20 November 2016. How time flies. On April 20th this year I found a photograph in our local newspaper, which I knew I would like to try for this exercise. It has neither trees in the foreground nor hills in the background as set out in the study guide, but the subject – strips made by tractor mowing the grass – and composition are so beautiful that I want to take the risk and try it nevertheless (Fig. 1).
Regarding the physics behind the phenomenon, which is well-known mostly from football fields, I found a (German language) explanation (Dewald, 2012). Countless artists noticed and made extensive use of the beauty of this effect. David Hockney (*1937, UK) used it in his series of Yorkshire landscape paintings, e.g. in “Garrowby Hill” painted in 1998 (Hockney, n.d.(a)) or “Going up Garrowby Hill” from 2000 (Pinterest, n.d.), both shown below as printouts from the internet (Fig. 1). It has also inspired more abstract painters such as Latvian artist Raimonds Staprans (*1926) (Fig. 2) and even quiltmakers, e.g. “Sunset Desert” by Gloria Loughman (*?, Canada) (Loughman, n.d.).
26 November 2016. After having had another look at my photo, I knew that I would want it changed somehow, because after the excursion to Hockney’s paintings it suddenly felt boring, and the pattern transferred to another, wider, undulating landscape. I went to look for suitable photos and decided to superimpose the former on the latter, changing both colours and composition (Fig. 3):
27 November 2017. This is how far I got today. I noticed how important it is to try and feel the story behind each part of the landscape, so this is not a matter of just adding stripes, but I need to feel my way round both reality and the developing composition (Fig. 4):
28 November 2016. Today I worked some more on this painting, adding new patterns with care, changing the colours of older ones and trying to guide the viewer through the image (Fig. 5):
I think that I should leave it where it is now. The composition feels complete to me, for whatever reason. In order to make it a working painting, however, I would need to apply paint with greater consistency across the whole support. It was an interesting experiment and quite revealing regarding the thought processes involved in the abstraction of patterns taken from the real world.
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 (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):
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.
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]
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).
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.
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):
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.
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:
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.
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.
The ground consisting of binder and white appeared to enhance colour and tonal difference greatly in all the mixes.
Painting on white only ground the binder-added mixes appeared somewhat darker, Applying the colour only mix was accompanied with noticeably greater restistance.
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.
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).
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):
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):
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.
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):
Mixing the 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.
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).
3. Putting in colour
Figure 3a. Adding tile colour
Figure 3b.Adding first bath layer
Figure 3c. Correcting
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
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).
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.
Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).
19 March 2016. While spending more time in hospital with our son I had ample opportunity to think about the mechanisation of human life and, as it were, people themselves. The idea of working with Leonardo’s (1452-1519, Italy) Vitruvian man (da Vinci, ca. 1492) (Fig. 1), trying to superimpose on the famous drawing a setup using tools like such as pincers, nuts, pliers, folding rules and such like. I gathered a large number of objects and started experimenting.
20 March 2016. Having sat on my workshop floor for several hours, pushing my tools around in a futile attempt to create something exciting, I realized that I did not want to continue here. Suddenly both the subject and setup seemed dull, flat and uninteresting. It may be that I am very close to tears nowadays and additional demands from outside our small fragile world sometimes seem unbearable. So what I am planning to do instead is to take the gorgeous tulips our son picked from his favourite flower shop (yes, even some wild boys like flowers!) and paint them in a soft light. Pushing on from the previous exercise, however, I decided that I would like to paint one of the flower heads in black and white, a statement which I think leaves a whole universe for personal interpretation. Since I never know whether there will be time while the tulips are still fresh, because our son’s condition can deteriorate suddenly and quickly, I took a large number of photos and decided I would work from the photo best suited to accomodate both coloured and black and white sections. To this end I would produce some sketches exploring tonal contrast. In preparation I had a look at several artists, who had produced still lives with tulips, but I had my painting firmly settled on my mind so I decided I did not want to be influenced too much by what other people did. And also, considering what I found on the internet, still lives with tulips can go awfully wrong. They appear deceptively easy to paint and are not. So I decided that I wanted to use the opportunity to gain experience by painting them without reference to the work of others.
First I produced a series of photos with two different bouquets, many different arrangements and lighting conditions. Among these the following view from slightly above under the strong daylight lamps in my workshop produced the pattern I had had in mind: I would paint the colourful bouquet against a dark background and the shadow of the arrangement on a bright surface (Fig. 2).
This was followed by sketches in my sketchbook to make sure the dark/light arrangement would look OK (Fig. 3):
30 March 2016. Back from a strange Easter holiday with everybody in the family seriously ill for at least a week I nevertheless finished Assignment 1 today. I had prepared my background with the Payne’s grey I had produced for the previous exercise and adding white and a bit of sap green in order to produce the particular sheen of the shadow.
After the background had become dry I roughly sketched in the outlines of flowers and shadows using black and white charcoal, then painted the shadows using the neutral grey with sap green I had prepared earlier. On top of this I put first layers of both flower heads and leaves, not yet paying particular attention to colour correctness (Fig. 5a-c).
Over the next few days I kept adding both opaque and transparent layers by carefully observing emerging patterns. This is the result (Fig. 6):
Considering my previous experience with acrylics I am very happy about the result, in particular having found out some immensely important aspects about the layering of colour, something I had never knewn how to pay proper attention to before. I am beginning to understand the basics ruling composition and the use of both achromatic and coloured pigments. Most of it is still somewhat intuitive, but I am learning. Looking back over the assignment, I am not sure whether I might have been expected to do a lot more preliminary investigation regarding arrangement, but what I got appears relatively convincing to me. I am also happy to have a message to come with my bouquet of flowers, a message I need to carry with me at all times – now more than ever.