[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]

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[Retrospective post] Part 5, project 1, exercise 2: Different ways of applying paint – dripping, dribbling and spattering

14 March 2017. I have to admit that I am not a great devotee of these techniques. In one week-long course dedicated to experimentation I did several years ago we had a great day splashing paint on all sorts of supports and guessing at the things we could then do with the results, but I am not convinced, because I have not yet been able to identify, for me, a purpose other than a decorative one. I guess that attitude depends on ability and I tried to gain some more confidence in this part of the course. The dripping and dribbling experiments, inlcuding the portrait drawings below were all carried out using a pipette. What I find is that I am always tempted to interfere with the process or think ahead of what I might need it for, so this is what my results reflect (Fig. 1-9):

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Figure 1. Dripping and dribbling acyrlic paint on a drip and dribble semi-wet background layer of shellac, later to be used as background for an assignment piece
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Figure 2. Dripping acrylic paint and ink on dried impasto acrylic medium background produced with serrated spatula, paint running along grooves
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Figure 3. Dripping ink on dried impasto acrylic paint background prepared with a criss-cross structure produced by serrated spatula. Ink running not as expected
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Figure 4. Dripping ink and dilute acrylic paint on acetate sheet

Next I examined some spattering effects with ink and acrylic paint on plastic foil. (Fig. 5-6). Although the initial effects were interesting and later used in connection with my Assignment piece “A Shadow on His Soul” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016a), I noticed that paint and ink would – not immediately but after a week or two  – stop adhering to the foil. Flakes would come off, so that I consider the combination inadequate for any but short-term use:

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Figure 5. Ink spattered on plastic foil, then distributed with brush
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Figure 6. Ink and acrylic paint spattered on plastic foil, distributed with brush, then “printed” in Rohrschach inkblot manner

Since there was a long spell of very cold weather I then tested the effect of -15°c and the addition of snow on wet splatters of dilute watercolour on two different types of watercolour paper (smooth and rough). I had imagined that ice cyrstals should form to give the drying paint some interesting structural effects. But not so. The paint would not dry even after hours in the sun, so after taking the paper back into the house the snow and ice would melt, leaving nothing I could not have produced without the cold (Fig. 7):

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Figure 7. Wet watercolour test with very low temperatures and snow

On more acrylic paper I had prepared a mix of white acrylic paint and crushed leaves for exercise 2 in project 2 of this part. In order to see whether letting ink run in one direction  would produce some shadow effects I applied some to the dried background. The effect was hardly noticeable, unfortunately, since the acrylic paint would make the ink flow in all directions, ignoring the law of gravity (Fig. 8):

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Figure 8. Ink dripped down background layer of acrylic paint mixed in dried crushed leaves

Finally I want to report one dripping effect, which was not part of an exercise but appeared while painting one assignment piece. I had mixed black writing ink and white ink to paint a small vase for the table-top in Andersen’s “The Shadow” (Lacher-Bryk, 2016b), which after application did not ingnore the effects of gravity, but settled in a beautiful way to produce a believable effect of light reflecting off the glass of the vase (Fig. 9):

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Figure 9. Producing the effect of light reflecting off a glass vase with very simple means – two types of ink running down the canvas together

I know that after these experiments I have hardly started exploring all possible effects. I am looking forward to getting the opportunity to experimenting some more in this direction in my next course.

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016a) Assignment 5, subject 2: “A Shadow on His Soul” (including Part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. Available at:  https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/assignment-5-subject-2-a-shadow-on-his-soul-including-part-5-project-exercises/ [Accessed 14 March 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016b) Assignment 5, subject 3: Hans Christian Andersen “The Shadow”. An attempt at an illustration (including part 5 project exercises) [blog] [online]. 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 14 March 2017]

 

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 4, project 4, exercise 1: Painting outside – painting a landscape outside

Updated on 23 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

16 November 2016. There is a warm front travelling to come into Austria on Friday, so I need to be quick in order to plan and carry out my plein air painting exercise before more winter weather. There is a special place in our vicinity, a bit of woodland growing in a sandy pit in a restructured river basin. This place I chose before once for one of my Drawing 1 projects (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). Since I did not follow study guide instructions in the previous exercise (use and rework an existing painting), I decided that I would carry over this instruction to this exercise and apply it to the following drawing I made last year (Fig. 1):

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Figure 1. Own drawing from OCA Drawing 1 course “Study of several trees”, ink pen, oil pastels and marker pens, 2015

I will make some preliminary sketches on site tomorrow (bad weather) and compare with what I have got, then quickly use the fair weather predicted for Friday to make a very rough painting with my largest brush to be completed outside. There is no plan to continue working on it in my workshop, so what I achieve outside will be what I get.

17 November 2016. Proceeding as planned, so setting off to the site just after lunchtime. The weather was very changeable, from overcast and some raindrops to sunshine and quite pleasantly warm and windy, so partly ideal for painting outside. I found the site mostly as it had been the year before, except that the sandy forest floor was covered in lots of brown autumn leaves and the incredible near-white sand and the contrast I had been looking for were invisible (I should have known better, being an ecologist and all that :o). I still took a set of photos of the spot, walking round to see whether other views might be attractive (Fig.2).

Figure 2

In the end I went for a beautiful view across the river with a small, eye-catching patch of white sand on the far bank and produced a landscape and a portrait format mini watercolour sketch (Fig. 3-5):

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Figure 3
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Figure 4
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Figure 5. Sketchbook – watercolour sketches

Cycling back I went through the colour options and the research on Fauvism and Expressionism I had done earlier that day. At first I had wanted to use autumn colours as found on site, but then came up with another option including very light colours, basically warm and cool shades of grey on a darker background prepared with a mix of Paynes grey and small amounts of other colours I would like to use, so that in the end the objects of the painting would have clear dark outlines. We’ll see whether this is feasible.

18 November 2016. It is very warm today and windy – what is called a “Föhn” weather situation typical for the Alps. It gives lots of people headaches, but others like me get a wonderful break from the November drizzle. It also makes painting outside a bit more difficult, since we get quite strong gusts of wind. Before going out I did a greyscale test in my sketchbook in order to find the colours I would need to take with me (Fig. 6).

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Figure 6. Sketchbook – 50 shades of grey, more or less

Around lunchtime I left with my bike and 25 year old trailer full of painting materials and was extremely lucky to get to my site with the sun shining and the wind dropping (Fig. 7).

Figure 7

Here is my open air studio with prepared painting carton. I had a quantitiy of the mix used for the background with me and from this I mixed the rest of my colours. This system worked well, although I found that the conditions changing from bright sunshine to cloudy made my mixing results a bit arbitrary (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Studio in the leaves

When I found that a hue would not fit the purpose I had intended it for, I used it intuitively in other parts of the composition.
Here is the first stage of the finished painting. Lying in the shade it looks rather blue, which it is not under proper lighting conditions (Fig. 9):

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Figure 9. First stages of the finished painting

I had two full hours of painting, before it suddenly got very cold and I had to call it a day.
This is how far I got today. I quite like the “coarse” areas of colour in the centre (see detail of white tree across the river and tree stumps in the middle ground below) (Fig. 10-11).
Contrary to what I said earlier I think that I will do a little more work on the exercise in the workshop during the next few days (when there will be November weather and snow again) to try and carefully apply this technique to other parts of the composition.

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Figure 10
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Figure 11. Detail

20 November 2016. Today I spent some time trying to extend the discovered technique to the whole painting. Some of it appears successful, some of it not so. While I was quite happy with the changes to the light, especially by achieving a weird glow in the willow tree hanging over the river and the trees to the left, I think that the trees in the foreground need some more change, although I cannot yet think of what would be required (Fig. 12).

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Figure 12. Finished painting


Commentary: “The experience of painting outdoors”

The work required for painting outdoors was not unfamiliar to me. I have done so on many occasions in the past. Although this was mostly watercolours, I knew what to bring and was able to plan ahead taking into acount the weather forecast. The most important piece of equipment is my bicycle trailer. It allows me to take along all necessary equipment apart from an easel, but when working outside I usually prefer sitting on a stool with the support lying on the ground in front of me. Although I know that the faithful copying of the things seen is probably easier on an easel, I appreciate the slightly longer interval between taking in the visual information and putting it on canvas as a very valuable creative break. Also, for me working from above the support results in a much looser brushmark that when standing in front of the easel.
Making linear and coloured thumbnail sketches with ink pen and watercolour, as well as testing the range of colours I wanted to bring in a small sketch using acrylics in my sketchbook, was immensely helpful when approaching the final work. It allowed me to develop in my mind a working “reflection” of the painting-to-be. Working on the final piece consisted of modulating my gathered experience by what came up on site. It was very enjoyable to see and feel this work and I guess that slowly these techniques come more naturally to me.
With regard to formal compositional rules I tested on a printout that to a relatively large extent elements of both the Rule of Thirds and more so the Golden Mean are present, as well as a working foreground – middleground – background construction. There is a pathway into the painting provided by the sandy area leading to the river and on across the river via the conspicuous white fallen tree and the mirrored white in the path leading away from the far side of the river. I also tried to include mirror structures and areas of colour: the white in the fallen tree and far side path, the violet in the smaller tree on the right and in the tangle of very young trees to the left, the turquoise of the river and the hanging tree, and also the shape of the fallen tree mirrored in the branch arching over the hanging tree. Also, I tried to include considerations of aerial perspective by gradually reducing detail as well as colour contrast and intensity. I was happy with the idea of having a selection of shades of grey mixed from an initial mix of Paynes grey, natural burnt umber, raw umber and white at the basis of the composition, since it allowed me to adapt with ease to different requirements and also this slightly aubergine hue went extremely well with all the colours introduced at later points (oriental blue, cadmium red, cadmium yellow medium, cobalt turquoise and black).
Overall I think that the outcome is quite satisfactory, although I am increasingly able to see the weak points in composition and choice of colour.
(514 words)

References:

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015) Part 3, project 1, exercise 3: Trees – study of several trees [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog. Available at: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/07/11/part-3-project-1-exercise-3-trees-study-of-several-trees/ [Accessed 16 November 2016]

Part 4, project 1, exercise 2: From inside looking out: Hard or soft landscape

Updated on 19 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

27 October 2016. In this exercise I would like to revisit the things I learned when investigating thermal imaging during Part 3 of this course and carry them over to capture the mood of my chosen landscape.

First I started a mini series of sketches looking through the gaps of park benches. The “landscape” of natural and man-made materials one can find under a bench tells a lot about the people who use that bench, but after a few instances I found that the view would be too 2-dimensional for the purpose of this exercise. I might come back to it at a later point during Part 4 or as part of my personal project in Part 5.

To be honest I am no soft landscape person and I very much enjoy the rough aspect of rocky mountains and cityscapes. In preparation for this exercise I did something dangerous and totally irresponsible, I had my camera with me and took a series of pictures of our city while driving home from my son’s school. There is a major crossroads next to our favourite hospital, where the most prominent feature is a circular landing platform for helicopters on the roof of the emergency department and the very best view on that is from the car. This view is what I wanted to try in this exercise.

First I produced two sketches, one watercolour, the other acrylic (Fig. 1-2):

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – hospital crossroads, watercolour
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – hospital crossroads, acrylics

29 October 2016. After my two  preliminary sketches I decided that for the final painting I would try and stay with the rough mark-making, since it reflects the ephemeral impression I gained while driving, and carefully plan the introduction of colours corresponding to those associated with thermographic imaging.

But first a little research into contemporary art of a similar kind.
“Cityscapes” appear to be a favourite subject for countless artists, but I noticed that many of them are quite ugly, so I had to do some very thorough research in order to find what I was looking for. An overview over the history of the genre (Fernández, n.d.) traces the origin of the genre to Ancient Greece and Rome, where some very beautiful mural paintings prove its existence at the time. The changing styles in cityscape painting over the centuries reflect those found in all other genres, so that again everything has become possible in our time. Interestingly, the preferred subject – by far – appears to be New York on a rainy day and the next in the list is Venice on a sunny day, which always makes me wonder why. There are as many great views in our world as there are places to look from, but I guess that not everybody connects with everything in the same way.
An Austrian artist specialising in cityscapes – Venice mostly – who I have come across quite a lot in the book section of my favourite art shop is “Voka” (*1965), who created this own style named “spontaneous realism” (Voka, 2011). Although I do not feel comfortable with his prolific use of colour, I like his mark-making and hope to be able to introduce some of that into my own work, together with the beautiful handling of light using broad brushstrokes by Hsin Yao Tseng (*1986, Taiwan/USA) (Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara) (Fig. 3). So off to testing the effect of this sort of brushstrokes.

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – printout of Hsin Yao Tseng “Bush Street in the Mist” to serve as help with testing loose brushwork

I soon found that in my sketchbook I would not be able to reproduce brushstrokes like that, not least because acrylic paint, no matter how good the quality, tends to level out the texture of any support with an increasing number of layers. Also for me the 25 x 25 cm format is simply too small to work in such a rough way – maybe this will come with time and practice. And in addition, which is probably the main reason, the street and houses below came straight from my head with no intention of creating a painting at all. Most importantly, I failed to be “consistently rough” by never gaining true control over my brushstrokes (Fig. 4):

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Figure 4. Sketchbook – a meagre attempt at loose and accurate brushstrokes

The difficulties I encountered, however, were valuable hints for the preparation of my finished painting. Especially, I realized that I would need to feel the exact colour and place of every single brushstroke with care. My plan therefore was to find a largish glass plate, on which I could prepare the mixes I wanted to use. It is also immensely important to have a good idea of the wateriness of my mixes, because this has an immediate effect on the transparency and reaction with the dry paint underneath. Once the underlying layers are smooth throughout I find that a watery dilution will cause puddles of paint to form in any small dent in the paper – see last floor of small building on the left. It is fine if intentional, but not so if I want to create the illusion of an intact building. In Hsin’s painting above the roughness never leaves an impression of desolation. The buildings appear to be in very good shape despite the deceivingly careless use of colour. Mine on the other had appear to be crumbling without the “carelessness”. A weird effect. Need to find out while working on my finished painting for this exercise.

1 November 2016. I prepared the glass plate for mixing colours and found it wonderfully easy to use and clean (finally a working solution!) (Fig. 5):

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Figure 5. My glass plate for mixing paint (nearly invisible on my table)

Next I started on the background for my final painting (A2 painting carton), intending to have some thermographic components to be included in the composition (Fig. 6-7):

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Figure 6. Preparing the background (1)
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Figure 7. Preparing the background (2)

3 November 2016. At first I found it immensely difficult to slow down and explore mark-making. Only when I had a relatively good idea regarding my choice of colours and after several background layers I was able to use the intended marks. Maybe this is the secret behind it all – have a decent working composition, then add the final marks. This is also what Hsin’s painting looks like.
Here is the long sequence for the last three days (but not quite there yet) (Fig. 8-12):

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Figure 8
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Figure 9
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Figure 10
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Figure 11

And this was where I felt that I was able to start loosening up:

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Figure 12

Here finally are some of the marks I was after, wanting to use them throughout the painting (Fig. 13):

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Figure 13. Finally some purposeful loose mark-making

5 November 2016. That was the idea, anyway. I should have known that I would not be able to remain focused on consistent mark-making, the format was too large for me. But it was the first time ever that I felt in absolute connection with what I did, and I enjoyed every bit of those few square centimetres. This I will try and remember throughout the rest of the course and always.
Here come the final two stages of the painting (Fig. 14-15):

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Figure 14
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Figure 15. Finished painting

So, overall, I am happy about some important discoveries made. Also, the mood of the place is about right, I wanted it to feel both real and at the same time disconnected in an eerie, somewhat threatening way. Not not so pleased with the technical aspects, however, especially the erratic mark-making and failing to capture the ephemeral quality of the impression. This came about, probably, because I wanted too many things at the same time.

References:

Fernández, G. (n.d.) Painting the City: The History of Cityscapes [online]. theArtWolf.com online art magazine, [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.theartwolf.com/articles/cityscape-painting.htm [Accessed 29 October 2016]

Voka (2011) Venezia – Auf der Suche nach dem perfekten Bild [online]. Voka, Puchberg am Schneeberg. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PG8Qrxjlrw [Accessed 29 October 2016]

Waterhouse Gallery (n.d.) Hsin-Yao Tseng [online]. Waterhouse Gallery, Santa Barbara. Available at: http://www.waterhousegallery.com/City%20Light.html [Accessed 29 October 2016]

 

 

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”

 

 

Part 2, project 2, exercise 4: Still life with man-made objects (step 1: preliminary thoughts, choice of objects and first sketches)

Updated on 26 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 May 2016. Right. This time I am going to do this properly. Originally I had planned to use soft pastel crayons and sand paper for this exercise, but since there was so much to be explored regarding the behaviour of acrylics after the last two exercises that I could not just leave it as it is.

What I learned from the last exercise:

  • start with a uniform but coloured background, it can always be changed later
  • do not prepare a background with gloss medium, it is awful to paint on without the right type of practice
  • avoid mixing brand of gloss medium and brand of acrylics. They do not seem to like each other.
  • keep diluting with water, just keep spraying water on both support and tray
  • choose SIMPLE objects (I just realised that a reason for my wrong choices may be the fact that I keep returning to the great images in the study guide, but most of them are way beyond what I can achieve at my stage of development)

I had a look on the internet for artists who paint in a way I would like to explore in line with my list and found a number of paintings by Cathleen Rehfeld (Rehfeld, 2016-17), whose style I find appealing. She explains that she uses black gesso to prepare her support, then paints on that with bold strokes, leaving some of the black background to serve as outline of the painted objects. I was also impressed by her daily paintings (Daily Paintwork, n.d.), where the simplest everyday items appear to come to life. Since her style reminds me of that of some impressionists and my all-time favourite Expressionist, Egon Schiele (1890-1918, Austria) (Fig.1), and I think that during the last few exercises I seem to have worked towards, inconsistently and with the wrong colours, a style reminiscent of the above, I am going to do my best to stay with what seems to be developing anyway. So, another attempt at strong lines and “dirty” colours.

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Figure 1. Egon Schiele: “Old Mill”, oil on canvas, 1916. Source: Egon Schiele (1890-1918) [Public domain] via malerei-meisterwerke.de
When coming to the choice of items, I will try the “less is more” principle, but will be still be looking for unusual shapes and setups. For example, Picasso’s  “Still Life with Pitcher and Apples” (Picasso, 1919) could not be more straightforward in choice, but the shape of the pitcher and position of fruit attract the attention of a viewer because of the unexpected arrangement. The same applies, in my opinion, to his  “Still Life with Skull and Pot” (Picasso, 1943): It is deceptively simple, but catches the light in an admirable way, while knowing skull and cheeky pot appear to be engaged in some act of important communication. What I also found was a still life by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945, USA), from a three generation dynasty of painters, called “Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle” (Wyeth, 1922): again, simple objects, the most straightforward of arrangements, and all the beauty of it coming from the incredible background and use of light on the objects. It seems as if the shape of the bottle consisted of black background only, its outline defined by wall and table, and only a hint of light on its neck.
This is all well, but I think a big point where my planning goes wrong may be the ACTUAL choice of objects. We do not seem to be a household with stuff that lends itself easily to posing for a still life, so I will need to take my time.

8 May 2016. I took my time and finally came up with a driftwood salt and pepper holder made by my sister, a silver spoon and, as a contrast in material and colour my son’s plastic egg cup. I am not too pleased with my choice, because it will not tell a story beyond “waiting for my boiled egg to arrive”, but this is an exercise and I will concentrate on improving my technique to leave the message for Assignment 2.
Bearing in mind the beautiful choice of background by N.C. Wyeth, I used a dark grey wooden board to serve as wall and a piece of dark brown paper taken from a Nespresso bag to cover the table (Fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Objects chosen for this exercise (setup discarded later because of weak shadows und unfavourable distribution of darkest tones)

With this arrangement, my viewfinder and a desktop daylight lamp I experimented until negative spaces, distribution of colours, shadows and highlights looked satisfactory to me. In fact the latter did not come true, but after a day I made up my mind to go for the setup which in my opinion came closest to the requirements. For my sketches I used three different ink pens, a fineliner, a calligraphy pen for the darkest tones and a brush-tip one for the mid tones. The latter unfortunately started to run out of ink and so the last, and most interesting, of the following sketches is lighter in tone than I would have liked it to be (Fig. 3-5).

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Figure 3
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Figure 4
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Figure 5

The above sketch I recreated in my sketchbook at a slightly larger scale with a dark watercolour background and soft pastel crayons, a combination which produced some very beautiful effects (Fig. 6):

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Figure 6. Watercolour and pastel sketch emphasizing darest and lightest tonal values

With this sketch to work from I decided to choose an A2 painting carton, portrait format and a coloured background. Report to follow.

References:

Daily Paintworks (n.d.) Cathleen Rehfeld [online]. Daily Paintworks. Available at: http://www.dailypaintworks.com/Artists/cathleen-rehfeld-206 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1919) Still Life with Pitcher and Apples [oil on canvas] [online]. Musée National Picasso, Paris. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-14/picasso27s-still-life-with-pitcher-and-apples2c-1919/3664892 [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Picasso, P. (1943) Still Life with Skull and Pot [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-1594.php [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Rehfeld, C. (2016-17) Cathleen Rehfeld Oil Paintings [blog] [online]. Cathleen Rehfeld. Available at: http://crehfeld.blogspot.co.at/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

Schiele, E. (1916) Old Mill [oil on canvas] [online]. Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum, Wien. Available at: http://www.malerei-meisterwerke.de/bilder/egon-schiele-alte-muehle-08818.html [Accessed 26 February 2017]

Wyeth, N.C. (1922) Still Life with Bowl, Onions and Bottle [oil on canvas][online]. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford. Available at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eoskins/5598698301/ [Accessed 3 May 2016]

 

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) …