Personal Practice (Coursework, Part 1): (Ex: 1.3) Practical work: Four paintings: 1) In the style of

Timetable: 33 hours

As I have four paintings to work on I am going to try and work on them all simultaneously. I think this is what happens in an artist’s studio, they have several paintings in process together, and work on one as another is drying, or they are thinking about it.

I think a square canvas suggests abstract (rectangles can work but have the danger of looking like a ‘window’) so I am going to use a 60 x 60 cm canvas for all my paintings. Also, if I use the same size canvas I’ll get to know my ‘stage’ and how best to perform on it.

Although I am going to work on my paintings simultaneously, I am going to record them separately so that my development and thought processes are clear.

  1. As an early Hodgkin.

As this is a memory made concrete I am not not going to pre-sketch it. This is because I don’t want a ‘fixed’ visual shape, my painting is equally about emotion and sensory memory as it is about shape. I am going to paint directly onto the canvas and overpaint, and rub away, as necessary, and let my image evolve as I reach towards making my ‘moment’ physical.

Looking at ‘Bedroom’ (1961) by Hodgkin:

… it looks like he painted straight onto the canvas using loose oil paint, so this is how I am going to work too. I expect that will mean I will have to think carefully where my marks go and spend as much time looking as painting.

One of my strongest memories is taking my son to away football matches when he was 11 or 12, and eating chips and drinking coke at half time. These were our special times when we sat on the train and talked football. Our local team was Cambridge, which was in the Blue Square… the top ‘amateur’ league before league 2. Cambridge paid most of our players and it was very exciting as we fought hard over several seasons to be in the top few clubs to have a chance of going up. Fans tended not to be well segregated and the pitches varied from muddy fields that went up at one end to ex league one pitches with stands and seating.

Here are my first few hours on the piece:

This has been a wonderful and enlightening experience of complete freedom.

First I had to think of an image that captured my football away days with Josh. Did I want a third person observer (the viewer) to see Josh and I looking at them as if posing? Did I want to capture an action moment? Where did I want to set our day? I had the experience but was it best to express this by looking at Josh’s face (what I actually saw) or my face… to express what I felt?

Then I had to decide on the 3D space… which was like imagining a cube of space in my head… and rebuild it so I could be the viewer. How were our bodies turned in space… how did our physical matter displace the air? This was not like looking at a 2D photograph or sketch… this was like building a 3D model.

Next, I had to think of the weather and the emotion… was it before the match? Half time?

All this involved a lot of thinking and trial and error, as I found the best way was to paint it and see what it made me feel like.

My process was to paint directly onto the canvas with very diluted paint. I could then rub it out with a tissue and paint on top, and if the lines got too confusing pick another colour.

Once I had the basis of an image I decided to block in the field and wall. Here I had to decide whether to make the field textured with tufts of grass… should those tufts get smaller to show distance? No, this is only nominally figurative. I used a different brushstroke to show the wall. I made the decision not to use aerial perspective and reduce the saturation of green as it receded into the distance.

Coming back to it after Christmas I can see my neck is too thin and Josh’s reaching hand slightly too big.

Some more questions came to mind such as should I make the grass solid? Paint the hands in single brushstrokes? I don’t think I’ll be as brave as Hodgkin in abstracting the faces… but who knows?

Taken below on my phone at night and adjusted in phone.

And here’s the finished painting… Taken on my Canon EOS700D on a wall inside with window light (so in shadow) but with lots of light bouncing around and two daylight bulbs.

This was all done from my head so a huge learning curve and pulling in all the skills I have learned.

I am very pleased with this as it has captured a special moment but it’s about as far away from my Hodgkin as it’s possible to get.

My biggest discovery was that by creating the painting from scratch and pulling back emotional, sensory and psychological memories I was able to recreate a relationship, and a narrative, on canvas. There is a connection between the characters and the painting has something captivating about it.

The technical aspect of building a 3D map in my head and positioning the characters was weird. It was like sculpting a 3D model… or that I had gone back in time I could walk around the two of us sharing our chips and coke. It felt like I was bringing something back to life by making my painting?

This was in total contrast to painting my golden abstract where I was having fun… that was like dancing where the paint were the dancers and the canvas the stage, and I was completely focussed on the 2D surface. It was a choreography of shape colour and forms to create an emotion.

In order to recreate Hodgkin, I think I would have to paint my canvas like an abstract, working quickly and intuitively.

2. As a late Rothko.

For this I am going to match what little I have read about Rothko’s technique of using thin washes and big brushes.

I don’t have anything specific in mind such as a memory or emotion, but want to feel that I can get a ‘piece’ of me ‘out’ onto the canvas. So, I am going to work with colours and let them guide me… and stop when I feel there is a harmony between me and the canvas.

First I painted my canvas red, I used a big brush (a varnish brush) and diluted the paint with thinner.

Thinned oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm, applied with wide varnish brush.

I let this dry while I was working on my father and son painting.

I bought some artisan fast drying medium as I read that Rothko added all sorts of mediums to speed up his drying process. It looks like dark oil… if I added linseed oil it would take weeks to dry… thinner dries in about three days but it dries darker, and duller whereas the drying medium should dry the same tone and add gloss, just like linseed oil.

It was quite hard to start on a blank canvas but in the end I grabbed a tube of cobalt blue and french ultramarine, thinned them down with the medium (to a thin creamy consistency) and painted a couple of triangles. It was really interesting seeing how the paint went on with the thick brushes, not as smoothly as I expected.

Next I filled in the some of borders with cadmium yellow. Then added lemon yellow… as I had some lemon yellow left I put it over the blue to see how it would mix.

It’s already beginning to do some interesting things. I love the way the brushstrokes overlay and mix, and the dynamic and gestural qualities of the brushstrokes.

It seems to me that there are two different processes going on, the blending of the yellows and red which is subtle and visually strong, and the gestural brushstrokes in the rectangles creating movement.

My aim is to put on five glazes, with the last two glazes being much runnier and closer colored to create almost solid colours, but which will be activated by light.

Ther choice of initial shape and colours is important as this dictates what follows, also the different brushes and thicknesses of glazes/thinned paint is a new area to learn about.

Okay… so, a change of plan.

This painting has had so many likes that I’ve decided not to paint over it for the sake of an exercise. This raises the question of why I’m painting? Who for? And who controls my decisions?

What I’ve learned from my first peer led criit group (see Notes) comes into play here. With abstract paintings the viewer will see whatever they want to see, and this is almost always different from the artist’s intent. Of course, sometimes there is no verbal intent in abstract painting as you are painting without words or verbal thoughts.

The danger with abstract art is that it becomes decoration or what I might call John Lewis art, or interior decoration art. For example a well composed abstract that is visually interesting and matches my interior decor, or would go well in a hotel room, is decoration. An abstract that connects to people like a Rothko, Katz or Richter is art.

I think the difference is that an artist has a deep connection to his picture plane whereas with decoration he decorates a surface.

I may have to compromise when I graduate but as an art student, I want to make art.

So, I now have a painting (my Rothko) that I was making as an exercise which people are reacting to… should I paint it out in order to finish the exercise. Or should I save it and start again?

I decided I could probably sell this and and have learned from it already so will keep it and start again.

This time I’ll finish whatever happens.

My second Rothko:

Firstly I thinned some sap green, found a 50 mm brush and painted my canvas. Interestingly I found that I had made the paint thinner than before and that it left brushstrokes. It also ran in drips. I differentiated the surface by letting the canvas show through in some places and I’m hoping this will make for a complex surface when I’ve finished.

I added a glaze the next day…

The thinned paint wasn’t as dry as the previous ‘Rothko’ so my brush stuck when I added the 1st glaze and moved the canvas around. This overmixed it in some places and made it hard to control my brushstrokes. So I either need to work on the flat, wait till the thinned coat has dried or find some way of fixing the canvas.

I thinned my paint with quick drying (oil) medium to make my glazes.

I was deliberately rough in applying my paint and like the way the glaze has caught on the base layer, such as the red leaving green patches of canvas. And in places (for instance the bottom yellow) where you can see green through the translucent yellow so have three colours, cadmium yellow, sap green and lemon yellow.

A lot of the technique (apart from selecting colours) is how much medium you add and which brush you choose, not only for width but also how it puts the paint on the canvas.

I am having a debate with myself about easel versus flat working… I like looking at the painting on the easel as I can see how it will hang on the wall but flat it is more stable, and when the canvas is flat my mental approach changes and it becomes more like sculpting, which could work.

I decided to work on the easel with smaller brushes and try and cover the area with one colour, like an oil wash… or glaze.

As this is so shiny it’s almost impossible to photograph without reflection.

When I added crimson alizarin crimson and permanent rose to the ‘frame’ the colours really started to ‘pop’. Filling the windows with ceruleum blue, cobalt blue and ultramarine was not so successful. There were times when it was working when I had added a little blue but I wanted to experiment with filling in the space.

The biggest learning curve, was the way the choice of brush, viscosity of glaze and stickiness of the canvas all worked together to produce different marks, luminocity, saturation and textures. It was like learning to paint all over again.

I suspect that when the old masters were using glazes they often had very thin glazes which they had in a little bowl, or used a tiny watercolour type brush, held up near the painting and thinly painted over the skin for example. This would then take a month to dry before they could add another glaze, but they could create very subtle colour effects and luminosity.

With a large brush thin glaze drips onto the floor and runs down the painting.

So, using glazes in a large abstract is a very different technique to using it on a traditional figurative oil painting.

Glazing mixes layers of colour suspended above one another and is very different to mixing the colours on the palette, so it’s a technique I need to learn.

My experience so far is that two glazes can look very energetic and alive, but my fear is that adding more glazes will either muddy the canvas or destroy the colour dynamics. However, I am going to stick to my original plan and add two more glazes. My idea is to create a complex surface with different colours shining through to the surface luminescent with lots of subtle colours ever shifting under the surface. My reference point is a starling’s wing that looks black under dull light but shimmers with life and a myriad colour in strong light.

There is the question of some paints being transparent and others opaque, and how this affects glazing. Another question is, is it better to add light on dark/or dark on light glazes? Or doesn’t it matter?

I think next time I will also check the transparency of the paints. If I put on opaque colours first they wouldn’t cover up the paints underneath, but equally they might stop the canvas backlighting the paint? But if the glaze was thin enough it would still let light penetrate… lots to think about.

For the next layer of glaze I may use even smaller brushes? But I think I’ll let it dry before I add my next coat.

I let my painting dry over the weekend and much to my surprise it is almost dry, so the ‘quick dry’ oil is very effective. It also has a high glass finish which gives all the paints a deep lustrous finish and rich colour.

Even though it still has a slight tackiness to it I think it is dry enough to glaze without ‘mixing’ so I am going to add my next layer.

I am not happy with this image as I’m losing the composition at the top where the the red strip is too narrow. It’s also looking too ‘finished’ and has lost the raw feel of the first canvas. Plus, the edges are too hard.

What I’m surprised about is the covering power of the glazes, I’ve not been brave enough yet to make them ‘water’ thin, and where I expected the underlayer to show through the paint is generally covering it up.

Also, the paint goes tacky very quickly so you have to work speedily otherwise it loses its flow, then the brush sticks to the canvas and leaves strange marks. These can add texture but are difficult control.

I found my brushes were very important to how the paint goes on the canvas and think I need to research some specialist brushes. At the moment I am using house brushes and varnish brushes which shed hairs and leave lines in the paint.

I tried painting flat but found it hard to stand back and look at the work, so I’m going back to using the easel for my final glaze.

For my final layer I will add small amounts of different colours such as alizarin red and permanent rose and orange. And as it’s my final layer I might experiment wish some very thin washes, and I’ll try and blur the edges.

Two days, and it was just a tiny bit tacky.

What a surprise and a joy.

As it was my final glaze I diluted my oil paint with linseed oil because it doesn’t matter how long it takes to dry. It had such a different feel from the quick drying medium, it flowed on like water and didn’t stick or leave brush marks. The colours beneath shone through… I could paint a red glaze over yellow and it turned it orange, but the green still showed through the red.

I added patches of permanent rose and alizarin crimson over the frame, permanent rose in the top rectangle and alizarin crimson in the bottom rectangle. There were no brush marks.

I was shocked at the different properties between the drying medium glaze and the linseed oil glaze. With linseed oil the dominant colour was the one underneath. And the colours mixed in a totally unique way, almost like mixing light instead of paint… the colours kept their own colours as well as mixing with the colour underneath, and the paint almost begins to glow.

I’m pleased with this as it’s got a calm spiritual quality that holds the viewers attention. I need to work on the layers, and eliminate the brushstrokes, but as a first pass it’s very effective.

3. Personal, mixed media.

I have just ordered some metallic powder (I tried to get powdered tempered glass and acrylic as used by Alteronce Gumby, but I think he must grind it up himself?) and marble dust. This will give me the option of experimenting with both reflection and texture.

I might also use some of my mark making mediums such as oil pastel, watercolour and charcoal.

I have no idea where I am going to start or how my painting will evolve. It may be that I find an emotion or thought, but equally I may focus on trying to make something that looks beautiful and gives pleasure.

My main aim is to have fun so I’m also going to experiment with different mark making tools from bent garden wire to bottle tops and beyond… if I need/want to use a brush I can do that as well.

I started by painting painting the canvas in red… playing with the brushstrokes…

Then it turned into a three hour action painting.

My process was to add material to the canvas… stand back and see what it needed and then add something else… stand back… add… and repeat the process till the painting was finished. At first I added lots of paint but in the last hour it might have only been half a dozen dabs.

The process was a tale of two halves. Initially I added paint straight from the tube with palette knives and credit cards for example. This had started to work. Then I mixed up silver powder with oil and added it to a colour, playing around with using my tools and also scratching into the canvas.

I did the same with marble dust and played at sculpting the results. I decided it needed lightening so added white.

This was a mistake as it took out all the contrast and muddied my colours. It was a disaster.

So I had to rebuild my painting from scratch. I had the idea of scraping off some of the paint and adding a blob of colour with my credit card. This worked and I gradually rebuilt the painting… slowly an image began to take shape. I tried adding silver powder and oil without paint but this was too runny and paint wouldn’t stick on top of it.

I then found I was working with my palette knife scraping out and adding paint.

It was a very intense highly focussed process… and then suddenly I’d finished.

I am very pleased with this, it’s an image from inside me and is visually interesting. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before is unique to me… and it’s not decoration.

Having done this I looked back on all my recent paintings and started to see my figurative paintings differently. Even the abstracted and expressionist landscapes which had previously seemed quite free now felt stifling becaue they were tied to figuration.

4. Personal – oil paint.

I’ve been thinking hard about where to take this.

What I’m discovering withy these abstract paintings is the joy of freefall.

Cutting the ties to figurative art is a weird feeling. It makes the canvas into a stage to dance on rather than a surface to paint… before this exercise I was painting figurative abstracts, the motivation came from a feeling, a landscape, an emotion or an event. It’s the difference between a semi abstract Heron and a Pollock or a Rothko. It’s like starting to learn to paint all over again, not only the tools, materials, and techniques but also where do you start when you are not painting ‘something’.

It would be easy to fall into decoration, applying compositional and colour skills and making pretty paintings that go with the decor – and nothing wrong with that. But I want to paint art… something that moves the viewer as well as gives pleasure.

I think it has to do with the artist’s connection to the canvas, whether she is decorating a surface or deeply connected to the canvas and in the moment.

For my final piece I’ve decided to work with a palette knife and add pure colour, and see what happens.

Here’s. a slide show of the process:

And the finished painting:

This was a unique process and one which I really enjoyed.

It was like being free… I made a mark on the canvas and then stood back to see what it suggested to me. After looking for some time my marks would suggest the next colour, texture and type of mark. So, I spent much more time looking than painting… and proceeded in deep contemplation but without thinking, I was focussed on the picture plain and not thinking in words.

I was surprised how versatile my palette knife was at mark making. I discovered I had to wipe the palette knife after I used it so my paint remained pure.

I only had one metal palette knife, the plastic ones didn’t work, so I need to look into buying a range to give me more mark making options.

Next time,l I will allow myself to use brushes as well… and any other tools I have to hand… and add different media.

I am strangely pleased with this as it ‘speaks’ without words, is pure abstract and has an internal cohesion and consistant visual language.

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