Monthly Archives: July 2016

Assignment 5 preparation

 

My theme

Looking back over my painting course, remembering what I enjoyed and thought at the time I’d like to develop further, re-reading my tutors feedback and realising I’ve had a range of successes, makes the choice of a theme for assignment 5 more difficult in a way, because there are so many subjects which appeal to me.   I’ve always thought, though, that what means the most to me is depicting people, and in particular I knew I’d like to depict the people I live amongst and to whom I feel a strong emotional attachment.

 

I’m an outsider, accepted and welcomed into the community.  Conversely I see my neighbours lives as somewhat magical; a web of strong threads connecting each person to their family, relatives and neighbours, all interdependant; they could not operate without each other or on their own.

 

So I’ve taken two families and a group of friends and neighbours, and thought to depict the close knit ties of these individuals in a series of group portraits.  In the paintings I want to express how close, how familiar, the individuals are to their other group members; their gestures and facial expressions should capture in some way how they relate to each other.  The individuals may be posed and self aware or they may be depicted in natural, unselfconscious gestural poses.

 

I’m drawn towards using a frieze format for the paintings, with several figures ranged horizontally, their poses and gestures describing their interaction and bringing dynamism to the whole.  Many influences gleaned during my painting course  have contributed to this idea, from Bridget Riley’s Red With Red and the Mantegna frieze which inspired it, The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome; to the long landscapes of Ivon Hitchens, which show how a composition can be read from left to right, introducing a time dimension; to my seven dancers abstract inspired by Pollock’s Summertime and the Manaeds dance.

 

I already have a trove of photographs of the individuals I’m most interested in, and together with sketches and studies these will provide the elements of my compositions.  One challenge will be to create coherent scenes, drawing  individuals in believable proportions and perspective in relation to each other and their surroundings. Another will be to avoid illustrating my ideas, rather to feel them through the execution.  My aim will be to achieve a convincing mix between:-

•Effective interpretation –  eg through ambiguity, distortion, exaggeration, imaginative colour, simplification.

•Observation – the paintings will be believable because they’ll be based on observation based sketches and studies as well as photos

•Fluid execution – contributing to the feel of the painting and adding to its contenT

 

Ideas for three paintings

 

The Ayten family

The two boys are the centre of the family universe, around which the mother and father and granny revolve.  I collected my photos, and made some studies from life (some recent, the last two from Drawing 1).  I concentrated on the children…the proportions of their heads and features are so different from those of adults, and I was keen to gather ‘the knowledge’ through drawing so that I’d  be able to approach the painting with more assurance.

I then created the composition below (pencil, ink,coloured pencil sketch) of the family in their cozy, cluttered  sitting room.  ‘Sitting’ is the word for friendly family and neighbours get-togethers  in each other’s houses to pass time pleasurably, chatting and sipping tea.  The tv might be on on the background as ornament, but is largely ignored in favour of conversation.  The atmosphere is warm, intimate, relaxed and hospitable.

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Looking critically at my composition sketch, everyone is crowded up at the front page of the picture plane, giving a bit of a cramped feeling.  Although I was aiming for a frieze, I still wanted depth in the composition .    I decided to address this in the painting itself, by positioning the sofa people further back.

 

The Bedriye family

The one child living in this family group is a sweet but dominant character, fully in charge of her grandad and other family members, and of her animals from largest cow to smallest chicken.

I made some studies.  The child is holding a young kid in her arms. Her facial expression and child’s head needed to be studied carefully.  Her mother’s pose, reaching down to rummage in the vegetable patch took some adjustments to get the proportions and perspective approaching correct.  Again I gathered information through observational drawings (pastel on Ingres paper so much better than my homemade textured gesso support) and photos.

The composition I created (coloured pencil, below) brings the family members together.  The group are together outdoors, by the cowshed and chicken coop, looking directly at me across a small stream – arrested in a moment of time, their attention momentarily taken away from their chores and each other. This reminds me of Las Meninas – the family group similarly turning to look at the viewer, who is thus included in the scene.

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Five neighbours at a wedding

These older women observe the proceedings, fidgeting in their chairs, commenting in lively fashion on everything that comes under their scrutiny, including each other.

I’ve added a fifth person as I felt the composition called for an odd number.  Bringing the five together in a coloured pencil study I explored negative shapes, and tonal contrasts as well as ‘learning’ my subjects’ gestures.

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My research

From ancient times, groups of people have been depicted in frieze format, their body language, context, pose, gesture, expressing the group’s story and inter-relationships.  Sogdian frescoes, seen recently in ‘The Heart of the Silk Road’ depict this type of genre exquisitley and so delicately.  I also looked at Leonardo da Vinci who made the most famous frieze in post Renaissance times in ‘The Last Supper’.

I revisited Degas’ pastel ballet dancers, and Sickert’s figures, I talk about these later while doing the paintings.

More contemporarily in Vitamin P2 (p. 194/5), the family portraits of Liu Xiaodong are especially relevant.  He too paints as an observer, and at the same time is enmeshed in “a web of actions and interactions”,  alluding to his own presence through the gazes of his subjects.  He incorporates a lot of precise detail though, and I feel these two paintings are fairly stiff, frozen in time, stilted.

In 500 Portraits (p77), Ross Hall’s Me and my Family is more expressive.  The background to the family is flat and empty, the interest is in their lively expressions and gestures. They strike poses for us, the viewer though, and there’s not much clue about their relationships with each other.

Megan Davies’ Gran Turismo in the same book (p 198) speaks more about the life of the family concerned, but otherwise has less interest for me as it’s  hyper detailed, precise and realistic.  But it does show how relationships can be beautifully expressed through use of context and gesture.

The Glasgow  work of Joan Eardley has more relevance for me, although her slum children now look too picturesque with today’s eyes.  Drawing underpinned her painting, and she used pastels, pen and ink, chalk, brush to produce the drawings.  “She drew as a means of gaining knowledge to enable her to paint directly and with assurance” (www.studiointernational.com).  Her paintings such as ‘Back Street Children Playing’, 1960 are a guide for me, with their strong palette, limited depth of field, and series of vertical forms broken by  diagonals,  focussing on an inner drama or story, http://www.howtopastel.com/2014/10/joan-eardley-pastels-of-slum-kids/

 

Ref

Vitamin P2, pub Phaidon, 2013

500 Portraits, pub National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2011

http://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/joan-eardley. Accessed 9 Jun 2016

 

 

 

Assignment 5, the paintings

 These are the final paintings in my series of three, shown in the order in which I did them

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The Ayten Family – pastel on paper, 87×43 cm

 

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Five friends at a wedding – acrylic on canvas, 87×43 cm

 

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The Bedriye Family – acrylic on canvas, 87×43 cm

 

Work in progress – problems encountered, possibilities for improvement

The Ayten family

This was the first painting I did of the three, and feeling uncertain I decided to first make a full scale (87×44 cm) pastel painting, thinking I could then if I wanted to make an acrylic version.  Before I started I studied Degas’ pastel paintings of ballet dancers, zooming in closely and noting his unblended colours laid down side by side with confident strokes.  I noted how he used light and shade to describe form, using colour tonally.

Not having access to large pastel paper I applied gesso with a foam roller to a piece of smooth, sturdy paper; the roller created a very rough texture. Unfortunately it also needed huge amounts of pastel to cover up the hills and valleys, and despite rubbing the pigment in with rags and fingers I still was left with a lot of mat white showing through, which has affected the look (I knew the next painting in the series would be in acrylic and so wouldn’t have the same problem). 

Here are some work in progress photos.  The figures look fuzzy because of my too-rough textured paper, but thinking about this I could still give them (particularly the boys) more focus by contrasting them more against their immediate background, and by a little judicious outlining.

I’ve addressed the issue in my earlier sketch of lack of depth.  By deliberately placing the figures in three dimensions, the boys are now more forward, the oldest almost walking out of the picture towards us, the viewer.

By now I’d decided to bring this pastel painting to a more developed stage, and to include it in my series of three.  I left it for a few days in a place where I would see it frequently as I worked, and made a start on the next painting.  As an abstract design it seemed unsatisfactory tonally, and my solution after a lot of thought was to darken the sofa quite a lot.  Also, the background behind the boys was darkened and the greater contrast worked to bring them even more into focus (I stil thought the palette in this painting simplistic and lacking subtlety, and I wanted to address this in the following painting – perhaps using a more limited and/or more tonal palette).  I repeated the ‘wait and see’ strategy and eventually noticed some figures’ proportions which were wrong and needed changing.  Here are more work in progress shots

At no stage yet have I used fixative, my rough paper and good Unison pastels seem to take to each other.  Fixative’s great but once you use it you’ve lost the ability to blend a colour with the one under it, so I’m putting it off, although I have started to notice an awful lot of pastel dust around.

When the next two paintings in my series were complete, I went back into this one, as I still wanted to improve it.  I fixed what I’d done so far because I wanted pure, bright colour from now on, and because I needed fresh tooth for more layers of pastel to adhere to. I more or less went over everything, adding contrast and definition, and enriching tone and colour.  The colours in the final version now have more depth and there’s a greater variety of marks and texture.

Five friends at a Wedding

The contrast between the dark background and the figures was what initially attracted me to this scene, and also the body language and interaction between the subjects.  I mapped out the composition on canvas, and then obliterated it with a background.

To create my background I drew from my experiences in the part 5 exercises, pouring, dribbling and splattering paint on to the canvas, using acrylic paint, gel medium and flow improver roughly mixed in shallow containers.  Colours were black, the phthalos, indigo, lemon yellow on top, passages of burnt sienna in the middle and titanium buff and hookers green in the foreground.  I tipped the canvas every way, deployed a hairdryer and sprayed water to encourage the paint to run, form random shapes and marks.  Because I’d only incompletely mixed my media, blobs of pure pigment congealed here and there.  The whole effect was random but not random…directed in a loose sense.  For me, the infinitely variable marks produced in this way felt quite liberating, they enabled my imagination to see forms and possibilities that wouldn’t have risen to the surface if I’d approached the painting in a more controlled way.

When I was satisfied with the background I drew my figures in charcoal and white conte.  The composition of ‘Five Friends’ is satisfying, even though it does have a shallow depth, with all the characters ranged side by side.  The subjects appear to be communing with each other, and although sitting have varied, lively poses.  How they each distribute their weight, is quite varied, you can draw conclusions about their individual personalities from this.

From this point to the end I didn’t change the background at all!  The dribbling etc for the background had worked so well with its mixture of accident and control that, encouraged,  I decided to use similar techniques in the third painting.

There is an influence from Peter Doig’s landscape paintings in the dark background, as I’ve been looking at his work recently in part 4.  I like the way he creates deep, mysterious skies and backgrounds, lit up by random spots of brightness.

Before working on the figures I reviewed earlier research on Walter Sickert, and how he approached the clothed figure.  His figures aren’t detailed and don’t display precision, but are very effectively moulded in tonal contrasts, pure colour used to create light.  With this in mind I carefully, methodically, but avoiding undue detail or precision, carved my figures out of the dark background, using bright colour as light and tonal darks for shadows.  The palette works better, it’s more interesting, subtler and harmonious compared to ‘The Aytens’.

Depicting the drapes , folds and patterns of the clothes was fun, but I also had to try to describe the forms of the sitters underneath their clothes; I aimed for variety between subtler gradations and high tonal contrasts, making use of the background where I could.

The hardest bit were the hands and faces, and capturing the expressions I wanted without getting bogged down in detail.  In the final version, there is more detail in the figures than I’d been aiming for – but to compensate, the background, while being textured and interesting, isn’t too distracting.  So I think the painting is balanced in terms of busy and quiet passages.

Also surprisingly difficult was painting the fifth person – the source material referred to a different context – winter, not summer, day not night, a different chair – I had to imagine how she overlapped with her neighbour, what the negative spaces between them were like.  

I think I’ve captured the characters of the subjects with their postures and gestures;  the feet are also expressive- the way they are planted, or fidgeting, saying something about the individual and their mood.

The Bedriye family

This outdoor, late spring daytime family portrait is lighter and sunnier in character.  They’re together engrossed in attending to their animals and qarden, their attention momentarily caught and frozen by you the viewer entering the scene and calling ‘hello!’

As the approach I used for the last painting worked well for me I decided to follow it again.  With the confidence gained from the second painting  I produced a background in the third  that’s textured and complex, and works well within the whole.  Dribbling and spattering, loose, indeterminate washes, this time adding acrylic inks to the mix of media, tipping the canvas, blowing to encourage the paint to spread, scratching in texture with a stick, spraying with water, scratching with a baker’s pastry widget to get parallel lines.

This background didn’t come so easily though.  The last one was made up of three simple, horizontal bands of tonal colour;  this one has verticals as well as horizontals, dark windows and doors.  It didn’t come out ‘right’ first time, and I let it dry and waited, then decided to leave it as it was and map in the figures, with charcoal and chalk line and then rough transparent blocks of zinc white, so I could see my figures better against the dappled, confusing background.  Magenta , Paynes grey and titanium white then moulded the figures in 3D, pulling them out of the background.

A lot of careful measuring went into the figures; my sketches and photos helped, but they didn’t help me place the figures in correct perspective as the grouping was entirely imaginary.  Though there’s not a great depth of field, It seems to me in these group portraits the most important thing to decide is where to plant the feet; this establishes who’s in front of whom relative to the picture plane.  Then you have to know, or decide, where your eye level is relative to the figures’. However, over-thinking it is very confusing and in the end I had to go with what I thought looked right.

Next I painted the garden in the foreground, concealing some feet.  Bedriye’s greenish skirt merged into the foreground and disappeared, so I changed it to a warm burnt sienna to bring it out again.  The foreground looks effective, but rather busy now – put that thought on hold until the figures are more developed.

The task of describing clothes, features and hands, refining lines and proportions came next, trying not to get bogged down in detail, but doing enough to describe what I wanted to say;  and applying paint thinking in terms of light and shade,  and positive and negative shapes.

The child’s head disappears somewhat into the intense dark square behind her.  In my source material she has a big rusty oil drum against which the shape of her head is better seen.  I tried it out in iPad SketchBook App, liked it and made the decision to replace the black window tomorrow.

The figure of the crouching woman has bugged me from the outset – despite many attempts I still hadn’t drawn it convincingly. My source material, one photo, is indistinct, and I should take some more but the model’s not available.  Finally I was happy with it…but she looks rather giant compared to the others, considering she’s not that far in front of them.  The shadowy man standing behind her looks too small, which accentuates her large size.  I made him larger and stood back.

The goat looks a bit as though he’s collaged on – there’s not enough sense of his weight in the child’s arms.  I studied my source photos again, and noticed shade and light where his form was compressed by gravity over her forearms, and faint indentations in his fur where her fingertips dug in.

Here is the painting at various stages while I grappled with the task of solving the issues described.

Reassessing the child and the goat against the black square, the sharp contrast now seemed to add a drama which draws the viewers eye from left to right, travelling through the picture to finally rest and focus on them, so the black window stays after all.

The foreground works within the picture, and not over busy, so no changes there either.

My main criticism of the Bedriye painting lies in the sizes of the figures relative to each other and the picture plane… the crouching woman too large, the two men too small.  

 

Reflections on the series

If I gave my series a title it would be ‘Togetherness‘  because the series explores, through gesture, how people who  live closely together, whether as friends, relatives or neighbours, interact with each other, often growing so familiar they don’t need to speak, or even look at each other to sense what the other is thinking, how they are feeling, what they are doing.

The postures of the figures in five friends , how they distribute their centre of gravity, is very varied, you can interret their individual characters from this.  Same in the other two paintings to a lesser extent.

I think I’ve captured the personalities of the subjects, some of the pm shine through with a real energy

I’ve also used colour to help express the idea of togetherness.  In the pastel painting the subjects’ final colours are warm reds, purples and blues, giving a sense of familiarity and family unity.  The ‘gold’ background adds to the warm atmosphere and throws it’s light onto the children.  In the acrylic paintings individuals are clothed in variations of colours which repeat and harmonise – magenta, blue-greys and golds – cooler colours, reflecting their differences but at the same time their similarities with respect to each other.

As a series the three paintings hang together reasonably well, though it could have been better had all three been painted in acrylic.  They all have the same format, and a similar concept.  They have similar compositions – figures arranged horizontally in a narrow depth of field.  Their tonal pitch and colour intensity is similar.  The repetition of the magenta/paynes grey/dark green palette in the two acrylic paintings pulls the paintings together as a group (while again leaving the pastel painting slightly isolated).  The pastel painting is also a little staged and wooden compared to the second – in that way quite reminiscent of the family portraits of Liu Xiaodong in Vitamin P .  The second, five ladies, is looser, the background, made by pouring, dribbling and spattering working well.  The third is looser still, and has the most interest and liveliness in the use of paint.  For me this is the best one in the series.

Naturally, despite my tutors encouragement to  “proceed onto assignment 5 with confidence”, I felt uncertain and very lacking in confidence both in choosing a theme for my series of paintings, and in actually starting the paintings. I’m least happy with the first painting I did, the Ayten Family pastel.  It doesn’t play so well to my experience  and the development of my skill in using acrylic paint. 

On the positive side I’ve achieved the aims set out in the preparation stage reasonably well.  I’ve also been ambitious in tackling quite complex compositions in an unusual format, in portraying the figures convincingly both as individuals and in the way they interact with their groups, and in my paint handling, particularly the acrylic ones and especially in their backgrounds, which I am very pleased with.  I’ve followed through with my thoughts set out when I began Part 5, here allowing accident to have a role, experimenting with ways of applying and manipulating paint, using colour and pattern inventively.

 

 

 

End of the course, reflections

I feel that I’ve learned and developed in my artistic practise (which was practically zero when I started my first OCA course).

Learning the fundamentals of painting is of course an essential creative resource. With a breadth and depth of experience (opaque and transparent washes, different supports and ways of applying paint, colour mixing and colour theory etc) – one can express ideas in a more creative way.
The exercises furnishing me with important creative resources for the future include ‘Colour Used to Evoke Mood’, ‘Creating Mood and Atmosphere’ and re ‘Conveying Character’. Concentrating on these aspects of painting as I go forward will move my work away from attempting to replicate reality, towards expressing important ideas. I’d like to somehow knit them into my next course, as I feel I only touched on the deep well of creative possibilities that they offered.
Drawing in paint was one of my favourite exercises, and I returned to the idea in Assignment 4 with my painting of a garden and swimming pool. Painting using line forces me to look differently at what painting is, and to find new ways of expressing ideas.
So in the same way did the exercises introducing different ways of applying paint, particularly in part 5. Learning to enjoy the use of paint for its own sake releases creativity. A few of my best paintings were done using unconventional methods, relinquishing control, adding texture – in Part 4, garden archway with palette knife; Part 1, fruit study with only my fingers; Part 5, seven dancers, using enamel paint, pva, dripping, pouring and spattering; and meadow, using dried flowers, grasses, beads, modelling paste, acrylic thickener, pouring paint etc; and my Ass 5 acrylics using pouring, dribbling, spattering etc etc.

 

After finishing Assignment 5 I opened an exhibition of my paintings and drawings made over the last two and a half years with OCA. The exhibition is in a small gallery in a small, rural town, not a thriving cultural hub, but nevertheless its an achievement.

I’ve gathered together the best of my Drawing 1 and POP work, and hung them together here.  A good opportunity to look at them all together and evaluate my artistic progress!

The work looks well presented, and I’m happy with the decisions I made about which pieces to exhibit and which didn’t make the grade, or didn’t fit my chosen theme…’Colours of my Village‘.   I can see development in terms of technical ability and quality of outcome, and also the development of my personal voice; the later pieces beginning to show more experimentation and imagination.  The assimilation of other artists’ practices into my work can also be seen.

To have a body of work which I feel able to exhibit is good, however, now looking at them all together I’m starting to distance myself.  I’m accept what I’ve produced, but I now realise it’s not where I want to be in the future.

 

My artistic direction now, I feel, must be towards greater experimentation and greater expression; more conceptual content; more variety and richness within the work of texture and mark; more interpretation and imagination; less emphasis on realistic depiction.  My use of colour must become broader ranging and less reliant on bright, sharp colour palettes.  I want to explore different uses of colour to depict a wider range of mood and atmosphere – for example limited pallete, harmonious palletes, tonal palletes.

I feel I’m at the end of a chapter, and very excited at the prospect of opening a new one.  Following more advanced students’ learning logs has led me to choose Understanding Painting Media as the next course.  I see students on this course undertaking a variety of experimental projects, and so it fits with the direction I’d now like to take.

 

Part 5 – Tutor feedback

The tutor report is here

 

I had a sinking feeling as I read through the first paragraphs of comments by my tutor on some successful work in the exercises; so I must have realised inside my assignment pieces were not up to scratch.  I wasn’t surprised when the blow came.  My assignment pieces – all three – were “Twee…over-detailed. ..fussy. ..illustrative.. .amateur… unconvincing …very poor indeed… so many weaknesses …fails to cohere… don’t include any of them in your assessment submission.”

So not very good then!

Bitterly disappointed, my strategy was to do nothing for a couple of days while the report sunk in.

Here’s OCA advice on what to do with tutor reports:

  • Firstly print out the Tutor Report document or enable the document to be annotated on your PC.
  • Read it carefully.
  • Read it again this time highlighting areas of importance. For example strengths, weaknesses and suggested changes.
  • Read it again this time alongside the assessment criteria noting down any language that suggests you are at a particular level. (Tutors use the assessment criteria to judge the kind of feedback you require)
  • Look at the Tutor Report with your notes along side the assignment it refers to.
  • Lay out your work looking for the places your tutor has indicated for change.
  • Make notes on what you see. Can you see what your tutor sees?
  • Make further notes on how you could go about meeting the suggestions made or making improvements to the assignment.
  • Talk the assignment and feedback over with another student (via Facebook or a student forum) or a friend/member of your family.
  • Make your changes to the assignment.
  • Reflect on how this process has helped you improve your assignment.
  • Place both the Tutor Report and your notes in your learning log.
  • Write up the changes you have made to the work and reflect upon the outcomes.
I did that and basically I can see what my tutor sees in the good pieces, although I must admit when I made them I kind of dashed them off, looking on them as fun experiments rather than proper paintings.  The assignment pieces on the other hand had been carefully prepared and laboured over in great detail, to the point where perhaps I wasn’t able to reflect objectively on them.  Perhaps there’s a clue there.   The subject, the concept, is still great; the problem is in the execution, the way I’ve approached them is a bit kitsch, tight and detailed.  What I wanted to express, the intimacy of family and neighbourly relationships, got subsumed into a rather illustrative outcome.
 
In a telephone call we discussed the feedback.  Assessment Submission guidelines no longer require us to submit all our assignments, and I had some very good work from the exercises in Part 5 which I could select from, so there was no question of me having to redo the assignment.   More important to make sure I learn from the situation as I go forward to my next course.
 
 
In both Drawing 1 and Painting 1 I’ve approached the final assignments as the culmination of the course, my one chance to showcase all I’ve learned, and I’ve put myself under huge pressure to try and produce something exceptional!  Of course it doesn’t work like that and both times I’ve come a cropper because of this approach…trying to impose things too much leads to me short-circuiting my creative process.
 
 
As I go on to Understanding Painting Media it is important for me to take fully on board that it’s better to develop from past successes organically, rather than seeing the assignments as different from anything else.
 
As regards my successful part 5 pieces, they were made in a relaxed sprit of experimentation and with a sense of fun.  Hold on to that thought….