Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life disaster with natural objects (step 4: finished painting)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

2 May 2016. So, here comes disaster diary for the last step in this exercise.

I think that everything that follows can be pinpointed to my introduction of gloss medium as a diluting agent instead of water. In my previous exercise I had noticed that I was unable to create uniform layers of paint, i.e. such that were not totally opaque to the sides of the brush and totally transparent in the brush track. After having got the advice to use gloss medium to dilute instead of water the first experiments looked quite promising except for the weird bubbles created by mixing more than the tiniest amount of paint and medium. While I thought that the background created in this way looked fine and the surface was smooth and shiny, I will have to work some more on my composition skills (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. The prepared background, A3 acrylic paper, paint diluted with gloss medium

When next I added another layer of paint indicating the position of my objects and their future colours, I noticed straight away that painting on top of that smooth surface would not be as straightforward as it had sounded on the internet. I found that I was unable to go over areas already covered in wet paint a second time, because this would remove all the paint in an instant and I would not be able to close the gaps produced in this way until the layer had dried completely. This allowed no spontaneity im my use of the paintbrush whatsoever and prohibited the correction of mistakes. Also, and what I did not expect to see to such an extent was the extreme darkening effect. Acrylics become darker on drying, student qualities such as I have been using so far more so than professional quality paint (which I will buy from now on!), but the gloss medium made this far worse. The application of mixed hues became totally unpredictable, since I did not know what tonal value to mix for it to dry up to create the tonal value I wanted. And furthermore, the medium and paint reacted together in a way which produced a fluffy, creamy stuff difficult to apply to the smooth surface, which a second later was dry enough to allow no correcting. I spent two days trying to do my best to finish my painting, but I gave up when I saw no way I could improve what I had (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Finished disaster painting, A3 acrylic paper, objects painted with acrylics diluted with gloss medium

While there is no point in wanting to see anything nice in the overall work, I do think that some parts may be worth remembering for later for their effects. If they had been on a separate canvas each I might have been quite pleased with the outcome. So here are the details I liked. The “coral” (or whatever it may be) was believable overall despite the lack of detail provided at closer look. I also want to remember the effect of having outlines contrasting in colour to both the object itself and the adjacent negative space, see top right of following photo (sorry for the poor quality, neither camera nor scanner nor the later removal of highlights on the computer provided a realistic image) (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. Finished disaster painting, detail: “coral”

In the following two details I liked the texture of the background surrounding the petrified branch (Fig. 4a) and the contrast between the pointed bit of rock and the background, making it look really 3-dimensional (Fig. 4b). These I was also pleased with, because I noticed that for the first time my artist research seemed to have an effect on my style of painting (if one may call that so):

What was impossible to improve in the painting was my piece of pumice. Whatever I tried became so dark in the end that I could only guess at the final colour.
I will resist, however, the urge to apply a pair of scissors to this piece of work and stick the nice bits in my sketchbook. By having it in front of me in my workshop I may learn more from it that I am am aware of at this point.

 

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

Updated on 22 Fwebruary 2017 (Harvard referencing).

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

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

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

2. Drawing

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

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


3. Putting in colour


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

4. Correcting the colours and lines

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Figure 4. The finished painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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