4 May 2017. Considering the amount of work required for the first two exercises in this part of the course the present one looked so straightforward that I was worried about probably having overlooked an essential instruction. But no, it was no more than three 1 minute A4 or A3 overlapping drawings, with paint, of five of my found images (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 41). I chose images with as much distint content as possible. One giant demolition project next to my son’s school, paragliders over a mountain top, a spirit level used when building in our front garden, a student jawning and pink-orange buildings photographed when on holiday in Curaçao a few years ago. I painted on A3 high quality watercolour paper with my Schmincke watercolours, selecting the respective dominant hue to paint with. This is the result (Fig. 1):
Figure 1. Three watercolour drawings of five overlapping found images
What I learned from the exercise was the following:
As expected each repetition made me more familiar with the main structural element of each photo, so I was able to place the focus increasingly on those elements I thought essential.
The result here is highly dynamic. Althought the photos had nothing in common initially, the identical style of painting resulted in a believable whole.
The overlapping elements, at least in this case, seem to create a transparent three-dimensional space, which I like to investigate. On a completely different level they exert a similar influence on me as M.C. Escher’s world-famous impossible buildings.
A series like this looks interesting because it is a series. It seems to be a human characteristic to want to compare and contrast. My eyes keep wandering between the paintings to see where they differ.
This kind of start to a project may help to set the scene, investigate a subject in a playful way and draw inspiration from.
Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.
19 April 2017. This time I was determined to do my research in a way to allow me to directly focus on and take into my own work the work done by artists to be researched (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 36)
2 May 2017. The research mentioned above lies now behind me and it proved to be a very rich source of inspiration (Lacher-Bryk, 2017).
This exercise required us to prepare 10 postcard-sized backgrounds, 5 black and 5 white, acrylic on good quality watercolour paper. On these we were to paint one or more found images, a set of two each (black on white and inverted) (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 39). Other than with the first exercise I decided not to stay with only one subject, but chose five different ones. These are the results:
3 May 2017. The first pair of paintings I made of one of the famous marble dwarves in one of the parks in Salzburg (Fig. 1). I have done quite a bit of realistic painting before and did not take me too long to do despite the detail. As always with paintings this size the tooth of the watercolour paper had a strong influence on the precision of the outlines painted, more so, interestingly, in the black painting on white than the other way round. I prefer the white on black by far, also because the white pigment has a tendency to accumulate near wet/dry boundaries, an effect which I find really attractive. I am not yet able to apply this consistently, but boots and legs worked quite well:
Another pair of postcard paintings was dedicated to the lovely raven, which has taken to visiting the nearby university campus to convince, using its beak if necessary, the students sitting in the sun that sharing their lunch was unavoidable. It will even search your pockets if the sharing is not started immediately (Fig. 2).
A few months ago a former colleague of mine had posted on Facebook Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven”. The tragic contents of the poem has nothing to do with the scene I wanted to paint, but it made me remember the nice technique of image transfer using acrylic medium and decided that I would have a verse of that poem cross the raven’s body. I am no expert at transferring images, so this did not come out too beautiful, but in combination with the loose painting it looks interesting, especially in the black ink on white version. The second attempt was made with black ink on a black background. The poem was hardly visible after I had finished with it, but the ink left a most wonderful metallic sheen wherever it touched the acrylic background. Unfortunately this is difficult to see in my scan, but the effect is so attractive that I want to use it more widely.
Next came a painful memory my husband has of staying in Berlin for a week with his school group in the most horrendous youth hostel. They had merely checked in when they decided, in rare unanimity, that they wanted nothing more than go home (Fig. 3). I therefore made two desperate postcards, one in Jasper Joffe style in grey acrylic on white, the other in slick while dilute paint. Both results are not what I hoped them to be, but I was happy to see that I am beginning to connect to the research I do, to choose techniques and styles from a growing pool:
My fourth set comes from a series of photos we had taken shortly after sunset last December after having visited a Christmas market (Fig. 4). At first I had wanted to make a white gouache on white acrylic painting, but there was absolutely nothing to see on this piece of paper. So I went over it with some grey acrylic. Not surprisingly the inverted painting with white acrylic on black went far better, I also prefer the weird atmosphere produced as cars, trees and people seem to be illuminated by a ghostly light of full moonlight quality:
Finally, which has become my favourite pair, one of the nosy jackdaws up on mount Untersberg (Fig. 5). For the first painting I decided that I would make it a negative space composition. Again, this time using white gouache, the pigment tended to settle near the edges of the wet area and by coincidence it was just in the right places. The effect looks like the corona you see during a total solar eclipse. The second painting was made on dry white acrylic covered in a liberal layer of gloss varnish, on which I poured grey guache and allowed it to become semi-dry. On this slippy surface I produced my painting in darker grey. The paint will not stay in one place after the first application, but the paintbrush will produce grooves in the layer, which then dictate the behaviour of the paint. With more experience this combination might allow me to produce very attractive structural effects. Also something to remember!
I am beginning to get the hang of making these small experimental paintings and not too early, too. As I lost more than a month at the beginning of UPM for having to correct all my references in Practice of Painting, and another several weeks for various hospital and other reasons, I will have to keep working high speed to make it to my Assignment 1 deadline on May 31st. Which may be a good thing, because my work usually tends to improve when under pressure :o).
1 May 2017. Here comes a series of work done as part of the research point introducing Part 1 of the course. The theoretical work and selection of painters to examine is found in my previous post (Lacher-Bryk, 2017).
I was interested in finding out more about her technique of composition and was intrigued by the two paintings “Stubborn Tree Spirit” (printout in Fig. 1 below) and “Snow” (printout in Fig. 2 below). The former appears to enclose a very gentle but strong kind of living energy between the trees providing a scaffolding. The energy radiates from the tree spirit to the trees and back, because the dark backs of the trees suggest nighttime. Beautiful choice of colour. I believe that oils would be a much better choice to produce such detailed paintings because of their long drying time. It was very difficult to preserve the right amount of moisture in my acrylics. Will have to trey out oils soon.
Despite a similar style and feeling of a very much alive and aware plantlife, “Snow” has a completely different distribution of energy. All of it pulls away from the centre. The wind literally sucks the air from the background and both persons and trees in the foreground appear to need all their strength to resist the pull. The fence to the left and right of the path increases this directional impression. Interestingly, the young tree and person along the righthand fence seem completely unimpressed. Maybe I am overinterpreting or there is a deeper meaning to this. Again I feel that I will need to put oils on my list.
Brian Alfred’s approach remains quite alien to me. The composition of bridge and moon (Fig. 3, left, below) is fascinating because of the chosen view and colour, but I would rather let a computer produce a painting like that. It is very sterile, lacking any coincidental effects. This is why I tried to reproduce it using an acrylic background and dilute black and white ink. I quite liked how the black ink was repelled by the acrylic paint in some places but not others, and how it was possible to modulate this repulsion by rereatedly going over the places. I think that after a while the acrylic layer becomes more porous and allows some of the ink through. What I think I will never want to do is slick portraiture. While I appreciate that it is not easy to maintain a likeness while reducing the facial characteristics to an absolute minimum, this reduction takes away a personality, which is what I want to investigate in the first place. It was thus very difficult to remain interested in the portrait I tried to do here (Fig. 3, bottom right) .
I am very much attracted by the sensitivity and subtle humour in Thompson’s paintings. Her series of caves are produced by a superficially very simple technique, which, using the best available flat paintbrushes and very carefully prepared sets of paint, must be a great joy to use. My own first attempt was very rough, but I would very much like to come back to this technique and see what else I can do with it (Fig. 4 below).
I was very happy to find an extension to the above technique, applied to an ape’s face. This painting looks to attractive to me, because Thompson was keenly aware of the possibilities her technique opened up regarding the translation of the characteristic facial structures present in a ape. What a beautiful idea and great observational skills to be able to produce the painting below (Fig. 5). My own attempt was quite crude as I tried to think of a suitable animal face quickly. The snake’s head I produced with a single brushstroke, which was a very pleasing experience, but the remaining body was less successful.
Until I had a first detailed look at Close’s work it was easy to overlook his great expertise and immense stamina when producing his famous self-protraits and portraits, especially considering his lasting severe condition. It was surprisingly difficult to get to grips with a comparison between halftone printing and the black and white technique Close devised for himself. Only after a while, a few failed attempts and with more patience than the tiny squares below would suggest I started enjoying the technique and its meditative qualities (Fig. 6).
Ever since I had first seen Close’s intriguing portraits I had wanted to find out more about the background to them. It took me hours including a number of misplaced squares and difficulties mixing the correct tonal values, but I still have not grasped the whole system. Some of Close’s squares go from darker to lighter hues, others from light to dark, some have them mixed and not two are alike, even if they have exactly the same function in the same part of the face. Some squares appear to have been painted over, some are rectangles of varying lengths to accomodate features requiring a line, e.g. creases eyelids, shadowed parts, and quite a few have unique features added. But overall, when stepping back from it, the system of squares collapses into an unbelievably accurate, wonderfully sensitive portrait (Fig. 7). Quite envious.
Gardner’s watercolour skills are great to see and quite impossible to copy. I had several attempts at imitating the patterns of light and shadow on the background dune in this wonderful runner in the desert (Fig. 8), but I gave up in the end. I have relatively good watercolour skills, but I have never tried to copy a watercolour painting before. So, at times one needs to be grateful to see how others combine skill, expertise and a little bit of coincidence to create something unique. What better thing is there in the world than something that cannot be copied, by me at least? ;o)
Another painting by Gardner which I decided not to copy, but for completely different reasons. The compositional background in “Brian in Bed” (Fig. 9 below) looks intriguing to me, because most of it appears to be made up of triangles. So I tried to first make a pencil sketch dividing up his painting into triangles where possible. Next I covered the paper with gloss medium, then I tried to turn the realistic painting into a cubist one, or such like. First of all I was immensely happy to realise that I seem to have found a way to imitate the surface of the paper Egon Schiele used for his famous gouache sketches, then I was relatively pleased with the overall outcome, composition and colour distribution.
I like Toirac’s loose style of painting a lot. It is something that is not too difficult for me to imitate. Pictures I often choose for the energy they radiate or redistribute inside the story they tell. “Con Fidel” in Fig. 1o below is a great example for such a painting. Superficially it is extremely simple in composition, but the position of the two people tells a whole story. Even with his back turned towards the observer, it it immediately clear that Castro is the boss, I don not even need to see his hand touching his opponent’s breast. I am fascinated at how the relative position of and communication between some eyebrows immediately establishes a hierarchy. My faint watercolour sketch of the scene below is something I am quite pleased with.
Intriguing to see was what looks like a gold-plated triptych of Castro, again with back turned towards the observer, holding a speech. Again no mistake can be made as to who is in command of the situation, which extend far beyond, or better below, the lectern (Fig. 11). I have had a box of metal leaf in my painting cupboard for literally decades now and I thought that the time had come at last for it to be tried out. It requires to put a thin layer of gilder’s milk on the surface to be gilded. This layer becomes sticky after a while, when the metal leaf can be distributed on the surface and carefully pressed and smoothed down with a piece of cotton cloth. It was surprisingly straightforward to use on paper and looked quite impressive. I then divided the area into six sections, each of which received a coating of dilute paint (top row: black ink, turquoise watercolour, violet watercolour; bottom row: brown antique ink, none, white ink). Each section I then subdivided again and covered one half of each with gloss medium. When dry I drew on this with a medium size ink pen. It is difficult to see the beautiful metal sheen in the scanned image below, but this is definitely something I will want to learn more about..
I had been looking forward a lot to testing whether I might be able to have a glimpse behind Doig’s unique and curious mix of painting techniques characteristic of “White Canoe” (Fig. 12). There was a lot of guesswork regarding the background and I was not quite sure about the sequence and number of layers. After having laid down the first rough scaffold provided by the larger trees it was surprisingly easy to find my way through the different patches of painting and to increasingly refine the individual areas. Since, however, the original paintings is more than 2 metres in size, I was only able to reproduce a very superficial and low resolution copy of the incredibly rich original landscape. Since I had anticipated that I would not be able to get anywhere close Doig’s composition I was pleasantly surprised at the result. I know that I am not (yet) able to place colour with such sleepwalking confidence in any painting of my own, but it feels great to learn how to think in these terms.
I had not come across Richter before and was interested in trying to compare his approach with that of Doig. Both use different layers of a multitude of painting techniques in their compositions, which makes them dense and laden with energy. Instead of copying a part of his painting “Trevelfast” (Fig. 13), I decided that I would try and extend the bottom part of the painting somewhat- I noticed immediately that Richter uses a completely different painting technique. It is more playful, diffuse and mysterious. It feels more natural to me than Doig’s style for some reason I cannot understand yet, because I had always assumed the contrary. Maybe painting with dilute paint comes with greater ease to me because of the experience gained over two decades, while the deliberate application of undiluted paint is something I only started seriously a few years ago.
2 May 2017. Watching Cecily brown explain her work in a wonderful interview (see Lacher-Bryk, 2017) I felt less intimidated by her choice of subject. By nature I tend to shy away from excesses, but with her own approach in mind I went ahead with creating my very own miniature version of “High Society” (Fig. 14). A great coincidence helped me plan the painting. I had already done my practical research on Jasper Joffe (for report see further down in this post) and had managed to forget the absorptive qualities of my sketchbook paper. The dilute paint soaked through to the other side and even further. It required only a glimpse to see that the pattern would allow me to produce a very loose and lively sketch of what I think might be part of an orgy, i.e. assorted naked bodies, a selection of fruit and other delicacies as well as a satyr. It was great fun to do and each line produced raised further associations, so I could have gone on and on.
With this sketch in place it was relatively straightforward to translate this into acrylic paint. My selection of colour is not perfect and the execution on a 12 x 10 cm square comparatively rough, but overall I was surprised that I had been able to paint in such a way at all (Fig. 15). I followed my intuition, but was also aware that while I painted a continuous stream of associations pulled me along. This was, I believe, the first time I was able to consciously see for myself how previous drawing and painting training can influence informed decision-making. A wonderful experience!
Although Joffe and his “messy” style of painting (Fig. 16) are not what I would readily adopt for my own, I am grateful to him for two reasons, first for providing me with a great background for starting a Cecily Brown painting (see section immediately above), and also for showing me how, from nothing to start with, a story may develop given an open mind and no set goal. It was incredibly easy to play with patterns, colour and writing and the little square I managed to produce (colours not totally convincing) also contains a personal story. I am not sure yet what I will be able to learn eventually from this experience, but I know that it is tremendously liberating. I need to remind myself to come back and do more of the kind.
Although I had feared to tackle this kind of research at first, I think that this was by far the most enjoyable and rewarding exercise I have done since starting out with the OCA more than two years ago. I just hope that I will be able to reserve a firm place for this kind of experience in my mind and heart as I tend to fall back into old habits easily, especially as I have very little opportunity to meet and share experiences with fellow students.