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]
18 July – 4 August 2017. I think that I am finally beginning to understand that the study guide instruction “make a painting/drawing” in this course is most likely not to be taken literally, but will include extensive preliminary investigation, theoretical and practical. After having completed my research on Marlene Dumas (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a), I decided that I would choose my collection of photographs (Fig. 1) from the past for my line painting using my selection of different inks as suggested by my tutor (Fig. 2). In order to become more familiar with large-scale painted sketching I started with smaller-scale preliminary work to be able to use a large format convincingly. I also kept in mind my tutor’s advice to pay attention to the quality my lines and work over the paintings until I am satisfied with the result (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).
I did like the above results for their dynamics. Also I was very happy with being able to think up a variety of believable body postures without reference to anything but my mind. Still I realized that they lack the essential emotional quality I want to find in my finished line painting. I then had a look on the internet to find line paintings that show just this quality (Fig. 3).
With Baldova’s example in mind I chose some of my photos, which I believed held some real emotional potential and made some preliminary sketches to identify areas of light and dark (Fig. 4) and possible ways of translating those into dynamic line paintings.
Figure 4. Sketchbook – Two photos selected for emotional quality and contrast and investigatory pencil sketches
After some difficult days digesting my not-so-brilliant POP results and some invaluable help provided by my fellow students I think that there might be light on the horizon regarding my sketchbook problem. I will be trying to pace my mind using a mind mapping technique. The first attempts were awkward and they felt hurried, not well contemplated, but after finishing each of them I noticed a certain calming down of my storming brain (Fig. 5). The greatest problem will be to make myself use the information gained, because usually new loads of images and impressions and ideas to work on swamp the efforts made.
Figure 5. Sketchbook – my very first attempts at working with mind maps
Below there are my two attempts at producing two very different ink paintings with a main emphasis on emotional quality, the first to show intense communication between by sister and a black cat (Fig. 6) as well as the lost impression a great-uncle of mine used to leave (Fig. 7).
While I think that sister + cat was quite successful and I will definitely come back to painting something similar in the future, I am not so sure about my great-uncle. The particular hue of antique ink makes for a time lapse feel, but I was not successful in telling something with the lines I used. This was the first time during this exercise that I had an uneasy feeling about my choice of photos and choice of technique as being erratic. In order to sort myself out I switched tasks to making a background. I wanted to develop further one of the techniques I had discovered during Part 1, i.e. using several layers of paint including structured gloss medium and rubbing some of it off.
One of the goals I had set for myself for this exercise was a coherent account of both method and story development and I hoped to find a viable solution. Thus, first of all, I looked for other artists depicting weathered surfaces in painting and photography and found, on Saatchi onlione, a most impressive black and white image taken by Gregory Grim of what I guess is a bit of street leading to a shop, coming with a leaning door leaving indelible traces on the concrete over what I felt must have been decades (Fig. 8).
First I tested watercolour paper covered in gloss medium using coarse brushes, cling film and thick lines made with gloss medium as well as scratches and grooves made with the wooden end of a paintbrush. When more or less dry I covered this in a grey mix of gouache and partly removed the paint after waiting for it to dry (Fig. 9). While doing this I realized that what I was after was a method of having my photos embedded in a “pavement of memory”.
Since this worked better than expected I repeated the above, this time taking care not to produce a too dark first layer. On this I added a layer of placeholder “photos”, covered it in gloss medium and gouache again, added another photo layer, treating it in the same way, then added black, white and Persian red ink to increase the worn look (photo sequence in Fig. 10 and 11 below).
Figure 10. Sketchbook – a-i: sequence of testing a background of “memory pavement”
Although I was quite happy with some aspects of the resulting structure (which could well be a finished painting on its own), I knew then that I would not want such a heavy background, literally and figuratively. It would have to be lighter, both in colour and structure.
Since I felt stuck again, I resorted to making further mind maps to get the developmental process started again. I had a closer look at the aspects influencing my choice of photos and found out that I would want emotion to be a prime selection criterium (Fig. 12) and have them distributed in their respective layers in a semi-random way to reflect the workings of memory (Fig. 13). Then I looked at the possible painting techniques (Fig. 14) and options of layering (Fig. 15). The latter two showed me that my approach would become far too complicated with five layers, of which, in the end, not a lot would be visible. I felt then already that I would need to reduce the background to one well-designed photo layer.
Next I started with a series of small pencil and ink sketches in order to see how I might depict the relative emotions found in each of my selected photos. Since at the outset I had identified the strongest emotion in the image of my grandma, I started off with trying to transport a sad feeling at seeing her so feeble and removed from the world (decades of wrong medication had made her a quasi Alzheimer patient, which she would not have been if her doctors had taken the time to have a closer look at her). A line drawing by Djochkun Sami, found on Saatchi online, helped me start the experiment (Fig. 16).
Instantly, I noticed that my smallest paintbrush and ink would not allow me to create such fine detail and I started using gouache and acrylics to see whether I would be able to create a mix of line and tone, with very little success (Fig. 17). I was extremely happy about how the broom looked at an intermediate stage (Fig. 17b), but wanted to forget about the rest. The drawing/painting looked awkward, random and unhappy, not at all like the wonderful painting by Kayo Albert in Figure 18 below, which I had had in mind for the development of my sketch.
Figure 17. Sketchbook – a-c: painted grandma not developing well at all
I then had another attempt at making a memory sketch, this time using a gouache background, a first sketch with white waterproof ink (Fig. 19) worked over with Persian red, Sepia and black ink (Fig. 20, top), and covered in semi-transparent paper (Fig. 21). This paper I then covered in a layer of gloss medium, leaving only my grandma’s silouette uncovered, then painted over the dry gloss medium with grey gouache. This produced something like a fading effect, but the many different types of paint and techniques made for an awkward result. I started feeling both angry at my grandma for not cooperating :o) and also, interestingly and cruelly, a loss of emotion for her weak state back then.
When looking at Fig. 20 (bottom), however, I found that the horizontal lines surrounding my grandma’s non-existent body, were much more successful at depicting her state than all the other attempts. Also, the same day I took a photo of some interesting display dummies in a shop window (Fig. 22), whose bodies were wrapped in what I think will have been strings of LED lights and which gave me the idea to use horizontal lines not only for the surroundings but also for the persons as well.
The same instant I knew that I would have to change my approach. I looked through my photos again and chose the one with the new strongest emotion, which was, not surprisingly, my newborn son nearly 25 years ago. I made a quick line sketch in my sketchbook, found this exercise incredibly easy to do (Fig. 23) and made a new plan for the final painting (Fig. 24). Lesson to learn: never choose a subject with whose emotion I cannot totally identify.
All of a sudden the individual pieces I had been struggling with started to make sense. First I made another watercolour sketch, this time on A1 paper and a hesitant attempt at adding colour in a way similar to Kayo Albert’s style above. The latter I did to guide the viewer into the painting by emphasizing the area of greatest emotion and warmth (Fig. 25).
Next I prepared my background with the technique described above, taking care not to make it too dark. I added some deep grooves to increase the impression of a heavily used pavement (Fig. 26 and 27 below).
Figure 26. Left: A1 watercolour paper, white acrylic, gloss medium and grey gouache, right: finished background after removing part of the gouache
Next I selected the final photos I now wanted included in the final paintings, which were those past influences I felt were important to who my newborn son would eventually become. I arranged them all in one layer, taking care to place them where I felt their emotional connection to be strongest. The selected areas I covered in white acrylics, painted them with horzontal lines then added some highlights with white and Paynes’ grey acrylic (sequence of steps in Fig. 28 and detail in Fig. 29 below).
Figure 28. a-d: Final painting – preparing the “memory pavement”
On this background I sketched in, with gouache, the outlines of my son’s body and me holding him. I noticed instantly that the careful preparation had helped me to produce coherence between background and line painting, although as this is a first attempt there is ample scope for improvement (Fig. 30).
Finally I added colour as intended in my first watercolour sketch above, using a mix of orange and red gouache (Fig. 31 and Fig. 32).
Looking back at a very intense two and a half weeks of planning and carrying out this exercise I can only marvel at the difference the introduction of mind mapping has made to the previously hopelessly erratic approach I had to most of the projects in my OCA courses to far. From now on, every time I feel stuck, undecided or overwhelmed with options, I feel that mind mapping can make a real difference to my development. Many thanks again to my OCA fellow students, who drew my attention to this technique.
Regarding the outcome of the exercise above I feel that I discovered some key aspects about project planning and development and some important things I never knew about myself. I am also happy about the subject I chose and, despite the many inputs to consider, the appearance of the final painting.
Lacher-Bryk, S. (2017a) Artist research: Marlene Dumas [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/artist-research-marlene-dumas/ [Accessed 18 July 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, S. (2017b) Assignment 1: Tutor feedback and reflection [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/assignment-1-tutor-feedback-and-reflection/ [Accessed 18 July 2017]
23/24 July 2017. Bill Brandt (1904-1983, UK), André Kertész (1894-1985, Hungary) and Brassaï (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984, Hungary-France) were groundbreaking photographers, who shared a love of black and white photography at a time when colour photography was already available and a keen eye for the unusual view on the seemingly mundane to create striking compositions.
My tutor very likely intended for me here that I investigate the principles of distribution of light and dark areas in a composition devoid of colour. Since in black and white photography there is no colour to distract the eye (which humans have a great innate affinity for), any compositional imbalance is noticed immediately. Gibson (n.d.) points out that “the emotional power of color can mask poor composition”, which requires that particular attention is to be paid to “tonal contrast, texture, line, shape, pattern, and negative space”. This will be absolutely true for black and white painting as well. Another vital aspect listed by Gibson (n.d.) for successful black and white photography, the requirement of having the best possible lighting conditions, will of course be of great advantage in setting up the arrangement for a painting. However, in painting there is a large creative space on top of the properties of a setup, within which the respective weight of light and dark may be analysed, played with and adapted further. Which means that deviation from the original arrangement may be such that it is no longer recognizable in the finished work.
Among the three pioneering photographers I feel the greatest affinity with Brassaï. His compositions include many textural elements I might find in a contemporary painting. Troiano (2016) analyses his “The Language of the Wall” graffiti series from wartime Paris (ASX team, 2013) as a purposeful journey through the history of man. This may not be immediately obvious to the first-time viewer, but graffiti is often based on symbols common and intelligible to a large percentage of people through the times. One such photo in connection with the other members of the series thus becomes the carrier of several embedded layers of narrative, allowing a viewer to travel with it for as deep as they want the journey to be, from a superficial interest in the depicted wall texture to prophetic messages encoded in the series.
Bill Brandt, on the other hand, appears to me to have been a more direct commentator of contemporary everyday and political life, and, as black and white photography lends itself beautifully to that purpose, the documentation of the world at night. As far as I can see there are fewer encoded messages than in Brassaï’s work and this is probably included in his explanation of his approach to photographing the human body: “Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). This appears to me as a highly experimental, 21th century approach, since while the absence of planning will have opened doors to a new way of seeing the world, it will also have been accompanied by a great many failures. Brandt however also edited photographs in his darkroom to achieve effects he had in mind (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). In images which were not pure documents of a situation, Brandt’s compositional qualities are strikingly evident. In the same way as in a working painting he leads the viewer into and through a story, for example in his “Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow” (1937).
The fewest connections I notice with André Kertész. There seems to be a strange modern commercial feel to the photographs I found, which is strong enough for me to lose interest. While the compositions are immaculate, for me they do not radiate the mystery of Brassaï’s work and also lack the political statement of Brandt’s. This is not surprising, really, as Kertész used to work for magazines such as “House and Garden” (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.).
For my own work to come I will have printouts on my wall of those photos which left the strongest impression. I just hope that I can learn from them.
15/18 July 2017. I came across Marlene Dumas (*1953, South Africa) before in preparing for Assignment 5 of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). Her haunting portraits are based mostly on photographs. They are done quickly using dilute watercolour or oil and by selectively wiping off pigment, leaving ghostly sketches of her subjects. Most are not intended to portray a person truthfully, but rather an emotional state (Moran, 2015). Her technique reduces a facial expression to its absolute essentials. This lack of diversion by unconnected secondary messages I think makes the portraits so strong. When I compare them, a great many appear to radiate trauma in one way or another. Maybe it is my own experiences which make me (hope to) see a hint of something similar in the faces of other human beings, so that I may not alone, which leaves the hope of being able to share the emotions intact. It is horribly fascinating to see that a child’s face, without the everyday traces of having lived visibly engraved, can radiate as much trauma as that of an adult’s (see e.g. Dumas, n.d.). Since these shadows from the past are central to my own projects also, I will tackle exercise 2.2 of this course and very likely Assignment 2 with Marlene Dumas in mind.
Dumas, M. (n.d.) n.t. [online] [watercolour drawing]. n.k. Available from: postmedia.net/dumas/dumas5.htm [Accessed 17 July 2017]