Portrait: Ann’s Daughter – 19/11/15

19/11/15

Portrait: Ann’s Daughter – Single Session 09.30-12.30

I’m ashamed to say I can not, for the life of me, remember our model’s name! She is the daughter of one of our students, Ann, and is 37 weeks pregnant.  We had been told previously that our model was heavily pregnant and I was quite excited about painting her. However, I made an error of judgement regarding the size of the support, I was thinking that it is only one session and chose a small support again. This proved to be limiting as I wanted to paint at least a three-quarter figure to take advantage of the “bump”. Our model also had a striking face and was beautifully natural with strong bone structure and I was envious of others who were concentrating on the face only.  I still wanted to paint a three-quarter view but wanted to model the face too. I got to half way through the morning and at tea break time, I decided to paint over a previous painting that was 40x60cm to make a second portrait. My other struggle with the small support was that again, it was a recycled oil painting and I had used oil paint as the ground. To make the colour more opaque I had mixed in titanium white, unfortunately, this had not dried sufficiently prior to the class and was making my portrait quite chalky.

With the second painting, I just painted over the portrait from a previous week without a uniform ground. This was beginning to come on but I inevitably ran out of time. Therefore, not a successful session in outcome, but a valuable one in learning lessons for preparation and composition.

Our model at 37 weeks pregnant. Oil on board 12x14"

Our model at 37 weeks pregnant.
Oil on board
12×14″

Second painting Oil on canvas board 40x60cm

Second painting
Oil on canvas board
40x60cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice of Painting – Assignment 4

04/12/15

Assignment 4 – Looking Out

Review all your landscape paintings and preparatory sketches and assess which have been the most engaging exercises. Which landscapes have the most appeal for you?

Both the “View from a Window or a Doorway” and “Hard or Soft Landscape” exercises involved the view from inside to outside. I found these very informative and a useful re-introduction to landscape painting as the windows formed a frame-work and provided reference points to place objects in the scene. “Painting a Landscape Outside” was an experience that was more enjoyable on the sunny, cold day (second session). Although I preferred the sketching to the actual painting, I think this was down to the weather as previous attempts at painting on location in the summer were more enjoyable and successful. It also helped being with other painters.

Working from a photograph was fun, as long as it was my own photo and of a place I knew well and liked. The adaptation and focussing in on a particular aspect of the photo was the best part. It made me re-live my being there.

The most appealing of my painted landscapes to me were:

  • Hard or Soft Landscape
  • Painting a Landscape Outside
  • Working from a Photograph

 

Consider why certain paintings are more successful than others and which approaches and styles have worked best for you.

The more successful paintings have:

  • a more dramatic composition
  • made use of shadows and light
  • elements and shapes that help move the eye around the painting
  • a cohesion of colour and tones
  • an emotional connection to me as the painter
  • a spontaneous rather than manufactured mood/atmosphere

The approaches that worked best for me are:

  • On the spot sketches with notes and/or self taken photos of favourite locations that I can sketch from
  • Preliminary sketches of shapes and then tones
  • Less greens!
  • Elements or objects that I can focus on e.g. a specific tree/building or light and shadow effects
  • Always using my sketchbook

Think about how you can consolidate your experiments by working on a large landscape painting (around 90cm x 60cm or larger) using a location and viewpoint of your choice.

Ideas and inspirations:

  • Georgia O’Keefe – simplified landscape/oversized flowers/leaves
  • Gustav Klimt – Expressive details with mark making
  • Emil Nolde – vibrant colours, mood, minimum detail
  • Graham Sutherland – colour/tone/abstraction
  • Paul Nash – his landscapes rather than the war paintings in this instance – similar points to G.S.

Looking back over my sketches, I wanted to explore some of the drawings I had already done and not used. I was also drawn back to the single tree and its shadows that I had painted in the “Painting a Landscape Outside” exercise – I had this taped to the wall and it was always catching my eye.

Two sketches one of the car park area and one of the tree lined ridge.

Two sketches one of the car park area and one of the tree-lined ridge.

 

I liked the distance and mystery of the gravel track disappearing off into the trees, along with the autumnal colours of a bright, cold day. Again the cast shadows of the tree grabbed me, this is a recurring theme whether it’s in a still life or landscape.

 

 

 

Assignment 4 - Large Landscape Combining two previous sketches, Working out composition and rough tones. 8x6" in A4 sketchbook

Assignment 4 – Large Landscape
Combining two previous sketches,
Working out composition and rough tones.
8×6″ in A4 sketchbook

 

 

Combining the two sketches, composition, focal point, scale and light direction needed to be considered. I had already decided to paint over a large canvas that I had used before, it had an underlying texture because of that. It was larger than suggested at 40×30″ (102x76cm). Scaled down, I used proportions of 8×6″ for the sketch and squared up the drawing to transfer to the large size.

 

 

 

Below are photographs of the progress of the large painting:

 

The colours in the photographs are varying quite a lot due to the different light conditions.  I could only really judge these in real life, even then it was hit and miss, even with a daylight bulb! At the point of the last photo of the above gallery, I took a break to get away from the painting for a few minutes. On my return I stood the painting down one end of the room and viewed it from a distance. This made me realise that it needed a lift. Trying to keep it loose and expressive, I swiped across some “sunlight” in the middle ground as there was light across the gravel track at that point but not on the grass This brought the painting together and I decided to leave it there.

Assignment 4 - Large Landscape Acrylic on canvas 40x30"

Assignment 4 – Large Landscape
Acrylic on canvas
40×30″

Make a detailed assessment of your finished painting in your learning log. Consider what elements had a special appeal to you in your chosen landscape subject. Have you found techniques that suited your subject matter and ideas?

  • Have tried to maintain a cohesive feeling with the painting style, ie not overly detailed and loose and expressive mark making, including the sky and foreground.
  • There is a feeling of a cold and bright autumn day due to the colours, tones and touches of sunlight. Initially the main tree’s highlights were a pale blue/green, however, this gave the impression more of moonlight than sunlight. Therefore, I touched in some yellow ochre/white mix and this warmed up the effect.
  • Aerial perspective was subtle as the dark under the trees were a major component of the composition, therefore, I relied on reducing the size of distant shadows and the distance between them became narrower to give the impression of distance.
  • I like the effect of the treetops against the sky, using an orangey sienna against the blue makes it striking because of the complementary colours.
  • I struggled to achieve a pleasing effect in the foreground grass – it kept coming up too flat. After an attempt at letting paint run, I found that by adding undiluted paint with a dry brush with random marks and brushing over it lightly kept it expressive with some texture.
  • I am not sure that the left hand slope in the middle ground is working – I decided to leave it as is – another tutor once suggested that a little “discomfort” in a painting can be a good thing as long as it’s not distracting.
  • The main appeal to attempting this composition was the cast shadows, both in the background and foreground, although I am pleased that they are not overbearing yet add some drama.
  • Techniques I used and discovered to achieve desire effects included:
    • paint splattering after masking with torn paper for the gravel track, very messy, random, effective and fun.
    • letting paint run, I’m getting more confident with this and although it is not overly obvious here, it gave a good base for the dry brush work. I also used it for the main tree shadows by turning the canvas on its side. It didn’t run as much as I thought but sometimes less is more.
    • dry brushing neat paint lightly for texture of short, scrubby grass.

Review your experiences and make careful notes of future plans. Consider the influence of landscape painters that you admire and explain how their work may have influenced your own.

I found this a very challenging section of the course. I was full of optimism and particularly looked forward to the expressive nature of the mood and atmosphere exercise.  As before in other sections where we were asked to decide on and express a mood, I hit a brick wall. This may be because, I see mood and atmosphere as a feeling and not a thought – as soon as I tried to plan or manufacture a mood, it’s artificial and not heart-felt. It all goes flat – I tried hard to evoke an atmosphere with colour and loose and expressive techniques, but the composition was almost non-existent. How can I get over this?

  • Consider playing appropriate music while working? (I’ve become interested in how different areas of the arts influence each other – poetry, music, sculpture, painting.)
  • Small expressive preliminary paintings where the paint is allowed to do its thing and let the feeling come in its own time?
  • Try not to let the technique become the painting – it needs a core message.

I found it interesting that with landscape more than anything else so far, the media is so key to a successful painting for me. Oils worked for me in the beginning with the “through the window” type subjects but it wasn’t until I started using pastels that exterior, expansive landscapes began to work. The tactile nature of the increased contact between hands, pastel and paper seemed more immediate, the paint brush was almost too far away and I disconnected. I also found the colour mixing more successful, laying down one colour, then working over it with another and making different marks for optical mixing was exciting and satisfying. Once I had that experience, the return to painting with acrylic for the assignment was more comfortable and experimental. For the future:

  • Keep switching between media to encourage experiments, free expression and cross-reference of techniques.
  • Try small paintings of the same subject in different media to understand how to get the best from each.

I have mentioned some of my favourite landscape painters through out this section and above. Interestingly, they are a diverse selection, which may have accounted for my over-enthusiasm for the expressive landscape challenge. I may have tried to incorporate disparate styles and confused myself. Whereas, I think I may have got more of a handle on it in the assignment work. Of the artists I listed above, I think my main influences in this work were:

  • Emil Nolde for the more vibrant use of colour – previously my paintings, particularly in oils, are quite muted. However, I think it has been controlled with a few “swipes” here and there.
  • Gustav Klimt – I mentioned his expressive detail through mark making – I have tried to give an illusion of detail with the splattered gravel and have explored the mark making with the tree bark. An influence but not slavishly copied.
  • Although not directly comparable, I have studied both Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland’s tones and colours and tried to make these work visually in my mind’s eye and not just copied – I would love to try to push the abstraction further in the future too.

(Note to tutor and self – see private Pinterest boards – access given in previous email).

Exercise: Working from a Photograph

01-03/12/15

Exercise: Working from a Photograph

Choose a landscape photo with plenty of space and either tall trees in the middle ground or hills or mountains in the background… When you’ve decided on your photo, look at it critically to decide how you might interpret it.

Source photo Looking over Blashford Lakes

Source photo
Looking over Blashford Lakes

This is one of my favourite views from a dog walking route over Ibsley Common in the New Forest. I only have the photo digitally and not in print, so sketched out the main photographic composition in my sketchbook to work on my painting composition.

Sketched reproduction of the source photo with compositional options and notes. A4 Sketchbook

Sketched reproduction of the source photo with compositional options and notes.
A4 Sketchbook

 

Putting coloured frames around parts of the whole sketch/photo helped me decide which composition would be the most interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

Composition scaled up and main shapes marked in.

Composition scaled up and main shapes marked in.

 

 

Once the composition was decided upon, I scaled it up and drew out the main shapes in a fresh sketch.

 

 

 

 

 

Tonal sketch of chosen composition.

Tonal sketch of chosen composition.

 

Next, the drawing was repeated and simplified tone added to assist with the actual painting.

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to use a pastel and watercolour combination on thick cartridge paper. I used a base of soft pastel as an under-painting. I have struggled with working loosely in this section of the course for some reason, so this method is more tactile and more intuitive for me.  I worked the pastel into the paper to try to cover all of the whiteness.  Working in the darks quickly and strongly, using black in the foreground just to get the depth, then using different dark colours, such as purples, reds and browns to give a richness in the shadows. The minimal use of green seems to be helping me, as the autumnal colours are rich and bright, using sienna, yellows and oranges have lifted the whole feeling of the painting. It was important to keep the sky lively too to balance the strength in the middle and foreground. Once the under-painting was done, I tried to avoid overly blending the pastel and kept the marks visible although less so in the background. To assist with subtle branches I used a damp brush to pull the pastel through the trees.

Once the bulk of the pastel work was done, watercolour was added to intensify some darks in the middle and foreground. The birch trees were added with a rigger brush and Naples yellow and sepia. I used the trees in the garden as reference, especially to see the hanging down of the end twigs and remaining leaves, these were added to the painting with a smudge of mixed tones of pastel. Before using the watercolour, the pastel was fixed and each subsequent application was also fixed.

At this point I stood back and assessed what else needed doing. The sky needed bringing up to same level as the foreground, so I built more shadow beneath the clouds. To enliven the painting even more, I splattered watercolour over the foreground shadows after masking off the other areas with a large sheet of paper. I also referred to the last work-in-progress photo and noticed it was more intense in colour than the actual painting.  This is a comment my tutor has made several times, in that the photo works better, therefore, I added more lights and darks to bring it up to intensity level of the photo. Unfortunately, by this time, the light was fading and the final photograph is a little grainy but gives an impression of the finished painting. If time, I may re-take it and post.

Working from a Photograph Exercise. Pastel and Watercolour on cartridge paper. 57 x 39cm

Working from a Photograph Exercise.
Pastel and Watercolour on cartridge paper.
57 x 39cm

When you’ve finished, look at both the painting and the reference photograph.

In what ways did you depart from the photo?
I zoomed into a specific focus in the photograph and have tried to walk the line between representational and abstract.

Why did you make that choice?
I had been struggling with most of the landscape exercises, with a combination of colours, media and composition failing me. I have previously made landscape paintings with pastel that have had a higher success rate, they seem to make me feel freer in the execution of the painting.

Did you produce a painting that satisfied you, or were you overly influenced by the photo?
Funnily enough, when I came back for the second session of painting, I couldn’t access the digital photo for a couple of hours and had to work only from memory and my drawings. This was useful for tonal representation, although, when I could use it again, the photo was useful for colours. As I progressed I used the photo less and less and I like the interpretation that resulted.

Exercise: Painting from a Working Drawing

24, 26 & 28/11/15

Exercise: Painting from a Working Drawing

Choose a subject that you’re already familiar with, such as a corner of a room in your own home, or objects on a table by a window, and make three drawings:

  • a linear study, concentrating on the main shapes
  • a tonal study
  • a colour study

…You’ll find it easier  to use the same medium for this study as you will for the final painting as all media behave differently.

I decided to use the corner of the lounge, with both the wall lights and standard lamp on.  It was afternoon, however, as usual for this November, it’s overcast and light levels are low.  Using pencil for the linear drawing to try to keep the shapes clean and clear, I also used pencil for the main shapes then using pen for the tonal drawing. I found the pen useful for describing tone as it was small (around A6) in scale and the pen would not smudge and blur the image.

Pencil linear and pen tonal drawing A6 in A4 sketchbook

Pencil linear and pen tonal drawing
A6 in A4 sketchbook

 

I made a fundamental error with these sketches as they were made on the right hand page of my sketchbook. This prevented me having these and my colour study viewable together whilst making the final painting. To get over this I cut out the page and turned it over to be the left had page and stuck it back in my book. Now all three can be used as reference at the same time!

 

 

Colour study Pen and watercolour A6 in A4 sketchbook

Colour study
Pen and watercolour
A6 in A4 sketchbook

 

For the colour study, I stuck to using the pen to draw out the shapes and watercolour to add colour and tone. For this I used student quality pan colours although, I used artist quality tube colour for the actual painting. Again, as I did for the working outside exercise, I sorted out my colours first.

 

 

 

 

I did not use all of the colours I thought, ie Naples Yellow, Viridian nor Raw Umber, however, having the palette loaded and ready, made it simpler and quicker to paint. I also drew out the main shapes lightly in pencil and resisted the urge to use pen to “tidy” up, it also allowed me to draw with the paint itself.

Painting from a Working Drawing Watercolour on watercolour paper A4 on A3 paper

Painting from a Working Drawing
Watercolour on watercolour paper A4 on A3 paper

  • Did your sketches provide enough information for you to do your painting? If not, what else should you have included? I felt confident with the information in front of me, of course, I am very familiar with the subject so that helped too.  I found the tonal drawing the most useful although, the colour study helped to lay out my palette.
  • Did you find that being away from the subject gave you more freedom to develop your painting style? In what way? To be honest, the subject itself didn’t really inspire me into “freedom”, although, the light and shadows are always interesting to me and I enjoyed trying to show the light coming through the lamp shade and the shadows of the plant leaves. I enjoyed drawing with the paint and using wet in wet technique to achieve the tones.
  • What is your opinion of the finished painting? In the main I think it’s worked although I had to work hard at getting the darks as dark as I did. I don’t love it and I don’t hate it but I think it was good practice to have gone through the process and will be invaluable in future projects.

 

Exercise: Creating Mood and Atmosphere

10-13 & 17-18/11/15

Exercise: Creating Mood & Atmosphere

For this exercise, either create a completely new painting that evokes a powerful atmosphere of some kind or re-work one of your earlier paintings. First identify clearly what you’re trying to achieve… However you choose to approach this exercise, make extensive notes about the techniques you’ve adopted to achieve your stated aim. When you’ve finished, reflect on the success of your completed work.

Original sketch from Drawing 1 Pencil A6 in skechbook

Original sketch from Drawing 1
Pencil A6 in sketchbook

 

 

Looking at previous paintings I wasn’t particularly inspired, however, I also looked back through my old sketchbooks for ideas. I came across the Sketchbook Walk exercise in Drawing 1 where I had made several sketches of style separating two fields and hedgerows. I like the overhanging trees and various angles of the style. I tried to decide between two different views and tried a couple of watercolour sketches in my sketchbook.

 

 

Preliminary watercolour sketch View 1 A5 in sketchbook

Preliminary watercolour sketch
View 1
A5 in sketchbook

 

This view is interesting but did not evoke any mood to speak of within my mind.

Notes for prelim sketch 1 View 1

Notes for prelim sketch 1
View 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watercolour sketch View 2 A5 in sketchbook

Watercolour sketch
View 2
A5 in sketchbook

I  was fairly certain that I would use view 2, however, I wasn’t sure what mood I wanted to illustrate. The original sketch was made in the summer with the trees in full leaf. I was keen to change the season to autumn yet that wasn’t enough of an atmosphere. Whilst pondering, I had the radio on, and as it was Armistice Day coming up to 11am, the two-minute silence began. Whist thinking in that quiet moment of how life would have been in the World War 1 trenches looking at the drawing, it struck me how I could make the foreground dark, wet and miserable reminiscent of the trenches. The style and fence could be symbolic of the obstacles in the way of a peaceful future and the distance could be brighter and light to show hope. Notes next to sketch indicate my thoughts at the time. I began to add the colours that I thought might aid this idea into the watercolour sketch.

Tonal and compositional sketches View 2 A5 in sketchbook

Tonal and compositional sketches
View 2
A5 in sketchbook

 

 

I felt I needed to work out the tones further and wasn’t happy with the horizontal lines so tried to add more diagonals to give more interest.

 

 

 

 

 

From my research into expressive landscapes, I was very enthusiastic about this exercise. I was particularly taken with the Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland paintings for their shapes and colours, bordering on the abstract at times – and also Emil Nolde’s work for its expressive colour that was allowed to flow and create wonderful effects. I could see how these influences could be incorporated into my painting. As noted in my sketchbook, I wasn’t feeling that oils were the right medium for my purpose. I had bought a watercolour ground that is painted onto a support and makes it react in a similar way to watercolour paper. I was hoping to incorporate texture with wet in wet watercolour to evoke the atmosphere. Below are the stages taken to try to achieve my vision:

 

It was going so well until the details were added. Up to and including picture 5 in the gallery, the painting was full of atmosphere, albeit not quite the one I was aiming for. I kept going with adding a few objects and details with watercolour and at this point it may have been rescued, however, adding oil pastel at this stage killed not only the painting but my enthusiasm also. I over did the pastel and attempted to wash it out with thinners, this just muddied the whole thing and I left everything and came away. The choice of oil pastel was made to work into the watercolour and avoid the necessity for fixing, this proved to be a mistake. The next day, I decided to try again and prepared a fresh support, without the textured acrylic this time – this had made the watercolour pool in an unattractive way the first time round. I had to wait for the ground to cure for at least 24 hours so had intended to start the next day – I was very disillusioned and despondent so didn’t feel creative for a few days. Three days later I was back. Plan B, was to continue with watercolour but to change to soft pastel, a more appropriate pairing of media.  Trying hard to create the atmosphere I had planned I spent a couple of days working on the second painting below.

Creating Mood and Atmosphere 11th Hour 11th Day 11th Month Watercolour and pastel canvas board 60x40cm

Creating Mood and Atmosphere
11th Hour 11th Day 11th Month
Watercolour and pastel canvas board 60x40cm

Again, the colour in the photograph is not closely representational of the actual painting. My tutor has often commented that the photographs are more successful colour-wise than the paintings. With this one, I initially thought this too, however, after looking at the photo for sometime and then glancing up at the painting, I changed my mind. The camera on my iPad seems to enhance blues in particular, which I must be aware of until I can source a better camera.

When you’ve finished, reflect on the success of your completed work.

  • Generally, I think the composition is a little empty – I tried to address this by making more of the middle distance.
  • I think the combination of media worked better than the first attempt.
  • I am happy with parts of the painting ie the puddles, the overhanging branches.
  • I am not convinced that the mood is successful – it’s partly there but would need explaining, which in itself is a fail.
  • To me, it’s not a wow and maybe the size and scale of the support was the wrong choice.
  • A lot of effort but minimal progress.
  • Wish I could have stopped at the fifth photo of the gallery but that did not fit the mood intended.
  • Lots of hard lessons.

 

Exercise: View from a Window or Doorway

29 & 30/10 & 2/11/15

Exercise: View from a Window or Doorway

For this exercise, choose a view onto the world. Decide how much of the interior you wish to include and where the main focus of the picture will be… It may help you to look at some of the ways in which other artists have tackled this type of composition… Make some preliminary drawings in your sketchbook, trying out a variety of arrangements and viewpoints…

Before starting I had a look at some work of the artists suggested. I had always been drawn to the paintings of Edward Hopper, particularly those with windows and the transition between interiors and exteriors, even those with no figures just the shapes of shadows on walls. Gwen John is another artist noted, her paintings are so subtle yet dripping with atmosphere. She used muted colours and relied more on tone to tell her story and her paintings are very engaging. The third artist we are asked to look at is Raoul Dufy. I confess that I had not come across this artist before but particularly enjoyed the loosely drawn and painted watercolours. I have created a board in Pinterest to record my findings, a few examples are below:

 : Office in a Small City by Edward Hopper

Office in a Small City by Edward Hopper

 

This example gives more focus to the outside view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interior by Gwen John:

Interior by Gwen John

This beautiful painting gives the interior more importance but the window plays its part with its cast light.

Bassin de Deauville, 1935 by Raoul Dufy:

Bassin de Deauville, 1935 by Raoul Dufy

 

Here Dufy has given, if not quite equal, but a level of focus to both interior and exterior, using both colour for the interior and an extensive view to the exterior.

All of these artists’ work helped me focus on what I wanted to paint. After gazing out of several window views at home, I decided on a couple of views that had colour, perspective and simple compositional elements.

 

 

 

 

Preliminary Work

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 1 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 1
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 2 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 2
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above sketches use the interior to frame the exterior and the tones emphasise the shadows for a 3D effect. The window is also at an angle that exaggerated the perspective. Making notes about the weather conditions and pros and cons helped me decide that the portrait orientation was the more successful. However, I chose to make a couple more sketches before deciding finally which to take forward to the painting stage.

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 3 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 3
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway - Prelim sketch 4 Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

View from a Window or Doorway – Prelim sketch 4
Pen and Watercolour in A4 Sketchbook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These sketches, although still framed by the doorway, concentrate more on the outside. There is less perspective as the doors are front on, although externally the decking planks do indicate linear perspective. Deciding which view (narrowed down to both portrait sketches), was difficult for me to choose. The first view seemed the most interesting and I liked the shadows on the interior, however, I was, as noted in my sketchbook, seduced by the colours of the door view. Colours aside, I finally convinced myself that the first view would make for a more successful painting.

Final Painting

The day dawned when I intended to make the final painting. Typically, it was covered with a thick layer of fog. By 9.20am it still hadn’t cleared much at all so I ploughed on as visibility wasn’t too bad for my purposes luckily.

View from a Window or Doorway - Work in progress Oil on canvas

View from a Window or Doorway – Work in progress
Oil on canvas

My initial thoughts were to make a watercolour painting as I liked the colour sketches in my sketchbook. However, as I prepared the paper in its enlarged size, I began drawing it out in pencil and just couldn’t get it right. It then struck me that I was beginning to make the kind of painting I didn’t like ie a line drawing coloured in. Overnight, I changed my mind and prepared to make an oil painting. I struggled to find the right sized board to use, until I found an old oil portrait painting that wasn’t up to scratch and just painted a neutral, mid toned ground over it in oil. I had always worried about doing this in case the previous painting showed through, this doesn’t appear to have happened. Now I have lots of supports I can re-use!

A tonal under-painting was laid down in a raw umber/ultramarine mix, putting in muted colours to map out the composition. This is the stage pictured at lunchtime.

 

View from a Window or Doorway - Work in progress Oil on canvas

View from a Window or Doorway – Work in progress
Oil on canvas

I decided to continue in the afternoon, as to be honest, the light hadn’t changed overly as still no sun had appeared. I also used my sketch to help with tonal selections. I continued until I felt the painting was finished and took a photograph for my learning log. This photograph highlighted that the right hand wall had gone a little askew and that the shadow at the top of the window was not strong enough. I then tweaked the painting to hopefully rectify these points.

 

 

 

 

 

View from a Window or Doorway Oil on canvas Approx A3

View from a Window or Doorway
Oil on canvas
Approx A3

My thoughts on the outcome:

  • Am pleased with the exterior tones and the lack of detail as a result of a looser application of paint.
  • The composition is successful and I think was the right choice.
  • There is no jarring in the colours as a fairly limited palette was used.
  • The mood has been lifted just a little to avoid the blanket fog yet is not too sunny.
  • I struggled with the wet in wet sometimes as paint was lifted off as well as laid down.
  • Pleased with the scraping off of paint to give some texture and the blotting of excess paint with newspaper to knock back the strength of colour and tone in the distant trees. (Reliable informed as a technique called tonking invented by Henry Tonks!)
  • I will review again after a few days so that the paint can settle and dry out a little to see if any adjustments are needed.
  • Noticed that the prior research had a significant effect on how I worked through this exercise ie have used the interior shadows to give perspective and mood (Edward Hopper), tones and colours are fairly muted (Gwen John) and the preliminary pen sketches loosely toned and coloured with watercolour (Raoul Dufy).

 

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.