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).

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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).

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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).

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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):

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

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

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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]

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.

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

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

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

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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).

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

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

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

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