Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life with natural objects (step 2: testing background colours)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The ground consisting of binder and white appeared to enhance colour and tonal difference greatly in all the mixes.
  4.  Painting on white only ground the binder-added mixes appeared somewhat darker, Applying the colour only mix was accompanied with noticeably greater restistance.
  5. 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.
Figure 1. Testing different backgrounds and mixes of acrylic colour and binder                          (explanation see text)

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).

Figure 2. Testing composition and colours for the background

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):

Figure 3. New variant with changed tonal values and attention to edges

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):

Figure 4. Some composition rules. Source: [n.k.]
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.






Part 1, project 2, exercise 1: Transparent and opaque – tonally graded wash

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

25 February, 2016. For this exercise I made several longish strips using my discarded heavy watercolour paper paintings, both smooth and rough, and followed the instructions in the study guide.
Since I am working with acrylic paint, I soon found out that in order to produce a  graded wash I would need to work quickly and developed a system allowing satisfactory results. When still wet the finished strips looked better than they did after having become dry, so none of them are perfect, although I noticed that I became better with practice.

With the colours (Amsterdam) and types of paper I used in this exercise the difference between wet-in-wet washes and painting on a dried layer was hardly noticeable. Luckily I had seen the expected effects before on other occasions, e.g. with the pear painted on smooth cardboard for exercise 1b of Project 1. I did notice, however, that some pigments seem to repel each other at the microscopic level, which when painting wet-in-wet will leave small areas of incomplete mixing, somewhat like freckles on a face. The same effect I know from certain watercolour pigments, where a drop of one colour put into a puddle of the other will cause the latter to move towards the edges of the puddle instantly. I have not done the experiment recently, but think I remember it was particularly effective, and annoying, with Schmincke Horadam indigo.

Figure 1. Tonally graded washes, first layer, top: ultramarine, bottom: bluegreen
Figure 2. Tonally graded washes, ultramarine and bluegreen, left: on dried layer, right: wet in wet
Figure 3. Tonally graded washes: left and right: on dried layer, centre: wet in wet
Figure 4. Tonally graded wash, detail

In the above picture (Fig. 4) a difference between wet in wet washes and letting the first layer dry first is visible because the brush strokes on the “solid” side of the first colour became enhanced by the second colour and thus form a most attractive “glazing” effect.

Figure 5. Tonally graded wash: wet in wet, detail

In contrast, the above example (Fig. 5) shows the effect of wet in wet painting: The result is a more or less unstructured mix in different proportions, a glazing effect is missing.

Figure 6. Tonally graded washes. Left: on dried first layer, right: wet in wet

In the last set of the series (Fig. 6 above) I think that I spotted a few other differences between dried and wet in wet layers. Apart from not liking the red-green combination and a strange impression of a “magnetic repulsion” between the two colours the most dilute washes on the most solid first layers at either end of the strip seem to have helped enhance the chroma of the latter, while the central bit seems to have lost its radiance, it appears grey rather than coloured. A glazing effect was not visible in either of the two strips.
In my eyes the most successful of the combinations was the dried bluegreen and gold ochre wash. Will try and read about the physics and chemistry behind the above!