Practice of Painting – Assignment 1

27/02 – 11/03/15

Assignment 1

For this assignment, produce a finished painting at least A3 in size in your chosen medium… Your painting should be representational – showing what you see – rather than abstract.

As we were instructed not to be too ambitious, I cast around for items that are interesting in shape, colour and tone.  I had already decided to use a cardboard box as a light box to help control the lighting – the weather is so unpredictable at the moment so the light changes very quickly.  I had in mind the chiaroscuro research and wanted to attempt the modelling of light.  I finally selected an empty champagne bottle (a Christmas present – full not empty), a hand-painted espresso cup and saucer and an orange.  The idea was to work in the blue of the cup with the orange for complimentary colours. I experimented with the lighting, not changing the actual arrangement of the object very much at all. Both lighting options were drawn in line and then in tone to help decide which to use.

Still life arrangement 1

Still life arrangement 1

Still life arrangement 1 - Preliminary line drawing in pencil - A5 in A4 sketchbook

Still life arrangement 1 – Preliminary line drawing in pencil – A5 in A4 sketchbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still life arrangement 1 - Preliminary tonal drawing in charcoal - A5 in A4 sketchbook

Still life arrangement 1 – Preliminary tonal drawing in charcoal – A5 in A4 sketchbook

Still life arrangement 2 - no directional light

Still life arrangement 2 – no directional light

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still life arrangement 2 - with directional light

Still life arrangement 2 – with directional light

Still life arrangement 2 - Preliminary  line drawing in pencil - A5 in A4 sketchbook

Still life arrangement 2 – Preliminary line drawing in pencil – A5 in A4 sketchbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still life arrangement 2 - Preliminary tonal painting in sepia watercolour, white pastel - A5 in A4 sketchbook

Still life arrangement 2 – Preliminary tonal painting in sepia watercolour, white pastel – A5 in A4 sketchbook

 

A slight cheat here, photographed the drawing and then used the same drawing for the watercolour tonal study.

The first lighting arrangement was interesting as the light was not angled at the objects but down and away, in the second one, the light was directed across the front of the objects and only really caught the top front of the orange.  I decided the light was more interesting in the first study as it made more of the background and was generally less muted.

The weather conditions were overcast but not dark, therefore the secondary light was quite neutral.

 

 

Sketchbook Notes at this Stage

Selection of composition: The brief was to keep it simple – I am happy with the composition, bearing in mind the following:

  1. Direction of light
  2. Arrangement of objects
  3. Selection of Objects
  4. Using a light box
  5. Adopting a chiaroscuro technique

1. After making two tonal studies and initially favouring the second – I have changed my mind.  Study 1 has a clear focus on the coffee cup and saucer, yet the play of light and dark is still high in contrast. I have lost edges of the right side of the bottle as it is in deep shadow.  However, study 2, where I tried to exaggerate the shadow and the majority of the objects are in shadow and part of the orange is in focus, makes for a rather dull image.  Too much dark, which admittedly can be dramatic, would in this instance just be gloomy.  This is not a narrative piece of work but a showcase for my learning of modelling light, therefore there should be some!

2. Arrangement of objects  is very similar in both, however, the placement of the fruit in the second arrangement gives more subtlety in the shadows on the right.

3. I am happy with the selection of objects bar the fruit – orange or apple? I intend to make two colour studies to make my final selection, as the shapes are similar but the colours are the question mark.

4 &5  Happy with the use of the improvised light box – this assists with maximising light and dark, rather than allowing too many superfluous light sources to dilute the chiaroscuro effect. (Whilst researching Chiaroscuro artists, I found that Tintoretto would use a box with an aperture cut out through which he would place a candle to light his subjects.  This, I hoped, would give a similar effect.)

 

Still life arrangement 3 - colour study, acrylic A4

Still life arrangement 3 – colour study, acrylic A4

Still life arrangement 4 - colour study, acrylic A4

Still life arrangement 4 – colour study, acrylic A4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With both colour studies I went straight in with paint, with acrylic it was easy to over draw and correct mistakes. The first study was really feeling my way – the colours used were far too warm overall so that needed addressing.  I also forgot to colour the ground and used the white of the paper, although in retrospect, this was good for comparing and avoided my making assumptions. The drawing still left a lot to be desired, specifically with the bottle – this was quite an unusual shape which thwarted me a little.  The second study was painted onto a coloured ground of Paynes Grey.  This assisted with the shadow areas and again, as noted in the coloured ground exercises, made it easier to create the lightest lights.  The drawing had improved from the previous study and the use of the red apple made a much more balanced image colour wise, plus as the bottle was a strong object it contrasted with its complimentary colour of green nicely.

Still life - Assignment 1 Oil on canvas board A3 Session 1

Still life – Assignment 1
Oil on canvas board A3
Session 1

Here is my set up and progress after my first session.  This was a particularly dark, overcast and miserable day, which worked well for isolating the light box, but made it difficult to judge tones on the canvas. I also found a much redder specimen of apple in the fruit bowl, so replaced the earlier one.  I then decided to use oil paints rather than acrylic, so that I could keep working into the paint over a few sessions. Another change, was to stand rather than sit, this encouraged me to move back and view my progress regularly and gave a slightly “looking down” view-point. I kept my colour study in view at all times for comparisons – in retrospect, it would have been a good idea to refer to the tonal study too!

Still life - Assignment 1 Oil on canvas board A3 Session 2

Still life – Assignment 1
Oil on canvas board A3
Session 2

 

Returning after lunch, I worked on the tones all over the painting and tried to give each part the same attention.  The many ellipses were a challenge and the stripes on the saucer were a nightmare – what on earth was I thinking?? To be honest, I loved working at it and I think it ended up more right than wrong – even with the shadows thrown into the mix.

 

 

 

 

Still life - Assignment 1 Oil on canvas board A3 Session 3

Still life – Assignment 1
Oil on canvas board A3
Session 3

 

Next morning – fresh eyes, adjusted the bottle shape and worked more on the cup and saucer drawing.  Added the lightest highlights, plus some lower highlights. Adjusted the tones in the background. Finished? Decided to leave a while and review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still life - Assignment 2 Oil on canvas board A3 Session 4

Still life – Assignment 2
Oil on canvas board A3
Session 4

 

Hadn’t intended to do any more today, yet had to go back to the studio for something else and stood back and had another look.  The adjustment to the bottle I’d done that morning (the right hand side) was completely wrong! I had widened it far too much, so, the beauty of oils, I smudged it right back to where it had been and merged the shadow – much better.  Happier, I left it till the next day.

 

 

Here we are today 11/03, final review.  Still happy with the drawing and have noticed a couple more highlights on the torn foil around the neck of the bottle – added these, stood back and am satisfied to call it finished.

Still life - Assignment 1 Oil on canvas board A4 Final work

Still life – Assignment 1
Oil on canvas board A4
Final work

 

Advertisements

Project: Working on Different Coloured Grounds – Exercise: Tonal Study on a Dark Ground

25/02/15

Tonal Study on a Dark Ground

Prepare a dark ground in advance… You could choose a much darker tone of the same colour that you used for the last ground, or experiment by working on a different ground colour, for example a deep blue.

Tonal Study on a Dark Ground Acrylic on Board - A3

Tonal Study on a Dark Ground
Acrylic on Board – A3

After my research into chiaroscuro, I was keen to try this and decided to stick with neat Paynes Grey for my ground colour.  The reason for this was, to compare the previous exercise (Tonal Study on a White Ground) with this one like for like.  Again, I wish I had taken work in progress photos to record the process.  I used the same set up as before, although the hand-cream tube may be slightly different in position because I keep using it and forgetting to put it back!  The directional light from the lamp should be very similar to before, however, the secondary light from the window was dull and I started this study later in the afternoon so it got even more so as I worked on.  This exaggerated the lamp light so there was more contrast in tones.

Using a 1″ flat brush I marked out the mid tones roughly, initially allowing the darkest darks to remain as the ground colour. Again I left my lightest lights right to the end and used varying tones to sculpt the shapes both positive and negative.  As I refined my drawing I needed to reinstate some darks here and there.  It also became clear that most of the cast shadows had subtle nuances within them and some were really quite light,  When I was happy with the drawing and everything bar the sharp highlights, I looked carefully for the very brightest, lightest lights, of which there were not as many as I first thought.  These were added with neat white paint. That done I mixed a really light tone but not neat white and added the secondary highlights. Most of the blocking in was made with the 1″ flat, slightly more structure with 3/4″ and 1/2″ flats and the white highlights with a size 2 round. Much happier with the drawing and scale this time!

Consider ways in which you could exploit these effects of extreme contrast in future paintings,

I often work on coloured grounds, although, usually plump for a mid tone.  Using the extreme dark was great fun and really focussed my eye on all shapes, positive, negative, subject and cast shadow. Also, working in negative and positive colour-ways, really allows you to sculpt the objects without worrying too much about the blank, white space you have to fill.  I think this is useful for both simple still life subjects, such as this, to make you see the interest that everything has when light is used to model shapes, all shadows are not dark, all highlights are not brilliant.  Also, when encountering a more complex subject e.g. a full interior, it simplifies the scene by taking it right down to the basic light, mid and dark tones before detail is needed, if indeed it really is.  The use in portraiture is evident when viewing  Rembrandt’s work, it throws attention on the focal point of the face and sculpts its planes and hollows. This technique adds drama and interest, even in a simple still life or as in Edward Hopper’s Rooms by the Sea or Morning Sun, cast shadows on a plain wall.

Rooms by the Sea 1951 Edward Hopper 1882-1967

Rooms by the Sea 1951
Edward Hopper 1882-1967

Morning Sun 1952 Edward Hopper 1882 - 1967

Morning Sun 1952
Edward Hopper 1882 – 1967

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set out all your tonal studies alongside one another and assess how well each of them has succeeded in modelling light and rendering tonal values. Which effects appeal to you most?

Working left to right my assessment of how well each of these studies has succeeded in modelling light:

  1. Each object has been modelled with tonal contrast, however, apart from the one large cast shadow, there is no sense of place and not a lot of difference between areas in direct light and those in reflective light.
  2. This is beginning to work although the composition itself does not exploit the tone and the form is a little lost on the sugar bowl.
  3. This one is the most successful pencil drawing and is the composition chosen for its interest and tonal contrast to develop.  It’s a quick rendition but effective in showing form and placement, although the darks are nowhere near dark enough.
  4. The charcoal is much more effective at gradations of tone and the darks are more solid, with the mid-tones having more subtlety. This also helped in selecting the composition to develop as it was nearer to the variety of tone that could be created with paint.
  5. This study again proves the versatility of the charcoal in what, is still, a quick study. Lifting out the sharper highlights with a hard rubber and layering the darkest darks gives a more dynamic image.
  6. The first painting of the study on a white ground is even more successful than the charcoal and I was pleased with the tonal variations. The realisation again and again that tones rely on the those adjacent and not to be viewed in isolation was evident through the painting process.
  7. The second painting on a very dark ground proved to be a little mind bending at first as I had to work in reverse or negative to begin with. However, this really worked and made me see the gradation in tone not only on the objects in front of me but within my own painting too. Working this way round made my lightest lights really zing, whereas they became a little lost on the previous study. It proved to me that with a white ground, you really have to work harder at the darks to show lightest lights.

It is probably obvious from the above that the effect that appealed to me most is working on a dark ground.  When working on your darkest tone, there is only one way to go, and yet there are many different shades of tone between the extremes.

Technical Difficulties Encountered:

  • Pencil studies are fine for initial workings and preliminary drawings for establishing dark, mid and light tones but subtlety of tones can easily be lost unless it is a full drawing and time is spent with differing grades of pencil.
  • Both charcoal and pencil can be smudged, which is great when it’s deliberate but can be frustrating if not.
  • Working on a white ground provides luminosity, however, it can be difficult to go really dark and therefore, achieve the lightest highlights.

 

Research Point: Artists who used Chiaroscuro Techniques

23/02/15

Chiaroscuro

From the Italian for light or clear (chiaro) and dark or obscure (scuro).  A technique that has been used for centuries by artists to “model” with light and dark: to enhance volume and form, drama and focus. Lighting is always an important factor in rendering the illusion of three dimensions in a two dimensional form, not only in paintings but photography and cinema too, I feel that this is why I am more drawn to dramatically lit black and white photography rather than colour.

Explore the works of some of the artists whose work exemplifies chiaroscuro effects such Tintoretto, Caravaggio and Rubens.

After spending a couple of days pouring over examples of chiaroscuro paintings, I am in awe of the skill of the 17th century artists who instilled such drama and atmosphere in their work, particularly, considering the poor lighting in which they worked.  I know from experience of classes in village halls where lighting is not easily controllable, that, even if you have good/interesting lighting on your subject, you may not be able to see your own canvas clearly.  This throws out tones and colour and can make your work look completely different when viewed elsewhere.  These artists worked by light of a naked flame once daylight had passed, yet they mastered this technique with fantastic dexterity.

The Last Supper Tintoretto - 1594 The illumination in this painting is derived from candle/lamplight and, a technique often used in Baroque religious paintings, of divine light.  A light from an indeterminable source.

The Last Supper 1594
Tintoretto – 1518-1594
The illumination in this painting is derived from candle/lamplight and, a technique often used in Baroque religious paintings, of divine light. A light from an indeterminable source.

 

A different take on the many versions of the Last Supper, and Tintoretto created numerous compositions of the scene.  In this one the focus is on the supporting figures in the foreground, the woman at the barrel with light to the side of her casting a strong shadow across her face and torso.

 

 

 

 

The Crucifixion of St Peter Caravaggio - 1600-1601 Chiaroscuro used to its most dramatic effect.

The Crucifixion of St Peter 1600-1601
Caravaggio – 1571-1610
Chiaroscuro used to its most dramatic effect.

 

This is an absolutely stunning painting. The light is coming from above and slightly from the left, highlighting the plight and pain of St Peter. The composition is highly unusual, with the stresses and strains of hoisting the cross upside down denoting the difference between this and the crucifixion of Christ.  Even though the light source initially seems to bleach out the colours of the focal point, the more you study the figure of St Peter the more colours in the flesh appear to you. The viewer is placed higher than the figures as if looking down on the scene from a place of superiority, which makes it all the more disturbing to me.

 

 

 

The Death Scene of Seneca Rubens - 1614

The Death Scene of Seneca 1614
Rubens – 1577-1640

 

Again, the drama is depicted by the shadowy supporting figures with the light falling on the scene’s focus of Seneca.  I have to admit I was not familiar with the story/myth of Seneca, however, I began reading an account documented in the e-book:

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero

 By James Romm

A fascinating read of Ancient Rome and its tribulations, not yet finished but I will continue. A popular story for artist’s depiction.

 

Look also at the candlelit studies of some northern European artists, most especially Rembrandt and Joseph Wright of Derby.

My initial research was purely for artists who use chiaroscuro techniques and I found a good selection of northern European artists from Flemish, to French to English nationalities.  Here are some of the works I particularly liked:

Self Portrait 1929 Rembrandt One of the many self portraits painted throughout his life.  In this painting the artist was around 23 years old and is one I was not familiar with previously.

Self Portrait 1629
Rembrandt 1606-1699
One of the many self portraits painted throughout his life. In this painting the artist was around 23 years old and is one I was not familiar with previously.

 

Self-Portrait, c.1629 (oil on wood) by Rijn, Rembrandt van (1606-69); Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA; The Clowes Fund Collection.  A strong use of chiaroscuro with a three quarters view and the majority of the face in shadow due to the light source and cover from the hat and hair. The clothing is also dark in colour and shade to throw focus on the illuminated section of face.

 

 

 

 

Lucretia Rembrandt 1666 A later example of Rembrandt's work with the light source throwing emphasis on the figure's face.

Lucretia 1666
Rembrandt 1606-1699
A later example of Rembrandt’s work with the light source throwing emphasis on the figure’s face full of resignation to her fate.

 

 

Lucretia, 1666 (oil on canvas) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-69) Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN, USA, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund.

A thought provoking and sad rendition of this story, unusually told after the fatal wound has been made. Lucretia is here waiting for the inevitable ending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am grateful to this exercise in making me research the following artists, of which I knew little if anything.  It also shows what an impact Caravaggio had on the art world in his time and ever since.

Below are two examples of Joseph Wright of Derby paintings using light and dark to excellent effect.

The Orrery (A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery) 1766 Joseph Wright of Derby 1734 - 1797 Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, England. This painting shows the demonstration of an orrery using the lamp as the light source as if it were the sun. The faces are beautifully up-lit with the foreground in darkness.

The Orrery (A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery) 1766 by Joseph Wright of Derby 1734 – 1797. Located in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, Derby, England. This painting shows the demonstration of an orrery using the lamp as the light source as if it were the sun. The faces are beautifully up-lit with the foreground in darkness.

Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight (Dressing the Kitten) - 1768-1770 by Joseph Wright of Derby, located in Kenwood House, London.  I have seen this painting before, and although it is a little "twee" for my taste, chiaroscuro effect is superb.

Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight (Dressing the Kitten) – 1768-1770 by Joseph Wright of Derby, located in Kenwood House, London. I have seen this painting before, and although it is a little “twee” for my taste, the chiaroscuro effect is superb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

two men examining a painting by candlelight - gottfried schalken

Artist and Model Looking at an Ancient Statue by Lamplight – 1675-1680 by Gottfried Schalken 1643 – 1706, in a Private Collection.

 

 

 

 

Gottfried Schalken was known as one of the Fijnschilders or Fine Painters in the Dutch Baroque style that made, as well as everyday life, candlelit nocturnal paintings.

 

 

 

 

The Drinker by Dirk Van Baburen (1570/90-1623/4).  Located in the Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris. A less obvious use of chiaroscuro with a mid tone background, however, the face is highly modelled with light and dark with a strong light source from the front, right.

The Drinker by Dirk Van Baburen (1570/90-1623/4). Located in the Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris. A less obvious use of chiaroscuro with a mid tone background, however, the face is highly modelled with light and dark with a strong light source from the front left.

The Artist at Work by Gerrit Van Honthorst 1592-1656.  Located in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

The Artist at Work by Gerrit Van Honthorst 1592-1656. Located in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome. A more limited palette than many of the these examples which may be more realistic as colour may have been drained by the lack of light other than a simple candle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The below are two French artists who have created some wonderful paintings using chiaroscuro.

The Appearance of an Angel to St Joseph (The Dream of St Joseph) 1652 by Georges de la Tour 1593-1652. Located in  Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France. A beautiful, if slightly ambiguous, painting. This angel has no obvious holy accoutrements and is clearly female - most angels are rendered as male.  However, the candlelight illuminates the child's face and warmth of her hair colour along with Joseph's robes and the shadows are soft and soothing. I particularly like the treatment of the book's pages hinting at the delicacy of the the paper with light coming through.

The Appearance of an Angel to St Joseph (The Dream of St Joseph) 1652 by Georges de la Tour 1593-1652. Located in Musee des Beaux-Arts, Nantes, France. A beautiful, if slightly ambiguous, painting. This angel has no obvious holy accoutrements and is clearly female – most angels are rendered as male. However, the candlelight illuminates the child’s face and warmth of her hair colour along with Joseph’s robes and the shadows are soft and soothing. I particularly like the treatment of the book’s pages hinting at the delicacy of the the paper with light coming through.

 

Allegory of Vanity by Trophome Bigot 1650-1699, located in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome.  This looks to be a classic example of chiaroscuro technique with strong candlelight on the face and front of the figure. It is also full of symbolism, the skull, the mirror in darkness and I'm sure the object in the right foreground - although I can't for the life of me make out what it is - maybe someone can tell me?

Allegory of Vanity by Trophime Bigot 1650-1699, located in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome. This looks to be a classic example of chiaroscuro technique with strong candlelight on the face and front of the figure. It is also full of symbolism, the skull, the mirror in darkness and I’m sure the object in the right foreground – although I can’t for the life of me make out what it is – maybe someone can tell me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve taken away from this is that there is no light without dark and vice versa.  Whichever effect you want to create: drama, vibrancy, softness or a pure realistic rendering, the modelling of light and dark is a key element in representational painting.

Acknowledgments:
All research via a combination of Bridgeman Education and Wikipedia sites, with photographs being downloadable due to editorial usage and not for commercial gain.

Project: Working on Different Coloured Grounds – Exercise: Tonal Study on White Ground

11/02/15

Tonal Study on White Ground – Pencil Studies 1, 2 & 3

Using a tonal drawing medium such as a soft pencil, pastel or charcoal, do some simple studies of your chosen objects in your sketchbook.  Make several studies from different angles and then decide which viewpoint and angle you will use for your tonal painting.

Tonal Study on white ground - pencil 1

Tonal Study on white ground – pencil 1

 

Using my A4 sketchbook, I drew out an A5 frame in landscape orientation for my first study.  Lamp was angled with light coming from the left, with a secondary light source from the window in front of me slightly from the right. Notes next to drawing.

 

 

 

 

Tonal Study on white ground - pencil 2

Tonal Study on white ground – pencil 2

 

 

Again in A4 sketchbook with an A5 frame, this time in portrait orientation. Light sources as before.
Observation notes next to drawing.

 

 

 

 

13/02/15

Tonal Study on white ground - pencil 3

Tonal Study on white ground – pencil 3

 

A5 study in A4 sketchbook again.  The light was different to previous occasion:  lamp angled from left as before, window light very dull, overhead spots similar to daylight but pointing straight down. Observation notes next to drawing.

 

 

 

As a result of these preliminary studies I intended to select the most successful to create an A3 charcoal, tonal drawing.  Discounting the landscape study, I could not decide between the two portrait studies, so scaled up and converted both to A3 and charcoal.

19/02/15

Tonal Study on White Ground – Charcoal Studies 1 & 2

Tonal Study on white ground - charcoal 1

Tonal Study on white ground – charcoal 1

 

Using an A3 sketchbook, charcoal and a hard, plastic rubber.

Working from the sketch to place the objects and then from life to describe the tone.  I tried to work quickly and kept squinting to see the tonal changes.

 

 

 

 

 

Tonal Study on white ground - charcoal 2

Tonal Study on white ground – charcoal 2

 

Using an A3 sketchbook, charcoal and a hard, plastic rubber.

Working from the sketch to place the objects and then from life to describe the tone.  I tried to work quickly and kept squinting to see the tonal changes. This study proved, working in a larger scale, to be less interesting in composition than the first study. This has less complex shadows and therefore less tonal variance than the first.

 

 

 

From the first charcoal study it became clear to me that this was the version I wanted to take forward as a painting, however, it was still valuable to make the second, in order to have more practice at looking and reproducing tonal shapes and changes.

Tonal Study on White Ground – Acrylic on Canvas Board A3

Tonal Study on white ground - Acrylic on Canvas Board

Tonal Study on white ground – Acrylic on Canvas Board

I used Paynes Grey and Titanium White acrylic and pre-mixed graded tones from dark to light on my palette.  Brushes used were flats 3/4″ and 1/4″, working mainly with the larger, until near the end.  Main shapes were blocked in with a mid tone, darkest darks and graded tones next, leaving the lightest lights until the very end.  It was interesting to note that all the tones were relevant to those immediately adjacent.  For example, the wall behind the curve beneath the lip of the vase was a similar tone when viewed in isolation.  However, to make the vase appear three-dimensional, it was necessary to have a lighter tone to its right than that to its left.  There are many counter changes of  tone that have to be made to bring objects forward and conversely send them back.  The lightest lights, ie pure white were very sparingly used and only for the lightest highlights.  This was great fun and a valuable lesson.  Note: The sugar bowl to the left has grown in size so I need to ensure all aspects are considered in future.

Project: Transparent and Opaque – Exercise: Monochrome Studies

09 – 10/02/15

Monochrome Studies

Draw main outline of a tree, including trunk and the main branches, and then roughly sketch in the diminishing outer branches and twigs.

Preliminary sketch of apple tree. Pencil in A4 sketchbook.

Preliminary sketch of apple tree.
Pencil in A4 sketchbook.

 

Rough outline pencil sketch of apple tree in preparation for monochrome studies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prepare two supports, one with dark coloured wash and the other with a light grey background mixed opaquely or by using a wash. Copy the pencil image onto each with charcoal and light dust off the charcoal to leave a faint image.

Monochrome Studies. Positive shapes on light background.  Acrylic on A2 acrylic paper.

Monochrome Studies.
Positive shapes on light background.
Acrylic on A2 acrylic paper.

 

I chose to use an opaque ground of light grey.  Using a rigger brush, I outlined the positive shapes of the trunk, branches and twigs, filling in the area with the dark wash colour with a flat and a medium round brush.  I then added the finer twig shapes with the rigger.  I tried to reduce the density of the colour as the twigs decreased in size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monochrome Studies. Negative shapes, light grey on a dark wash. Acrylic on A2 acrylic paper.

Monochrome Studies.
Negative shapes, light grey on a dark wash.
Acrylic on A2 acrylic paper.

On a dark wash of Prussian Blue and Raw Sienna, using a light grey mix and a large flat brush, I cut into the drawing with negative shapes.  As I neared the bulk of the branches I switched to a small flat brush.  Once all the negative shapes were blocked in and the basic tree shape emerged, I added some of the dark wash colour to the mix around the twiggy branch shapes.  It was suggested in the brief to modulate the grey tones further away from the main trunk as the thinner branches may appear to be a half-tone.  Adding more of the darker wash colour to the negative shapes helped give the illusion of these twigs being finer and further away.  I also became less precise and let the wash colour go over the dark branches and twigs so that they were less defined and sharp further away from the trunk.  This worked well, and if this was a finished painting, I would also have worked more finer strokes for twigs as I did for the previous study.

 

Positive Shapes – Dark on Light.

Strengths:
Working this way round, I could see my faint charcoal line drawing clearly to follow the image, although of course, it would have been also have been just as easy to draw in with paint.  The brain is used to positive shapes and more readily accepts what the eye sees the hand doing. Once the basic larger shapes were blocked in, it was also straightforward to add little fine flourishes eg the thinner twigs.

Limitations:
In this exercise the background was static and the image looked a little lifeless.  You could of course, use negative shapes in the background to vary contrasts and tones however, once all those finer twigs were established you would risk losing them and having to reinstate them.

Negative Shapes – Light on Dark

Strengths:
When attempting a complex subject, drawing negative shapes around the subject can simplify a drawing.  I found this previously in the drawing course, when drawing a basket of flowers.  You can fool the brain by not concentrating on what the mind knows but only on what the eye sees. Cutting in up to the subject can also add texture, particularly with trees that are virtually in silhouette. Modifications can easily be made up to a point.  The background can also be more expressive and tonally adjusted to help bring life and balance to the image.

Limitations:
Working with negative shapes, I found it quite difficult to see where my charcoal lines were and missed one particular small negative shape I had purposely drawn in.  Concentration had to be constant in the early stages – this was particularly true working on a dark background.  Fine lines, such as the end twigs were impossible to add by cutting around them, although, there is no reason why they could not be added in a positive way later.

I found that, particularly with the negative shape study, it would be very useful to use the two methods, opaque and transparent together to achieve an overall effect.  Up to a point, I have used both in the same painting with realising it.  This exercise has however, made me more conscious of the techniques and when they would be of use.

 

Project: Transparent and Opaque – Exercise: Opaque Colour Mixing

09/02/15

Opaque Colour Mixing

Choose at least three of the washes you’ve painted (including the single colour ones) and attempt to recreate exactly the same colour, shade and tone of each of these in turn.  This time, though, you’ll be mixing colours by adding in white, making the paints opaque.

Overall, an interesting exercise, not to mention, mind bending and frustrating!  The single washes (along the top row), were not too bad, the simple addition of white instead of thinners to lighten the tones, worked fairly well, although, white also had to be added in a very small quantity to the darkest tone too.  Otherwise, particularly with the Sap Green and Deep Violet, it was too transparent a pigment. An observation, now that the swatches are completely dry, is that, although I painted very carefully, it does look haphazard and not smooth in the slightest.

 

Opaque colour mixing - acrylic on acrylic paper. Attempt at replicating previous exercises washes in tone, shade and colour with opaque mixes.

Opaque colour mixing – acrylic on acrylic paper.
Attempt at replicating previous exercises washes in tone, shade and colour with opaque mixes.

With the two colour examples, I couldn’t just turn the paper round and proceed in the same way as in the previous transparent exercise.  With the addition of the white the base colour would just have been covered over.  Therefore, I also had to mix some of the base colour in the middle of the sheet to maintain the shade created by the transparent washes.

Comparison of Both Methods

To make the comparison more valid, I used acrylic on acrylic paper for the opaque colour mixing. Therefore, an interesting observation would be that the transparent washes were more inclined to be lifted off the paper when worked over when wet, the opaque, however, seem to adhere to the support better with the addition of the white.  The single Sap Green example is a good illustration of this as the brush marks are less obvious as more white is added.

The Alzarin Crimson, the more resistant to transparent washes, again was a little harder work than the other two (Sap Green and Deep Violet).  I can only think that this is because it is a stronger pigment, it did blend with white but took more mixing to become a consistent colour, yet when this was done, it did smooth out better than the green or violet.

Of course the main difference is that, with the transparent wash, the base colour is visible beneath the top. With the opaque, as the base colour is obliterated, the blended colour in the middle of the transparent washes has to be physically mixed with both pigments and white in the correct ratios to replicate this. More effort is required, and I think I only just managed this in the middle bottom row sample.  However, I then struggled to produce a smooth transition of tone.

Another difference, which goes back to the issue of paint lifting off with the transparent washes, is that taking a clean damp brush to the opaque graduated tones, helps the transition from one to the next – as long as the acrylic hasn’t dried, this did not work with the washes.

Think about ways in which both methods could work together:

  • Transparent washes in a lit background where opaque mixes would be applied to objects against the light.
  • Working tonally in a monochrome way and then use transparent washes to build colour glazes.
  • Working abstractedly, opaque solid shapes and glazes of colour to enhance mood and atmosphere.
  • Transparent washes may help to enhance aerial perspective where the middle to foreground may increase in opacity.

 

Project: Transparent and Opaque – Exercise: Overlaying Washes

04/02/15

Overlaying Washes

 

Once your papers are dry, make up the same colour mixes only this time paint the second colour over the dried wash that you set aside. Notice any differences in the way the paint and colour behaves and make notes in your learning log.

As is often the case with exercises such as these, I was not overly enthused with doing it, however, once involved, it was very interesting.  The way different paint, colours and supports affected the outcome was quite a surprise.  As mentioned before in the previous exercise, Tonally Graded Wash, I found it very difficult to achieve a smooth transition between tones down the paper. Below are detailed photos, my findings and comments on each.

Overlaying Washes - Wet in Wet, oil on oil paper.

Overlaying Washes – Wet in Wet, oil on oil paper.

 

This is an example of the wet in wet wash with oil paint from the previous exercise.  My expectations were that this would be the best result as have previously done this with watercolour paint very successfully.  How wrong was I? The oil paint behaved very different to watercolour, in fact, I was more successful in painting off the first layer with the second sweep of colour.  The double dose of thinners makes for greater separation of gradation and pigment. It streaked so that the brush strokes were clearly visible.  Should you require a more expressive result, then this would work and give a degree of unpredictability and a less uniform effect.

 

 

 

Overlaying Washes - Wet on Dry, oil on oil paper.

Overlaying Washes – Wet on Dry, oil on oil paper.

 

After (im)patiently waiting overnight and most of the next day for the initial wash to dry, I tried the wet on dry approach.  Again, I was surprised by the result.  This proved the better of the two techniques to achieve a smooth transition of gradual tone down the page.  As the first wash layer was dry, there was no lifting and brush marks were minimal.  Again, depending on what was required, this would be useful for a softer, subtle effect and covers the white of the paper more.  It does however, illustrate how difficult it is to produce a strong, darker tone with this technique and should such a thing be needed, would require several layers to build it up.

 

 

Now that you have worked on single colour washes, wet-in-wet blended washes and overlaid glazes, practise these different ways of mixing transparent colour using a range of your pigments and note down the mixes that work well.  Are there colours that are hard to blend?

As my room was “awash” with drying sheets of oil paper, I decided to switch to acrylic paints to speed up the drying process and also compare the results.  My initial experiments were made on acrylic paper.

Overlaying Washes - Acrylic on Acrylic Paper.

Overlaying Washes – Acrylic on Acrylic Paper.

My intention was to continue with a similar brief to the Tonally Graded Wash exercise and use colours on the same spectrum.  From the colour guide on the tubes, I went for Permanent Rose and Crimson Alzarin, as they appeared to be distinct from each other.  On squeezing out two dollops and diluting with water, it became obvious they were almost identical in colour! Inexperience showing itself, I thought, however, I carried on anyway.  What I discovered was again, surprising and interesting.  Whereas the colours were similar, their behaviour wasn’t.  Permanent Rose reacted more like traditional watercolour, in that it mixed with the water completely and gave a more transparent glow of colour.  Streaks were minimal and could be over-brushed with little lifting.  The Alzarin, however, wanted to retain its solidity and diluted less evenly in the water.  Consequently, the brush marks remained visible and the pigment was more prone to streaking and lifting.  Accidentally, I had come across a valuable reference point, for a similar colour, I could achieve different effects depending on which I chose.

Overlaying Washes - Acrylic on Acrylic Paper.

Overlaying Washes – Acrylic on Acrylic Paper.

I continued with other paints and experimented with wet-in-wet and wet-on-dry techniques.  Nothing as obvious really occurred to me as before, although the following may be noted:

Ultramarine is slightly grainier than the other pigments I tried.  Both of the greens, Sap and Pthalo, became more stable the more water was added, producing some lovely washes. Whereas, the Deep Violet and Ultramarine never quite fully diluted and retained both brush strokes and streaks.

Overlaying Washes - Acrylic on Acrylic Paper.

Overlaying Washes – Acrylic on Acrylic Paper.

 

I began to wonder how much the support used had affected the end result.  I then decided to try the exercise on 300gsm watercolour paper and see what happened.  I suspected that the lack of absorbency of both the oil and acrylic papers made a significant difference particularly with the wet-in-wet technique.

I decided to test, both the Permanent Rose and Alzarin, the Deep Violet and Sap Green.

Overlaying Washes - Acrylic on Watercolour Paper.

Overlaying Washes – Acrylic on Watercolour Paper.

Using different combinations, here’s what I found:

Permanent Rose over Deep Violet – wet on dry:
Both merged well, however, as before the Violet tended to streak, the Rose diluted well again yet appeared to streak purely because the wash was stronger over the white gaps of paper.
Permanent Rose over Deep Violet – wet-in-wet:
This was more successful at blending as the streaks of violet were still damp enough to absorb the Rose and soften the streaks.
Sap Green over Alzarin – wet on dry:
The Alzarin appears the “streakiest” of them all!  Definite brush strokes left on the paper and the Sap Green obligingly filled the gaps very smoothly.
Sap Green over Alzarin – wet-in-wet:
The streaks were blended more with the immediate addition of the Sap Green, however, the gradation of the Alzarin wash almost disappeared, leaving its pigment mainly at the top.

My conclusion is, neither one thing, a specific pigment or paint, or the support used, absorbent or not, makes a significant difference.  It is the combination that counts, paints that easily dilute in water or thinners are more successful at soft, subtle blends and even more so on absorbent surfaces.  Those that refuse to dilute easily will always streak to a degree, oil blends better wet on dry, acrylic blends better wet in wet regardless of surface but more so on absorbent.  However, I have yet to try this exercise on damp paper with acrylic???!

Mark Rothko – Seagram Project:
We were asked to look at the Tate Modern collection of Rothko’s Seagram Project.  Initially a commission by the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Segram Building in New York of nine paintings.  Rothko produced around 30 paintings in the series and because he was specific about the space in which they should be displayed, eventually cancelled the commission. Following the interactive tour I was able to zoom in on most of the work and some of its studies.  Due to the technology available in analysing paintings nowadays, the layers of pigment have been examined in detail and even though Rothko was very private in the way he worked, some insight into his methods have been discovered.  His careful planning process, studies and layering with use of media including acrylic, egg tempura, damar painting medium, oil and alkyd oils etc plus painterly brushwork, bely the instant impression his work may give.