Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project”

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).

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Figure 1. The quality :o) nylon umbrella I want to sacrifice for my assignment.

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).

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Figure 2. Testing paint on nylon sleeve. Left to right: Acrylics and gloss medium mixed 1:1

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.

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Figure 6. Scan of my gradmother’s amethyst brooch

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).

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Figure 7. Anon [n.d] “Wild Horse” Mammoth ivory horse found in the Vogelherd cave [source: n.d.]
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).

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Figure 9. Sketchbook – using a scanner to distort visual information
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Figure 10. Sketchbook – combining a print of one of my can paintings with the shadows removed and a print of a distorted barcode, placed underneath
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Figure 11. Sketchbook – top: sleeve containing the shadows cut out, bottom: two more tests, this time with straight barcode prints
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Figure 12. Sketchbook – the last of my combination series, top: test with top black area removed, bottom: inverted test using the shadow figures and two types of barcode


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:

  1. background resembling surface structure and colour pattern of my ivory horse
  2. adding barcode pattern from printed distorted version, in white ink
  3. on top of that shadow figures from previous exercise
  4. a “protective” layer the amethyst colour
  5. 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.

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Figure 15. Sketchbook – top: “Flying Demon” by Mikhail Vrubel, oil on canvas, 1899, bottom: a Huffington post article about the demon of perfectionism, which keeps haunting me as well
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Figure 16. Sketchbook –  top: “Demons inside you” by Daniela Hdz, bottom: list taken from a religious webpage dealing with anxiety and its sources
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Figure 17. Sketchbook – top: second test for background on umbrella shaped paper (mix of acrylics applied with foam roller), bottom: motion study by US artist Allessandra Hogan

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).

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Figure 18. Umbrella template in mixing tray
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Figure 19. Sketchbook – Testing colour mixes for suitability as background on umbrella

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).

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Figure 20. Umbrella sleeve – 3: acrylic mix with white acrylic and white ink “barcode”, 4: white ink, 5: white acrylic

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.

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Figure 21. Umbrella with finished background layer
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Figure 22. Umbrella with finished background layer, detail: Dark patches and folds in the fabric clearly visible

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).

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Figure 23. Sketchbook – testing barcode and silhouette pattern on umbrella template

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).

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Figure 24. Sketchbook – silhouette demons painted by contemporary artists, left: “Gave Shadow Demon Eyes” by PreciousNothin and “redlilith: being stripped” by Leslie Ann O’Dell
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Figure 25. Sketchbook – demonic-looking motion study by Dominik Schmidt

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).

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Figure 26. Sketchbook – creating a stone age hunting scene using dilute acrylic paint on a printed umbrella template

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).

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Figure 27. Printouts of the umbrella’s facing fields taped together in procession fashion, scene sketches added with pencil
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Figure 28. Detail of one printout depicting my relationship with my emotionally rather distant mother

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.

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Figure 29. Umbrella – field with willow charcoal scene addressing the issue of feeling second rate

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).

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Figure 30. Sketchbook – exploring my options of refining the charcoal sketches

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).

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Figure 31. Sketchbook – testing the refining of the charcoal sketches: Adding a dilute mix of umbra, Peynes grey and dark green to the negative space around the figures

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).

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Figure 32. Sketchbook – testing the refining of the charcoal sketches: Adding the dilute dark mix to background and figures as well as some highlights with white acrylic plus a test of the amethyst protective layer

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).

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Figure 33. Sketchbook – testing the refining of the charcoal sketches: painting over the figures with dilute umbra to create the illusion of movement

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).

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Figure 34. Sketchbook – testing the refining of the charcoal sketches: “density drawing” on and around the charcoal with ink 3 types of ink pen

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.

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Figure 35. Umbrella – one of the fields after applying two rounds of dilute dark acrylic

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.

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Figure 36. The finished umbrella from one side
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Figure 37. The finished umbrella as seen from the top

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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.

References

Anon [n.d.] Wild Horse [sculpture] [online]. [n.k.] [n.k.]. Available from: http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=3917 [Accessed 10 August 2017]

Gemma,  W. (2014) Acrylic Paint On Fabric: The Easiest Way To Make And Use It [blog] [online]. Udemy Inc., 22 May. Available from: https://blog.udemy.com/acrylic-paint-on-fabric/ [Accessed 8 August 2017]

Haxworth, C. (n.d.) Amethyst Healing Properties [online]. Caryl Haxworth, UK. Available from: http://www.charmsoflight.com/amethyst-healing-properties.html [Accessed 10 August 2017]

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]

 

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]

Artist research: Marlene Dumas

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.

References

Dumas, M. (n.d.) n.t. [online] [watercolour drawing]. n.k. Available from: postmedia.net/dumas/dumas5.htm [Accessed 17 July 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A, (2015) Part 5: Personal project – more research [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 5 December. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/part-5-personal-project-more-research/ [Accessed 17 July 2017]

Moran, F. (2015) Close up: Evil is Banal by Marlene Dumas [online]. Tate, London, 3 February. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/close-up-evil-banal-marlene-dumas [Accessed 18 July 2017]