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).

1_Umbrella_original_08082017
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).

2_Umbrella_sleeve_testing_acrylics_gloss medium_08082017
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.

3_Amethyst_brooch_10082017
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).

Stone_age_horse_historyofinformation_10082017
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).

5_Sketchbook_barcodes_1_12082017
Figure 9. Sketchbook – using a scanner to distort visual information
6_Sketchbook_barcode_can_test_12082017
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
7_Sketchbook_barcode_can_test_2_12082017
Figure 11. Sketchbook – top: sleeve containing the shadows cut out, bottom: two more tests, this time with straight barcode prints
8_Sketchbook_barcode_can_test_3_12082017
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.

11_Sketchbook_demon_research_1_12082017
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
12_Sketchbook_demon_research_2_12082017
Figure 16. Sketchbook –  top: “Demons inside you” by Daniela Hdz, bottom: list taken from a religious webpage dealing with anxiety and its sources
13_Sketchbook_umbrella_background_1_12082017
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).

20_Umbrella_background_method_1_12082017
Figure 18. Umbrella template in mixing tray
14_Sketchbook_umbrella_background_2_12082017
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).

18_Sleeve_test_2_12082017
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.

22_Umbrella_background_finished_12082017
Figure 21. Umbrella with finished background layer
23_Umbrella_background_finished_detail_12082017
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).

27_Sketchbook_umbrella_barcode_silhouette_est_14082017
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).

28_Sketchbook_demon_examples_14082017
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
30_Sketchbook_silhouette_schmidt_14082017
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).

29_Sketchbook_background_silhouettes_detail_14082017
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).

24_Umbrella_pencil_sketches_14082017
Figure 27. Printouts of the umbrella’s facing fields taped together in procession fashion, scene sketches added with pencil
25_Umbrella_pencil_sketches_detail_14082017
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.

26_Umbrella_charcoal_sketches_detail_14082017
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).

31_Sketchbook_testing_refining_17082017
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).

32_Sketchbook_refining_1_17082017
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).

33_Sketchbook_refining_2_17082017
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).

34_Sketchbook_refining_3_17082017
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).

35_Sketchbook_refining_4_17082017
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.

36_Umbrella_adding_background_17082017
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.

37_Umbrella_finished_17082017
Figure 36. The finished umbrella from one side
38_Umbrella_finished_top_17082017
Figure 37. The finished umbrella as seen from the top

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 2.3: Unusual materials – collections: Painting on a 3D surface

5 August 2017. As my tutor set me a submission date of 31 August for my second assignment I will have to work high speed through the summer to meet the date. I have some ideas now for both this exercise and the assignment so at the moment I am confident that I should be able to make it. Also, since the last exercise for this part (2.4) is about painting on painted surfaces and I have already done so on a great number of occasions during Part 1 and 2 (including exercise 2.2), I will take the risk and skip it in order to focus on this exercise and Assignment 2.

I collected a number of 3D objects over the last months including styrofoam trays, wooden sticks, the cardboard inside of kitchen rolls, Nespresso capsules, cardboard price tags on strings and such like. A few weeks ago we were given some aluminium cans advertising a new brand of cider. I liked their small size, appearance and name, which is a German language slang word. “Stibitzen” means “to nick” and fits in will with my addressing the passing of time, which in effect gets nicked from us in the course of our lives. So I kept them and decided today that they will be my 3D surface for this exercise (Fig. 1).

1_Stibitzer_cider_05082017
Figure 1. Aluminium cans to serve as 3D support

My plan is the following: William Kentridge’s experimental video “Shadow Procession” (Kentridge, 1999) in connection with the unforgettable song by Johannesburg street singer Alfred Makgalemele has had a lasting impression on me. Also, the afterglow from exercise 2.2, using my photos from the past, is still at work. Keeping in mind my shadow theme selected for the course I will try and bring together a painting technique from Part 1, the photos from my collection to be painted as shadows, and the cans to provide the support for my very own procession. The paintings will be a mix of acrylic and white ink as in part of my paintings for Assignment 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2017a). In a finished state the viewer should be able to rotate the cans and follow the procession. If time allows, I will make a short animated film and add music to it.

In order to find out more about Kentridge’s approach to shadow processions I read an article by Leora Maltz-Leca, ‘Process/Procession: William Kentridge and the Process of Change’ (2013), but soon decided that I wanted my own background to guide me through the exercise.

Planning stages:

  1. Find out more about painting on aluminium
  2. Select photo sequences for each can
  3. Prepare sketching paper in size corresponding to that available on the cans and make procession sketches

Painting on aluminium:

I found out instantly that aluminium is prone to corroding and may need to be primed before painting. As I expect not to continue painting on aluminium and on several websites demonstrating the process priming is not described as an essential step, I decided to skip it, but tested several techniques on the crushed can. First I applied two coats, one dilute grey, then one undiluted black coat (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. First coats using acrylic paint, left: dilute grey, right: undiluted black

I noticed that the paint may come off if not treated with care, especially when trying out line drawing using a very pointed nail (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Left and right: scratched line drawing

The effect of the original printed coat shining through was quite interesting to see, but has nothing to do with my plans, so I went ahead with painting over the scratched paint with my waterproof white ink (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Left and right: painting with white waterproof ink, using a paintbrush and toothbrush

In order to see whether the triple coat had become more stable on the aluminium I scratched it again (Fig. 5).

8_Stibitzer_third_coat_scratching_08082017
Figure 5. The crushed can after several tests.

The coat was as unstable as before, so I painted half of it with gloss medium. After that had become dry, I found that the stability had increased, so I assumed that it would be stable enough to proceed with my plan for the exercise.
And then I did something extremely silly for one who has been on this planet for a while. During the above treatment the can had assumed a shape I did not think attractive any more and I wanted to quickly bend some of the top bit straight from inside. The opening in the can had looked quite small due to the can’s overall small size and I had expected that my forefinger would never fit. But it did. It went into the can with horrible ease and there I was. The razor-sharp edge lodged itself firmly into my skin and the smallest movement caused it to cut into the flesh of my finger. Trying not to panic I went through several ideas of rescuing my finger. I soon saw that nothing involving moving either can or finger would help and also it had started bleeding. Finally I went for the coldest setting on the water tap on the kitchen sink and cooled the finger down. After what seemed like an eternity I felt that it had shrunk enough to allow it to move micrometer-wise and saved it with three bad cuts. Lesson learnt: No art is worth risking one’s fingers ….

Next I planned my approach for painting the three remaining three cans, measured the paintable area and considered the options for applying the paint (Fig. 6).

33_Sketchbook_mind_map_painting_methods_11082017
Figure 6. Sketchbook – planning the painting options

On my prepared intact cans I sketched in, with watercolour pencil, the sequence of shadow figures I had created in my sketchbook using my photo collection with some additions (Fig. 7) and made ad hoc changes as I went along, taking care to respond to negative space cues turning up as I went round the cans.

Figure 7. Sketchbook – planning my three processions

Each can corresponds to a part of my life as a teenager and young adult and the figures stand for persons and events, who/which I feel by the way they interacted with my own development “nicked” some of my time. The three slide shows below contain one full turn per can (Fig. 8, 9 and 10):

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Figure 8. Slideshow. Can 1: Teen Age 1, turning the can anticlockwise (7 images)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Figure 9. Slideshow. Can 2: Teen Age 2, turning the can anticlockwise (8 images)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Figure 10. Slideshow. Can 3: Young Adulthood, turning the can anticlockwise (8 images)

Overall I like the appearance of all three cans. The rough brushstrokes in the white ink make the silhuettes look lively and individual while producing working connections with each other, which makes me want to keep turning the cans to see how the people are connected. I am not sure whether the exercise is complete, however. The “nicking” aspect is not yet obvious and I want to spend some time thinking about how I can incorporate this by either adding paint, either black and white or colour, or, which I prefer at the moment, by taking away some to reveal part of the original coat of paint. For the time being I want to train the mind mapping aspect of the exercise to explore the options and to avoid rushing to conclusions. I must not confuse the latter with spontaneity and working quickly. I need to exercise the spending of time thinking to be followed by spontaneous work, which makes the world of a difference.

11 August 2017. Yesterday I let my older son have a look at the above images of my cans and he said they looked boring. Funnily enough, as soon as he had said it I felt the same. I had already started experimenting with distorted barcode scans for Assignment 2, based on the results of this exercise, which I had shown my son before he got to see the original cans. The cans look very energetic in my virtual combination with the barcodes, which may well explain my son’s reaction. But also the silhouettes, as they are, may look alive to me because I can fill them with the persons, their lives and personalities. So, in order to make them more successful to other viewers, I will need to add something that strikes their fancy. I have already playing in my mind with the word “Stibitzer” and will try to develop a connecting coloured logo or something similar. Maybe I will add a painted version of my barcodes (description to follow with blog post on Assignment 2)

15 August 2017. The above will have to wait. I am running out of time for my Part 2 deadline and need to concentrate on developing my assignment project. Maybe it is a good thing. This way I can come back to the cans at a later point and see my development through the parts of the course more clearly.
References:

Kentridge, W. (1999) Shadow Procession [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: https://vimeo.com/3140351 [Accessed 05 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 05 August 2017]

Maltz-Leca, L. (2013) ‘Process/Procession: William Kentridge and the Process of Change’. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 1 (March 2013), pp. 139-165. College Art Association, New York. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43188799 [Accessed 05 August 2017]

Artist research: The photographers Bill Brandt, André Kertész and Brassaï

23/24 July 2017. Bill Brandt (1904-1983, UK), André Kertész (1894-1985, Hungary) and Brassaï (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984, Hungary-France) were groundbreaking photographers, who shared a love of black and white photography at a time when colour photography was already available and a keen eye for the unusual view on the seemingly mundane to create striking compositions.
My tutor very likely intended for me here that I investigate the principles of distribution of light and dark areas in a composition devoid of colour. Since in black and white photography there is no colour to distract the eye (which humans have a great innate affinity for), any compositional imbalance is noticed immediately. Gibson (n.d.) points out that “the emotional power of color can mask poor composition”, which requires that particular attention is to be paid to “tonal contrast, texture, line, shape, pattern, and negative space”. This will be absolutely true for black and white painting as well. Another vital aspect listed by Gibson (n.d.) for successful black and white photography, the requirement of having the best possible lighting conditions, will of course be of great advantage in setting up the arrangement for a painting. However, in painting there is a large creative space on top of the properties of a setup, within which the respective weight of light and dark may be analysed, played with and adapted further. Which means that deviation from the original arrangement may be such that it is no longer recognizable in the finished work.
Among the three pioneering photographers I feel the greatest affinity with Brassaï. His compositions include many textural elements I might find in a contemporary painting. Troiano (2016) analyses his “The Language of the Wall” graffiti series from wartime Paris (ASX team, 2013) as a purposeful journey through the history of man. This may not be immediately obvious to the first-time viewer, but graffiti is often based on symbols common and intelligible to a large percentage of people through the times. One such photo in connection with the other members of the series thus becomes the carrier of several embedded layers of narrative, allowing a viewer to travel with it for as deep as they want the journey to be, from a superficial interest in the depicted wall texture to prophetic messages encoded in the series.
Bill Brandt, on the other hand, appears to me to have been a more direct commentator of contemporary everyday and political life, and, as black and white photography lends itself beautifully to that purpose, the documentation of the world at night. As far as I can see there are fewer encoded messages than in Brassaï’s work and this is probably included in his explanation of his approach to photographing the human body: “Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). This appears to me as a highly experimental, 21th century approach, since while the absence of planning will have opened doors to a new way of seeing the world, it will also have been accompanied by a great many failures. Brandt however also edited photographs in his darkroom to achieve effects he had in mind (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). In images which were not pure documents of a situation, Brandt’s compositional qualities are strikingly evident. In the same way as in a working painting he leads the viewer into and through a story, for example in his “Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow” (1937).
The fewest connections I notice with André Kertész. There seems to be a strange modern commercial feel to the photographs I found, which is strong enough for me to lose interest. While the compositions are immaculate, for me they do not radiate the mystery of Brassaï’s work and also lack the political statement of Brandt’s. This is not surprising, really, as Kertész used to work for magazines such as “House and Garden” (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.).

For my own work to come I will have printouts on my wall of those photos which left the strongest impression. I just hope that I can learn from them.

References

ASX team (2013) Brassai: *The Language of the Wall” [blog] [online]. American Suburb X, 27 July. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/07/brassai-graffiti.html [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Brandt, B. (1937) Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow [black and white photograph] [online]. Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Gibson, A.S. (n.d.) Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes in Black and White Photography [blog] [online]. Digital Photography School. Available from: https://digital-photography-school.com/5-mistakes-black-white-photography/ [Accessed 23 July 2017]

The J. Paul Getty Museum (n.d.) André Kertész (Getty Museum) [online]. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Available from: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1847/andr-kertsz-american-born-hungary-1894-1985/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Troiano, C. (2016) ‘Graffiti’ photographs by Brassaï [blog] [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 13 May. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/network/graffiti-photographs-by-brassai [Accessed 23 July 2017]

Victoria and Albert Museum (n.d.) Bill Brandt Biography [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [Accessed 24 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.

Assignment1_sketchbook1_08052017
Fig. 1. Sketchbook: Testing effects of various degrees of dilute gouache on black acrylic background
Assignment1_Set1_1_Bicycle_06052017
Figure 2. Painting 1: Shadow of a bicycle on a tent
Assignment1_Set1_2_CuracaoCave_06052017
Figure 3. Painting 2: Entering a cave on a sea shore in Curaçao
Assignment1_Set1_3_Frisbee_06052017
Figure 4. Painting 3: Playing Frisbee
Assignment1_Set1_4_Krampus_06052017
Figure 5. Painting 4: Krampus run
Assignment1_Set1_5_Family_06052017
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.

Assignment1_sketchbook2_08052017
Figure 7. Sketchbook: Investingating blurring effects (1/3)
Assignment1_sketchbook3_08052017
Figure 8. Sketchbook: Investigating blurring effetcs (2/3)
Assignment1_sketchbook4_08052017
Figure 9. Sketchbook: investigating blurring effects (3/3)
Assignment1_set2_1_WindowPlant_1_07052017
Figure 10. Painting 1: Shadow of plant on windowsill no. 1
Assignment1_set2_2_WindowPlant_2_07052017
Figure 11. Painting 2: Shadow of plant on windowsill, no. 2
Assignment1_set2_3_WindowPlant_3_07052017
Figure 12. Painting 3: Shadow of plant on windowsill, no. 3
Assignment1_set2_4_Candle_Flatscreen_07052017
Figure 13. Painting 4: Reflection of wooden candle holder on flatscreen TV
Assignment1_set2_5_Moonlight_07052017
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).

Assignment1_sketchbook5_08052017
Figure 15. Sketchbook: Testing the placement of white in the paintings (thumbnails)
Assignment1_set3_1_lense_light_08052017
Figure 16. Painting 1: Lense light in our bedroom and window
Assignment1_set3_2_Holocaust_memorial_08052017
Figure 17. Painting 2: Holocaust memorial in Berlin
Assignment1_set3_3_wirkshop_lights_08052017
Figure 18. Painting 3: My workshop lights
Assignment1_set3_4_fire_station_08052017
Figure 19. Painting 4: Fire station
Assignment1_set3_5_24hour_EEG_08052017
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).

Assignment1_set4_original_photos_09052017
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).

Assignment1_sketchbook6_08052017
Figure 22. Sketchbook: Thinking about possible abstractions from original photos (thumbnails)

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

Assignment1_set4_1_bathers_09052017
Figure 23. Painting 1: Bathers (derived from image showing rusty deck of boat)
Assignment1_set4_2_flamingos_09052017
Figure 24. Painting 2: Flamingos with coloured shadows
Assignment1_set4_3_coral_reef_09052017
Figure 25. Painting 3: Coral reef (derived from image showing shadow of tree on street)
Assignment1_set4_4_attacking_09052017
Figure 26. Painting 4: Attacking (derived from image showing wooden fence)
Assignment1_set4_5_tree_wall_09052017
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.

Grid1_09052017
Figure 28. Testing on black background, paintings in sequence of production, narrow gaps
Grid2_09052017
Figure 29. Testing on white background, paintings in sequence of production, narrow gaps
Grid3_09052017
Figure 30. White background, no gaps, random order of paintings except for strategic placing of coloured images (horrible effect, gaps are very important obviously)
Grid4_09052017
Figure 31. White background, narrow gaps, placing “loud” images at strategic positions
Grid5_09052017
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.
Grid6_09052017
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)
Grid7_09052017
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.