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.

 

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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″