Assignment 3: Lady in Pool

Updated on 12 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

20 August 2016. A few days ago we were given a day off to spend at the local spa and sauna. The totally relaxed lady we found floating in the pool was so impressive that I found I had to try and make her the subject of my Assignment 3. Although she would probably not count as a true portrait with her face half hidden because of the extreme viewing angle, I just had to take the risk.

08 September 2016. The lady reminded me a lot of the work by Jenny Saville and in preparation I had a look at a large number of Saville’s paintings. Her wonderful delicate handling of skin tones is something to remember, although I know that my own approach is somewhat rougher and I do not want to avoid it on account of trying to copy someone else’s style. Also today I did some intense research on the science of painting pool water. There was a very detailed tutorial (at the time of updating this post the tutorial had unfortunately been taken off the web for copyright reasons and is available only if bought from the author (Mural Joe, n.d.).

15 September 2016. Today I started on the assignment by making a preliminary sketch in order to position the lady correctly, since foreshortening was very strong in her case. As in the exercises preceding this assignment I decided to avoid referring to any photos, in order to see whether my knowledge about human anatomy and memory imprint of the floating lady would be sufficient to produce a hopefully believable form (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – positioning the lady in the pool

Next I prepared an A2 canvas carton with a watery mix of blue and turquise (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Prepared background

23 September 2016. I noticed how my recent use of acrylic paper had let me forget about the qualities of canvas and the preparation of the background I wanted took me a long time. The smoothness of paper is something I have come to like, since it allows the production of fine detail with ease, while the roughness of the canvas I use leaves, at least at my level of expertise, more than a fair share of the outcome to coincidence.
On the finished background I quickly painted my lady as I remembered her without further reference to other work or photos. I also tried to see her from my caricaturist’s viewpoint, which proved extremely useful in the construction of a loosely painted first layer. My main goal was the creation of a form unusual enough to allow it not to be easily forgotten and in analysing this form to both find and emphasize, if necessary by exaggeration, the innate rhythm in the sequence of arms, breasts, thighs and feet, while trying to take great care in designing a pool atmosphere, whose orderly shapes and cool colours would make a hopefully interesting contrast to the lady’s well-rounded forms (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Developing painting – intermediate stage (1)

This painting is another one in which I found an intense communication to develop while working. A small change to one detail – and it was small changes throughout – would instantly cause my eye to focus on something else requiring adjustment in answer to the former. This experience is joyful and satisfying and, at least to my feeling, probably one of the most essential parts of a working painting (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Developing painting – intermediate stage (2)

Here comes the final result. It took me a while to decide, observing it under different lighting conditions, but I have come to the conclusion that I should leave it as it is. I might change my mind before I send my portfolio to my tutor, but for the moment I am very happy as it is (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. Finished painting

For self-assessment please see separate post!

References:

Mural Joe (n.d.) How To Paint Waves Bundle [online]. Mural Joe, Flagstaff. Available at: http://learn.muraljoe.com/downloads/how-to-paint-waves-bundle/ [Accessed 12 March 2017]

Sketchbook: Quick portraits from the hospital

Updated on 12 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

8 September 2016. While staying in the hospital I had one or two opportunities to sit down outside the main entrance and see whether I would be able to produce something I would call “lightning portraits”. A hospital is not the best of places to go and stare at peoples’ faces in order to draw them, so I decided that I would look at a person for a second at most – after which their sixth sense makes them, invariably, turn their heads to find out why they feel uncomfortable – and then draw the imprint on my mind. Since this method does not carry a lot of detail, I filled a page in my sketchbook with a number of quite small portraits. This is the evil result (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. People waiting near the hospital entrance, quick ink pen portraits

In our room I took an opportunity to catch my husband lying on my bed, reading a magazine, and my son staring at our laptop while checking the weather (Fig.2 ).

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Figure 2

And finally some people I found in magazines, two famous and two from adverts, in another test to see whether I would be able to capture a likeness and something of a person’s personality in very quick sketches taking between 20 seconds and 2 to 3 minutes (Fig. 3-6):

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Figure 3. Sigmar Gabriel, German Vice Chancellor, 2 minute sketch, pencil
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Figure 4. Hillary Clinton, holding newborn grandchild for campaigning purposes, 3 minute sketch, three different ink pens
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Figure 5. Person miming well-off private jet passenger, from glossy Lufthansa magazine, 20 second sketch, pencil
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Figure 6. Fisherman from Oman, posing on boat, from Lufthansa magazine, 30 second sketch

Part 3, project 2, exercise 4: Looking at faces – conveying character

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

17 August 2016. This exercise should be my home territory as a caricaturist, but I do not want to take the obvious route here. A normal caricature does not usually aim at conveying character by a careful choice of painting materials and techniques. Most people working in this field tend to develop a recognizable style with an unchanging set of methods, many stay with watercolours and/or ink as I have done for a while now (Lacher-Bryk, 2017) or opt for computer-aided drawing. The latter are now often preferred by the media, because they tend to look neat and clean and the reproducing of colour is more straightforward. I think that this is not my way, I feel uncomfortable with the computer between me and my developing work. But also, one of my main goals in studying with the OCA is to acquire the skills required to create large scale satirical paintings. This is a field of painting with a short history and only few artists, where William Hogarth (1697-1764, UK) is my favourite for his keen talent of observation and courage to tackle controversial subjects at his time in history (see e.g. “The Humours of an Election”, c. 1755). I have not been able to find many comparable approaches. Throughout the history of painting most works labelled satirical are not what I am planning to do, since – very likely for the good reason of the painter wanting to keep his head on his neck – the satire is usually hidden behind symbols almost impossible to interpret correctly by the everyday viewer without professional guidance. In contemporary art of Germany and Austria we have now a relatively young tradition of high quality satirical painting. My absolute favourites from Austria are Horst Haitzinger (*1939) and Gerhard Haderer (*1951, see e.g. Karikaturmuseum Krems (2016)), and Ernst Kahl (Galerie Richter, n.d.)) from Germany for their talent and wonderful intelligence. The Salzburg Museum der Moderne has just opened an exhibition on satirical drawings over the last 200 years (Salzburg Museum der Moderne, 2016). Hopefully I will find the time to go and see it.

So, what is in the task of “conveying character”? It most certainly is not about capturing some fleeting expression on a face, but about carefully studying the character of a person and pick an expression which reveals that part of a character I need to convey the message of my painting. If the painting is a portrait only without surroundings to help the viewer interpret the facial expression, it is important to be quite familiar with the personality and habits of the portrayed person. This is the reason why most portrait caricaturists pick world famous persons as their subjects and which is what I need to do here for the same reason.

18 August 2016. A few days ago I made a caricature of Donald Trump, whose campaign has been given me a constant headache (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. Donald Trump

His personality and intentions are an utter mystery to me and so I decided that I would stay with the subject for this exercise. Looking at his life, the least one can say about him is that he is a colourful character, which translates into “schillernde Persönlichkeit” in German, an expression well suited to transport a marked ambivalence. “Schillernd” means “iridescent” and this connects directly with mother-of-pearl. What I would like to try out in this portrait exercise is to find a way to capture this pearly iridescence with paint and see whether this, together with creating a likeness, can be interpreted by a viewer in the intended way.

Next I had a look at hints on how to paint iridescence. What I found was, to summarize, that this goal is futile, since iridescence is a structural property (Remsen, 2013). I should have known better, since in my museum work I came across this subject more than once, but in this exercise I am not after a technique allowing me to imitate iridescence by buying pearl effect paint, mixing in mica (Art Apprentice Online, 2011) and such like. My aim is to create an impression close enough to allow viewers a correct interpretation of my intentions. My first exercise was thus one aimed at analysing the systematics behind iridescence. To this end I looked for photographs of Paua (abalone, Haliotis iris) shells and a scientific explanation for their properties (Tan et al., 2004): The nacre is made up of stacks of thin crystalline calcium carbonate platelets, on which interference and diffraction occur to produce the rainbow-like unfolding of the spectrum.

In a first attempt at copying part of the shell I noticed a regular succession of colours despite the seemingly random “waves” (Fig. 2-3):

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Figure 2. Sketchbook – examining the properties of Paua iridescence
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Figure 3. A first attempt at imitating colour succession

The Paua pattern is however far too strong to be used in a portrait. So I went to look up  materials such as artificial iridescent fabrics, all of which work by applying the principles of thin layer interference and diffraction (not to be confused with the sheen in silk, which is made by using two different colours in weaving) (Fig. 4 below) In all of them the spectrum of colours is identical and follows the folds in a predictable manner. I chose a one of these for comparison and then tried to apply the principles on a printout of Donald Trump’s face, using watercolour pencils (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Sketchbook – Iridescence in fabric and the visible spectrum

The colour sequence was as follows: White in direct reflection, then with a fold bending away from the vertical first violet, followed by blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Following this principle I first identified on a printed photo the parts of Trump’s face perpendicular to my line of view and coloured them white because of the direct reflection from these areas. With increasing angle between my line of view and part of the face I changed the colours in rainbow-fashion to end up with dark red. I am not sure, whether my interpretation is correct in all places, but it gives the face the appearance I am after (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. Sketchbook – Applying the principles of iridescence to Donald Trump’s face

With the above drawing as a reference I decided to try and paint Trump’s portrait with a pearly appearance. Since the above colours are still far too bright for my intentions, I needed to find out first whether a layer of fresh acrylic painting medium would make a good surface for paint to float on.

21 August 2016. The experiments with the acrylic medium went a lot better than thought and so the finished painting is forming in my mind. I am going to paint the portrait in the shape of an actual pearl in situ, while still in its mussel. A pearl forms to coat and render harmless any noxious objects inside a mussel and so the ambiguous analogy with the Republican Party as the mussel and Trump as its pearl seems rather nice.

Here are my experiments with the acrylic medium: On a white background layer I put a rather thick layer of acrylic medium, on which I first “floated” streaks of paint (two bottom images). Since these were still too bright, I diluted them down to near transparent and in a new field mixed the streaks carefully with the painting medium laid down in circles, one with a thin film of medium (top left), one with a thick layer (top right). This way I produced an effect near enough a pearly sheen without the aid of iridescent paint. What my scanner unfortunately fails to reproduce is the shimmering surface in the top righthand image (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Sketchbook – Using acrylic painting medium to “float” paint

With the above results in mind I prepared my canvas, an 80 x 40 cm painting carton. This I covered with a cloudy background layer mixed loosely of Paynes grey and a yellow-pink mussel flesh colour. When dry I added a layer of white off centre, where the pearl was going to sit (Fig. 7).

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Figure 7. Prepared background

On the white I loosely sketched Trump’s face with dilute paint, then started the experiment with floating paint on the acrylic medium (Fig. 8). Since the adding of paint to the acrylic medium is something which has to be watched closely and corrected while drying, I decided that I would work my way forward in small steps rather than painting the face in one go. At first I was far too hesitant and this is obvious on the forehead and the area around the eyes. It was far more difficult to achieve a pearly sheen that way and also I had not anticipated that the flowing effect would not be as smooth on the canvas as it had been on the paper in my sketchbook. When I had developed some more confidence, it was easier to float the paint, but then it became difficult to control the colours. I ended up with the brightness I had set out to avoid. Only with some more experience, on Trump’s hair, the effect started to show. Then however the acrylic medium began to form bubbles for no obvious reason (top righthand corner).

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Figure 8. Painting Donald Trump’s face using the “floating” technique

Here is a side view of the face to give an idea of the shiny surface (Fig. 9):

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Figure 9. Side view of painting in progress

23 August 2016. I left this layer to dry completely, then covered the whole drawing plus the rest of the “pearl” with a very dilute mix of acrylic medium and the set of colours used to paint the face.

24 August 2016. The covering with dilute mixes of acrylic medium and paint I repeated about five times. Then I changed the background of the painting to resemble roughly the view out of a half-open giant clam. Here is the finished painting and some details (Fig. 10-13):

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Figure 10. Finished painting
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Figure 11. Detail of the inside of Trump’s shell

I am quite happy about the pearl-like quality of the portrait, although the person would very likely not be recognizable as Donald Trump any more, and the contrast to the normal background painting. It was very difficult to take a photo representing the real colours on the pearl. When taking the photos of the following details I changed the exposure in order to allow the structure of the paint to show up:

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Figure 12. Detail of Trump’s face (1)
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Figure 13. Detail of Trump’s face (2)

I am not sure what to think of the result. On the one hand the process of developing the idea and technique was great fun and the finished painting was better than I had feared at the start. On the other hand the message I originally want to transport is intimately connected with an instant recognition of the portrayed person, a goal which became less important while painting. But then again it could apply to no one in particular, because the facial expression I was after, one of barely hidden contempt, is very much there.

References:

Art Apprentice Online (2011) Acrylic Painting Techniques – Mixing Iridescent Acrylic Colors [online]. Art Apprentice Online. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BQXRPDMdMc [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Galerie Richter (n.d.) Ernst Kahl [online]. Galerie Richter, Lütjenburg. Available at: http://www.galerie-richter.de/ernst_kahl/ernst_kahl.html [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Hogarth, W. (c.1755) Humours of an Election [engraving print on paper] [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Available at: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1157957/the-humours-of-an-election-print-hogarth-william/ [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Karikaturmuseum Krems (2016) Gerhard Haderer. Think Big! [online]. Karikaturmuseum, Krems. Available at: http://www.karikaturmuseum.at/de/ausstellungen/gerhard-haderer [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Political Caricatures [image gallery] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: http://boesekarikaturen.jimdo.com/political-caricatures/ [Accessed 11 March 2017]

Remsen, S. (2013) Structural Colour: Why You Can’t Paint Iridescence [blog] [online]. Prospecting Patterns, Boston. Available at: https://prospectingpatterns.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/structural-color/ [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Salzburg Museum der Moderne (2016) Bildwitz und Zeitkritik [online]. Salzburg Museum der Moderne. Available at: http://www.museumdermoderne.at/de/ausstellungen/aktuell/details/mdm/bildwitz-und-zeitkritik/ [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Tan, T.L., Wong, D. and Lee, P. (2004) Iridescence of a shell of mollusk Haliotis Glabra [online]. Optics Express, Vol. 12, Issue 20, pp. 4847-4854. Available at: https://www.osapublishing.org/oe/fulltext.cfm?uri=oe-12-20-4847&id=81312 [Accessed 17 August 2016]

Introducing an own Project: Edible Pancake Portraits

17 August 2016. Something that always accompanies me when making pancakes (not the fluffy kind made in Britain, but the ones you find in Austria made with a liquid dough and rolled up with jam inside):
There is always a little dough left, not enough for a proper pancake, but too much to throw away. So usually I make surprise a criss-cross of lines or a smiley and bake them for our son to eat.
Last time I had another idea: To my great joy I find that I am increasingly able to draw recognizable portraits now using just a few lines, within no time at all. So, with a little preplanning of the necessary movements this should also be possible using pancake dough.
It might be a silly idea, but I would like to give it a try.
When I find something worth reporting, I will add it to my blog.

Research point: Mood and atmosphere in portraits

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and changes to content).

14 August 2016. This subject is unchartered territory for me and I think that, had I been asked the same question at the start of the course, I would not have understood the question in the intended way. It is not just about reproducing what I see, but about what I would call a resonance among the colours in a painting. The painting reproduced on p. 87 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011), “Head in Blue” (1912) by Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941, Russian-German expressionist painter and co-founder of the “Blauer Reiter” movement, (Arts Experts, n.d.)) pointed me to the fact. For me it was the first time ever to see the colours before the subject, a weird and unexpected experience and I will be trying to test this in my next exercise.

But first, to set the scene, what is mood and what is atmosphere? To me, mood seems to be a characteristic that is tied to objects, not just human beings, nor even animals or other living organisms, but anything present in the visible world. Mood, of course is a human concept and the interpretation of what we see or feel is invariably connected with being human and our individual experiences. Atmosphere, on the other hand, appears to be the sum of radiated moods and by reciprocal action may influence the mood of someone or something within its reach. Therefore I think, but I may be totally wrong here, that as a painter I should be unable to capture a mood without capturing an atmosphere. In order to provide a portrait with both I need to feel carefully this radiation and should eventually be able to trace it back to the mood of the portrayed person.

How does colour come in here? It will most certainly not be enough to call on colour symbolism and paint a green face to portray envy or a red face to convey anger, or whatever. A person is never only the stage for one feeling, but “mood” seems to be the sum of feelings felt at a moment in time, as a result of intrinsic sources and in resonance with the atmosphere. I think that it is only possible to capture mood and atmosphere by letting oneself to be guided by the messages picked up by intuition.

So, how do other artists use colour here? Because of the strong impression left by the first encounter, I decided to stay with Jawlensky and see whether I could find out some principles by comparing some of his works.

First, his “Head in Blue” (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. Alexej von Jawlensky: “Head in Blue”, 1912, oil on cardboard. Source: Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Comons
My impressions in short:

  1. Outline of head and surroundings are both more or less the same colour, so the person seems to be in resonance with the surroundings
  2. The strong lines, bold blocks of colour and shape of the facial features suggest a strong character, who shows it at the moment of painting: she is alert, but in a “cool” manner
  3. The chosen colours remind me of the image produced by a thermal camera, although the result would in reality be somewhat different. Interestingly, this observation ties in with my concept of mood and atmosphere influencing each other by means of “radiation”. The red – warm – areas I interpret as those active in radiation and re-radiation: The person is active in taking in her surroundings by vision and smell, less so by hearing, little by touch, but not at that moment by verbal communication

When comparing the above with other portraits by Jawlensky, e.g. “Frauenkopf” (1911), the difference in colour between surroundings and head act to leave the impression of an introvert character. The somewhat erratic brush strokes defining the outline seem to indicate a conflict with the environment and the eyes, although open, do not seem to make contact with anything in particular. When looking with my thermal camera I detect the hottest, i.e. most active, areas on the forehead, cheeks and the back of the neck, as if he were struggling to keep up some appearance. Most senses and verbal communication seem not to be too active.

To me, one of the most impressive of Jawlensky’s paintings was the portrait of the dancer and actor Alexander Sakharoff :

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Figure 2. Alexej von Jawlensky: “Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff”, 1909, oil on cardboard. Source: Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Body posture, outline, choice of colours and surrounding brushstrokes make the whole canvas a vibrating whole. To me, the dancer’s true mood might be hidden behind an air of overt professional provocation directed at the painter, enhanced by the stage dress: Here, the most important connections seem to be the eyes and their colour repeated by the environment and the red of mouth, rose and dress. While the latter send an “invitation” (red standing out from the picture plane, hot area for the thermal camera), the former seem to say “Let me see you dare” (turquoise standing back,  cool area for the camera). What a clever composition.

References:

Arts Experts (n.d.) Alexej von Jawlensky (1864-1941) [online]. Arts Experts, New York. Available at: https://www.artexpertswebsite.com/pages/artists/jawlensky.php [Accessed 14 August 2016]

Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 87.

von Jawlensky, A. (1909) Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff [oil on canvas] [online]. Lenbachhaus, Munich. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jawlensky_Sakharoff.jpg [Accessed 14 August 2016]

von Jawlensky, A. (19119) Head of a Woman [oil on millboard laid on plywood] [online]. Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexej_von_Jawlensky_-_Frauenkopf_(Head_of_a_Woman)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg [Accessed 14 August 2016]

von Jawlensky, A. (1912) Head in Blue [oil on cardboard] [online]. Buchheim Museum der Phantasie, Bernried. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexej_von_Jawlensky_-_Kopf_in_Blau.jpg [Accessed 14 August 2016]

 

Part 3, project 1, exercise 3: Figure and portrait – tonal study

Updated on 5 March 2017 (Harvard referencing)..

22 July 2016. A first opportunity to test whether I am able to emulate rather than illustrate using paint instead of drawing equipment. I think I realised now that, when my tutor told me to be more creative, she was not talking about the ideas I want to transport, but my use of colour. To be honest I am a bit confused at the moment, because I need to take the study guide as a rough framework only and chose whatever I feel is adequate as a technique. There is so much contemporary work around that I do not know where to start to take me off my well-worn tracks.

First of all I had another look at Vitamin P (Schwabsky, 2002) and some of the more figurative painters:

23 July 2016. Karen Kilimnik (*1955), an American installation artist and painter, was the first of these, with three examples of seemingly naive but artificial-looking portraits on (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 174-175 ). I have never been sure whether to feel attracted or repelled by “pseudo-naive” art and an interview I found made me feel strangely alienated from her (Mulleawy and Mulleawy, 2011). The answers she gives appear deliberately both careless and cryptic. Since I am looking for inner resonance, I decided that I would leave her for the moment.

When studying the examples included by Marlene Dumas (*1953, South Africa) I feel less distance. Her subjects radiate more than sheer presence, they present a fate on their skin (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 100-101). On the other hand, Dumas actively employs “marketing gags” by addressing our animal instincts in order to attract attention. This is something I have always had a big problem with myself. I am no self-promoter at the best of times and have self-inflicted moral standards, which I feel are getting in my way of developing into a 21st century artist.

For me it is far easier to connect with John Currin (*1962, USA) and his paintings (e.g. Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 68-69), which transport famous historical subjects into the present. While I do not like his in places gaudy style, the absurd situations and combinations resonate as if we shared a common language.

German-born Eberhard Havecost (*1967), on the other hand, captures fleeting everyday moments, seemingly irrelevant scenery and at the same time lifestyles typical of the 21st century (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 136-137). Although to me the chosen subjects appear cool and unengaged from the painter’s perspective, I have always liked the idea of paying attention to the sideshows of life. His way of painting reminds me somewhat of the approach typical of Lomo photographers (Lomography, 2017). Very similar approaches are chosen also by the Swedish Cecilia Edefalk (*1954, Sweden) (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 102-103), Wilhelm Sasnal (*1972, Poland) (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 288-289), Mantalina Psoma (*1967, Greece) (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 262-263), Elizabeth Peyton (*1965, USA) (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 244-245), or even my former school colleague and successful painter, Lisa Kunit (*1966, Austria).

All of the above have in common a relatively naturalistic style reminding of photography depicting everyday subjects in a quasi apropos fashion, which in Vitamin P is described as an indicator of contemporaneity (Schwabsky, 2002, p. 287). But Vitamin P was published in 2002 originally and contemporaneity will without doubt have moved on since then. So I moved on to study the contemporary artists suggested by my tutor.

From the first moment I loved the weird use of colour and the wonderfully ironic approach by Glenn Brown (*1966, UK) (Brown, 2017), as e.g. in “The Dance of the Seven Veils” (Brown, 2014) or “Cactus Land” (Brown, 2012) and a video (Gagosian Gallery, 2014). Less sure what to make of her work I am when looking at Stella Vine (*1969, UK), here is a selection (Vine, 2017a, scroll down a bit for the great number of portraits). When reading the analysis (Vine, 2017b) of her personal approach posted on her website, it reads like a page-long apology to the art market and like the diary of a girl who tries to make sense of the world that keeps hurting her. Alex Katz (*1927, USA), who held a retrospective exhibition in Salzburg in 2013, I think might serve as a template for all the painters mentioned above. His approach is like that in 21st century painting, his subjects appear largely uninvolved (type “Alex Katz” into the image browser to get an overview). I wonder why this “cool”style bears such an attraction to the viewer. Maybe it leaves open a lot of room for interpretation, but I find that extremely difficult to tolerate in my own painting. I want to transport stronger feelings and it makes me hurt if I can find none.

Since, however, I first need to get into a habit of sketching with paint, I went to look for methods of doing so. Denis Castellas (*1951, France) uses a way of combining painted shapes and line, which looks very attractive to me, although I guess that there is a major element of drawing in his sketches (Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 62-63). Similar, but more energetic, are the sketches by Merlin Carpenter (*1967, UK, Schwabsky, 2002, pp. 60-61). Again, the figures remind me of photography. The painted areas behind and to the sides help to position the figures in space and support the movement. Since this was not quite enough to establish a firm background, I searched for “figure sketching contemporary” on the web. Most of what I came up with was of course drawing, but I found a selection of painted sketches by Robert Burridge (*1943, USA), which strongly appeal to me, e.g. “Seated Nude” (Burridge, n.d.(a)),  “Blue Nude” (Burridge, n.d.(b)) and “Suze” (Burridge, n.d.(c)) . I would like to learn a style like that in my painted sketchbook. Regarding tone I was advised by my tutor to have a look, among others, at the work of Euan Uglow (1932-2000, UK). Again the subjects appear distant and uninvolved, but the use of tone in his nudes is wonderfully delicate and I am quite drawn to the structure and colour of his backgrounds (Plotkin, 2010).

24 July 2016. Bearing the above and my subject idea in mind I prepared two split backgrounds, one monochrome and one using the colours I had left over from the previous exercise, in my square sketchbook and I tried to paint my husband kneeling down in my workshop, pretending to do some garden work. I had to work fast and divide the work up into several very short sessions, since the position was very awkward to keep for more than a very few minutes. These are the results (Fig. 1-2):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – black and white acrylic sketch

 

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Figure 2. Sketchbook – acrylic sletch using a limited palette

I prefer the black and white version, also because my husband appeared more relaxed the first time over. In the coloured sketch it is obvious that the position hurt both feet and spine. Overall I was surprised that it was possible to create, in a very short time, a believable impression of volume and movement in my square 20 cm sketchbook with a comparatively large flat brush. In the coloured study my husband’s face is relatively close to life also. I will have to give the background of the finished painting particular attention, however. This is not a particular strength of mine yet. In order to make progress here, I will refer to the researched artists, in particular “Suze” by Robert Burridge (see above).

For the painting itself, my husband attending to the maize plants in our little “urban plot”, I prepared a 60 x 80 cm painting carton with a split background layer, one with my “skin” colour and one with a mix of sap green, yellow and primary blue for the maize. I would like to keep and improve on the above loose style here and will see whether I am able to do this on a larger scale, while keeping in mind a what I think might be a contemporary approach to the subject (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Prepared background

2 August 2016. After a very intense 10 days doing other things, including having to find a new lawyer, again, and painting our son’s bedroom after a planning phase of a mere 4 years (:o)), I finished my exercise yesterday. I could have gone on forever, proesumably, but my tutor pointed out to me to be more sensitive about when to stop painting and there was a clear message by the painting, saying “Enough!” So this is what I got (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Finished sketch, acrylics on 60 x 80 cm canvas board

There is a certain roughness in my approach to the subtle tonal differences on skin and fabric, but I decided that I would not refine them in order not to destroy the loose painting. In some places I think that the technique was quite successful, especially when looking at both hands and arms with the light coming from behind. I was also quite happy with the fabric and face. Less successful were the legs, but the photo looks much worse in this respect than the actual painting. What I like in the background was the effect of the white behind my husband’s back and the darker earth colours left of his knees, both helping to shape the volume of his body. With a few exceptions I think that I was successful in using tonal differences in forming a believable representation of a three-dimensional body in space.

References:

Brown, G. (2014) Cactus Land [oil on panel] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://glenn-brown.co.uk/artworks/250/#selected_mediums=13 [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Brown, G. (2014) The Dance of the Seven Veils [oil on panel] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://glenn-brown.co.uk/artworks/263/#selected_mediums=13 [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Brown, G. (2017) Biography [online]. Glenn Brown, London. Available at: http://glenn-brown.co.uk/biography/ [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Burridge, R. (n.d.(a)) Seated Nude [sepia and India ink on BFK Rives white drawing paper] [online]. Robert Burridge, Arroyo Grande. Available at: http://www.robertburridge.com/contemporary_figure_drawing/page17.html [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Burridge, R. (n.d.(b)) Blue Nude [acrylic on gessoed Fabriano watercolour paper] [online]. Robert Burridge, Arroyo Grande. Available at: http://www.robertburridge.com/contemporary_figure_drawing/page1.html [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Burridge, R. (n.d.(c)) Suze [acrylic on gessoed Fabriano watercolour paper] [online]. Robert Burridge, Arroyo Grande. Available at: http://www.robertburridge.com/contemporary_figure_drawing/page12.html [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Gagosian Gallery (2014) GLENN BROWN at Gagosian West 21st Street, New York [online]. Gagosian Gallery, New York. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGgzv5-dBnc&feature=player_embedded [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Kunit, L. (2017) Galerie [online]. Lisa Kunit, Vienna. Available at: http://www.lisakunit.at/website.php?Q=4 [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Lomography (2017) Photos [online]. Lomography. Available at: https://www.lomography.com/photos/ [Accessed 5 March 2017]

Mulleavy, L. and Mulleavy, K. (2011) Karen Kilimnik [online]. Interview Magazine, 15 March 2011. Available at: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/karen-kilimnik/#_ [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Plotkin, N. (2010) Euan Uglow [online]. Painting Perceptions, San Diego. Available at: http://paintingperceptions.com/euan-uglow/ [Accessed 22 July 2016]

Schwabsky, B. (2002a) Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting. Phaidon Press.

Vine, S. (2017a) Paintings, Drawings and Objects [blog] [online]. Stella Vine, Alnwick. Available at: https://stellavine.com/ [Accessed 6 March 2017]

Vine, S. (2017b) Stella’s Journal [blog] [online]. Stella Vine, Alnwick.
Available at: https://stellavinejournal.com/ [Accessed 6 March 2017]

Part 3, project 1, exercise 1/2: Portrait and Figure – drawing the human figure, linear figure study

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).

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Figure 1
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Figure 2
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Figure 3

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):

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Figure 4. Testing the palette knife and colour range

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).

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Figure 5. Background and charcoal sketch

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):

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Figure 6. My first attempts at using a palette knife

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).

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Figure 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):

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Figure 8. Finished palette knife “drawing”