Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).

14 December 2016. Yesterday, while waiting for my son again in the December midday sun I observed some shadows travelling across the ground and then up a wall of an adjacent building. This gave me the idea of wanting to try a series of experiments and final painting of “shadows only”: I would like to arrange a still life made up of (or imagined as) white only objects in front of a white wall. On this setup I want a shadow to fall. The warping of the shadow due to the objects in its way would be their only defining element. What I intended to test was whether a shadow of this kind would be sufficient to make the details of my setup visible. Some artists, mainly photographers, make use of this effect, in particular to define the human body (Webneel, n.d.) or in a very different way in a painting by Patty Neal (*?, USA), “Moving Shadow” (Saatchi Art, n.d.).

22 December 2016. Overall, however, I found surprisingly little work by artists, in the past and present, who make shadows a central subject. Most of the time, if at all, shadows are recognized and included as part of some arrangement. For example, Giorgio Morandi, who was an outstanding master of still life, rarely pays particular attention to them: In many of his paintings there are no shadows at all or either always falling to the same side, see e.g. a collection on Pinterest (n.d.). Many artists working today appear to choose subjects, which do not require the inclusion of shadows in the composition, or deliberately omit them. Even if the paintings are titled “Shadow”, the word is quite commonly used solely in a metaphorical way to transcribe psychological phenomena.

Today I started looking for a suitable place for setting up my shadow still life and by coincidence I came up with a near-ideal table in my workshop. The early winter morning sun was shining directly on that table from behind me and would continue to do so for some hours (wandering shadows included). This I wanted to make my experimenting site for this project. In case there would be too little sun over the weeks to come I planned to use a strong halogen light to imitate the effect. I did a very first test of the warping of shadows on curved surfaces. It is clearly visible how the distorsion works (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Testing the setup, warping of shadows on curved surfaces

The above “setup” was not working in the intended way, however, because I gained too little information from the low resolution shadow “grid” of my fingers. Since I have blinds on my workshop windows I tested the respective effect (Fig. 2):

4_third_test_with-blinds_19122016
Figure 2. The same test with blinds down

The sunlight kept changing from very bright to quite dull in a matter of seconds. At the moment of taking the above photo it was relatively weak. Also, due to their comparative size the blinds needed to be at some distance to my setup. I could see that the achieved resolution was still too weak. So I got out one of those plastic grids used for roller painting walls and held it close to my setup (Fig. 3-5):

5_fourth_test_with-grid_19122016
Figure 3. Using a plastic grid (1)
6_fifth_test_with-grid_19122016
Figure 4. Using a plastic grid (2)
7_sixth_test_with-grid_19122016
Figure 5. Using a plastic grid (3)

Here for the first time I produced something like the desired resolution. The pattern produced by the grid is also something I quite liked, so I decided to continue using it for further experimentation.

27 December 2016. Today was the first day I found the time to continue experimenting with my grids, and – surprise, surprise – there was no sun. I tried to replace it with our very strong halogen light and found it totally unsuitable for the purpose. No matter how strong the light appeared, it was so much weaker even than the faintest sunlight that shadows hardly appeared at all. And more importantly (and again I should have known better considering the physics of light), at the close distance I was forced to use it, it behaved as a dot-like light source, which means that the light beams diverge rather than run parallel (as this would be the case, more or less, with light coming from the sun) and the edges of the shadows came out  blurred rather than crispy clear (physics of shadows (University of Illinois, 2013)). So, in order to continue with this experiment I arranged a semi-permanent setup in the middle of my workshop allowing to jump to attention every time the sun decided to come out from behind the dark clouds. To make some progress nevertheless I also decided to start all my Assignment 5 projects at the same time and continue with whatever was most convenient. I was able, however, to do a first pencil sketch to get acquainted with the features of the shadows and see whether I would be able to create forms using information from the shadows only (Fig. 6).

project1_shadows_only_1_30122016
Figure 6. Sketchbook – preliminary pencil sketch

29/30 December 2016. Since to me the above result looked both interesting and not overly complex for my purpose, I photocopied it and tried to cut a stencil from a piece of cardboard (Fig. 7-8):

project1_shadows_only_2_30122016
Figure 7. Trying to make a cardboard stencil (1)
project1_shadows_only_3_30122016
Figure 8. Trying to make a cardboard stencil (2)

As this proved unsatisfactory (the thin parts of the cardboard started to bend and disintegrate) I repeated the stencil with a piece of plastic (Fig. 9-10):

project1_shadows_only_4_30122016
Figure 9. Making a plastic stencil (1)
project1_shadows_only_5_30122016
Figure 10. Making a plastic stencil (2)

I had bought a sturdy cutting board and scalpel the other day. Both the black of the board and the intense sunlight (yes, it was back for a while!) illuminating the edges of the cut lines made the work relatively straightforward. However, the sequence of making the cuts required some planning in order to end up with the plastic sheet intact rather than with numerous snippets. With some concessions made with regard to the completeness of shadows I came up with a usable result. In a few places things went wrong (top and bottom left of image), but as this is for exercise purposes only I decided to use it anyway (Fig. 11):

project1_shadows_only_6_30122016
Figure 11. Finished stecil with some minor flaws

Since the piece of plastic is a pocket (something I had not planned but was happy to notice while cutting the stencil), I was then able to insert pieces of paper and try out a number of different ways of applying paint to shadows (Fig. 12):

project1_shadows_only_7_30122016
Figure 12. Happy pocket coincidence

As I wanted to be able to use the stencil a number of times, I prepared a bucket full of water and rinsed the plastic immediately after every use. As a cautionary I started with watercolours, followed by ink and pastels to move on to acrylics last (Fig. 13, 1-6):

Figure 13. Stencil results 1-6

I did not like the results achieved with pastels, the image was far to smooth and without character, similarly with acrylics. For me the best images were the toothbrush-sprayed first one and the black drawing ink.

2 January 2017. There were two more “results” possible with my makeshift stencil until I had to discard it (Fig. 14, 1-2):

Figure 14. Stencil results 7-8

While I did not achieve the water-repellent effect I had expected for the shellac/watercolour combination, I quite like the second of the two efforts. I carefully filled the spaces in my stencil with acrylics and left to dry. Although removing the plastic foil proved harder than expected, eventually destroying it, I found the roughness of the result appealing with some of the older layers of blue acrylic paint coming off the foil with the new paint.

6 January 2017. With the experimental bits and pieces required for this part of the course I started messing around with some more shellac, acrylic binder, dried leaves and ink applied with a pipette dropped by the plants in my workshop in order to both satisfy experimentation requirements and produce usable backgrounds for the final shadows-only painting(s). I soon felt that the incredibly stressful time we have been experiencing since we started cooking the special diet for our son on top of our already mad everyday life is taking its toll. I was not really able to concentrate on making concepts. Most results were pure coincidence, I was proceeding with haste and little sensitivity for materials and methods (which, considering, may turn out as a treat). But a wonderful little Christmas present given to younger son by older son came in useful. I nicked the tool, a 3D pen, to experiment with drawing/painting my shadows “in the air” (Fig. 15-21):

project1_shadows_only_16b_07012017
Figure 15. Tracing my pencil sketch with the 3D pen
project1_shadows_only_16c_07012017
Figure 16. The hot plastic thread turned elastic and durable within seconds

The finished result looks like this:

project1_shadows_only_16d_07012017
Figure 17. A shadow 2D/3D sculpture

After a few seconds taken to solidify the plastic filament is incredibly lightweight, sturdy, flexible and can be added to later. And thinking further, this copy of a drawing of shadows is of course able to cast its own shadows again – in theory an ad infinitum game (Fig. 18-21):

project1_shadows_only_16h_07012017
Figure 18. Shining light through my line sculpture produces more shadows (1)
project1_shadows_only_16e_07012017
Figure 19. As soon as the sunlight was more intense, the shadows became crispy clear at the edges
project1_shadows_only_16g_07012017
Figure 20. Different angle
project1_shadows_only_16f_07012017
Figure 21. Closeup

In the context of this course, however, my 3D experiments cannot be more than an attempt at seeing a bigger picture, so I stopped them here. I will without doubt return to the subject in my next course.

8 January 2017. Yesterday I used one of the experimental splatter and drip backgrounds produced for the exercises of this part of the course to produce one of the possible final paintings for Assignment 5. I painted with turquoise and white drawing ink on the shellac and acrylics background and referring to my initial pencil sketch of the arrangement (Fig. 22-23).

8_finished_painting_1_08012017
Figure 22. Ink painting on shellac and acrylic background
9_finished_painting_1_detail1_08012017
Figure 23. Detail

I found the overall result quite interesting, both regarding the mix of materials, arrangement and behaviour of paint. And, which I am happy to say, the use of shadows only is sufficient to define a shape. I know that I would need to refine the technique in order to make the execution waterproof, but am happy nevertheless.

9 January 2017. In order to have a go at the set exercise of moving towards abstraction I had a another attempt at the above setup. Since I had prepared a wild impasto background for the first exercise of this part, using household dispersion priming followed by sandwiched layers of acrylic binder with shellac and acrylic paint (which in places work together to produce a fiery glow), I wanted to use this to approach the subject in a more intuitive way by trying to respond to the coincidental characteristics of the impasto background but still including the shadow shapes found in the above piece (Fig. 24).

project1_poss_background1_impasto
Figure 24. Shellac and impasto acrylic background

On this background I had the initial intention to paint something like fir trees in the grid-like shadow way developed in the previous painting, but soon got carried away by something totally different. The following steps took me several days to complete and I had to leave the painting often to allow the next steps to appear in my head (Fig. 25-30):

12_shadow_mountains_stage2_14012017
Figure 25
13_shadow_mountains_stage3_14012017
Figure 26
15_shadow_mountains_stage4_14012017
Figure 27
17_shadow_mountains_stage5_14012017
Figure 28
18_shadow_mountains_stage6_14012017
Figure 29
19_shadow_mountains_stage7_15012017
Figure 30. Finished painting

I know that at this stage the above probably is not a truly finished painting. There are several places I am not happy with, especially about the light in the cast shadows. I know that the shapes are not correct as they came from imagination only (which my tutor keeps warning me about), but there is a weird atmosphere I would not want to destroy at this point. For the same reason I resisted the strong temptation to add a flamingo poking his head round the corner in the foreground ;o). I am not sure whether the above counts as abstraction, either, but I think that I am beginning to understand the idea and thought processes involved. In order to make this work fit for assessment, if possible, I will need to discuss it with my tutor.
As things are at the moment, I would choose to count my first finished painting (the shadows defining the objects, above) towards Assignment 5, but may chose to change my mind depending on progress with the remaining assignment pieces.

References:

Pinterest (n.d.) Artist: Giorgio Morandi [image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/elisevashby/artist-giorgio-morandi/ [Accessed 22 December 2016|

Saatchi Art (n.d.) Patty Neal. Moving Shadow [online]. Saatchi Art, Santa Monica. Available at: http://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Hungry-Shadow/337321/2836423/view [Accessed 14 December 2016|

University of Illinois (2013) Q & A: Umbras and Penumbras. Follow-Up #3: merging shadows [online]. University of Illinois, Department of Physics, 6 December. Available at: https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=2068 [Accessed 27 December 2016|

Webneel (n.d.) 30 Mind-Blowing Black and White Photography Pictures and Tips for Beginners
[blog] [online]. Webneel. Available at: http://webneel.com/30-mind-blowing-black-and-white-photography-examples-and-tips-beginners [Accessed 14 December 2016|

Research point: Application of paint

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).

20 December 2016. Apart from random effects achieved e.g. by allowing a pigmented substance to run freely and practically uncontrolled (as e.g. in Hermann Nitsch, *1938, controversial Austrian experimental artist, (Marc Straus Gallery, 2015)), the application of paint is usually a closely observed, tested and corrected process. In classical representational painting textural effects of paint are rarely used. It is applied in a way so as to reproduce as faithfully as possible what is seen and the characteristics of the paint become invisible behind the subject of the painting.
With the advent of the Impressionists, and later the Expressionist, there was a radical change. Not least due to accumulating knowledge in the natural sciences artists became increasingly interested in the physical and chemical properties of the paints they used and in gaining access to means of exploiting them for artistic expression.

Claude Monet (1840-1926, France) was name-giving to the Impressionist movement. He introduced a looser, bolder handling of paint in response of the directly observed environment. In his later years he started building fields of colour with small strokes, looking to introduce surface effects in a dialogue with the colours used (The Art Story, n.d.(a)). In his extensive series of paintings of London’s Waterloo Bridge, created between 1899 and 1904 in oil on canvas, he captured different atmospheric qualities in this way. As e.g. the fog increases and outlines of the buildings become indistinct (top to bottom) Monet adapts his method of applying paint from bold to soft, always with a main focus on the light (Fig. 1-3):

claude_monet_-_waterloo_bridge_-_google_art_project
Figure 1. Claude Monet: “Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect”, 1903a, oil on canvas. Source: Claude Monet (1840-1926) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
claude_monet_-_waterloo_bridge_w_1555
Figure 2. Claude Monet: “Waterloo Bridge”, 1900, oil on canvas. Source: Claude Monet (1840-1926) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
800px-claude_monet_-_waterloo-bru%cc%88cke_-_1903
Figure 3. Claude Monet: “Waterloo Bridge”, 1903b, oil on canvas. Source: Claude Monet (1840-1926) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903, Denmark/France) worked with similar ideas but in a less abstract way than Monet. His dashed brushstrokes he used to weave a fabric in which is subjects are embedded (The Art Story, n.d.(b)) (Fig. 4):

apple_harvest_by_camille_pissarro
Figure 4. Camille Pissarro: “Apple Harvest”, 1888, oil on canvas. Source: Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Paul Cézanne (1839-1906, France) worked together with Pissarro over a lifetime  and is seen as the main pioneering artist paving the way to all new approaches to addressing the substance qualities of paint. He applied paint in discrete brushstrokes in order to construct and sculpt rather than paint his works of art (The Art Story, n.d.(c)) (Fig. 5):

paul_cezanne_160
Figure 5. Paul Cézanne: “Self-portrait With Pink Background”, oil on canvas, c.1875. Source: Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890, Netherlands) used similarly energetic bushstrokes. While less sculptural in a traditional “Cézanne sense”, their impulsive structural quality helps capture and translate the artist’s emotional state into something literally graspable (The Art Story, n.d.(d)). I went to have a look for examples other than his post-impressionist work “Starry Night”, but returned to it, because I believe there is no better painting to illustrate the above (Fig. 6):

757px-van_gogh_-_starry_night_-_google_art_project
Figure 6. Vincent Van Gogh: “The Starry Night”, oil on canvas, 1889. Source: Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
In one analysis of this work (Artble, n.d.) I found an attempt to attribute both his choice of colours and dramatic brushwork to his mental illness, although in his letter describing the development of this painting to his brother Theo he appears extremely focused and thoughtful (Blumer, 2002). It makes me wonder, why a gift of being able to see the world with other than purely rational eyes has to be turned into something insane. Could it be that, apart from the consequences of his long-term alcohol and drug abuse, part of Van Gogh was driven mad by his uncomprehending environment? Certainly with the advent of the Expressionist movement society slowly but gradually became acquainted with the new developments in art and learned to see with different eyes. I suspect that Van Gogh would have made a brilliant Expressionist or 21st century painter with nobody dreaming of branding him as his contemporaries used to do.

While during the period of Impressionism and beyond oil on canvas continued to be favoured by most painters, Expressionists started looking further afield (Boddy-Evans, 2016). With the advent of photography painting was “released from the need to copy nature”, as Henry Matisse (1869-1954, France) put it and artists thus became free in their choice of colour and way of applying paint. Colour, overall, started to be removed from reality, brushwork and paint application became liberal and generous (Tate, n.d.(a)). Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980, Austria, (Tate, n.d.(b))), for example, was one of its highly influential representatives working far into the second half of the 20th century. Abstract Expressionism (The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog, 2010) at the other extreme end of the spectrum uses paint in a spontaneous way to recreate emotional states without a connection to reality. Any contributing element, including found objects, can be used and paint may be applied with any conceivable means (The Museum of Modern Art, 2016). Jackson Pollock (1912-1956, USA) (The Art Story, n.d.(e)) was one of its pre-eminent early representatives and famous for his very large size splatter and drip works. He explained – although furiously rejected by some critics analysing his work – that his application of paint was not purely random, but rather a focused dialogue with the developing work of art (The Museum of Modern Art, 2016).

Among the many versatile painting materials available today pastels appear to take a special position. They lend themselves with less ease to the copious and highly gestural use of paint typical of many contemporary art movements. Also, in my opinion, their properties produce neither paintings nor drawings, but a curious and pleasing mix of both (Fig. 7):

ants_laikmaa_1936_taebla_maastik
Figure 7. Ants Laikmaa: “Taebla Landscape”, pastel on paper, 1936. Source: Ants Laikmaa (1866-1942) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
I did not find many 20th century pastel painters as instructed by the study guide. They were most popular in the 18th and late 19th centuries, but not since then, which may be owing to the above fact of a relatively restricted field of application and uniform needs in application (mostly sand or velvet papers). It is more their brilliant colours than their structural proterties, which attract artists, so I am not sure whether the subject is truly one for this post. However, they allow the – careful – placement of a number of layers on top of each other, which gives the finished paintings unrivalled depth. The incredible ease of application is attractive for artists working spontaneously, too. A search on the Saatchi online gallery gives a good overview over the range of contemporary pastel painting (Saatchi, n.d.).

Overall, I guess that there may not be a single substance or item that has not yet been used in painting with more or less success. Whatever method is used it becomes clear very quickly that each requires practice, thorough planning and a keen sense for the appropriate. Otherwise there is a real danger of skilled spontaneity changing place with arbitrariness, which is something the human eye is programmed to detect.

References:

Artble (n.d.) Starry Night Analysis [online]. Available at: http://www.artble.com/artists/vincent_van_gogh/paintings/starry_night/more_information/analysis [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Blumer, D. (2002) The Illness of Vincent van Gogh [online]. The American Journal of Psychiatry. Volume 159, Issue 4, 1 April 2002, pp. 519-526. Available at: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.4.519 [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Boddy-Evans, M. (2016) Techniques of the Masters: How to Paint Like an Expressionist. How the Expressionists used color in their paintings [online]. ThoughtCo, 7 November. Available at:  https://www.thoughtco.com/expressionist-masters-painting-techniques-2578608 [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Cézanne, P. (c.1875) Self Portrait With Pink Background [oil on canvas] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_paintings_by_Paul_C%C3%A9zanne#/media/File:Paul_C%C3%A9zanne_160.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Laikmaa, A. (1936) Tablea Landscape [pastel on paper] [online]. Enn Kunila’s art collection. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ANTS_LAIKMAA_1936_Taebla_maastik.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Marc Straus Gallery (2015) Hermann Nitsch [online]. Marc Straus Gallery, New York. Available at: http://www.marcstraus.com/exhibitions/hermann-nitsch/ [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Monet, C. (1900) Waterloo Bridge [oil on canvas] [online]. Santa Barbara Museum of Art . Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo_Bridge_(W_1555).jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Monet, C. (1903a) Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect [oil on canvas] [online]. Denver Art Museum. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo_Bridge_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Monet, C. (1903b) Waterloo Bridge  [oil on canvas] [online]. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_-_Waterloo-Br%C3%BCcke_-_1903.jpeg [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Pissarro, C. (1888) Apple Harvest [oil on canvas] [online]. Dallas Museum of Art. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apple_Harvest_by_Camille_Pissarro.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Saatchi (n.d.) Results for: pastel [image collection] [online]. Saatchi Art, Santa Monica. Available at: http://www.saatchiart.com/all?query=pastel [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Tate (n.d.(a) Expressionism [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/e/expressionism [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Tate (n.d.(b) Oskar Kokoschka [online]. Tate, London. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/oskar-kokoschka-1430 [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.(a)) Claude Monet [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-monet-claude.htm [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.(b)) Camille Pissarro [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-pissarro-camille.htm [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.(c)) Paul Cézanne [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-cezanne-paul.htm [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.(d)) Vincent van Gogh [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-van-gogh-vincent.htm [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Art Story (n.d.(e)) Jackson Pollock [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-pollock-jackson.htm [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Museum of Modern Art (2016) Abstract Expressionism: The Processes and Materials of Abstract Expressionist Painting [online]. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/abstract-expressionism/the-processes-and-materials-of-abstract-expressionist-painting [Accessed 20 December 2016]

The Smithsonian Studio Arts Blog (2010) Tips and Techniques: Abstract Expressionist Painting
[blog] [online]. Smithsonian Studio Arts, Washington DC. Available at: http://startstudioarts.si.edu/2010/04/tips-and-techniques-abstract-expressionist-painting.html [Accessed 20 December 2016]

Van Gogh, V. (1889) The Starry Night  [oil on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 20 December 2016]