Part 3: Personal Practice: 50 hours: Practical: 1st 2 paintings

Painting 1: working with glazes.

I like the way colours mix on glazes; it’s like working with light rather than paint. You can also build up a colour depth that’s difficult with traditional paints and make a surface that responds to light.

The flat planes of colour work in a way I don’t understand but like.

By adding different glazes on one glaze you can make the surface have many moods. The edges are also blurred which makes for interesting transitions.

At the moment I am experimenting with geometric (rectangular shapes) but may try one in free-form shapes.

1st glaze:

1st glaze, fast drying medium and oil paint.

I glazed with fast drying medium rather than thinner because with thinner light travel through the layer, but it isn’t held in suspension. So, although the ‘thin’ layer is transparent, it is matt and reacts more like a layer of coloured dust than stained glass.

However, thinning with medium (even fast drying) means that it takes three or four days to touch dry. I would love to use linseed oil, but this takes weeks to become touch dry.

2nd glaze:

1nd glaze, fast drying medium and oil paint.

On a practical level, I took this outside to photograph as I’ve found the best shots are laying the painting flat with sun through diffuse high cloud… and away from any buildings as with high gloss paintings they can reflect onto the surface.

But it was windy and tiny bits of grit and dead leaf stuck to the surface. These were difficult to remove so I won’t be photographing in the wind again. Luckily though, most came off easily once the painting was dry as the grit was substantially thicker than the glaze.

3rd glaze:

3rd glaze, fast drying medium and oil paint.

There are so many possibilities this could go in a hundred directions, but is obviously en route somewhere.

The mark making in the ‘distressed’ square is effective (it draws and holds the attention) but doesn’t match the visual language of the rest of the piece… I think if I glaze over it with the next layer it will unify it into the painting.

Tonal differentiations work, as at the bottom, as do the close colour coordinations at the top. However, the top and bottom parts of the painting don’t connect; the red band and dark purple brown band don’t link, neither does the titanium white lemon yellow to the reds at the top.

I think this probably needs two or three more layers.

4th glaze:

4th glaze, fast drying medium, thinner and oil paint, 60 x 60 cm

This was dry so I could easily glaze over the top. The more fast drying medium I added, the ‘stickier’ the medium… with just thinner the paint easily glided over the top.

Of course, if you paint the whole canvas the edges mix wet on wet. This can be interesting and throw out chance mixtures which are very aesthetic. Unfortunately, it can also contaminate your brush and put colours where you don’t want them; and the colour mixing is quite brutal and the same as on your palette. A little mixing at the edge is much better than a sharp edge and the wet in wet can help but the only way to subtly blend glazed colours is to paint the areas separately so you can carry the glaze over the edge of a dry area… which would increase the number of paintings you are working on at any one time.

The canvas is quite smooth and shows the brushstrokes, which I don’t necessarily want, so I discovered a technique of lightly brushing over the marks I made with the wide brush to ‘smooth’ out the painted area. This also gives you multiple options of different ‘textures’ on the surface.

For the next (and final?) glaze I might work on specific areas… and not feel the need to paint the whole canvas. I think the green needs to be darker, the vertical yellow lighter and the purple lighter… maybe a zinc white glaze?

5th Glaze:

5th glaze, fast drying medium, thinner and oil paint, 60 x 60 cm

I’ve spent a couple of days looking at this to try and gauge what’s not working. I think there are two major problems.

Firstly the design is inherently wrong because it tries to mix horizontal and vertical stripes. It has (potentially) three vertical stripes… one either side and the green and blue inside the orange rectangle. However all these are interrupted in some way. The two end stripes are split into two colours and interrupted by the orange and red horizontal stripes which read very strongly. While the blue and green are ‘boxed into the orange rectangle.

The horizontal stripes on the top, bottom and middle relate to their triangle and are ineffective as stripes.

Secondly, the colours don’t work; the yellow in the orange doesn’t mix with the red in the permanent rose rectangle below it.

On its own, the orange and the blue inside the orange rectangle could work… and I like the dark line underneath the blue and green rectangles.

I am going to add another glaze and either paint down either side (the simplest option) in say cadmium yellow or I could extend the central panels so there were effectively seven vertical stripes and four horizontal ones… I would have to adjust the colours of the stripes to work together.

6th Glaze:

6th glaze, fast drying medium, thinner and oil paint, 60 x 60 cm

Again, this is very interesting… and is beginning to work. The shapes are starting to work with each other to resolve into a kind of harmony, and there is movement as the eye connects and disconnects different shapes looking for a resolve.

I don’t think the painting quite works as a unity because I still need to adjust the colours.

For the vertical stripes at the edge I used the same colour to unify the downward stripe; it works on the right as the colour and tonal contrast is strong but on the left, doesn’t quite read and dissipates the painting.

My book Foster, H. et al. (2011) Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism. (s.l.): Thames & Hudson. seems to have a marvellous knack of working in tandem with this course and offering up new insights by pulling together disparate ideas and current dilemmas into meaningful insights.

For instance, the chapter I read today, 1947a, page 343 to 347, focuses on how Albers and Maholy-Nagy took the Bauhaus out of Europe and ‘grew’ it in America. Keeping the essential DNA but adapting it to local circumstances; Albers in a liberal art context and Maholy-Nagy in a, (industrial) design context.

However for me, the idea that rang true… an ‘Oh yes!’ moment… was when Alber’s talked about the difference between the physical fact of colour and its psychic effect… and how he almost sculpted with colour.

An even deeper insight, because it relates so directly with my practice, is his concept of the artist as ‘scientist’ and his studio being a ‘laboratory’ where he conducts his research and development work. Albers applying the results to ‘art’ and Moholy-Nagy to ‘industrial’ design.

They saw the traditional beaux art academies as not relevant to art following the discovery of photography, with little fundamental change since the Renaissance, and ‘teaching’ a craft skill (single perspective representative painting) rather than ‘art’. This would make them craft schools rather than art academies. In contrast the new university training that came out of the Bauhaus traditions redefined the artist as ‘scientist’ continually experimenting with materials (colour being just another material they could ‘sculpt’) and evolving a new art for a new age.

Which, gives me a perfect framework for thinking about my practice. I am conducting research and development, and experimenting with form, colour and materials. I am learning by doing, rather than being ‘taught’ techniques.

I had been struggling with not painting in a traditional way, and this allows me to value my practice as not better but different. It also explains why painting, as such, has been stripped from university curriculums, and why the UCA-OCA course has such a wide remit on what is a ‘painter’. The traditional painter of landscapes and portraits being only one of a multitude of possibilities.

PS: Technically: I learned that you can paint a thinned glaze over a glaze with fast drying medium without them ‘sticking’; glaze over dry paint scumbles; wet in wet blends; how important the transparency of the paint is; the importance of the brush; and how ‘thinness’ affects not only how the paint goes over the canvas but how transparent it is.

Painting 2: stripe painting.

I’ve been looking at Patrick Heron’s stripe paintings which interestingly are painted in very thin paint diluted with turpentine and no medium. They would dry very quickly on paper with a matt finish.

Adding fast drying medium or linseed oil as well as, or instead of, a thinner dramatically alters how the paint goes on and how it looks when dry… and how the layers interact. I’m painting on a medium cotton canvas not paper so my paint won’t slide about as easily.

His stripe paintings look as if they were painted at one sitting with loose brushwork that breaks the edges.

Heron’s stripe are also on rectangular canvases much higher than they are wide, so a portrait format. I originally chose to work on square 60 x 60 canvases when I was first starting on abstraction to flag that my paintings weren’t figurative… horizontal canvases are associated with landscape… portrait with vertical canvases, and I thought square canvases flagged abstraction. However, I now think (as my paintings are becoming more genuinely abstract) I can begin to play around with canvas size and shape as another compositional element.

60 x 60 cm is a convenient size to paint and post but I don’t want my USP to be my canvas size.

For the moment, I have my square canvases in stock so will use those up, and then think about changing canvas shape. Also, as I’m painting on canvas I’m going to add additives to my thinner.

Beach , Oil on Canvas, 60 x 60 cm, 2021

This was painted unknowingly, in the moment, starting with the top stripe and jumping about relating each stripe to each other until I had ‘finished’. In this case that was when the final stripe was painted.

I had intended to glaze over the stripes to give colours that ‘turned’ on in sunlight, and unify different colours… and change colours ‘optically’ rather than ‘mixing paint’. However, when I looked at the canvas as a ‘viewer’ it seemed strangely complete so I decided to leave it and paint another canvas with the express idea of glazing over layers.

I was going to call it ‘Stripe Painting 1’ but when I looked at it, it reminded me of a beach, so I called it ‘Beach’. I need to think more about my titling, but for now I’m happy with that as a holding title.

Another reason for not overpainting it is that stripe paintings are very unforgiving. You’ve got to get the stripes right first time, otherwise it will look worked and go muddy.

I think it’s quite hard to get it right on the first attempt, and maybe why Patrick Heron worked on paper with thinned paint. It kept his costs down and meant he could, maybe, paint 10 for every one that worked.

Photographs: When I have finished a painting I have an urge to photograph it and get it up on social media and my website. However, the only way I have found of capturing a good image is to photograph my painting flat on the ground with the sun as high as possible, and away from any buildings that might reflect in the glossy surface.

However, the surface is very sticky and insects and tiny bits of dust get stuck in the surface which damage the painting. So, in future I will take a photograph inside with my lights… this is good enough to go on my blog and see the overall composition of the painting. Then, when it is completely dry, I can photograph it outside.

Process: I thought a stripe painting would be easy, after all it’s just painting a few horizontal stripes across a canvas. However, this was technically much more difficult than my ‘Jazz’ painting and artistically raised totally different questions.

Technically, on the most basic level, it’s very difficult to paint a perfectly horizontal line across a canvas. It doesn’t matter if the line is slightly ‘off’ as this gives it a painterly feel (rather than a very clean design look) but you need to be fairly horizontal. I resorted to roughly measuring my lines with a ruler and dotting paint across the canvas.

Next, I am using ‘mixed media’ for my stripes including thinned paint, paint with thinner and fast drying medium, and paint with fast drying medium… and all these in different proportions. These do not necessarily mix (which is important where the lines overlap), all have different properties in terms of surface quality, and some will bleed, others not… so this raises lots of technical problems (and artistic ones of balancing surface finishes).

The different surface finishes make the finished painting unique as they can’t be captured photographically.

I had a look at more of Patrick Heron’s stripe paintings and he tended to use paper and thinned paint. This would mean he would avoid the ‘mixed media’ problems that I have as his only media variant would be dilution. The surfaces would all be similar which would mean they would reproduce well… in fact he had many of them screen printed in limited editions (often 50). This would mean that the original stripe paintings on paper were acting more like a photographic negative and the ‘real’ art was his screen prints. When I am established and can sell screen prints for more than it costs me to have them printed this is definitely something I would like to look into.

Also, Patrick Heron’s stripe paintings are very painterly in being obviously ‘hand made’, so I don’t need to worry too much about making them ‘perfect’ and clean as ‘pop art’ stripe paintings were.

Artistic problems: With ‘Jazz’ my Ian McKeever based painting I used overlapping layers and let the canvas show through so there was lots of ‘space’ in my painting. And I only used two basic colours, black and cadmium red (though I tried to introduce some subtlety by using warm/cold/neutral black for different layers).

So, in Jazz, one of my tools was gestural strokes of overlapping layers to create depth and movement.

However, with this stripe painting there are no overlying layers (the ‘layers’ are placed next to each other. And though the stripes are different thicknesses, and are overlapped to different degrees, they are horizontal… so repetitious… rather than the huge number of different marks on ‘Jazz’.

Therefore, the depth in colour and surface organisation has to be achieved through colour and its associated qualities… saturation, luminosity, hue, tone, and surface quality… and rhythms and movement has to be achieved through the interrelationship of the stripes on the canvas.

Stripe Painting 2:

I’m going to paint another stripe painting but this time use masking tape to mark some random horizontal lines across the canvas. Not necessarily to paint up to, as I’m not looking for sharp edges and don’t want to be dictated to as to where I place my stripes, but to give me reference points for my own horizontal stripes.

Also I’m going to paint it with the idea of glazed stripes rather than ‘painted’ stripes.

I’ll try different colour and maybe at least one thick stripe.

This was a very interesting exercise as having the masking tape bands in place stopped me being in the moment/creative and produced a very different and less painterly stripe painting. I was thinking more about getting the stripes horizontal than reacting to my materials/canvas.

However, now the masking tape is off I will let it dry and then glaze on top and and see if I can save it.

Brexit: I am using artisan water soluble oil paint, which as the title suggests is soluble in water. However, water lightens the paint… it then dries darker. Luckily they manufacture a thinner which minimises this effect (though is very expensive). But I can’t buy the thinner at the moment because of supply issues related to Brexit so will have to use water… politics intrudes on art!

My solution is to mix the paint without water, get the colour right, then thin it and try and ignore the tone, trusting it will dry back to the colour I mixed.

Another problem is evaporation. The thinner evaporates slowly so the paint keeps its viscosity all day, whereas water (as with acrylic) dries very quickly and the paint quickly thickens.

Back to my painting…

Assistant… When I am painting all day I use 20 or more brushes and cover a large glass palette. Cleaning up takes about 40 minutes which I have to factor into my production time… plus ordering paint and brushes etc. As a student this is not an issue but as a successful artist it would be. Hockney does not want to spend half a day a week on unskilled tasks, that’s 20 days a year.

I never understood why artists had assistants before but now I do.

Wet brushes… over winter I have had my radiators on, washed my brushes, left them on top of the radiator, and woke up to dry ones. However now summer has arrived they weren’t properly dry in the morning and made lines in the paint.

Brushes… Different makes, sizes and shapes all lay down different mixtures of paint differently. Also as I use them they all take individual personalities, this is not something I’d come across before.

Many of my brushes don’t do what I need them to do so I need to get into an art shop and handle some brushes. I think now I’d have a much better idea of what I’m looking for.

Stripe Painting 2: – second day:

Stripe Painting 2: second day… Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

This is very interesting because it is so different from my first stripe painting… the two main technical differences are that it’s fast drying medium and ‘masking tape’ led. The mental difference is that I wasn’t in the moment as I was worrying about the straightness of my lines rather the the colours and composition.

I didn’t leave it long enough to dry, so the paints have ‘mixed’ on the canvas. I am now going to leave it for four days.

Parts of it look less clean than my first stripe painting because of the poor lighting. This is because I didn’t want to photograph it outside and risk getting insects and grit on the canvas, and inside, even with my lights, I can’t light the canvas properly.

I think one of the problems is that my colour choices aren’t as good, so some of the colours look muddy. Also the medium scumbles the surface of the bumpy cotton canvas (whereas the thinner soaks into it) so I have to paint over the stripe several times to make a solid stripe.

I can see a few fixes such as changing some colours and repainting the wide green area; not only is it the wrong green but the surface texture is wrong too.

Second Stripe Painting: – final stripes:

Final stripe Painting 2: second day… Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

I’m fairly happy with this, it’s not brilliant but it’s okay. I don’t like the purple stripe at the top and the stripes are too even in thickness.

I like the last few stripes at the bottom, from the light blue stripe downwards, as these work well and have a lot of energy.

However, this was a mending job rather than a creative one. I spent three hours improving on my first version and I think I could spend the same time again with minimal improvement, so I’m going to stop.

The lesson is that, if it’s not properly created in the first place, and I wasn’t in the moment, then it’s probably better to bin it, overpaint’ or abandon it and start again….

Or I might just paint the purple stripe blue.

In the end I spent another hour, but every stripe changes the colour and intensity of every other stripe… so one improvement sets up four more problems.

I’m not going to do any more, I think this is acceptable.

I don’t know if it’s a product of working on the painting in discrete sections (instead of all of it all at once in one sitting) but this is working in groups of stripes rather than as a whole. The groups are beginning to set up a rhythmic beat within the painting.

In the first stripe painting I worked on it as a whole and completed it in one session and it works as a whole, like a conventional figurative painting. But this is more dynamic, almost temporal because it plays out over time. If I look at it for several minutes I begin to connect groups of stripes, and individual stripes, as if I’m playing a piano… and as a viewer I start creating my own artwork.

It’s very different from Patrick Heron’s work which is consistently lyrical and always works as a whole. It is ironic that, even though his work is abstract, in the sense of working all at once it is quite figurative.

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