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.

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:

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:

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:

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:

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):

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):

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).

Figure 8. Finished painting

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

Figure 9. Detail 1: Bottle top and decanter spout
Figure 10. Reflections on decanter and table-top
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.


Artsy (2017) Mark Rothko [online]. Artsy, New York. Available at: [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

Picasso, P. (1907) Vase, Bowl and Lemon [oil on panel] [online]. Private Collection. Available at: [Accessed 04 Mar 2017]

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

The Art Story Contributors (2017) Giorgio Morandi Artist Overview and Analysis [online]. The Art Story, New York. Available at: [Accessed 03 Mar 2017]


Part 2, project 3, exercise 5: Colour relationships – Still life with colour used to evoke mood

Updated on 2 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

28 May 2016. Working towards my plan for Assignment 2 I want to use this exercise to explore the relative aggressiveness of colours. Using the same setup as in the previous exercise I would like to convey an aggressive mood by making both slight adaptations to my setup, e.g. the relative positions of my cocktail glasses and accessories, using strong brushstrokes, and, most important, a set of appropriate colours.

Referring to my own blog post on colour symbolism (Lacher-Bryk, 2016) and preliminary ideas regarding Assignment 2 I will do the following: Combine purple black and grey in a background consisting of a very dimly lit detail of a chessboard to achieve a gloomy atmosphere, on which the aggressiveness or gentleness of the other colours is also highly visible.

When looking for any artists exposing themselves to the subject of aggression in their paintings, regardless of the quality of their works of art, they have in common the use of red and black, the use of strong and wild brush strokes and a predilection for exposed teeth in their subjects. This is not the kind of aggression I am looking for. I would like to be able to raise an aggressive atmosphere with something as harmless as a set of cocktail glasses. So looking for other methods:
It is vitally important to create movement towards the attacked object, see e.g. the painting “Abstract Aggression” (2014) by Pratik Chavan (*?, India) or “Three Roots that Obscure” (2015) by Hildy Maze (*?, USA) or even in an untitled work (2011) by Martin Bromirski (*?, USA). In the latter the aggression becomnes visible only at second glance. The shapes and pointed cutouts appear to move in a particular way that evokes a feeling of uneasiness, althought the main colours, blue and yellow, would suggest otherwise. The use of aggressive colours like red to me feels more effective if used sparingly rather than by covering the whole canvas. Apart from the above I did not find too many works of art giving me a lot of new aspects to think about. Being human, we instinctively know all about aggression (I just had another look at Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973, Spain) “Guernica” (1937)) and we can read its signposts very well. For me, the task is to find my own way of transporting it to canvas. Since my previous steps of working towards a finished piece seemed to work quite well, I am going to repeat and possibly correct and refine them.
First of all I will add to the setup some of the ingredients I am planning to use in the assignment piece, i.e. a Belladonna cherry and ivy leaves and use my sketchbook to play with the relative positions of my cocktail glasses with respect to each other and the imaginary chessboard background. In particular, I would like the whole arrangement to appear to to move in a panic towards the viewer by creating an impression of overbalancing “out of the canvas”.

4 June 2016. What a week and no painting. Today, finally, I managed to finish this exercise with a less than satisfying result. In notice that every time something very demanding happens on the hospital front it takes me ages to return to an already started painting. This time it was worse than I ever experienced before, we even thought about quitting our fight altogether, but then, looking at our son, we just must not give up.
Last week we got some ivy and having played around with my arrangement I noticed that it would have to be either chessboard or ivy to avoid crowding and loss of message. And since it is the ivy that is poisonous it was easy to let go of the chessboard. So this is the sequence, on A2 acrylic paper as in the previous exercise (Fig. 1-6):

Figure 1. Setup through my viewfinder
Figure 2. Intuitive first layer of colours
Figure 3. Strengthening the colours, taking back the 3D impression
Figure 4. Finished painting
Figure 5. Finished painting, detail with complementary and similar colours
Figure 6. Finished painting, creating space without using perspective

In summary I very much enjoy this new way of painting, but my brushstrokes are so inconfident and change with every object I paint, and even when I paint over an old layer, that the result is less than convincing. I do feel, however, that I start recognizing the weakest bits and after having dealt with them I find the next weakest bits. This means that I could go round and round in circles and never finish this exercise. Hopefully learning takes place here, too.

Comparing the result of this exercise with the previous one: It was definitely easier to paint with two complementary colours and white only. In this exercise I spent a long time thinking about the juxtaposition of colours in connection with the message I had in my mind. I did not refer to the setup again after having produced a pencil sketch and drawn the outlines on my paper, because I wanted to see whether intuition would be capable of taking over the final choice of colours and the position of additional – and imaginary – accessories in creating an aggressive atmosphere. This was probably the mistake, because I feel that I am not ready yet for such a complex task, but I will go ahead with my plan for Assignment 2 nevertheless. I owe it to my son.


Bromirski, M. (2011) Untitled [n.k.] [online painting]. Martin Bromirski, New York. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Chavan, P. (2014) Abstract Aggression [n.k.] [online painting]. Pratik Chavan, Mumbai. Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Part 2, project 3, exercise 4: Colour Relationships – Still Life With Complementary Colours [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: [Accessed 1 March 2017]

Maze, H. (2015) Three Roots That Obscure – Aggression, Passion, Ignorance [oil on paper] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2016]

Picasso, P. (1937) Guernica [oil on canvas] [online]. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2016]

Research point: Optical effects

Updated on 28 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

16/18 May 2016. Hard question – what is an optical effect? I had a look on the internet and what came closest to a fundamental definition was “optical phenomenon”. I guess that in the context of this post I will need to address the subject as optical phenomena used to create particular optical effects.
While optical phenomena are good to describe physical and/or chemical realities (for want of other accessible summaries see Wikipedia (2012)), I have to admit that it took me a while to come to terms with “effect”. What effects would I (want to) see on a canvas?

      • the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional support
      • the illusion of illumination without the actual presence of a source of light
      • the illusion of movement in a static image
      • creation of vertigo or being drawn into a painting
      • optical illusions
      • … and no doubt many more which I am not aware of at the moment,

so probably and basically, any interaction between colours and linear elements defined by the sum of all their characteristics (shape, size, relative position, hue, tone, tint/shade, brightness, etc. (, n.d.)) that is not a simple perception of the presence of an element alone.

Optical phenomena need, most of the time, the presence of a minimum of light to fall on the retina. There are, however, effects, which work without light, which are visible with closed eyes or in absolute darkness and which are created by the human mind. Migraine and epilepsy are two conditions, which can evoke visual auras, both unconnected to sensory input from the outside world. Also, daydreaming and mental images might be considered important sources of “visual” information, which can be used in painting.

Even the earliest painters will have observed and put to good use optical effects available to them. A scientific approach, however, with whole artists’ lives dedicated to the exploration of colour and publication of results often as series of painstaking images (see e.g. Josef Albers and his series “Homage to the Square” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a), started only with an increase in reliable knowledge of colour physics and physiology. Referring to the introductory text of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011, p. 67) I am expected to specifically refer to the use of optical effects by the Impressionists and their immediate successors, in particular the Pointillists. Since I already wrote an extensive blog post on this subject (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) and found out that the “achievement of optical mixing” is in fact inexistent due to the low resolution used, I decided that I would take the risk and deviate somewhat from the instructions to see what other optical effects I could find, not limiting my search to the effects of colour alone.
I remember a fascinating drawing or woodcut from a pocket calendar I owned as a child, which consisted of a set of seemingly meaningless bands of varying width when looked at in the usual manner, but which revealed its secret when viewed from a very low position, nearly head on. It was an example of extreme foreshortening called anamorphosis (Kent, 2013). I did not find the particular image on the internet, but came across a great number of fine paintings from historical times and the present day. Among these, the skull on Holbein the Younger’s (c. 1497-1543) “Ambassadors” from 1533 (Fig. 1) is a very famous example. Watch an interesting video discussion by Harris and Zucker (2012).

Figure 1. Hans Holbein the Younger: “The Ambassadors”, 1533, oil on canvas. Source: Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Having started looking through the subjects on offer by Khan Academy I also came across an introductory article to contemporary art (Spivey, n.d.). The second image shown there, John Baldessari’s lithgraph “I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art” created in 1971, apart from its great message reminding me of Bart Simpson’s writing on the blackboard, is for me a wonderful way of creating vibration by repeating similar structures, in this case the elements of handwriting. The “k” in “make”, for example seems particularly alive across the whole canvas and beyond, in a Rumpelstilzkin manner fitting the rebellious statement.

Julie Mehretu’s 2003 “Empirical Construction” is a good example for a set of optical effects combined to create the illusion of fast movement. Linear elements placed in parallel perspective produce the illusion of a three dimensional space and also force the viewer’s gaze away from the centre by becoming thicker the further away from the centre. At the same time, curved lines surrounding the objects suggest a turning and tangential movement. Both types of elements create them impression of the witnessing of an act of explosive disintegration of variously coloured geometrical elements, which may have been part of a magnificent edifice just a second ago. When looking at the details of the ca. 3 x 4.5 m canvas, they repeat the effects at smaller scale, so that every bit of the construction seems to be in concerted movement, the sum of which produces an explosive whole. In an interview (Caruth, 2013) Mehretu also explains that the layering of a multitude of elements forces the eye to constantly adjust, so that a further illusion of movement is created, this time not only in  space, but also in time.

Op Art, or “optical art” is defined as an art form specialising in the use of optical illusions (Tate, n.d.(a)). It evolved predominantly from the first avant-garde movement of Neo-Impressionism, (Tate, n.d.(b)) which already included the word “optical” in its definition and “promised to employ optical and psycho-biological theories in pursuit of a grand synthesis of the ideal and the real, the fugitive and the essential, science and temperament.” Paul Signac’s (1863-1935) Neo-Impressionist painting below (Fig. 2) is a good example of the above. It illustrates also the point of non-achievement of optical mixing at normal viewing distance. It works only if the image size is reduced to, say, no more than 5 x 5 cm. Since this option was of course unavailable to contemporary viewers, they would no doubt have had to move very far from a well-lit canvas to see the desired effect.

Figure 2. Paul Signac: “Portrait of Félix Fénélon”, 1890, oil on canvas. Source: Paul Signac (1863-1935) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The dots and blocks of colour introduced by the Neo-Impressionists to transport a notion of organisation were taken up and developed further by following art movements until they evolved as separate art forms. Op Art painter Bridget Riley (*1931, UK) is famous for her life-long influential investigation of the interaction of form and colour (Riggs, 1998). Her one-of-a-series oil painting “Winter Palace” (1981), as shown on p. 67 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011) and e.g. by the National Gallery (n.d.) was influenced by the colours seen in Egyptian tombs. In a description provided by Artfund (n.d.) the effect is described as follows: “Just as in her earlier optical pictures, a vibrant surface is created with vertical bands causing the eye constantly to refocus, moving forward and back in space as one colour then another asserts a pull.”, which is a good description of the created effect and an example of the “disorientating optical effects of geometric forms”. In me, when looking at it for more than a few seconds, it will cause an intense feeling of dizziness, probably due to the mix of phenomena at work at the same time. For easier reference I take the neutral grey lines as uniform background on which the coloured lines operate, e.g. and without doubt missing several more:

  1. Each line, when seen on its own, appears to lie on one plane with the neutral background.
  2. Between each two lines separated by grey there appears the illusion of a narrow darker grey line.
  3. Each line appears to rest, at the same time, both on and above the picture plane, depending on the combination of colours seen together, e.g. in both combinations white and pink as well as pink and black the pink appears to lie above the other colour, but only if not separated by grey.
  4. A black line pulls the eye beneath the picture plane strongly in combination with pink, appears to lie above the plane next to yellow and appears unchanged between two turquoise lines.
  5. The most intense “wave” illusion is formed in the sequence “ochre-turquoise-black-turquoise-ochre-grey-white-pink-turquoise-black-grey-ochre”. To my eye, the sequence containing ochre, turquoise and black appear to lie more or less on the same plane, while the white and pink followed by the turquiose and black stripes appear to lie above it.
  6. When shifting my viewpoint to the left or right to include other combination of lines, the effect is diminished.
  7. There is a huge difference if I look at the painting with one instead of both eyes. In my opinion the effect is more dramatic with one eye closed, probably because compensatory information from the other eye is missing.

In fact, I could go on forever. The more I look, the more effects I discover and there is not a single painting or drawing without any. To me, even Kasimir Malevich’s famous “Black Square” (Shaw, 2013) produced in 1915, sort of flutters both inside and at its edges in the most uncomfortable manner, as if it were trying to move into the white area surrounding it. In fact, a wonderful remark made by Malevich, reinforces my impression: “It is from zero, in zero, that the true movement of being begins.” (Smith, 2003)
Big Bang. Better stop here.


Artfund (n.d.) Winter Palance by Bridget Riley [online]. Artfund, London. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Caruth, N.J. (2013) Julie Mehretu: To Be Felt as Much as Read [interview] [online]. Art 21. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Harris, B. and Zucker, S. (2012) Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors [online]. Khan Academy. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Kent, P. (2013) Art of Anamorphosis [online]. Philpp Kent, London. Available at: [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Artist research: Edward Burra, James Rosenquist and Josef Albers [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Research point: Chevreul’s Colour Theory [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Mehretu, J. (2003) Empirical Construction, Istanbul [ink and synthetic polymer paint on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016]

National Gallery (n.d.) Winter Palace [oil on linen] [online]. Leeds Art Gallery. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 67

Riggs, T. (1998) Bridget Riley: Biography [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Shaw, P. (2013) Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square [online]. In Llewellyn, N. and Riding, C. (eds.) The Art of the Sublime, Tate Research Publication, January 2013. Available at: [accessed 28 February 2017]

Signac, P. (1890) Portrait of Félix Fénélon [oil on canvas] [online]. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Available at: %5BAccessed 16 May 2016]

Smith, R. (2003) Art Review; A Bombshell of Modernism Recaptured [online]. The New York Times, 13 May 2003). Available at: [Accessed 28 February 2017]

Spivey, V.B. (n.d.) Contemporary Art, an introduction [online]. Khan Academy. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016]

Tate (n.d.(a)) Op Art [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Tate (n.d.(b)) Neo-Impressionism [online]. Tate, London. Available at: [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Wikipedia (2012) Optical Phenomena [online]. Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2016] (n.d.) Color Properties/Terminology [online]. Available at: [Accessed 27 February 2017]