf.com online art magazine, [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.theartwolf.com/articles/cityscape-painting.htm [Accessed 29 October 2016]

Voka (2011) Venezia – Auf der Suche nach dem perfekten Bild [online]. Voka, Puchberg am Schneeberg. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PG8Qrxjlrw [Accessed 29 October 2016]

Waterhouse Gallery (n.d.) Hsin-Yao Tseng [online]. Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara. Available at: http://www.waterhousegallery.com/City%20Light.html [Accessed 29 October 2016]

 

 

Part 2, project 4, exercise 2: Drawing and painting interiors – simple perspective in interior studies

Updated on 3 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

23 June 2016. As planned during the last exercise I chose the garage view on our barbecue and the cupboard behind it and produced an elongated drawing with a dark green mix of brown and blue-green acrylic modulated with white and black. Since there were nearly two weeks between the start and the end of this exercise, with lots of doctors’ and hospital appointments and one of my oldest friends, from Iceland, staying for nearly a week, I did not completely immerse into this task. Still I am not unhappy with it. The view is quite complex with lots of shelves and so I was glad to have chosen a quasi monochrome option. What I really like in the finished drawing is the way the barbecue both shines and stands out from the rest of the room despite having been drawn with nothing but bold strokes. I could have spent a lot more time on this exercise, but I think that the main layout, shapes and proportions are fine, and also I will need the next days to concentrate on Assignment 2 to avoid having to ask for an extension. Here is the sequence (Fig. 1-3:

I think that I managed to indicate clearly the direction of the light source (daylight coming in from an invisible door just to the right of the cupboard). What I noticed just now, when putting the photos in this blog, was that the shadow cast by the wheel of the barbecue at the back is not believable. It looks as if it did not touch the floor. Also two weak shadows cast by the garden hose on the floor are missing, but they would be important to define floor space. Maybe I will come back to this drawing/painting when preparing for assessment next year.

By the way, when having had a preparatory look at the blogs of fellow OCA students doing this exercise I admired the beautiful solution found by fellow student Stuart Brownlee (2014). Trying not to be envious :o).

References:

Brownlee, S. (2014) Part 2 – Exercise 15: simple perspective in interior studies [blog] [online]. Available at: https://stuartbrownleeoca.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/part-2-exercise-15-simple-perspective-in-interior-studies/ [Accessed 3 March 2017]

Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 2: finished painting)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

10 May 2016. Much happier with this exercise than with the previous two. I have learned from them, changed back to using water only to dilute my paint and painting on an A2 painting carton rather than acrylic paper.
The study guide requires me to comment on a list of aspects, which I will deal with first to then add a photo sequence with some additional thoughts.

1. Planning and working methods

During the last three exercises I finally discovered the sequence of steps required from preliminary research regarding artists and styles, to a selective choice and well-thought-out positioning and lighting of objects. I have now switched from making sketches on larger-scale paper to such in my sketchbook, which results in a much more coherent story and easy reference while creating the actual painting. This time, for the first time ever, I sat down while painting and I found that extremely useful in case of a  still life. However, I have not yet found an ideal place to put the arrangement, which would at the same time allow a comfortable working position with access to daylight. I will probably have to buy a higher than normal table or board for the purpose (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1: The workplace

2. Choice of format/scale

I spent some time arranging my objects and found that with the most successful setup a portrait format would work far better than a landscape format. The last two exercises I had been experimenting on smaller scale acrylic paper and found this awkward to work with. I prefer larger sizes from A2 upwards, because I tend to paint with a mix of bold strokes with some detail added and found that I was unable to do that on smaller sized supports. This meant scaling up my objects to about two to three times their actual size, which had the positive side effect that smaller details could be added with confidence.

3. Composition

Initially I was not too happy with the composition, since I am not a typical still life painter, but the longer I worked on the actual painting the more I liked what I got. I think that it contains a pleasing mix of materials in positions which allows the viewer’s eye to wander without effort, while not totally devoid of a story.

4. Colour interest

I think that the mix of subdued greys and browns provided by both the piece of driftwood and the blocks of wood went well together with the metallic hues (brushed cool grey stainless steel salt cellar and pepper caster, polished warm grey spoon) and the plastic egg cup, whose colours were complementary. I tried to paint shaded areas using the colours of the respective objects mixed with my background mix of dark brown, bluegreen and a little black in case where there was deep shade.

5. Use of tonal contrast

Careful planning of the lighting conditions allowed strong shadows stand in contrast with a series of areas of lighter tonal values. I took care to cross-check relative tonal values across the whole canvas.

6. Paint handing

I came to appreciate very much the advice of using a coloured background to start with. It is far easier to work out tonal differences from a background, which is not white. Form the lessons learnt during the last two exercises I kept spraying water on my palette at intervals. I tried to produce strong and at the same time loose marks with a larger size flat brush as e.g. in the piece of driftwood, which went surprisingly well. Keeping in mind what I had seen in the work of Cathleen Rehfeld (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), I went over the background with lighter shades of the background mix, painting around the objects in a loose manner and tried to leave some of the dark to define outlines, where I thought it would create a believable addition to the description of an object’s characteristics.

The following photos were quite difficult to take, I did not find a place in our house and even outside where I could avoid all reflections, so unfortunately some areas on the canvas appear foggy (Fig. 2a-b, Fig. 3a-b).


Today I finished the exercise and am quite happy with the result (Fig. 4, Fig. 5a-b):

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Figure 4. Finished painting, acrylics on A2 painting carton


An important aspect I noticed with the use of acrylic paint is the fact that with my set of standard quality paint the colour of the prepared mix on the palette has nothing to do with the colour of the wet paint applied to the canvas (unless in very thick layers), but interestingly when dry the paint will return more or less to what was mixed. This was extreme with my background mix, which looked dark green when applied, but would dry to turn back to the pleasant dark brown-grey hue mixed. When mixed with white, however, the greenish hue remained. This I used to modify the background according to the different lighting conditions and was very happy with the effect.

Regarding the relative success of each of the exercises in this project I am not really able to compare them due to the problems I caused myself by introducing gloss medium in the second exercise. I think, however, that the third painting is by far the best regarding the choice of subject and execution through the various stages. This is the most intense phase of learning I have had for a very long time and I am pleased that I was able to come through with such a large gain.

Asked to revisit Assignment 1 there is not a lot I would have done differently. I like the viewpoint and idea behind the painting. What I would do completely differently now, however, is the painting of the flower-heads. I remember that each of them was done in a different way as a reaction to a more or less accidental application of paint and when looking closely the different sequences of opaque and transparent layers is quite obvious. If I had to do it again, I would do some preliminary experiments with the layering of paint in translucent objects and then try to work in a consistent way across the whole bouquet.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first sketches) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/part-2-project-2-exercise-4-still-life-with-man-made-objects-step-1-preliminary-thoughts-choice-of-objects-and-first-sketches/ [Accessed 26 February 2017]

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 2, project 2, exercise 1: Still life – drawing in paint (step 3: finished painting)

Updated on 22 Fwebruary 2017 (Harvard referencing).

21 April 2016. Going through the steps to finish my painting of the water tap was enlightening in various ways. I will show the steps in the following photos and discuss the problems (and solutions, if there were any):

  1. Mixing the colours
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Figure 1. Mixing the chosen colours

We have some giant aubergine-coloured tiles in our bathroom and I wanted this hue to be the dominant element in my painting. Referring to my grey ground with the mixing experiments I chose the combination that had given the aubergine colour. It was Naphthol red deep (a red with some yellow in it) and primary blue (cyan). With this as a basis I added some more primary yellow to achieve something like a neutral mix – the greyish brown stuff in the centre of my tray (above). I think that I was relatively successful in mixing the hues I wanted (Fig. 1 above), but I find increasingly that my tray has huge disadvantages. I noticed that despite the comparatively liquid brand of paint I use (Amsterdam standard series), I need a fair amount of water to make the paint “paintable” at all, especially when using a soft hair brush to create lines. What I have been doing so far is to use a spray can to cover the whole tray in a film of water now and then. This means that the water accumulates along the edges and between the heaps of paint and will, if I am not careful, mix in with all colours. Sometimes I think this is desirable, because I like to use “dirty” colours, i.e. such that are not straight from the tube. In some cases however this means having to choose the correct hues with great care from the centre of a blob of paint. Consequently I bought some proper plastic palettes with deep wells now in addition to my tray and am thinking of trying out different makes of paint.

2. Drawing

Regarding the linear quality of the chosen subject I found the contrast interesting between the fittings, which are mostly defined by line, including the reflections, and the large surface area of the bath itself.
The neutral colour I had prepared I used to draw with on a longish nearly A2 acrylic paper. I instantly noticed that I had forgotten to prepare my paper with a background layer. Consequently the drawing was a bit awkward and much less fluent than my usual marks. I also got some of the sizes and positions wrong and had to correct them, something that rarely happens to me when drawing with pencil or ink pen.
The vertical pencil line visible on the right in the photo below was there to define the edge of the finished painting. The superfluous strip of paper I cut off right at the end of the exercise. This idea I used to counteract my mind, which I knew would attempt to avoid letting the hose travel off the paper and back on again by distorting the view so as to fit the whole thing in anyway (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Drawing the objects with a neutral mix of paint and a fine hair brush


3. Putting in colour


I then began filling in the chosen colours (Fig. 3a-c above), all of them mixed from my original aubergine plus primary yellow mix, by adding white, more primary blue or a little bit of black. My neutral colour was extremely dominant and it took me a while and a few layers of additional paint to correct the mistakes I had made drawing the objects. Since I had not realized that this might become a problem I had not taken enough care drawing the original lines. This I will have to remember for the exercises and assignments to come. If in a large part of my painting the hue will be light, I will need to draw my first lines with a light mix. At the end of this series I noticed that in attempting to cover the wrong lines defining the curvature of the hose my bath had become far too dark, while the lines were still visible under two or three undiluted layers of paint. I then decided that I would need to be more generous with the amount of paint to form the correcting layer on the bath.
The form of the fish I first added using a violet hue made up from the above pigment. Only much later I mixed some bright pink from primary magenta and white, a hue which was new to the selection and which I hoped would serve in a believable way as contrast and small eyecatcher in the composition.

4. Correcting the colours and lines

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Figure 4. The finished painting

23 April 2016. Apart from a strange effect visible on the rim of the bath, where the different lighting conditions to the left and right of the fittings give an impression of a break in the direction of the rim I think that I managed to get the lines more or less right. I tried to correct the rim several times, but found that in order to achieve a noticeable change the painting over the older layers would have to be done with a degree of precision, which my combination of paint and fine hair brush would not allow. So, while overall I am happy with the linear aspects of the painting, I will need a different approach and better technique regarding the use of layers of paint in larger areas, especially if the hue is near white.

However, I seem to have a problem regarding the correct amount of water required in order to allow my acrylic paint to be distributed on the paper evenly. No matter how long I mix water and paint, and no matter what type of brush I use, I will always get a highly variable mark, part of which is strong and opaque, while the rest is so transparent that it appears to be almost non-existent. I will therefore try other makes of paint and see whether the problem persists. In some way, on the other hand, I like these characteristics, because they force me to use paint in a rather more crude way than I would opt for if I had a choice. Although the surface of the bath is nowhere like the real thing, I think that the difference in texture between bath and fittings looks interesting. It also forced me to rethink the way I wanted to depict the shadow thrown by the hose. I tried a relatively bright blue and a strong geometrical outline and I am happy with the effect, although of course, since it was not planned when starting the picture, it is inconsistent over the whole painting.

On the side: While browsing videos on common beginners’ mistakes I came across an important hint on youtube regarding the diluting of acrylic paint with water: Apparently, the using of more than 30% of water may cause “underbinding” of the pigment on a primed canvas. This may result in the eventual flaking off of a diluted background. It was strongly recommended to use airbrush medium instead. However, if used on watercolour paper or any other non-primed surface the problem does not occur (Theberge, 2014).

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Figure 5. Detail: Plastic fish on the rim
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Figure 6. Detail: Reflections on the fittings

The problems I encountered made me realise that unless it is the goal of an exercise it does not matter if I do not use the correct colour the first time. I can always change it by adding additional layers. If the layers are somewhat transparent, the shining through of older layers may add luminosity to the surface. And importantly, something which I learned by looking at painters from impressionism until today, the real colours of an object may lose their importance as the painting develops. There are no limits whatsoever in changing them in all sorts of interesting ways.

What I am quite pleased with is the overall composition of the painting. I made the test I did while researching the famous Dutch still life paintings. By covering up parts of it I believe that I can see both the tasks each part fulfills and the lines of communication between the different objects. In this exercise both the fish and plughole, for example, seem to work like anchor points. By creating an invisible line between them, which to my feeling travels through the air between the two, they help to emphasize space where otherwise there would be a more or less two-dimensional area.

The more I come to think about it, the more I realise how valuable this particular exercise is for me in developing my skills as a painter. There is so much in it to learn that I am planning to come back to it throughout the course every time I am starting a new project.

References:

Theberge, M. (2013) Worst Mistake Acrylic Painters Make [online]. Michele Theberge. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKNpKUK4lMc [Accessed 23 April 2016]

Part 2, project 1, exercises 1 to 3: mixing greys and colours

Updated on 20 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

12 April 2016. Since the exercises on mixing colours are intimately connected, I waited until I had completed all of them in order to write a summary of the experience, which, as has been noticed by a number of fellow students before, required the input of
enormous amounts of paint and time. In return it gave a growing understanding of the nature of colour and, in the case of some of the experiments, a near-meditative peace of mind.

Exercise 1: Mixing greys – anachromatic scale

Since I had no previous experience whatsoever regarding the proportions of white and black needed in producing a sensible number of steps for the above scale, I started ever so carefully, adding only minute quantities of black each time. This resulted in a relatively impressive 64 shades in total (see Fig. 1 below). At the dark end of the scale the differences are unfortunately very difficult to see in the photo. With my limited knowledge of photo editing I made things not much better, but in nature there is a continuous darkening visible. Interestingly, I went through three cycles of mixing in black and adding to the darker end of the scale before my eyes/brain would agree that NOW there was a real difference to the shades put on before. When, in the end, looking at the result, the scale went smootly from white to black.

Achromatic_mixing_11042016
Figure 1. Anachromatic scale using ivory black, 64 steps

Taking two small pieces of paper with neutral grey and placing them on both ends of the scale as advised in the study guide, revealed that the same tone looks darker near white than near black (Fig. 2a and 2 b below). According to Chevreul’s idea that the brain tends to exaggerate differences in tone in order to allow a clear differentiation – see my previous post on Chevreul’s colour theory (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). I assume that probably the real differences may be less prominent on both ends of the scale.


The neutral grey produced in the above exercise I then used to prepare an A2-sized ground on acrylic paper. Despite having assumed that I had mixed my grey very thoroughly I noticed differences in tone across the ground. So I made a mental note that it would be necessary to work extremely thoroughly with totally clean tools to achieve acceptable results during the exercises to follow.
It took me two whole days to complete the experiments below and left me with literally kilograms of little heaps of mixed paint. Since I have no use for them in the near future it will mean having to discard them with mixed feelings. So I took a souvenir photo of the lot (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. Leftover colour mixes

The following photo shows an overview of the colour mixing exercises (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Results of the colour mixing exercises


Exercise 2: Primary and secondary colour mixing

To be honest, I am the owner of only a few hues of acrylic paint. I like mixing and I have accumulated some intuitive experience in decades of watercolour painting. Of course, there are some important differences when mixing acrylic paint when compared to watercolour, in particular the source of white mainly as paper white in the one case, and white pigment in the other.
So here is my modest selection of primary colours (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. My primary colours

In the case where I had only two hues of a colour (yellow and red) swapping their positions had no effect regarding the perceived relative tone, but in my opinion it does make a difference to the story told by the hues, tiny as it may be, when reading from light to dark or vice versa. With the blues, however, the primary blue (cyan) looks lighter when placed between two darker colours (ultramarine and bluegreen in my case) than when it sits to the side of the darker hues. The most intense hues of the above were primary red, Naphthol red deep and primary blue (cyan), so I used these in the following mixing experiments (Fig. 6):

7_Mixing_primary_colours_12042016
Figure 6. Primary colour mixing: top – yellow to red, middle – yellow to blue, bottom – red to blue

The first thing I noticed when comparing the three sets of scales was that identical handling does not produce scales of equal length. While the change from yellow to red was achieved comparatively quickly and the mixes on the red side of the scale look relatively similar (not only on the photo but also in reality), the change from yellow to blue produced an enormous variety of clearly different greenish hues. I even ran out of paper at the end of the scale and had to stop it more abruptly than intended. The mix between red and blue produced did produce some of the murky dark mix mentioned in the study guide, although I would rate some of the hues towards the blue end of the scale as something like violet.
Still, testing other combinations of blue and red in order to make more believable violets gave the following results (Fig. 7). The photo, unfortunately, does not faithfully reproduce the hues especially in the top row, but the most convincing results came from primary magenta mixed with primary blue (bottom row).

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Figure 7. Mixing violets: top – Naphthol red deep and ultramarine, middle – primary magenta and ultramarine, bottom – primary magenta and primary blue

The most time and paint-demanding experiments of this exercise were those aimed at mixing secondary colours in the above manner but trying to keep tonal values constant. I continued mixing in the second colour plus white until the hue of the white+colour mix was the same as the original second pigment. A whole day was devoted to the following three scales (Fig. 8):

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Figure 8. Mixing secondary colours while keeping tonal values constant: top – yellow to red, middle: yellow to blue, bottom: red to blue

The first thing to mention here is that I may have misinterpreted the instructions. I don’t know whether I may have been required to mix in some white with the starting primary colour, too. I did not and in the case of yellow as starting colour this meant that I had to add ten times the amount of white, and sometimes far more, with each tiny blob of secondary colour in order to keep tonal values constant. This also meant discarding enormous amount of paint each time I started another hue. Interestingly, the same effect was not noticeable after two thirds of the red to blue scale. There were 12 steps in the scale and no white had to be added after step 8. I have no valid explanation for the phenomenon yet, but maybe the red in this case has a slightly darker tonal value than the blue, so when having got rid of the difference by mixing in white for a while, the adding of more blue would not make any further changes to the overall tonal value. Or it may be my eyes, which are not yet expert at recognising small tonal differences with certainty. However, although I can see some fluctuations, I am quite pleased with the outcome. Considering the differences in darkening through drying in different hues of acrylic paint I was surprised to see a relatively smooth result. The brownish grey I was supposed to see halfway through the red to blue scale according to the study guide was not really there apart from the third mix from the left, but I may have msjudged the amount of colour to mix in in the first step, so there is a chance of having missed some information here simply by low resolution.

Exercise 3: Broken or tertiary colours

In the last exercise, requiring the mixing of secondary colours, the occurrence of grey was perfectly visible in the case of a scale between orange red to green blue, but was completely missing in the transition from sap green to vermilion. Maybe the mustard colours to the right of the sap green count as broken or tertiary colours without being grey. They certainly lack chroma when compared to the original colours (Fig. 9).

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Figure 9. Mixing secondary colours while keeping tonal values constant: top – orange red to green blue, bottom: sap green to vermilion

A phenomenon I noticed in all the mixing experiments was the different qualities of the colours chosen to mix, which resulted in skewed transitions in some instances. For example, in the mixing of primary colours the transition from yellow to red was fast, so that most of the scale I would describe as reddish. The same effect was visible in e.g. the transition from yellow to blue shown in the second photo from the bottom, second row, and in the last of all mixes from sap green to vermilion. I would tend to describe the scale as orange-dominated. It would be interesting to have other people look at the scales to see whether their perception matches my own.
Experimenting in this way was a major hint regarding both the incredible properties of colour and the power of human perception. It also makes my head swim to think of the worlds I need to discover yet. No wonder we are all addicted to colour.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) ‘Research point: Chevreul’s colour theory’ [blog]. Andrea’s OCA painting 1 blog, 3 Apr. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/04/03/research-point-chevreuls-colour-theory/ [Accessed 20 February 2017]

Part 1, project 1, exercise 1a: Getting to know your brushes – making marks and shapes

12 February, 2016. What a strange feeling to reset the exercise counter to 1. I start the Painting 1 exercises with the hope to be able to carry over what I learned in Drawing 1.

Asked to decide which type of paints I would choose to use in this course, oil or acrylic, I would have liked to say oil, but although I am privileged enough to call an attic workshop my own, our house is of an open type that supports rather strong currents of warm air up to the attic, followed of course by air from there – enriched with whatever toxic fumes happen to escape from the paint I use – to travel straight down to where we live. So it is not going to be oils yet. If, one day, we manage to put in a door on the stairs leading to the attic, I will start painting in oil, too.

For the first of all exercises, making marks and shapes with the brushes I own, I prepared the carton back of a large old drawing pad with a layer of white acrylic paint, let it dry and then divided it up into 3 squares to hold the marks of flat, round and filbert brushes, respectively. Since the task was to see the marks a brush can produce, I decided that it would be sensible to use one dark colour to contrast sharply with the white background layer.

By the way: In the Painting 1 study guide I read that it is difficult to keep acrylic paint moist once on the palette. What I do, and it has always worked so far: I spread a sheet of clingfilm over the edges of my makeshift palette, taking care to make it airtight, and the paint will keep moist for at least a week or two.

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My makeshift palette and the set of paintbrushes I tried in this exercise (relatively unorthodox choice including watercolour pencils, but this mix is what I normally use and am very happy with)

Here come the marks I produced, round brushes top left, filbert bottom left and flat brushes all of the right half of the carton. I think that almost every mark can be produced by whatever brush used, it is just a matter of convenience and habit. All the brushes will leave marks with darker edges and a lighter middle unless reworked, an effect I usually choose to keep for two reasons: I love how the uneven thickness of the brushmarks will make the background colour shine through in an almost magical way, while at the same time the crossing of a new layer on top of a mark just made will let the painted structure itself appear 3-dimensional (see e.g. the spiral shape below).

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brush marks, dark brown acrylic on white background