Part 3, exercise 3.1: Monotype portraits with paint – 20 preparatory ink studies and a few test prints

22 August 2017. Since I have never used monotype before except once for a very quick sketch, I knew that it would be essential to invest some time in preparing mind and workplace.

First of all I had some pieces of glass with smooth edges cut in sizes A5, A4 and – ambitious – A3 as well as some 40 x 50 cm mirror glass as our only mirror suitable for painting is build into our bathroom wall.
Next I had a good look at several online videos explaining monotype techniques and came away with some invaluable additional hints for working with acrylic paint instead of oils. They were:

  • cover the glass in gloss medium before starting to paint, this aids the lifting of the paper
  • try and use thin layers of paint
  • moisten the printing paper before use, wait for a few seconds before using it (have several ready in a plastic bag)
  • use roller to exert uniform pressure

A video introducing the use of four colours on acetate sheets (Blick Art Materials, 2009) was something I want to keep at the back of my mind, just in case the printing works well enough to allow me to experiment with something a little more complex.

25 August 2017. Found work by Kentridge again and discovered just now that in the 1970s he made a set of up to 30 monoprints called the “Pit” series (Kentridge, 1979).

28 August 2017. Yesterday I prepared my sketchbook for this part of the course (Fig. 1-5), then started the painting, reluctantly, because I am not keen on observing myself in mirrors and am generally less interested in my own face than the rest of the world.

The prescribed research as set out on p. 66 of the study guide did not focus on artists making monotypes, but rather on painting styles suitable for quick monoprints and the examination of tonal values.

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – introductory research: Annie Kevans and Alli Sharma
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – introductory research: Kim Baker, Geraldine Swayne and Eleanor Moreton plus own technique from POP (top right)
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Figure 3. Sketchbook – introductory research: Edgar Degas
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Figure 4. Sketchbook – introductory research, top: Paul Wright, unknown artists and Clara Lieu, bottom: techniques mind map

I decided to select those styles, which held the greatest promise for my own attempts and made a small mind map plan to structure my 20 sketches (Fig. 4, bottom). 5 each of my ink sketches would be devoted to testing the styles of Annie Kevans (dilute, fine brush), Paul Wright (dilute, coarse brush), Edgar Degas (wiping off dark background) and Clara Lieu (grey background, painting into and wiping off that background).

Sitting at my drawing table, writing into my sketchbook with my mirror in position on a table easel, I noticed that this view could be interesting for my quick sketches. I intended to place the self-portrait in the lower righthand corner and create an impression of someone sitting opposite absorbed in communication. I made a rough pencil sketch of the situation (Fig.5).

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Figure 5. Sketchbook – top: testing arrangement for ink sketches, bottom: recording exeriences with first set of 5 sketches (Kenvans style)

I soon found out that I would not be able to do my idea justice with my 1 minute sketches. 60 seconds are an awfully short time to create a meaningful portrait. My paintbrush, a very nice watercolour brush combining a large size body with an additional central pointed tip, helped me in switching from fine to wide brushstrokes without having to reload more than a few times, but these movements alone used up over half the painting time. I noticed that I would have to make the sketches larger than intended, so in the end I just settled for letting things develop (Fig. 6-8). The first two sketches were awkward, no. 1 suffered from temporary rustiness of the artist’s hand and from forgetting that we only had one minute to complete the sketch. The second was somewhat better, but I was far too slow to be able to consider the tonal values across the whole face (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. Annie Kevans style sketches no. 1 and 2

Next I had a good look at the tonal values before starting to paint but still ran out of time. The fourth attempt was then made without my glasses on so as to force myself to reduce attention to detail. I decided to do the painting including the squint (Fig. 7).

 

Figure 7. Annie Kevans style sketches no. 3 and 4

The last, and in my opinion best so far, sketch I produced after reducing the light level in my workshop by pulling the blinds down (Fig. 8).

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Figure 8. Annie Kevans style sketch no. 5

Overall I noticed that with every sketch my confidence increased in what I did. There is absolutely no likeness in any of the above (at least I hope so ;o)), but I can recognize the immense value of working quickly. The paintings are relatively lively, especially the last one. Also, I can see that I managed to transport the facial expression correctly, i.e. the intensity in straining to observe.

Thoughts and adaptations for the next round testing a Paul Wright style:

  • have the blinds down from the start
  • change from straight-on view to slightly from one side, if possible (second mirror??)
  • try and look less stern
  • prepare all the sheets of paper before starting to paint and use them all in one go without a break
  • make a preliminary pencil sketch to get acquainted with the idea of where to place light and dark areas
  • sit still for a short while to allow the information to sink in
  • use a wide, coarse paintbrush with less dilute ink

The above I tried today and got results not really worth mentioning. Despite having prepared by carefully studying tonal contrasts I was unable to achieve anything in 1 minute, the time was simply too short for my kind of experience. Using the coarse brush would be extremely interesting once I have acquired more experience in distributing a paint load from the initial dark and liquid to the final light and dry brushmarks. As things are there is simply not enough time to think at all. So, here are the results, first my sketchbook pencil sketch (Fig. 9), which I was happier with than my first one, it is less strained, then the awful series of rough ink sketches (Fig. 10). In contrast to my first series here the more I tried the worse they got …

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Figure 9. Sketchbook – examinig tonal values adead of starting the second ink sketch series

 

Figure 10. Paul Wright style ink sketches

When doing the scans for this blog I noticed that the scans revealed some quality areas, however small,  in some of the sketches, which I would have missed by looking at the originals only, for whatever reason. The same effect I had seen when scanning and printing the fields in my Assignment 2 umbrella project, where the prints allowed me to identify patterns where I saw something different and less interesting or nothing at all in the originals. Strange, but definitely worth remembering.

So, again there is no likeness, but as in the first series I noticed that I did succeed in transporting the overall facial expression and mood, more relaxed this time, but still serious-looking. If I had to make a choice, I would discard no. 1 and 5 immediately. The remaining three share a common “hurting” look. At first I wanted to throw away no. 3 (top right), but seeing it in conection with the rest, I believe that it may be the strongest of them. The person appears both mentally and physically hurt.
Regarding technique: It was next to impossible to imitate Paul Wright’s style with the available materials, tools and time. Despite not being able to reproduce them correctly with my coarse paintbrush, I became increasingly familiar with the distribution of tonal values.

29 August 2017. We have been growing alum crystals with out little son over the summer holidays. So I thought that I might start my alchemy lab again and use some of the leftovers for painting. I found out that alum is commonly used as a mordant (fixing agent) in marbling. What else can be done with it I tried find out for myself in the course of the next series of experiments with ink. The first set (Fig. 11-13) was done on gloss medium vs. alum as backgrounds, and water-soluble vs. waterproof black ink, using a coarse flat paintbrush to achieve a mark-making resembling Paul Wright’s style.

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Figure 11. Sketchbook – top: gloss medium background, bottom: alum background; left side: water-soluble ink, right side: waterproof ink

The largest differences here were the slight browning effect of both types of ink on the gloss medium, which did not occur at all on alum, and, oddly, the greater ease of wiping off the waterproof ink on both backgrounds. I suspect that the properties of the water-soluble ink allows the liquid and pigment to soak through the transparent coat into the paper, were it is then out of reach. Half-dry waterproof ink, when wiped off with care, will leave interesting ragged darker edges (Fig. 11, top right).
Next I tested both types of background again, but this time using black linoprint colour and a paper kitchen towel with (ample) spirit to spread and wipe off the paint (Fig. 12).

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Figure 12. Sketchbook – top: gloss medium background, bottom: alum background; all test fields: linoprint paint spread with kitchen towel and spirit to help wiping off the paint

As the above looked a lot more promising regarding a possible wiping off of paint within the given time-frame of 1 minute, I produced an imaginary portrait on gloss medium background covered in a more or less uniform layer of linoprint paint. On the first day I managed something looking static and sombre with a kitchen towel, cotton buds, spirit and a lot more time than one minute (Fig. 13), the day after I tried to continue experimenting, but found that the paint was much harder to remove, so achieved only slight changes before I had to give up (Fig. 14).

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Figure 13. Imaginary self-portrait using linoprint paint on gloss medium background, wiping with spirit, stage 1
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Figure 14. Sketchbook – imaginary self-portrait using linoprint paint on gloss medium background, wiping with spirit, stage 2

What I had not anticipated was the interaction between linoprint paint and spirit. When applied with a cotton bud, the spirit would travel some distance to cover a larger area than intended. If left for a while, the paint in the wider area would come off, too, and also this area would be bounded by a brilliantly white edge, presumably because the action of the spirit at the edge would affect a smaller surface area. This surprising effect can add a new quality to a painting, if in the right place. Since I do not expect the same effect to work when applying linoprint paint to a glass plate, I ignored it and proceeded to repeat the experiment, this time with gloss medium and black gouache (a background I had already tested in Assignment 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a) (Fig. 15).

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Figure 15. Sketchbook – testing the wiping with spirit on a background of gloss medium and black gouache

The combination of gloss medium, gouache and spirit allowed the greatest flexibility so far.

Next I proceeded to make a few very quick test prints with my A5 glass plate on good quality A4 sketch paper, first using antique inks (Fig. 16), then my planned paint, acrylic diluted with gloss medium (Fig.17-18).

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Figure 16. Sketchbook – testing monotype with two layers of splodges of antique ink
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Figure 17. Sketchbook – testing monotype with Paynes grey acrylic diluted with gloss medium
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Figure 18. Sketchbook – testing monotype with Paynes grey acrylic diluted with gloss medium, inverting Fig. 17 by painting in the spaces not covered by the painting in Fig. 17

I noticed very quickly that I would need a lot more practice with both the above media. The inks, if used thinly, will dry so quickly that printing is hardly possible, and if in larger quantities, they will spread on the glass with enormous ease, so that the outcome of a painting would be pure coincidence. With gloss medium-diluted acrylic paint spreading was no problem, but no matter how great the care taken to lift the paper, there would remain ungainly ridges (easy to see in Fig. 17), the more so the greater the quantity of gloss medium. I decided to stop using gloss medium for this purpose.

2 September 2017. As the results of my first attempts at trying out monotype were a bit pathetic, I felt it necessary to do more research on the available techniques and their prerequisites, before preparing my third and fourth sets of ink sketches. I sat down to plan Part 3 with another mind map (Fig. 19).

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Figure 19. Sketchbook – mind map planning Part 3 of the course, first version

I also did some lengthy research on the do’s and dont’s of monotype and found that I should use thinner paper to print, on which I can paint, carefully, while it is still on the glass plate:

Or how to use soot mixed with linseed oil to make “paint”:

Or else to use linen rags or other kinds of cloth as printing surfaces. It would also be interesting to make my own gelatine printing plate, but it can only be used for a short while before it dries out:

Another link introduced the use of stencils, nets, ripped strips of paper, cut paper etc.:

7 September 2017. Assignment 2 results and feedback reflection (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) overtook last week’s rough ideas, so that today I find myself with a detailed plan for Part 3 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c). Also, since I sorted through my painting materials today to make room for the monotype exercises I stumbled over the oil paint I had left on the table to make myself use it again after 15 years. Spontaneously I decided to try making a few rough monoprints on normal A4 copy paper, using just one colour (Fig. 20-23). I was very happy to see that the paint is still OK and the printing was much easier than with all the paint I had tried out before. It was easy to push the paint around on the glass and create accumulations, but I will need to find a set of paintbrushes or other tools allowing me to manipulate the paint with greater detail. I also must not let too much paint accumulate in one place, because it will produce an ugly, oily splodge. The brushstrokes left by my coarse paintbrush produced lively patterns, which might be used as part of the painting, but will need practice to work well.

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Figure 20. Test print – oil on photocopy paper, coarse brush, no dilution
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Figure 21. Test print – oil on photocopy paper, soft brush, diluted
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Figure 22. Test print – oil on photocopy paper, soft brush, diluted, inverting Fig. 21

Figure 23. Test prints – left: oil on photocopy paper, using leftover oil paint to produce an imaginary 1 minute sketch with coarse brush, using roller to make the print, right: ghost print, applying pressure by hand

8 September 2017. After some time finding excuses I went back to produce the last two of my series of 1 minute ink self-portrait sketches. This time I decided to see whether I could find my own style, in the first set I using ink with little water added and a thin brush (Fig. 24), in the second a large soft brush and highly diluted ink (Fig. 25). With all of them I tried emphasizing the tonal emphasis by adding darker ink. I noticed that I became increasingly familiar with my face, so that I was able to add somewhat more detail. I also tried to look less strained. In the first set I can now see parts of myself in parts of the paintings (except in no. 3 and 5). The painting with the large brush in the second set was too difficult for my present skills, so hardly and likeness there.

Figure 24. Ink sketches, own style, little water added to ink, thin round paintbrush

Figure 25. Ink sketches, own style, high degree of dilution, large round paintbrush

Overall, looking back at this exercise, I could probably go on and on with my 1 minute sketches, without any of them looking like me :o). Every time I start again I see new aspects to pay attention to, which precludes paying attention to the other parts of the composition. For example, over the time it took me to complete the final set the sun started going down and I noticed a deepening of the shadows. Unfortunately I was not able to reproduce this effect, but I was happy to notice the slight differences in tonal values. In one or two of the sketches I was interrupted by phone calls. While speaking on the phone I continued with my sketches, which turned out looser than the rest.
I cannot say whether I will be able to use any of my sketches as templates for the following exercises, but I very much enjoyed using them for my test prints. Also I am glad to have finally brought myself to open my oil paints again and I will be using them for monoprinting in this part of the course. The print quality is so much better than anything I tried to do with acrylics, linoprint colour and gloss medium and the paint was a lot of fun to use. So oil it is going to be!

References

Blick Art Materials (2009) An Intro to Akua Kolor and Monotype Printing [online]. Blick Art Materials, Galesburg. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIYny3uwXxM [Accessed 22 August 2017]

Kentridge, W. (1979) Pit [monoprint series] [online]. [n.k.], [n.k.]. Available from: http://doublevision-berlin.de/werke/william-kentridge-pit-1979/ [Accessed 25 August 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) 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 7 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 2: Tutor Feedback Reflection [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 5 September. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/assignment-2-tutor-feedback-reflection/ [Accessed 7 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 3: Preliminary planning of the practical work [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 7 September. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/part-3-preliminary-planning-of-the-practical-work/%5BAccessed 7 September 2017]

Part 2, exercise 2.2/2.4: Unusual materials: collections – large-scale line painting/painting on a painted surface

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).

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Figure 1. Sketchbook – Collection of photographs from the past
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Figure 2. Sketchbook – Testing a selection of inks and effects of varying lines in painting

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).

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Figure 3. Sketchbook – studying an ink painting by Sylvia Baldova (Saatchi online)

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).

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Figure 6. Sketchbook – ink painting on A4 smooth sketching paper, background black water-soluble writing ink, line painting white waterproof ink
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Figure 7. Sketchbook – ink painting on A4 smooth sketching paper, background waterproof white ink, line painting water-proof Persian red antique ink

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).

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Figure 8. Sketchbook – Gregory Grim’s black and white image of a well worn shop entrance to be used as a reference guide to my design of a background

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”.

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Figure 9. Testing backgrounds using scrap heavy duty watercolour paper, gloss medium, gouache and, on the far right, black water soluble writing ink

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”

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Figure 11. Sketchbook – two of Brassai’s famous Paris graffiti photos, serving as inspiration for own background

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.

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Figure 12. Sketchbook – top: mind map identifying photo selection criteria, bottom: a first attempt at stacking them in my memory pavement according to the strength of emotion associated with each photo, the most faded emotions to be buried deepest
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Figure 13. Sketchbook – top: mind map testing layout options, bottom: thoughts on constructing the bottom layer
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Figure 14. Sketchbook: mind map showing the options for painting techniques
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Figure 15. Sketchbook – trying to visualize layering options

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).

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Figure 16. My grandma and an ink drawing by Djochkun Sami (Saatchi online)

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

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Figure 18. Sketchbook – top: “INK-103” painting by Kayo Albert (Saatchi online), bottom: failed sketch of my grandma

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.

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Figure 19. Sketchbook: Acrylic, gloss medium, gouache and white ink sketch
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Figure 20. Sketchbook – top: above sketch worked over with ink, bottom: faded line gouache and gloss medium painting
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Figure 21. Sketchbook – sketch from Fig. 20, top, covered in semi-transparent paper, gloss medium and grey gouache

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.

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Figure 22. Display dummies in a shop window, lines of horizontal light define the body

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.

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Figure 23. Sketchbook – watercolour sketch of my newborn son
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Figure 24. Sketchbook – plan for final painting

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).

Figure 25. left: A1 watercolour sketch, right: emphasis added

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

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Figure 27. Finished background, detail with heavy scratches

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”

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Figure 29. Final painting, memory pavement, detail

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).

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Figure 30. Final painting – gouache line sketch on prepared background

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).

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Figure 31. Finished painting
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Figure 32. Finished painting, detail

Resumé

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.

 

References

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]

Assignment 1: Twenty 15×15 cm Shadows

4 May 2017. During the final weeks of Practice of Painting I had realised that I would want to continue working with shadows in this course as well. My assignment subjects will all be related to this area of interest.

For the first assignment we were required to choose the materials liked best so far to produce a series of twenty 15×15 cm square paintings on watercolour paper. When finished we were to arrange and rearrange them, to compare the relative effects before settling on an arrangement to submit (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 44).

Sequence of preparation:

  • selection of twenty of my found images, which I had already pre-selected to include a large number of shadow-related views
  • preparation of paper squares from 600 g watercolour paper
  • selection of attractive square views from found photos (was done using my square viewfinder)
  • cutting out photos to choice of view
  • selection of fitting materials and painting styles for each photo, intuitively restricting myself to 4 different painting styles overall, so 5 paintings per style

My grouping the 20 paintings into sets of five felt appropriate, because a typical arrangement into 4 rows of 5 would be possible in a believable way. Also, I have the intention of telling a story in my sequence of images, which this will depend on the overall impression achieved by each tested arrangement, overall it will be one of how light and dark influence and structure the life of human beings through the day.

The selection of painting style was a mix of what I discovered for myself during exercises and styles I came to like when doing my artist research:

  • 5 paintings in a negative space technique discovered when painting with dilute white gouache on black acrylic background
  • 5 blurred shadows of diverse origins requiring additional research for “eroding” technique
  • 5 paintings using white and black ink in Brian Alfred style
  • 5 coloured paintings in Cecily Brown style

8 May 2015. Over the last five days I spent a very long time preparing my paintings. They were great fun to make, but I am glad to have been able to muster the energy to more or less work through. The results are more homogenous, having in common a particular atmosphere and mood, which might have got lost if I had allowed myself to take breaks.

Here are the individual results, grouped into their 4 sets:

  1. Negative space technique (Fig. 1-6)

I had discovered the technique during Exercise 1.2, when working on my black and white found images (Lacher-Bryk, 2017). When painting on a dry acrylic background with dilute white gouache paint, the paint dries up leaving distinct highlights along the wet/dry boundaries and in dents developing in the wet paper. To me the effect is wonderfully mysterious and given the right amount of practice can be used to create intriguing patterns. I tried various degrees of dilution in my sketchbook first (Fig. 1 below). The heavy watercolour paper I used for my finished paintings did not quite have the same efficiency regarding the weird highlighting, but was attractive in its own way.

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Fig. 1. Sketchbook: Testing effects of various degrees of dilute gouache on black acrylic background
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Figure 2. Painting 1: Shadow of a bicycle on a tent
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Figure 3. Painting 2: Entering a cave on a sea shore in Curaçao
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Figure 4. Painting 3: Playing Frisbee
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Figure 5. Painting 4: Krampus run
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Figure 6. Painting 5: Family shadows (this painting is not as dark in reality, but was impossible for me to correct on the computer)


2. Blurred shadows (Fig. 7-14)

In our bedroom street lights and lights in the houses around us at times produce the most beautiful shadow images of the plants we have on our windowsills. I spent hunting  for the best photos for nearly a year, as conditions change and plants get moved, so I had to wait a while to come up with a good set suitable for this part of the assignment. I had never produced deliberately blurred paintings before and the artists to be researched in the study guide do not do this either, so I spent some time looking what I could come up with myself. There do not seem to be too many painters working with blurring, but I had a look at J.M.W. Turner and his “Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway” (Fig. 7). While I greatly admire his incredible skill at staying indistinct over most of the painting to emphasize a few selected spots, this was not what I had in mind. Gerhard Richter’s “Self-portrait” (Fig. 8) came much closer to the effect I was after. The descriptions of the techniques applied by him were however also different from my idea, so I did my own practical research here (Fig. 8 and 9). In the end what I came up with was a white acrylic background covered in a thin layer of gloss varnish, then in grey gouache when dry. Again, when all three layers were dry, I used a very old, word-down small flat brush, water and a piece of cloth to wash away the sections of the background I wanted to highlight. This worked beautifully, allowing both precision and blurring as required.

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Figure 7. Sketchbook: Investingating blurring effects (1/3)
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Figure 8. Sketchbook: Investigating blurring effetcs (2/3)
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Figure 9. Sketchbook: investigating blurring effects (3/3)
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Figure 10. Painting 1: Shadow of plant on windowsill no. 1
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Figure 11. Painting 2: Shadow of plant on windowsill, no. 2
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Figure 12. Painting 3: Shadow of plant on windowsill, no. 3
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Figure 13. Painting 4: Reflection of wooden candle holder on flatscreen TV
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Figure 14. Painting 5: Moon shadow


3. Clear ink paintings (Fig. 15-20)

When doing my Part 1 artist research I decided that Brian Alfred’s particular flat style does not correspond at all to my intentions, but the attempt at recreating one of his paintings with materials of my own choice produced a result (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b) I wanted to explore further in my third set of assignment paintings. Since the technique was straightforward to apply (grey acrylic background, ink line drawing, then water-soluble black ink and water-proof white ink), I placed the focus on testing the white highlights in my sketchbook before attempting the final paintings (Fig. 15).

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Figure 15. Sketchbook: Testing the placement of white in the paintings (thumbnails)
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Figure 16. Painting 1: Lense light in our bedroom and window
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Figure 17. Painting 2: Holocaust memorial in Berlin
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Figure 18. Painting 3: My workshop lights
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Figure 19. Painting 4: Fire station
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Figure 20. Painting 5: 24 hour video EEG

Coloured Cecily Brown style paintings (Fig. 21-27)

This was the most demanding of the four sets. Cecily Brown and her approach to integrating the figurative and abstract into one painting is a very attractive concept to me (Lacher-Bryk, 2017c) and while I know that I am not yet able to work in this way consistently I felt that this style was required to complement the three more figurative black and white sets. I had chosen five photos, which I needed as figurative starting points to what was to become abstractions (Fig. 21).

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Figure 21. The photos selected for the Cecily Brown set

I then prepared white acrylic backgrounds to paint on these with an intuitive selection of colours of acrylic paint. In my sketchbook I made thumbnails first, which helped me to find initial ideas for the abstraction process (Fig. 22). The rusty parts on the deck of a boat became a bathing scene, the wooden fence and shadow in our garden turned into attacking soldiers, the shadow of a tree on the street became a coral reef, some flamingos and their weird shadows turned colourful and the shadow of a tree on a building stayed what it was, but was painted upside down to result in a view I would not have been able to make up without turning it upside down in the first place – here I included some very valuable insight gained in exercise 1.4 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017d).

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Figure 22. Sketchbook: Thinking about possible abstractions from original photos (thumbnails)

9 May 2017. Here are the results for this set:

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Figure 23. Painting 1: Bathers (derived from image showing rusty deck of boat)
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Figure 24. Painting 2: Flamingos with coloured shadows
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Figure 25. Painting 3: Coral reef (derived from image showing shadow of tree on street)
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Figure 26. Painting 4: Attacking (derived from image showing wooden fence)
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Figure 27. Painting 5: Tree on wall

Today I arranged the paintings in grids and, overall, given a nearly endless number of possible, plausible and attractive arrangements, I decided that I would need to place my focus on the most important aspects. These did not include, as I had first planned at the start of this assignment, a story. Any sequence would have allowed any number of stories to be told, which is a consequence of selecting images as instructed by “wanting to paint them”. So I tested black and white backgrounds (Fig. 28 and 29 below). Of these white was more neutral towards the placement of my coloured paintings, so I continued with white, although I liked the stabilising effect of the black. I might have included any number of possible grids like single rows, double rows, pyramids, diamonds, patterns including the background, whatever. It was overwhelming to even think of these, so I stayed with the rectangular, testing narrow, wide and no gaps (Fig. 28-34), landscape and portrait versions (Fig. 33-34) as well as “quiet” and “loud” impressions (Fig. 30-31 appear particularly “loud” to me). It took me a while to come up with a solution I liked, which was overall quiet enough to allow a viewing of the individual images. The rest produced interesting patterns when viewed from a distance (difficult to test in my workshop), but invariably made my head burst when trying to see each single painting. The – what I would call them – energy clashes running along the individual borders appear to determine the overall impression to a greater extent than the contents of each painting. Also, all grids are far easier and more pleasant to view on the computer. What looks nice and sorted in the photos below was mostly none of the two in real life.

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Figure 28. Testing on black background, paintings in sequence of production, narrow gaps
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Figure 29. Testing on white background, paintings in sequence of production, narrow gaps
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Figure 30. White background, no gaps, random order of paintings except for strategic placing of coloured images (horrible effect, gaps are very important obviously)
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Figure 31. White background, narrow gaps, placing “loud” images at strategic positions
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Figure 32. Creating a quiet centre and plaing directional images to make them point towards the centre. This alone is sufficiently stable to give the loud, coloured images the “rest” they require.
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Figure 33. Same sequence as above, but widening the gaps (less attractive on the computer than Fig. 32 above, but better in real life, optical illusion of black circles in gap intersections only present on the computer)
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Figure 34. Same sequence and gap width as in Fig. 30 above, but turning the paintings to make a portrait view (less attractive on the computer, nearly impossible to take a good photo, but my preferred version in real life)

The version from Fig. 34 above is the one I want to present as my Assignment 1 piece. I would not be able to tell which particular combination of factors works here, but I am pleased with the outcome. I could spend weeks rearranging my paintings, as there are so many interactions to learn to see, feel and consider. When assessment time comes up, I will prepare a set of preferred sequences and present them together.

Self-assessment for Assignment 1 to follow in a separate post.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Part 1, exercise 1.2: Using found images – black and white [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/part-1-exercise-1-2-using-found-images-black-and-white/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Research Point: Painting Style – historical and contemporary painting [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/04/25/research-point-painting-style-historical-and-contemporary-painting/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017c) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/part-1-own-experimentation-supplementing-introductory-research-point/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017d) Part 1, exercise 1.4: Look at what you see – not what you imagine [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 3 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/part-1-exercise-1-4-look-at-what-you-see-not-what-you-imagine/ [Accessed 9 May 2017]

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

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:

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

References

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

Part 1, exercise 1.2: Using found images – black and white

19 April 2017. This time I was determined to do my research in a way to allow me to directly focus on and take into my own work the work done by artists to be researched (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 36)

2 May 2017. The research mentioned above lies now behind me and it proved to be a very rich source of inspiration (Lacher-Bryk, 2017).

This exercise required us to prepare 10 postcard-sized backgrounds, 5 black and 5 white, acrylic on good quality watercolour paper. On these we were to paint one or more found images, a set of two each (black on white and inverted) (Open College of the Arts, 2015, p. 39).  Other than with the first exercise I decided not to stay with only one subject, but chose five different ones. These are the results:

3 May 2017. The first pair of paintings I made of one of the famous marble dwarves in one of the parks in Salzburg (Fig. 1). I have done quite a bit of realistic painting before and did not take me too long to do despite the detail. As always with paintings this size the tooth of the watercolour paper had a strong influence on the precision of the outlines painted, more so, interestingly, in the black painting on white than the other way round. I prefer the white on black by far, also because the white pigment has a tendency to accumulate near wet/dry boundaries, an effect which I find really attractive. I am not yet able to apply this consistently, but boots and legs worked quite well:

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Figure 1. Sketchbook: Zwerglgarten dwarf, in black acrylic (left) and white acrylic (right)

Another pair of postcard paintings was dedicated to the lovely raven, which has taken to visiting the nearby university campus to convince, using its beak if necessary,  the students sitting in the sun that sharing their lunch was unavoidable. It will even search your pockets if the sharing is not started immediately (Fig. 2).
A few months ago a former colleague of mine had posted on Facebook Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem “The Raven”. The tragic contents of the poem has nothing to do with the scene I wanted to paint, but it made me remember the nice technique of image transfer using acrylic medium and decided that I would have a verse of that poem cross the raven’s body. I am no expert at transferring images, so this did not come out too beautiful, but in combination with the loose painting it looks interesting, especially in the black ink on white version. The second attempt was made with black ink on a black background. The poem was hardly visible after I had finished with it, but the ink left a most wonderful metallic sheen wherever it touched the acrylic background. Unfortunately this is difficult to see in my scan, but the effect is so attractive that I want to use it more widely.

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Figure 2. Sketchbook: The tame campus raven, first in black ink on white, then in black ink on black

Next came a painful memory my husband has of staying in Berlin for a week with his school group in the most horrendous youth hostel. They had merely checked in when they decided, in rare unanimity, that they wanted nothing more than go home (Fig. 3). I therefore made two desperate postcards, one in Jasper Joffe style in grey acrylic on white, the other in slick while dilute paint. Both results are not what I hoped them to be, but I was happy to see that I am beginning to connect to the research I do, to choose techniques and styles from a growing pool:

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Figure 3. Sketchbook: Wanting to go home, grey acrylic on white (top) and grey acrylic on black (bottom)

My fourth set comes from a series of photos we had taken shortly after sunset last December after having visited a Christmas market (Fig. 4). At first I had wanted to make a white gouache on white acrylic painting, but there was absolutely nothing to see on this piece of paper. So I went over it with some grey acrylic. Not surprisingly the inverted painting with white acrylic on black went far better, I also prefer the weird atmosphere produced as cars, trees and people seem to be illuminated by a ghostly light of full moonlight quality:

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Figure 4. Sketchbook: December sunset, grey acrylics on white (top) and white acrylics on black (bottom)

Finally, which has become my favourite pair, one of the nosy jackdaws up on mount Untersberg (Fig. 5). For the first painting I decided that I would make it a negative space composition. Again, this time using white gouache, the pigment tended to settle near the edges of the wet area and by coincidence it was just in the right places. The effect looks like the corona you see during a total solar eclipse. The second painting was made on dry white acrylic covered in a liberal layer of gloss varnish, on which I poured grey guache and allowed it to become semi-dry. On this slippy surface I produced my painting in darker grey. The paint will not stay in one place after the first application, but the paintbrush will produce grooves in the layer, which then dictate the behaviour of the paint. With more experience this combination might allow me to produce very attractive structural effects. Also something to remember!

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Figure 5. Sketchbook: Untersberg jackdaw as white on black negative painting in gouache (top) and grey gouache on dry white acrylic and wet gloss medium

I am beginning to get the hang of making these small experimental paintings and not too early, too. As I lost more than a month at the beginning of UPM for having to correct all my references in Practice of Painting, and another several weeks for various hospital and other reasons, I will have to keep working high speed to make it to my Assignment 1 deadline on May 31st. Which may be a good thing, because my work usually tends to improve when under pressure :o).

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Part 1: Own experimentation supplementing introductory research point [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 2 May. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/part-1-own-experimentation-supplementing-introductory-research-point/ [Accessed 2 May 2017)

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