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:
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:
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).
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):
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).
Impasto for me is an incredibly versatile technique, which I will without any doubt come back to regularly with great joy.
20 November 2016. In order to make it for cut-off I decided that I would need to start working on my assignment alongside the remaining exercises for this part.
The requirement is a large format. I will go for the largest support I have at home to fit the portfolio (60 x 90 cm grey carton). The landscape will be totally imaginary again and I will try and paint an extensive river gorge/cave in the rough painting-knife style I discovered to work well for me in one of the previous exercises (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a).
22 November 2016. Last night I went in my head through my personal spontaneous reactions when hearing the term “claustrophobia”, and what first appeared as an image in my head was that of a cave diver getting stuck with his oxygen cylinders in one of the rocky tunnels. So maybe this is a pointer for closing around, so to speak, my river gorge theme.
While leaving my last sketch and background for the exercise I am working on at the moment to dry, I embarked on some additional research considering the term “claustrophobia”, so that I would not base all my planning on the overwhelmig feeling of mental overload I have at the moment. I was particularly interested in approaches by different artists. Many works of art are interpreted as being “claustrophobic” by the art world, although they do not explicitly address the phenomenon as main subject of the work. The person shown in Expressionist Edvard Munch’s (1863-1944, Norway) “The Scream” for example is interpreted by others as showing a claustrophobic reaction (Bolton, 2013, p. unavailable), while Munch himself explained his inspiration thus: “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.” (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013) (Fig. 1).
When entering the search term “claustrophobia” into my browser, it became immediately obvious that there does exist a need of visually transporting this feeling. There are many similar ideas, with persons trapped in tiny, bare, box-shaped spaces with no way out. Many of them with outstretched arms or arms crossed very tightly across the chest, as if trying to make the space (outside or inside the body) larger and/or avoid for it to get even smaller, see e.g. a collection of related images on Pinterest (Pinterest, n.d.(a)). Many of them do not feel related to what I am looking for, but the eighth photo down on Graphics Think Tank (2011) probably gets close to what I need. It appears as if there are many different kinds of claustrophobia, some of real places, some of real people, some of unavoidable overwhelming situations. And I will have to be very careful, because obviously the subject is a playground also of the horror movie gang.
24 November 2016. Maybe better to follow my own idea, especially since I do not want a person at the centre of this picture, but the landscape. A claustrophobic landscape, basically, is one that provides too little space for the person entering it. If I want this effect to work for everybody, I will need to employ strong signals, e.g. abnormally low ceilings in a cave. Today I came across the work of Ted Pim (*?, Ireland), who draws his inspiration from the Old Masters, but takes his dark subjects into abandoned buildings. What I found especially haunting at first sight was the location of one of his outdoor murals, “Bass Brewery” (Pinterest, n.d.(b)). Looking further for “claustrophobic landscape” I found the work of American concept artist and illustrator Jack Gallagher and his small series called “Obstructions” (Gallagher, 2016), which composition-wise comes close to where I want to get, although mine would be somewhat more complex.
However, while watching this short video documenting attempts at entering a cave via an impossibly narrow crack in the rock (Bennett, 2012), I kept thinking that I am looking in the wrong places. For me it is probably not so much the fear of getting stuck, but the fear of not being able to breathe. And this finally takes me to where I really need to be in this assignment. It is all about an operation I had when I was six years old. It was no spectacular operation, just having my nasal polyps removed, because until then I had been able to breathe through my mouth only. Back then, 44 years ago, it seems to have been common still to get etherised. At least this was what I got, black face mask pressed hard on my nose and mouth, sick, sick feeling of suffocating, wanting to scream and kick with my arms and legs only to be held down by doctors and nurses, taking ages (several minutes in fact) to fall asleep with operation theatre going round and round in dark circles. Just now I found a detailed German language article describing exactly my own experience to the smallest detail (Zimmer, n.d.). It is basically a trauma, which left me with horrible nausea every time I smell ether or related substances and an intense fear of places, situations and stressful experiences, where there might not be enough oxygen.
So I need a really tight place to transport the feeling. Like this (Vela, n.d.).
26 November 2016. I decided that the best way to proceed would be initially to produce several spontaneous large-scale (A2) charcoal sketches while trying to invoke the traumatising situation from the operation. Here comes the result of the first round, experimenting with an imaginary cave, which suggests a way out, but which by the looks of it is agonizingly narrow. The rock I want to feel heavy, but smooth, without too many sharp points and cracks, because this is what the increasing paralysis provoked by the ether felt like. While drawing it was difficult for me to breathe, so this approach is probably not far from what I need. Interestingly, the drawing worked in all directions (looking somewhat like a coloscopy image :o)) and I compared them for their relative properties (Fig. 1-4):
The second version was my favourite, since it appeared to provide the greatest resistance to leaving the cave, but I will have to increase the stifling feeling inside the hall. It is too spacious yet. So I produced another large-scale charcoal sketch on the basis of the former and tried to make the interior feel tight, with the way out near-blocked several times, while the sky is clearly visible (Fig. 5):
Although the cave is not as dark as I would have liked it to be, the arrangement seems believable. Guessing from the chosen eye-level the size of the nearest crack is probably too narrow for anyone but the slimmest persons to fit through without squeezing. In addition, there is no way of telling whether the path behind that obstacle would not be narrow, too. The making of the cave was a very enjoyable experience (apart from indeed feeling claustrophobic), because the charcoal allowed whatever change came into my mind with absolute ease. It would incorporate any previous layers, which had looked completely different at various stages of developing the drawing. Overall I like the way the daylight falls into the cave with the innermost speck of light more or less mirroring the “window” to freedom.
27 November 2016. With this working setup tested for effectiveness on my husband (“I don’t like this, I cannot breathe.”), I started on the next step of the project. In my expectation the choice of colours would play an essential role. I would need a colour standing for freedom (a light blue most likely) to enter the cave to meet a combination of colours, which suggest a suffocating atmosphere. The latter for me always comes with a substance present in the air (ether!), so I went to have a look at the chemical properties of diethyl ether (University of California, n.d.). It is a colourless liquid with a boiling point of 34.6 °C. So it might be reasonable to assume that some (colourless) haze might be visible in the darker parts of the cave to support the message. The light falling into the cave could be made visible in “dusty” rays. I will first test this effect (haze plus light) to see if it would increase or decrease the primary effect. Apart from that I will try and apply intense colour only in areas exposed to the light from outside, the rest of the cave should remain as in the charcoal above, maybe in a warm dark grey in order to make the presence of haze believable (somewhat higher air temperature near cave entrance).
28 November 2016. After having tested a few painted thumbnail sketches with two warm (grey, brown) and cold (violet and blue) versions of the cave, I decided that I would stick with the brown version, because it is much easier to create a believable stifling atmosphere in a seemingly warm environment. Also I had the impression, when comparing the cold variants, that these colours tended to “push me out” of the cave, while the warmer ones “wanted to keep me in”, so to speak. The paper in my sketchbooks unfortunately is not ideal for loose painting, despite priming the paper tends to come off in tiny flakes and the colours grow dim while drying (Fig. 6):
Next I tested how to reproduce the sunlight inside the cave (Fig. 7):
28 and 29 November 2016. I prepared a mix of dark brown, primary cyan, primary magenta, gold ochre and white to produce a warm grey tone. With this I painted a uniform background on a 60 x 90 cm grey carton, then proceeded through several stages to produce the cave. It took a large number of correcting steps in order to create believable lighting conditions inside the cave and an arrangement of rocks, which would cause the required “closed-in” feeling. In the end I found that with this painting it was crucially important to always align my eye-level with the intended size of the cave. A few centimetres out would immediately cause the volume of the cave to “grow” and thus “widen” the way out.
Here are some of the stages (Fig. 8-12):
After having finished the main painting, I found it difficult to determine whether I would be able to include the sunlight and haze interplay as intended. The viewpoint is slightly outside the cone of light, so it might be possible to see some of it, but I was not sure whether it would add to the atmosphere. So I left the painting to dry and returned a few hours later.
Here is the finished piece with the added sunrays. I noticed that extremely good lighting conditions are required for the colours to come out properly, but overall I am quite happy with the result (Fig. 13):
For a detailed analysis of the finished painting please see my self-assessment report (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b) posted separately.
Vela, C.M. (n.d) Cave Explorer [photograph] [online]. Cristian Mihai Vela, Caransebes. Available at: https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-cave-explorer-image19113302 [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Zimmer, J. ( n.d.) Die Entstehung und Therapie von posttraumatischen Belastungsstörungen [lecture script] [online]. Available at: http://www.joerg-c-zimmer.de/57.html [Accessed 24 November 2016]
Updated on 4 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to contents).
18 July 2016. Since there is very little time available at the moment and my tutor suggested that I paint my sketches for this exercise rather than draw them, I decided that I would combine exercises 1 and 2. My husband sat for me in my workshop and despite our everyday worries the sketches with watercolour on A2 sketch paper (Fig. 1-3) went somewhat better than expected. Since I want to paint my linear figure study with palette knives, I also tried my favourite flat watercolour brush in one sketch (Fig. 2 below). Here I found that it requires a lot of practice to switch from the flat side to the edge in rounded objects such as the muscles in my husband’s arm, so there is ample scope for improvement here, but I enjoyed the experience (despite both of us nearly falling asleep after a demanding day).
I like the setup in the third sketch best, because there appears to be – at least to me – a pleasing combination of tension and relaxation. The chair my husband was sitting on is playschool size, so he had to find a position to give his legs the necessary room (tension), while the weight of his upper body was supported by the arm resting on the backrest (relaxation). We’ll see whether I will be able to include both in my painted study.
Before jumping right into the exercise I had a look round the internet to see some palette knife painting tutorials and find some artists, who use a technique I like. What I do not want is a very rough approach, which to me produces paintings looking like the tiles on a stove of the nightmare kind we sometimes used to get in our area (not surprisingly I cannot find any examples on the web, horrible stuff): Some painters seem to be making a habit of placing the same kind of knife mark at regular intervals, which have no connection with the actual subject and consequently appear to drain all tension from a painting. What I would like to try is to see, whether I am able to “draw” with the palette knife in a way that creates believable organic structures.
In order not to get overwhelmed by the new technique I decided to reduce my palette to the denim range of blue and the colour of skin (Fig. 4):
The background I prepared with a mix of dark brown and titanium white, which dries close to skin colour. Since this was to be my first experiment using palette knives and I am not confident yet regarding my drawing abilities in that respect, I drew the outlines first with charcoal (Fig. 5).
It took some time to get used to the properties of the palette knives, but I think that with some practice it shoould be possible to produce volume and tension with just a few marks. I was surprised to see how easy it was to mold the thigh and folds. But the way, my husband’s hair is not quite that flashy – it was the result of having put too much pressure on the palette knife, which went flying and left some interesting hairstyle in its wake ;o) … (Fig. 6):
It was relatively straightforward to outline the chair as well, and then things got difficult. I have no expertise yet in forming limbs and faces and I found the palette knife awkward to use in tight places. Also it was necessary to carefully think ahead. The paint had to be in just the right place on the knife in just the right amount and the mark-making does not yet come naturally. I also had to take into account whether a structure would have to be rounded and smooth, come with a darker and/or sharp edge or merge with another structure (Fig. 7).
After a bit of a struggle I started seeing some progress. Human forms are still very awkward, and especially faces, where I have not found a solution yet to correct mistakes (sorry, Franz, I promise to be more experienced next time!). Still, when looking at the overall result, the composition, selection of colours and part of the outcome I am not unhappy. In particular I do think that my intention of showing tension and relaxation is visible in the finished piece (Fig. 8):
Updated on 18 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).
19 February, 2016. Today I finally made myself throw away a lot of the ugly old paintings and drawings I had kept for ages for fear of losing touch with my past. Some of them are on wonderful 600g watercolour paper and I knew that I did want to make use of that. So I made a pile of selected paintings and, to make sure I would not be able to keep them after all, went over them with a layer of white acrylic paint. This paint I put on using a small foam roller, so as to avoid leaving brush marks.
For this exercise I prepared two A2 sheets, one for a monochrome experiment and one for putting on multiple colours. Each I divided in two. One half of each sheet received a dilute coloured wash – monochrome on the first, multicoloured on the second. These I let become dry before starting the experiment described in the study guide.
The following tools were used, plus fingers, a plastic ruler and a rag:
22 February, 2016. Yesterday I continued working on the exercise. First I used the monochrome sheet to explore the marks produced by the above tools, from top to bottom the palette knife, notched trowel, sponge (2 rows) and rag, wooden skewer, 2 stainless steel balls, plastic ruler, and finally fingers on the bottom left, and a nailbrush on the bottom right.
With these in mind I went on to my multicoloured A2 sheet, having decided that it should become something like a painting using all of the above. This is the chaotic result, which I call “Spirit Contemplating Fenland Sunset” ;o).
While painting I tried to observe very closely the interaction of paint and tools and to think carefully about the respective effects, including comparing white and coloured background. Thick layers of acrylic paint will stay pliable for many hours, allowing them to be worked on without the need to proceed too quickly. Sometimes it is interesting, however, to allow a layer to become partially dry before continuing to work on it. This is especially important, if I need to produce fine lines e.g. with my nailbrush. Details regarding the tools used see below:
I will use the above results as add-on reference when planning new paintings throughout the course.