Research Point: Figures in an Interior

Research Point: Figures in an Interior

Look at some paintings of figures in interiors from different periods and choose two or three pictures that particularly appeal to you… At least one of these should be from the twentieth or twenty-first century. Consider what you think the artists’ intentions are and look at the technical and creative solutions that they’ve brought to the subject.

(NB The images reproduced here are for editorial purposes only and not for any commercial gain.)

Again, as with other Research Points in this section, I have found many examples that really appeal to me. As with the others, I have set up boards in Pinterest and added some of these feeling that I have been selective, however, now having to choose two or three from these is so difficult. I have realised that this is part of the process, as narrowing down which to use also makes me think harder about what I am looking at. This is something I also need to do when painting myself – learn to be selective and think about what I want to say.

Boy in an interior oil 1911 by Jan Mankes (1889-1920)

Description: Boy in an interior oil on canvas Painted in 1911. Jan Mankes (1889-1920):

Boy in an interior oil on canvas Painted in 1911. Jan Mankes (1889-1920)

This is not an artist I’m familiar with at all. Mankes was a Dutch painter who specialised in self portraiture, natural subjects and landscape. He died young, only 30 years old from tuberculosis, a common illness at the time.  This is particularly sad as he was a prolific painter and draughtsman and was evolving into interesting abstraction – who knows what he may have gone on to produce. The painting I have chosen is Boy in an Interior. It’s a simple title, yet on further inspection quite an unusual composition. There is definitely a nod to Vermeer and his interiors paintings, however, there are uncomfortable aspects. It is assumed that the boy is sat at the table but the chair is turned away towards the wall, the table doesn’t actually appear to be where you would expect. The light should be coming through the window you would think, and initially it seems so, yet there is no light on the boy’s face. I have read one account of the work and it suggested that the book that the boy is reading is a special one to the artist as it appears to be the source of light. This I can understand but again, there is no light on the boy’s face and it appears to be bounced beneath and in front of the book. I think this is a fascinating painting that draws the viewer into it and makes he/she work hard to decipher it. Not only this though, it is beautifully and sensitively painted, it has a limited colour range and is tonally interesting. I’m glad I found it in my searches.

Sleeping Woman  1961 by Richard Diebenkorn

Sleeping Woman by Richard Diebenkorn, Oil on Canvas Figurative Painting:

Sleeping Woman by Richard Diebenkorn

I was lucky enough to go the Diebenkorn exhibition at the Royal Academy earlier this year. I had very limited knowledge of this artist too until then, and although he is revered particularly for his large abstract works, I fell in love with his figurative paintings. Not that there isn’t a large element of abstraction in these, there plainly is. This painting is an example of a fabulous cross-over. The interior is tonally fairly simple, yet it is easy to see the bench/seating that the model is lounged on. The strong diagonals are trademark Diebenkorn (from my limited exposure), and give a dramatic set for the character to play her part. The mirror gives another dimension to the figure and expands the interior without widening the frame of the image. Another painting I could look at for a long time and keep coming back to look some more.

 

I am desperate to add some Edward Hopper in here but let’s move on to the twenty-first century…

Andrea and Myrtle 2014 by Simon Davis

Simon DAVIS RP - Andrea and Myrtle 2014:

Simon DAVIS RP – Andrea and Myrtle 2014

This artist is someone I discovered at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual exhibition. This painting was displayed at the BP Portrait Exhibition 2014 and could be seen as a modern-day version of a Degas painting being a lady in her bathroom (with cat?). I have only previously seen portraits by him with no significant interiors, so I was blown away by the complexity in this one. There is such a sense of depth in this, considering that there are only two small rooms, however, the addition of the window takes the viewer further on and out of the picture and the tiled floors lead the eye in. There is an obvious second light source from the right in the anterior room that casts interesting shadows. The colours used make me think of early morning, maybe on a weekend as there is no sense of urgency in getting ready and out of the house. It’s a painting that makes the mundane and routine picturesque and beautiful.

 

 

 

Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Go onto the internet and find some portraits that convey a distinctive mood or atmosphere rather than simply a physical likeness.

(NB All images are reproduced for editorial purposes only and not for commercial gain)

Rembrandt’s Mother by Rembrandt

portrait of rembrandt mother - Google Search:

Portrait of Rembrandt’s Mother

Rembrandt’s portraits are always more than just paintings of people’s faces. He seemed to look deep within their souls and put what he found down on the canvas. This portrait of his mother shows a certain weariness but also a life lived. The illumination of her face is mesmerising with the warmth in the shadow that gives a translucency. It makes you wonder what she was thinking at the time.

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap by Vincent van Gogh

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap - Vincent van Gogh:

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap – Vincent van Gogh

 

This portrait by van Gogh tells the viewer so much just by the way it has been painted. The brush-strokes are thick, angular and convey the pressures and worries of this woman’s every day existence. To me, he hasn’t made her old in years but has etched every struggle to feed her family with meagre means. I like the way it appears van Gogh has painted all the canvas dark and put in the mid tones and lights over the top, sometimes allowing the dark to show through. This gives an overall depth and mood to the painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother and Child by Picasso

paintings of picassos blue period - Google Search:

Mother and Child by Picasso (painting from his blue period)

Picasso’s blue period, by its definition, is one of melancholy and sadness following the suicide of his close friend. He has taken this tragedy and sought out subjects in which to pour his grief. This painting is so simple yet heartbreakingly moving. The mother is turned away and the baby is clutched to her with a gentle fierceness.  There is nothing around them apart from what looks like a basket of clothes or maybe it’s where the baby sleeps.  Apparently, during this time, Picasso used to visit a women’s prison to draw some of the inmates, many of which had young children incarcerated with them. Could this be one of these women?

 

 

Party in Paris by Max Beckmann

Party in Paris - Max Beckmann:

Party in Paris – Max Beckmann

What a mixture of assumed moods and characters in this picture! Overall, I don’t really pick up much of a party atmosphere in this snap shot of a social gathering. There only seems to be three or four people enjoying themselves and one of those is the singer lost in his own world. Having said that, Beckmann has picked up on common characteristics of party goers. There are those actually enjoying themselves on the left. However, the boredom of the woman rear right having to listen to her assumed partner and his friend’s lengthy conversation – about politics probably, has noticed she has caught the eye of the single man on the left. The way Beckmann has put these two figures at the same eye level connects them. The couple in the middle are ignoring each other’s existence as they ran out of things to say to each other 10 years ago! The eagle-eyed social climber is keeping watch for potential useful contacts and the gentleman who really doesn’t want to be there in the bottom right (or maybe it’s the volume over melody of the awful singing?). What triumph in observing and then depicting the scene so cleverly, and, in a way that colours, positioning of the figures etc are balanced so perfectly. The more I look at this the more I see and like it.

Summary

There are so many portraits out there that are more than just paintings of faces – it makes me realise how much more has to go into the work.  It is also apparent that, although the observational and drawing skills that allow you to produce an image of a person are very important, it is not just these things and sometimes not even, that renders a likeness of the character or occasion. It is a conversation between painter and sitter that occurs, and, some remnants of that conversation should be visible in the painting that is produced as a result.

Research Point: Self-Portraits

Research Point: Self-Portraits

Do some research into artists’ self-portraits… Choose five or six self-portraits that particularly appeal to you…Does the artist portray him/herself as an artist? What is the purpose of the self-portrait? What impression is the artist trying to convey? What impression is actually conveyed?

(NB all images are for editorial use only and not reproduced for commercial gain)

As I was researching self-portraits, I built up a board in Pinterest and was particularly taken by the amount of self-portraits artists make of themselves. Not only is it a fantastic record of their lives, but also of their styles and influences as they change and evolve.  For this reason, I would like to take two contrasting self portraits of each for comparison and apply the criteria above.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)

Self-Portrait - Albrecht Durer, 1498 http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/albrecht-durer/self-portrait-1498:

Albrecht Durer – self-portrait 1498

 

From this portrayal of himself, I would not immediately assume this was an artist. He appears fairly affluent and has a confident air about him. I have the impression that he is building a reputation of good standing and respectability, almost as if this were the equivalent of a modern-day LinkedIn profile picture. If this is the case, he is successful if not a little arrogant in his gaze.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albrecht Dürer - Self-portrait, 1500:

Albrecht Dürer – Self-portrait, 1500

 

Continuing with Dürer, moving on a couple of years, we have again, a self-assured young man. This painting is particularly interesting as he seems to have increased his fortunes and is gazing straight out at the viewer. The pose is almost Christ-like, is this a conscious decision? I feel that this young man did nothing by mistake. Even if I give him the benefit of the doubt and he is timid and self-effacing, his representation of himself is anything but.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 - 1640 Flemish : Self-Portrait c1620:

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577 – 1640 Flemish : Self-Portrait c1620:

I find this painting very appealing, from the composition to the colours used to the brush marks. I don’t see any ulterior motive to the purpose of this painting, other than recording the artist at this time in his life.  It does, of course, show his skill and could very well be used as an example of his work, although, I’m guessing Rubens was safe in his reputation as a painter by this point.

This painting makes me feel kindly to  him, it’s soft and warm, yet is cleverly balanced with the cool blue background to the left.

 

 

 

 

Self-Portrait - Peter Paul Rubens 1638:

Self-Portrait – Peter Paul Rubens 1638

This next portrait is very much in contrast to the previous one. It is much more sombre and has little of the warmth shown before. Here, the artist depicts himself as an almost aristocratic figure, this being only two years before his death – is he trying to show he still has strength and standing? His gloved right hand appears to be leaning on a cane, although one can’t actually be seen, or is it he disguising arthritic joints? We know he suffered from gout that brought on a fatal heart attack. His other hand is resting on a sword, another symbol of strength? On first view, I think he pulls the illusion off, however, if you look into the eyes, he doesn’t seem to quite believe it himself.

 

 

Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), 1910, "Self-Portrait with arm twisted above head," watercolor and charcoal, Private Collection.:

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), 1910, “Self-Portrait with arm twisted above head,” watercolour and charcoal

A wonderful artist who had such a short life. However, Schiele makes you believe that he lived every minute to the full. His self-portraits, of which there are so many, are mature and confident. I do think he spent a long time studying himself in the mirror – he knew how to draw every inch of himself – literally. There is no pretence – what you see is what you get and I think it’s superb! The lines and angles describe his seemingly undernourished frame, and the facial expression has such intensity. He says “here I am – like it or lump it!”

 

 

 

 

 

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait, 1912.:

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait, 1912

 

 

 

This portrait of Schiele is striking for its composition. He has still gone for the tall, skinny look but of the canvas and not himself – however, I think this choice is just an extension of the self-portrait. It says, I don’t have to paint all of me to show my whole self. There is more colour in this painting, yet it has a transparency that makes you think you can see through his skin. There is a vulnerability here, but only because he wants you to see it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)

self portrait, Paul Cézanne, 1880:

self-portrait, Paul Cézanne, 1880

 

From other images of Cezanne, he did appear to be a little stern with little time for the lighter side of life other than his appreciation of the natural world around him. Here, he’s shown himself looking content and full of health. Maybe he was just in a good mood that day? He seems to be enjoying life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cezanne - Self-Portrait with Palette c.1890:

Cezanne – Self-Portrait with Palette c.1890

 

Finally, a self-portrait depicting the artist at work! This is self-portrait that has the look of being made by someone else. Cezanne appears absorbed by his painting. The palette hasn’t changed very much, in fact nothing appears to have changed very much. I actually don’t think there is any hidden message to the world except for, this is me and this is what I do. I love the colours Cezanne uses and his brush strokes are descriptive. Another reason I chose him is because I came across  a portrait of him by another artist and will look at comparisons later.

 

 

 

 

 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

Self portrait, 1913 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German 1880-1938):

Self portrait, 1913 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (German 1880-1938)

 

 

 

This  is the kind of self-portrait I wish I had the courage to paint. Kirchner has gone for likeness, character and impact rather than realistic accuracy. This image tells you so much about him, he’s an artist, he’s an expressionist, yes he smokes, he’s pretty cool! His use of colour is striking, as is the composition – he’s got all he needs in the frame, no more no less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Self-portrait, 1925-26, Oil on canvas.:

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), Self-portrait, 1925-26, Oil on canvas

 

 

This is a very different approach. It’s still stylish, more abstract yet strangely, more accurate. The palette isn’t overly different, pink still dominates, but the tones are simplified and flattened. It says that he’s moved on and evolved – there will be more to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chuck Close (1940- )

amazing talent! this is a painting! learn more about the artist: Chuck Close:

Chuck Close – Big Self-Portrait 1967-68

This acrylic painting is very large and based on a photograph of himself. It took around a year to complete. Again, nothing to do with vanity, this image says this is me, so? However, the very scale, time taken, accuracy and skill says more about the artist than the image. I’m not usually a fan of photorealism (whatever that is), however, the skill involved and the sheer determination and patience must be admired. I wanted to show the path this artist has taken in his style of painting over the decades. Much is made of Close’s “face blindness” – a condition I can’t even imagine – this, it’s said is the reason for the many self-portraits and portraits that he makes.

 

 

Self Portrait-Chuck Close (interestingly, this artist has "face blindness", a disorder in which he cannot recognize faces. He paints portraits in order to help him remember even his own face):

Chuck Close Self-Portrait, 2008 Oil on Canvas

 

What a difference! This is still extremely realistic and accurate but composed of pattern and colour. Almost as if viewed through a patterned glass window but not completely distorted. I can imagine that if viewed from the correct distance the pattern would just “disappear” and the brain would make everything real again. Is he trying to fool the brain or the eyes? Is he trying to put across what it feels like not to completely understand and recognise the face?

 

 

 

 

If possible, compare your chosen self-portraits with portraits of the same sitter by other artists. What does this tell you?

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Portrait of Cezanne (PORTRAIT DE CÉZANNE), 1880. Pastel on paper, 53.7 x 43.5 cm. Private Collection.:

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) Portrait of Cezanne (PORTRAIT DE CÉZANNE), 1880. Pastel on paper, 53.7 x 43.5 cm

Out of the artists chosen above, this Cezanne is the only one I could find had been painted by another artist. This pastel portrait is by Renoir and is absolutely beautiful. I have to say, the comparison is very close. The actual features and demeanour of Cezanne are pretty much identical to each other. Renoir’s handling of the subject is a little softer and there are less colours added into the flesh and of course, it is pastel rather than oil. It takes a little thinking about that, Cezanne’s self-portrait would be a mirror image and Renoir, would be seeing the actual model, so they are actually drawing a similar view.

This comparison tells me that Cezanne, painted what he saw, not his impression of his own image – it also tells me that observed and separated the perception from the reality. Other than that, Renoir had the same illusions?!

Practice of Painting – Assignment 3

26 & 28/09 – 01/102015

Assignment 3

Now that you’ve worked on several figure and portrait studies, consolidate what you’ve learned by working in a more planned and considered way on a portrait or self-portrait in either acrylic or oil paint. In this assignment you’ll be showing how your skills in handling paint and interpreting your subject are developing.

Looking at other artists’ portraiture

Explore some of the endless possibilities for arrangements in portraiture by looking at the work of other artists… Make notes in your learning log, concentrating on works that you find especially arresting or admirable.

Arrangements/composition/brushwork/colour in portraiture:
I have seen some fabulous examples of portraiture over the years that are purely focussed on the sitter. Many that do this use chiaroscuro to draw attention in onto the subject with dramatic effect – Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Da Vinci are obvious examples. A more recent example, both in era and my actually seeing it, would be Henry James by John Singer Sargent (1913). This left a lasting impression for its sheer dominance of a space.  I enjoyed the way the left shoulder was lost into the background with the slightly more unusual light source coming from the right. As most of the background and figure itself was dark, the flesh of the face and hand on the right had significance and you understood the character of the man from this. Using the same artist, a converse treatment is one of the portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife 1885. The figures are contained within an interior, however, neither are centre stage, certainly not “His Wife”, who seems almost insignificant going off the right edge of the canvas. Sargent doesn’t dismiss her completely though, as her clothing is elaborate, however simply rendered. Although we are left in no doubt as to whom is main subject of the painting.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to go to the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries – there was a wonderful array of styles, subjects and interpretations by current portrait artists. To choose one or two favourites was almost impossible, however for this purpose I settled on these examples. “Norman” by Jason Sullivan is a narrative work showing the man within his environment. The painting is set in the Salt Marshes on an overcast day, all tones are related back to this, even the red windcheater Norman is wearing fits right into the grey tones yet gives the image a lift. Based in Lymington in Hampshire, not so far from me, Norman lives on his small boat (which is in the background of the painting), is in his seventies and has previously cut reeds for New Forest thatchers. He seems at one with his world, we have the sense that he needs no more.

The other painting I absolutely loved is “Fire” in oil by Simon Davis RP RBSA. It measures only 6.5 x 5.5″, yet for me, packs a punch. A simple head and shoulders view of a young woman, a limited palette with bold decisive marks. It has a variety of soft and sharp edges and the face is moulded by its brush strokes – if ever (in my humble opinion) the handling of paint and clarity of colour was an example of less is more, this is it. Simply beautiful.

(NB I was unable to find “Norman” or “Fire” on-line to create a link to the actual paintings unfortunately).

Assignment 3 – Self Portrait

After lengthy consideration throughout this section, I have decided to attempt another self-portrait. This is for two reasons: me being the only model I can guarantee has availability as required; because I find this genre particularly challenging and need to face it (no pun intended) head on (sorry!).

My personal challenges with a self-portrait are:

  1. keeping still as a model yet moving back to assess progress as a painter
  2. portraying my character rather than the grumpy painter that’s struggling
  3. ignoring my perception of what I look like and really looking at what I can see
  4. working the entire painting rather than fiddling with detail – I have less trouble with this when painting someone else
  5. chasing the light – can become so involved in the task, I don’t notice light changing until it’s too late!

Preparation:

Alluding to number 3 above and possibly 2 and 4, I decided to angle the mirror back so that I was looking down into it, thus avoiding the traditional face on, three-quarters or profile views. This is also not an angle I usually see myself from, so hopefully would avoid pre-conceived ideas of myself.

I was hoping to reflect some aspects of my work area in the painting for visual interest, however, the mirror angle just gave a view of the ceiling!

As I wanted to use a mid-sized canvas board and the only one I had was pre-used, I decided to recycle. The board was 38x46cm and had previously been not one, but two quite impasto acrylic paintings, therefore there was a lot of texture on the surface. I had already washed over a warm neutral ground colour, however, it was a little too bumpy for a portrait. I sanded the surface so that some texture was retained but not huge crevices. This, I hoped would compensate a little for having a simple background.

Preliminary Tonal Drawing Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Preliminary Tonal Drawing
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

In my sketchbook, I drew a frame 50% smaller in scale than my board to create a sketch to work on tone and composition.  As I was already clear in my mind how I wanted to work, I found this was enough. (In assignment 2, I also thought I knew what composition I wanted but still tried others just in case – this time I am already certain).

We were also advised in the course notes, to premix our flesh colours, this I admit, I don’t normally do. I was conscious of keeping a fairly limited palette so chose warm and cool versions of red, blue and yellow, plus some earth colours and white. ls ten a limited palette?

Colours used:
Cadmium Red (warm)
Alzarin Crimson (cool)
Ultramarine Blue (warm)
Manganese Blue (cool)
Cadmium Yellow (warm)
Cadmium Lemon (cool)
Naples Yellow
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Titanium White

Using varying combinations of some of the above I tried to create dark, mid and light tones in warm, cool and neutral mixes. Retrospectively, the neutral wasn’t far removed from the warm. Making swatches of these colours with mixing notes I taped the sheet to my easel for easy reference. During the portrait classes I attend, we are encouraged not to overuse white as it can cool colours and make them chalky, hence the Naples yellow.

Flesh colour mixes and notes

Flesh colour mixes and notes

Set up for self portrait: mirror, board and easel, preliminary sketch, colour mixing notes, palette and brushes ready to go.

Set up for self-portrait:
mirror, board and easel, preliminary sketch, colour mixing notes, palette and brushes ready to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had decided to use oil paint as, although I enjoyed switching to acrylics occasionally for previous exercises, returning to oil felt “right”. I like to work with dilute oil paint in raw umber and Naples yellow initially to map out my composition and rough tones before getting involved with colour, sometimes rubbing out shapes and lighter areas with a cloth, not something easily done with acrylics and thinned paint dries very quickly. It’s also a more tactile way of working and helps me feel like I’m moulding the structure of the face (in theory).

Below is a gallery of work in progress photos which maps out the highs and lows of the exercise. After day one of painting, I left the work feeling satisfied with progress, thinking, I just need to work on the eyes, clothes and background tomorrow and then I’m done. What a difference a night makes! Next day, work on the eyes I did, and work and work and work – in reality fiddled! Big mistake – I had strayed from the style used elsewhere in the painting and now the eyes were awful! I know I should work all of the painting at the same rate and level but ignored it. I scrubbed out the eyes and went to lunch. Coming back, I reassessed – the nose was too high the mouth too high and the left side of the face too wide. I scraped off all features and returned to sculpting shapes, I finally finished that day at the same stage as the previous one. Lesson 1: Work all of the painting not just one area to the same level, Lesson 2: Avoid detail until the structure is correct, Lesson 3: Light, light light! At this point I closed and locked the door – made dinner, had 3 glasses of wine and tried to forget the whole thing!

I was constantly stepping back to reassess my progress, nearing the end I reconsidered the background. I had chosen to wear a black fleece top, which contrasted well with the red, paint smeared apron and although my hair is fair, there was a good amount of darker tone through it. Therefore, I decided to keep the background lighter so that the figure came forward. As I wanted, as previously stated, to make the background more interesting, I needed to keep the texture visible. Using a mixture of brush and palette knife, colour was added, trying to keep the light tones to the left. I then scraped back so that the relief of the underlying texture showed through.  This seems to have worked quite nicely.

Evaluating the results, I was pleased with the painting close up – however, moving it to another position and standing back, the mouth lacked definition as the top lip should have been significantly darker than the lower. The painting did not reflect that so I adjusted the tones here. I also noticed that the right side of the face was a little flat, so worked a little more moulding with warm and dark tones – this is something I find I often do.  I think I will leave it at that, as I may detract rather than add at this stage.

Assignment 3 - Final Painting Self-portrait Oil on Canvas Board 38x46cm

Assignment 3 – Final Painting
Self-portrait
Oil on Canvas Board 38x46cm

This was to be the final painting, however, there were aspects I wasn’t happy with.

  • The mouth is too harsh and angular
  • The right eye (as viewed) is slightly askew giving a boss-eyed look
  • The general effect is too severe – this is something my husband always points out when I attempt a self-portrait. When asked if I had made the same effect this time, he replied “yes but you always do”.

I resolved to reassess and try to correct these points. This is not a matter of vanity as I try to paint what I see, but more of portraying the person behind the features. I do have my moments, yet generally I am good-natured and approachable – not a terrifying school mistress!

 

Having left a good day and a half to let the painting sit and dry out a little, it was easier to rework and paint on top of what was there. The adjustments didn’t take too long and a fresh eye always helps, if I hadn’t done this I would have regretted it.

Assignment 3 Self-portrait After final reassessment and rework Oil on canvas board 38x46cm

Assignment 3
Self-portrait
After final reassessment and rework
Oil on canvas board
38x46cm

Self Assessment:

Had I overcome my five initial challenges?

  1. keeping still as a model yet moving back to assess progress as a painter
  2. portraying my character rather than the grumpy painter that’s struggling
  3. ignoring my perception of what I look like and really looking at what I can see
  4. working the entire painting rather than fiddling with detail – I have less trouble with this when painting someone else
  5. chasing the light – can become so involved in the task, I don’t notice light changing until it’s too late!

Results:

  1. This still challenged me, although I did try to minimise the problem by placing the easel in most accessible position – I did sometimes, however, return to it and look in the mirror and I wasn’t there! Ongoing!
  2. This one nearly got the better of me, but the final re-evaluation and rework saved my bacon. I reduced the severity of expression and made some tonal value changes more subtle and am happy.
  3. This was one of the easiest ones to overcome because of the angle I chose – it may still be a factor in more traditional poses.
  4. Ah – this was tricky, individual eyelashes? Whatever was I thinking? This journey is well documented above and I won’t dwell on it – lesson learnt!
  5. Again, I did exactly this – trying to get on and finish regardless is not advisable – another lesson learnt.

Successes:

  • The perspective of the pose was a saviour and noted above – using the initial sketch was very helpful although I accept that I have increased the scale in the painting compared with the drawing.
  • The textured ground has made more interesting marks and enlivened the painting.
  • I am pleased with the colours compositionally, they relate well to each other and make a fairly dramatic image.
  • The painting of the clothes including my trusty paint encrusted apron has a realistic appearance.
  • My confidence had grown in what I wanted to achieve especially with my nemesis of self portraiture.
  • Probably the most important one – I think it actually does look like me.

 

Exercise: Telling a Story

21-23/09/15

Exercise: Telling a Story

Create a simple narrative, involving one or several human figures, and produce a painting that gives the viewer the clearest possible idea of what’s happening… The story will lie in how these figures relate – or fail to relate – to one another… Feel free to use photographs to help you, but bear in mind that simply copying a photograph is unlikely to create a satisfactory painting unless you go on to provide further interpretation and make what is in a photograph part of your own story.

I have been mulling this exercise over for a while, having read ahead in the course, so that I may have models or reference material available. I came up with four different narratives that may work in a painting – these I tried out in my sketchbook.  As we were to tell a story, I felt it helpful to put my ideas in frames across the page, in a graphic novel style.  Somehow, this made me think in a narrative way, even though each did not relate to the other.

Ideas in A4 sketchbook

Telling a Story
Ideas in A4 sketchbook

This helped me visualise my stories on paper, although, I only managed to completely discount the first one for a while and struggled to select my final subject. Eventually, I ruled out number three as it was more complex an image and we were asked for a simple narrative.  I still think, however, that it would make an interesting painting and have only put it on hold. Between number 2 and 4, I finally settled on the fourth, mainly because it had two figures and I thought the additional relationship angle would be interesting.

 

 

As I had no models for this exercise, I referred to a book called Facial Expressions A Visual Reference for Artists by Mark Simon (published 2005 by Watson-Guptill Publications ISBN 0-8230-1671-4). As I had already had an idea for the story around receiving bad news in a letter, I knew what kind of expressions I was looking for.  The story in my mind was inspired by the remembrance events of the Second World war and of course, modern-day instances of families receiving the dreaded Ministry of Defence letters regarding service men and woman who would not be coming home. I chose a couple of photographs of a man and woman in their sixties with appropriate looks of shock and sadness. Until writing this up, I hadn’t realised were actually related as they were pages apart in the book! A little spooky!

Telling a Story Reference photo 1

Telling a Story
Reference photo 1

Telling a Story Reference photo 2

Telling a Story
Reference photo 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling a Story Preliminary drawing Coloured pencil on paper 10x12"

Telling a Story
Preliminary drawing
Coloured pencil on paper
10×12″

 

Due to time, I decided to use a 10×12″ canvas board again, and, as there were two figures, I decided to map out the composition in coloured pencils in the same scale to ensure placement would be correct in the final painting. Hopefully, I have been successful in bringing these two figures together and creating the characters to tell the story. It certainly makes me sad when I look at the finished painting.

 

 

 

 

 

Again I remembered to take a few photographs during the work in progress stage:

 

As an experiment, I decided to work on the white of the canvas board and did not use a prepared coloured ground. This was a conscious decision as I had read that some artists prefer this for portraiture as it gives more luminosity to the faces. In retrospect, I think here, it has given less depth to the colour, however, it does also give an impression of the graphic novel appearance.

Telling a Story "Bad News" Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Telling a Story
“Bad News”
Oil on canvas board
10×12″

Although, it is not overly helpful not to have models queuing up to sit for these exercises, it has forced me into using my imagination. It has also made me draw on the many life and portrait classes I have attended in the past and has given me confidence to construct my own compositions. I have found it quite daunting over the recent years not to be able to draw or paint from life, and have felt that I need to see something/someone in order to draw it or them. Not having models has been quite a freeing experience.

 

Exercise: A Figure in an Interior

15-20/09/15

Exercise: A Figure in an Interior

…Another approach would be to work from a photograph which you can then locate in an interior that you’ve imagined or that you can paint from real life. You could paint a very interesting painting by depicting a stranger or a celebrity in your own living room… Skin tones reflect surrounding colour and shades… How will you locate your figure in the space? How can you suggest depth?

My initial thoughts as noted in my sketchbook were to portray the Queen doing the washing up in my kitchen, Marigolds and all, but decided against this. Another scenario sprang to mind, maybe she could be sat in our lounge in a fluffy dressing gown and slippers reading the papers, as if on a lazy Sunday morning? It then struck me, that she is never really off duty, so I thought I’d replace the papers with a lap top as if catching up on official correspondence in the modern age – after all, one is never away from the office with the internet nowadays, is one?

To achieve a rough composition for the painting, I found a pink fluffy dressing gown and tried out several poses that my husband photographed for me. I am a similar height to the Queen so this would also help with proportions whilst sitting. From these photos I chose a couple to sketch out as trial compositions, altering them slightly to make more sense for my imagined image.

 

A Figure in an Interior Preliminary compositional sketches Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Preliminary compositional sketches
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

The first sketch, I thought, was less interesting and the background was not complete enough to give a coherent image.  I preferred the second drawing as it seemed right in its situation. The head position was changed from the photograph to look to the figure’s left and at the lap top screen.

 

 

 

 

Next I had to find suitable images of the Queen in order to make the pose believable and in proportion. This proved harder than I thought, because of the thousands of photographs and images out there, they all seemed to be looking left of centre or were straight profiles. I wanted one of the Queen wearing her glasses as she uses them for reading, and of her wearing a tiara. I had to settle with a compromise, of the two sketches I made of her head, one was looking the wrong way but had glasses and the tiara and the other was looking the right way without the accessories.

A Figure in an Interior Preliminary sketches of the Queen Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Preliminary sketches of the Queen
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

I found the almost full face image more difficult to obtain a likeness, although it was useful for the glasses. The 3/4 to almost profile was easier, however, it was more severe an expression than I wanted. Many of the photographs I studied, and there were a lot, showed the Queen to have quite a mischievous smile and that would have been nice to use. However, in reality, if someone is reading, they will usually have an expression of concentration, which is what I went for in the end.

 

A Figure in an Interior Tonal sketch Pencil in A4 sketchbook

A Figure in an Interior
Tonal sketch
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

 

I then made a tonal sketch from the photograph, as parts of it were over exposed and therefore, lacking in information to paint from directly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I actually remembered to take photographs of work in progress (see gallery).

The final painting when photographed, is a little harsher in colour than in life.  Some aspects I added are: enhancing lights and darks; adding red, white and blue pyjamas for more colour; a vase of flowers on the window sill – this added more interest on the right hand side of the canvas and lifted the whole painting; the tiara and reading glasses. There was a sense of the head being “stuck on”, this I rectified by lightening the neck and giving a cohesive look to the figure as a whole.  The lighting in this room is complex, with slightly off-set opposing windows, however, as it was morning, the window behind the figure let in the most light and the other, a more subdued light. I did find myself giggling whilst doing this and at the same time, hoping that they don’t still throw people in the tower for treason! On the plus side, I think I achieved my aim and although much more complicated that I had envisaged, was very enjoyable.  This is the first time I can remember, where I have used such a multitude of reference material plus imaginary aspects – great fun.

A Figure in an Interior Never Off-Duty Oil on canvas board 16x20"

A Figure in an Interior
Never Off-Duty
Oil on canvas board
16×20″

 

Exercise: Conveying Character

11 & 14/09/15

Exercise: Conveying Character

This study could be a portrait or self-portrait. Whichever you choose, the aim is to convey character through facial expression… Choose your sitter then decide what aspect of your character you want to convey – gentleness, moodiness, humour, etc…You don’t have to paint someone you know, you could choose to paint a television personality, for example, but you’ll need to decide in advance what aspect of their character you’re aiming to convey and think about how you’re going to achieve this.

I relished the opportunity to paint a well-known person, and when talking about character, I decided to concentrate on politicians.  Whether it be consciously or sub-consciously, we make up our minds about people by the way they look and their physical attitude a large percentage of the time. There is one politician in particular that I can never fathom. Boris Johnson often appears to play the bumbling fool, however, you don’t get to the position in life he occupies by being so – I was tempted to try to capture both sides of the coin. I made two drawings in my sketchbook and I think they are fairly successful likenesses, however, we are conditioned not to trust politicians and this one was too good an actor.

Conveying Character Boris Johnson Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Conveying Character
Boris Johnson
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Politicians like to give the impression of saying exactly what the electorate appear to want them to say. However, sometimes, their facial expressions give them away, and there is one in particular, in my opinion (other opinions are available), that has the perfect, sanctimonious sneer.  Again, I tried a drawing first in my sketchbook, concentrating on tone as much as I could from the photo reference.

Conveying Character George Osbourne Pencil in A4 sketchbook

Conveying Character
George Osbourne
Pencil in A4 sketchbook

The expression comes over in the drawing and as noted next to it, the impression given is one of a self-satisfied thought that’s showing through.

I struggled with the likeness, however, this is the one I decided to paint as I could have fun with that expression.

I again used a canvas board 10×12″ as I wanted to zoom right in on the face. Likewise, a dark background would emphasise the features. I have exaggerated the slant of both mouth and nose purposely, not to the extent of a caricature but enough to accentuate the expression. I also decided to work in oil again to keep the fluidity of the paint and brush marks.  I initially worked only from the sketch to set the positioning of face and features, and to try to achieve a three-dimensional appearance. I then used the photograph for colouring, returning to just the sketch for more tonal modelling, and final touches again from the photograph, particularly the eyes.

Again, I haven’t wholly captured the likeness, however, it does make me think of a politician’s sneer, which was my objective.

Conveying Character The Politician's Sneer Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Conveying Character
The Politician’s Sneer
Oil on canvas board
10×12″

When you have completed this exercise, review all your portraits and consider which ones are the most successful.

I think the most successful of the portraits ie ‘self-portrait’, ‘head and shoulders’, ‘mood and atmosphere’ and ‘conveying character’, are the ones where I was working from observation. I am particularly pleased with the head and shoulders painting of my husband, although, it is more of an oil sketch than a complete painting I suppose. The limited amount of time I had, plus obviously seeing him most days, made me look hard and record what I saw but not to overwork it. As soon as I saw a reasonable likeness, I stopped there. This is also the one I had the most positive feedback about.

What technical demands did you encounter?

Technically, I found the self-portrait the most challenging.  The very fact that I had to stay still as a sitter, yet keep moving back as the painter threw me out all over the place. I also, in hind sight, was less enamoured with the acrylic paint. At the time, I enjoyed it as I could over-paint easily where I needed to make adjustments, yet now it’s dry and I’ve had time away from it, it has a tendency to look flat and harsh.

How hard did you find the interpretive element of portrait painting?

With the exercise, creating mood and atmosphere, I struggled because I chose the wrong mood and went against how I was feeling. Had I acknowledged this at the time, I think it would have been more successful.  The quick, unplanned and spontaneous ink and pastel painting I did afterwards was much more evocative.  The final exercise, conveying character, was difficult when trying to achieve a likeness, however, the character was there and I enjoyed the experience. This time I had chosen the right subject and media and worked fairly quickly, so all the best elements came together (apart from the likeness).

 

Exercise: Creating Mood and Atmosphere

03-09/09/15

Exercise: Creating Mood and Atmosphere

For this exercise you can choose to paint a full figure portrait, a head and shoulders portrait or a self-portrait… should be unusual or expressive in some way. It can be true to life or not, depending on the effects you wish to achieve… Decide what you’re trying to achieve at the outset and make some notes in your learning log. Come back to this when you’ve finished your painting and assess the extent to which you’ve achieved your objectives.

Instead of working this through in my learning log initially, I decided to use my sketchbook and then photograph both notes and scribblings/sketches so that the thought process can be followed in both.

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Sketchbook notes and sketches 1

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Sketchbook notes and sketches 1

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Own mono print from life model used as reference noted in sketchbook

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Own mono print from life model used as reference noted in sketchbook

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Ink drawings with stick from mono print reference Sketchbook notes 2

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Ink drawings with stick from mono print reference
Sketchbook notes 2

Below are attempts (using another life class drawing) to produce a 70s psychedelia mood and atmosphere drawing on the thumbnails in sketch book notes 1.

Wet in wet acrylic inks, figures and motifs building on previous thumbnails. Sketchbook notes 3

Wet in wet acrylic inks, figures and motifs building on previous thumbnails.
Sketchbook notes 3

Rethinking using life figures only are not really portraits, imagined or realistic.

Rethinking composition notes, sketches and thumbnail. Sketchbook notes 4

Rethinking composition notes, sketches and thumbnail.
Sketchbook notes 4

Reference material for inspiration that I looked at and notes in sketchbook notes 4 above.

Reference material mentioned in sketchbook notes 4.

Reference material mentioned in sketchbook notes 4.

Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5.

Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5

Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5

1970s make-up reference photo, colourful, big eyelashes.

1970s make-up reference photo

1970s make-up reference photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketchbook notes showing decisions made, draft image, review and amendments.

Sketchbook notes and draft image sketchbook 6

Sketchbook notes and draft image sketchbook 6

Although, I appear to have gone to nth degree to plan out my painting, I still allowed myself some experimentation with the final image. Positions were lightly marked in with an HB pencil so that the flowers may be outlined with masking fluid.  I usually avoid using this as it is too rigid, however, in this case, the whole idea was to use the flat, opacity of the gouache for the intended pop art feel of the flowers. I then washed in clean water in the area around the petals so that I could drop in the purple acrylic ink. This, in effect, obliterated the pencil marks which caused mild panic, until I realised that I had drawn the figures several times already so knew where I wanted what, so just painted them in with orange ink. This, into the still damp purple, fused and merge nicely, which alleviated the perceived problem of how to treat the figures with less importance. The face was painted with a mixture of acrylic inks (purple and orange) and some gouache for the nose shape and mouth. Tones were built up wet in wet.  The irises of the eyes, which I wanted to be “startling” in colour were painted with the only blue used – Process Cyan acrylic ink and enhanced with gouache using its opacity. The flowers painted last, with care taken over which colours went where.

Results:

Mood and atmosphere planned – flower power/psychedelia/pop art/happiness/mysticism: Achieved? Absolutely not! I had created an interesting but in-cohesive image that didn’t really say anything. It’s not unattractive but looking back, my objectives were not really moods, they were an era.  I had initially been drawn to a darker subject and should have stayed with that, I had tried to force a feeling and mood onto myself that wasn’t really there. I seem to be drawn to sadness in people’s eyes and even the face in the finished painting can’t be called happy, she actually looks afraid.

Feeling deflated, I went to have lunch and ponder my next move.

On  my return, I picked up my black ink and stick again, looking at Marlene Dumas’ portraits that I was looking to for reference before. In fact all the reference material I was trying to use, should have told me what I really wanted to paint!

I started to draw with the stick and black ink, roughly following the head position of my previous self-portrait, then sprayed the ink with clean water. I worked like this for several minutes, drawing and spraying. There was definitely a mood there, even if the drawing was crude. I decided to let the paper dry completely and then work into the face with pastel and charcoal. Working spontaneously I reformed the features and let it happen, the runs on the left eye (as happened with my own self-portrait) gave a haunted look to the face. I decided to leave this and worked around it.

Glancing down at Dumas’ portrait Julie – the Woman, where only the eyes and mouth are naturalised and the rest of the face is blocked in red, I picked up a dark red pastel and rubbed it all over the face. Leaving the left eye, nose and mouth, I started to see fear and distrust in the expression. Enhancing both eyes slightly and darkening around the head, the hair could have been a head scarf. I decided to leave the ambiguity and let the viewer decide.

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Painting 2 Black & sepia ink, pastel and charcoal on paper.

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Painting 2
Black & sepia ink, pastel and charcoal on paper.

I now feel I have fulfilled the brief.

Lesson learnt

Just as feelings can not be truly explained in words, mood and atmosphere can not be planned – they have to be felt. It is not just in the imagination, it is in the soul.

 

Exercise: Head and Shoulder Portrait

30/08/15

Exercise: Head and Shoulder Portrait

We were asked to make several decisions on how we wanted to represent our sitter ie scale, position, background and light source, what they would wear ie what effect would a black jumper have on the impact of the face and the relationship to the background of the picture?

I’m sure I’m not the only student who, quite frankly, is grateful for what they can get when it comes to having someone sit for their portrait. My husband, who sat for me, is currently doing some studying of his own, so I took the opportunity to grab him while he was fairly still. My main conscious decisions were:

  • scale – as I only had a short time, I chose to work smaller than usual on a 10×12″ canvas board
  • media – having used acrylics exclusively for several exercises, I was missing using oils eg their subtlety, wet into wet techniques and softening edges
  • focus – I wanted to zoom into the face so that there was minimal background – the background colour is similar to the wall colour which gave a calming effect
  • palette – raw umber, ultramarine, burnt sienna, cadmium red, cadmium yellow and titanium white

I only had a maximum of two and a half hours including set up time due to having to be somewhere at 4.30. I also had to allow for a couple of breaks as cups of tea was the bribe used.

Head and Shoulders Portrait Glyn - work in progress Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Head and Shoulders Portrait
Glyn – work in progress
Oil on canvas board 10×12″

I started off in a traditional way by blocking shapes with dilute raw umber and removing lights with a rag. Next working in darks with a mix of ultramarine and raw umber, making sure I had the level of the shoulders correct as Glyn was looking down at his books. This was a good start and I was pleased with progress so stopped for tea break number one.

On returning to the painting, there was a bit of rearranging to obtain the same pose and then off we went.  It transpired that Glyn is a little unusual to most sitters, in that his head lifted up as he relaxed not drooped down. After initial suggestions at returning to the original pose met with gentle opposition, I changed my rendition, only fair I suppose.

Head and Shoulders Portrait Glyn - on the easel Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Head and Shoulders Portrait
Glyn – on the easel
Oil on canvas board
10×12″

Another difference to most sitters, is that a small smile drifted on and off his face, which helped give me insight into his expressions and subtleties of his features.

Glyn was pretty pleased with the result and I thought it best to stop when I did to keep the freshness and the likeness instead of trying to make it the perfect painting.

After finishing, I posted it on Facebook for both my and Glyn’s friends and family to review for likeness. Had the thumbs up on the whole. His mum recognised him (which is a bonus), along with his young niece and nephew, who are around 6 and 8 but don’t hold me to that, who knew who it was straight away.

An enjoyable couple of hours, and glad to be back to the oils.

 

Head and Shoulder Portrait Glyn - Oil on canvas board 10x12"

Head and Shoulder Portrait
Glyn – Oil on canvas board 10×12″

 

Exercise: Self Portrait

24-31/08/15

Exercise: Self Portrait

Make a self-portrait of just your head and shoulders. You can choose to work in natural or artificial light… Make sure that your face is lit from one side with the other in shadow… Choose light, dark or mid-toned background…

A dark background was chosen to throw the portrait forward. Instead of making preliminary sketches, I decided to work directly on to the board and see what happened.  I chose to use acrylic again for its quicker drying time and the ease of over painting and adjustment. This, it transpired, was a good decision as the lower half of the face in particular, but not exclusively, was repainted 4 or 5 times. Again, I chastise myself for not taking “in progress” photographs, however, I became so engrossed it didn’t even cross my mind.

I find self portraiture the most difficult and arduous subject. It is not a comfortable process as it should be as I see myself and I really don’t think about it that much. Other than applying make-up which is now so routine, unless for a special occasion, it’s a quick check for smudges of charcoal and no cabbage between teeth!

Previously, in the Drawing 1 similar exercise, I had a surreal experience of morphing into different family members during the process, this time this wasn’t so prevalent. Initially, I was just trying to map out bone structure, level of shoulders, head shape etc and was feeling fairly confident. That was until I had to answer the phone and stepped away from the painting – just as well because the distortion I was introducing was unbelievable! Repaint number one! On the second day, my xxnd birthday, it was pouring with rain, dark and miserable and I was on my own until evening. I didn’t realise how low my mood was dipping until I used some overly dilute paint on my eye and it began to drip like a tear – I then felt even lower and the whole expression and aura of the painting became depressive. Over painting the lower half another couple of times, the rain eventually stopped and the sun started to come out, a small smile began to appear. However, I left the eyes as they were because they said something of that moment. Over the next few days, I added and subtracted here and there after sneaking up on the image and seeing it afresh each time. I have a very tricky nose, and I learnt the lesson of keeping the mouth subtle last time. My last touch was to fill in the dark background that was my initial choice as I am quite pale. Sorry for the lengthy explanation, but there is always a hint of therapy when I do a self-portrait – luckily not that often – I empathise with Vincent Van Gogh even more now!

Self portrait Acrylic on board 14x18"

Self portrait
Acrylic on board 14×18″

  • Is your self-portrait a good likeness? How do you know?

I think the features are pretty close, however I’m not sure of their placement. This is the most difficult part of the process, painting then looking back at yourself and adjusting/readjusting, even a few millimetres difference can throw the likeness. I think my eyes are spot on for shape and expression (see above outpouring), however, they should be a little closer together on reflection.  I bravely asked friends what they thought and other than being supportively positive, my best comment came from a guy who said that my eyes were too sad. This was exactly what I wanted to hear, capturing that moment.

  • Which aspects of the face were hardest to tackle?

Positioning of features in relation to each other.

  • What technical and practical problems did you experience and how did you overcome them?

As above. Getting the mirror and then my seat the right height, not only to see myself but also to be comfortable enough to paint. I probably should have stood up too, as it was so tempting to plough on without standing back and I normally stand in my portrait class where it’s more natural to keep assessing at a distance. I began to see better when I was satisfied with the general shapes and structure and I could dip in and out to make adjustments.