[Retrospective post] Part 5, project 3, exercises 1 and 2: Towards abstraction – abstract painting from man-made form and abstraction from study of natural forms

15 March 2017. Again I need to combine my retrospective report on two exercises. This is for two reasons: The first is due to my failed rearranging my working sequence for this part of the course and the second is directly connected with the nature of shadows. Shadows are per se natural, there is no way of having anything like an artificial shadow. So any abstracting from shadows belongs to Exercise 1 of this project. On the other hand, the behaviour of the naturally occurring shadows I observed for this project were distorted by man-made forms, grids and bottles, which belongs to Exercise 2. So what I need to do is write a combined report. Again I need to apologize for double-posting images. Since the associated series of experiments was very long, I also ask to kindly refer to my extensive report in the post writing up the work for the first project of my submission for Assignment 5, “A Shadow Only Painting” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a). Here I provide a summary of the most important steps in the process (Fig. 1-5):

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Figure 1. Testing the distortion of shadows made by grids on bottles under natural lighting conditions (intense sunshine)
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – pencil sketch of working setup
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Figure 3. Finished stencil with inserted A4 paper

Below are the results I achieved with my stencil for various types of paint, inks and pastels (Fig. 4):

Figure 4. Stencil results

After that I used my son’s new 3D pen to make an outline painting of the pencil sketch in my sketchbook and continued experimenting with the shadows produced by this shadow of a shadow, thus producing sequential abstract paintings derived at the same time from both natural and man-made forms:

Figure 5. 3D pen and the self-propagating shadow

This series of experiments was highly enjoyable and revealing regarding the wonderful possibilities arising from the creative process involved in becoming aware of emergent properties. Equipped with these results I embarked on turning the patterns seen into paintings for my Assignment 5 submission.

References:

Lacher-Bryk (2016a) Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/assignment-5-subject-1-a-shadows-only-painting-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 15 March 2017]

Preparation for Assessment: A second attempt at a shadow entering a house dedicated to “learning the pattern”

27 Febuary 2017. In my Assignment 5 feedback my tutor stated, with respect to my inadequate processes of project development, that “I have the skills, but I need to learn the pattern”. In order to see whether I would be able to include in my assessment submission a learning sequence as expected by assessors, I produced this belated addition to the investigatory process relating to shadows entering houses, which I had done predominantly on a photo basis due to a long spell of extremely cold weather in January. My tutor had asked in her feedback, whether I could “afford” to try and work as faintly as Luc Tuymans in his 2004 painting “The Window” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017 and Fig. 1 below). To see what sort of development the intriguing word “afford” might trigger in someone like me, I was curious to to find out where it would take me:

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Figure 1. Sketchbook

While I am not sure whether Tuymans’s painting relates to shadows or reflections or possibly both, I understand that this kind of approach demands processes of deconstruction from both artist and viewer and helps to raise in the viewer an interest in engaging themselves with possible messages at a more than purely superficial level.
In order to start the process, I went back to my original photo of my shadow entering an old farmhouse, had one quick look at it, then started experimenting in my sketchbook. First I went to have another look at different artists and their very own methods. I found that on most occasions shadows were emphasized, not reduced, and made part of a vivid composition. The images below (Fig. 2) were taken from a review of an exhibition on show in 2008/09 in the Kunsthalle Wien, “Western Motel: Edward Hopper and Contemporary Art” (Kalafudra’s Stuff, 2009). Shadows were in all cases inseparable from their “producers”, the human shapes, so I would need to find a very different approach.

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Figure 2. Sketchbook: Some black and white Impressions from exhibition “Western Motel”

In order to set up a first compositional scaffolding I decided that I would start off with a charcoal sketch (Fig. 3) to identify dark and light areas as appearing in my memory. I quite like how the charcoal, with great ease, provides both mass and ethereal components. In my photo there had only been my own shadow, but I soon realized that I would want to include another, cast by a passer-by, as I had experienced on a number of occasions on my photo tour in January. At the same time, always with my goal of wanting to have a faint final result, I came up with the idea of including a living form on top of that faint painting. I therefore investigated how a dog, walking on a lead with the person passing by and at the same time in interaction with that person’s shadow, could add interest to my composition. I really like the idea but will have to avoid overloading the painting with messages:

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Figure 3. Charcoal sketch

In order to see how my provisional ideas could be arranged on the canvas I produced a sequence of rough acrylic sketches investigating possible viewpoints and painting methods (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Sketchbook: Acrylic sketches. Top row: Positive shadows, bottom row: negative shadows

In the top row of Fig. 4 I painted the shadows in black on a whitish background, in the bottom row I used the negative technique introduced much earlier in the course (Lacher-Bryk, 2016). While I did not like the painted results after the charcoal I immediately saw that I would want to continue with the negative technique, since it produced a much more energetic and at the same time believable result. I also had the idea of having the dog being interested in me rather than its owner, so a connection would become visible between my world and that outside. The bottom right setup appeared the most promising and versatile to continue working with, to I did another sketch, this time filling a sketchbook page and continuing further by experimenting with making the result faint (Fig. 5-7):

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Figure 5. Sketchbook: Page-filling skecth, stage 1

Making a very rough and faint ink pen sketch of my own shadow on a builing where wall and street met helped me setting my mind on the next step (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Sketchbook: Ink pen sketch

So I went over the first layer (Fig. 5) with a number of semi-transparent layers of white and added a dog (Fig. 7):

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Figure 7. White layers and dog added to sketch

While I think that the faint image is not bad for a first attempt, I am not happy with several aspects here. Again, regarding whether I could “afford” to paint faintly considering my subject, I would say yes and no. No, because I need to be ever so careful not to lose the viewer in a technical extreme without connection to my message, and yes, once I know for what particular reason I would want to paint faintly in the first place. For exercise purposes this is not a problem, but would require considerate planning for a finished painting. Also, I am not happy with the dog’s position here. There is no way how I could include it in the intended way without making the position of the lead look awkward. I liked the charcoal sketch better in that respect, but with that setup the connection between passer-by and myself would be cut. Will see whether I might have to let it go. Also, despite the interesting effects produced by the many brushstrokes, I do not think that they add to my message. On acrylic paper I find them hard to avoid, but on a smooth background produced using a roller on a grey carton I should be able to investigate the effect. I will have to cut out the result and stick into my sketchbook.

First, however, more research on Tuymans using faint painting techniques, to see how I could produce a quieter image avoiding brushstrokes. Very useful I found another painting by Tuymans, “Couple” from 1998 (Fig. 8, left). The gradual softening of edges does not occur “out of the blue”, but is an effect indeed connected with looking into the sky. Tuymans observed a natural phenomemon here and put it to good use by creating the appearance of the couple “having their heads in the clouds”. When examining the painting on the computer screen I can see may harder brushstrokes softened by a top layer of “fluffy” strokes. Maybe I will not have to work super smooth at all. We’ll see. I also liked the aureole effect around the figures in Tuymans’s “Saint-Georges” from 2015 (Fig.8, right), which enhanced the shadowlike effect without having to darken the figures. Here also the natural observation was thorough and included into the painting not just as an effect but for its actual presence in the real scene. This relationship with reality is something which lacks completely in my last sketch and I will have to think whether this is what I want. The white brushstrokes suggest light coming from a place completely different to where the sun is, which may make the scene awkward. Does it matter, though? I couldn’t say.

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Figure 8. left: Luc Tuymans “Couple”, 1998, oil on canvas, right: “Saint-Georges”, 2015, oil on canvas. Source: see text

To find out whether a difference would be visible, I prepared 3 small pieces of grey carton with 3 layers each of titanium white, Payne’s grey and cobalt turquoise using a roller. The background became very smooth. On the two smaller pieces of carton I tested the effect of a hard, worn-down brush and a soft brush (Fig. 9, top row): The soft brush was great for producing even layers with larger amounts of paint, where the brushstrokes were evident in the test using the hard brush. The former would not be not so ideally suited if little paint was to be evenly distributed, because the soft hair would not allow the exertion of any useful amount of pressure. My weathered hard brush worked well here, although I had to be extremely careful not to put too much paint on at the same time. The carton holds the paint in place as soon as it comes to lie there for more than a second or so. While writing this I remember hearing of a method involving sanding a prepared canvas, but I think that the carton is smooth enough for my purposes. Using both brushes I made another quick sketch of my layout using  the negative technique (Fig. 9, bottom). I noticed immediately that spreading the paint was much easier than on the prepared sketchbook paper. With care I might produce totally even layers of paint. For the purpose of this experiment, however, I switched between ways of applying paint and came up with some very nice-looking effects, especially in places where the dark background would shine through the white. I think that this is what I might need.

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Figure 9. Top: applying paint – left: with worn hard brush, right: with soft brush. Bottom: Negative sketch using both brushes

 

 

 

 

 

In the above experiment I particularly like the mix of soft and hard transitions between dark and light areas. This subject appears interesting enough, both as (more or less) working composition and possible story that I would not want to add any more information to it, so getting rid of the dog at this stage. I also do not want to go over the painting to make it faint, but there I am and it will have to be. This time I will not be tempted to just cover it all, but will – hopefully – use the opportunity to carry out this task with sensitivity and regard to the effects every change might have.

28 February 2017. I went over the first stage today with my worn brush (Fig. 10). I am quite happy with the changes to the shadow of the passer-by, especially the different shades in the corner of the house. The changes to my own shadow are not satisfying yet. I will need to work on the transition from ground to wall, wall to windowsill and inside wall. Overall the reduced contrast is pleasing to look at, but needs very subtle adaptations to gradation in several places.

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Figure 10. The sketch from Fig. 9 after a first attempt at softening the contrast.

Here comes how far the little journey would take me (Fig. 11). In the end I found a solution for the dog, which to me looks both interesting and fitting. Since the shadow of my passer-by appears to be that of a taking-the-dog-for-a-walk posture anyway, it was straightforward now to have a lead added, which may have the dog in a position to make contact with me, so something for the imagination of a potential viewer. With this added, however, I feel that the original idea of my own shadow entering that room might now be too much for one painting. For a working painting it might be sufficient to have my own shadow travel up the outside wall, but since this exercise belongs to the retrospective preparation of my Andersen theme, I will leave it here.

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Figure 11. Finished sketch


References:

Kalafudra’s Stuff (2009) Western Motel: Edward Hopper and Contemporary Art [blog] [online]. Kalafudra’s Stuff. Available at: https://kalafudra.com/2009/01/28/western-motel-edward-hopper-and-contemporary-art/ [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Part 1, project 2, exercise 4: Monochrome studies [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at:
https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/part-1-project-2-exercise-4-monochrome-studies/ [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Artist research: Luc Tuymans [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/artist-research-luc-tymans/ [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Tuymans, L. (1998) Couple [oil on canvas] [online]. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Available at: https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/99.74 [Accessed 27 February 2017]

Tuymans, L. (2015) Saint-Georges [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée des Arts Contemporains de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Available at: http://france.fr/fr/agenda/luc-tuymans-premonitions-lam-lille [Accessed 27 February]

Artist research: William Kentridge, Kara Walker and Ólafur Eliasson

21 February 2017. In her Assignment 5 feedback my tutor suggested I had a look at the way William Kentridge, Kara Walker and Ólafur Eliasson approach the subject of shadows.

During my first OCA course, Drawing 1, William Kentridge (*1955, South Africa) became a great source of inspiration to me. I attempted to make two little animated charcoal/pastel films (Lacher-Bryk, 2015a; Lacher-Bryk, 2015b) after having seen his stunning work. Regarding shadows, I immediately stumbled again upon his “Shadow Procession” (Kentridge, 1999). To me, the walking silhouette figures, each carrying the burden of their personal and collective lives with them, together with the piercing song by Johannesburg street singer Alfred Makgalemele are deeply moving and disturbing. Both reinforce each other, simultaneous attention to both is possible at a maximum. Kara Walker’s (*1969, USA) silhouettes, on the other hand, while like Kentridge’s work focusing on the discrimination of coloured people, appear less subtle and quite aggressive. For that reason her sensitive drawings and paintings have a much greater appeal to me (ART21 “Exclusive”, 2014). Her very own choice of storytelling easily comprehensible, since Walker is of Afro-American descent, but the overt depiction of cruelty acts on me to avoid any more than a superficial contact with her work. In my own work I tried a similar approach in 2014. It took me some time to gather the courage to produce the caricature shown in Fig. 1 below, after the IS (so-called Islamic State) had started doing their horrible business of live executions. When I had finished the drawing, I felt physically sick for several days. The matter is whether an issue is important enough to accept the associated emotions and whether there is any alternative way to transport the message. In the meantime Kentridge has become a great hero and role model of mine in that respect.

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Figure 1. Andrea Lacher-Bryk (2014) “Head-up Display”, ink pen and watercolours on paper. Source: Andrea Lacher-Bryk (2014) [private] via Böse Karikaturen. A head-up display is an efficient communication tool initially developed for military aviation, which allows the projection of data into the pilot’s field of vision. This tool has been refined by the IS (Islamic State). After dispensing with the technical gimmicks the effects are no less than breathtaking.

22 February 2017. Ólafur Eliasson (*1967, Copenhagen) on the other hand, is an architect working globally, who approaches the subject of shadows from his own professional viewpoint. In both his “Multiple Shadow House” (Eliasson, 2010a)  and “Your Uncertain Shadow” (Eliasson, 2010b) he investigates viewer interaction with projected shadows. This very attractive interactive type of display is something I first saw in a children’s technical museum in Vienna twenty years ago. In fact I had coloured shadows on my list for Assignment 5, but discarded the idea for Andersen’s tale. However, in comparison with both Kentridge and Walker I really miss a deeply empotional component in Eliasson’s work on shadows. The presentation is clean and distant, designlike, and a message, if at all, is created on a very personal level by each visitor interacting with his exhibit. His approach raises an interest in me as a natural scientist, but does not yet leave a lasting impression for my work as a developing painter. Maybe later, when I have defined my own goals better.

So, what is there to learn from the above artists for my project? All of them use shadows in a way that enables the viewer to see them as separate entities worth being treated as subjects of their own. None of them combines the source of the shadow (i.e. the object) and the shadow. I doubt whether I would be able to do the same for the purpose of my Andersen story, because then exactly that peculiar connection between the scientist and his shadow would be gone. Since, however, I already completed a finished painting covering the whole story, I will take the opportunity and have a go at a shadow-only approach to serve as a fourth painting as a late addition to Assignment 5.

References:

ART21 “Exclusive” (2014) Kara Walker: Starting Out. [online]. Art21, New York. Availabe at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhByMffG9IA [Accessed 22 february 2017]

Eliasson, Ó. (2010a) Multiple Shadow House [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJGikVnLMGo [Accessed 22 Feburary 2017]

Eliasson, Ó. (2010b) Your Uncertain Shadow [online]. [n.k.]. Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XANP-XtOnh0 [Accessed 22 Feburary 2017]

Kentridge, W. (2001) Shadow Procession [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: https://vimeo.com/3140351 [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2014) Head-up Display [ink pen and watercolours on paper] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://boesekarikaturen.jimdo.com/political-caricatures/ [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015a) Ghost from the Past [video] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://vimeo.com/150876177 (password: Ghost_from_Past) [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015b) Hit and Run [video] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://vimeo.com/150875189 (password: Hit_and_Run) [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Assignment 5: Self-evaluation (p.134 study guide)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

1 February 2017. My decision regarding the subject for Assignment 5 was made quite early in the course and having thought a lot about it, I noticed for the first time that shadows have been of interest to me for a very long time, not only during this course (e.g. in Assignment 1, Lacher-Bryk, 2016a), but also outside OCA as well as many years before starting the degree. I am drawn to their ever-changing physical properties and wonderfully pliable metaphorical qualities. The more I explore them, the more I realise the treasure they contain for artistic expression and development.

As always at the outset I was determined to produce the maximum, i.e. five, pieces of work for this assignment. I went through a great amount of scientific research in order to get acquainted with as many facets of my subject as possible. Following this I sat down to initially list around 10 general ideas, two of which survived throughout and a new one, which was added after discussing the subject externally. I found that all three choices would require a great amount of dedicated work, so I changed the original plan by reducing the finished subjects to three. However, for two of the subjects I produced two finished paintings each, so overall there were still five to submit.

The subjects, in order of production, were:

(1) “A Shadow-only Painting” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a)

I investigated inhowfar it would be possible to determine the form of 3-dimensional objects solely by the shadows falling on them. The resulting shapes I then transformed into abstracted paintings, one close to the original setup and one playing with the found patterns (Fig. 1 and 2 below).

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Figure 1. A Shadow-only Painting (1)
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Figure 2. A Shadow-only Painting (2)

For the first time I was able to produce paintings as the result of painstaking preparatory work including extensive research, observing the chosen subject from many different viewpoints, experimenting with a large set of ways of applying paint and abstracting from the gained results. The painting on top I like for the choice of colours, setup and loose application of paint. I have been able also to include experience gained regarding paint behaviour in Part 4 of the course (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b). Regarding the bottom painting I am pleased that I was able to let myself be inspired by ideas passing through my head and include them in a coherent way into a working painting. I think however that due to my lack of experience the finished painting looks overworked in places and not totally convincing regarding composition.

(2) “A Shadow On His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b)

This part was an investigation into means of transporting the innermost darkness of a well-known dictator to the surface of his portrait (Fig. 3-4).

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Figure 3. A Shadow On His Soul (1)
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Figure 4. A Shadow On His Soul (2)


I was happy to discover that despite the large differences in approach both paintings appear to succeed in transporting a shadow on a troubled soul. In the top painting I was glad to have combined several totally different means of applying paint – two “runny” underlying layers suggesting the troubled soul combined with an exaggerated sketchy portrait representing the attempt of this person to remain outwardly intact and quiet. The second attempt (bottom image) used totally different supports. The portrait on a piece of A1 transparent plastic is combined with a completely separate, smaller piece of plastic roughly covered in dark paint to allow a viewer to experiment directly with its effect on the appearance of the face. I expect that I may have to rework the small piece of plastic for final submission since the applied paint is not as stable as expected.

(3) “The Shadow”, an attempt at illustrating Andersen’s famous tale (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c)

Since in this story the dark part of a depicted personality becomes separate from its carrier in form of his shadow, I was able to apply the results gained in the first two subjects to this part of the submission. I was able to produce with greater ease a believable composition including cast shadows and the interaction of a man with the dark parts he knows are tainting his soul (Fig. 5).

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Figure 5. Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Shadow”

I did a great amount of research into this subject relating to its real-world background, contemporary art as well as technical aspects, followed by experimentation with materials and methods totally new to me before attempting the final piece. While I am very happy with the outcome regarding composition, use of colour and story told, I am well aware that illustration is not an explicit part of this course. I made this decision deliberately, however, and will take the risk of submitting this work for assessment since it is supported by a great amount of work based on direct observation.

Before starting Part 5 of the course I realised that in order to be able to immerse myself completely into the chosen subject, I would need to integrate the set exercises for this part into the development of my assignment pieces. Once I had decided on this technique of approaching this part for me the structure of the course (exercises, research, assignment piece(s)) suddenly became a coherent whole and finally I was able to really follow my tutor’s instructions regarding going through meaningful processes of concept development. For me this experience was eye-opening and liberating. I never enjoyed the course more than during Part 5 and this is where I think I made essential progress. There were several points throughout the course where other important steps happened. They were not so much part-related but occurred coincidentally and liberated creative resources within myself:

  1. when I found out about the incredible difference between bad and good quality acrylic paint halfway through the course
  2. when in my Assignment 3 feedback my tutor advised me not to worry about leaving things unfinished (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c)
  3. when in the same feedback my tutor advised me to make my sketchbook a painted one (Lacher-Bryk, 2016c) 

    and – something I would never have expected given my personality –

  4. when I realized that I would not be able to stick to my plan of submitting for March 2017 assessment

2 February 2017. Looking back on the course I think that it took me well into Part 4 to loosen up. I attribute some of that difficulty to both the way I tend to approach things – my parents once asked me why I always had to take the hardest roads to arrive at something – and life in general, which in my case tends to block the easy roads. Maybe I have now come to accept this fact, both as a hindrance but also as a powerful liberating force of creativity. This seems where I have made a large step, which very likely has not translated yet into major technical progress, but the journey through Part 5 proved a major personal gain for me. Where this will become visible I will have to see.

An overall look back on the course and progress evaluation will be posted in preparation for July 2017 assessment.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Assignment 1: A Black Tulip and Its Shadow [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 30 March. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/assignment-1-a-black-tulip-and-its-shadow/ [Accessed 1 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Part 4, project 5, exercise 1: Working from drawings and photographs – painting from a working drawing [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 24 November. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/part-4-project-5-exercise-1-working-from-drawings-and-photographs-painting-from-a-working-drawing/ [Accessed 1 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016c) Assignment 3: Feedback reflection [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 4 October. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/assignment-3-feedback-reflection/ [Accessed 1 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 15 January. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/assignment-5-subject-1-a-shadows-only-painting-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 1 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow On His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 21 January. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 1 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 2 February. Available at: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/assignment-5-subject-3-hans-christian-andersen-the-shadow-an-attempt-at-an-illustration-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 1 February 2017]

Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 December 2016. Global politics has a great variety of contibutors many of who who without doubt must be living with a shadow on their souls. I have been interested in persons of that kind for some years now and this is a great opportunity to look for means of depicting such intricate types of shadow. In order to approach this subject in a sensible manner, I would need to see it from different viewpoints. Since also it is quite complex and intangible, I decided to concentrate on the person worrying me most, Bashar al-Assad. My first task in this project was to become acquainted with his biography and identify the major turning points in his career.

I was dismayed to find out that he was only born in 1965, a mere four months ahead of me. Apparently a political career had never been planned for him. He grew up talented and secluded and trained as an eye surgeon with years spent abroad in London. However, as his brother and president-to-be Bassel was killed in a road accident in 1994, Bashar was pushed through military school, not even 30 years old, and inherited the presidency from his iron-fist father, when the latter died in the year 2000. At the age of 35, when most people have not yet matured mentally, he took over his country (and the law had to be changed for him to do so at all!). His western upbringing raised the hope in many that he would be able to induce a change for the better in the conflict-ridden region. Indeed during the first decade under his rule Syria saw signs of economic recovery. Assad was nevertheless unable to overcome the excessive bureaucracy and failed to turn Syria into a trustworthy international player. Controversial actions lead to a gradual deterioration of global connections, while internally the state of human rights remained deplorable. In 2011 events related to the “Arab spring” revolution stimulated the population of Syria into similar actions of protest. Assad promised change, but none of it ever materialised and as protests became more forceful, the international community demanded his resignation. Instead of stepping down, he – with increasing violence and disregard of human life – has been fighting to remain in power ever since (Biography.com Editors, 2014).

I ask myself, what kinds of influence would act to turn a trained surgeon with a promising start to his career into the monster he is now. “Risk Factors” as identified in an article in Psychology Today (Seifert, 2013), if outweighing “Protective Factors”, predict violent behaviour. For Bashar al Assad the following apply:

  • a soft and indecisive character
  • being bullied by his brother Bassel at an early age
  • the troubled and distant relationship to his emotionally absent father
  • being under the additional influence of both a dominant mother (who in Arab cultures is not to be questioned) and older sister
  • being the sibling of another intelligent but cruel brother, Maher, who continues to have immense influence on the decisions made by Bashar
  • a familiy history of violence
  • a family supporting and promoting aggression in order to retain the status of power and wealth

I would add, from intuition, several more risk factors:

  • racist schooling
  • being fill-in choice after his brother’s death
  • the less than ideal training as a politician and military leader
  • the unability to follow his true calling as a doctor
  • the unexpected emotional vehemence of calls for change following Assad’s first cautious intellectually driven steps

To me, the main factor seems Assad’s naturally soft character. All of the other influences act and grow on that. Looking at a series of photos taken at various ages this softness is evident and, incredibly, still visible also in the most recent pictures. What does apparent softness include? It seems that it is often a dreamy expression, absent-mindedness, as e.g. depicted in “Despair” by Glennda Field (Field, 2012) and a slightly worried/troubled look.

30 December 2016. Searching for other artists to approach this subject, I found a number of interesting solutions. In classical portraits the use of chiaroscuro provides a great means of playing, literally and figuratively, with the light and the dark side of a person, e.g. this wonderful self portrait by Rembrandt (1606-1669, The Netherlands) (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. Rembrandt: “Self-portrait”, 1628/29, oil on oak panel. Source: Rembrandt (1606-1669) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
In the above, I cannot feel any negative emotions, only a pleasant sort of composure and interest in the subject. This is of course not what I am looking for. What I probably need is not the normal absent-mindedness we all know, but a person who is literally “beside himself”. I have seem weird portraits before, where the facial expression is disturbingly out of focus by superimposing two of more slightly laterally displaced images of the face. In looking for examples for the above I came across the Swedish painter Benjamin Björklund (*?) (n.d.(a)) who has developed a great skill at depicting what I am after, see e.g. Björklund, n.d.(b)) or Björklund (2015). Francis Bacon’s (1909-1992, UK) portraits came to my mind as well, but his approach seems distinct from my own. When looking at his large number of self-portraits and portraits of Lucian Freud the introduced distortions appear (if only to me) not to be connected with the goal of bringing the dark parts of a soul to the surface. Shadows on souls are however usually depicted with a sad expression, which is not exactly what I am after. In the available photos Assads rarely appears sad, rather distant and/or disinterested, as if the consequences of his doings were of no concern to him.

14 January 2017. I decided that it would be worth a try with transparent layers of acrylic binder alternating with acrylic paint to build a soul visible within a portrait experiment (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Sketchbook – Showing a soul inside, acrylic binder and acrylic

The scan of the above image is unfortunately quite inadequate in reproducing the transparent, layered quality of the tested fields of colour. By far the best result for my purpose was the top lefthand, alternating thin layers of binder and very dilute paint, covered by a final layer of binder, then the actual portrait painted on top of that.

Next I tried to integrate a representation of something like a “soul” behind the face. Using acrylic binder again I prepared a smooth, rounded and weak body shape enclosed in protective “shells”, dripped some dilute paint on the half-dried shape, used a painting knife to alter the structure, allowed it to become dry, then quickly painted some face over and outside that. When looking at the result in my sketchbook it looks rather disappointing, but the scan (see image below) exhibits some of the qualities I am looking for, especially round the nose and mouth. There is something alive, which appears to agitate the facial expression from within. This would be exactly what I need, but I I feel that I am not yet expert enough to tame my acrylic binder (Fig. 3).

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – Creating the impression of something alive behind a facial facade

17 January 2017. In order to see whether I could develop my idea in a direction, which is less accident-prone, I went ahead with my  idea of looking into producing something like a “runny” face, i.e. one that is not totally in the possession of its owner, but leaving its boundaries. The face is the preeminent place where to study the character of a person, so letting it run down the canvas means weakening its physical features. First I produced a thin background layer of acrylic binder, into which I made dense vertical grooves with a toothed spatula (Fig. 4).

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Figure 4. Creating a background on 56 x 42 cm primed acrylic paper: Acrylic binder and toothed spatula

While waiting for the background become thoroughly dry, I made a first pencil sketch in my sketchbook in order to become acquainted with drawing a distant, distracted look. It was not really the best of my portraying days (normally no problem at all to get real likenesses), but likeness was not my main subject (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. Sketchbook – preliminary pencil sketch of facial features

I guess he looks more like Johnny English. Since both of them are great at causing havoc I let it count towards developing my plan …

Next I started my runny portrait, painting with drawing ink and a pipette, to be followed by acrylic, in order to make things difficult for myself :o) (Fig. 6-13):

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Figure 6
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Figure 7
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Figure 8
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Figure 9
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Figure 10
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Figure 11
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Figure 12
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Figure 13

21 January 2017. In retrospect painting over the runny face interrupted the initial idea somewhat, but I like how the eyes and mouth are still part of the idea. It was also great fun to work over the first layer, it was highly spontaneous. Since, however, I still wanted to explore the idea further and make it the main focus of this part of the assignment, I started two more runny faces, one on an impasto background I had prepared with household dispersion a few days earlier and one with several types and colours of drawing ink on a large sheet of plastic, which I had saved from an ugly frame years ago. The first experiment was to see whether I could paint with my pipette on a very rough surface, the second to see whether plastic was at all suitable for ink and also to combine it with another sheet of plastic to stick underneath and serve as a surface for Assad’s soul.

So, here is the first sequence. The combination of rough surface with channels and a pipette was very difficult to use to create likenesses. But together with a final ink layer put on with a larger flat paintbrush it came near enough to what Assad looks like (Fig. 14-20):

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Figure 14. Creating another background with acrylic paint and serrated spatula
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Figure 15. Drawing with water-soluble ink and pipette
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Figure 16.  Dissolving some of the ink
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Figure 17

 

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Figure 18
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Figure 19. Finished painting, testing lighting conditions (1)

Since there was beautiful sunshine that day I experimented with the light falling on the grooves in order to find out whether an increase in contrast would add to the shadow on Assad’s soul. It did not. The first, duller, photo came closer to what I needed. So, overall, I would not recommend this sort of background to paint someone shunning contact with other people:

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Figure 20. Finished painting, testing lighting conditions (2)

By the way, the sunshine came together with the most beautiful snow. This was the view from my workshop and I just had to share it:

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And turning to the final “runny face” experiment I tried out the plastic sheet (A1) mentioned above. It was very awkward to paint and draw on, again with my pipette and a flat brush, and quite difficult to take meaningful photos of, but proved an extremely interesting experience (Fig. 21-22):

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Figure 21. Drawing on acetate with drawing ink and pipette (stage 1)
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Figure 22. Drawing on acetate with drawing ink and pipette (stage 2)

After this stage I prepared another piece of plastic, smaller and flexible, with a layer of drawing ink and let it dry (Fig. 23):

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Figure 23. A4 plastic pocket opened up and covered in drawing ink

Next I covered the face in a semi-transparent wash of white drawing ink, looking like this on my workshop floor … (Fig. 24):

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Figure 24. Adding white drawing ink to the portrait

… then like this with a white canvas put underneath (Fig. 25):

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Figure 25. Testing the effect of placing a white canvas underneath

Trying to make it look more like Assad again (Fig. 26):

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Figure 26. Adding more Assad-like features

When that was done I slipped in the flexible, smaller piece of plastic to see whether it was causing any effect filing with “putting a shadow on his soul”. While the result looked more like someone emerging from a hard day’s work in a coal mine, I was happy that there was indeed a layering effect. The face looks as if something was moving around “inside” it (Fig. 27-28).

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Figure 27. Starting to experiment with acetate and plastic sheet combined
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Figure 28. Detail

I then reworked the small plastic sheet to make it darker and more of a coherent shape and tested that in several positions (Fig. 29-34):

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Figure 29. Reworked plastic sheet
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Figure 30. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (1)
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Figure 30. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (2)

 

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Figure 32. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (3)

None of the above made a real difference except that Assad looked like being in need of a shave, but once I included the forehead I could see that there was a major change to his facial expression, which became rather grave (Fig.33):

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Figure 33. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (4)

The last of my tests seems to be the best. It is a combination of something dark both behind the forehead and to the inside of where Assads has directed his eyes (difficult to explain …). For some reason it feels believable to me and this is what I am going to stay with (Fig. 34):

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Figure 34. Testing the effect of the reworked plastic sheet (5)

In the above I think that I can sort of feel a “centre of weight” right between the eyebrows. I am not normally into esoteric stuff, but after a bit of research what did I find? In exactly that position on the forehead there is the third eye, which serves as the entrance to your soul. How weird.

Apart from likenesses I am quite happy with the three results in this part. All of them appear to transport, to greater or lesser extent, an impression of a troubled soul. Given the time I may continue working on them before submitting for assessment.

References:

Biography.com Editors (2014) Bashar al-Assad Biography [online]. A&E Television Networks, New York, 2 April. Available at: http://www.biography.com/people/bashar-al-assad-20878575 [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (n.d.(a)) Paintings [image collection] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (2015) Paintings: Kristoffer Bolander: I Forgive Nothing [n.k.] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings/2015/11/9/jrt1azwp107a493s5c267oqbsildwk [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Björklund, B. (n.d.(b)) Self Portrait [image collection] [online]. Benjamin Björklund, Uppsala. Available at: http://www.benjaminbjorklund.com/paintings/wc3n6kaug58ls5xw9xz5y4ardnfyqd [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Field, G. S. (2012) Despair. Watercolor class demonstration paintings from Spring term 2012 [blog] [online]. Glennda Short Field, 26 June. Available at: http://glenndafield.blogspot.co.at/2012_06_01_archive.html [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Rembrandt (1628-29) Self-portrait [oil on oak panel] [online]. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rembrandt#/media/File:Self-portrait_(1628-1629),_by_Rembrandt.jpg [Accessed 30 December 2016]

Seifert, K. (2013) How Bashar al-Assad Became A Brutal Dictator. Those Who Fail To Learn From History Are Doomed To Repeat it [online]. Psychology Today, New York, 16 September. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-the-cycle/201309/how-bashar-al-assad-became-brutal-dictator [Accessed 19 December 2016]

Assignment 5, subject 1: “A Shadows Only Painting” (including Part 5 project exercises)

Updated on 25 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some content).

14 December 2016. Yesterday, while waiting for my son again in the December midday sun I observed some shadows travelling across the ground and then up a wall of an adjacent building. This gave me the idea of wanting to try a series of experiments and final painting of “shadows only”: I would like to arrange a still life made up of (or imagined as) white only objects in front of a white wall. On this setup I want a shadow to fall. The warping of the shadow due to the objects in its way would be their only defining element. What I intended to test was whether a shadow of this kind would be sufficient to make the details of my setup visible. Some artists, mainly photographers, make use of this effect, in particular to define the human body (Webneel, n.d.) or in a very different way in a painting by Patty Neal (*?, USA), “Moving Shadow” (Saatchi Art, n.d.).

22 December 2016. Overall, however, I found surprisingly little work by artists, in the past and present, who make shadows a central subject. Most of the time, if at all, shadows are recognized and included as part of some arrangement. For example, Giorgio Morandi, who was an outstanding master of still life, rarely pays particular attention to them: In many of his paintings there are no shadows at all or either always falling to the same side, see e.g. a collection on Pinterest (n.d.). Many artists working today appear to choose subjects, which do not require the inclusion of shadows in the composition, or deliberately omit them. Even if the paintings are titled “Shadow”, the word is quite commonly used solely in a metaphorical way to transcribe psychological phenomena.

Today I started looking for a suitable place for setting up my shadow still life and by coincidence I came up with a near-ideal table in my workshop. The early winter morning sun was shining directly on that table from behind me and would continue to do so for some hours (wandering shadows included). This I wanted to make my experimenting site for this project. In case there would be too little sun over the weeks to come I planned to use a strong halogen light to imitate the effect. I did a very first test of the warping of shadows on curved surfaces. It is clearly visible how the distorsion works (Fig. 1):

Figure 1. Testing the setup, warping of shadows on curved surfaces

The above “setup” was not working in the intended way, however, because I gained too little information from the low resolution shadow “grid” of my fingers. Since I have blinds on my workshop windows I tested the respective effect (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. The same test with blinds down

The sunlight kept changing from very bright to quite dull in a matter of seconds. At the moment of taking the above photo it was relatively weak. Also, due to their comparative size the blinds needed to be at some distance to my setup. I could see that the achieved resolution was still too weak. So I got out one of those plastic grids used for roller painting walls and held it close to my setup (Fig. 3-5):

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Figure 3. Using a plastic grid (1)
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Figure 4. Using a plastic grid (2)
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Figure 5. Using a plastic grid (3)

Here for the first time I produced something like the desired resolution. The pattern produced by the grid is also something I quite liked, so I decided to continue using it for further experimentation.

27 December 2016. Today was the first day I found the time to continue experimenting with my grids, and – surprise, surprise – there was no sun. I tried to replace it with our very strong halogen light and found it totally unsuitable for the purpose. No matter how strong the light appeared, it was so much weaker even than the faintest sunlight that shadows hardly appeared at all. And more importantly (and again I should have known better considering the physics of light), at the close distance I was forced to use it, it behaved as a dot-like light source, which means that the light beams diverge rather than run parallel (as this would be the case, more or less, with light coming from the sun) and the edges of the shadows came out  blurred rather than crispy clear (physics of shadows (University of Illinois, 2013)). So, in order to continue with this experiment I arranged a semi-permanent setup in the middle of my workshop allowing to jump to attention every time the sun decided to come out from behind the dark clouds. To make some progress nevertheless I also decided to start all my Assignment 5 projects at the same time and continue with whatever was most convenient. I was able, however, to do a first pencil sketch to get acquainted with the features of the shadows and see whether I would be able to create forms using information from the shadows only (Fig. 6).

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Figure 6. Sketchbook – preliminary pencil sketch

29/30 December 2016. Since to me the above result looked both interesting and not overly complex for my purpose, I photocopied it and tried to cut a stencil from a piece of cardboard (Fig. 7-8):

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Figure 7. Trying to make a cardboard stencil (1)
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Figure 8. Trying to make a cardboard stencil (2)

As this proved unsatisfactory (the thin parts of the cardboard started to bend and disintegrate) I repeated the stencil with a piece of plastic (Fig. 9-10):

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Figure 9. Making a plastic stencil (1)
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Figure 10. Making a plastic stencil (2)

I had bought a sturdy cutting board and scalpel the other day. Both the black of the board and the intense sunlight (yes, it was back for a while!) illuminating the edges of the cut lines made the work relatively straightforward. However, the sequence of making the cuts required some planning in order to end up with the plastic sheet intact rather than with numerous snippets. With some concessions made with regard to the completeness of shadows I came up with a usable result. In a few places things went wrong (top and bottom left of image), but as this is for exercise purposes only I decided to use it anyway (Fig. 11):

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Figure 11. Finished stecil with some minor flaws

Since the piece of plastic is a pocket (something I had not planned but was happy to notice while cutting the stencil), I was then able to insert pieces of paper and try out a number of different ways of applying paint to shadows (Fig. 12):

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Figure 12. Happy pocket coincidence

As I wanted to be able to use the stencil a number of times, I prepared a bucket full of water and rinsed the plastic immediately after every use. As a cautionary I started with watercolours, followed by ink and pastels to move on to acrylics last (Fig. 13, 1-6):

Figure 13. Stencil results 1-6

I did not like the results achieved with pastels, the image was far to smooth and without character, similarly with acrylics. For me the best images were the toothbrush-sprayed first one and the black drawing ink.

2 January 2017. There were two more “results” possible with my makeshift stencil until I had to discard it (Fig. 14, 1-2):

Figure 14. Stencil results 7-8

While I did not achieve the water-repellent effect I had expected for the shellac/watercolour combination, I quite like the second of the two efforts. I carefully filled the spaces in my stencil with acrylics and left to dry. Although removing the plastic foil proved harder than expected, eventually destroying it, I found the roughness of the result appealing with some of the older layers of blue acrylic paint coming off the foil with the new paint.

6 January 2017. With the experimental bits and pieces required for this part of the course I started messing around with some more shellac, acrylic binder, dried leaves and ink applied with a pipette dropped by the plants in my workshop in order to both satisfy experimentation requirements and produce usable backgrounds for the final shadows-only painting(s). I soon felt that the incredibly stressful time we have been experiencing since we started cooking the special diet for our son on top of our already mad everyday life is taking its toll. I was not really able to concentrate on making concepts. Most results were pure coincidence, I was proceeding with haste and little sensitivity for materials and methods (which, considering, may turn out as a treat). But a wonderful little Christmas present given to younger son by older son came in useful. I nicked the tool, a 3D pen, to experiment with drawing/painting my shadows “in the air” (Fig. 15-21):

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Figure 15. Tracing my pencil sketch with the 3D pen
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Figure 16. The hot plastic thread turned elastic and durable within seconds

The finished result looks like this:

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Figure 17. A shadow 2D/3D sculpture

After a few seconds taken to solidify the plastic filament is incredibly lightweight, sturdy, flexible and can be added to later. And thinking further, this copy of a drawing of shadows is of course able to cast its own shadows again – in theory an ad infinitum game (Fig. 18-21):

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Figure 18. Shining light through my line sculpture produces more shadows (1)
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Figure 19. As soon as the sunlight was more intense, the shadows became crispy clear at the edges
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Figure 20. Different angle
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Figure 21. Closeup

In the context of this course, however, my 3D experiments cannot be more than an attempt at seeing a bigger picture, so I stopped them here. I will without doubt return to the subject in my next course.

8 January 2017. Yesterday I used one of the experimental splatter and drip backgrounds produced for the exercises of this part of the course to produce one of the possible final paintings for Assignment 5. I painted with turquoise and white drawing ink on the shellac and acrylics background and referring to my initial pencil sketch of the arrangement (Fig. 22-23).

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Figure 22. Ink painting on shellac and acrylic background
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Figure 23. Detail

I found the overall result quite interesting, both regarding the mix of materials, arrangement and behaviour of paint. And, which I am happy to say, the use of shadows only is sufficient to define a shape. I know that I would need to refine the technique in order to make the execution waterproof, but am happy nevertheless.

9 January 2017. In order to have a go at the set exercise of moving towards abstraction I had a another attempt at the above setup. Since I had prepared a wild impasto background for the first exercise of this part, using household dispersion priming followed by sandwiched layers of acrylic binder with shellac and acrylic paint (which in places work together to produce a fiery glow), I wanted to use this to approach the subject in a more intuitive way by trying to respond to the coincidental characteristics of the impasto background but still including the shadow shapes found in the above piece (Fig. 24).

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Figure 24. Shellac and impasto acrylic background

On this background I had the initial intention to paint something like fir trees in the grid-like shadow way developed in the previous painting, but soon got carried away by something totally different. The following steps took me several days to complete and I had to leave the painting often to allow the next steps to appear in my head (Fig. 25-30):

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Figure 25
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Figure 26
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Figure 27
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Figure 28
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Figure 29
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Figure 30. Finished painting

I know that at this stage the above probably is not a truly finished painting. There are several places I am not happy with, especially about the light in the cast shadows. I know that the shapes are not correct as they came from imagination only (which my tutor keeps warning me about), but there is a weird atmosphere I would not want to destroy at this point. For the same reason I resisted the strong temptation to add a flamingo poking his head round the corner in the foreground ;o). I am not sure whether the above counts as abstraction, either, but I think that I am beginning to understand the idea and thought processes involved. In order to make this work fit for assessment, if possible, I will need to discuss it with my tutor.
As things are at the moment, I would choose to count my first finished painting (the shadows defining the objects, above) towards Assignment 5, but may chose to change my mind depending on progress with the remaining assignment pieces.

References:

Pinterest (n.d.) Artist: Giorgio Morandi [image collection] [online]. Pinterest. Available at: https://www.pinterest.com/elisevashby/artist-giorgio-morandi/ [Accessed 22 December 2016|

Saatchi Art (n.d.) Patty Neal. Moving Shadow [online]. Saatchi Art, Santa Monica. Available at: http://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Hungry-Shadow/337321/2836423/view [Accessed 14 December 2016|

University of Illinois (2013) Q & A: Umbras and Penumbras. Follow-Up #3: merging shadows [online]. University of Illinois, Department of Physics, 6 December. Available at: https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=2068 [Accessed 27 December 2016|

Webneel (n.d.) 30 Mind-Blowing Black and White Photography Pictures and Tips for Beginners
[blog] [online]. Webneel. Available at: http://webneel.com/30-mind-blowing-black-and-white-photography-examples-and-tips-beginners [Accessed 14 December 2016|

Part 2, project 4, exercise 2: Drawing and painting interiors – simple perspective in interior studies

Updated on 3 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

23 June 2016. As planned during the last exercise I chose the garage view on our barbecue and the cupboard behind it and produced an elongated drawing with a dark green mix of brown and blue-green acrylic modulated with white and black. Since there were nearly two weeks between the start and the end of this exercise, with lots of doctors’ and hospital appointments and one of my oldest friends, from Iceland, staying for nearly a week, I did not completely immerse into this task. Still I am not unhappy with it. The view is quite complex with lots of shelves and so I was glad to have chosen a quasi monochrome option. What I really like in the finished drawing is the way the barbecue both shines and stands out from the rest of the room despite having been drawn with nothing but bold strokes. I could have spent a lot more time on this exercise, but I think that the main layout, shapes and proportions are fine, and also I will need the next days to concentrate on Assignment 2 to avoid having to ask for an extension. Here is the sequence (Fig. 1-3:

I think that I managed to indicate clearly the direction of the light source (daylight coming in from an invisible door just to the right of the cupboard). What I noticed just now, when putting the photos in this blog, was that the shadow cast by the wheel of the barbecue at the back is not believable. It looks as if it did not touch the floor. Also two weak shadows cast by the garden hose on the floor are missing, but they would be important to define floor space. Maybe I will come back to this drawing/painting when preparing for assessment next year.

By the way, when having had a preparatory look at the blogs of fellow OCA students doing this exercise I admired the beautiful solution found by fellow student Stuart Brownlee (2014). Trying not to be envious :o).

References:

Brownlee, S. (2014) Part 2 – Exercise 15: simple perspective in interior studies [blog] [online]. Available at: https://stuartbrownleeoca.wordpress.com/2014/02/21/part-2-exercise-15-simple-perspective-in-interior-studies/ [Accessed 3 March 2017]

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) …

Assignment 1: “A Black Tulip and its Shadow”

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

19 March 2016. While spending more time in hospital with our son I had ample opportunity to think about the mechanisation of human life and, as it were, people themselves. The idea of working with Leonardo’s (1452-1519, Italy) Vitruvian man (da Vinci, ca. 1492) (Fig. 1), trying to superimpose on the famous drawing a setup using tools like such as pincers, nuts, pliers, folding rules and such like. I gathered a large number of objects and started experimenting.

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Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci (ca. 1492) Vitruvian Man. Ink and wash on paper. Source: Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

20 March 2016. Having sat on my workshop floor for several hours, pushing my tools around in a futile attempt to create something exciting, I realized that I did not want to continue here. Suddenly both the subject and setup seemed dull, flat and uninteresting. It may be that I am very close to tears nowadays and additional demands from outside our small fragile world sometimes seem unbearable. So what I am planning to do instead is to take the gorgeous tulips our son picked from his favourite flower shop (yes, even some wild boys like flowers!) and paint them in a soft light. Pushing on from the previous exercise, however, I decided that I would like to paint one of the flower heads in black and white, a statement which I think leaves a whole universe for personal interpretation. Since I never know whether there will be time while the tulips are still fresh, because our son’s condition can deteriorate suddenly and quickly, I took a large number of photos and decided I would work from the photo best suited to accomodate both coloured and black and white sections. To this end I would produce some sketches exploring tonal contrast. In preparation I had a look at several artists, who had produced still lives with tulips, but I had my painting firmly settled on my mind so I decided I did not want to be influenced too much by what other people did. And also, considering what I found on the internet, still lives with tulips can go awfully wrong. They appear deceptively easy to paint and are not. So I decided that I wanted to use the opportunity to gain experience by painting them without reference to the work of others.

First I produced a series of photos with two different bouquets, many different arrangements and lighting conditions. Among these the following view from slightly above under the strong daylight lamps in my workshop produced the pattern I had had in mind: I would paint the colourful bouquet against a dark background and the shadow of the arrangement on a bright surface (Fig. 2).

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Figure 2. Setup

This was followed by sketches in my sketchbook to make sure the dark/light arrangement would look OK (Fig. 3):

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Figure 3. Sketch to identify light and dark areas for compositional purposes

30 March 2016. Back from a strange Easter holiday with everybody in the family seriously ill for at least a week I nevertheless finished Assignment 1 today. I had prepared my background with the Payne’s grey I had produced for the previous exercise and adding white and a bit of sap green in order to produce the particular sheen of the shadow.

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Figure 4. New discovery: Having two separate trays for mixing greys and colours keeps mixtures perfectly clean.

After the background had become dry I roughly sketched in the outlines of flowers and shadows using black and white charcoal, then painted the shadows using the neutral grey with sap green I had prepared earlier. On top of this I put first layers of both flower heads and leaves, not yet paying particular attention to colour correctness (Fig. 5a-c).


Over the next few days I kept adding both opaque and transparent layers by carefully observing emerging patterns. This is the result (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. “A Black Tulip and its Shadow”: acrylics on A2 painting carton

Considering my previous experience with acrylics I am very happy about the result, in particular having found out some immensely important aspects about the layering of colour, something I had never knewn how to pay proper attention to before. I am beginning to understand the basics ruling composition and the use of both achromatic and coloured pigments. Most of it is still somewhat intuitive, but I am learning. Looking back over the assignment, I am not sure whether I might have been expected to do a lot more preliminary investigation regarding arrangement, but what I got appears relatively convincing to me. I am also happy to have a message to come with my bouquet of flowers, a message I need to carry with me at all times – now more than ever.

References:

Da Vinci, L. (ca. 1492) Vitruvian Man [ink and wash on paper] [online]. Academia of Venice. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvian_Man#/media/File:Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_Viatour.jpg [Accessed 19 February 2017]