Abstract Painting Classes

January – May 2017

Abstract Classes

I had the chance to join in weekly abstract classes here on the island. There was a core group of three students who attended regularly, with others jumping in for various weeks depending on their stays in Lanzarote. This in itself is interesting as abstract painting is so subjective, it was fascinating to witness how different the students’ interpretations of similar themes were to one another. Two of the other students had been attending the classes for a couple of months before me and had come to grips with certain aspects, whereas I was a total novice. My only foray into this genre was a couple of projects in the Practice of Painting course, however, these were very basic.

Initially, we looked at various abstract artists’ work in books to see what sort of things appealed to us. I was drawn to colour, especially red, and more loosely worked paintings. Some of the many artists we looked at over the weeks were Frank Stella, Sonia Delaunay, David Hockney, Frank Marc and Vasily Kandinsky.

Action shots taken and kindly allowed to be reproduced her by photographer and tutor Betty Rawson.

Mindlessness

I was so out of my comfort zone it was almost frightening – I had to forget everything I relied on – observation, sketching, planning – and let my mind go. I found I didn’t trust my colour sense anymore and, to be honest, began to think I never had any! Our first lesson was drawing random shapes and adding colour. I really struggled, I didn’t know what I was doing – I didn’t have an end result in my mind to work towards… but there was no going back!

The next week promised to be more fun. Our initial class of five dropped to four, our two experienced students and another novice and myself. We had been warned that we would be outside in a field so to come prepared . This was January in Lanzarote, so although warm enough, it was windy and we had previously had some rain so trainers, jeans, fleeces and aprons/coveralls were the order of the day. We advanced, armed with rolls of paper, brushes, pots of water, water-soluble paints and canvases, everything had to be weighed down with stones and insects had to be discouraged from landed in the paint.

We began with a long roll of paper between two and just splashed, dribbled, splattered and daubed to our hearts content for the first hour. We then set up our canvases and with a little more thought, began to make our paintings.

Field work for abstract course - experimental mark making and beginning my first canvas

Field work for abstract course – experimental mark making and beginning my first canvas

The painting on the canvas above was worked on over a few sessions…

Third session on the Squares and Circles canvas

Third session on the Squares and Circles canvas

A bit more work was done on this, along with some glazing with a dilute PVA substitute tinted with various colours.

Squares and Circles - maybe finished, maybe overworked - still not sure which way up I prefer it. Interesting start though.

Squares and Circles – maybe finished, maybe overworked – still not sure which way up I prefer it. Interesting start though.

Time to move on – we had another experimental session with a small piece of work made with sticking coloured shapes. Some shapes were cut from paper we’d painted and some from patterned paper and magazines. Again, I floundered – my fellow student below was doing so well as her colour sense was developing beautifully – in the beginning, it always took me until 20 minutes before the end of the class for me to “get it”.

Cutting, colouring and sticking shapes onto small card to make small abstracts as reference for a painting.

Cutting, colouring and sticking shapes onto small card to make small abstracts as reference for a painting.

Following our planning and experimental stage we took reference from this to begin our next painting…

I called this Wash Day in the end as it reminded me of clothes being blown about on washing line.

I called this Wash Day in the end as it reminded me of clothes being blown about on washing line.

We always had a little critique at the end of a session and regarding the above, we all thought that the dark shape in the middle was trying to dominate. This, however, was not necessarily a bad thing as a little challenge in an image can work – we nicknamed this challenge the “Party Pooper” as it’s trying to suck the joy out of the rest of the painting.

The weather was lovely so another outside session for us today. We started with a warm up by using brushes on the end of sticks and made marks paint on paper. The sticks were heavy and it was more like sword fighting at times. In fact my brush broke and had to be taped back together at one point. It certainly loosened us up for our canvas though.

Extended brush painting, outside. This was fun and bordered on dangerous at times but a good warm up exercise!

Extended brush painting, outside. This was fun and bordered on dangerous at times but a good warm up exercise!

Using the garden around us as inspiration, not to mention the fabulous view of the mountain in the distance, we began our main event canvas. This was worked on for a few weeks worth of classes and has a little more to be done for improvement. Many methods of mark making were employed in it, from wiggling a paint laden brush in a semi-uncontrolled way across the entire canvas, to drips and runs being blown and guided by turning the canvas this way and that. It has been glazed with dilute PVA with an orange tint several times. The shape and size of the canvas gave the painting a little more scope for experimentation.

This has had many interpretations in the class, what started out as a garden/bougainvillea inspired piece of work has become darker with wicked forest, to horses galloping across it carrying knights...

This has had many interpretations in the class, what started out as a garden/Bougainvillea inspired piece of work has become darker with wicked forest, to horses galloping across it carrying knights…

I was going to give this another heading, however, it still does come under Mindlessness.  In this week’s class, we were to bring a piece of music that made us feel something. We had a pretty full class for this one, five of us at our work stations with ear phones listening to different music and just painting – making marks that we felt came from our music. Nobody knew what the other was listening to. We worked on our canvases for most of the class and at the end, we looked at each other’s work, listening to the music that inspired it. It was fascinating as we were in a larger class than usual, yet we were completely absorbed in our own world of music and paint.

I titled this after the music I was listening to - Titanium. The track I chose was Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia.

I titled this after the music I was listening to – Titanium. The track I chose was Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia.

I felt that it was about overcoming outside negative influences, being independent and pushing yourself upwards and onwards – never giving up.

The range of music was vast, from my dance track, to a gentle classic piece, to an African uplifting beat and vocal, to an oriental and mystical composition. We could all see the influences from each in our paintings, although we would never have guessed what they were.

Themes and Where to Start

This week we were down to two of us – I think everyone else knew how tough this would be! Our challenge – whether we chose to accept it or not, was to make a self-portrait – not only abstract but in 3-D. Back to square one then! After looking at each other blankly for a few minutes, we started looking through magazines, patterned papers and other bits and pieces for images, textures, colours that appealed to us and that may be descriptive of us. Even this was really difficult for me. I started cutting and ripping things out and gathered a pile of samples of stuff! We made a base, which we could either paint or cover in other papers. We then began building our self-portrait. This was really tricky, the only things I could fixate on were colours I liked and chocolate! Anyway, this is what I came up with – not very impressive I know…

3-D Self Portrait - is what it's meant to be, but even though I made it and it's about me - I don't get it!

3-D Self Portrait – is what it’s meant to be, but even though I made it and it’s about me – I don’t get it!

This week, I was allowed some comfort back. We were allowed to draw a still life!!! My turn to be happy and for my lovely classmates to groan :0)

Betty had set up a still life of an orchid, with a starfish, a lantern and a few knickknacks. It was actually quite complicated as we had a few minutes to draw it from one angle, and then move around to capture others. Fairly straightforward, but the first few were to be without lifting the pencil, charcoal, pastel or whatever from the paper. (Even more groans from the back – my revenge was complete!)

The last drawing was to be done without looking at the paper – and just to make sure – we had to use white oil pastel! Once this was done, we took our white on white drawings to the table and, using watercolour paint, we were to put down whichever colours we liked, wherever we liked on the drawing. The point being that the paint would be repelled by the oil pastel wherever it met. Unfortunately, I got carried away and decided I wanted a wet in wet effect. The paper was dampened with water and paint added. It seemed that the extra water didn’t allow the oil pastel to resist the paint so well, so my first attempt was a fail…

Overly dampened paper with watercolour on oil pastel

Overly dampened paper with watercolour on oil pastel

 

So, much to the consternation of my fellow classmate, who had done the same, we had to redraw in white oil pastel and start again.

This time, I ensured that the pastel was thicker, although I couldn’t look at it, and did not pre-dampen the paper.

Watercolour was added randomly at first and the resist from the oil pastel was much more successful. I then swapped to a finer brush and traced some of the lines left from the resist. This was very therapeutic and satisfying, and illustrated how something representational could be used to create an abstract work.

 

 

Still Life Orchid in white oil pastel to resist watercolour

Still Life Orchid in white oil pastel to resist watercolour (with a surprise dolphin!)

More drawing this week! We had a plate of peppers plus some other edible items that I can not remember – and as they were abstracted, the drawings don’t help!!

Our method of beginning an abstract painting this time, was to draw the shapes we saw, no particular detail and no tone, just shapes. We made three large thumbnails on a piece of paper and working in shades of black, white and grey, roughly filled in shapes that we had drawn or added.

Monotone shapes drawn from still life - peppers etc

Monotone shapes drawn from still life – peppers etc

I felt that no one of my drawings was what I wanted, so amalgamated all three into something more pleasing to me as below:

Amalgamation of thumbnail sketches

Amalgamation of thumbnail sketches

The drawing was transferred onto some gesso coated hardboard 62 x 45 cm and then painted in acrylic, again with shades of black, white and grey. This is not yet finished but I’m looking forward to working on it again.

Large painting from thumbnail sketch

Large painting from thumbnail sketch

In our final lesson of the term, our last method of starting an abstract painting was to use colour. We had to think of an occasion or event that had a big impact on our lives. With that in mind, we had to relate that to a colour. We then mixed some tones of that colour and made a swatch of those tones on a piece of paper. When we had done that, we needed a contrast colour with mixed tones to add to the paper as below:

My swatch of emotive colour tones with its contrasting colour tones.

My swatch of emotive colour tones with its contrasting colour tones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately, I had not brought a canvas with me, so had to use a spare one of Betty’s which was only 20cm square. Although, I probably wouldn’t have finished anything bigger in one session. The event that had a dramatic impact on me was related to water. Specifically, my first experience of a water slide into a pool when I was about ten years old. Prior to this, I was a complete “water baby”, and couldn’t wait to have a go. Not really knowing what to expect, I got in line with everyone else and was soon skidding down towards the water. The complete, all-encompassing wave of water that engulfed me, took me completely by surprise and I barely managed to surface and recover. I still like swimming but have a fear of being out of my depth and overly choppy water, be it in a pool or sea.

Water Shock

Water Shock

That’s all for this term but I am looking forward to the next one.

What I’ve taken away from this is that, I need to let go of the controlled way of working sometimes and go with what I feel rather than what I see in front of me. Art is an emotive and subjective form of expression and if it’s not created with feeling then I can not expect it to be viewed with feeling.

 

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: 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: 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: 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.

 

My Own Projects: Ideas for Development

Ideas for Development

06/03/15

060315 Prelim sketches

060315 Prelim sketches

 

Series of self portraits as a comment on global events. Rather a grand statement but the intention is to simplify opinion with gesture and facial expressions.  Initially, making sketches in preparation – I have a high level composition in mind. Work in progress.

 

 

 

Lino Cuts using Life Drawings
Loose idea of three colour or tonal scheme of lino cuts using life drawings from classes.  Inspired by article in Artists & Illustrators magazine, April 2015 issue 350 by Chris Daunt using a technique explored by Picasso.

Monoprints
Last year I attended a monoprinting workshop ran by my portrait and life drawing tutor, Mike Bragg.  He thought it would be good for me as it is a more painterly way of printing.  I had never done this before but found it a most enjoyable day.  We were encouraged to work into these prints further at home to make each original from the master. In the workshop, we had a life model in the morning to work from, and then worked with our sketches in the afternoon.  I have an embryonic idea of combining this technique with still life with a Patrick Caufield inspired twist – it may or may not work, it may also work better with lino cut. I was very inspired by my research into Patrick Caufield in Drawing 1 and like to include cast shadows in my work if appropriate.