6 September 2017. My tutor suggested I have a look at a set within Allen McCollum’s (*1944, USA) famous surrogate paintings, basically empty frames painted in vivid colours and lined up in rows along a wall (McCollum, n.d.). Despite the connection my tutor tied (“where absence and shadow can speak volumes”), I was not attracted. The frames look rough, their colours haphazard. Looking at them again during a quiet minute they reminded me distantly of the multitude of doors leading to the childrens’ bedrooms in the great film “Monster Inc.”. In contrast to McCollum’s frames I find a real purpose to the doors besides serving as symbols for individual lives. Of course I can fill the absences in McCollum’s frames with whatever (shadows) I like, but this I can do with everything that is empty around me, so I do not really need the frames.
McCollum not only works with sets of blank frames, but also with multiples (similar but not the same) of drawings, sculptures or even collections of natural objects such as fulgurite tubes (glass lined hollow tubes formed where lightning strikes sand), which I was not happy to see either. I am having difficulties again with the lining up of multiples of objects into grids and rows, no matter how sophisticated the connection with some important human issue such as a discussion of the mass-produced versus individualized, the issue of a painting being an object representing itself and such like, in the late 20th century (ARTCenterMFA, 2015). At the risk of outing myself, again, as a philistine, the addressed issues feel vastly insubstantial to me in the face of the enormousness of the universe and the mystery of life. The produced objects are sometimes attractive, more often nice to look at, but this is where my interest ends somehow. I believe that most repetitive patterns look attractive to the human mind because they are aesthetically pleasing, but this does not automatically make them qualify as works of art. Is this the same sort of decoration my tutor saw in the first stages of my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017)? I am probably not the best person to judge here, because to me the umbrella is a multidimensional analysis of a highly personal legacy. However, I will be taking my own experience with McCollum’s work as a warning to myself, so that I do not wander, starry-eyed, into the same trap.
ARTCenterMFA (2015) Allan McCollum, Graduate Seminar 2/3/2015 [online]. Department of Graduate Art at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Available from: https://vimeo.com/118767506 [Accessed 6 September 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]
McCollum, A. (n.d.) Allan McCollum [online]. Allan McCollum, New York. Available from: http://allanmccollum.net/allanmcnyc/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]
For my tutor: I am very happy to be your student. What follows is nothing personal, but what I guess may be a general communication issue between the OCA and its student(s). I noticed and mentioned some of that in earlier courses also.
When I wrote my feedback reflection for Part 1 of UPM, I did so immediately after the video tutorial to then supplement it by the summary provided by my tutor in written form. I noticed weird discrepancies between study guide instructions, the oral and the written content of my tutor feedback. As this repeated itself for Part 2, I decided to pay particular attention and compare the things said and written. I found it very difficult to make this blog post a “compare and contrast” exercise, because my observations are virtually impossible to separate into isolated entities. Still I hope to have described my issues clearly enough to allow them to be discussed in depth and hopefully solved, because far too much of my limited study time is still going into making sense of what is expected of me.
Video tutorials with my UPM tutor I perceive as very lively and encouraging conversations. After about 4 or 5 video talks so far over the course of my OCA studies I believe, however, that despite the great advantages of immediate feedback and getting to know my tutor personally there are severe limitations to video communication for a number of reasons. A lot of information needs to be passed in what I feel is far too little time via a sometimes poor skype connection. I find myself unable to ask relevant questions during the tutorial, because I can only pinpoint inconsistencies I feel during the talk after having digested the more complex subjects covered. The above issue is made more difficult by receiving follow-up written summaries which I think sometimes are not completely in line with the oral information. This effect does not concern all of the advice given, but mostly affects my tutors’ remarks regarding the intentions behind my work.
I have to admit that trying to make sense of both confuses me. Therefore I will probably not go for a video tutorial next time but for a written-only statement. The latter I experienced, in Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting, as clear analyses of all the submitted pieces as compared to the more general overview provided by combined video/written feedback. For many of the reasons stated above I also decided that I will need to contact my tutor at shorter intervals while working on the exercises.
The main discrepancies I stumbled upon in this case were the following:
study guide instructions and tutor comments on respective work:
I cannot help the impression that often tutor and study guide may be at odds.
Written tutor comment on photographic collections: “tension between your work from working with unpredictable diluted paints and the ordering of your objects” and “you have thought about the arrangement of them in grids and boxes”
This combination was owed both to my tutor’s previous suggestion to keep working with inks and to the prescribed preliminary research on artists working with and presenting collections – they all came in grids and boxes. I even wrote a note in my sketchbook stating that I do not like to work in grids for several reasons.
Written tutor comment on exercise 2.1: “continuing with the ordering of objects, your work is showing your interests of regularity and design- does this emulate your life style?” and “However avoid twee subjects like the teddy bear and necklace, as it does not match the inventiveness of the affects.”
I do not embrace regularity, neither in my life nor in my work (although we as a family are going through a very long-term challenging period and sometimes I would wish for a little more peace and quiet). I experience myself as excessively inquisitive with spontaneous interest in everything and I will order my work only because it is expected from me. If I do so, however, my scientist’s training will probably create an impression of wanting to bring “a field of ideas into fenced areas”. I believe that fences hinder development, both at the personal level and in society as a whole.
Both teddy bear and necklace were parts of collections of household items the study guide instructed us to produce. I mentioned in both sketchbook and blog that I did not like any of the two choices and would never think of working with them on my own. However, I was happy with the quick palette knife caramel study of my teddy bear, which made him look fierce and aggressive (I like playing with contradictory elements, also in my work as political caricaturist). As I recorded in my sketchbook, after further experimenting the caramel painting exists only as a photo now.
Written tutor comment on exercise 2.2: “Your sources are wide ranging to start this project. Sometimes less is more.”
We were required to select several from a long list of sources and use these to experiment. I did exactly what was required in the study guide. On the other hand, in the video tutorial, my tutor asked me to continue doing what I like best and experiment to the full.
Written tutor comment on exercise 2.3: “Do you like to collect? You work with multiples and more than one object.”
No, I don’t like to collect, but this is what we were supposed to do, it is the basis for all of the work required in Part 2.
Written comment on assignment: “your panels started off by being too decorative and literal”.
I don’t understand this, because at the outset I had no plan that I would create fields and many of my finished scenes travel into the next panel on the umbrella. The scenes themselves, evolving from a very quickly produced background of roughly mixed acrylic paint, were purely intuitive (e.g. “I want to address anxiety, can my inner eye see something in the swirls of colour that might transport this emotion?”). I never even thought of a literal translation, let alone decoration. The way I chose for creating the persons acting on the panels I felt to be extremely rough, both in testing them on my printouts (without which I would have been unable to see the patterns in the original) and the nylon support of the umbrella.
I was surprised that my tutor called the use of an umbrella “clichéd” and then added “However, if the umbrella is intentional …”. I explained the background to my – of course intentional – choice of an umbrella as my support widely in my blog. Besides that, at level one I firmly believe that I should not be overly concerned about clichés really, in the same line as my tutor’s suggested not to worry about a personal voice at this level.
My tutor emphasizes the necessity to show continuity, e.g. by returning to the same materials (“Be careful you are not starting again in each assignment”, “It is easy to forget what you have already done without celebrating the successes. I think this is why you can be a little frightened each time- because you feel you are starting again.”).
While I will very happily celebrate what I think was successful, I think that either it is me misinterpreting or the study guide failing to explain clearly. I still do not understand how we are supposed to show continuous development throughout the course, because parts/exercises read very differently regarding the required outcome: e.g. “curating” and painting collections of household items in Part 2 and learning how to make monoprint portraits in Part 3. For me these two have very little in common and I am not sure yet how I am to combine study guide requirements and tutor suggestions.
In her pointers for the next assignment my tutor suggests that I need to make my results more sophisticated by thinking about a coating for my results. This I thought odd, since I had added protection wherever I thought a piece finished. Some of them, as e.g. the aluminium cans, I have left unsealed so far, but only because I want to keep the option of working on them again at a later point (this I mentioned in my blog). The suggestion by my tutor also confuses me, because in her feedback on Part 1 she mentioned that I must not worry about leaving things unfinished.
analysis of development:
In the video tutorial I received the impression of a considerable step forward. The written feedback, which arrived a day later, was far less enthusiastic in that respect. It contains the remarks “There has been a change in direction” and “Previously- you worked with shadows, monochromatic applications, atmospheric work and looking at shadows as traces, footstep and legacies to extend your context.” I certainly did not intend any change in direction and continued to work with shadows as planned. I expanded on my work from Part 1 in e.g. my sketchbook, set of cans, large scale drawing and Assignment 2 and continued to develop my work with shadows, traces and legacies, all of these combined in my umbrella project. My tutor however identified a change insofar as a new subject of mine appears to be “ordering the chaos”. This is not so. My interest in multiples is owed to study guide instructions, at least at the moment. The addition of mind mapping as an invaluable tool has purely organisational reasons and I am positive that I do not want to make it part of my work at this point in time.
My tutor advised me also to shift my attention from focusing on shadows as a main course theme to what has started to show in my recent work, which is the use of a large variety of unusual surfaces and painting materials, working with found objects and working with multiples, but again I only followed instructions here. A comparable experience I had in Part 1, where I believe that my tutor received the wrong impression that I had set myself the goal of painting 20 squares for assignment, as she mentioned a certain lack of inventiveness in repeating same-sized paintings.
analysis of written work:
On p. 2 of her written feedback my tutor mentions that “I say my work is unprofessional because I am repeating”. I cannot remember saying such a thing, I rather wrote that by a lack of organisation “I still find myself working intuitively, which results in “discovering” the same things over and over, which is not just annoying but highly unprofessional.”. Which is something altogether different (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). What I mean is that by having no structure in my approach to experimenting (at the time before mind mapping!), I do things again and again without realising that I am repeating myself and without making a working connection between the repeated parts. I know that the conscious and comparative repeating of techniques and subjects is absolutely essential in developing a better understanding of the respective outcomes. Mind mapping will however help me organising this part of my studies better.
I am not sure whether sometimes the way I express myself may lead to misunderstandings.
Apart from the above contradictory observations I received a number of invaluable pointers for development:
The working with multiples/grids/fields ties in with some of my earlier work, including the charcoal animations I did as part of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). My tutor suggested that I try animations again, including simple ones like spinning my umbrella and making a film of that (zoetrope effect).
make anxiety part of my work (which I already do to a large extent)
select working textures from my sketchbooks and use them at a larger scale
continue working with unusual materials such as Coca-Cola and charcoal, caramel, beetroot juice etc. as well as unusual supports
try and work on a number of different pieces simultaneously to allow switching between pieces intuitively according to the communication channels working best at the time
regarding the issue of “putting order in my chaos”:
e.g. use beetroot juice, make a mind map to set the scene, paint with a paintbrush (orderly) and then “let go” by e.g. painting with my hand only, always keep working quickly
do whatever I like best and continue experimenting to the full, putting imagination first, but now with my mind on “ordering the chaos”
Regarding the use of mind maps as means of artistic expression my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Mark Lombardi (1951-2000, USA) and the conspiracy theory surrounding his work and premature death. I did a quick search on the internet and instantly felt something familiar. Actually Lombardi’s cleverly devised mind maps, named “Narrative Structures”, remind me of some analysing tools used in evolutionary biology and ecology. Though static in appearance, his mind maps are in motion, both by the way the lines are arranged and by the way they indicate growth, and probably evolution. When doing some research on his intentions, it was not a biological background, but rather analyses of financial and political development (see e.g. Lucarelli, 2012). Although these subjects could not sound more different, they of course share similarities via emerging properties (which leads me back to an observation I made for myself when working on my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b). It would both take me too far and be at the same time be short-sighted to consider making “evolution” a new focus of my course. The whole course itself is evolution and I must not use something I cannot know, because it lies in the future, to plan continuity with.
Besides, I am extremely happy to read that my sketchbook at last starts to take shape and research as well as blog meet the requirements. These points I was really worried about, because it took me felt ages to learn the basic requirements.
Overall, in order to gain the most from my work so far, I have started to sit down with my results for Parts 1 and 2 to do a synthesis and then decide, using mind maps, in which direction I want to proceed. This aspect is one of the aha-experiences I had during our video talk. So far I saw the parts of all courses as more or less separate entities with the main goal of introducing many different options of artistic expression. Tutor and assessors will however, despite the felt enormous difference between the subjects of each part, look for a continuity in artistic development. So, in Part 3, for example, where I had thought I would need to follow instructions on how to make monotype prints, I will also be expected to include insights gained in other parts, irrespective of their superficial dissimilarity. For example, although many of my subjects are figurative, I am semi-abstract in my use of materials. In keeping doing so I will be showing the required continuity over the parts of the course. This is completely new thinking for me and I will need to approach Part 3 with care to make this aspect a working tool.
Research on artists suggested by my tutor will be posted separately.
20/21/22 August 2017. In order to gain the most from my research, I decided to get a quick overview over the artists listed in the research point on p. 66 of the course guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015), then select those with the best connection to my own work and look at these in depth.
Annie Kevans (*1972, France/UK)
My impression is that Annie Kevans’ technique of portraiture with thinned oil paint (Kevans, n.d.) on canvas always follows the same principle. Human perception is selective and Kevans appears to highlight those parts of a face, which our perception is most attracted to and can gain the most immediate appreciation of gender and mood, that is eyes and mouth. Also, the portrayed persons mostly look directly into the eye of the viewer, which is fascinating in its own right, because it is possible to stare back without breaching a social convention. Apart from the more detailed parts of a face Kevans leaves the head as a loose and rough, though highly sensitive, sketch. The paint is used in various degrees of dilution and the light brown mix used to paint the initial sketch combines the colours used in the highlights. Both result in harmony and allows the viewer to focus on the message the faces send. It should be possible to draw on her technique in my first attempts at creating a monotype self-portrait.
Here the technique of creating a monotype portrait as described in the course guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015, pp. 67-74) comes to mind. When I place a photo under my glass plate, paint that photo and make a monotype print, the result will be a mirror image of the original. This means that the likeness of the printed portrait may suffer. In case I want to use a photo I should take care to print the photo as a mirror image first, then use that as basis.
Alli Sharma (*1967, UK)
When I first saw the work by Alli Sharma at the start of this course, I did not feel too much connection except for some of her black and white oil portraits (Sharma, n.d.). Their style is quite different from that of Annie Kevans. The persons invariably look away from the artist, an approach that has been, in my opinion, used excessively by too many artists in recent years. What makes them interesting are not so much the facial features but the distribution of light and dark and the coarse brushstrokes using dilute oil paint. With some experience the latter are probably a good basis for a beginner’s series of monotype experiments.
As we are required to produce a series of self-portraits using ink, I will have a variety of brush sizes ready, including a wide flat one.
Eleanor Moreton (*1956, UK)
Again I could not find monotype work, but only the skillful application of dilute paint, which can again be used as a basis for planning my own painting work in preparation for printing. Her work reminds me of Annie Kevans. This is especially evident in her “Absent Friends” series (Moreton, 2013-14). One particularly haunting painting is “Bet/h I, 3”, an oil on canvas portrait from 2008. The portrayed person comes in the colours of a clown, but since it is so blurred I am left with an assumption. I have never been able to enjoy what clowns are and do. Their bizarre behaviour and painted grin belying the true mood of the person in the clown’s costume are enough to leave an uneasy feeling. Apart from that the technique of applying paint here may be well worth trying in monoprints.
I might try and develop my own idea of using coloured shadows in my self-portraits in that direction.
Geraldine Swayne (*1965, UK)
As with all artists I researched so far in the list I could not find any work declared monotype. Swayne specializes in miniature paintings on enamel or metal surfaces, although on Saatchi online (n.d.) some of these paintings are listed in the printmaking category (although not monotype). Superficially her portraits may look somewhat traditional, but on second glance they leave an unsettling afterglow. Swayne’s use of paint is far more prolific than in all of the above artists and the intiguing effects created with enamel paint on metal are something to remember.
Although we are advised to use oil paints for making our monotypes, I need and want to stay with my acrylics and water as well as gloss medium to dilute. For Practice of Painting I made a still life (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), where a certain degree of dilution and application to a dry layer of acrylic paint caused the paint to behave in a way similar to that of the enamels used by Swayne.
David Bomberg (1890-1957, UK)
I found some fascinating, coarsely painted portraits and self-portraits, whose weird combination of colours to depict light and shade I want to remember. My favourite among the portraits I saw was “Talmudist” (Blomberg, 1954) (Fig. 1 below).
Tracey Emin (*1963, UK)
As suggested on p. 66 of the study guide I had a look at the drawings available online from Emin’s monotype collection “One Thousand Drawings” (random images coming up in browser). To be honest, I am not too happy with what I see. The drawings look like careless scribbled notes capturing thoughts passing through the mind. It is very obvious that Emin would be far better at drawing than that, and she is not doing justice to herself here in that respect. Of course I am aware that many contemporary artists use deliberate neglect to raise attention, but I am not advanced enough at developing a reliable critical view to be able to see a further purpose behind her particular style.
This is not what I would want to test in my own monoprint series, but I may want to think about including text.
Michael Craig Martin
The most important message to take from Martin’s 1995 essay “Drawing the Line: Reappraising Drawing Past and Present” is probably the one found in an extract shown by Occasional Press on their homepage as part of advertising the book “Drawing Texts”: Martin emphasizes the observation, which is not at all surprising, that drawing as a distinct art form can only be appreciated as such in our time, when finished artworks are supposed to exhibit all that drawings have always contained, i.e. “These characteristics include spontaneity, creative speculation, experimentation, directness, simplicity, abbreviation, expressiveness, immediacy, personal vision, technical diversity, modesty of means, rawness, fragmentation, discontinuity, unfinishedness, and open endedness” (Occasional Press, n.d.).
I will try and get hold of the whole article. It will probably contain an explanation for the praise Tracey Emin receives for her drawings.
Albrecht Rissler (*1944, Germany)
He was a lecturer in one of the courses I attended at the Bad Reichenhall art academy some years ago. Rissler is a fantastic draughtsman (Rissler, n.d.) and introduced our group to a very simple monotype technique. Although it was based on drawing I still remember the great effect of having a more or less uniform dark grey background (printing ink as far as I can remember) into which Rissler drew with some added pressure on the back of the paper, while it was still on the glass plate, a little valley reminding of an ancient hollow-way.
Although I am aware that we are expected to use monotype in a much more painterly way, I might try and include drawn marks into the prints once I have acquired a certain minimum knowledge in preparing a suitable bakground.
Kim Baker (?)
I am not sure whether I found the correct Kim Baker, since there are several of them. The only one I think comes anywhere near the subject of Part 3 creates series of colourful flower “portraits” with bold brushstrokes, owls and other birds (Baker, n.d.). A few other Kim Bakers are painters in the USA, but none of them makes portraits or monotypes either. Will leave her for the moment.
Overall this research helped me to define a first idea of how to approach my monotype experiments. Again I will remain with my reduced colour palette and carry over my subject of shadows. In this respect the approach by Alli Sharma would be quite suitable for me, but I would probably try and carefully include colour in places in a way similar to Annie Kevans, but at the same time testing the unnatural, e.g. coloured shadows, and their effect on the character of the portrait (thinking of the Marilyn Monroe print series by Andy Warhol, but less gaudy and with a psychological message to the colours, if possible). I think that this way a strange series of self-portraits might emerge. On Pinterest I found a number of wonderful monotype portraits and techniques, including some brilliant ones by Edgar Degas. These I will not discuss here, because they will appear as printouts in my sketchbook and I will have a closer look at them while I work on my monotype series. Some of the above connect in a way to my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017) and might help me in planning my approach.
17 August 2017. Here is my appreciation of my development during Part 2 of Understanding Painting Media, including coursework and Assignment 2, with reference to p. 5, 42 and 60 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015):
Based on the tutor feedback I received for Assignment 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a) and an extremely fruitful mail exchange with fellow students on the subject of sketchbooks and the value of using mind maps in planning, I finally found a working solution to keep my racing mind at bay, which provides me with a constant overload of vibrant, ready-to-use virtual paintings. I had mentioned the phenomenon to my tutors on various occasions, but as I understand it now, it may be impossible to explain to anybody who does not share the experience. Another student, however, who knows the problem from her own life, was able to help. I use mind mapping now every time I start feeling overwhelmed and it has worked miracles. However, the past two and a half years with the OCA have taught me to be extremely wary about my own judgment regarding the progress I make. Whether what I do is getting closer to what may be the expected I cannot say. I will have to wait for tutor feedback for this part of the course.
Demonstration of visual skills
With reference to my introductory paragraph I can report that with the help of mind-mapping I am now in a better position to use my sketchbooks extensively and effectively to explore materials, techniques and composition. I used a number of extraordinary painting materials and media in this part of the course, including caramel colour, beetroot juice, aluminium foil and cans as well as Nori alga. I managed to explore further my course subject of shadows, both in a literal and figurative sense and built upon the experience gained during Part 1, especially regarding the use of a combination on acrylic paint, gloss medium and a selection of inks. Regarding compositional skills I no longer jump to my ready-made conclusions, but am better able to allow development to occur without a fixed outcome in mind. This was, in my opinion, the most important step made in Part 2 and relatively successful in a journey leading via exercises 2.2/2.4 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) and 2.3 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c) to my finished piece for Assignment 2 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017d). Since most of my time was devoted to developing working course sketchbooks, my everyday sketchbook has only had a few new additions, which I will post when there is more to report.
Quality of outcome
Again, with reference to the first paragraph I do not intend to make a judgment regarding a possible increase in quality, since in the past I appear to have seen my work in a completely wrong light. What I think has been relatively successful in the work just done was the development of a deeper understanding of the meaning of my shadow subject on a more personal level and the presence of a budding visual vocabulary for transporting associated messages. As I learned in exercise 2.3, however, the difference in personal experience may be large enough to make the meaning of a work of art inaccessible to viewers, resulting in a loss of interest not only in the meaning but also in the work itself. What I will need to be careful of is to avoid an emphasis on meaning at the expense of a visual experience. I think however that I did manage an acceptable balance of the two in my Assignment 2 umbrella project. I chose the umbrella as a support to emphasize my intended painted message, which provides both a relatively unusual visual experience and an easily interpreted message. Regarding a consistency in project development I am not yet sure which qualities I would need to be looking for. In my umbrella project I came up with and discarded a – by my present standards – large number of options, explained the reasons I had and tied a connection to the ideas which followed from a discarded one. Here I think the quality of documentation increased, but again I will need to get this checked by my tutor. I noticed also that to an increasing extent I am able to draw on experience gained in the past and allow it to enter the present work, not quite in as an erratic manner as in the past, but thanks to mind mapping in a somewhat more coherent manner. There is still a long way to go to allow a quality presentation, since I am not yet sure what basis of coherence the OCA may be looking for.
Demonstration of creativity
I think that my approach shows creativity, both regarding the use of materials and media new to me or the tackling of challenging subjects. Whether this is the sort of creativity the university expects to see or whether the subjects that appear challenging to me may appear so to the OCA I am unable to tell at this point. Regarding the use of imagination I think that I have learned now that my understanding of imagination is not what the OCA expect. While for me imagination is to allow the mind to run free to come up with a solution to put into practice, I believe now that the understanding as expected by the OCA is an ability to allow the coincidental to occur und to use imagination to select from that to feed inspiration. This aspect of having to look for inspiration is totally alien to me. Inspiration is constantly all around and inside me. What I need to do is to find a method of catching some of the best ideas before the tide rolls in again and deletes the precarious memory of them.
I do think, however, that mind-mapping is successful in supporting me in reducing this kind of lightning speed self-editing. The latter, which I know now, in my case does its job unnoticed while my brain offers me a flood of solutions, so that without an artificial brake I can never at all become aware of the selection going on, and so cannot provide an account of the stages of development. During the second part of Part 2 I noticed a considerable mind-map induced change in my working methods and I can only hope that my tutor will now be in a better position to follow my train of thought.
Slowly but surely I am learning to cross-reference with artists I researched either for the part/assignment, or in the past, in a more focused manner. This does not come naturally to me, because I have to keep fighting my mind superimposing a huge jumble of wildly altered information and fleeting images distorted by my own imagination. I know that for the above reason I cannot rely on my knowledge about artists as an “internal reference database” as I would have done in my work as a biologist. If I wanted cross-referencing to work perfectly in this field, I would have to think of starting a real research database. However, since I spend an extraordinary amount of time on my OCA courses already, I do not see a chance to commit myself seriously to this task for the time being. On the other hand, the setup of this course, which requires a certain amount of research to be done ahead of the practical tasks for each part, is ideal for me to get a rough idea of what kind of work may be expected. It helped me very much to finally get into the habit of doing own research before starting a project. I feel more comfortable about this aspect of the work now.
I am well aware that my examination of contemporary art, especially with respect to my own position in this world, is still in its infancy and very likely lacks a certain academic rigour. However I am confident that, given enough time, I will be able to build a reliable working knowledge for my personal context. At the same time I do notice a growing familiarity with and sometimes affinity for the work a number of artists. Among these I feel by far the greatest influence by William Kentridge, whose large exhibition on the occasion of the 2017 Salzburg festival I went to see (Lacher-Bryk, 2017e). I share to a great extent his choice of drawing and painting media as well as a strong urge to use art to promote a political opinion. Less at home I feel at the moment with those artists, whose work consists only of the developmental process. I may be alone and/or wrong with my uncomfortable feeling, but the leaving of the viewer without an idea of where the process may have led an artist reminds me of the Nothing threatening the existence of Fantasia in Michael Ende’s “The Neverending Story”. I would describe it as entering a void, because from where the artist left his story absolutely everything is possible. Coming to think of it, the latter may be a highly personal problem, which ties in again with the functioning of my brain. It will fill any void immediately with innumerable possible and impossible sequels, none of which is satisfactory, because I personally want to know the artist’s intentions. I may not share this problem with many other people, but there it is and I can only act and react on the basis of what I experience.
At the moment the main external factors influencing my development are a long-lasting series of occurrences with far-reaching effects on my family, which both strictly limit my available time for study as well as deeply affecting and constantly altering my view of the world. I am aware that this setting is probably not ideal to initiate a focused and coherent personal development. On the other hand, I can draw on a great wealth of unusual, deeply emotional experiences. If with time I succeed in finding my personal voice I am confident that there is a great deal I may be able to contribute to the contemporary discussion of a number of important societal issues.
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Assignment 1: Tutor Feedback and Reflection [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 29 June. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/assignment-1-tutor-feedback-and-reflection/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Part 2, exercise 2.2/2.4: Unusual materials: collections – large-scale line painting/painting on a painted surface [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 4 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/part-2-exercise-2-2-unusual-materials-collections-large-scale-line-painting/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 2, exercise 2.3: Unusual materials – collections: Painting on a 3D surface [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 15 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/part-2-exercise-2-3-unusual-materials-collections-painting-on-a-3d-surface/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017d) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 17 August 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017e) Study visit: Museum der Moderne Salzburg – William Kentridge [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 30 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/30/study-visit-museum-der-moderne-salzburg-william-kentridge/ [Accessed 16 August 2017]
Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.
18 July 2017. With my research on Marlene Dumas (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a) on my mind my project for Assignment 2 began to take shape. It is 10 years exactly today that the hospital made and hushed up the treatment error on our son. The aftermath is haunting us to this day. My intention is to depict the associated emotions in a series of paintings, from memory and from photos taken. The above intentions mean that I may have to deviate considerably from the instructions given on p. 60 in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015), but according to my tutor this is not only allowed but encouraged. I will need to start collecting photos and the memories I want to include in this project. I will want to research more closely the approaches of other artists working with shadows. I also want to think carefully about the supports to use.
Deciding on a subject
6 August 2017. How quickly things can change. Only days after the above I started feeling strongly that we must not have our lives darkened any longer by what has happened and is still happening. There are forces in this world which are beyond our control. However cruel and unfair this is on our small family, there is one thing we know. The people responsible for the disaster cannot destroy our happiness without us helping them. So we won’t help them any longer. This means that we will have to write off countless hours of work and mountains of Euros spent in vain, but the hope is there that our son will, despite all the difficulties arising from the various disabilities inflicted on him, be able to lead a happy and fulfilled life after all. This is something we have realized we should be immensely proud of. I also know that without some of the events that happened in the distant past of my life we would never have got as far as this.
It is a horrid learning process for us to let go of something so essential that had to fail, because we are a real life David and the hospital are a real life Goliath, but I think that I can already feel a breeze of change entering our lives. So my project for Assignment 2 reads differently now. I still want to continue my shadows project, but will want to capture those shadows from the past, which accompany and protect me and gave me the strength I have today. Since this is about protection, I want to paint an umbrella (Fig. 1). Coincidentally, umbrella comes from the Latin “umbra”, which means shadow. So it feels right to proceed in this direction. In this way I can draw on the experiences gained in all parts of the course so far and tackle something that feels challenging – as I intend to continue using the umbrella with its new design :o).
I am not sure whether I want to have portraits in my collection here, but symbols representing something like the Penates, the household gods protecting families in ancient Rome.
Testing the support
8 August 2017. Having had to leave my 2.3 can painting exercise (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) for a while to get my next steps sorted, I decided to see whether I could find some information on how to use acrylic paint on fabric. Essentially, I would need to use gloss medium (which I have already got at home and worked extensively with), requiring some heat-seting the paint after 24 hours of drying naturally (Gemma, 2014). I read in several forums that acyrlic paint would come off with ease, but I wanted to see for myself and had a go using the umbrella’s nylon sleeve as test area. Here is my very first mini test of gloss medium, acrylics straight and acrylics mixed 1:1 with gloss medium (Fig. 2).
After a few hours drying time I can say that all the above work well, none of the paint can be removed, even if I tried hard. So there was no problem on the support side of the project. The only concern iwa the ugly promotional print. I tried to remove it using nail varnish remover, spirit and white spirit. No idea what it is, but none of these worked and I definitely do not want to use anything stronger. I will just have to paint over it and/or incorporate it into the design.
Choosing my collection
I have never really spent too much time on finding the spirits that protect me. Left mostly to my own devices (which does not mean I was alone, the people surrounding me just could not help me) during many of the most challenging phases of my life I have felt that the best and often only protection is the one I can provide myself. Still I am very much aware of particular instances where an influence suddenly drifted to the surface of consciousness and I became aware of its presence. The most important of these are:
The most prominent of these was my extremely strong second grandmother, who was one of the first females in Europe who had been offered a managing position in the newly developing pharmaceutical industry and who had turned down the offer in favour of her second dream, a large family. She continued to be curious, critical and investigative throughout her life, but was hopelessly misjudged by the people around her. There are only a very few items in my possession which link back directly to her, but I will take good care to choose one. Also, I have always felt “earthed” somehow, which allows me to feel protected even under extraordinary circumstances. This feeling I want to transport in the little symbol I add to all my larger paintings, a small stone age horse.
Preparing for painting
When doing my first tests on the sleeve, I noticed that I would both need to take care not to have more than a maximum of 2 layers of paint, otherwise the whole undertaking would make for one very heavy object, and also I wanted my protective shadows to be coloured. With my tutor’s warning regarding the advantages of restricting my use of colour at the back of my head I decided that I would probably limit myself to a complemetary set replacing the black and white I tested in the previous exercises. In order to be able to judge the best combination I did some testing on the dark blue nylon fabric of my umbrella.
10 August 2017. Yesterday I was scanning a contract for my older son and since it was the wrong page I removed it while the scanner had not yet finished its work. This action produced a very interesting, agitated result. Since it tied in with my results for the line painting experiment in exercise 2.3 I produced a series of deliberate scans today. These I combined with cutouts made from a print of one of my painted cans and scanned the results again (Fig. 3, 4 and 5 below).
Figure 3. Agitated scans of a letter and a barcode
Figure 4. Negative space cutout of my can combined with different barcode prints
Figure 5. Positive space cutout of one of my cans combined with straight and agitated barcode print
These accidental effects obtained with the agitated barcode scan were quite striking, especially in combination with the black shadow person. If arranged with care I thought they might look extremely attractive on my umbrella.
I decided to continue experimenting in this direction, to include the shadow persons I used in exercise 2.3 after all, but in combination with the protective symbols I was collecting. First of all I chose an amethyst brooch my grandmother had given me when she was still alive (Fig. 6) and had a look on the internet to find out more about the esoteric (protective) powers ascribed to amethyst.
It is said to be a powerful healing stone used in dispelling anxiety, and relieving stress and such like (Haxworth, n.d.). While I want to emphasize that I am no esoteric person, I find the coincidences I keep experiencing in this respect quite astonishing. Either the brooch or the amethyst on its own will have to go into my umbrella painting, even if only as a colour. I had imagined early on that I would want a combination of orange and violet on my umbrella, so the amethyst hue would fit in perfectly with the umbrella’s dark blue.
The other symbol I wanted to include is the famous stone age horse found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany. It is said to be the oldest known sculpture of a horse and is made of mammoth ivory (Fig. 7).
Anyway, as with the other two symbols I thought that I would not want the coin in my umbrella project for what it is, but for its beautiful colour alone, if at all. Suddenly it felt less important.
Figure 8. My 5 Schilling coin
13 August 2017. As I wanted to make it more of a habit to scan and post my sketchbook pages as well I have to apologize that some visual information contained here may appear redundant until I have found a better solution. Here is an overview over my sketchbook pages developing the barcode idea (Fig. 9 – 12).
Testing backgrounds and layering for my umbrella
Since I intended to apply layers to my painting again, I started with some preliminary investigation on the possible effects and interactions of the paints and inks I wanted to use. To this end I printed a photo of my umbrella seversal times and used it as a template for the following experiments. The first of these I used to test how my initial idea might work, including the following layers:
background resembling surface structure and colour pattern of my ivory horse
adding barcode pattern from printed distorted version, in white ink
on top of that shadow figures from previous exercise
a “protective” layer the amethyst colour
maybe the 5 Schilling coin somewhere
The result of this experiment is summarized in Fig. 13 below.
Figure 13. Sketchbook – top left to bottom right: testing the initial layering idea
From the above I learned a number of important lessons, first of all that not everything that looks intriguing in my imagination turns out to be so great in reality. It is either my imagination, which cuts and pastes, or else a lack of skill to translate the idea into a working painting. Especially there seems to be a conflict between the barcode pattern and the superimposed shadow figures. Their relative weight needs to be better balanced. Also, the layer of violet, even though it was diluted with gloss medium, was far too prominent and drowns what is underneath. The experiment is summarized in my sketchbook (Fig. 14).
Figure 14. Sketchbook – first attempt at creating the intended layers
14 August 2017. In order to reset my mind, I did some research on the painting of demonic forces by contemporary artists. Many of these correspond to a cliché including skeletal hands and skulls, flowing gowns and a marshland setting. Some, on the other hand, transport the presence of demonic forces by tonal variation only as in “Flying Demon” (Fig. 15), painted by Mikhail Vrubel in 1899 or by applying symbols such as the raven (Fig. 16) or, even more closely, “I need a guide” by US painter and printer Alessandra Hogan (Fig. 17). All the latter corresponded better to the kind of language I intended to examine.
I then continued to explore options for craeting a background resemling the ivory horse. I placed a rough mix of different colours in a tray, dipped my umbrella templates into them (Fig. 18), then spread the paint with a roller. After testing four different mixes (Fig. 17, top and Fig. 19), I decided on the lightest and used the roller to paint the background layer on the real umbrella (Fig. 20).
When trying out a few more paint mixes on my umbrella sleeve I found that white ink will come off the fabric, while acrylics and gloss medium appear resistant to wear (Fig. 20).
After this test I decided that the whole umbrella painting would have to be acrylics and gloss medium and quickly painted the background with the third mix from Fig. 19 (Fig. 21 and 22). Due to the dark colour of the fabric the finished background layer came out much more varied than on the template and resembled even more the ivory horse. The dark patches together with the folds and creases in the fabric came alive immediately and I started seeing human shapes in them.
Experimenting with the subject layer
The above discovery made me change my mind regarding my approach to depicting demons. In order to see whether I would make the right decision, I tested my barcode and silhouette idea on an umbrella template with the finished background (Fig. 23).
While doing it I realized that I had not taken into account that no viewer would see the umbrella from above unless I placed it on a wall. The barcodes viewed from the side look more like a conventional stripey pattern, while the silhouettes would suffer from both mild and massive foreshortening depending on their position on the curved shape of the umbrella. I discarded this approach.
Instead I continued my original research on demons and finding a way to “catch” them in the dark patterns on the umbrella (Fig. 24 and 25).
While I felt uncomfortable with the illustrative approaches taken by the artists in Fig. 24, I found the wonderfully carefree brushmarks in Fig. 25 very appealing and open to interpretation. In order to see whether I could start investigating whether my background pattern would allow a similar approach, I printed the facing part of one of the umbrella’s segments and tried to allow imagination to create a demonic scenery. What came out of this experiment reminded me somewhat of a stone age hunting scene and caused an immediate association with forces shattering my self-esteem as a child (Fig. 26).
Seeing this crude result I realized that in order to make the most of the idea I would need to sit down and plan a structured approach. To initiate this process I printed all of the facing fields of my umbrella and put them together as they would appear on the umbrella. Straight away this reminded me, again, of William Kentridge’s processions. After some reflection I sorted the issues to be addressed (as listed in Fig. 14, left) in a sequence I felt to be correct, then tried to see scenes corresponding to each subject. It was a wonderfully intense and creative experience, which gave me a profound headache (Fig. 27 and 28).
As the above exercise had worked so well, I decided that I would have to start sketching in the scenes on the umbrella very soon in order not to lose the emotional charge. I used willow charcoal, which worked well on this background, allowing me to correct marks I felt were wrong or awkward. I did not, however, overcorrect, since I wanted the drawings to develop in a dialogue with the background patterns (example of the result see Fig. 29). On this occasion I could appreciate, for the first time, the immense importance to prepare well for a task like this. On the real umbrella I noticed that I would not have seen the emerging patterns with the same ease, as both the fabric and acrylic paint are slightly shiny, changing their appearance depending on the angle of light, and I had to keep referring back to my sketches.
Interestingly, not many of the fields now contain demons at all. In most instances I found it sufficient to place the acting persons in a particular spatial relationship to feel the associated emotion emerge. We’ll see whether other persons, when looking at the finished work, will be able to feel the same or something close to my original emotion.
After completing the sequence of sketches I printed all of them and then experimented with the addition of a silhouette effect. I was not sure whether I wanted the persons to be the silhouettes or the negative space surrounding them. I knew that I would have to proceed with great care, feeling my way round the scene. What I also wanted to try out was the emotionaly charged mark-making by Dominik Schmidt (Fig. 25 above) I found so attractive as well as the addiction of the dilute amethyst layer. The original print (company name and logo) started to shine through after the background layer had dried, but rather than paint over it I decided to include the triangular logo into the message in each of the relevant fields.
17 August 2017. So, in order to pace myself again, I made another mind map exploring the options I thought adequate to allow the project to develop within the brackets of my general subject of shadows (Fig. 30).
I came up with four general directions, which I then tested on printed versions of the charcoal sketches on my umbrella.
When I first tested the painting of my sketched figures with a dilute mix of umbra, Peynes grey and dark green, I immediately saw that the lovely dark patches, which provide the essence of volume in the persons, would be completely lost. So, while I had to leave the original idea of a silhouette painting, I was more interested in not destroying this unexpected structural characteristic (emergent property, so to speak). So I tested my mix of paint to define stronger the negative space around the figures, including the addition of some more fine detail (Fig. 31).
Next I tested the same in the next field plus adding some of the paint mix plus some white acrylic to create more volume on the figures (Fig. 32).
The above was my favourite on the printed paper, but I quickly saw that together with the white the amethyst layer would create a pinkish mess, which I wanted to avoid. Third came an attempt at the quick brushmark painting method I had seen by Dominik Schmidt (Fig. 33).
Some of the effects in Fig. 33 may deserve pursuing further, especially e.g. as found in the second figure from the left. The acrylic and/or water reacted with the printing ink to produce a separation of components into light and dark. If placed with care the greenish edges help to create volume and an additional aestetic quality. This effect, however, would not be achievable on the fabric of the umbrella. Apart from that I soon realized that this kind of quick painting of movement would destroy the impression of shadows. Besides it needs a lot more practice in order to produce believable results. So I postponed the exploration of this option until further notice.
The last of my options was to quickly draw on and around my figures with different types of ink pen to compare with the result achieved with a paintbrush (Fig. 34).
I had to reject this option for the same two reasons as in the paintbrush drawing, i.e. lacking the skill in creating exciting variations in density while maintaining the storyline and unsuitability of the technique for the whole set of scenes.
After some indecision I settled for option 1. Due to colour translation inaccuracies between scanner, computer and printer the printed version of my charcoal sketches had a very attractive blue-green hue, which the original background on the umbrella lacked. I therefore changed my dilute dark mix to contain more green than it had contained before and applied it carefully. Unlike on the printed version the real charcoal marks were of course prone to extinction and I took my time to decide where to allow the marks to dissolve and where I wanted to keep them. This procedure I repeated twice, because the edges left by the drying paint increased the impression of an ancient surface while I also wanted the unavoidable differences in hue between the first field painted and the last to be as small as possible. An example of the result achieved at this stage is found in Fig. 35 below.
The result looked a lot more like the printed tests, but despite the care some of the charcoal had become subdued. I then went over the dried acrylic again with my willow charcoal stick to selectively strengthen some of the marks. When I was satisfied with the result I tested on my umbrella sleeve whether the charcoal would resist being painted over with a highly dilute mix of gloss medium and amethyst colour acrylic. I noticed that some of it would become subdued again, but I assumed the strength to be large enough to provide some resistance. I went round my umbrella with my gloss medium finishing mix with great care and achieved a satisfactory result. The amethyst hue helped to highlight some of the reddish patches in the original backgouond layer, which caused a tiny but lovely glow effect. Some of the charcoal was removed by painting over, but since the final goal was to produce a ghostly effect I stopped the work here (Fig. 36, 37 and slide show in Fig. 38).
It proved somewhat difficult to take good photos of the finished umbrella. The finishing layer reflects some light while the paintings themselves appear subdued when photographed in bright light. I therefore had to place the umbrella in a darkish corner and experiment.
Figure 38. Slide show – going round the umbrella (8 images)
Overall I was pleasantly surprised at the intensity of the journey from exercise 2.2 onwards and the new experience of a more structured method of working at developing a project. I no longer held onto my original idea as I used to, but finally managed to allow some sort of creative flow to happen. Before I had always feared that I would not be able to control such a flow, but mind mapping proved to be an ideal technique to pace and guide me through the experience. The resulting painting on the umbrella might serve as the starting point to a larger project or series of paintings within the subject of collections. Although I expect that the visibile outward change is not exceedingly large, I feel more at home now with the working methods we are expected to learn.
I think that the techniques I discovered for myself in this experiment may have the potential to develop further. They will require some adaptation, especially regarding the preservation of charcoal drawings, and refinement of the application of paint, but I am looking forward to carrying the experience over to Part 3 and beyond.
Self-assessment for Part 2 and Assignment 2 will be posted separately.
Lacher-Bryk (2017a) Artist research: Marlene Dumas [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 15 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/artist-research-marlene-dumas/ [Accessed 18 July 2017]
Lacher-Bryk (2017b) Part 2, exercise 2.3: Unusual materials – collections: Painting on a 3D surface [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 15 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/part-2-exercise-2-3-unusual-materials-collections-painting-on-a-3d-surface/ [Accessed 8 August 2017]