Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life disaster with natural objects (step 4: finished painting)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

2 May 2016. So, here comes disaster diary for the last step in this exercise.

I think that everything that follows can be pinpointed to my introduction of gloss medium as a diluting agent instead of water. In my previous exercise I had noticed that I was unable to create uniform layers of paint, i.e. such that were not totally opaque to the sides of the brush and totally transparent in the brush track. After having got the advice to use gloss medium to dilute instead of water the first experiments looked quite promising except for the weird bubbles created by mixing more than the tiniest amount of paint and medium. While I thought that the background created in this way looked fine and the surface was smooth and shiny, I will have to work some more on my composition skills (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. The prepared background, A3 acrylic paper, paint diluted with gloss medium

When next I added another layer of paint indicating the position of my objects and their future colours, I noticed straight away that painting on top of that smooth surface would not be as straightforward as it had sounded on the internet. I found that I was unable to go over areas already covered in wet paint a second time, because this would remove all the paint in an instant and I would not be able to close the gaps produced in this way until the layer had dried completely. This allowed no spontaneity im my use of the paintbrush whatsoever and prohibited the correction of mistakes. Also, and what I did not expect to see to such an extent was the extreme darkening effect. Acrylics become darker on drying, student qualities such as I have been using so far more so than professional quality paint (which I will buy from now on!), but the gloss medium made this far worse. The application of mixed hues became totally unpredictable, since I did not know what tonal value to mix for it to dry up to create the tonal value I wanted. And furthermore, the medium and paint reacted together in a way which produced a fluffy, creamy stuff difficult to apply to the smooth surface, which a second later was dry enough to allow no correcting. I spent two days trying to do my best to finish my painting, but I gave up when I saw no way I could improve what I had (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Finished disaster painting, A3 acrylic paper, objects painted with acrylics diluted with gloss medium

While there is no point in wanting to see anything nice in the overall work, I do think that some parts may be worth remembering for later for their effects. If they had been on a separate canvas each I might have been quite pleased with the outcome. So here are the details I liked. The “coral” (or whatever it may be) was believable overall despite the lack of detail provided at closer look. I also want to remember the effect of having outlines contrasting in colour to both the object itself and the adjacent negative space, see top right of following photo (sorry for the poor quality, neither camera nor scanner nor the later removal of highlights on the computer provided a realistic image) (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. Finished disaster painting, detail: “coral”

In the following two details I liked the texture of the background surrounding the petrified branch (Fig. 4a) and the contrast between the pointed bit of rock and the background, making it look really 3-dimensional (Fig. 4b). These I was also pleased with, because I noticed that for the first time my artist research seemed to have an effect on my style of painting (if one may call that so):

What was impossible to improve in the painting was my piece of pumice. Whatever I tried became so dark in the end that I could only guess at the final colour.
I will resist, however, the urge to apply a pair of scissors to this piece of work and stick the nice bits in my sketchbook. By having it in front of me in my workshop I may learn more from it that I am am aware of at this point.

 

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) …

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

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

25 April 2016. Last time I went to our local art supplier I bought some acrylic gloss medium, with I wanted to test during the course. This exercise is a good opportunity. Since my not too good experience when diluting my type of acrylic paint with water over the last three months made me look for alternatives. So I will use the gloss medium for that purpose this time and also test its finishing effect. The instructions include a warning that the application of too many layers of medium may cause fogging, so I will need to plan carefully.
The first tests on acrylic paper revealed an increase in transparency of the mix paint/medium. It was also much easier to spread the colour, although I still noticed large differences in layer thickness when using a flat brush. The only chance of getting a totally even layer was to apply a relatively diluted mix, which was then of course very light in tone and – something I need to be very careful to avoid – had hundreds of tiny bubbles enclosed, which would not disappear during the drying process. What I will do here is the same as with custard powder stirred into milk, which is wait a few minutes before using the mix.

27 April 2016. The results of my experiments are summarized in Fig. 1 below. First of all I prepared small areas of my acrylic paper with 3 mixes for a white background:

1. Paper only
2. Acrylic binder on its own
3. Acrylic binder with about the same amount of acrylic white mixed in
4. Acrylic white on its own

Next I prepared a mix of gold ochre and primary magenta to produce Sahara sand orange (or what I think it might look like during one of those golden sunsets) and mixed some white into half of that. Both of these I again mixed with acrylic binder at a 1:1 ratio. All these I then tried out on all of the above backgrounds, finding the following:

  1. On the paper only ground the undiluted colours left dry-looking edges, an effect I quite like. When mixed with binder, the dry edges were gone, the paint was easier to spread and the chroma was enhanced, particularly in the mix without white.
  2. Doing the same on the binder only background reduced the chroma of the binder-added mixes strongly and the difference between the mix with and without white disappeared altogether. The colour only mix had no dry edges and dried without a glossy sheen, i.e. not surprisingly the varnishing effect is blocked by a layer of paint on top of it.
  3. The ground consisting of binder and white appeared to enhance colour and tonal difference greatly in all the mixes.
  4.  Painting on white only ground the binder-added mixes appeared somewhat darker, Applying the colour only mix was accompanied with noticeably greater restistance.
  5. Applying a finishing layer of binder on the paint only areas did not increase brilliance in the same way as mixing binder directly into the paint – probably because the amount required for dilution was far greater than the ultra thin film I put on in my first attempt.
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Figure 1. Testing different backgrounds and mixes of acrylic colour and binder                          (explanation see text)

The above tests left me with a clear favourite for an indifferent ground layer, binder and acrylic white mixed 1:1. This I used to prepare the second half of the paper, then divided it up into triagles in the way I had selected from my photos taken in the previous step and experimented with different colours, colour and binder mixes and surface structures I thought suitable to represent sand, sea and volcanic rock (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Testing composition and colours for the background

Since my intention was to emphasize that these areas interact, since the above seemed a bit dull, because it was too symmetrical, because I was not satisfied with the edges and, more importantly, because the chosen colours would not provide enough contrast for my objects, I spent another hour or two changing tonal values and edges (Fig. 3):

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

Later in the day I was going through a great number of screenshots I had taken during Drawing 1 and which had been sitting around on my computer’s desktop for a year to be cleared away. I came across one, whose origin unfortunately I cannot remember at this point, dealing with composition rules and there were, more or less, my triangles (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Some composition rules. Source: [n.k.]
This discovery helped me decide that I would use this background to work from and, to do a quick test, I placed my objects on the background (Fig. 5a-c):


From the above it is obvious that contrast will have to be enhanced further. My intention here is to get acquainted with the structure of my objects by drawing (ink, pencil, watercolour and/or similar) in the next step and to adapt the background only after successfully translating them into painted objects. I have an idea for this, which might look quite interesting if I succeed in making it visible, but that will have to wait a little longer.

 

 

 

 

Part 2, project 2, exercise 3: Still life with natural objects (step 1: choosing a subject and artist research)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

24 April 2016. Since I had already chosen flowers for Assignment 1 I was advised by the study guide to skip exercise 2 to go straight to painting natural objects.

Again, as always, I feel some inner resistance when having to put together random objects in order to display them as a still life. What I want to do is tell a story, even if the task is only keen observation of form, light and composition. So I gave the fruit basket and vegetable drawer a wide berth, collected and then discarded twigs, cones and snail shells, and half eaten breakfast eggs, and in my mind always came back to the study guide suggestion of painting rock crystals. I have a few of these, which we picked up on some mountaineering trips in the Hohe Tauern mountain range. While going through my small collection of rocks and crystals I also came across three specimens, which are, to me, so interesting regarding their surface appearance, provenance and history of formation that I could not resist choosing them for the exercise:
I have now a highly irregular, iridescent and near black piece of pumice, filled with holes formed by volcanic gas, which we found on a lava field near mount Teide on Tenerife, a 10 cm long cylindrical piece of petrified wood (which is at least what we think it is) from Australia, which is yellowish-pink in colour, as well as a piece of cream-white probably coral I inherited from my grandfather and whose ends are extremely worn, so that it looks well-rounded overall (Fig. 1):


Apart from the personal stories connected with the pieces, there is geology and biology to consider, if I am to create a painted still life story. So here I am with a real opportunity to go through a staged process. I just hope that I can force myself to a considerate approach.

First of all, since two of these objects are not what the study guide would call simple forms, while at the same time sharing a lack of colour, I will want a carefully chosen coloured background to emphasize the characteristics of my objects. The matter is whether I want the background to be part of the story, e.g. in its simplest form telling something about the place of formation of each of the three objects. What I could do is to create an abstract background layer in a way I saw in an exhibition of paintings by Herbert Stejskal earlier this year (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), but much more reduced, as e.g. in Anon (n.d.) or Guedez (n.d.). I like the strong lines delineating the boundaries of each coloured area, but I guess that just these lines would not provide an interesting contrast, but would rather suffocate the delicate structures of my objects. On the other hand, I do not want the still life to look like a display in a jeweller’s shop window with the items lying on a nice piece of cloth, satin or velvet, or whatever, or on an indifferent background as e.g. in this painting by Paolo Porpora (1617-1673, Italy) (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Paolo Porpora: Still Life with Shells, oil on canvas, [n.d.]. Source: Paolo Porpora (1617-1673) [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Also, since I quite like the strong shadows, I want to chose a background which allows them to be included in the painting.

25 April 2016. In order to start experimenting without thinking too much about a story or concept, I had a look through my collection of scrap paper, which I include in drawings and paintings now and them, and was lucky to find three pieces, which could help me with visualizing background effects regarding colour, as well as size and position of parts. What I do not want to do here, however, is to take a shortcut and use the paper to make a collage. I want to paint all parts, because I know I need the experience. Here are a few photos I took while testing a first setup. To start, I took photos with each rock on similar and contrasting background colours and tones. See the results in the three photos below (Fig. 3, 4 and 5):

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Figure 3. Rocks placed on similar background
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Figure 4. Rocks placed on contrasting background – 1
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Figure 5. Rocks placed on contrasting background – 2

I quite like the combination of tonal and colour variation in the above background experiment. There is, however, when looking at it again, far too much harmony, which I would like to break. I therefore varied the position of the papers and got two more or less acceptable results (Fig. 6 and 7):

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Figure 6. Position of background papers changed to form rectangular areas
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Figure 7. Position of background papers changed to form triangular areas

For some reason the triangular shapes appear appealing to me, probably because a good-willed viewer might read mountains, sand dunes or ocean waves into them. So I think that I might give that idea a go, but avoiding the jeweller’s shop appearance. So there will be no painting simple patterns for the rocks to lie on. In order to see how other artists solve their background problems, I had another look on the internet and found an example of how the background may be painted using the same hues as the objects placed on top and still successfully creating a background-foreground effect (Groat, n.d.). This gave me the idea that I might try a very subtle combination of the different hues provided by a volcanic eruption, sea water and sand desert. Whether the combination of colours (orange, blue and ochre-pink) will work together and whether I will need to enhance likeness or contrast, I will test in the next step of this exercise.

Regarding paintings depicting similar objects I did not find many examples. Entering “still life natural objects” or even “rock crystal” in my browser gave almost invariably fruit or vegetables interspersed with the odd fish, most of them to a high standard of practically photorealistic painting, which I do not want either. One style I came across I thought fascinating: Sylvia Siddell (1941-2011), a New Zealand based painter, had a very unusual and energetic approach to her still lifes, see e.g. “Out of the Frying Pan” (Siddell, 2007). She used an intriguing combination of line and colour, which I would like to include in this exercise, on a much simpler level.

References:

[Anon.] (n.d.) Abstract Painting on a Wall [n.k.] [online image]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.featurepics.com/online/Abstract-Painting-Wall-Photo316326.aspx [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Groat, H. II (n.d.) Terra Mater [oil on canvas] [online]. New York Art Collection. Available at: http://hallgroat.com/products/paintings-of-nature-for-sale/ [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Guedez, C. (n.d.) La Ville de Paris [acrylic on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.carmenguedez.com/abstract-art-paintings/la-ville-de-paris [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Study Visit: Gallery Tour in Salzburg [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 Blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/03/10/study-visit-gallery-tour-in-salzburg/ [Accessed 24 April 2016]

Porpora, P. (n.d.) Still Life With Shells [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Paolo_Porpora_%281617-ca.1673%29_-_Still_life_with_shells%2C_oil_on_canvas%2C_44%2C5_x_67_cm.jpg [Accessed 25 February 2017]

Siddell, S. (2007) Out of the Frying Pan [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.geocities.ws/s_siddell/out-of-the-frying-pan.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]