6 September 2017. My tutor suggested I have a look at a set within Allen McCollum’s (*1944, USA) famous surrogate paintings, basically empty frames painted in vivid colours and lined up in rows along a wall (McCollum, n.d.). Despite the connection my tutor tied (“where absence and shadow can speak volumes”), I was not attracted. The frames look rough, their colours haphazard. Looking at them again during a quiet minute they reminded me distantly of the multitude of doors leading to the childrens’ bedrooms in the great film “Monster Inc.”. In contrast to McCollum’s frames I find a real purpose to the doors besides serving as symbols for individual lives. Of course I can fill the absences in McCollum’s frames with whatever (shadows) I like, but this I can do with everything that is empty around me, so I do not really need the frames.
McCollum not only works with sets of blank frames, but also with multiples (similar but not the same) of drawings, sculptures or even collections of natural objects such as fulgurite tubes (glass lined hollow tubes formed where lightning strikes sand), which I was not happy to see either. I am having difficulties again with the lining up of multiples of objects into grids and rows, no matter how sophisticated the connection with some important human issue such as a discussion of the mass-produced versus individualized, the issue of a painting being an object representing itself and such like, in the late 20th century (ARTCenterMFA, 2015). At the risk of outing myself, again, as a philistine, the addressed issues feel vastly insubstantial to me in the face of the enormousness of the universe and the mystery of life. The produced objects are sometimes attractive, more often nice to look at, but this is where my interest ends somehow. I believe that most repetitive patterns look attractive to the human mind because they are aesthetically pleasing, but this does not automatically make them qualify as works of art. Is this the same sort of decoration my tutor saw in the first stages of my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017)? I am probably not the best person to judge here, because to me the umbrella is a multidimensional analysis of a highly personal legacy. However, I will be taking my own experience with McCollum’s work as a warning to myself, so that I do not wander, starry-eyed, into the same trap.
ARTCenterMFA (2015) Allan McCollum, Graduate Seminar 2/3/2015 [online]. Department of Graduate Art at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Available from: https://vimeo.com/118767506 [Accessed 6 September 2017]
Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) 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 6 September 2017]
McCollum, A. (n.d.) Allan McCollum [online]. Allan McCollum, New York. Available from: http://allanmccollum.net/allanmcnyc/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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:
background resembling surface structure and colour pattern of my ivory horse
adding barcode pattern from printed distorted version, in white ink
on top of that shadow figures from previous exercise
a “protective” layer the amethyst colour
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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]