Assignment 5: A Series of Paintings on a Theme
My initial thoughts over the last few days have been to create a series of paintings of a similar subject, becoming progressively more abstract. I am unsure what the subject should be, although I am leaning to a more organic theme. That may be a natural still life, a figure or figures, or a landscape.
I am being influenced by other areas of art such as music and dance, and am gaining an understanding of evolving styles from the traditional and classical inspiring experimental interpretations to create something original.
Have been struggling to decide on a subject still:
Have now discounted still life and although was seriously tempted to use a figure, maybe a life model – it was not to be overly practical as my life classes are every 2 or 3 weeks and on a Saturday. I do have many life drawings for reference though and I have sifted through them, considering how I could elaborate on them. However, finally, I think I will use a landscape. I think this will give me more freedom to experiment. My thoughts regarding the series of paintings are still focused on progressively working from realism to abstract, how to do this is another choice to make. We are asked to make a series of 3-5 paintings so I could go from realism to impressionism to expressionism to abstract giving me 4 paintings. There are various ways I could attempt this, the mark making, the paint treatment, colour variation, distortion, changing balance in the image and many more I am sure.
Whilst I was away over Christmas and New Year I visited another attraction designed by the Canarian artist, Cesar Manrique. This was the Cactus Garden on Lanzarote. The garden itself is extraordinary, I felt I was moving between Africa, the Wild West, the tropics and deserts in relatively small area. The shapes of the cacti along with the natural volcanic made elaborate shapes with dramatic shadows in the early afternoon. There were also a few paintings by the artist on display which was timely, as they show how he used splatters and splashes to recreate the “spikeyness” of the plants.
Although the paintings are behind glass and it was difficult to avoid reflections, the techniques used can still be seen. Something to bear in mind.
Now I’m almost certain to use landscape and natural forms, I need to decide which scene to use, I think it is important to use the same scene throughout the series to fully appreciate the intended evolution of each style. Do I use sketches I already have or something completely new?
What a journey my musings over this assignment have travelled between the beginning of this post and now. It seemed that not a moment past when I wasn’t running through options and ideas, from waking up in the night to doing the ironing! I have gone through this section’s exercises and experimented extensively which has informed my decisions on how to proceed. I have:
- chosen my subject – a series of paintings of my local market town Fordingbridge
- chosen my supports – canvas board 24×20″ – 3 of
- given myself an option to add 2 smaller paintings if time allows
- decided to explore a) the decline of the small market town, b) the picturesque façade or “first impression” c) the regeneration of the town in modern times
I had previously made some sketches of my intended picturesque scene in the Landscape section of this course. These were not used for a final painting at that stage, however, I had noted that I would like to revisit it at a later date – this seemed the perfect opportunity to do so.
My initial plans and a tracing of the map of Fordingbridge, as noted in my sketchbook, showed my first idea was to have a textured large-scale map as the ground for each painting. As the first one took all afternoon to create I decided that this would be impractical. In addition, as I had planned to use painting knives to make at least one of the series, the map would have been obliterated. Therefore, I decided to adapt my plan to use the map as a painting in its own right. This worked out well as I was struggling to create a coherent image for the regeneration painting. My sketchbook scribblings confirmed that this would be a forced image and would not say what I intended so I cut this from the series.
I made a larger, freehand drawing of the traced map from my sketchbook onto the first canvas board – this was to loosen up and not be a slave to the original ordinance survey map. I used string to denote the main A338 road in double width and other B roads with a single strand. For the Avon river that runs around and through the town, I used impasto gel in a textured fashion to represent flowing water. I also had some large gauge embroidery “canvas” which I cut into shapes to represent rows of buildings, which was added to the town. Once the PVA glue and gel was dry, I painted over with gesso to create a matt, uniform effect. I left this over night to dry and contemplate how I was going to move this forward. As I initially intended to use this as a ground for another painting, I had to let my ideas simmer and come to the boil. Whilst this was evolving in my head, I began plotting my plans for the next painting…
Returning to the map, with some half-baked notion of using thin acrylic washes, I added a watercolour ground over the gesso to enable some wet in wet washes. This again had to dry overnight. Again I returned to the other painting…
Maps should give an idea of the terrain of the land, so in order to achieve this, I added a wash of acrylic and laid cling film over the wet paint. Moving the film around created creases, this was left overnight again to dry. In the morning, I removed the cling film and a pale landscape of fields, tracks, streams etc was revealed. I repeated the process to deepen the colour, and then added more washes of green, burnt sienna and ultramarine to build up the geographical features. I also added blue/sienna/green to the river to bring it forward. This was a long process and I continued to work on the other two large paintings in tandem. I also had to take my time to assess where I was going with this. Finally, I grazed over some oil pastels in places to bring out the relief of the raised features – this is where I left it as complete.
This was definitely an organically evolving painting – it wasn’t originally supposed to be one of the series but claimed its place. I think it works although, it does look tentative which is probably because that’s how I felt making it. It does give the series some introduction and it is subtle in the way that an introduction is not supposed to be the main event.
Decline of a Market Town
This is actually an idea I’ve had bubbling around my brain for some time, however, I wasn’t entirely sure how to execute it. I had spent a very cold but sunny afternoon wandering around Fordingbridge taking photographs of anything that caught my eye. It was a sad reflection of how many closed shop fronts were evident, those that had been re-used were for charity shops, estate agents (ironically) and new clinics for various ailments! Fordingbridge is not a complete ghost town, it does have top quality family run shops such as bakers, butchers, seven hairdressers/barbers (!), a little exclusive boutique and a few shabby chic home-ware shops plus your obligatory mini-supermarkets and post office, a couple of banks – recently reduced by three. It did strike me that two of the most well-kept frontages were funeral directors – it seemed I should include at least one of these in my painting to make a point. Instead of creating a high street of boarded up windows, I decided to create collage of shop fronts albeit painted. I experimented in my sketchbook and added crumpled tissue over the painting with succeeded in giving the image a run down, abandoned effect which I liked and decided to use. I set out to paint pretty much straight onto the board and concentrate on perspective and tone rather that a perfect rendition of the subject – this also helped with the neglected effect I was after.
This was a departure from my usual carefully planned composition, in fact, again the composition evolved. I was really pleased with the experiment in the sketchbook but am not sure if the final work has that same sense of abandonment – should I have done less shop fronts? One thing I am unsure about is whether I should have put washes over the tissue – looking back at the sketchbook, I think I did there.
My rough idea for this assignment was to produce this image in several differing techniques and styles. I decided not to do this as this is a complex subject and to be honest, I probably would have become bored with doing the same view several times in one week. As alluded to earlier, I had wanted to revisit this from the Landscape section previously. This time, however, I determined to produce a looser, more expressive painting instead of becoming embroiled in details. To achieve this and keep me true to my intent, I opted to use painting knives for the entire painting. The only brushes used were to lay down the bright red ground and a rigger brush to branches on the trees and some grasses and reeds in the foreground. I used a red ground to have some show through and give uniformity to the painting, however, most of it was obliterated with the amount and free use of paint.
This was great fun to do and real antidote to the other two large paintings. I literally scrubbed, scratched and smeared paint all over the place. I did adhere to one main rule though and that was ensuring the tones were working in all aspects of the painting. I think it works as when viewed from distance it looks right. This one helped inform my process on the small Down River painting by pushing me to avoid detail.
After completing the three large paintings in the series, I was more determined to include the smaller two – I felt that their inclusion would give a fuller impression of the theme as a whole. I also wanted to give these a different treatment, yet still keeping them unified with the others by using the same palette of colours.
Town Hall Clock Tower
Whilst taking photographs of the Town Hall, I framed a composition of the various pitched roofs around the clock tower. Although it was only a quick snap, it was strong in my memory too and an idea was already forming. In fact, the memory was so acute, I didn’t recognise the photograph straight away as my basic composition was already set in my mind. I wanted to produce an abstracted version that was still recognisable, yet, could fool the eye.
I actually quite like this technique for abstracting a subject and I think this works in its own right, however, my doubt is whether I have done enough to integrate it into the series of work. I used the same palette although the colours are flat, maybe, just because it’s a series it doesn’t have to fit? I suppose that’s down to my objective. Although I have to admit my objective was to have the series work together and for each painting to work by itself.
The second small painting was pure indulgence, I stood for some time on the little bridge watching the offshoot stream from the river. It was sunny and cold, which made the light bounce of the trees and bushes beautifully. I was, as seems to be usual, drawn to the long shadows across the water and I chose to paint this just because I liked it! I made explicit notes to treat this simply when painting and although I started well, I began to fiddle with detail – so having a strong word with myself, I painted over the fiddles with flat brush marks and just about pulled it back.
I am pleased with the tonal treatment of this painting, and am getting better at keeping detail to a minimum. I never thought I was a detail person – yet I think I like to “tidy” up a little too much so I made myself stop before it looked too neat.
Arrangement of the Series
I had a few ideas on arranging the paintings and although I didn’t commit to producing 5 paintings at the beginning until I knew I had enough time, most of the plans involved 5.
I considered putting the paintings together as if they were one large painting in a group, (see first sketchbook plan). After completing them all, I preferred them in a line and played around with the order. I was certain that the map should be in the centre so that the others radiating out from it. I also decided that I wanted to break up the urban/abstract with the landscape focussed paintings, so the final layout would be:
This last section of the PoP1 course has been very enlightening for me. Previously, I felt I lacked creativity, I was comfortable drawing or painting what I saw in front of me, yet I felt totally unoriginal. In fact I was starting to despair – any exercise that said to evoke mood and atmosphere, left me cold. I couldn’t get in the zone and any attempt looked forced. The different techniques here, although I was aware of them, made me lose my logical head and allowed me to just do. I enjoyed all the dribbling, splashing and pouring, absolutely loved using painting knives instead of brushes and the abstract exercises were a revelation. I felt I was being creative and artistic not just copying and reproducing. I absolutely understand that I need to learn all the usual drawing, tone, colour mixing, perspective etc but it’s been great to have that underpin such freedom. One small step…