Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Self Portrait

Exploring Concepts

Assignment 2

The Figure and the Self Portrait


Gianni Maimeri’s Woman Seated particularly appealed to me as the flesh tones have a pearly quality to them, the portrait is understated and the stronger for that, so I tried to emulate the quiet thoughtful nature of the sitter, and the skin tones he used.  I also liked the verticals he used in the background.  He uses very muted colours and part of the background is almost black.  As his model is front lit this was not a problem but with my own backlit view, it was important to indicate a light source.  Because my light source is a North light, the skin tones are very similar to those used in Maimeri’s painting.  I used oil for this portrait.

The quirky feature which is most noticeable is the raised eyebrow, it is an unconscious feature of my face, as well as my particularly small ears.

I was glad to have the opportunity of introducing some counter-change with the self portrait, which adds interest to the painting and I think the subtle north light makes for a softer portrait than stronger lighting.

I was also influenced by Peter Kuhfeld and like the way he often uses backlight for his models.  His brushwork is spontaneous and in my full length portrait I have tried to apply his almost impressionistic style to the work.  In my mind as I worked on the floor I was thinking of Caillebotte’s beautiful painting The Scrapers.

I feel the overall colour scheme works well and the items in the background do not dominate the portrait. I believe it was Franz Marc who said that “yellow and blue love each other”.  In this painting I have used the contrasts of purple and yellow as well as blue.  I have also used right angle repetitions in the arms, legs and the pictures on the wall.  The bend of the leg echoes the foot of the easel and is obliquely opposite to the angle-poise lamp in the background.  I think the gaze is both concentrating and exploring at the same time and the moment is captured when one stops to look at a particular detail you are trying to capture. 

Again this is a north light with light bouncing off the mirror on to the face, so the flesh tones are fairly subtle, and the atmosphere in the room is one of cool North light which keeps the colours in the cooler spectrum.  I used acrylic paints for this portrait.

Check and Log

  • How have you used the texture of the paint in your work?
I would like to think I have used the texture subtly, these are not impasto paintings but the texture of the paint has been expressed through the brushwork. 

  • Were you able to capture a likeness of yourself?
I believe I have in both cases, though of course as with all self portraits the look is stern and I would like to think I do not always look as stern.  However, in sketches that I did, I have captured angry/depressed looks. 

  • Do your portraits have a sense of space and depth?
There is a sense of space in the self portrait though not a lot of depth, there is more depth in the full length portrait, because of the use of perspective lines, particularly on the floor. 

  • What aspects of your work do you think you need to focus on? Is there anything you wish to discuss with your tutor?
I think I need to continue to think about spontaneity in my work, which has been helped by the earlier exercises. As I feel more confident about achieving this I will concentrate more on composition and the important elements that help to make a painting work, as written by Bernard Dunstan in his book entitled Composition.  Some of these elements may not be relevant to modern ways of composing pictures, particularly abstract ideas, but others may well be relevant.  I have used one of the suggestions, spilling warm colours into cool colours of similar tones, for example in the floor on the right of the full length painting. 


Exploring Concepts

 Assignment 2
 The Figure and the Self Portrait
 Project: Looking

Painting with a Stick:

Free painting with a stick was a very good exercise to help free up ones work, the elimination of detail was achieved quite literally at a stroke.  It made me realize the importance of having long brushes when working in oils, and encourages one to stand back from the work to observe.  Nonetheless, there is a frustration in not being able to paint details of the face, in particular, to obtain a likeness; but for the figure itself it is a rewarding concept. I am not quite sure how one could use this method to produce a finished painting, buut it does give ideas about the value of lines and which bits can be left out, yet still form a coherent picture. 

The stick painting is also reminiscent of lost and found lines but for different reasons, not so much by making judgements about which part of the line should be lost or found, but by appearing an disappearing randomly. It was frustrating in that the paint did not adhere to the stick terribly well, but the results were interesting. I am not sure how one could use this method to produce a finished picture but it does give ideas about the value of lines and which bits can be left out yet still form a coherent picture.

Focus on the Model:

Drawing a continuous line without looking down at the paper but observing the model produced some wonderful semi-abstract compositions, one of which I developed as a sketch asking "Who?" 


Look at the spaces:

Again, in order to hold the pose and draw at the same time, this produced some interesting shapes, which would be useful for an abstract way of working.

Facial Contours:
Drawing by Feeling was not very successful, I only did a couple of sketches, but I felt my brain was over-riding the touch sensation to produce what I knew to be there, and the output was merely interesting, but didn't have as much potential as a technique as the other exercises.

Check and Log 
  • Which of these approaches worked best? How can you incorporate this way of working into the rest of your work?
Two methods worked well for me the free drawing without looking produced some interesting possibilities for abstract work without compromising on the subject of the painting, indeed from my  point of view enhancing it in terms of its volume and human qualities.
The other method that worked well was the stick method, particularly using charcoal.  Not only did it enable me to work more freely but it also drew attention to the need to distance oneself from the easel.
I have already seen the potential in the first method and developed some drawings which demonstrate this. I think the second method is an on-going influence on my work which needs to be much more free, but I feel I have started this process.
  • Were you able to ignore the desire to create an ‘accurate’ representation of the model?   
Not entirely, particularly with the portrait, where the desire to obtain a likeness tended to be in my mind.  With the figure itself, I was conscious of the freedom to express the modelling in a less controlled more interesting way.  The spontaneity factor was much more evident I think. 
  • Is your work becoming freer
I definitely feel that these exercises are something one should to resort to every now and again to ensure that one achieves a style that is less detailed and more expressive, and I am reminded of the drawings from the late 19th Century which are technically brilliant but lack the expressive form of the human figure.

Getting Started with a Model

Exploring Concepts

 Assignment 2

 The Figure and the Self Portrait

Project: Getting Started with a Model

It has been extremely difficult for me to get a model to sit for me.  I have endeavoured to use my daughter in law but she works for much of the time, so I have had to grab odd moments rather than have the opportunity to sit down and paint in my own time.   I do not have any neighbours, and my friends live in disparate counties.

I have however enrolled in a life class which I am enjoying very much, but it seems life drawings are not included in this assignment, which is a pity as I feel my work from the class would be more representative of figure drawing, balance and movement. I am, however, attaching a few drawings which explore the idea of drawing without looking at the finished work.  I also take it a step further and expand into abstraction.

The only sketching opportunities of people standing have been at my grandson's trampleening classes and the figures I have drawn have, I think, a good sense of balance.

I related the figures to the background in a large hall which made me think about how Giacometti painted some of his figures using reference lines in the form of a grid and special depth with just a few strokes to indicate space. He draws to indicate a figure in space, but one with little personality, but his exploration of  his model occupying a space within the picture is explored through lines which appear to feel their way round the subject and is augmented by use of perspective.

I read “The Artist and The Nude” by Mervyn Levy published in 1965 and it was interesting to follow his line of thinking that sculptors tend to draw volume and form whereas painters tend to draw with an “idea” in mind, i.e. a pictorial idea or exploration of personality, although he did concede that Gaudier-Brzeska was one of those remarkably rare and talented people who was able to do both. His ideas on Vorticism formed an important part of his philosophy, believing that “It is the vortex of will, of decision, that begins.”  This is what he captures in his sculpture the coiled spring the potential energy in movement.  I find this an interesting concept but a difficult one to conceive and develop practically.

 Sophie, 1913
©Bridgeman Education Library

It was also very clear from the drawings illustrated in Levy’s book, that whilst there were talented artists’ work exhibited, the shortcomings of the academic approach in the 19th Century stilted their work.  Whilst they are technically brilliant, the sense of a human being had been lost or at least diminished in the atmosphere of stultifying life classes.

To me the limitations of the contour line in drawing acts as a barrier to the exploration of 3-dimensisonal space, which is the problem I guess Giacometti was exploring and indeed the cubists such as Braque and Picasso back in the early 20th Century, as well as Gaudier-Brzeska with his Vorticism.  The sad thing is that he died at only 24 years of age and was unable to reach his full potential as an artist and sculptor.

Seated Pose

Giacometti linear painting with limited palette (2 hrs). (Research)

Check and Log

  • Have your figures got a convincing sense of balance?
My sketches are convincing as figures with proportion and balance.  Some are pure line drawings where I have been influenced by Brzeska’s work, where with the minimum use of line one captures the balanced human form, and I don’t like superfluous detail to interfere with the expressive nature of the lines.

  • Relating the figure to the background.
I did this in a minimal way as I wanted to establish the weight of the model seated, and there was very little in the background.  Where things were showing in the background I have indicated them in a fairly minimal way.

  • What ideas have you for a pose for a longer piece of work?
Whatever it is, I would like it to be a natural spontaneous pose, like a photo when someone is relaxed an unaware of the photographer, perhaps like the sketch I made with the subjected seated with her feet up on the soft chair, but will try out some alternative poses when I come to do that exercise. My feeling is that the figure should either be represented through pure line or incorporated within the surroundings to the point that it almost becomes absorbed.  It will be interesting to see what I make of the patterned blouse picture.

  • Which of the artists you have researched have influenced the work you have done in this section?
I think the main influence has been Gaudier-Brzeska, because of his ability to incorporate cubist elements in his work as well as the beautiful pen and ink also charcoal linear drawings he made with minimum outlines, with a hint of abstraction, and I am particularly interested in the idea of potential energy. 


          Green Composition

          Exploring Concepts

          Part 6 – Parallel Projects

          Project: Summer

          A Composition of Greens

          I originally thought of painting from a location in my garden to do an ‘en plein air’ painting depicting the huge variety of greens and particularly the light.  In order to give some structure to the painting however, I felt I needed to include the pergola so I ended up with rather more additional colour than I felt acceptable.  I eventually contacted my tutor as this was marginal but she confirmed my suspicions and pointed me in another direction.

          I looked at Graham Sutherland, whose work is not very familiar to me, also at Ivon Hitchens.  I felt the latter’s work was too abstract for the brief but I did enjoy looking at Graham Sutherland.  My tutor also mentioned Lucy Willis who is a contemporary artist and exponent of exploring light.  The initial painting was ditched and I worked on another view, this time from my studio window which looks through a weeping willow from a deeply shaded area with shafts of sunlight.  I wanted to capture the facet-like light as it glimpses through foliage and burns out in places as the light penetrates.  I decided to use acrylic with a fairly broad brush producing spontaneous brush-strokes, almost in an Impressionistic way.

          It was an interesting judgement where the green lawn formed the horizon as it was in sunshine but also distant, should it be bluer because of the distance or warmer because of the sunshine? I opted for a hazy indistinct warm white which seems right.  I was pleased with the fluidity and facets of colour.   I didn’t like the sameness of the green and introduced more variety in the shade by using cerulean, viridian, and ultramarine, and violet and lemon yellow, cadmium yellow and touches of yellow ochre in the sun. For me this has been a good opportunity to realize a more fluid impression of the subject.

          Check and Log

            • Were you colour sketches and notes detailed enough?
            This was an alla prima painting done from my studio window so it wasn’t necessary to have notes, I did however, take a photograph just for the record.
            • Did you get back to the location to gather further information?
            This wasn’t necessary.  Once I started on the painting and had the bear bones, I was able to work creatively as I didn’t want to get bogged down in detail but to explore lighting as a faceted phenomenon
            • How did you create a sense of distance and space?
            This presented a problem in that I was working from shade to sunlight therefore my distant horizon was in sunshine, therefore warm, but distant, therefore cool. I overcame this by more or less “burning out” the distant lawn. 

          May 2011 Sketchbook

          Sketchbook April 2011