Assignment 5: Tutor feedback reflection

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

15 February 2017. What luck that I still have lots of time to prepare for assessment! While part of Assignment 5 was quite successful (see end of this post), it did not turn out to be a great idea to deviate from the study guide despite having felt it to be a good way to tackle Part 5 of the course. I learned lots from this assignment – and I am extremely glad I took the risky route, because otherwise it might have taken me ages to find out about the following (and at this point I want to kindly ask OCA to provide beginner students with more precise information to avoid them getting lost somewhere on the way):

  1. Stick to the study guide at all times unless the deviation is so thoroughly signposted/cross-referenced that it can be used by tutors and assessors with great ease: So, since I am always struggling to find enough time for OCA study (needing to do at least 15, sometimes 20 hours per week to finish a course within a year’s time), for me any deviating, no matter how useful it might appear, is going to be no option in the foreseeable future.
  2. Do all exercises in the sketchbook in a meticulously structured way: For me, until now, the sketchbook had been something for personal use only, to accompany the “real” work. I think now that I might be slow to understand, but it took me until writing this post to grasp that it is supposed to contain the real work. I will need to buy a new, larger sketchbook, because I often tend to produce larger size stuff, up to A1, when experimenting.
  3. Experimenting itself will have to come with more immediately written down thought directly relating to the experience gained when actually applying the paint: This is something I seem to have misunderstood until now. I know that I tend to use techniques not like tools taken from a toolbox, but as a wisp of intuition. This will have to change radically, or in my tutor’s words “If you can, go back to the initial work and reflect on what happened and how you felt the exercise went before extending your own evaluative written content about this exercise”. Not sure where spontaneity comes in here, but maybe this aspect files with “misunderstood” as well: I guess that applied spontaneity in its real sense builds on knowledge and technical ability, not the other way round.
  4. My sketchbook is well-annotated, but difficult to read: I had not realized that this would be necessary as I had assumed the notes were for my personal use only.
  5. Always use the Harvard referencing system, even in blog posts: No tutor has pointed out to me until just now that this is expected even in learning logs, not only for set pieces of writing such as essays: I will go through my posts and correct them.
  6. Paint, paint, paint, even if it is only tiny side notes: Making drawings and using photos is inadequate to produce the kind of information tutors and assessors will look for: I will try and put together a “travel set” to have in the car to use when I encounter spare time. This is often not more than literally minutes and I have not found a solution yet for travelling with wet paint without destroying some of the results. Also, the paper in all the sketchbooks I have is not really made for painting. Watercolours tend to soak both the front and back of a page and cause the paper to undulate in a most unfortunate way, while acrylics make pages stick together. I will have to ask my art supplier for advice.
  7. I do not seem to put enough information on my artist research into both sketchbook and blog, while also not taking enough personal information from the research I do: This is another difficult point. There is so much going on in my head that it becomes quite overwhelming at times, so that the researched information gets pushed to the side. Will have to switch my brain on more often …
  8. Only tackle the final painting after exhaustive experimentation: I do not know how I will cope with that, because I am never finished with experimenting. So-called finished paintings always tend to surprise me with new turns, e.g. in my illustration of Andersen’s tale (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). My tutor points out the effect visible in the vase as something worth working with in an experimental series before attempting the final piece. However, I did not know before working on the final piece that I would encounter this effect. I hope that I may find a way to correspond to requirements here.
  9. Be careful not to overwork (“overexplain”) the final paintings: My tutor indicated that preparing by making lots of small paintings will help with avoiding overworking, while allowing to increase the risk-taking. I just hope that this will the case with me, it will need a lot of mental resetting.
  10. Explain more, e.g. why I choose a particular subject beyond finding it “interesting”: To me the introductory section I wrote for my self-evaluation seemed sufficient at the point, but this is not so. I need to “explain why I chose this subject against the project exercises for clarity”. I have to admit that at this point I am not sure what is expected of me, but I guess that I will need to add some project exercises whose results will then sort of prompt me to embark on the subject of shadows.

To summarize, there is still too little researched background, both in a theoretical and practical way, to my finished work despite an extensive, well-written learning log. While I write this I notice that my scientist’s mind, with some gritty resistance, seems to be making another step forward in understanding what is expected. I have to accept, quickly, that it is the process of creating, and not with any preformed goal in mind, which I need to be looking for, documenting every emerging aspect, based on and constantly related to the work of artists in the field (as my tutor says about my research on Abstract Expressionism: “I would make your point of reference here much clearer. Explain in more detail why and how it has been interesting for you. Explain in more detail how this references your interests in shadows and how you may wish to make abstract works from this and so on.”. I am extremely glad that I chose Understanding Painting Media for my next course, where I expect to find ample opportunity to do just that. My tutor suggested that I read widely around my subject of shadows in preparation for the next course. This sounds like a great idea and will clearly help me with structuring my imagination.

In preparation for assessment I will now need to do the following:

  1. Assessors will be looking at my work in a way that is structured by the sequence of exercises as contained in the coursebook. In order to achieve this I will need to add to Part 5 posts cross-referencing and sub-heading information for easy access and use.
  2. Also I will need to add some more well-structured and documented preliminary experimentation, since there was too little of that in part of my assignment. It will have to fit in with a “development towards”.
  3. There will have to be an addition of more research and cross-referencing with contemporary artists, taking care to access a larger diversity of highest quality resources.
  4. Citations throughout my blog will need to be changed to fit the Harvard system.

15 February 2017. Having said all that I do not want to sound desperate. So, quoting from the many positive aspects in my tutor feedback:

“This is a great demonstration of creative activity and demonstrates clearly how an idea develops along the way.” (referring to the sequence of “A Shadow-only Painting” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).

“Your research is thorough, personally rigorous and the outcomes you have made demonstrated your creative and visual skills well. You have used paint loosely and haven’t been afraid to lose control, which is a big step in your development on this course […] The painting on acetate is bold and daring, so try to maintain this whenever you can.” (referring to “A Shadow On His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c)).

“You have really developed a good personally driven research project here […] Overall you have done well and produced work that is personally driven, ambitious and wide ranging.”

Keeping this in mind I am off now to hopefully getting everything else right for assessment, following my tutor’s advice to “edit and pull out some pieces that leave the work teetering on the brink of your viewer’s interest”.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 2 February. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/assignment-5-subject-3-hans-christian-andersen-the-shadow-an-attempt-at-an-illustration-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 15 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 15 January. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/assignment-5-subject-1-a-shadows-only-painting-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 15 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow On His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 21 January. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 15 February 2017]

 

Advertisement

Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 December 2016. Global politics has a great variety of contibutors many of who who without doubt must be living with a shadow on their souls. I have been interested in persons of that kind for some years now and this is a great opportunity to look for means of depicting such intricate types of shadow. In order to approach this subject in a sensible manner, I would need to see it from different viewpoints. Since also it is quite complex and intangible, I decided to concentrate on the person worrying me most, Bashar al-Assad. My first task in this project was to become acquainted with his biography and identify the major turning points in his career.

I was dismayed to find out that he was only born in 1965, a mere four months ahead of me. Apparently a political career had never been planned for him. He grew up talented and secluded and trained as an eye surgeon with years spent abroad in London. However, as his brother and president-to-be Bassel was killed in a road accident in 1994, Bashar was pushed through military school, not even 30 years old, and inherited the presidency from his iron-fist father, when the latter died in the year 2000. At the age of 35, when most people have not yet matured mentally, he took over his country (and the law had to be changed for him to do so at all!). His western upbringing raised the hope in many that he would be able to induce a change for the better in the conflict-ridden region. Indeed during the first decade under his rule Syria saw signs of economic recovery. Assad was nevertheless unable to overcome the excessive bureaucracy and failed to turn Syria into a trustworthy international player. Controversial actions lead to a gradual deterioration of global connections, while internally the state of human rights remained deplorable. In 2011 events related to the “Arab spring” revolution stimulated the population of Syria into similar actions of protest. Assad promised change, but none of it ever materialised and as protests became more forceful, the international community demanded his resignation. Instead of stepping down, he – with increasing violence and disregard of human life – has been fighting to remain in power ever since (Biography.com Editors, 2014).

I ask myself, what kinds of influence would act to turn a trained surgeon with a promising start to his career into the monster he is now. “Risk Factors” as identified in an article in Psychology Today (Seifert, 2013), if outweighing “Protective Factors”, predict violent behaviour. For Bashar al Assad the following apply:

  • a soft and indecisive character
  • being bullied by his brother Bassel at an early age
  • the troubled and distant relationship to his emotionally absent father
  • being under the additional influence of both a dominant mother (who in Arab cultures is not to be questioned) and older sister
  • being the sibling of another intelligent but cruel brother, Maher, who continues to have immense influence on the decisions made by Bashar
  • a familiy history of violence
  • a family supporting and promoting aggression in order to retain the status of power and wealth

I would add, from intuition, several more risk factors:

  • racist schooling
  • being fill-in choice after his brother’s death
  • the less than ideal training as a politician and military leader
  • the unability to follow his true calling as a doctor
  • the unexpected emotional vehemence of calls for change following Assad’s first cautious intellectually driven steps

To me, the main factor seems Assad’s naturally soft character. All of the other influences act and grow on that. Looking at a series of photos taken at various ages this softness is evident and, incredibly, still visible also in the most recent pictures. What does apparent softness include? It seems that it is often a dreamy expression, absent-mindedness, as e.g. depicted in “Despair” by Glennda Field (Field, 2012) and a slightly worried/troubled look.

30 December 2016. Searching for other artists to approach this subject, I found a number of interesting solutions. In classical portraits the use of chiaroscuro provides a great means of playing, literally and figuratively, with the light and the dark side of a person, e.g. this wonderful self portrait by Rembrandt (1606-1669, The Netherlands) (Fig. 1):

self-portrait_1628-1629_by_rembrandt
Figure 1. Rembrandt: “Self-portrait”, 1628/29, oil on oak panel. Source: Rembrandt (1606-1669) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
In the above, I cannot feel any negative emotions, only a pleasant sort of composure and interest in the subject. This is of course not what I am looking for. What I probably need is not the normal absent-mindedness we all know, but a person who is literally “beside himself”. I have seem weird portraits before, where the facial expression is disturbingly out of focus by superimposing two of more slightly laterally displaced images of the face. In looking for examples for the above I came across the Swedish painter Benjamin Björklund (*?) (n.d.(a)) who has developed a great skill at depicting what I am after, see e.g. Björklund, n.d.(b)) or Björklund (2015). Francis Bacon’s (1909-1992, UK) portraits came to my mind as well, but his approach seems distinct from my own. When looking at his large number of self-portraits and portraits of Lucian Freud the introduced distortions appear (if only to me) not to be connected with the goal of bringing the dark parts of a soul to the surface. Shadows on souls are however usually depicted with a sad expression, which is not exactly what I am after. In the available photos Assads rarely appears sad, rather distant and/or disinterested, as if the consequences of his doings were of no concern to him.

14 January 2017. I decided that it would be worth a try with transparent layers of acrylic binder alternating with acrylic paint to build a soul visible within a portrait experiment (Fig. 2).

1_testing_transparent_layers_1_14012017
Figure 2. Sketchbook – Showing a soul inside, acrylic binder and acrylic

The scan of the above image is unfortunately quite inadequate in reproducing the transparent, layered quality of the tested fields of colour. By far the best result for my purpose was the top lefthand, alternating thin layers of binder and very dilute paint, covered by a final layer of binder, then the actual portrait painted on top of that.

Next I tried to integrate a representation of something like a “soul” behind the face. Using acrylic binder again I prepared a smooth, rounded and weak body shape enclosed in protective “shells”, dripped some dilute paint on the half-dried shape, used a painting knife to alter the structure, allowed it to become dry, then quickly painted some face over and outside that. When looking at the result in my sketchbook it looks rather disappointing, but the scan (see image below) exhibits some of the qualities I am looking for, especially round the nose and mouth. There is something alive, which appears to agitate the facial expression from within. This would be exactly what I need, but I I feel that I am not yet expert enough to tame my acrylic binder (Fig. 3).

2_testing_transparent_layers_2_14012017
Figure 3. Sketchbook – Creating the impression of something alive behind a facial facade

17 January 2017. In order to see whether I could develop my idea in a direction, which is less accident-prone, I went ahead with my  idea of looking into producing something like a “runny” face, i.e. one that is not totally in the possession of its owner, but leaving its boundaries. The face is the preeminent place where to study the character of a person, so letting it run down the canvas means weakening its physical features. First I produced a thin background layer of acrylic binder, into which I made dense vertical grooves with a toothed spatula (Fig. 4).

3_background_serrated_spatula_17012017
Figure 4. Creating a background on 56 x 42 cm primed acrylic paper: Acrylic binder and toothed spatula

While waiting for the background become thoroughly dry, I made a first pencil sketch in my sketchbook in order to become acquainted with drawing a distant, distracted look. It was not really the best of my portraying days (normally no problem at all to get real likenesses), but likeness was not my main subject (Fig. 5):

4_assa_first_try_sketch_pencil_17012017
Figure 5. Sketchbook – preliminary pencil sketch of facial features

I guess he looks more like Johnny English. Since both of them are great at causing havoc I let it count towards developing my plan …

Next I started my runny portrait, painting with drawing ink and a pipette, to be followed by acrylic, in order to make things difficult for myself :o) (Fig. 6-13):

5_runny_portrait_stage_1_17012017
Figure 6
6_runny_portrait_stage_2_17012017
Figure 7
7_runny_portrait_stage_3_17012017
Figure 8
8_runny_portrait_stage_4_17012017
Figure 9
9_runny_portrait_stage_5_17012017
Figure 10
10_runny_portrait_stage_6_17012017
Figure 11
11_runny_portrait_stage_7_17012017
Figure 12
12_runny_portrait_stage_8_17012017
Figure 13

21 January 2017. In retrospect painting over the runny face interrupted the initial idea somewhat, but I like how the eyes and mouth are still part of the idea. It was also great fun to work over the first layer, it was highly spontaneous. Since, however, I still wanted to explore the idea further and make it the main focus of this part of the assignment, I started two more runny faces, one on an impasto background I had prepared with household dispersion a few days earlier and one with several types and colours of drawing ink on a large sheet of plastic, which I had saved from an ugly frame years ago. The first experiment was to see whether I could paint with my pipette on a very rough surface, the second to see whether plastic was at all suitable for ink and also to combine it with another sheet of plastic to stick underneath and serve as a surface for Assad’s soul.

So, here is the first sequence. The combination of rough surface with channels and a pipette was very difficult to use to create likenesses. But together with a final ink layer put on with a larger flat paintbrush it came near enough to what Assad looks like (Fig. 14-20):

13_runny_portrait_2_background_21012017
Figure 14. Creating another background with acrylic paint and serrated spatula
14_runny_portrait_2_stage1_21012017
Figure 15. Drawing with water-soluble ink and pipette
15_runny_portrait_2_stage2_21012017
Figure 16.  Dissolving some of the ink
16_runny_portrait_2_stage3_21012017
Figure 17

 

18_runny_portrait_2_stage4_21012017
Figure 18
21_runny_portrait_2_stage5_21012017
Figure 19. Finished painting, testing lighting conditions (1)

Since there was beautiful sunshine that day I experimented with the light falling on the grooves in order to find out whether an increase in contrast would add to the shadow on Assad’s soul. It did not. The first, duller, photo came closer to what I needed. So, overall, I would not recommend this sort of background to paint someone shunning contact with other people:

22_runny_portrait_2_stage5_v2_21012017
Figure 20. Finished painting, testing lighting conditions (2)

By the way, the sunshine came together with the most beautiful snow. This was the view from my workshop and I just had to share it:

17_look_out_21012017

And turning to the final “runny face” experiment I tried out the plastic sheet (A1) mentioned above. It was very awkward to paint and draw on, again with my pipette and a flat brush, and quite difficult to take meaningful photos of, but proved an extremely interesting experience (Fig. 21-22):

19_runny_portrait_3_stage1_21012017
Figure 21. Drawing on acetate with drawing ink and pipette (stage 1)
20_runny_portrait_3_stage2_21012017
Figure 22. Drawing on acetate with drawing ink and pipette (stage 2)

After this stage I prepared another piece of plastic, smaller and flexible, with a layer of drawing ink and let it dry (Fig. 23):

23_runny_portrait_3_stage3_21012017
Figure 23. A4 plastic pocket opened up and covered in drawing ink

Next I covered the face in a semi-transparent wash of white drawing ink, looking like this on my workshop floor … (Fig. 24):

24_runny_portrait_3_stage4_21012017
Figure 24. Adding white drawing ink to the portrait

… then like this with a white canvas put underneath (Fig. 25):

25_runny_portrait_3_stage5_21012017
Figure 25. Testing the effect of placing a white canvas underneath

Trying to make it look more like Assad again (Fig. 26):

26_runny_portrait_3_stage6_21012017
Figure 26. Adding more Assad-like features

When that was done I slipped in the flexible, smaller piece of plastic to see whether it was causing any effect filing with “putting a shadow on his soul”. While the result looked more like someone emerging from a hard day’s work in a coal mine, I was happy that there was indeed a layering effect. The face looks as if something was moving around “inside” it (Fig. 27-28).

27_runny_portrait_3_stage7_21012017
Figure 27. Starting to experiment with acetate and plastic sheet combined
27_runny_portrait_3_stage7_detail_21012017
Figure 28. Detail

I then reworked the small plastic sheet to make it darker and more of a coherent shape and tested that in several positions (Fig. 29-34):

29_runny_portrait_3_stage8_21012017
Figure 29. Reworked plastic sheet
31_runny_portrait_3_final_position2_21012017
Figure 30. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (1)
30_runny_portrait_3_final_position1_21012017
Figure 30. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (2)

 

32_runny_portrait_3_final_position3_21012017
Figure 32. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (3)

None of the above made a real difference except that Assad looked like being in need of a shave, but once I included the forehead I could see that there was a major change to his facial expression, which became rather grave (Fig.33):

33_runny_portrait_3_final_position4_21012017
Figure 33. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (4)

The last of my tests seems to be the best. It is a combination of something dark both behind the forehead and to the inside of where Assads has directed his eyes (difficult to explain …). For some reason it feels believable to me and this is what I am going to stay with (Fig. 34):

34_runny_portrait_3_final_position5_21012017
Figure 34. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (5)

In the above I think that I can sort of feel a “centre of weight” right between the eyebrows. I am not normally into esoteric stuff, but after a bit of research what did I find? In exactly that position on the forehead there is the third eye, which serves as the entrance to your soul. How weird.

Apart from likenesses I am quite happy with the three results in this part. All of them appear to transport, to greater or lesser extent, an impression of a troubled soul. Given the time I may continue working on them before submitting for assessment.

References:

Biography.com Editors (2014) Bashar al-Assad Biography [online]. A&E Television Networks, New York, 2 April. Available at: http://www.biography.com/people/bashar-al-assad-20878575 [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (n.d.(a)) Paintings [image collection] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (2015) Paintings: Kristoffer Bolander: I Forgive Nothing [n.k.] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings/2015/11/9/jrt1azwp107a493s5c267oqbsildwk [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (n.d.(b)) Self Portrait [image collection] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings/wc3n6kaug58ls5xw9xz5y4ardnfyqd [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Field, G. S. (2012) Despair. Watercolor class demonstration paintings from Spring term 2012 [blog] [online]. Glennda Short Field, 26 June. Available at: http://glenndafield.blogspot.co.at/2012_06_01_archive.html [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Rembrandt (1628-29) Self-portrait [oil on oak panel] [online]. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt#/media/File:Self-portrait_(1628-1629),_by_Rembrandt.jpg [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Seifert, K. (2013) How Bashar al-Assad Became A Brutal Dictator. Those Who Fail To Learn From History Are Doomed To Repeat it [online]. Psychology Today, New York, 16 September. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-the-cycle/201309/how-bashar-al-assad-became-brutal-dictator [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Research point: Basic Principles of Composition

Updated on 22 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 November 2016. For me it always means to work against an inner resistance when required to look into breaking art down into formal mathematical principles. Of course I know about the value to be able to consciously apply rules of that kind, but I feel that it immediately stops dead my intuitive approach. In the context of the exercise “Painting a landscape outside” I therefore decided to go for a reversal of processes. I finished my painting and thereafter applied the compositional rules to it (for results see separate post) to see whether any of them appeared in it.

The Golden Mean or Divine Proportion is a ratio, a number equalling approximately 1.618 and given the mathematical symbol Greek phi Didot.svg (Phi). It pervades the measurable components of our universe and describes the overall relationship between numbers in the famous Fibonacci sequence o, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 ….. (Meisner, 2015). The latter is the compositional basis for an incredible number of naturally occurring complex structures. Such structures, from snail shells to human proportions, are felt as being harmonious and beautiful (Fig. 1):

goldener_schnitt_bluetenstand_sonnenblume
Figure 1. Helmut Haß: “Golden mean in a sunflower head”. Source: Helmut Haß [Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported] via Wikimedia Commons
Both were arguably known and applied as early as in Ancient Egypt and Greece, but intensely researched, described and actively applied in art only during the Renaissance (Meisner, 2012). See a comprehensive collection of images showing examples from nature and art on Pinterest (n.d.) and an analysis of famous works in the history of art (Meisner, 2014a), including a video on Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” (Meisner, 2014b).
The Rule of Thirds, and the very similar phi-grid based on the Golden Mean (Christie, 2016), on the other hand, are rough guides to overall composition regarding the placement of the main objects in a painting. Renaissance artists had found that paintings with a central focal point provided a visual barrier against guiding the viewer through the composition and the results were often unpleasant to look at. In order to avoid the compositional “error” of placing the main object at the centre of the support, any format can be divided into nine equal rectangles and the most important elements are placed on, or near, the intersections. If the above rules are observed and used together with the equally important elements of foreground, middle ground and background, the result should be a composition offering both harmony and a story.

Personally I have to admit that I feel uncomfortable with the above rules not only for the reason I mentioned in the first paragraph, but also for their treacherous simplicity (leading to compositional freezing) and for an effect becoming more obvious with the increasing complexity of a painting: there seem to be so many suitable points to apply the rules that it appears impossible not to find them fulfilled. This, of course, may only prove the truth of the theory. We are so much part of nature that in acts of creating and designing we probably tend to follow its rules by intuition, if (!) we are mentally (and maybe spiritually) connected with our works of art at the moment of making them. So, given a secure working knowledge of techniques and materials and a freely flowing, truthful conversation with my work of art, whatever rules are applicable I would like to see become manifest as a consequence of, and not a precondition to creating a work of art.

References:

Christie, J. (2016) Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio – which should you use? – Ep.25. Tea Break Tog. Available at: http://www.teabreaktog.com/photography-for-beginners/rule-of-thirds-or-golden-ratio/ [Accessed 19 November 2016]

Haß, H. (2004) Blütenstand einer Sonnenblume mit 34 und 55 Fibonacci-Spiralen [photo] [online]. Doris Haß, Koblenz. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goldener_Schnitt_Bluetenstand_Sonnenblume.jpg [Accessed 19 November 2016]

Meisner, G. (2012) History of the Golden Ratio [online]. Gary Meisner, 13 May. Available at: https://www.goldennumber.net/golden-ratio-history/ [Accessed 19 November 2016]

Meisner, G. (2014a) Golden Ratio in Art Composition and Design [online]. Gary Meisner, 4 May. Available at: https://www.goldennumber.net/art-composition-design/ [Accessed 19 November 2016]

Meisner, G. (2014b) Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi and the Divine Proportion  [online]. PhiPoint Solutions, Brentwood. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXDmAtTJ6JY [Accessed 19 November 2016]

Meisner, G. (2015) Golden Ratio Overview [online]. Gary Meisner, 12 July. Available at: https://www.goldennumber.net/golden-ratio/ [Accessed 19 November 2016]

Pinterest (n.d.) 1:1.618/Golden Ratio [image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/addisonparkerm/11618golden-ratio/ [Accessed 19 November 2016]

 

Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first sketches)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 May 2016. Right. This time I am going to do this properly. Originally I had planned to use soft pastel crayons and sand paper for this exercise, but since there was so much to be explored regarding the behaviour of acrylics after the last two exercises that I could not just leave it as it is.

What I learned from the last exercise:

  • start with a uniform but coloured background, it can always be changed later
  • do not prepare a background with gloss medium, it is awful to paint on without the right type of practice
  • avoid mixing brand of gloss medium and brand of acrylics. They do not seem to like each other.
  • keep diluting with water, just keep spraying water on both support and tray
  • choose SIMPLE objects (I just realised that a reason for my wrong choices may be the fact that I keep returning to the great images in the study guide, but most of them are way beyond what I can achieve at my stage of development)

I had a look on the internet for artists who paint in a way I would like to explore in line with my list and found a number of paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld (Rehfeld, 2016-17), whose style I find appealing. She explains that she uses black gesso to prepare her support, then paints on that with bold strokes, leaving some of the black background to serve as outline of the painted objects. I was also impressed by her daily paintings (Daily Paintwork, n.d.), where the simplest everyday items appear to come to life. Since her style reminds me of that of some impressionists and my all-time favourite Expressionist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria) (Fig.1), and I think that during the last few exercises I seem to have worked towards, inconsistently and with the wrong colours, a style reminiscent of the above, I am going to do my best to stay with what seems to be developing anyway. So, another attempt at strong lines and “dirty” colours.

Egon_Schiele_004
Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Old Mill”, oil on canvas, 1916. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via malerei-meisterwerke.de
When coming to the choice of items, I will try the “less is more” principle, but will be still be looking for unusual shapes and setups. For example, Picasso’s  “Still Life with Pitcher and Apples” (Picasso, 1919) could not be more straightforward in choice, but the shape of the pitcher and position of fruit attract the attention of a viewer because of the unexpected arrangement. The same applies, in my opinion, to his  “Still Life with Skull and Pot” (Picasso, 1943): It is deceptively simple, but catches the light in an admirable way, while knowing skull and cheeky pot appear to be engaged in some act of important communication. What I also found was a still life by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945, USA), from a three generation dynasty of painters, called “Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle” (Wyeth, 1922): again, simple objects, the most straightforward of arrangements, and all the beauty of it coming from the incredible background and use of light on the objects. It seems as if the shape of the bottle consisted of black background only, its outline defined by wall and table, and only a hint of light on its neck.
This is all well, but I think a big point where my planning goes wrong may be the ACTUAL choice of objects. We do not seem to be a household with stuff that lends itself easily to posing for a still life, so I will need to take my time.

8 May 2016. I took my time and finally came up with a driftwood salt and pepper holder made by my sister, a silver spoon and, as a contrast in material and colour my son’s plastic egg cup. I am not too pleased with my choice, because it will not tell a story beyond “waiting for my boiled egg to arrive”, but this is an exercise and I will concentrate on improving my technique to leave the message for Assignment 2.
Bearing in mind the beautiful choice of background by N.C. Wyeth, I used a dark grey wooden board to serve as wall and a piece of dark brown paper taken from a Nespresso bag to cover the table (Fig. 2):

Setup1_08052016
Figure 2. Objects chosen for this exercise (setup discarded later because of weak shadows und unfavourable distribution of darkest tones)

With this arrangement, my viewfinder and a desktop daylight lamp I experimented until negative spaces, distribution of colours, shadows and highlights looked satisfactory to me. In fact the latter did not come true, but after a day I made up my mind to go for the setup which in my opinion came closest to the requirements. For my sketches I used three different ink pens, a fineliner, a calligraphy pen for the darkest tones and a brush-tip one for the mid tones. The latter unfortunately started to run out of ink and so the last, and most interesting, of the following sketches is lighter in tone than I would have liked it to be (Fig. 3-5).

First_sketch_ink_pens_v1_08052016
Figure 3
First_sketch_ink_pens_v2_08052016
Figure 4
First_sketch_ink_pens_v3_08052016
Figure 5

The above sketch I recreated in my sketchbook at a slightly larger scale with a dark watercolour background and soft pastel crayons, a combination which produced some very beautiful effects (Fig. 6):

Sketch_watercolour_pastels_detail_08052016
Figure 6. Watercolour and pastel sketch emphasizing darest and lightest tonal values

With this sketch to work from I decided to choose an A2 painting carton, portrait format and a coloured background. Report to follow.

References:

Daily Paintworks (n.d.) Cathleen Rehfeld [online]. Daily Paintworks. Available at: http://www.dailypaintworks.com/Artists/cathleen-rehfeld-206 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1919) Still Life with Pitcher and Apples [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée National Picasso, Paris. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-14/picasso27s-still-life-with-pitcher-and-apples2c-1919/3664892 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1943) Still Life with Skull and Pot [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-1594.php [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Rehfeld, C. (2016-17) Cathleen Rehfeld Oil Paintings [blog] [online]. Cathleen Rehfeld. Available at: http://crehfeld.blogspot.co.at/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

Schiele, E. (1916) Old Mill [oil on canvas] [online]. Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Wien. Available at: http://www.malerei-meisterwerke.de/bilder/egon-schiele-alte-muehle-08818.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Wyeth, N.C. (1922) Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle [oil on canvas][online]. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eoskins/5598698301/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

 

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.
9_Testing_backgrounds_part1
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).

10_Testing_backgrounds_part2
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):

11_Changing_edges_hues_2
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):

15_Dividing_up_paper
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 3: Still life with natural objects (step 1: choosing a subject and artist research)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

24 April 2016. Since I had already chosen flowers for Assignment 1 I was advised by the study guide to skip exercise 2 to go straight to painting natural objects.

Again, as always, I feel some inner resistance when having to put together random objects in order to display them as a still life. What I want to do is tell a story, even if the task is only keen observation of form, light and composition. So I gave the fruit basket and vegetable drawer a wide berth, collected and then discarded twigs, cones and snail shells, and half eaten breakfast eggs, and in my mind always came back to the study guide suggestion of painting rock crystals. I have a few of these, which we picked up on some mountaineering trips in the Hohe Tauern mountain range. While going through my small collection of rocks and crystals I also came across three specimens, which are, to me, so interesting regarding their surface appearance, provenance and history of formation that I could not resist choosing them for the exercise:
I have now a highly irregular, iridescent and near black piece of pumice, filled with holes formed by volcanic gas, which we found on a lava field near mount Teide on Tenerife, a 10 cm long cylindrical piece of petrified wood (which is at least what we think it is) from Australia, which is yellowish-pink in colour, as well as a piece of cream-white probably coral I inherited from my grandfather and whose ends are extremely worn, so that it looks well-rounded overall (Fig. 1):


Apart from the personal stories connected with the pieces, there is geology and biology to consider, if I am to create a painted still life story. So here I am with a real opportunity to go through a staged process. I just hope that I can force myself to a considerate approach.

First of all, since two of these objects are not what the study guide would call simple forms, while at the same time sharing a lack of colour, I will want a carefully chosen coloured background to emphasize the characteristics of my objects. The matter is whether I want the background to be part of the story, e.g. in its simplest form telling something about the place of formation of each of the three objects. What I could do is to create an abstract background layer in a way I saw in an exhibition of paintings by Herbert Stejskal earlier this year (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), but much more reduced, as e.g. in Anon (n.d.) or Guedez (n.d.). I like the strong lines delineating the boundaries of each coloured area, but I guess that just these lines would not provide an interesting contrast, but would rather suffocate the delicate structures of my objects. On the other hand, I do not want the still life to look like a display in a jeweller’s shop window with the items lying on a nice piece of cloth, satin or velvet, or whatever, or on an indifferent background as e.g. in this painting by Paolo Porpora (1617-1673, Italy) (Fig. 2):

paolo_porpora_1617-ca-1673_-_still_life_with_shells_oil_on_canvas_445_x_67_cm
Figure 2. Paolo Porpora: Still Life with Shells, oil on canvas, [n.d.]. Source: Paolo Porpora (1617-1673) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Also, since I quite like the strong shadows, I want to chose a background which allows them to be included in the painting.

25 April 2016. In order to start experimenting without thinking too much about a story or concept, I had a look through my collection of scrap paper, which I include in drawings and paintings now and them, and was lucky to find three pieces, which could help me with visualizing background effects regarding colour, as well as size and position of parts. What I do not want to do here, however, is to take a shortcut and use the paper to make a collage. I want to paint all parts, because I know I need the experience. Here are a few photos I took while testing a first setup. To start, I took photos with each rock on similar and contrasting background colours and tones. See the results in the three photos below (Fig. 3, 4 and 5):

4_Setup_paper_v1
Figure 3. Rocks placed on similar background
5_Setup_paper_v2
Figure 4. Rocks placed on contrasting background – 1
6_Setup_paper_v3
Figure 5. Rocks placed on contrasting background – 2

I quite like the combination of tonal and colour variation in the above background experiment. There is, however, when looking at it again, far too much harmony, which I would like to break. I therefore varied the position of the papers and got two more or less acceptable results (Fig. 6 and 7):

8_Setup_paper_v5
Figure 6. Position of background papers changed to form rectangular areas
7_Setup_paper_v4
Figure 7. Position of background papers changed to form triangular areas

For some reason the triangular shapes appear appealing to me, probably because a good-willed viewer might read mountains, sand dunes or ocean waves into them. So I think that I might give that idea a go, but avoiding the jeweller’s shop appearance. So there will be no painting simple patterns for the rocks to lie on. In order to see how other artists solve their background problems, I had another look on the internet and found an example of how the background may be painted using the same hues as the objects placed on top and still successfully creating a background-foreground effect (Groat, n.d.). This gave me the idea that I might try a very subtle combination of the different hues provided by a volcanic eruption, sea water and sand desert. Whether the combination of colours (orange, blue and ochre-pink) will work together and whether I will need to enhance likeness or contrast, I will test in the next step of this exercise.

Regarding paintings depicting similar objects I did not find many examples. Entering “still life natural objects” or even “rock crystal” in my browser gave almost invariably fruit or vegetables interspersed with the odd fish, most of them to a high standard of practically photorealistic painting, which I do not want either. One style I came across I thought fascinating: Sylvia Siddell (1941-2011), a New Zealand based painter, had a very unusual and energetic approach to her still lifes, see e.g. “Out of the Frying Pan” (Siddell, 2007). She used an intriguing combination of line and colour, which I would like to include in this exercise, on a much simpler level.

References:

[Anon.] (n.d.) Abstract Painting on a Wall [n.k.] [online image]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.featurepics.com/online/Abstract-Painting-Wall-Photo316326.aspx [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Groat, H. II (n.d.) Terra Mater [oil on canvas] [online]. New York Art Collection. Available at: http://hallgroat.com/products/paintings-of-nature-for-sale/ [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Guedez, C. (n.d.) La Ville de Paris [acrylic on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.carmenguedez.com/abstract-art-paintings/la-ville-de-paris [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Study Visit: Gallery Tour in Salzburg [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 Blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/study-visit-gallery-tour-in-salzburg/ [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Porpora, P. (n.d.) Still Life With Shells [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Paolo_Porpora_%281617-ca.1673%29_-_Still_life_with_shells%2C_oil_on_canvas%2C_44%2C5_x_67_cm.jpg [Accessed 25 February 2017]

Siddell, S. (2007) Out of the Frying Pan [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.geocities.ws/s_siddell/out-of-the-frying-pan.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

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).

1_Winter_tree_positive
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.

2_Winter_tree_negative
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.