Assignment 1: Tutor feedback and reflection

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

The ‘encouraged’ part is summed up quickly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Materials and Methods:

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

Sketchbook:

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

Research:

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

Chosen course topic (shadows):

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

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

The ‘confused’ part:

Here come some examples of what causes the confusion:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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