An artist rediscovering art using life in Hong Kong. Since the birth of my son, I've taken an opportunity to use the time I'm not looking after him on exploring my artistic skills. I'll be using the hunter blog to record my journey.
Following feedback on my final assignment I need to record anything important or things to work on.
When I write about artwork to reflect it should focus more on aesthetics, narrative and content rather than on the how.
In my sketching, explore ways of achieving the right composition, mark making, tonal values (use compressed charcoal for better tonal range). Always consider how these translate into paintings.
Keep trying monoprints and how to work back into them during experimentation stage
Look at colour. For example Thompons work used decaying colours in her rubbish painting. My use of colour so far has been more natural relating to what I’m painting and less on the focus or message of the painting. There is certainly more room for thought and experimentation in the use of colour. Feedback also highlights how I can do this more consciously leading to appropriate composition and atmospheric qualities.
Research romantic and sublime with reference to tate essays. They seem to discuss the contrast between the ideal beauty in something against the darker more fearsome elements within. E.g. magnificent sea and the turbulent waves crashing down in a storm. Is this what I was trying to do with the grotesque elements in our garden?
What creates areas for eyes to rest within a painting?
I set out to do more sketches for this assignment and yet in practice I still seem to fall short of doing more. Only four from list of ideas for the assignment were actually worked on, the rest were skipped either because I needed to plan them (e.g. morning sketch) or unable to see anything of interest like with the idea of things faded by the sun (which surprised me with all the sun we get). Time was also against me because I’d lost child care and so was reduced in opportunities to explore. Using oils added to the challenge because they take so long (from days to over a week) to dry and I’m not used to working in a stop start fashion with a plan.
Having watching a video by Cheryl Huntbach on her practice I can see there are obvious practical steps I can take going forward such as drawing for 10 mins each day for a number of weeks with a simple focus.
Oils has been my main focus of materials for the assignment because of its ability to be manipulated for longer periods. I’m not convinced this will be my main material going forward because of the longer drying time and not being able to use unpredictability in blending when thin. I think would prefer to use acrylics if I can find a way to achieve similar effects (to look more closely at Iain Andrews).
The technique for moving the oil paint over a smooth white ground is very simple yet can result in such striking results. If I had more time I would have tried again with painting the tree roots but with much more liquin and paint. My feeling at the time was they were just too weak and I attribute this to surface preparation with glue and gesso and also the amount of liquin and paint loaded on the brush. Appropriate sized brushes were used in each painting relevant for the scale. Although I still haven’t grasped Iain Andrews technique which is partly down to the paint mix being too thick and also finding interesting marks which represent the leaves.
Luminosity is evident in the beast although I feel it could be improved with stronger value background and muted colour.
The composition of roots came about through sketching the roots of many trees and finding a view which used the urban walls as a natural frame. The portrait view provided a natural narrow strip for the roots to grow. For the beast I did a number of sketches from the garden and photos to try to find a composition showing its grotesque elements as well as its beauty. Reaching out was lacking in an effective composition, whilst it did show the fingers clearly reaching out I felt I did not explore this sufficiently due to time.
The monoprints were only used to look at the form of a leaf or root and find a simple base to use in the painting. Unfortunately I didn’t immediately see how I would use it despite a feeling there was some potential.
I’m pleased with the beast in terms of how it brings out the grotesqueness with the composition and use of materials. Bursting out is a little more confusing because the flower bursting out is more about beauty and was not intended to be the focus of the painting. It just naturally went this way with the result overpowering the tree roots. Reaching out worked well at showing the grotesqueness with the finger like roots coming out from the bark. Perhaps together they help balance each other as a collection. I would have liked to have done far more paintings and had a choice about leaving some out especially when there are so many interesting plants growing. One area I didn’t explore was using greater subtlety so that the horror appears not at first but through more time looking. It maybe that I can achieve greater grotesqueness by not drawing attention to it through the materials and mark making but by subtle tones like Alex Hanna’s work.
There was experimentation in the composition of the beast and finding appropriate mediums to use for the eyes and eye lashes which represented more animal than plant. I experimented with different displays of the collection to try to bring out the grotesqueness in each painting. Using dark places such as cupboards and hallway helped support and relate to this concept. There has been an element of balance between experimentation of ideas and use of techniques which allow you to take something forward not knowing exactly where you are taking it. This made me question whether I actually worry too much about how something will look and whether I’m unconsciously dismissing ideas without some basic exploration. I think at this stage I just need to expect to take more time on the assignment to remove any pressure. Previously i said my practice is developing, drama and ephemeral and I believe these still hold.
Mimei thompson’s work is hopefully clearly evident in my work because of the striking and simple technique which I’ve used predominantly in both the beast and bursting out. Archie Franks helped me frame much of the work with an element of grotesqueness. His use of a liquin impasto in the oil helped me create a sharp and slightly distorted view of the roots although I don’t feel I can take his influence much further. Iain Andrews influenced the flower in bursting out and I need to explore his technique further with appropriate mixes of acrylics rather than oil. Turner is going to be an artist which will always influence my work in the way he achieves a level of luminosity in the paint and his expressive use of white impasto early on below thin washes.
In addition to these key artists I have found Tim Stoner helped me see how scratching the surface to show highlights can lead to a striking result and Alex Hanna can make use of subtle tones. These would motivate me to use such ideas in the future and encourage me to seek out opportunities to see more artists work.
Starting with my strengths using directional mark making of varying size and weight and use of contrasts in tone and thickness, I decided to focus on the garden. The garden contains various tropical ornate plants and trees selected for their looks and is well cared for by gardeners. These gardens are repeated in every residential area of the village. Whilst these plants and trees are beautiful many of them have an element of horror or grotesqueness which I thought could be shown in contrast. Archie Franks plays on this in a fun way with his monster munch paintings (Franks, 2016) and lead me to think I could use his highly contrasting impasto marks to bring out these features. The form of the trees and plants are very much alien to me having grown up with more temperate vegetation and so thought sculpting an environment like Mimei Thompson (Thompson, 2014) would also help.
First I started making quick observational sketches from the list in the assignment to try to bring more inspiration and depth. Painting at night helps view life with a very different set of colours from the artificial lighting and with stronger shadows creates a different atmosphere. The view from the window is always interesting with the varying light and weather.
oil on canvas
Then I started focusing on selected plants and trees which where new or showed signs of grotesqueness. The plant with large palm like leaves had a trunk with eye like features and tentacles which immediately inspired me to focus on capturing its form from different angles.
Monoprints were used to try to capture the twisting trees, roots and patterned leaves. I also tried out painting the oil + liquin on smooth card and aluminium (with enamel ground).
oil, resin, enamel on aluminium
oil on card
The beast draws your attention to the eyes with the dark hairs. The strong leaf stems lead the eye away towards the large leaves. The strong tentacle like roots hold the body in in place. It does have a slight grotesqueness about it although not as strong as I’d like. At the same time large leaves and strong colours provide an element of beauty. Shadows give it greater dimension creating more depth and realism. The background is brightly light but not dazzling making the whole painting feel light perhaps balancing the heavy looking hairs. In comparison to Bursting out it feels wetter and the perspective is lower. Composition is orientated for looking up so that the plant is towering above. The right hand side clearly drawing attention and is balanced by the lighter left.
The tree roots and flower appear more exposed to the sun with bright light, feeling much warmer and dryer. The eye is drawn to the flower leaves in the middle and then down the roots. The flowers stand out more alive and vibrant than the roots which are similar in tone and colour to the stones either side. The flowers burst out of the tree. The tree roots are pushing out of its’ urban walls which seems to be trying to contain it although this is somewhat happening in the background. Composition, the portrait view makes the tree long and squeezed into a tiny space between the walls.
The tree roots appear more abstract with their appearance broken up by the rough textured paint. Overall it is much darker. The eye is drawn to the roots which are sharp and rough with contrasting values. The composition in portrait gives detail on the tree but looses context. The roots are like fingers bursting out of the tree trying to pull apart the bark and get out.
Another idea was to focus on the leaves which have a very different look when viewed from below than above. It is interesting to see the leaves with light shining through and see bright colours and patterns. This painting uses white lacquer paint to mark out the brighter lines. I then layered paint on top with a mix of acrylic and finally oil.
Hiding in the wardrobe
On the wall
Reflections down the hall
Above and inside
Looking at the work as a whole, the garden is seen in a different light showing beauty, otherworldly grotesque forms and hints of urban life on the edge. The painting of leaves from below shows a beauty you don’t normally see when walking around the garden however it doesn’t contrast an element of grotesqueness and for this reason doesn’t quite fit with the others.
There needs to be subtlety and similarity perhaps in tone to tie together the paintings. Given these gardens are all around and form an everyday background I’d like to allow the viewer to see more and more as they stop and look. Therefore a natural and familiar feel at first glance would relate to the current experience and then start to reveal unnatural otherworldly things like the eyes on the plant. This could be interpreted in different ways, to put more in so that the grotesque elements are not so obvious and can be seen with more time or to tone them down. The idea of toning down the whole piece would need to be explored to see if the grotesque element works. Putting more grotesque elements in without toning down may become overwhelming. I like the potential for differing sizes and that the smaller ones encourage a greater focus compared to the larger more open and immersive paintings.
The ideas for displaying the work play on the experience of moving through the garden or feeling a little afraid when looking in dark places. Viewing them in the wardrobe was fun and made it feel like the plants were hiding. The darkness helped bring out the horror element. Looking at them on the floor created a pond like view with the reflection in the floor. The depth seemed to imply a viewing order from front to back. When displayed on the wall in a more traditional arrangement it didn’t feel as interesting or engaging. Using shelves creates darker views of the smaller paintings to help bring out the horror element. There is no space under our beds to set up the paintings to create a display.
What were my paintings depicting and why did I choose the materials used.
The beast is focussed on a plant which appears to have lots of eyes and tentacles which makes it a bit scary. Oils mixed with liquin on aluminium was easily moved and sculpted like in Mimei Thompson’s work. White enamel is used to ground the aluminium to make the paint glow brighter rather than the actual metal which can look darker. The oil used for eyes and eye lashes had an impasto additive and Liquin oleopasto added. Whilst both created more relief the impasto was glossy for the eye, the liquin oleopasto is more mat and very thick for the hair. Resin added a transparent shiny layer over the eyes. This was then about adding qualities relating to eyes and eyelashes rather than the actual plant.
The roots painting was focussed on the banyan trees’s varied roots and how they grow in tight urban spaces. The ornate flower which often grows in the tree was included because the roots were not as strong as I’d hoped. Oils mixed with Liquin is used to sculpt the roots on a canvas primed with glue and gesso. The glue is added to reduce the absorbency of the surface and make it easier to move the paint. The flower is oil with impasto and liquin original to give volume and make it more viscous. This was to follow Iain Andrews approach to painting impasto for the main focus of the painting. Emulsion was used to pour out the very thin roots.
Oil with Liquin oleopasto is used to paint reaching out’s roots which are like fingers pushing and reaching out from under the tree’s bark. I wanted to get an uneasy feeling of many fingers bursting out of the tree, reaching out. Card was used to give a rigid surface to support the thicker paint. Thinned down paint was painted across the dry surface to bring out a calmer view of the sea opposite the palms and the paint was allowed to drip down through the roots to tie them together.
How would I develop further?
The beast was painted in a similar fashion in the exercise except it was composed with a looking down view which lead to it being darker. Exploring painting at night whilst maintaining or enhancing luminosity may help increase the fear factor with different unnatural light shining on the plant. Furthermore making the painting bigger might make it much more imposing whilst keeping the same perspective. The background white was not pure white and would have reduced luminosity and so a pure white might help.
Bursting out’s background absorbed too much of the paint leading to a heavier feel with the yellow which was not intended. This is also meant the roots were not as strong as I’d hoped and would therefore like to explore stronger roots without the need to paint the flower over the top. Other thoughts are around how the roots grow contained within the bounds of the picture frame yet feel like they are not.
Reaching out’s roots whilst are bursting out are numerous and may benefit from a larger view with more a repeating pattern. Better yet a wider view of the tree amongst other plants and trees at night so that there are subtle shapes and forms all around and then the tree roots seem to have a light directed them highlighting the fingers reaching out.
Looking up through the leaves could explore use of Iain Andrews technique to paint the brightly coloured leaves. My mix of oil with liquin and impasto was not what Iain Andrews uses, he paints in acrylic so I’d like to try something closer to his mix for the leaves without oil.
Artists which influenced me. Mimei Thompson was a major influence with her fluid sculpting of otherworldly landscapes. Her work in particular has lead me to focus on smooth bright surfaces and to use paint which can be manipulated for longer periods. Archie Franks impasto with contrasting values to show form on the plant in focus (eyes, tentacles or roots). Iain Andrews for his swirling bright impasto work (Saatchi Art, s.d). Turner for his use of white impasto paint for highlights. I think Mimei, Turner and Iain have all shown that painting light to dark is best for getting the brightness in colours to then contrast against darker tones applied later. In addition they all show that its not about recreating what you see and that you can create something which works visually using their technique.
This is an essay on oil paint and it use by William Turner and Mimei Thompson. I will be looking at how they use oils and how I find it appealing and effective. How has it influenced me and how do I want to develop my use of oils?
Turner is seen as a romantic painter who paints a feeling rather than exactly what you see even though they look realistic. Mimei paints places or everyday things with a dream like quality seemingly organic but not of this world (Thompson, 2014) so in a way an abstraction of what you see. They both look at nature and its beauty. Turner focusses on the grand landscapes (Tate, 1834) from a distance whereas Mimei looks closely at the everyday things and animals. They both create a luminosity in their work which heightens the beauty and drama. Turners work seems to be more complex, intense and serious than Mimei who is more playful and in moving the paint around with simple clean brush marks.
She also says she doesn’t have any identity having moved around and this gave her ability to view the everyday as an alien. This is something I can relate to in my current landscape where everyday things are sometimes overwhelming, alien and perhaps otherworldly. This influenced me to to try moving paint around and making mark making more visible. The process reminds somewhat of the monotypes where paint is moved around on glass and the mark making play and important role.
Oil on canvas
oil on gesso primed cotton
A painter called Tom Keating has studied many masters and provides details of Turners technique using tempera paint which allows him to complete the painting quickly (Keating, 2015). The canvas is first covered with a ground colour and then white highlights are applied with a knife . The knife marks reflects the form of sky, land or sea and increase in relief the closer to the light source like the sun to make it brighter (National Gallery of art, s.d). Colour is blocked in light to dark, then once dry washes are applied from dark to light. Reflecting on my older paintings using acrylic I can see I took a similar approach except for the thick impasto paint for highlights early on. I’m anticipating the use of white impasto paint early on will be a key step to achieve the luminosity. Scrubbing and scraping techniques also seem to play a big part where I guess layers of paint can be easily removed to show the lighter paint below.
Interestingly Tuners skill with skies and seas enables him to adjust the design to better reflect the layout by for example changing the sky (Artists network, s.d). In other words I need to look closely at the composition and use ‘artistic licence’ to provide balance rather than copying a photo.
To develop my use of oils I should look to find ways to apply highlights soon after applying the ground probably using impasto paint. Understand what colours are transparent. bring out the odd or alien characteristics of what I observe. Look at printing like monotypes and preserving the marks. How do I removed scrub paint away to reveal more white or underlying paint and broaden the mark making range.
Giorgio Morandi painted still life of ceramics with very simple subtle shapes and limited colours. In this particular painting (Tate, 1946) the colour comes from hints thats part of the ceramic. The lighting is strong, bright creating strong shadows.
Kurt Schwitters (Tate, 1942) created collages with found objects, attaching them to a painting and painting over and sometimes sculpting objects.
Arman (Arman, 1991) uses objects and paints with them and includes the object stuck within the painting. They are loud and colourful. Creating interesting pattern by combining many of the same thing organised in interesting ways making something ordinary extraordinary.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster (Noble & Webster, 2002) create sculptures with rubbish such that when a light shines on it the shadow looks like people.
Alex Hanna (Hanna, 2017) paints objects on white backgrounds to show the form and texture with very limited palette. Interestingly he paints the same objects each year but with different levels of realism and paint application. He captures the essence of the object like the pill packets or plastic packaging which is very simple yet effective. The lighting is soft, not strong or direct and overall feels dark.
From these examples I would keep my palette limited to one or two colours but use various shades like Morandi and Hanna. Its probably safe to use a midtone of the same colour as a ground. Maybe compare strong and not so strong lighting. Considering composition, Hanna moves it around and takes up small part of area leaving much more blank around the object. Morandi seems more traditional with objects carefully laid out in size and placement.
They keep the streets and gardens here very clean and tidy so I went to the beach which is one area that sadly gets lots of plastic washed up. I found many plastic bottle tops and cups on the beach. I could try simulate a tide washing them up by painting with the objects and then painting the object where it comes to rest with influence of Arman. However I would follow Hanna’s palette and also try to simplify the object.
I’ve primed some aluminium, one with white gesso mixed with sand from the beach, the other applied a thick layer of burnt umber oil straight on the surface. I’ve also got a canvas board I’ve covered with the same oil. Whilst this was wet I moved one of the bottle tops across the surface like a tide was washing it up onto a beach back and forth and then coming to a rest. I also wanted to use the ideas of Mimei Thompson so I primed some cotton canvas with glue and guesso.
I’ve sketched the bottle tops with a bright lamp and with natural daylight and the bright light creates a harsh look, greater contrast. sketching life size seemed natural with them being small. This also led me to sketch the detail in the same way Tanya Wood might rather than a ‘quick sketch’.
I’m finding the drying time somewhat frustrating because I loose my thoughts and flow. Some of the paint was not quiet dry and is lifting. This will in part be because I’ve painted onto the unprimed aluminium. I do have some thicker aluminium which might hold the paint better.
Painting the oil mixed with liquin led to lighter feel with the thin layer and white gesso showing through. Also the brush strokes pushed the paint to the edge creating a natural lip or ledge for the screw top. Whilst they are not accurate they do reflect some of the differences in the tops giving them their own identity and the clear features create interest. In contrast the detailed tops have low contrast and their features dont come as strong and therefore less interesting. They do look more depressing but then seeing the plastic on the beach is depressing so perhaps more appropriate than making them look pretty. I like the trails through the paint from the tops, they show more about the object surface and shape. The painting with white applied for highlights helps brighten the top. It needs more layers soft the background and the inside of the top. It looks like its glowing too much.
Oil on canvas board
Oil on canvas
oil on aluminium
oil on gesso primed cotton
oil on gesso primed cotton
oil on gesso mixed with sand on aluminium
For the assignment I can look use this idea of painting with the object if I have something I want to include. It can provide a background or inspiration. If I use the cotton canvas I must apply a size like glue first then gesso, the gesso alone is not enough. Using Mimei’s technique can help show the basic structure with simple brush strokes effectively but depends on the feel I really need. Interestingly the liquin seemed to speed up drying time significantly.
I joined an Urban Sketching meetup group today at the lunar new year fair in Victoria Park for the first time. The group meetup at a location and sketch and share their work. This turned out to be quiet a challenge because the fair was bursting with people. I slowly walked through the flower market section and found interesting stalls to stop and sketch. The problem then was being able to focus on the painted whilst lots of people watch you and stop to look and also bump into you. I feel the people watching and I was on edge, I had to really focus and block the distractions out. This also made me rush slightly and not wait for the water to come through the brush.
The place besides people is full of colourful flowers where each stall specialises in something like Narcissus flower or orchid. I therefore felt watercolour would be most appropriate.
Adding pen outlines to the colour helped add interesting sharp details in the messy colour.
Seeing others work at the end showed how needed to spend more time on one sketch after a warm up sketch and focus on more detail. I liked the idea of drawing people and leaving them with no colour whilst colouring in the background. It gave it a graphic or comic quality. Mine lacked depth in comparison and interestingly the people where the darkest part. Some did much better job at the tarpaulin which I muddied.
Practice more sketches with pen or charcoal. Slow down on second sketch and maybe spend an hour to get detail. Look at what elements could be left white even though they may not be white, i.e. foreground or background.