Assignment 1: Tutor feedback and reflection

27/28/29 June 2017. It feels like aeons since my last post. It was a crazy month with several downs and a few last-minute ups I had long thought lost. I feel I have also lost touch somewhat with my new course. The exercises and artist research require more focused attention over longer timespans than I can afford at the moment. So rather than messing up my start of Part 2 I decided to relax and allow time to do its work on my mind. Two days ago I had a very lively face-to-face skype tutorial talking over my work for Part 1 of the course and together with the written feedback I feel encouraged, instructed and quite confused.

The ‘encouraged’ part is summed up quickly:

I was very happy to hear that my tutor thinks one or two of my DIY techniques good enough to base my development of projects for this course on and to have produced, using these techniques, a number of good black and white pieces, both in exercises and as part of my assignment.

The ‘instructed’ part was, in the detail received in the feedback from my tutor, a lot more complex to understand:

To counteract confusion I speed-reread the written feedback and made an impulse bullet-point list, which resulted in:

  • Don’t limit yourself! (which I like in theory)
  • Don’t limit yourself! (which I fear in real life)

I set out to make a list with the intention to get in a position to see better and get myself oriented in my self-made jungle of pointers and did not at first expect this outcome. The funny thing is that re-reading the two points and comparing them to each other gives me a creepy feeling. By nature they are just off the extreme ends on the same scale and I have no idea how to approach either. My life as it has been for most of what I can remember requires me to be an organized, controlled person 24 hours a day and I am paying the bill, more so now than ever. I know that I will have to start approaching the issue somehow, but I know that this will not be easy. Every time I try and step over the limit with paint, I make a total mess of it.

28 June 2018. By saying ‘making a mess’ I don’t mean playful experimentation, but a confused and confusing muddle, which takes me nowhere. I still have no idea how to make myself experiment meaningfully. Sometimes I do succeed and it is a great experience, but it is totally unpredictable and crucially depends on the presence of peace and quiet of mind, which is rare nowadays.
While writing this I realize that I may need to accept the fact that I may not yet be able to push my limits in the way intended by my tutor. Since I love what I do in this course and I feel that forcing a change may destroy this feeling, eventually, I want make progress, if it happens, a more gentle thing. I have read a lot about the value of leaving comfort zones to make progress happen. It is also true that there are all sorts of comfort zones I inhabit simultaneously and I should be able to leave the painting one now and then. But as it is my zones overlap to a great extent and what happens in one greatly affects another. This makes following all the great advice an awkward process.

So, in order not to feel overwhelmed I made more lists (scientist’s reaction :o)…) of those changes to work on, which I don’t feel confused about:

Materials and Methods:

  • keep working quickly, be more gestural and physical with your work, get out of your comfort zone
  • dilute more, work with fluid imprints and ghostly marks
  • use a viewfinder to identify working parts of paintings to use as starting point for further development
  • work with other disciplines, e.g. take photographs, invert them to negative and play with that
  • use acetate to paint negatives on, scratch the paint, experiment with layered acetate sheets
  • play with the size of paintings, see how the impression left by the same subject changes when painted small or large
  • concentrate on monochromatic paintings with the careful addition of a few selected colours for the moment (my coloured pieces apparently did not work – too basic, too little abstraction – I will have to ask how I might change this)
  • try not to create pictures, but depict the impression of what you see, sometimes the absence says more than what is present

Sketchbook:

  • create a ‘sketchbook’ using large size paper
  • use the sketchbook to develop work further (I think that study guide instructions were too restrictive to suggest that further development was expected)

Research:

  • compare exercises more to assignment work and analyse the progress made (but see the ‘confused’ section below)
  • analyse artworks by finding reports, one good, one bad, and compare the positions

Chosen course topic (shadows):

  • explore elongated shadows on long paper
  • go beyond the exercises so you can challenge yourself more with atmospheric work, use the subject of shadows as illusions, ‘traces, things left behind (footsteps), legacies’.
  • but: you are exploring paint so don’t be too concerned with a concept

All this is great advice and I am very much looking forward to working with it. And all would be well if it were not for the study guide. It appears to me that at least at this point of the course it seems to be ‘getting in the way’ more than helping me along. Which is the start to my ‘confused’ part of the post.

The ‘confused’ part:

Here come some examples of what causes the confusion:

  • The study guide instructs me to produce 3 quick overlapping drawings of five photographs each, using a thin paintbrush and not take longer than 30 seconds or so per photo. Full stop. End of exercise.
    My tutor sees the not great work and suggests I ‘work back into exercises so they look more substantial’, e.g. by having different types of brushmark in the paintings.
    What I think weird is that my tutor has to point out the options AFTER viewing my work. I would rather have the study guide inform me BEFORE I start an exercise because, of course, I expect it to be a primary source in guiding me in my studies.
    I have had this problem before once or twice, in Practice of Painting, but here it seems fundamental. Deviating from a guidebook without instructions is pure guesswork. How can I overcome this problem, in particular since my available time is strictly limited?
  • The study guide instructs me to make 15 small paintings of a particular size and of chosen photographs I like for their composition. It also instructs me to do something similar for the Assignment, 20 paintings 15 x 15 cm in size to also play with the arrangement of these to see which works best. My tutor is not happy with the many same size paintings I make. She expects me to deviate and of course I would gladly do so. But where, when and what from and will that affect assessment, especially if the study guide instructions are so specific?
  • The study guide instructs me to research from a list of given of artists and analyse their work not only in theory but also by trying to apply their techniques. When I do so (which I did consistently also in my Assignment pieces), my tutor advises me to research mostly in context with the goal I set for myself (shadows) and not to copy from the artists I research (as I attempted to do in part of my exercise work). I ask myself how I am supposed to learn from them if I am not to copy or explore other artists’ techniques in the first place. I would be very happy if, as my tutor tells me, I was to concentrate on the techniques I discover for myself, but then I do not understand what I am supposed to do with the instructions I find in the study guide. So far I find myself totally unable to combine the two without making a complete mess of any developing project. How I can fulfill the requirements of both study guide and tutor of analysing how other artists influence my development?
  • And in this context: According to my tutor I am to compare exercises to assignment work and analyse my progress. The problem here is that my exercise work often, due to the nature of the study guide instructions, has nothing or very little to do with the assignment, so progress is either coincidental or erratic.
    How can I combine the two?

I Just hope we will be able to clarify these points, because at present, admittedly, I do not know how to properly start Part 2.

I was advised to research a number of additional artists to help me develop my methods and focus. This will be published in separate posts.

 

Part 1 and Assignment 1: Self-evaluation

9 and 10 May 2017.

Note. – I was unsure as to whether I was supposed to write separate self-evaluation posts for Part 1 and Assignment 1, but since the two are inseparable really, I decided to combine them here.

Overall it took me a little while to settle into this course, which is quite different from the two I did before (Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting). In my case it would probably have been better to start my degree path with a course like Understanding Painting Media (UPM), because it teaches beautifully the expected way of how to use sketchbooks and develop a project, two aspects I am struggling with. After the first months with UPM I feel, to my own surprise and joy, much more at home now with both sketchbook and project development. The experience is enjoyable, playful and relaxed. UPM is my favourite course so far and I think that this one is the one I learned the most from in a very short time.
Here is my appreciation of my development with reference to p. 5, 42 and 47 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015):

  • Demonstration of visual skills

Over several years now I have done a lot of continuous line drawing in my everyday sketchbook and elsewhere and I think that in this respect I have now developed a highly personal style (see e.g. Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). This skill has started to slowly become influential on my developing painting techniques, especially with the use of acrylic paint. I can do line drawings with paintbrushes quite successfully now, although the more painterly aspects of this skill need to be developed further.
My practical artist research, especially of Brian Alfred’s and Cecily Brown’s work and own derived experimentation allowed me to incorporate, with previously unknown confidence, the experience gained into my work for Assignment 1. This process has taught me some important initial requirements of how to approach the different aspects of a more complex project. Apart from the above this part of the course has given me, in a beautifully arranged way, the opportunity to get to become acquainted with some of the work of a considerable number of important contemporary artists and learn directly by engaging with it in a practical way, sometimes from surprising sources, which I would probably not have chosen for myself had I been presented with the opportunity (e.g. Jasper Joffe or Daniel Richter). Before I started this course I had never been sure of how to best accomplish this task, but now I feel in a good position to learn considerably. In a similar way my visual skills have sharpened. I am bolder, more creative and less afraid of “doing something wrong”. Years of drawing and painting in a figurative manner have given me some now relatively reliable knowledge of natural forms, which allows me to play with these forms to deliberately deviate from the original without having to give up the truth behind the changes any longer.

  • Quality of outcome

I am still keenly aware of the fact that I have had to relearn that one of the secrets of mastering the art of painting is in playing. This course has made this way of learning accessible to me once more. This means that I can start doing authentic things again, which I know from experience in a variety of other fields are the key to true communication with a viewer. Since I am by nature obsessively curious I do not think that I will ever be able to settle on a main area of interest, as there will always be a multitude of influences to consider and weigh against each other. This can be a very difficult task, but is also a chance to develop novel ways of seeing the world. This, however, also means that the quality of my work so far depends very much on how familiar I am with a subject, technique or material and whether I find a way of communicating my intention. In the past I found myself often struggling with tasks far too complex for my level of expertise. This course allows me to break down my subjects into manageable portions, so that I expect to be able to steadily increase the quality of my work. Along with this I noticed that my appreciation for the quality of work in the artists I come across has also increased and I feel more at home now with critically viewing and enjoying their particular contribution to the art world. My pieces for Assignment 1 I am very happy with in this respect. I think that the twenty paintings contain some of the best work I have made so far (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).

  • Demonstration of creativity

Over the first two years with the OCA I have started to gain a different understanding of the meaning of the word creativity. Before that for me creativity was to have a ready-to-use idea in mind, which I then put into practice without further critical considerations. Now I am beginning to understand the difference in being creative while developing a project. I am more familiar now with the requirements set by the OCA in this respect and this allows me to come to more clearly appreciate the steps characteristic of creative processes. Over the first part of this course I felt that a self-sustaining development has set in and I hope that this is here to stay. In my experiementation, in particular with respect to practical artist research and painting response to their work I think that I made a large step forward, which I was able to carry over to planning and carrying out, in a consistent manner, the tasks for Assignment 1. In this respect I was glad to have taken with me from Assignment 5 of Practice of Painting my subject of shadows. This settling on an area of interest also helped me sharpen my view while not becoming overwhelmed by the creative possibilities open to me. I think that I am now relatively confident in selecting and using with (varying) success many different and creatively mixed painting and drawing media appropriate to the message I want to transport.

  • Context

I think that starting the course with a both theoretical and practical research project including a large number of artists was an incredibly efficient way to set the scene (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c). Now I am much better equipped for doing my own preliminary research, although I am aware that without the help of the OCA I would not yet be able to find the most important artists working today. I think that with respect to artist research it is always possible to do more, but to me it is an important first step to learn how to appreciate and use the invaluable contributions artists make for their respective work. For the first time I think that I successfully managed to incorporate techniques and ideas developed by other artists into my own assignment work (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b).
I also find that I have always intuitively incorporated ideas from my previous experiences, especially from my work as biologist and exhibition planner, as well as, and this in a largely subconscious manner, from my experience in fighting for our son, who is the victim of a massive hospital error.
My everyday life is highly demanding timewise and so I have to be very efficient at planning and carrying out my projects. This means that at least for the foreseeable future I cannot afford to let a project take its own pace, which may also have its advantanges. At times, for example, I need to spend several days in various hospitals together with my son. While this puts a halt to a continuous working process, it also helps me to step back from the work I have done and reappreciate it on returning from a completely different task. This helps me also to gain access to a set of possibly colliding viewpoints from which to observe and critically evaluate. What I do miss as compared to my previous two courses is some exchange with fellow students. As there do not seem to be many studying this course at the moment, my tutor contact is my invaluable resource for contextual concerns.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Everyday sketchbook: little May update [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 4 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/everyday-sketchbook-little-may-update/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 1: Twenty 15×15 cm Shadows [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/assignment-1-twenty-15×15-cm-shadows/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 9 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/category/research-and-reflection/ [Accessed 10 May 2017]

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