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: 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.

 

Research Point: Expressive Landscape

11/11/15

Research Point: Expressive Landscape

Look at the eerie, dream-like landscapes painted by the Surrealists…

Solitude by Salvador Dali:

Solitude by Savador Dali

Woman, Old Man and Flower by Max Ernst:

Woman, Old Man and Flower by Max Ernst

 

Surrealism was a movement that was very much in vogue when I was taking art in school. I found them fascinating, clever and strange – now I still see the skill but some I find too convoluted, probably down to the cynicism that enveloped me as I got older.

 

 

 

The Uncertainty of the Poet by Georgio De Chirico:

The Uncertainty of the Poet by Georgio De Chirico

Consider the work of some artists who have sought to express the more emotional and subjective aspects of landscape…

Road at Porthclais with Setting Sun (1975) by Graham Sutherland:

Road at Porthclais with Setting Sun (1975) by Graham Sutherland

 

Having poured over many of Graham Sutherland’s paintings on-screen, I am completely hooked. He encompasses everything I struggle yet aspire to achieve. His sense of colour evokes atmosphere and mood whereas mine is mud – his balance of composition leads you around his paintings and leaves you wondering. I am in awe as he combines his draughtsmanship and emotion into a coherent vision yet maintains the mystery of the image.

 

 

Western Hills 1938 by Graham Sutherland:

Western Hills 1938 by Graham Sutherland

We Are Making a New World (1918) by Paul Nash:

We Are Making a New World (1918) by Paul Nash

Summer Soltice by Paul Nash:

Summer Solstice by Paul Nash

Being a war artist in the First World War, Nash had obviously embedded his emotional reactions to what he witnessed within his work. His war paintings I find, are quite matter of fact in their handling, yet the colours and expressions on faces leave no doubt as to the suffering. He shows this suffering not only of the soldiers but the land itself. I feel that he was a positive thinking man, he liked to show hope by bringing in the sun’s rays of a new dawn – even rendering Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood as a new beginning.

 

Look at landscape paintings by the German Expressionists…. and by artists of the Symbolist movement…

The work of Emil Nolde is mostly new to me – I find it wonderfully colourful and evocative. The sense of wild abandon that has been tamed into a rectangular painting, a balance of letting paint do its thing yet in a way that he wants. Again, a skill to which I aspire but that is frustratingly elusive.

Dark Landscape North Friesland by Emil Nolde:

Dark Landscape North Friesland by Emil Nolde

Dark Sea with Brown Sky by Emil Nolde:

Dark Sea with Brown Sky by Emil Nolde

Italian Horticultural Landscape by Gustav Klimt:

Italian Horticultural Landscape by Gustav Klimt

Coloured sketch by Gustave Moreau:

Coloured sketch by Gustave Moreau

The work I’ve seen by Gustave Moreau is really interesting. His landscapes are so expressive and loose, dripping in atmosphere yet the figures he puts in them are classical and seem oddly out of place to me. It’s as if he is painting in two different eras.

Bakst, Léon: project design for Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune:

Project design for Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune

The Love-Embrace of the Universe 1949 by Frida Kahlo:

The Love-Embrace of the Universe 1949 by Frida Kahlo