Preparation for Assessment: A second attempt at a shadow entering a house dedicated to “learning the pattern”

27 Febuary 2017. In my Assignment 5 feedback my tutor stated, with respect to my inadequate processes of project development, that “I have the skills, but I need to learn the pattern”. In order to see whether I would be able to include in my assessment submission a learning sequence as expected by assessors, I produced this belated addition to the investigatory process relating to shadows entering houses, which I had done predominantly on a photo basis due to a long spell of extremely cold weather in January. My tutor had asked in her feedback, whether I could “afford” to try and work as faintly as Luc Tuymans in his 2004 painting “The Window” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017 and Fig. 1 below). To see what sort of development the intriguing word “afford” might trigger in someone like me, I was curious to to find out where it would take me:

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Figure 1. Sketchbook

While I am not sure whether Tuymans’s painting relates to shadows or reflections or possibly both, I understand that this kind of approach demands processes of deconstruction from both artist and viewer and helps to raise in the viewer an interest in engaging themselves with possible messages at a more than purely superficial level.
In order to start the process, I went back to my original photo of my shadow entering an old farmhouse, had one quick look at it, then started experimenting in my sketchbook. First I went to have another look at different artists and their very own methods. I found that on most occasions shadows were emphasized, not reduced, and made part of a vivid composition. The images below (Fig. 2) were taken from a review of an exhibition on show in 2008/09 in the Kunsthalle Wien, “Western Motel: Edward Hopper and Contemporary Art” (Kalafudra’s Stuff, 2009). Shadows were in all cases inseparable from their “producers”, the human shapes, so I would need to find a very different approach.

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Figure 2. Sketchbook: Some black and white Impressions from exhibition “Western Motel”

In order to set up a first compositional scaffolding I decided that I would start off with a charcoal sketch (Fig. 3) to identify dark and light areas as appearing in my memory. I quite like how the charcoal, with great ease, provides both mass and ethereal components. In my photo there had only been my own shadow, but I soon realized that I would want to include another, cast by a passer-by, as I had experienced on a number of occasions on my photo tour in January. At the same time, always with my goal of wanting to have a faint final result, I came up with the idea of including a living form on top of that faint painting. I therefore investigated how a dog, walking on a lead with the person passing by and at the same time in interaction with that person’s shadow, could add interest to my composition. I really like the idea but will have to avoid overloading the painting with messages:

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Figure 3. Charcoal sketch

In order to see how my provisional ideas could be arranged on the canvas I produced a sequence of rough acrylic sketches investigating possible viewpoints and painting methods (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Sketchbook: Acrylic sketches. Top row: Positive shadows, bottom row: negative shadows

In the top row of Fig. 4 I painted the shadows in black on a whitish background, in the bottom row I used the negative technique introduced much earlier in the course (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). While I did not like the painted results after the charcoal I immediately saw that I would want to continue with the negative technique, since it produced a much more energetic and at the same time believable result. I also had the idea of having the dog being interested in me rather than its owner, so a connection would become visible between my world and that outside. The bottom right setup appeared the most promising and versatile to continue working with, to I did another sketch, this time filling a sketchbook page and continuing further by experimenting with making the result faint (Fig. 5-7):

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Figure 5. Sketchbook: Page-filling skecth, stage 1

Making a very rough and faint ink pen sketch of my own shadow on a builing where wall and street met helped me setting my mind on the next step (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Sketchbook: Ink pen sketch

So I went over the first layer (Fig. 5) with a number of semi-transparent layers of white and added a dog (Fig. 7):

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Figure 7. White layers and dog added to sketch

While I think that the faint image is not bad for a first attempt, I am not happy with several aspects here. Again, regarding whether I could “afford” to paint faintly considering my subject, I would say yes and no. No, because I need to be ever so careful not to lose the viewer in a technical extreme without connection to my message, and yes, once I know for what particular reason I would want to paint faintly in the first place. For exercise purposes this is not a problem, but would require considerate planning for a finished painting. Also, I am not happy with the dog’s position here. There is no way how I could include it in the intended way without making the position of the lead look awkward. I liked the charcoal sketch better in that respect, but with that setup the connection between passer-by and myself would be cut. Will see whether I might have to let it go. Also, despite the interesting effects produced by the many brushstrokes, I do not think that they add to my message. On acrylic paper I find them hard to avoid, but on a smooth background produced using a roller on a grey carton I should be able to investigate the effect. I will have to cut out the result and stick into my sketchbook.

First, however, more research on Tuymans using faint painting techniques, to see how I could produce a quieter image avoiding brushstrokes. Very useful I found another painting by Tuymans, “Couple” from 1998 (Fig. 8, left). The gradual softening of edges does not occur “out of the blue”, but is an effect indeed connected with looking into the sky. Tuymans observed a natural phenomemon here and put it to good use by creating the appearance of the couple “having their heads in the clouds”. When examining the painting on the computer screen I can see may harder brushstrokes softened by a top layer of “fluffy” strokes. Maybe I will not have to work super smooth at all. We’ll see. I also liked the aureole effect around the figures in Tuymans’s “Saint-Georges” from 2015 (Fig.8, right), which enhanced the shadowlike effect without having to darken the figures. Here also the natural observation was thorough and included into the painting not just as an effect but for its actual presence in the real scene. This relationship with reality is something which lacks completely in my last sketch and I will have to think whether this is what I want. The white brushstrokes suggest light coming from a place completely different to where the sun is, which may make the scene awkward. Does it matter, though? I couldn’t say.

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Figure 8. left: Luc Tuymans “Couple”, 1998, oil on canvas, right: “Saint-Georges”, 2015, oil on canvas. Source: see text

To find out whether a difference would be visible, I prepared 3 small pieces of grey carton with 3 layers each of titanium white, Payne’s grey and cobalt turquoise using a roller. The background became very smooth. On the two smaller pieces of carton I tested the effect of a hard, worn-down brush and a soft brush (Fig. 9, top row): The soft brush was great for producing even layers with larger amounts of paint, where the brushstrokes were evident in the test using the hard brush. The former would not be not so ideally suited if little paint was to be evenly distributed, because the soft hair would not allow the exertion of any useful amount of pressure. My weathered hard brush worked well here, although I had to be extremely careful not to put too much paint on at the same time. The carton holds the paint in place as soon as it comes to lie there for more than a second or so. While writing this I remember hearing of a method involving sanding a prepared canvas, but I think that the carton is smooth enough for my purposes. Using both brushes I made another quick sketch of my layout using  the negative technique (Fig. 9, bottom). I noticed immediately that spreading the paint was much easier than on the prepared sketchbook paper. With care I might produce totally even layers of paint. For the purpose of this experiment, however, I switched between ways of applying paint and came up with some very nice-looking effects, especially in places where the dark background would shine through the white. I think that this is what I might need.

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Figure 9. Top: applying paint – left: with worn hard brush, right: with soft brush. Bottom: Negative sketch using both brushes

 

 

 

 

 

In the above experiment I particularly like the mix of soft and hard transitions between dark and light areas. This subject appears interesting enough, both as (more or less) working composition and possible story that I would not want to add any more information to it, so getting rid of the dog at this stage. I also do not want to go over the painting to make it faint, but there I am and it will have to be. This time I will not be tempted to just cover it all, but will – hopefully – use the opportunity to carry out this task with sensitivity and regard to the effects every change might have.

28 February 2017. I went over the first stage today with my worn brush (Fig. 10). I am quite happy with the changes to the shadow of the passer-by, especially the different shades in the corner of the house. The changes to my own shadow are not satisfying yet. I will need to work on the transition from ground to wall, wall to windowsill and inside wall. Overall the reduced contrast is pleasing to look at, but needs very subtle adaptations to gradation in several places.

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Figure 10. The sketch from Fig. 9 after a first attempt at softening the contrast.

Here comes how far the little journey would take me (Fig. 11). In the end I found a solution for the dog, which to me looks both interesting and fitting. Since the shadow of my passer-by appears to be that of a taking-the-dog-for-a-walk posture anyway, it was straightforward now to have a lead added, which may have the dog in a position to make contact with me, so something for the imagination of a potential viewer. With this added, however, I feel that the original idea of my own shadow entering that room might now be too much for one painting. For a working painting it might be sufficient to have my own shadow travel up the outside wall, but since this exercise belongs to the retrospective preparation of my Andersen theme, I will leave it here.

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Figure 11. Finished sketch


References:

Kalafudra’s Stuff (2009) Western Motel: Edward Hopper and Contemporary Art [blog] [online]. Kalafudra’s Stuff. Available at: https://kalafudra.com/2009/01/28/western-motel-edward-hopper-and-contemporary-art/ [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Part 1, project 2, exercise 4: Monochrome studies [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/part-1-project-2-exercise-4-monochrome-studies/ [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Artist research: Luc Tuymans [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/artist-research-luc-tymans/ [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Tuymans, L. (1998) Couple [oil on canvas] [online]. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/99.74 [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Tuymans, L. (2015) Saint-Georges [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Available at: http://france.fr/fr/agenda/luc-tuymans-premonitions-lam-lille [Accessed 27 February]

Sketchbook: Collecting, collecting …

24 February 2017. Here come some of my everyday sketches (Fig. 1-11 below) collected over the final months of POP1. This is the last post in this category for this course. A new one will be opened for UPM.

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Figure 1. Building site
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Figure 2. Hazelnut tree and leaves
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Figure 3. Parked cars
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Figure 4. Wood near school
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Figure 5. Block of flats in the process of being demolished
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Figure 6. Digging up the street near school
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Figure 7. Watching twilight shadows
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Figure 8. Parked moped
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Figure 9. Quick studies of pedestrians
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Figure 10. Ivy on the side of a tree
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Fig. 11 Flattened can of coke at roadside

Sketchbook: some more 10 minute sketches

Updated on 3 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

10 June 2016. Time to make an update on my while-I-wait 10 minute sketches (Fig. 1-8):

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Figure 1. The “skyline” of Lehen, ink pen and watercolour (30 mins)
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Figure 2. Old elder bush at the playground (20 mins)

Sketching makes me quietly happy, it has become rare now for drawings to go completely wrong and I think that I am finally making some progress regarding my choice of subject and rudimentary composition. It has also increasingly turned into a precious refuge, where time stands still and there is no room for worries.

Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first sketches)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 May 2016. Right. This time I am going to do this properly. Originally I had planned to use soft pastel crayons and sand paper for this exercise, but since there was so much to be explored regarding the behaviour of acrylics after the last two exercises that I could not just leave it as it is.

What I learned from the last exercise:

  • start with a uniform but coloured background, it can always be changed later
  • do not prepare a background with gloss medium, it is awful to paint on without the right type of practice
  • avoid mixing brand of gloss medium and brand of acrylics. They do not seem to like each other.
  • keep diluting with water, just keep spraying water on both support and tray
  • choose SIMPLE objects (I just realised that a reason for my wrong choices may be the fact that I keep returning to the great images in the study guide, but most of them are way beyond what I can achieve at my stage of development)

I had a look on the internet for artists who paint in a way I would like to explore in line with my list and found a number of paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld (Rehfeld, 2016-17), whose style I find appealing. She explains that she uses black gesso to prepare her support, then paints on that with bold strokes, leaving some of the black background to serve as outline of the painted objects. I was also impressed by her daily paintings (Daily Paintwork, n.d.), where the simplest everyday items appear to come to life. Since her style reminds me of that of some impressionists and my all-time favourite Expressionist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria) (Fig.1), and I think that during the last few exercises I seem to have worked towards, inconsistently and with the wrong colours, a style reminiscent of the above, I am going to do my best to stay with what seems to be developing anyway. So, another attempt at strong lines and “dirty” colours.

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Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Old Mill”, oil on canvas, 1916. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via malerei-meisterwerke.de
When coming to the choice of items, I will try the “less is more” principle, but will be still be looking for unusual shapes and setups. For example, Picasso’s  “Still Life with Pitcher and Apples” (Picasso, 1919) could not be more straightforward in choice, but the shape of the pitcher and position of fruit attract the attention of a viewer because of the unexpected arrangement. The same applies, in my opinion, to his  “Still Life with Skull and Pot” (Picasso, 1943): It is deceptively simple, but catches the light in an admirable way, while knowing skull and cheeky pot appear to be engaged in some act of important communication. What I also found was a still life by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945, USA), from a three generation dynasty of painters, called “Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle” (Wyeth, 1922): again, simple objects, the most straightforward of arrangements, and all the beauty of it coming from the incredible background and use of light on the objects. It seems as if the shape of the bottle consisted of black background only, its outline defined by wall and table, and only a hint of light on its neck.
This is all well, but I think a big point where my planning goes wrong may be the ACTUAL choice of objects. We do not seem to be a household with stuff that lends itself easily to posing for a still life, so I will need to take my time.

8 May 2016. I took my time and finally came up with a driftwood salt and pepper holder made by my sister, a silver spoon and, as a contrast in material and colour my son’s plastic egg cup. I am not too pleased with my choice, because it will not tell a story beyond “waiting for my boiled egg to arrive”, but this is an exercise and I will concentrate on improving my technique to leave the message for Assignment 2.
Bearing in mind the beautiful choice of background by N.C. Wyeth, I used a dark grey wooden board to serve as wall and a piece of dark brown paper taken from a Nespresso bag to cover the table (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Objects chosen for this exercise (setup discarded later because of weak shadows und unfavourable distribution of darkest tones)

With this arrangement, my viewfinder and a desktop daylight lamp I experimented until negative spaces, distribution of colours, shadows and highlights looked satisfactory to me. In fact the latter did not come true, but after a day I made up my mind to go for the setup which in my opinion came closest to the requirements. For my sketches I used three different ink pens, a fineliner, a calligraphy pen for the darkest tones and a brush-tip one for the mid tones. The latter unfortunately started to run out of ink and so the last, and most interesting, of the following sketches is lighter in tone than I would have liked it to be (Fig. 3-5).

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Figure 3
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Figure 4
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Figure 5

The above sketch I recreated in my sketchbook at a slightly larger scale with a dark watercolour background and soft pastel crayons, a combination which produced some very beautiful effects (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Watercolour and pastel sketch emphasizing darest and lightest tonal values

With this sketch to work from I decided to choose an A2 painting carton, portrait format and a coloured background. Report to follow.

References:

Daily Paintworks (n.d.) Cathleen Rehfeld [online]. Daily Paintworks. Available at: http://www.dailypaintworks.com/Artists/cathleen-rehfeld-206 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1919) Still Life with Pitcher and Apples [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée National Picasso, Paris. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-14/picasso27s-still-life-with-pitcher-and-apples2c-1919/3664892 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1943) Still Life with Skull and Pot [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-1594.php [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Rehfeld, C. (2016-17) Cathleen Rehfeld Oil Paintings [blog] [online]. Cathleen Rehfeld. Available at: http://crehfeld.blogspot.co.at/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

Schiele, E. (1916) Old Mill [oil on canvas] [online]. Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Wien. Available at: http://www.malerei-meisterwerke.de/bilder/egon-schiele-alte-muehle-08818.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Wyeth, N.C. (1922) Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle [oil on canvas][online]. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eoskins/5598698301/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

 

Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life with natural objects (step 3: sketching of objects)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

2 May 2016. With my newly discovered skill of keeping a sketchbook diary properly, I embarked on the next step of this exercise, making sketches of the objects to get acquainted with their properties and having a look at negative space created by placing them. This was most enjoyable and I think relatively successful (in contrast to the mini disaster to follow …).

My preliminary sketches I did in watercolour with ink pen, on the lookout for chance findings to make use of in my finished painting. I found the somewhat abstracted coloured shadows pleasing to look at, while also object likeness was not bad. The most difficult part was the shiny blackness of the pumice, which I was unable to copy, but since the overall structure of the rock was good and I wanted to keep this as a reference for later, I left the sketch as it was (Fig.1 ).

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Figure 1. Watercolour and ink pen preliminary sketches of my objects

Next I experimented some more with placing the objects on my prepared background and already had a feeling that both ideas would probably not go together: I arranged the objects on the support where I thought they would both connect in their geological context and form an interesting pattern regarding the negative shapes between them. Doing this I could see that the shadows, if they were to be coloured, would clash with the negative space, making its properties less visible.
Since however this is supposed to be an experiment and my tutor advised me not to get distracted by seemingly finished paintings in the mind, I went ahead with my arrangement anyway. I made a rough charcoal sketch to identify the important negative spaces (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Placement of objects, shadows and negative spaces

Looking at the above sketch I thought the setup looked fidgety, since although everything pointed towards the centre, there was nothing to see there. In order to decrease this effect, I used a bit of beautiful white mesh normally used for decoration purposes and glued it into the sketchbook like an additional page.

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As above, with mesh added

Now the arrangement was more pleasing to look at and I still did not look forward to translating it to acrylics, it was full of foreboding of the weekend to come :o) …

Sketchbook: some 10-minute sketches

Updated on 22 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

21 April 2016. I do not get many opportunities these days to sit down and spend time with my sketchbook. So I started a little project, which I call the “10 minutes I have before collecting my son” series. On some afternoons my son spends some hours after school at the centre for deaf children. Since there exists the absurd regulation that we must not pick up our children before a certain time, and not after either, I often have 10 minutes to wait until the doors are opened.

Here come some of the sketches I made over the last few months during my 10 minute waits (Fig. 1 – 10 below). I often have to stop early, so they remain rudimentary, but I am learning to concentrate on the most important aspects of a view and so I think the time limit is a very valuable aspect of the exercise.

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Figure 1. Building site at a busy crossroads
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Figure 2a. Scribbles                                                                   Figure 2b. Flats near the school
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Figure 3. Preliminary sketch for Painting 1 exercise of piece of fruit, made in car while waiting (Part 1)
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Figure 4. Rear mirror view
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Figure 5. Persons in playground, quick sketches
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Figure 6a. Bush near carpark                                          Figure 6b. Car keys
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Figure 7a. Girl on swing                                                 Figure 7b. Wooden structure of picnic table
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Figure 8. Andräkirche in the city of Salzburg, view from Mirabellgarten
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Figure 9a. Red scooter parker on pavement                   Figure 9b. Plant in flowerbed at school
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Figure 10. Trees in school park

I can see that I am starting to develop my very own style of drawing and I am happy how my mark-making develops. One or two of the sketches I might use later in the course. Hopefully I will be able to develop in a similar way the marks I use in painting.