Part 1, exercise 1.4: Look at what you see – not what you imagine

4 May 2017. The last exercise in the first part of the course, another relaxed but highly rewarding and playful approach to learning something essential. On A4 or A3 paper we were to paint one 10-minute and one 20-minute copy of a found image put upside down, in order to practice close observation, avoiding the painting of what we think there is (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 41). Since the instructions were not restrictive regarding the quality of paint used, especially the degree of dilution, which was a must for the first three exercises, I decided to use gouache, which I would rarely choose these days, and take the liberty to add undiluted paint as well. I chose a photo we took at a fun fair, because in addition to exercise requirements it also looked a lot more dynamic when turned upside down:

Figure 1. 10-minute painted sketch of a found image turned upside down, gouache on A3 watercolour paper primed with gloss medium
Figure 2. 20-minute sketch of the same

I noticed that if 20 minutes was not a lot, 10 minutes was next to nothing timewise. Decisions what to include and what to omit I took on the spot and found at the end that I might have chosen a different focus. What is interesting to see in the finished sketches, is that the areas left white due to lack of time might have been left intentionally also, so are not all that badly placed. Turning the paintings back to the original position to judge whether any elements are out of place, I can see that everything is in its place and believably so. Which means that an immediate unprejudiced translation of an unfamiliar view into paint can work surprisingly well, although by turning the view upside down it is not possible to stop the stream of associations. I had to force myself not to think “Well, I know this is upside down. I just turn it back in my head and paint what I think there is.”
Overall, while certainly not the best work I ever produced, the 10 minute sketch is probably more successful regarding composition. In the 20 minute sketch I started fiddling a minute before the time was over. I thought “Oh, another minute to go, what else can I fit in?” and added the baroque window in the bottom left corner, which seems to put a brake on the momentum produced by the chains and upside down persons. This is certainly a lesson to remember: No need to use something only because it is there…

Now, finally, straight to Assignment 1. Time is running out again…


Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley.