Assignment 2: Tutor feedback reflection

1/3/4 September 2017.

Note 1.
For my tutor: I am very happy to be your student. What follows is nothing personal, but what I guess may be a general communication issue between the OCA and its student(s). I noticed and mentioned some of that in earlier courses also.

Note 2.
When I wrote my feedback reflection for Part 1 of UPM, I did so immediately after the video tutorial to then supplement it by the summary provided by my tutor in written form. I noticed weird discrepancies between study guide instructions, the oral and the written content of my tutor feedback. As this repeated itself for Part 2, I decided to pay particular attention and compare the things said and written. I found it very difficult to make this blog post a “compare and contrast” exercise, because my observations are virtually impossible to separate into isolated entities. Still I hope to have described my issues clearly enough to allow them to be discussed in depth and hopefully solved, because far too much of my limited study time is still going
into making sense of what is expected of me.  

Video tutorials with my UPM tutor I perceive as very lively and encouraging conversations. After about 4 or 5 video talks so far over the course of my OCA studies I believe, however, that despite the great advantages of immediate feedback and getting to know my tutor personally there are severe limitations to video communication for a number of reasons. A lot of information needs to be passed in what I feel is far too little time via a sometimes poor skype connection. I find myself unable to ask relevant questions during the tutorial, because I can only pinpoint inconsistencies I feel during the talk after having digested the more complex subjects covered. The above issue is made more difficult by receiving follow-up written summaries which I think sometimes are not completely in line with the oral information. This effect does not concern all of the advice given, but mostly affects my tutors’ remarks regarding the intentions behind my work.
I have to admit that trying to make sense of both confuses me. Therefore I will probably not go for a video tutorial next time but for a written-only statement. The latter I experienced, in Drawing 1 and Practice of Painting, as clear analyses of all the submitted pieces as compared to the more general overview provided by combined video/written feedback. For many of the reasons stated above I also decided that I will need to contact my tutor at shorter intervals while working on the exercises.

The main discrepancies I stumbled upon in this case were the following:

  • study guide instructions and tutor comments on respective work:

    I cannot help the impression that often tutor and study guide may be at odds.

    • Written tutor comment on photographic collections: “tension between your work from working with unpredictable diluted paints and the ordering of your objects” and “you have thought about the arrangement of them in grids and boxes”
      This combination was owed both to my tutor’s previous suggestion to keep working with inks and to the prescribed preliminary research on artists working with and presenting collections – they all came in grids and boxes. I even wrote a note in my sketchbook stating that I do not like to work in grids for several reasons.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.1: “continuing with the ordering of objects, your work is showing your interests of regularity and design- does this emulate your life style?” and “However avoid twee subjects like the teddy bear and necklace, as it does not match the inventiveness of the affects.”
      I do not embrace regularity, neither in my life nor in my work (although we as a family are going through a very long-term challenging period and sometimes I would wish for a little more peace and quiet). I experience myself as excessively inquisitive with spontaneous interest in everything and I will order my work only because it is expected from me. If I do so, however, my scientist’s training will probably create an impression of wanting to bring “a field of ideas into fenced areas”. I believe that fences hinder development, both at the personal level and in society as a whole.
      Both teddy bear and necklace were parts of collections of household items the study guide instructed us to produce. I mentioned in both sketchbook and blog that I did not like any of the two choices and would never think of working with them on my own. However, I was happy with the quick palette knife caramel study of my teddy bear, which made him look fierce and aggressive (I like playing with contradictory elements, also in my work as political caricaturist). As I recorded in my sketchbook, after further experimenting the caramel painting exists only as a photo now.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.2: “Your sources are wide ranging to start this project. Sometimes less is more.”
      We were required to select several from a long list of sources and use these to experiment. I did exactly what was required in the study guide. On the other hand, in the video tutorial, my tutor asked me to continue doing what I like best and experiment to the full.
    • Written tutor comment on exercise 2.3: “Do you like to collect? You work with multiples and more than one object.”
      No, I don’t like to collect, but this is what we were supposed to do, it is the basis for all of the work required in Part 2.
    • Written comment on assignment: “your panels started off by being too decorative and literal”.
      I don’t understand this, because at the outset I had no plan that I would create fields and many of my finished scenes travel into the next panel on the umbrella. The scenes themselves, evolving from a very quickly produced background of roughly mixed acrylic paint, were purely intuitive (e.g. “I want to address anxiety, can my inner eye see something in the swirls of colour that might transport this emotion?”). I never even thought of a literal translation, let alone decoration. The way I chose for creating the persons acting on the panels I felt to be extremely rough, both in testing them on my printouts (without which I would have been unable to see the patterns in the original) and the nylon support of the umbrella.
      I was surprised that my tutor called the use of an umbrella “clichéd” and then added “However, if the umbrella is intentional …”. I explained the background to my – of course intentional – choice of an umbrella as my support widely in my blog. Besides that, at level one I firmly believe that I should not be overly concerned about clichés really, in the same line as my tutor’s suggested not to worry about a personal voice at this level.
    • My tutor emphasizes the necessity to show continuity, e.g. by returning to the same materials (“Be careful you are not starting again in each assignment”, “It is easy to forget what you have already done without celebrating the successes. I think this is why you can be a little frightened each time- because you feel you are starting again.”).
      While I will very happily celebrate what I think was successful, I think that either it is me misinterpreting or the study guide failing to explain clearly. I still do not understand how we are supposed to show continuous development throughout the course, because parts/exercises read very differently regarding the required outcome: e.g. “curating” and painting collections of household items in Part 2 and learning how to make monoprint portraits in Part 3. For me these two have very little in common and I am not sure yet how I am to combine study guide requirements and tutor suggestions.
  • technical aspects:

    In her pointers for the next assignment my tutor suggests that I need to make my results more sophisticated by thinking about a coating for my results. This I thought odd, since I had added protection wherever I thought a piece finished. Some of them, as e.g. the aluminium cans, I have left unsealed so far, but only because I want to keep the option of working on them again at a later point (this I mentioned in my blog). The suggestion by my tutor also confuses me, because in her feedback on Part 1 she mentioned that I must not worry about leaving things unfinished.

  • analysis of development:

    In the video tutorial I received the impression of a considerable step forward. The written feedback, which arrived a day later, was far less enthusiastic in that respect. It contains the remarks “There has been a change in direction” and “Previously- you worked with shadows, monochromatic applications, atmospheric work and looking at shadows as traces, footstep and legacies to extend your context.” I certainly did not intend any change in direction and continued to work with shadows as planned. I expanded on my work from Part 1 in e.g. my sketchbook, set of cans, large scale drawing and Assignment 2 and continued to develop my work with shadows, traces and legacies, all of these combined in my umbrella project. My tutor however identified a change insofar as a new subject of mine appears to be “ordering the chaos”. This is not so. My interest in multiples is owed to study guide instructions, at least at the moment. The addition of mind mapping as an invaluable tool has purely organisational reasons and I am positive that I do not want to make it part of my work at this point in time.
    My tutor advised me also to shift my attention from focusing on shadows as a main course theme to what has started to show in my recent work, which is the use of a large variety of unusual surfaces and painting materials, working with found objects and working with multiples, but again I only followed instructions here. A comparable experience I had in Part 1, where I believe that my tutor received the wrong impression that I had set myself the goal of painting 20 squares for assignment, as she mentioned a certain lack of inventiveness in repeating same-sized paintings.

  • analysis of written work:

On p. 2 of her written feedback my tutor mentions that “I say my work is unprofessional because I am repeating”. I cannot remember saying such a thing, I rather wrote that by a lack of organisation “I still find myself working intuitively, which results in “discovering” the same things over and over, which is not just annoying but highly unprofessional.”. Which is something altogether different (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). What I mean is that by having no structure in my approach to experimenting (at the time before mind mapping!), I do things again and again without realising that I am repeating myself and without making a working connection between the repeated parts. I know that the conscious and comparative repeating of techniques and subjects is absolutely essential in developing a better understanding of the respective outcomes. Mind mapping will however help me organising this part of my studies better.
I am not sure whether sometimes the way I express myself may lead to misunderstandings.

Apart from the above contradictory observations I received a number of invaluable pointers for development:

  • The working with multiples/grids/fields ties in with some of my earlier work, including the charcoal animations I did as part of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). My tutor suggested that I try animations again, including simple ones like spinning my umbrella and making a film of that (zoetrope effect).
  • make anxiety part of my work (which I already do to a large extent)
  • select working textures from my sketchbooks and use them at a larger scale
  • continue working with unusual materials such as Coca-Cola and charcoal, caramel, beetroot juice etc. as well as unusual supports
  • try and work on a number of different pieces simultaneously to allow switching between pieces intuitively according to the communication channels working best at the time
  • regarding the issue of “putting order in my chaos”:
    e.g. use beetroot juice, make a mind map to set the scene, paint with a paintbrush (orderly) and then “let go” by e.g. painting with my hand only, always keep working quickly
  • do whatever I like best and continue experimenting to the full, putting imagination first, but now with my mind on “ordering the chaos”
  • Regarding the use of mind maps as means of artistic expression my tutor suggested that I have a look at the work of Mark Lombardi (1951-2000, USA) and the conspiracy theory surrounding his work and premature death. I did a quick search on the internet and instantly felt something familiar. Actually Lombardi’s cleverly devised mind maps, named “Narrative Structures”, remind me of some analysing tools used in evolutionary biology and ecology. Though static in appearance, his mind maps are in motion, both by the way the lines are arranged and by the way they indicate growth, and probably evolution. When doing some research on his intentions, it was not a biological background, but rather analyses of financial and political development (see e.g. Lucarelli, 2012). Although these subjects could not sound more different, they of course share similarities via emerging properties (which leads me back to an observation I made for myself when working on my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017b). It would both take me too far and be at the same time be short-sighted to consider making “evolution” a new focus of my course. The whole course itself is evolution and I must not use something I cannot know, because it lies in the future, to plan continuity with.

Besides, I am extremely happy to read that my sketchbook at last starts to take shape and research as well as blog meet the requirements. These points I was really worried about, because it took me felt ages to learn the basic requirements.

Overall, in order to gain the most from my work so far, I have started to sit down with my results for Parts 1 and 2 to do a synthesis and then decide, using mind maps, in which direction I want to proceed. This aspect is one of the aha-experiences I had during our video talk. So far I saw the parts of all courses as more or less separate entities with the main goal of introducing many different options of artistic expression. Tutor and assessors will however, despite the felt enormous difference between the subjects of each part, look for a continuity in artistic development. So, in Part 3, for example, where I had thought I would need to follow instructions on how to make monotype prints, I will also be expected to include insights gained in other parts, irrespective of their superficial dissimilarity. For example, although many of my subjects are figurative, I am semi-abstract in my use of materials. In keeping doing so I will be showing the required continuity over the parts of the course. This is completely new thinking for me and I will need to approach Part 3 with care to make this aspect a working tool.

Research on artists suggested by my tutor will be posted separately.

References

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015) Assignment 2: “Ghost from the Past” – a stop motion experiment and the finished drawing [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 17 June. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/06/17/assignment-2-ghost-from-the-past-a-stop-motion-experiment-and-the-finished-drawing/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017a) Part 2, exercise 2.1: Unusual materials: collections – unusual painting media [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 14 July. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/07/14/part-2-exercise-2-1-unusual-painting-media/ [Accessed 3 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017b) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 1 September 2017]

Lucarelli, F. (2012) Mark Lombardi’s Narrative Structures and Other Mappings of Power Relations [blog] [online]. Socks, Paris, 22 August. Available from: http://socks-studio.com/2012/08/22/mark-lombardi/

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]