Option 1: Textural and multiple surfaces. Exercise 1.0: Implied Texture

First I collected together newspapers and magazines:

Then I spent two hours looking through and ripped out any images that caught my attention, at this stage there was no filtering as it was an intuitive process.

I laid them all out on my table having rejected about four or five which had no colour such as an Aubrey Beardsley print and some black and white woodcuts.

I noticed several things about images in newspapers and magazines.

In no particular order:

  1. Publications are stuffed full of images.

  2. The saturation (when you’ve been dealing with oil on canvas) is very poor, as if the images had all been attacked by a dementor.

  3. I was surprised, considering that I love chatting to people and am an actor so enjoy watching people, that I only picked one image with a person on. The images of people all looked posed and unnatural, and lacked so much information that you get from real people it was like looking at constructed images rather than real people.

  4. There are different visual languages in magazines… for example food shots are often sensuous and compositions refer back to 18th century Dutch still lives… it’s almost as if you have different genres of visual languages like you have different sorts of film.

  5. The sports shots were the least interesting, not because I’m not interested in sport, but because they were frozen moments that you’d never see in real life and appeared bizarre. I suspect I’ve never really looked at them before as images before, more as glanced at supporting evidence.

  6. There were very few images of flowers, I found this surprising as the ‘British’ are so into their gardens and people love flowers in the house.

  7. Even in magazines images of paintings instantly drew my eye and seemed far more real/engaging than photographs.

  8. The use of words in images was fascinating as it could range from being a frame for the image to being pictorial, and incorporated into the composition in quite a painterly way.

Next I trimmed down the images and laid them out again.

And picked my four images.

And then made a series of arrangements. Some were intuitive and others took more time as I shuffled the pieces about. I tried not to think and just carried on till an arrangement pleased me. I found that photographing them and looking at them on my phone was a good way of checking the composition worked.

I decided to keep the images as I had cut them out because if I changed the shape, for instance by cutting out the woman, although this might work very well for one or two compositions it would (ultimately) limit my flexibility. I experimented with putting the images on top of one another as well as laying them out side by side.

Some arrangements were primarily colour based while others were suggested by meanings popping, so the images told a narrative… and some suddenly looked like movie posters?!

Once I had photographed all the compositions I photoshopped them by boosting up the colour a little and cropping them. It was very difficult deciding how much background table to keep in, and weather to use the textures and marks on my table as part of my composition so the ‘framing’ became an important part of my composition.

It struck me that you can make an object in the studio any shape but when photographing it, even if photographing it as a freestanding sculpture or on a wall, you create a rectangular image.

Here are my compositions.

And this is my final choice.

I was troubled by this exercise as texture in oils is highly skilled and the Dutch masters, and wonderful classical painters, had many years apprenticeship to learn the techniques of recreating the texture of gold braid, silk, the glistining of a pot, the shine of hair, the feel of fabric… or the mastery of a curl of lemon peel.

These techniques also involved time and skills I don’t have such as multiple layers of oil rich glazes (which would all have to dry) to build up translucent surfaces such as the glow of living flesh.

And, ideologically, I didn’t want to copy photographs as this feels like craft not creativity.

However, in the spirit of the course and confidence that doing whatever I’ve been asked to do (whatever my thoughts/opinions/bias) has always yielded benefits over and above anything I could imagine, and the logic that I’m the student and haven’t got the overview to know why I’m being asked to do this… I ignored my feelings and had a go.`

Here’s my first attempt at conveying the (assumed) textures in my ‘poster’. I say assumed because I can’t touch the surfaces to check the textures.

Oil on A5 drawing paper:

This turned out to be a great exercise, if a little lengthy as I spent 10-12 hours on it.

Things I learned:

  1. Hopper simplifies his colours… in real life colours are invariably complex but all Hopper’s colours could be matched by taking a tube colour and mixing one other tube colour to find the hue and then adjusting for tone and saturation, by adding black/grey/titanium white.

This makes me think that he painted from sketches rather than photographs and shorthanded his colour information in a similar way that his sketches simplified linear information.

2. Having the idea of texture in your head changes the way you paint and think of surface, both the canvas surface and the surface you’re painting. For instance I had never thought about the texture of flames before… and thinking of the bloom on a fig, for example, takes you away from the photograph (and being ‘other’ looking at a fig) and into the personal experience of touching and tasting a fig… and becoming one with what you are painting.

3. This is an obvious observation but still surprised me… I thought about texture much more and started painting texture rather than colour, shape and mass.

4. It realised you could paint texture in the abstract if you divorced texture from the surface of objects… that is treated texture as a ‘thing’ in its own right.

For instance, in figurative painting you need a surface (even if that’s as insubstantial as a flame) for the texture to ‘sit’ on, as texture is experienced as touch. In an abstract painting you have no objects so no surfaces to touch. But colour is also a property of the surface of an object (unless you’re talking about pure light) so if you paint colour/tone/saturation and brilliance in abstraction as a property of surface why can’t you paint texture?

As I am timing myself, though not including reading or peer led activities, and want to stick to my 50 hours for this half an Option, and I’m already up to 28 hours…. I am going to complete the next two A5 ‘paintings’ quickly.

I think sticking to the 600 hours is part of the discipline of this course and part of moving from student to. disciplined professional.

Second A5 painting – Texture using oil pastel on coloured pastel paper. I’m going to use my composition and try and abstract the texture.

I found this fun and exciting… and much quicker… two hours.

Because the oil pastels are blunt, my fingers quickly got covered in oil pastel and the oil pastels went very soft so I had to adapt my technique. This meant smearing the oil pastels on the paper, layering to mix colours, using the blunt end of a pencil and my finger tip.

Because I had much less fine control and had to work in a much freer way I really like some parts of this such as the pear in the bottom left and the fig.

It was irritating that the oil pastels seemed to get everywhere and if I accidentally touched the paper (it wasn’t clipped onto my board) or a little piece of pastel flicked off onto the paper then I had quite a job to ‘mend’ the painting.

Some parts of this are beginning to abstract like the persimmons.

Even though this is rough I’m really please that I managed to capture texture, not only in the obvious objects such as the fig, bottom pear or dates… but strangely, the little orange fruits with their papery leaves, which figuratively look the least realistic and most abstracted of the painting but (for me) also have texture.

With my watercolour version I’m going to see if I can paint an abstract and still capture texture.

Third A5 painting – texture using watercolour.

I enjoyed this very much and learned something about what you can do with watercolour, which is not a medium I use often. The colours are beautifully intense.

This raised several questions such as what is the nature of texture? Is it directional light off a surface? Can you paint texture, rather than surface? Can you have depth and shape in an abstract (they tend to be flat colour and shape within the picture plain) without painting ‘solid’ objects and therefore heading towards the figurative or surreal.

Bizarrely, some viewers (unprompted) have said they want to reach out and touch this painting… though most commented on the colours. Which set me thinking about how I normally paint colour without ‘seeing’ texture, that is I paint the visual effects of texture without feeling the texture in my body. I now realise that you see with your body as well as your eyes. For instance a decorative pattern doesn’t have texture and you see it solely with your eyes, but you experience a Constable painting with your whole body.

I tried to paint texture as if it was a ‘thing’ in it’s own right like colour, so this is a textural abstract. It only has colour because you need the colour as a vehicle for the texture.

Finally, I think the texture has given it an internal visual language which unifies the painting.

Questions:

  1. How did you find working in a series?

I found it very interesting, but not in the way I thought.

As with Monet’s ‘Haytstack’ series I thought working in a series would be all about getting to know the objects in different lights and angles, and injecting mood and personality into the paintings… gradually loosening and adding more information.

But for me working in a series involved a radical evolution where I went from something flat and unreal, magazine images stuck onto paper, into something living and pulsating (which excited me), and working with my sensory (non visual) memories such as the texture of a flame and the furry shimmer of a fig.

By working in series I was able to step away from the original (visual) images and introduce textural memory, as non visual element, into my painting to produce an abstract painting with meaning as well as pattern.

2. Did you manage to paint loosely or did you copy more realistically?

In a strange way both… I started off making a visually realistic copy (which was quite tight) and gradually loosened as I internalised the textures and was able to start creating something new.

Although I was imaginatively ‘loose’ l wasn’t quick as I didn’t know my medium (watercolour) so was experimenting with what I could do with it.

3. Did you manage to infer texture?

Yes.

If so, how and why?

I’m not quite sure how. It was a funny process… texture is a feeling, when I was painting I wasn’t copying what I saw with my eyes but how I experienced the textures (all of which I knew from real life) with my body. Although we have words to ‘describe’ texture this painting was not verbally or visually driven, it came from reliving the textures as I painted them.

Why… I chose to infer texture because it excited me and I wanted to see what I could do with it.

What worked and what didn’t work?

As a visual description the oil painting worked, especially the eggs/cracked egg/some of the fruit and the running leg with falling balls of flame. The leg even had movement. I also liked the rippling texture of the flames against the flatter dirt background.

The oil pastel is more impressionistic, mainly because of the media, and the pear on the bottom left and the fig on the bottom both work well and, strangely, the little orange fruits with light green leaves.

I think the abstract watercolours works well both in capturing texture, which is surprising as it is the flattest of my mediums, and in being a coherent composition.

All of my paintings work as colour combinations.

The oil painting reminds me of an unfinished movie poster. And the oil pastel, though compositionally more complete, doesn’t yet work as a whole. I think the flame needs to be vertical rather than horizontal.

My biggest weakness was my lack of fluidity of gestural marks.

How would you develop these paintings further?

I think my most interesting progression is in creating a visual language for texture and using this as a structural element in my painting. So I would paint up the watercolour as a 60 x 60 cm oil painting. Hopefully this would allow me some gestural freedom as I’m much more experienced with oil paint and the mechanics of watercolour meant (for me at least) that it was hard to get bold flowing marks of highly saturated colour.

Having painted up my watercolour in oil I would then paint a series of large textural oil studies where I gradually became freer and more expressive, and developed my use of textural visual language.

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