[Retrospective post] Part 5, project 3, exercises 1 and 2: Towards abstraction – abstract painting from man-made form and abstraction from study of natural forms

15 March 2017. Again I need to combine my retrospective report on two exercises. This is for two reasons: The first is due to my failed rearranging my working sequence for this part of the course and the second is directly connected with the nature of shadows. Shadows are per se natural, there is no way of having anything like an artificial shadow. So any abstracting from shadows belongs to Exercise 1 of this project. On the other hand, the behaviour of the naturally occurring shadows I observed for this project were distorted by man-made forms, grids and bottles, which belongs to Exercise 2. So what I need to do is write a combined report. Again I need to apologize for double-posting images. Since the associated series of experiments was very long, I also ask to kindly refer to my extensive report in the post writing up the work for the first project of my submission for Assignment 5, “A Shadow Only Painting” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a). Here I provide a summary of the most important steps in the process (Fig. 1-5):

Figure 1. Testing the distortion of shadows made by grids on bottles under natural lighting conditions (intense sunshine)
Figure 2. Sketchbook – pencil sketch of working setup
Figure 3. Finished stencil with inserted A4 paper

Below are the results I achieved with my stencil for various types of paint, inks and pastels (Fig. 4):

Figure 4. Stencil results

After that I used my son’s new 3D pen to make an outline painting of the pencil sketch in my sketchbook and continued experimenting with the shadows produced by this shadow of a shadow, thus producing sequential abstract paintings derived at the same time from both natural and man-made forms:

Figure 5. 3D pen and the self-propagating shadow

This series of experiments was highly enjoyable and revealing regarding the wonderful possibilities arising from the creative process involved in becoming aware of emergent properties. Equipped with these results I embarked on turning the patterns seen into paintings for my Assignment 5 submission.


Lacher-Bryk (2016a) Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/assignment-5-subject-1-a-shadows-only-painting-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 15 March 2017]

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):

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):

Figure 3. Using a plastic grid (1)
Figure 4. Using a plastic grid (2)
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).

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):

Figure 7. Trying to make a cardboard stencil (1)
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):

Figure 9. Making a plastic stencil (1)
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):

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):

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):

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

The finished result looks like this:

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):

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

Figure 22. Ink painting on shellac and acrylic background
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).

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):

Figure 25
Figure 26
Figure 27
Figure 28
Figure 29
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.


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|