Here are two paintings I’ve done for this exercise
The experience of painting purely abstractly, with no outcome in mind, and on a relief surface was completely new to me in all respects. In both paintings I followed the course suggestions, starting with an overall midtone, adding dark areas in the flatter parts of the surface, and then applying highlights to exaggerate the relief effects, and that worked, but I did fail rather to develop simple, coherent designs for my paintings.
I felt uneasy about having no design in mind at the outset. The outcomes reflect my confusion, particularly the second painting, which is over-busy and lacks a coherent idea. The first painting is more successful because it has one definite characteristic, harmonious colour.
Nevertheless, the value of this exercise for me has been the experience gained in using textured surfaces, and making a first step on the road to abstraction.
I started exploring the use of textured surfaces earlier in the course. For the exercise ‘Telling a Story’ I scratched into thick gesso with harsh stabbing marks to make the connection between subject and use of media. In part 4, in my Meadow painting, I incorporated dried grasses, seed heads, flowers, texture paste and pva glue, some applied to the surface, others between layers of paint. For his exercise I used 300gsm mixed media gessoed paper for both surfaces.
My first textured surface for this exercise has similar ingredients to Meadow, but applied before painting, and more thickly and densely, so that texture will become a more significant part of the composition. I also scattered on some metallic beads, cutouts of card and globs of solid acrylic paint from the top of my tubes. I’m not sure about a dried flower, which wouldn’t be glued down in the middle, leaving space between it and the support…we’ll have to see how that turns out. I gave the whole thing a couple of coats of white gesso then collaged on two torn out butterfly images from a magazine.
I read that Jackson Pollock’s Full Fathom Five‘s 1947 incorporates nails, tacks, coins, buttons, key, cigarettes, matches, artists oil paints applied with brushes and palette knives, in its dense, encrusted canvas surface. Pours of black and aluminium paint crisscross these under layers. Encouraged by this to be more ambitious, my second surface has a collection of rags, lace, tassels, wool and a zip; and buttons and beads set into texture paste, the whole crisscrossed with pva lines. Two coats of white gesso were followed by a few images from a fashion page in a magazine, stuck on with pva.
My surfaces were now ready. Painting with this amount of texture represents a whole new dimension for me, literally and figuratively, so I didn’t really know how to start; I decided to paint non-objectively..to follow my nose, choosing colours, tools, where and how to apply the paint intuitively, as the mood took me. It would be a learning process anyway, and I expected to make ‘mistakes’.
Starting with the first prepared surface (above), deciding to go with the idea of a carpet of grasses, flowers, leaves etc, I mixed phth green and lemon yellow and quickly painted all over, which left some parts white. Then dribbled yellow and blue acrylic ink from the top. Left to dry then quickly painted indigo in varying concentrations in patches using a wide, flat brush held flat, sort of dragging it softly from right to left over the surface. This I found left lots of skips on the right side of raised elements. I remembered the advice to place darks in flat areas to exaggerate the relief effect so went back in with indigo and placed some darks more carefully. This had the predicted effect, and really highlighted the central flower head. Following the suggestion to then add highlights I placed some of my original green mix, mixed with tit white, and then a tint of lemon yellow, with a palette knife, carefully highlighting raised areas of texture especially the scattered rice beads. Standing back and assessing the effects constantly, I made more adjustments with darks and lights until I was satisfied. Here’s my painting at various stages, the final one taken after varnishing and lit from the side to accentuate the relief.
One observation is that with this painting it was harder to judge when it was ‘finished’…in fact I think perhaps I could never categorically say that. I’m satisfied with the final stage…although I think the first version above is more unified. Perhaps more subtle highlights would have been good.
The two butterfly images were almost obliterated, but remained just visible as a dark, warm contrast, which I accentuated in the final version with a few touches of burnt sienna. I think they lift the painting and attract the eye.
As for the process generally, I was quite amazed and surprised at the effects that were easily produced using a relief surface, brush and a palette knife. It’s a different way of painting that will be fun to explore, and that will need lots of experience to exploit to the full.
The second surface is more extreme relief, over 1cm in places. With no experience of painting on such a surface it was difficult to know where to start. The theme is dressmaking, or my sewing box, so I thought I’d retain and exaggerate some of the shapes – teeth of zip, discs of buttons, triangular tassels, and the pattern of lace snaking through. This time I wanted the collaged photos to be visible and form a focal point in the final version, so the paint colours I select should complement the colours of the photos. All this seemed to call for a more controlled application of paint than in the first painting.
I started with burnt sienna painted overall, but leaving the collaged images and some white spaces untouched where the brush skipped over the relief. a very dark layer of indigo/Prussian blue mix followed, leaving shapes created by textural lines. Now I thought about highlights. Slowly I built them up in cad yellow, phth green, pr blue and pr magenta/napth red mix, just following my eye as I stood back and pondered frequently how my design was developing. I could never call this finished; it could change forever like a chameleon and change character many times. I left it at the stage above as I quite like the design of dark and light values, warm and cool colours, and intriguing shapes, textures and marks. The collage integrates with the whole; the main image, the girl, remains the focus and anchor point in a busy surface.