Part 4, project 2, exercise 2: Perspective – aerial perspective

Updated on 21 March 2017 (Harvard referencing and some contents).

7 November 2016. The project on aerial perspective (for an overview see The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) and Tang (n.d.)) is going to be a challenge for me, since it requires paying controlled attention to several aspects, i.e. loss of focus, colour saturation and change in colour temperature. The required simple landscape would need to make do without the elements of linear perspective and in order to put myself in colour-only mood I made an excursion to Egon Schiele’s aerial perspective paintings (1890-1918, Austria), as e.g. in Fig. 1 below:

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Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Four Trees”, 1917, oil on canvas. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
The above work contains hardly any elements of linear perspective, apart from, maybe, the narrowing of spaces between the horizontal layers of clouds. The tiny mountain range at the centre (had to stop myself writing “at the back”, because of course on the canvas they are not) show all elements of aerial perspective, though: colder colours, loss of contrast and (comparatively) fading outline as well as a loss of colour saturation. And these, no matter how small the difference, are sufficient to allow the correct sorting of foreground and background and allocation of a roughly measurable distance between viewer and trees as well as trees and mountains. It is the viewer’s experience of the characteristics of the visible world and the associated workings of the mind, which do the trick.

The above is easy to interpret due to its known representative elements of a landscape, but when comparing e.g. Nik Harron’s (*1981, Ireland) completely abstract aerial perspective  “Untitled” (Harron, 2009) the system still works. There are colder colours, less saturation as well as loss of contrast and focus of nothing in particular and it becomes a believable landscape. It works due to the mind connecting with whatever knowledge I have of the world and it works, because it makes sense. Which makes me want to explore it the wrong way round (but for once I will resist the temptation!). In order to be able answer to the question in the study guide (“Is it necessary to combine all three to achieve the desired effect?”), I decided that it would be necessary to adopt a stepwise approach.

8 November 2016. Since the weather outside turned nasty within hours (sleet in masses), I chose a photo of a wonderfully dark volvcanic landscape from our 2014 visit to Iceland. It is absolutely reduced and appears very suitable for exploring aerial perspective.

So, what I did was, in steps:

1. Make a black brush drawing avoiding linear perspective, but using increasingly narrower lines towards the back
2. Reduce line colour contrast by painting over with increasingly lighter greys towards the back
3. Introduce colour, warmer in front, colder at back
4. Modulate colour saturation (enhance/fade) and colour contrast (enhance/reduce)

Here is the sequence (Fig. 2-5):

1. Brush drawing with black paint, increasingly narrower lines

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Figure 2. Line drawing, narrowing

This on its own already provides an impression of space, helped by the standing rock cutting off the view of the gentle slope to the back of it.

2. Brush drawing changed to have increasingly less dark lines towards the back

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Figure 3. Line drawing, less dark at back

The difference is not large, probably also because it was not easy to have very narrow lines painted with the brushes I have.

3. Introducing colour and contrast

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Figure 4. Adding colour and contrast

10 November 2016. Volcanic sand and rocks look a very dark warm grey closeby, but increasingly cooler towards the horizon. This first layer of colour helped the painting to increase in depth, but it is clearly visible that any small mistake in choice of colour has a profound effect on the perception of perspective. This is particularly evident in the wide darkish horizontal strip behind the large stone in the bottom lefthand corner. It makes the rocky outcrop in the middle ground hover rather than sit on its hill. So it is clearly not enough to simply reduce contrast and colour saturation on a rigid recipe basis. It is essential to pay attention to the respective properties of all parts of the painting and balance the effects around each change.

4. Correcting saturation and contrast

By introducing a selection of purer warm hues used in mixing the above greys and adjusting tonal values, including some light and shade in the foreground and middle ground, as well as covering the sky with a dilute layer of greyish blue I intensified the differences between the different parts of the painting. Although linear perspective is present at no point in the painting, the space created by techniques relating to aerial perspective looks believable. I find that I make many of these adaptations subconsciously without referring to an external set of instructions.

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Figure 5. Correcting colour and contrast

Overall I think that even the first line drawing using nothing but decreasing line width creates a working spatial composition. The same would apply to using staggered warm and cold coloured areas alone (similar to the third step), even if a landscape were inexistent. In order to be recognized as something derived from the real physical world, however, the above rules must not be broken. The human eye and brain are tuned into detecting the slightest discrepancy in information, a probably life-saving ability in our complex and not always welcoming universe.

References:

Harron, N. (2009) An Aerial Perspective [acrylic on canvas] [online]. Private Collection, [n.k.]. Available at: http://nikharron.com/aerial-view/ [Accessed 7 November 2016]

Schiele, E. (1917) Four Trees  [oil on canvas] [online]. Belvedere, Vienna. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele#/media/File:Egon_Schiele_094.jpg [Accessed 7 November 2016]

The Editors of Encylopaedia Britannica (2015) Aerial Perspective. Encyclopaedia Britannica, London. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/art/aerial-perspective [Accessed 7 November 2016]

Tang, I. (n.d.) Linear and Aerial Perspective: The Techniques of Linear and Aerial Perspective [online]. Inge Tang, [n.k.]. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/ingetang/ [Accessed 20 March 2017]

Part 1, project 2, exercise 4: Monochrome studies

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

6 March, 2016. I am not sure why, but I found it very hard to make sense of the instructions to this exercise. Looking at the respective work of some of my student colleagues did not help either: In both paintings the ground can be a wash and in both I paint over that with a predominantly opaque layer. In both sheets, opaque and transparent paint need to work together. The only difference I can see is that in one case it is the background, which remains transparent if I choose this approach, in the other it is the tree. In particular I am unsure what to make of the sentences “Mix up a light grey and apply this to the shapes formed by branches … Modulate this grey as you move away … “. I guess that this instruction is meant to apply to both paintings, but if I paint over either the positive or negative representation of the tree, it will mean to cover up the only real difference between the two. Since I understood the goal of this exercise to compare opaque and transparent approaches to painting a tree, I decided to – for the moment – ignore the above instruction and wait for tutor feedback. I got ready choosing two sheets of acrylic paper and mixing a dark wintery colour by combining primary magenta, gold ochre and bluegreen, with white or water to be added where required.

7 March, 2016. Finished the two paintings today, having decided to paint the apricot tree in our garden, which is getting ready to grow its buds.
Here are the results. On top is the “positive” tree, which I decided to paint with relative coarse brush strokes on top of the light grey opaque ground in order to make visible the bark characteristic of this species (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. “Positive” tree: solid mix on top of opaque light grey ground

The dark wash prepared for the second part of the exercise I had to produce in two layers, otherwise it would not have been dark enough to compare to the solid colour in the first painting. I quite liked the brush strokes and decided to set them diagonally in order to emphasize the relative direction of growth of the tree (Fig. 2). Despite the help of charcoal it was not easy to reproduce the negative spaces correctly and I had to literally talk myself through the exercise. In a few places I painted over a twig, but most of it seems more or less correct.

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Figure 2. “Negative” tree: negative spaces painted with solid mix of light grey on dark semitransparent wash

I am unhappy with both paintings for the coarse approach to the subject, but again it may have been me misinterpreting the instructions.
Asked to assess the strengths and limitations of each technique I would – cautiously – assume that painting a positive object on a prepared ground will produce a more realistic feeling of space (object in front of background). The greater transparency of a background wash will most likely produce a more credible feeling of air, while a completely opaque background will suggest a dull day, probably in stifling weather. Also, I found that an object as complex as a tree is by far easier to paint positively. However, I like the effect produced by painting the negative spaces better. Probably due to my lack of practice in doing so the tree is more alive and seems to physically make contact with the air surrounding it. Since both paintings are silhouettes only, I am so far not able to compare the respective strengths of the two approaches regarding credible representations of trees.

What I also learned in this exercise was to be wary using acrylic paper. The “professional” paper I had bought rolls up in the most unfashionable way and is almost impossible to reshape. I had therefore to place a glass plate over the sheets in order to take the required photos and unfortunately could not get rid of all the reflections. Also, the colour is not quite correct and the brush strokes are hard to see. I will retake the photos if I am instructed to have another go at this exercise.