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):

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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):

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

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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):

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

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

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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):

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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):

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

The finished result looks like this:

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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):

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

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

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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):

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Figure 25
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Figure 26
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Figure 27
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Figure 28
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Figure 29
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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: Euan Uglow and Giorgio Morandi – colour palette and simplicity in the purity of form

Updated on 7 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

4 August 2016. Two artists to revisit in order to study their choice of colour and approach to depicting form. Since I have seen work from both of them before, I though I would do a tiny compare and contrast exercise here.

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), world famous Italian 20th century still life painter of a purist kind, remained mostly with a restricted colour palette consisting of earth colours and different shades of grey. For a selection of typical works and analysis of his approach see e.g. Artyfactory (n.d.), where I found an explanation for the curiously pure surfaces of his objects. Apparently it took him weeks of preparatory observation and rearranging the objects for him to feel satisfied with a setup and I can see, and even more than that, feel how the forms communicate. Any small change to setup, form and colour and the message would be totally different. The colour palette and chosen pure forms appear to me to mirror Morandi’s way of life and I am amazed at and envy his relaxed and determined attitude.

Euan Uglow (1932-2000) on the other hand, was mainly a figurative painter, but when comparing his choice of subjects and care of analysis with Morandi’s approach I can see many similarities. One of his still lifes, “Still Life with Delft Jar” (Uglow, 1958) radiates the same careful, contemplative approach. Even some of his figurative paintings have a Morandi-like quality, e.g. in “The Blue Towel” (3), which is visible also in a video presenting some of this paintings (inesvigo, 2011). It is as if Uglow had slowly felt his way around the canvas until he was utterly satisfied with the patterns of communicating areas of colour in every tiny bit of it. The above painting makes me want to put it under a light microscope and see whether the pattern is repeated down to the tiniest observable scale.

In both Morandi’s and Uglow’s work there does not seem to be any random noise, no superfluous statements, just what there is and nothing else. This is probably the consequence of a state of mind in tune with body and environment. I guess that not too many people achieve this permanently, but when they do their works of art may achieve a timeless quality.

References:

Artyfactory (n.d.) Giorgio Morandi – Natura Morta (Still Life) [online]. Artyfactory, n.k. Available at: http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/still_life/giorgio_morandi.htm [Accessed 4 August 2016]

inesvigo (2011) Euan Uglow [online]. inesvigo, n.k. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKYlGvuWdJw [Accessed 4 August 2016]

Uglow, E. (1958) Still Life With Delft Jar [oil on canvas] [online]. Arts Council Collection, London. Available at: http://www.artscouncilcollection.org.uk/artwork/still-life-delft-jar [Accessed 7 March 2017]

Uglow, E. (1982) The Blue Towel [oil on canvas] [online]. Jerwood Foundation, London. Available at: http://www.jerwoodfoundation.org/collection/26/the-blue-towel [Accessed 7 March 2017]

 

Assignment 2: Poisonous cocktails

Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

22 June 2016. Due to an immense amount of work and dates to be kept outside the OCA I needed to be very careful with the time I have to prepare for Assignment 2. Therefore I am glad that I have done lots of preliminary research and work in my exercises leading up to this assignment. Since my first attempt at a setup showing aggression by movement and choice of colour was not exactly successful I need to change both. So I had a look at Giorgio Morandi and his “communicating vessels” (The Art Story, 2017) and found that the spouts of jugs are incredibly useful in creating the illusion of a talkative atmosphere. I will therefore add at least one of these to my setup.
When looking for “aggressive setups” for still lifes I came once again across the cubists and Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973, Spain) “Mandolin and Guitar” painted in 1924. The aggression comes, besides the bold mark-making, from the positioning of the objects, which form a mask-like face. Picasso painted another still life, which seems to be more or less tumbling out of its frame “The Vase, Bowl and Lemon” (Picasso, 1907). This reminds me of my attempt at doing the same and neither his nor my painting convince me regarding the communicating vessel aspect. The red and yellow bowl does seem to both hide behind the green bottle and appear cheeky by “rolling the lemon out”. The green bottle appears to back off by seemingly hiding a “face” (the brown opening) behind the blue cloth on the left. The red colour of the bowl, although in the same picture plane as the green bottle, seems to push forward, out of the painting. This effect reminds me of Mark Rothko’s (1903-1970, USA) studies, where black automatically takes the position apparently furthest “inside” the picture on the lowest possible plane, whereas red comes out to appear to hang in mid-air above the actual plane (see e.g. Artsy, 2017). My original choice of colours was not completely wrong, but in order to be able to manage the multitude of interconnected effects I will have to reduce objects and colours considerably.
24 June 2016. So, changing my setup while remembering to still serve poisonous cocktails, then doing preliminary sketches in pencil and watercolour. Prepare the Rothko-like background, paint on that with a brush with different colours and let the picture develop.
The following photo sequence (Fig. 1-5) shows how far I have got today and irrespective of the possible final quality of the painting I am pleased that I can stick with my planning now, including using the sketchbook for collecting annotated cutouts and computer prints.

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Figure 1. Setup through viewfinder

The red OCA tissue paper behind the decanter gives an impression of a forward movement. When comparing this with my first pencil sketch to test the setup, the difference without the added colour is striking. It lack that particular illusion of movement:

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Figure 2. Pencil sketch with Rothko-type background tonal values

So, my choice of colours depended on the following idea: If I have a Rothko-type background, a red area should automatically push forward. If I put some of the glasses on that background and choose my colours so as to enhance this effect, I might be able to create the illusion of relative movement when e.g. comparing with a subdued vessel on a black background. In order to test my idea I made a quick watercolour sketch. The red area does indeed push forward and the orange watercolour pencil used to reinforce the decanter increases that impression. The same is true for the smaller bottle on the left. I am not convinced, however, of the strength of the black area, but this may be due to the bottle outlined in blue reaching over the top and bottom end of that area:

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Figure 3. Watercolour-watercolour pencil sketch to decide on colours

Next I prepared my background with acrylics on an A2 painting carton, landscape format. It was next to impossible to take a photo that would not show the reflective surface in some way, so the colours are not exact, especially the black looks blue and the red area does not look as strong as it really is:

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Figure 4. Rothko-type background on A2 painting carton

The first coloured sketch of my objects went relatively well, but since a lot of thinking is involved here I will have to give it a short break in order to let my idea develop further. I quite like how the red of the background seems to have somehow invaded the decanter and seems to push it towards the viewer. I will need to take care to balance the picture, however, especially the bottle in the black area, whose top needs to be far less strong. I am also not sure yet whether I want the violet-blue between decanter and conical glass changed. At the moment it does help to push the decanter, but it gives it a far to prominent position while holding the green glass back, and I have not found out yet why that may be. Also, I will need to think carefully how strong the glass in the bottom left corner can become without tipping over the balance:

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Figure 5. Brush sketch on background

27 June 2016. Today I was informed that I would be transferred to another tutor, since my former tutor had resigned from her post. Since I am not even halfway through Painting 1 yet I hope to be able to adapt quickly to a new tutoring style and that the respective expectations are not too divergent.

I also continued with my painting, trying to carefully think about the above ideas and how to give them weight in dealing with the developing work. So, first of all, I changed the shape of the red area to make it less prominent and by coincidence it started looking like a  brightly lit room behind a dimly lit bar. This change required changes to be made to the lighting of the objects in the foreground. None of that is real and I had to rely on my intuition in placing tonal values. Also, there is now a contradiction in the painting. While red pushes forward, its place here is at the far back. I think that it does work, because the decanter is also filled with it. The funny thing here is that it looks by far better in the photo than in the actual painting (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Front room added to the bar, requiring many subtle changes to the objects

Then I tried to reduce the reddish glow of the decanter, since it continued to be a far too dominant feature in the setting. Again it looks much better on the photo than on the painting) (Fig. 7):

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Figure 7. Decanter subdued, changes to the bottles on the left

Finally I remembered to fill the vessels with the remnants of my poisonous cocktails and this change allowed the balance among the objects to be shifted. By removing much of the glow inside the decanter the glassware appears much more delicate now. The glass on the right has started to look somewhat like the aggressive intruder I wanted it to be. This makes it believable that the blue glass on the bottom left appears to be leaving the scene by the forward action initiated by the intruder. The movement across the canvas is probably not totally convincing yet, but I am happy that I found a way of suggesting such an action at all (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Finished painting

Here are some details (Fig. 9-11):

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Figure 9. Detail 1: Bottle top and decanter spout
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Figure 10. Reflections on decanter and table-top
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Figure 11. Red light shining through glass onto table-top

Considering that most of the contents of this painting is purely from imagination I am quite happy with the outcome. There are several places, which do not look quite right yet, e.g. when looking closely the red wine left in the decanter needs its surface extended to the right. Also my style of painting is still not consistent over the whole surface, although I think I am making some progress in that respect.
The last day for submitting Assignment 2 to my previous tutor is the 30th of June. I decided to stick to that date during the “interregnum”, but I expect to be allocated a new/later date by my new tutor. In that case I might return to the painting once more and see whether I might improve it further.

Resources:

Artsy (2017) Mark Rothko [online]. Artsy, New York. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artist/mark-rothko [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1907) Vase, Bowl and Lemon [oil on panel] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: http://www.bridgemanimages.com/en-GB/asset/218851/picasso-pablo-1881-1973/pitcher-bowl-and-lemon-1907-oil-on-panel/ [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1924) Mandolin and Guitar [oil and sand on canvas] [online]. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Available at: https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3441 %5BAccessed 04 Mar 2017]

The Art Story Contributors (2017) Giorgio Morandi Artist Overview and Analysis [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-morandi-giorgio-artworks.htm [Accessed 03 Mar 2017]