27 October 2016. In this exercise I would like to revisit the things I learned when investigating thermal imaging during Part 3 of this course and carry them over to capture the mood of my chosen landscape.
First I started a mini series of sketches looking through the gaps of park benches. The “landscape” of natural and man-made materials one can find under a bench tells a lot about the people who use that bench, but after a few instances I found that the view would be too 2-dimensional for the purpose of this exercise. I might come back to it at a later point during Part 4 or as part of my personal project in Part 5.
To be honest I am no soft landscape person and I very much enjoy the rough aspect of rocky mountains and cityscapes. In preparation for this exercise I did something dangerous and totally irresponsible, I had my camera with me and took a series of pictures of our city while driving home from my son’s school. There is a major crossroads next to our favourite hospital, where the most prominent feature is a circular landing platform for helicopters on the roof of the emergency department and the very best view on that is from the car. This view is what I wanted to try in this exercise.
First I produced two sketches, one watercolour, the other acrylic (Fig. 1-2):
29 October 2016. After my two preliminary sketches I decided that for the final painting I would try and stay with the rough mark-making, since it reflects the ephemeral impression I gained while driving, and carefully plan the introduction of colours corresponding to those associated with thermographic imaging.
But first a little research into contemporary art of a similar kind.
“Cityscapes” appear to be a favourite subject for countless artists, but I noticed that many of them are quite ugly, so I had to do some very thorough research in order to find what I was looking for. An overview over the history of the genre (Fernández, n.d.) traces the origin of the genre to Ancient Greece and Rome, where some very beautiful mural paintings prove its existence at the time. The changing styles in cityscape painting over the centuries reflect those found in all other genres, so that again everything has become possible in our time. Interestingly, the preferred subject – by far – appears to be New York on a rainy day and the next in the list is Venice on a sunny day, which always makes me wonder why. There are as many great views in our world as there are places to look from, but I guess that not everybody connects with everything in the same way.
An Austrian artist specialising in cityscapes – Venice mostly – who I have come across quite a lot in the book section of my favourite art shop is “Voka” (*1965), who created this own style named “spontaneous realism” (Voka, 2011). Although I do not feel comfortable with his prolific use of colour, I like his mark-making and hope to be able to introduce some of that into my own work, together with the beautiful handling of light using broad brushstrokes by Hsin Yao Tseng (*1986, Taiwan/USA) (Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara) (Fig. 3). So off to testing the effect of this sort of brushstrokes.
I soon found that in my sketchbook I would not be able to reproduce brushstrokes like that, not least because acrylic paint, no matter how good the quality, tends to level out the texture of any support with an increasing number of layers. Also for me the 25 x 25 cm format is simply too small to work in such a rough way – maybe this will come with time and practice. And in addition, which is probably the main reason, the street and houses below came straight from my head with no intention of creating a painting at all. Most importantly, I failed to be “consistently rough” by never gaining true control over my brushstrokes (Fig. 4):
The difficulties I encountered, however, were valuable hints for the preparation of my finished painting. Especially, I realized that I would need to feel the exact colour and place of every single brushstroke with care. My plan therefore was to find a largish glass plate, on which I could prepare the mixes I wanted to use. It is also immensely important to have a good idea of the wateriness of my mixes, because this has an immediate effect on the transparency and reaction with the dry paint underneath. Once the underlying layers are smooth throughout I find that a watery dilution will cause puddles of paint to form in any small dent in the paper – see last floor of small building on the left. It is fine if intentional, but not so if I want to create the illusion of an intact building. In Hsin’s painting above the roughness never leaves an impression of desolation. The buildings appear to be in very good shape despite the deceivingly careless use of colour. Mine on the other had appear to be crumbling without the “carelessness”. A weird effect. Need to find out while working on my finished painting for this exercise.
1 November 2016. I prepared the glass plate for mixing colours and found it wonderfully easy to use and clean (finally a working solution!) (Fig. 5):
Next I started on the background for my final painting (A2 painting carton), intending to have some thermographic components to be included in the composition (Fig. 6-7):
3 November 2016. At first I found it immensely difficult to slow down and explore mark-making. Only when I had a relatively good idea regarding my choice of colours and after several background layers I was able to use the intended marks. Maybe this is the secret behind it all – have a decent working composition, then add the final marks. This is also what Hsin’s painting looks like.
Here is the long sequence for the last three days (but not quite there yet) (Fig. 8-12):
And this was where I felt that I was able to start loosening up:
Here finally are some of the marks I was after, wanting to use them throughout the painting (Fig. 13):
5 November 2016. That was the idea, anyway. I should have known that I would not be able to remain focused on consistent mark-making, the format was too large for me. But it was the first time ever that I felt in absolute connection with what I did, and I enjoyed every bit of those few square centimetres. This I will try and remember throughout the rest of the course and always.
Here come the final two stages of the painting (Fig. 14-15):
So, overall, I am happy about some important discoveries made. Also, the mood of the place is about right, I wanted it to feel both real and at the same time disconnected in an eerie, somewhat threatening way. Not not so pleased with the technical aspects, however, especially the erratic mark-making and failing to capture the ephemeral quality of the impression. This came about, probably, because I wanted too many things at the same time.
Updated on 18 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and contents).
11 October 2016. The moment I read the instructions for this exercise for the first time I knew that I would not want to go for a normal view out of our house, for reasons I explained in a previous post. I sat down to make a list of unusual views out of a house and decided that I wanted to concentrate on a fictitious view “out of” the door of our oven, on the environment where the future roast duck is still swimming happily in its pond, but inside our metal casserole dish.
In order to finally force myself to adhere to the instructions regarding the development of an idea I thought this exercise ideal. It will be quite challenging because of the unusual combination of pictorial elements: Conventional views out of rooms are usually transitions into the light, a view into my oven will be into an artificially lit interior, but also the quality of the light would need to be believably from outside. Coming to think of that the brilliant orange of a late evening summer sunset might serve both. What I saw in Caroline Walker’s work (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), especially her handling of hard transitions between light and dark areas might come in very useful here.
Fauvist painter Raoul Dufy (1877-1953, France) produced a great number of views out of or through elements of buildings, e.g. the gouache sketch “Open Window at Saint-Jeannet” (Dufy, 1926-27), “Interior with Open Windows” (Dufy, 1928) or “L’Artiste et son Modèle” (Dufy, 1929), in all of which to me the open window(s) make the interior somehow part of the outside. It is as if the salty breeze from the sea were wafting through the room. It took me a while to get used to his style of painting, but now I appreciate very much his subtle use of colour to produce a weird sort of aerial perspective, e.g. in “The Grid” (Dufy, 1930), which has become my favourite (Fig. 1 below).
Looking at his work I think that the ethereal quality comes from, firstly, having the background slightly “shifted”, i.e. the blocks of background colour do not always coincide with the edges of objects, but seem to live a life of their own in a separate, lower picture plane, and, secondly, to have graphical elements do the same “on top” of all other planes. For the purpose of this exercise I will need to go and look further, since Dufy’s technique of linking the inside with the outside is diametrically opposed to my intentions.
It was very difficult to find, by Gwen John (1876-1939, UK/France), a suitable example for – as stated in the study guide “the gloomy claustrophobia of what lies within, and the stark emptiness of what lies without” – that was not a portrait in the first place. To me at least, e.g. her “A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris” (John, 1907-09) as shown below (Fig. 2) appears to be neither of the above, but is rather quietly happy. Her portraits again, while mostly of very composed women in bare rooms, rarely include the kind of physical view out, which I believe need to be looking for in preparation for this exercise. Her pleasant brushmarks and subtle treatment of light are something to remember, however.
12 October 2016. Clearer to place are the paintings by American realist Edward Hopper (1882-1967, USA). His “Nighthawks” below, was painted in 1942 (Fig. 3). Deceivingly simple in composition it is both a look in and out of a number of windows, including – probably – those belonging to the personalities of the people populating the counter. Hopper’s choice of subjects apparently was often inspired by movies (Doss, 1981) and “Nighthawks” does leave the feel of a film set. I do not feel too comfortable with his exact and clean brushstrokes, but will keep his handling of light as a reference when planning my look into the oven.
After having had another look through Vitamin P2 (Schwabsky, 2011) I get the impression that this subject is not much preferred by the featured artists. The inside and outside, physically and mentally, are mixed in a way to allow multiple interconnected possibilities of interpretation on the piece “I am into Shooting in Natural Environments” by Dana Schutz (*1976, USA) (p.270). Similarly, in the work on p. 224, “Lovers” by Surendran Nair (*1956, India), the view of the mountains appears to me to “seep” into the dark room by means of the swing door. Together with the deer the boundary between the inside and outside is dissolved. On a more straightforward basis, but nevertheless brilliantly executed, Martin Kobe (*1973, Germany) dissolves that boundary by creating phantastic buildings, which lack functioning walls or roofs (pp. 170-171). The elements appear to be hanging in mid-air, awaiting to be assigned their final role. Of course it is possible and not unlikely to over-interpret paintings, which do not want to be anything but views from windows, but the artist’s choice of viewpoint, materials and technique may betray subconscious throught processes. These may not always be clear to the artist and may nevertheless be true when felt by a viewer of a painting.
Since my own access to the subject will need a certain distribution of light, I had a final look at examples for similar strategies and came across Sangram Majumdar’s (*?, India/USA) wonderful “Window Study (Night)” (Majumdar, n.d.) and intriguing interplay of real and mirrored elements in “Light Steps” (Majumdar, 2013) (printouts from the internet in my sketchbook in Fig. 4 below). Lots of inspiration for the construction of my oven door!
First of all, however, off to some thumbnail scene-setting. I cannot resist using at least my pencil for the absolute beginning of finding a working composition (Fig. 5-6). I will, however, make several tonal sketches using the favourite view.
14 October 2016. With my painted sketches I did at first not know exactly how to proceed. For me paint-sketching persons is straightforward to imagine, but not for objects of everyday use or views from windows. So I had a look on the internet on how other artists do this. Many people don’t just paint, but they use a mix of drawing and painting, e.g. with this urban sketching example by Peter Sheeler (Sheeler, n.d.). But then I found the tutorial “The Painted Quick Sketch” (Mattabraxas, 2014), which set right my vague idea about the purpose and techniques of sketching with paint, especially that a sketch does NOT require to be painted fast. One of the most surprising lessons I learned there, by the way, was that warm light creates cool shadows and vice versa. And also that the correct colour is less important than the correct colour temperature, so I need to focus on the latter! Coming to think of that I may have been doing that already without knowing it. So, in order to get that aspect of the exercise right, I prepared two sketchbook pages, one with a white, one with an orange background and made some intuitive tonal studies (one monochrome, one coloured), in a style reminding of Majumdar’s approach with what in the end became a number of “stacked” ovens (Fig. 7-8). I quite liked how the original idea started to live a life of its own – which probably is at least part of the “liberating” effect my tutor mentioned when emphasizing the importance of sketching with paint.
I can see that over the time I have become somewhat more proficient at placing colours in relation to others by constantly observing their mutual influences and adjusting as necessary, although there is ample scope for improvement regarding the relative weight of each coloured field.
The glowing light inside the ovens looks believable to me. In order to fulfill the requirements of the exercise, though, I will have to concentrate on the view “out”, i.e. have one larger oven at the centre of attention and some others, maybe, along the periphery. Next I will need to fit in an outside scenery with sunset pond and duck alongside some relevant research.
Inevitably, I had to have a closer look at key impressionist Claude Monet’s (1840-1926, France) “Water Lily Pond” (Monet, 1919) (Fig. 9). It is interersting that contrary to my intuition Monet used brushstrokes of all sorts to paint the mirror images of the trees and cloudy sky on the water. I believe that this technique of reproducing water works only in connection with the crisp outlines of the water lilies resting on the water’s surface. I will test it though for my duck pond (with slices of carrot to replace the waterlilies) and see whether the contrast to the stronger brushstrokes I use for my oven might be interesting to see.
15 October 2016. In order to gain some overview over contemporary approaches to painting water lily ponds and ducks I had another look on the internet. To me the following examples were quite useful in deciding which styles to test: Susan Fowler (*?, USA), Fred E. Salmon Jr. (*?, USA) and Samuel Durkin (*?, UK) (printouts of all in Fig. 10-11):
26 October 2016. This exercise takes ages to complete, the hospital thing has been intruding on us again with all its might. So far I am not too happy with the way my plan is developing, I don’t seem to be able to make a working connection. Somehow the subject seems irrelevant compared to what is happening to us in real life. The latter, on the other hand, is too strong for me to catch and build into my exercises, it effectively paralyses my imagination. So, coming as no surprise, my two boring sketches for the duck and pond reflect this irrelevance (Fig. 12-13):
I know that I will have to learn to overcome this and to find a consistent method to allow the strong emotions to work for me, if I ever want to become a professional artist. In order to break through this paralysis, I started a large scale abstract sort-of painting alongside the final painting for this excercise, to use the energy derived from the former to to carry over to the latter. After having tried out this idea, I think that I found myself one successful technique to deal with unwanted intruding influences.
27 October 2016. Today I finished the painting. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the process from the start with a Mark Rothko-like glowing orange square and very rough sketching with paint, to using several layers of transparent glazing and the – to me – novel use of bright single colour brushmarks to create something like an impressionist view over my pond with the prospective roast duck. I can see that my mark-making has become somewhat more confident and consistent and I have mastered, roughly, the art of stepping back and considering the effect of an action before continuing to work. This allows somewhat more control over unthinkingly destroying what was worth keeping, but also vice versa, over hanging on to something without reflecting on its quality. Since the lighting conditions were highly changeable over the last three days, I found it very hard to produce photos with identical colours (Fig. 14-18):