[retrospective post] Part 5, project 2, exercises 1 and 2: Adding other materials – preparing a textured ground and mixing materials into paint

14 March 2017. I decided to report on the two exercises in this project in one post, since I combined them in some of the experiments I carried out.
This post is going to be somewhat difficult, because I threw away some of my experiments – they had nothing to do with my assignment pieces and went into the bin after I had submitted my portfolio.
I did a whole A2 watercolour paper with glue, dilute violet watercolour and writing ink. In order to at least describe the effects I made this bullet list for effects noticed:

  • wet glue spread thinly had no influence on dilute paint or ink dripped on it, both spread through the glue into the paper uninhibited
  • dry glue spread thinly repels some of both ink and paint, but much less so than anticipated
  • wet glue in strings will attract ink to travel underneath and into it. The ink spread slowly into the strongs of glue to add a greenish hue
  • dry glue will hold ink to a large extent, although a little will always travel for some small distance in the paper under the glue, paint will be repelled and the pattern produced by the ink stands out
  • wet glue placed on wet ink or paint repels some of the pigment contained, so that unpigmented rings develop around it. The degree of repulsion depends on the type of pigment involved
  • wet glue placed on dry paint or ink has no further effect

For the remaining experiments covering these two exercises I have photos. A few of these appear in other posts for this part of the course, since due to my failed rearranging of exercises they combine approaches (e.g. preparing a textured ground and dripping paint).

Since the effect of glue was a bit disappointing, I repeated the same with acrylic binder (in preparation for an assignment piece in my project “A Shadow on His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a) (Fig.1-2):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – experimenting with enclosing paint and ink in acrylic binder
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – experimenting with producing the effect of a person’s “soul” showing on the outside, acrylic binder spread roughly, then painted over after having become dry

The following two experiments (Fig. 3-4) were already described in my “impasto” post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b), both using serrated spatulae to create a rough texture to be used later in painting portraits of Bashar al-Assad  for my assignment project “A Shadow on His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a).

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Figure 4. Creating texture using a serrated spatula on a thick layer of acrylic medium
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Figure 5. Creating texture using a serrated spatula on a thick layer of white acrylic paint

Continuing the series by examining the special properties of acrylic binder, which I developed a liking for over time, I added sand, charcoal and white as well as writing ink at various stages during the drying process (Fig. 6 below):

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Figure 6. Sketchbook – examining effects with acrylic binder, sand, crushed willow charcoal and inks to create texture effects to be used in the assignment

In the series of experiments on mixing other materials into paint I had produced a background of white acrylic paint with dried, crushed leaves mixed in. In a dripping experiment I had used this background to see whether a shadow effect might be produced with applying ink with a pipette from one edge (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c). While the former did not work at all, I found that emphasizing the existing texture with a combination of writing ink and Persian Red antique ink would result in an incredibly beautiful metallic lustre and interplay of structure with the charateristics of the applied inks (Fig. 7-8):

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Figure 7. Black writing ink mixed with Persian Red antique ink on top of background consisting of a very rough mix of acrylic paint with dried crushed leaves
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Figure 8. The same as in Figure 7, but with an emphasis on Persian Red ink

Following an impasto experiment using acrylic paint and crushed willow charcoal (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) I decided to investigate the properties of this type of background for my assignment painting project covering Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Shadow” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016d) (Fig. 9):

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Figure 9. Sketchbook – experimenting on background layer of acrylic paint with grated willow charcoal, adding layers of different inks as well as acrylic paint

I very much enjoyed experimenting with texture. This was only a taster of a world of endless possibilities, but since it was dedicated to serve a particular purpose, I was also quite happy to have come up with a working background layer solution for Andersen’s tale.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:  https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) [Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 1: different ways of applying paint – Impasto [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/retrospective-post-part-5-project-1-exercise-1-different-ways-of-applying-paint-impasto/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016c) [Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 2: Different ways of applying paint – dripping, dribbling and spattering [blog] [online]. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/retrospective-post-part-5-project-1-exercise-2-different-ways-of-applying-paint-dripping-dribbling-and-spattering/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016d) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/assignment-5-subject-3-hans-christian-andersen-the-shadow-an-attempt-at-an-illustration-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

 

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[Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 1: different ways of applying paint – Impasto

Retrospective post following tutor feedback.

14 March 2017. In her feedback to Assignment 5 my tutor suggested that I rearrange my blog for Part 5 of the course for easier cross-reference in assessment. Since doing this with the existing blog posts would in my opinion produce more trouble than clarification I decided that I would produce retrospective posts fitting the project exercises in the sequence of appearance in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011, pp. 123-134). I apologize for double-posting images already contained in the posts covering the work for my assignment pieces.

So, here is my exercise work for testing the impasto technique of applying paint. In Part 3 of the course I had already started using my palette knives (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a) (Fig. 1). After an awkward start I had found them increasingly good and easy to use:

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Figure 1. Drawing with paint – Part 3 exercise work using impasto technique

Also part of my preparatory work and assignment piece for Assignment 4 was mostly painted using impasto (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b). The finished result unfortunately suffered from a deplorable longer-term change of colour in the black paint I had used then (it turned a very unfortunate indifferent dark grey after I had taken the photo, which swallowed all the beautiful elements visible in Fig. 2 below), but I was quite happy with the structural quality of the rocks produced. I also noticed that my confidence in using palette knives grew quickly:

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Figure 2. Assignment piece for Part 4 of the course – impasto painting technique used for creating the rock structure

For the present exercise I first produced an intuitive multi-layered impasto piece, in which I examined the emergent properties of depth and light effects. This 56 x 42 cm acrylic paper would later become the background for one of my Assigment 5 pieces (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c) (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Multi-layered impasto examining light and 3D effects

Next I produced some monochrome structured layers on 42 x 56 cm acrylic paper, first using acrylic medium only on top of a dried white background (Fig. 4), then using acrylic paint directly (Fig. 5). The structures were created using two different kinds of large serrated spatulae. Both the exercises below were later used in my Assignment 5 project “A Shadow on his Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016d):

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Figure 4. Spreading acrylic medium with a serrated spatula
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Figure 5. Producing a rough structure in acrylic paint using a serrated spatula

Some more impasto effects I also tested in preparation for my third Assignment 5 project. In particular, I mixed finely grated willow charcoal into white acrylic paint and applied it with a palette knife. The charcoal dust mixed with the paint to give a wonderful cool grey, while the larger pieces moved with the direction of the palette knife to produce a very attractive pattern (middle row in Fig. 6 below. This type of mix I later used to prepare the background layer for my third assignment piece (Lacher-Bryk, 2016e).

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Figure 6. Impasto techniques tested for assignment project 3. Middle row: acrylic paint mixed with grated willow charcoal. Bottom row: Thick layer of acrylic paint applied with coarse paintbrush, then different types of ink added

Impasto for me is an incredibly versatile technique, which I will without any doubt come back to regularly with great joy.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Part 3, project 1, exercise 1/2: Portrait and Figure – drawing the human figure, linear figure study [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/07/18/part-3-project-1-exercise-12-portrait-and-figure-drawing-the-human-figure-linear-figure-study/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Assignment 4: “Claustrophobia” [blog] [online]. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/assignment-4-claustrophobia/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016c) Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/assignment-5-subject-1-a-shadows-only-painting-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016d) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:  https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016e) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/assignment-5-subject-3-hans-christian-andersen-the-shadow-an-attempt-at-an-illustration-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, pp. 123-134.

Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 December 2016. Global politics has a great variety of contibutors many of who who without doubt must be living with a shadow on their souls. I have been interested in persons of that kind for some years now and this is a great opportunity to look for means of depicting such intricate types of shadow. In order to approach this subject in a sensible manner, I would need to see it from different viewpoints. Since also it is quite complex and intangible, I decided to concentrate on the person worrying me most, Bashar al-Assad. My first task in this project was to become acquainted with his biography and identify the major turning points in his career.

I was dismayed to find out that he was only born in 1965, a mere four months ahead of me. Apparently a political career had never been planned for him. He grew up talented and secluded and trained as an eye surgeon with years spent abroad in London. However, as his brother and president-to-be Bassel was killed in a road accident in 1994, Bashar was pushed through military school, not even 30 years old, and inherited the presidency from his iron-fist father, when the latter died in the year 2000. At the age of 35, when most people have not yet matured mentally, he took over his country (and the law had to be changed for him to do so at all!). His western upbringing raised the hope in many that he would be able to induce a change for the better in the conflict-ridden region. Indeed during the first decade under his rule Syria saw signs of economic recovery. Assad was nevertheless unable to overcome the excessive bureaucracy and failed to turn Syria into a trustworthy international player. Controversial actions lead to a gradual deterioration of global connections, while internally the state of human rights remained deplorable. In 2011 events related to the “Arab spring” revolution stimulated the population of Syria into similar actions of protest. Assad promised change, but none of it ever materialised and as protests became more forceful, the international community demanded his resignation. Instead of stepping down, he – with increasing violence and disregard of human life – has been fighting to remain in power ever since (Biography.com Editors, 2014).

I ask myself, what kinds of influence would act to turn a trained surgeon with a promising start to his career into the monster he is now. “Risk Factors” as identified in an article in Psychology Today (Seifert, 2013), if outweighing “Protective Factors”, predict violent behaviour. For Bashar al Assad the following apply:

  • a soft and indecisive character
  • being bullied by his brother Bassel at an early age
  • the troubled and distant relationship to his emotionally absent father
  • being under the additional influence of both a dominant mother (who in Arab cultures is not to be questioned) and older sister
  • being the sibling of another intelligent but cruel brother, Maher, who continues to have immense influence on the decisions made by Bashar
  • a familiy history of violence
  • a family supporting and promoting aggression in order to retain the status of power and wealth

I would add, from intuition, several more risk factors:

  • racist schooling
  • being fill-in choice after his brother’s death
  • the less than ideal training as a politician and military leader
  • the unability to follow his true calling as a doctor
  • the unexpected emotional vehemence of calls for change following Assad’s first cautious intellectually driven steps

To me, the main factor seems Assad’s naturally soft character. All of the other influences act and grow on that. Looking at a series of photos taken at various ages this softness is evident and, incredibly, still visible also in the most recent pictures. What does apparent softness include? It seems that it is often a dreamy expression, absent-mindedness, as e.g. depicted in “Despair” by Glennda Field (Field, 2012) and a slightly worried/troubled look.

30 December 2016. Searching for other artists to approach this subject, I found a number of interesting solutions. In classical portraits the use of chiaroscuro provides a great means of playing, literally and figuratively, with the light and the dark side of a person, e.g. this wonderful self portrait by Rembrandt (1606-1669, The Netherlands) (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. Rembrandt: “Self-portrait”, 1628/29, oil on oak panel. Source: Rembrandt (1606-1669) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
In the above, I cannot feel any negative emotions, only a pleasant sort of composure and interest in the subject. This is of course not what I am looking for. What I probably need is not the normal absent-mindedness we all know, but a person who is literally “beside himself”. I have seem weird portraits before, where the facial expression is disturbingly out of focus by superimposing two of more slightly laterally displaced images of the face. In looking for examples for the above I came across the Swedish painter Benjamin Björklund (*?) (n.d.(a)) who has developed a great skill at depicting what I am after, see e.g. Björklund, n.d.(b)) or Björklund (2015). Francis Bacon’s (1909-1992, UK) portraits came to my mind as well, but his approach seems distinct from my own. When looking at his large number of self-portraits and portraits of Lucian Freud the introduced distortions appear (if only to me) not to be connected with the goal of bringing the dark parts of a soul to the surface. Shadows on souls are however usually depicted with a sad expression, which is not exactly what I am after. In the available photos Assads rarely appears sad, rather distant and/or disinterested, as if the consequences of his doings were of no concern to him.

14 January 2017. I decided that it would be worth a try with transparent layers of acrylic binder alternating with acrylic paint to build a soul visible within a portrait experiment (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Sketchbook – Showing a soul inside, acrylic binder and acrylic

The scan of the above image is unfortunately quite inadequate in reproducing the transparent, layered quality of the tested fields of colour. By far the best result for my purpose was the top lefthand, alternating thin layers of binder and very dilute paint, covered by a final layer of binder, then the actual portrait painted on top of that.

Next I tried to integrate a representation of something like a “soul” behind the face. Using acrylic binder again I prepared a smooth, rounded and weak body shape enclosed in protective “shells”, dripped some dilute paint on the half-dried shape, used a painting knife to alter the structure, allowed it to become dry, then quickly painted some face over and outside that. When looking at the result in my sketchbook it looks rather disappointing, but the scan (see image below) exhibits some of the qualities I am looking for, especially round the nose and mouth. There is something alive, which appears to agitate the facial expression from within. This would be exactly what I need, but I I feel that I am not yet expert enough to tame my acrylic binder (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – Creating the impression of something alive behind a facial facade

17 January 2017. In order to see whether I could develop my idea in a direction, which is less accident-prone, I went ahead with my  idea of looking into producing something like a “runny” face, i.e. one that is not totally in the possession of its owner, but leaving its boundaries. The face is the preeminent place where to study the character of a person, so letting it run down the canvas means weakening its physical features. First I produced a thin background layer of acrylic binder, into which I made dense vertical grooves with a toothed spatula (Fig. 4).

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Figure 4. Creating a background on 56 x 42 cm primed acrylic paper: Acrylic binder and toothed spatula

While waiting for the background become thoroughly dry, I made a first pencil sketch in my sketchbook in order to become acquainted with drawing a distant, distracted look. It was not really the best of my portraying days (normally no problem at all to get real likenesses), but likeness was not my main subject (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. Sketchbook – preliminary pencil sketch of facial features

I guess he looks more like Johnny English. Since both of them are great at causing havoc I let it count towards developing my plan …

Next I started my runny portrait, painting with drawing ink and a pipette, to be followed by acrylic, in order to make things difficult for myself :o) (Fig. 6-13):

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Figure 6
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Figure 7
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Figure 8
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Figure 9
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Figure 10
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Figure 11
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Figure 12
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Figure 13

21 January 2017. In retrospect painting over the runny face interrupted the initial idea somewhat, but I like how the eyes and mouth are still part of the idea. It was also great fun to work over the first layer, it was highly spontaneous. Since, however, I still wanted to explore the idea further and make it the main focus of this part of the assignment, I started two more runny faces, one on an impasto background I had prepared with household dispersion a few days earlier and one with several types and colours of drawing ink on a large sheet of plastic, which I had saved from an ugly frame years ago. The first experiment was to see whether I could paint with my pipette on a very rough surface, the second to see whether plastic was at all suitable for ink and also to combine it with another sheet of plastic to stick underneath and serve as a surface for Assad’s soul.

So, here is the first sequence. The combination of rough surface with channels and a pipette was very difficult to use to create likenesses. But together with a final ink layer put on with a larger flat paintbrush it came near enough to what Assad looks like (Fig. 14-20):

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Figure 14. Creating another background with acrylic paint and serrated spatula
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Figure 15. Drawing with water-soluble ink and pipette
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Figure 16.  Dissolving some of the ink
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Figure 17

 

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Figure 18
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Figure 19. Finished painting, testing lighting conditions (1)

Since there was beautiful sunshine that day I experimented with the light falling on the grooves in order to find out whether an increase in contrast would add to the shadow on Assad’s soul. It did not. The first, duller, photo came closer to what I needed. So, overall, I would not recommend this sort of background to paint someone shunning contact with other people:

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Figure 20. Finished painting, testing lighting conditions (2)

By the way, the sunshine came together with the most beautiful snow. This was the view from my workshop and I just had to share it:

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And turning to the final “runny face” experiment I tried out the plastic sheet (A1) mentioned above. It was very awkward to paint and draw on, again with my pipette and a flat brush, and quite difficult to take meaningful photos of, but proved an extremely interesting experience (Fig. 21-22):

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Figure 21. Drawing on acetate with drawing ink and pipette (stage 1)
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Figure 22. Drawing on acetate with drawing ink and pipette (stage 2)

After this stage I prepared another piece of plastic, smaller and flexible, with a layer of drawing ink and let it dry (Fig. 23):

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Figure 23. A4 plastic pocket opened up and covered in drawing ink

Next I covered the face in a semi-transparent wash of white drawing ink, looking like this on my workshop floor … (Fig. 24):

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Figure 24. Adding white drawing ink to the portrait

… then like this with a white canvas put underneath (Fig. 25):

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Figure 25. Testing the effect of placing a white canvas underneath

Trying to make it look more like Assad again (Fig. 26):

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Figure 26. Adding more Assad-like features

When that was done I slipped in the flexible, smaller piece of plastic to see whether it was causing any effect filing with “putting a shadow on his soul”. While the result looked more like someone emerging from a hard day’s work in a coal mine, I was happy that there was indeed a layering effect. The face looks as if something was moving around “inside” it (Fig. 27-28).

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Figure 27. Starting to experiment with acetate and plastic sheet combined
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Figure 28. Detail

I then reworked the small plastic sheet to make it darker and more of a coherent shape and tested that in several positions (Fig. 29-34):

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Figure 29. Reworked plastic sheet
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Figure 30. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (1)
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Figure 30. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (2)

 

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Figure 32. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (3)

None of the above made a real difference except that Assad looked like being in need of a shave, but once I included the forehead I could see that there was a major change to his facial expression, which became rather grave (Fig.33):

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Figure 33. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (4)

The last of my tests seems to be the best. It is a combination of something dark both behind the forehead and to the inside of where Assads has directed his eyes (difficult to explain …). For some reason it feels believable to me and this is what I am going to stay with (Fig. 34):

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Figure 34. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (5)

In the above I think that I can sort of feel a “centre of weight” right between the eyebrows. I am not normally into esoteric stuff, but after a bit of research what did I find? In exactly that position on the forehead there is the third eye, which serves as the entrance to your soul. How weird.

Apart from likenesses I am quite happy with the three results in this part. All of them appear to transport, to greater or lesser extent, an impression of a troubled soul. Given the time I may continue working on them before submitting for assessment.

References:

Biography.com Editors (2014) Bashar al-Assad Biography [online]. A&E Television Networks, New York, 2 April. Available at: http://www.biography.com/people/bashar-al-assad-20878575 [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (n.d.(a)) Paintings [image collection] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (2015) Paintings: Kristoffer Bolander: I Forgive Nothing [n.k.] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings/2015/11/9/jrt1azwp107a493s5c267oqbsildwk [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (n.d.(b)) Self Portrait [image collection] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings/wc3n6kaug58ls5xw9xz5y4ardnfyqd [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Field, G. S. (2012) Despair. Watercolor class demonstration paintings from Spring term 2012 [blog] [online]. Glennda Short Field, 26 June. Available at: http://glenndafield.blogspot.co.at/2012_06_01_archive.html [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Rembrandt (1628-29) Self-portrait [oil on oak panel] [online]. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt#/media/File:Self-portrait_(1628-1629),_by_Rembrandt.jpg [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Seifert, K. (2013) How Bashar al-Assad Became A Brutal Dictator. Those Who Fail To Learn From History Are Doomed To Repeat it [online]. Psychology Today, New York, 16 September. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-the-cycle/201309/how-bashar-al-assad-became-brutal-dictator [Accessed 19 December 2016]