Assignment 2: Reflection on tutor feedback

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assignment 2: Self-evaluation

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

26 June 2016. This time I did not forget to provide my tutor with large-size images of my blog photos on my Dropbox account and therefore, hopefully, she will be able to see better the details.
27 June 2016. I have just been informed that I will be assigned a new tutor, since my previous tutor has resigned from her job. I can only hope that my work so far meets with the expectations of my new tutor.

1. Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I think that I have made some progress in my approach to planning exercises and assignments. After a lot of guesswork from the start of Drawing 1 until about now I think that finally I have understood the principles of using a sketchbook for the work preceding a larger painting. Also, I can understand now why many fellow students will only reluctantly add a blog to their sketchbook logs. The latter are so much easier to keep, straightforward to use and will take any sort of awkward stuff and notes without producing any error messages. They are wonderful things to flick though and provide instantaneous reference. And since my handwriting is something only I can read a lot of the time I can put in all sorts of stupid ideas and side thoughts without having to feel embarrassed.

After a few disasters with using acrylic medium for dilution purposes I think that I am now using my acrylic paint with more confidence. I know now how important it is to keep paint not just moist but wet at all times and to take care to mix water and paint thoroughly before applying it to canvas. I am also, after an incredibly long time in the dark, getting more familiar with my brushes, so not all mark-making results are accidental any more.

At the same time I find that I become increasingly familiar with the requirements of a (more or less) successful setup. I find that my sketching and watercolour abilities are much better developed than my abilities in painting with acrylics, so my preliminary sketches appear much more interesting and probably better than my socalled finished work.

I am also becoming more familiar with the work of some artists, whose ideas and style have started to influence my own work. In this assignment, for example, I produced a background reminding me of Mark Rothko in order to exploit the mutual influence colours have so as to create the illusion of force or movement in an otherwise static setup.

2. Quality of outcome

I think that I prepared thoroughly for this task, having produced a large amount of research both on the meaning of colours and still life artists, as well as several preliminary studies during the exercises leading up to this assignment. Still I am not convinced that the quality of the outcome is what I would have liked to see. Problems occurring during the preparatory work showed me the importance of being absolutely clear about my intentions especially if my task extends beyond a purely representational painting. In planning the assignment piece I was quite convinced about the feasibility of my idea, but my grasp of colour relationships is not yet reliable enough to guide me safely through the development stage of a painting. In this assignment I think that my very small preparatory watercolour sketch has a higher quality than the finished piece. Despite all this I am happy to be able now to somehow communicate with a developing painting and overcome my fear of destroying something I may not be able to recreate in case the new idea was worse than the one from which it emerged.

3. Demonstration of creativity

As in most of my works I think it essential that they contain a message. The idea for painting poisonous cocktails occurred to me while describing another hair-raising point in the endless story about our son, us and the hospital. As a caricaturist I am used to playing with the meaning of words and one of my long-term goals is to be able one day to do a similar thing by painting alone. I think that my message coming with this assignment might be called creative, but not so the actual painting. I still have not arrived at a point where I think my acrylic painting skills are sufficiently developed to allow a more adventurous approach regarding the use of painting media and techniques. Still I was able to use insights taken from all exercises in Part 2 of the course to apply them in a useful and hopefully believable way (colour relationships, contrast, negative space etc.)

4. Context reflection

I have become increasingly aware of the immense value of researching the work of other artists in preparing my own. Since I am clearer now with my intentions it has become easier to take aboard the respective messages of the artists I have come across so far in the course of my studies. As with any field of knowledge I find that the more I know, the more readily and easily my mind will form bridges and associations, which will then increasingly allow me to find informed solutions for a given problem. Hopefully these will, one day, replace the guesswork I find myself struggling with at the moment, since only when my work stops being arbitrary it will start being truly creative.

Assignment 2, stage 1: Preliminary research – colour and the boundary

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 May 2016. This was another unbelievable day. I only come to realize step by step how some people use their so-called intelligence only to deceive and betray. It makes me physically sick. But it cannot be helped, we need to take care not to swallow too much of the poisonous cocktail, speaking in terms of my next project …

At this point I would like to gain as much insight as possible in the processes involved at the boundaries between colours. As a biologist I am very much aware of the crucial role boundaries have in the formation and existence of life and they are precious things maintained by subtle acts of balance across them. I guess that the boundaries between colours may work in similar ways. If the areas to either side fail to communicate (or avoid communication, that is), a painting or drawing may literally never come to life.

21 May 2016. From the previous experiments I know that both simultaneous and successive contrast work, in different ways, to strengthen existent colour differences. To me this appears similar to solutions of different concentrations separated by a membrane. If left to themselves the initially sharp boundary will become diffuse, because molecules will travel through the membrane from the higher to the lower concentration until concentrations are equal. The more unlike two colours, the larger the “concentration gradient” and the more active the communication across it, if I may say so in lay terms. For examples see e.g. Arend et al. (n.d.).
A number of optical effects is discussed by Grais (2017). Of these I need to remember that a dark background usually serves to enhance the perceived differences between colours, which is very likely the reason why working from a coloured ground is preferred by many artists. Apart from that I continue to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of seemingly similar concepts and technical terms buzzing in my head. As long as I feel I am not standing on solid ground regarding the use of the latter, I will try and keep matters simple and hands-on rather than theoretical. Which is probably, when looking at it, most other artists did and do when trying to make sense of colour relationships:

To start with, I had another look at the work of Josef Albers. Probably I should not say so, but I am not drawn to his squares, no matter how instructive they are. They remind me of the covers of some of the books we used to have at secondary school during the 1970s and 1980s. I remember well that the contents of these books was not made for children and so were those covers. Albers’ squares seem so dry and analytical that I will see whether I can force myself to copy any of them into my sketchbook as I was instructed to by my tutor. There appears to be no communication of the kind I am looking for across the boundaries of his chosen sets of colours. When comparing them to Mark Rothko’s work, I know which I prefer by miles. There is so much to find in his paintings, apart from mere colour relationships, there is tension and space, a feeling of getting drawn into or being repelled by some combinations of colours, so that I cannot help coming back to them. I wish I could put two paintings using the same colours side by side, but copyright restrictions allow only for a tiny public domain selection in both cases. It is mainly from Rothko that I decided to learn, hopefully my tutor will understand. When looking for other sources examining boundaries I also came across the work of hard-edge painter Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(a)) and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) (The Art Story, n.d.(b)). For me they help to bridge the gap between Albers and Rothko, see e.g. the wavelike movement in “The Spectrum I” painted by Kelly in 1953. Moving to viewing what more complex boundaries can do in a painting I found the work of Donald Fox (Fox, n.d.) quite intriguing, and also that of Ian Davenport (Jackisnotdull, 2012), and not least Wassily Kandinsky’s (1866-1944, Russia) famous concentric circles (Fig. 1 below). I ask myself why they had not been chosen for the covers of our art books, they are so wonderfully alive. I guess that the overwhelming number of effects to find in Kandinsky’s circles may be hard to teach, but we kill art by wanting to describe it all. I think that we should not tamper with our children’s innate mysterious connection to art. It has been destroyed in so many of us (and me!) that we struggle to regain it for a lifetime.

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles
Figure 1. Wassily Kandinsky: “Colour Study with Squares and Concentric Circles”, 1913, watercolours, gouache and crayon on paper. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
When doing some more research on Kandinsky’s work I found his 1927 painting “Molle Rudesse”, which contains some of the “boundary effects” I would like to have present in my next assignment, including some suggestions of how to handle the flattening-out of cocktail equipment (Fig. 2):

Vassily_Kandinsky,_1927_-_Molle_rudesse
Figure 2. Wassily Kandinsky: “Molle Rudesse”, 1927, oil on canvas. Source: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
My next steps in the sequence will thus be the following:

  1. Set up a very simple still life consisting of very few items only
  2. Experiment with a chosen pair of complementary colours in preparation for the next exercise in Mark Rothko and Kandinsky fashion according to study guide instructions (p. 69)
  3.  Produce a series of square still life studies as described above and combine on large square canvas
  4.  Repeat the exercise with colours evoking mood, also put on large square canvas
  5. Start preparations for assignment by extending the setup according to intentions

Resources:

Arend, L., Logan, A. and Havin, G. (n.d.) Simultaneous and Successive Contrast
[online]. Colour Usage Research Lab, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field. Available at: https://colorusage.arc.nasa.gov/Simult_and_succ_cont.php [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Fox, D. (n.d.) Portfolio of Windows and Doors [online]. Donald Fox, Texas. Available at: https://donaldfoxfineart.com/collections/65248 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Grais, S. (2017) Color Context/Simultaneous Contrast [online]. DePaul University, Chicago. Available at: http://facweb.cs.depaul.edu/sgrais/color_context.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Jackisnotdull (2012) Colour: The Language of Ian Davenport [online]. Jack is not Dull, 15 May 2012. Available at: https://jackisnotdull.com/2012/05/15/ian-davenport/ [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1913) Colour Study – Squares with Concentric Circles [watercolour, gouache and crayon on paper] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vassily_Kandinsky,_1913_-_Color_Study,_Squares_with_Concentric_Circles.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kandinsky, W. (1927) Molle rudesse [oil on canvas] [online]. Private collection. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Vassily_Kandinsky%2C_1927_-_Molle_rudesse.jpg [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Kelly, E. (1953) Spectrum I [oil on canvas] [online]. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/99.353 [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Ellsworth Kelly: American Painter and Sculptor [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kelly-ellsworth.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Piet Mondrian: Dutch Painter [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-mondrian-piet.htm [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Assignment 2: Stage 1 -Preliminary research (colour symbolism)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

14 May 2016. Assignment 2 is still more than six weeks away for me, but there is an idea I would like to pursue in preparation for this assignment. To this end I would like to start now in order to be able to dedicate the exercises to come as preliminary steps towards the final painting.

The story of our fight for our son has been added to by another unbelievable chapter, this time concerning the role, which the public prosecutor assigned to our case appears to play in further hushing up the commited offences. We have turned somewhat numb at the incredible sequence of acts of wilful negligence we have been exposed to in the last nine years, but are determined not to give up. Assignment 2 will be my channel for expressing what I feel and because it is a poisonous cocktail mixed from extreme emotions, this is a wonderful opportunity to indulge in experimenting with the various effects colours have in communication with the human eye. Since we are required to paint another still life, here is some preliminary research regarding the meanings attributed to different colours in the Western world. And talking of cocktails – this could be the first step towards the setup of my still life.

I found an endless number of resources, but there is a limited number of emotions and conditions, and thus colours, I need to deal with in the context of this assignment and decided that staying with one source of information would provide me with reliable cross-connections. The source chosen also deals with colours in painting (Olesen, 2016):

  • red: warm, positive, strong colour, signals “Stop!”, strong emotions, energizing, promotes determination, steals attention, symbol also of war, too much red makes angry, especially dark red (5). This should be my background colour including a black void as in Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970, USA) painting “Four Darks in Red” (Rothko, 1958) and own research).
  • black: symbolizes evil, depressing, hidden, unknown, mysterious things, power and control also over information hidden from the outside world, but also elegance and wealth, protection against emotional stress (maybe use this colour to limit the effect of turquoise and red by painting round them), adds contrast and allows other colours to stick out more (4), use on the black void and where needed in the painting, maybe position the mixing tools and glasses on a black shiny surface or cloth, black should not stand alone. I will need to buy a darker type of black, my ivory black is more like a very dark grey.
  • brown: colour of stability for the family, protects from the outside world, I will need to put this in between the red outside frame and the black void as a protective shield, stays in the background, emphasizes other colours (13), use a brown not too dark, only if I want it to communicate depression, if dark it should also help to enhance the cocktail colours
  • silver: colour of truth of old, sophisticated, visible in the dark, which for my purpose is also true in a figurative sense, however “silver-tongued devil” is someone who deceives and cheats, the colour can also bring emotional, mental and physical harmony, distinuguish between bright silver, which suggests openness and dark silver, which is associated with negative emotions (1)
    Cocktail mixing equipment is silvery and I could make a mirror image of the silver-tongued devil in my cocktail mixer, while the different sorts of brightly coloured cocktails mixed have various meanings associated. The experience gained, by concidence, with the two different types of silver sheen in my still life with man-made objects may not have been a coincidence.
  • turquoise: creates harmony, but must not be overused, because of a roller-coaster effect, which may represent our own attempt to initiate positive communication with the injuring parties, combines blue with a little yellow, “radiates peace, calmness and tranquility through the blue colour, balance and growth through the green colour, with an uplifting energy from the colour yellow. Turquoise recharges our spirits during periods of mental stress and fatigue”, improves empathy, but in the extreme narcissistic, weighs pros and cons, I will need the shade of blue-green, since it promotes engagement and symbolizes credibility and reliability (3) – it is also probably no coincidence that I have always liked this colour, it is one of my favourites. Type of cocktail: Caribbean mist, opaque.
  • pink: unconditional love, understanding, sign of hope and success, relieves anger (6) Type of cocktail: Pink Lady, opaque. Will need to stand next to the red of the Rothko frame in some place to see the calming effect and the cancelling out of similar colours, don’t make a dark line round the glass in this case! Use hot pink, but sparingly like turquoise
  • orange: as a complementary to turquoise, warm, positive, stimulates mental activity, provides emotional strength in difficult times, encourages two-way communication, encourages self-respect and respect for others (7) Type of cocktail: Campari orange, because it contains two shades – dark orange, meaning deceit, and golden orange, which should be positive
  • white: protects and encourages, opens up the mind for something new, sense of peace, comport, hope, but too much can create a cold, isolated, empty feeling (9). Use a bit of it as something in or on the pink cocktail to enhange the meaning, but also to stand in opposition to the red and black
  • yellow: the brightest colour visible, increases optimism and communication, makes nervous, associated with envy, influences head rather than heart (10). This only in context with other warm colours, but not on its own, since it is part of turquoise, I may not need it separately (just as blue)
  • blue: calming, strength, wisdom, trust, do the right thing in difficult situations (14), since it is part of turquoise I may not need it separately (just as yellow)
  • colours not to use in this context: gold (2), purple (8), both have meanings opposite to those I want to convey; green (11) – it takes away the aggression of the red and adds too much hope, which is not true; grey (12) – because it does not convey any of the emotions associated with this context

The colours I would like to use after this initial research will be shades of red, brown and deep black to create a background in the style of a Mark Rothko painting (research to follow). On this I will try and paint a symbolic, weird and aggressive-looking cocktail arrangement of turquoise, pink and orange drinks made in a silver shaker and served in glasses of different shapes. The colour white will only be used to mix tonal values and to add highlights, yellow, blue and green will not be part of the painting as separate areas of colour. Off now to some detailed research on the mechanisms at work in Mark Rothko’s paintings.

Resources:

Olesen, J. (2016) Hidden Meanings of Colour and Art [online]. Jacob Olesen, Copenhagen. Available at: http://www.color-meanings.com/hidden-meanings-of-colors-and-art/ [Accessed 14 May 2016]

Rothko, M. (1958) Four Darks in Red [oil on canvas] [online]. Whitney Museum of American Art,

1. http://www.color-meanings.com/silver-color-meaning-the-color-silver/
2. http://www.color-meanings.com/gold-color-meaning-the-color-gold/
3. http://www.color-meanings.com/turquoise-color-meaning-the-color-turquoise/
4. http://www.color-meanings.com/black-color-meaning-the-color-black/
5. http://www.color-meanings.com/red-color-meaning-the-color-red/
6. http://www.color-meanings.com/pink-color-meaning-the-color-pink/
7. http://www.color-meanings.com/orange-color-meaning-the-color-orange/
8. http://www.color-meanings.com/purple-color-meaning-the-color-purple/
9. http://www.color-meanings.com/white-color-meaning-the-color-white/
10. http://www.color-meanings.com/yellow-color-meaning-the-color-yellow/
11. http://www.color-meanings.com/green-color-meaning-the-color-green/
12. http://www.color-meanings.com/gray-color-meaning-the-color-gray/
13.http://www.color-meanings.com/brown-color-meaning-the-color-brown/
14. http://www.color-meanings.com/blue-color-meaning-the-color-blue/