Reflection (on assignment 2)

Making my brushwork more evident seems to be important to me through this and the previous assignment.  Whilst I spent most of my time practicing with enamels on aluminium I ended up hardly using them in the final painting, partly because it did not show brushwork strongly.    It was the research into Claire Woods which brought me back to showing brushwork and working with oils instead.    I was hoping enamels would have an element of chance where the paint would still move and mix but this did not have sufficient impact.    Maybe I could have continued with enamels following a more natural style similar to those in my earlier research and used work by Geraldine Swayne as an influence.

I spent time sketching to see the overall composition and the form of the key elements. I’m not convinced the sketching helped me arrive at an effective composition however I do think it helped me see the form and structure of the utensils.    The composition immediately draws you into the spoon then the background takes you around in a clockwise motion.  Out of the tools I used to sketch (charcoal, pen, pencil, ink)  ink and brush  helped me quickly capture and get a feel for the composition.

I feel more confident now with aluminium and I like its’ qualities such as light reflection and ease of applying or removing paint.   There is a feeling of greater potential with more to learn and I’m excited about using aluminium again.

The background shadows appear as strong as the objects casting them which adds an unintended conflict.  The painting of the spoon and chopsticks was slightly too controlled.   I think the way I painted the background is starting to reflect my personal voice because it captured a sense of energy and it felt good whilst painting.   Part of the difficulty has been with me focussing more on the technical and visual aspects throughout the work rather than on a message.    Whilst I have thought about a message (fitting into a different culture) represented by the choice and expression of utensils I’ve often used intuition or a feeling of what to paint and how. Having read Contemporary Drawing by M Davidson about intent I realise there is a lot to consider and that there is a lot going on when I paint and much of this is unconscious or perhaps slightly hidden from me.   Looking at this intent maybe useful moving forward both for researching artists and also my own work.

I have experimented with different content (fork spoon and chopstick) and arrangements to understand more about what I wanted to show.    Experimentation also included materials and I particularly liked the effect of ink and enamel on aluminium and how transparent gesso changed the aluminium to something more like canvas which is more absorbent.  I would have liked to have used some of this experimentation such as the gesso but following some small tests I felt each was taking away rather than adding to the painting.  This gave me a feeling I was stumbling a bit with what to do next.

Clare Woods approach with progressively thinner, more controlled painted marks appealed and formed my approach.   Whilst painting the background I felt the need to form a spiral to draw focus on the spoon and this fitting naturally with the shadow shapes.   I remember seeing this work well in many of Turners paintings of storms.   Another influence has been in the time aspect where I’ve broken the flow of thoughts and painting from the initial experimentation to the final painting and preparation by 10 months.  This may partly explain the change in direction as well as the later research into Clare Woods and Geraldine Swayne.

References

M Davidson (2011) Contemporary Drawing: Key concepts and techniques.

 

Assignment 2 Painting

My exploration of subject, media and techniques lead me to ideas which I wanted to try to use in the final painting.  The key ones being a contrasting view of a fork and spoon with chopsticks expressed using oil on aluminium.   Ideas about how they could relate to me personally were about fitting into a new culture.

 

 

Applying everything so far on a larger scale was both exciting and overwhelming.   I choose A1 size mainly because that was about the size of the aluminium sheet pre-cut and because I wanted to paint something big.

 

 

My intention was to show more of the brush work in a similar approach to Claire Woods and use oil paints.    I used a large household brush for the background and a brush one third the size for the utensils.  Oil mixed with solvent and refined linseed oil was used to reduce the consistency and make it slightly transparent.   This allowed me to be more gestural and less precise with sweeping brush work across the surface which I really enjoyed and would like to do more.    The fork highlights were wiped off whilst wet.   The result was striking and intense and after completing another smaller test I decided to leave it. Originally my intention was to apply a transparent gesso to blur the background further and make the utensils stand out but this combination didn’t seem as appropriate as when enamel had been the ground.    This was because I didn’t want to loose the brushwork which I felt took a step to expressing the culture and also I was expecting to create a relationship with smaller brushwork on the spoon.

At this point I’m wondering what I’m really trying to communicate and whether simply showing the fork/spoon next to chopsticks as I see them in the photos is meaningful.    I knew I didn’t have a strong message and was relying more on a natural expression of form and shadow to represent my intent.

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Leftside: oil on gesso on enamel, right side oil on gesso on oil, both on aluminium
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oil on gesso on enamel on aluminium

Next I used enamel to paint chopsticks because it was less expressive and more about being able to control the brush in such a long straight line.   Enamels where good for dragging and dripping and so I thought should work in favour.   The relationship with negative space was also important so I left highlights and painted the parts in shadow.    The difference in style with the long straight stands out and makes me question whether it fits in with the painting, perhaps it’s too representational compared to the background?   Is this a reflection of the challenge of fitting in with a culture?

Finally I painted the spoon in oils with the smaller brush and tried to paint only the highlights.   However I needed to paint the darker parts to bring the right tone for the spoon relative to the background.   This was moving away from what I liked about the work from Clare Woods however I was trying to get the reflection of the chopsticks into the spoon as well as the highlights.

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Untitled Oil and enamel on aluminium 32″x26″

Overall it is a striking painting of the utensils with dramatic contrasting tones.  The brushwork helps direct the viewer through the painting.  The negative space relates well for the fork and chopstick holder but to a lesser extent with the chopsticks and spoon.   The straight on view allows you to easily see the shape of the utensils and compare.    The intense big brushwork of the shadows is perhaps more overpowering than the actual objects because they are painted with smaller less dramatic marks.    This view was not consciously intended and again moves away from what I observed in Claire Woods painting.      The intent is less clear in terms of the message I’m trying to communicate.  This is partly because I’ve been less clear on defining up front the idea and more focussed on the techniques and composition most appealing to me.

How to develop this is difficult when I’m not clear on the message however I could have taken my approach further and painted the chopsticks as realistic as possible to enhance the sense they all didn’t fit together.    I could try extending the fork approach to the spoon and chopstick and remove paint for highlights and then evaluate the need to paint any darker tones.   This later approach seems appropriate because it would remove the actual utensils leaving the shadows to take focus.   Alternatively look at the way the utensils are used e.g. chopsticks can be more precise compared to using a fork or spoon.   Also I needed to try harder to find other work and artists who have looked at this subject.

Artists who have influenced my work include Clare Woods with the fluid brushwork in oil.  Turner with his dramatic swirling stormy landscapes.

References

M Davidson (2011) Contemporary Drawing: Key concepts and techniques.

Assignment 2 research

The work from the exercises on utensils were successful and I liked the way the light reflected from the aluminium surface and wanted to focus on this for the assignment.

Collection with knife, fork, spoon and a flipper.

 

 

 

The shadows, reflections and surface were key elements that stood out to capture.   I explored sketches of the composition.  Then I explored the use of enamels on aluminium.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I started with black and white enamels and found the best approach was to paint like watercolour, with thinned down black leaving the metal for highlights.     Blurring the paint at the edges proved to be a challenge partly because the enamels found their own resting point which creates a sharp edge.   Going back over the paint later to blur the edges changes the surface with an undesired result usually.  Need to look at painting white first and then use very thin enamels overtop like have done using acrylic.  The use of ink creates extra depth with the ink reflecting more light and pushing the enamel paint forward.

Detailed reflections on the spoon/flipper draws you into the painting and makes it more realistic compared to the the closeup without background and reflections.   Without these reflections and background details the closeup became more abstract and flatter and more effective at this scale.  This close up of the fork spoon knife uses negative space to draw attention to the form creating a good relationship.   The bare aluminium makes them stand out and adds drama to everyday objects with the spoon taking centre stage.   Without any context in the background or reflections makes it feel flatter more abstract at the same time I’ve tried to make them feel real with simple tonal changes reflecting the light.

Using PVA can help to mask highlights however its not very accurate.  It can be painted over giving interesting surface with a little distortion.

Collection fork, spoon and chopsticks

 

 

 

The idea of curating the collection to contrast chopsticks against fork and spoon like Fred Wilson’s mining the museum could add something interesting and relate to me personally.    Angling the light to create exaggerated shadows added another interesting dimension to show the form and show another perspective.

 

I needed more from other artists so I looked closely at Geraldine Swayne and Clare Woods.   Clare Woods used oils to show the form from a fluid flow of brush marks.   The painting Daytime Despair 2014, oil on aluminium, 150x200cm comprises of 2 paintings of different things in the same style and linked by a continuation in background.   Both focus on something of interest, the left less clear the right the feeding of a bird in a nest.   Both are flat yet 3D with the foreground standing out over the pale background with expressive strokes in oil on aluminium.   Colour is bright, muted and calm.   Foreground is more controlled than the background which seems to be more animated.   The title suggests this is not necessarily calm or content.   My understanding is the left is a pile of receipts which is more mundane work to do and the right is a bird feeding a much larger bird which seems unnatural.   The negative space is used to show the form.   The darker warmer colours used on the bird draw your attention and creates depth over the background.   I found the work by Geraldine interesting but I could not see why her technique would be appropriate for expressing the utensils.

Whereas Geraldine’s small enamel painting on metal (6x10cm) 2017 is about capturing an intense facial expression through contrasting strong tones and colours.   This portrait immediately draws your focus on the eyes and mouth before moving up to the hair and down past the ears.   Theres a mix of strongly painted marks and some less controlled thinly painted marks over the top.   The background has been painting over to give a clean edge and without features so that the portrait takes focus.   The size of all her work is on the small side which really focuses you in on the detail, demanding a closer look.

I’ve had difficulty applying most paint other than enamel to the unprimed aluminium so I’ve purchased some pre-primed aluminium and also some transparent gesso. Oil paint was the the best at showing the brush marks in one stroke and anything on gesso the worst because it became too absorbent.  However the unprimed aluminium still enabled me to paint slow purposeful brush strokes to create form which also created a relationship with the negative space.

The closeups of just the fork created interesting shapes but I felt it was becoming less a collection of items.   This could work if I’d focus on the reflection of the collection in the fork surface.

Looking at the collections with many chopsticks led me to focus on the shadows which created interesting shapes.  The use of gloss on the shadows adds too much reflection to the painting.   Placing the spoon from another photo on top like in an earlier exercise did not stand out because it was too dark relative to the background which also has a lot going on.   The background could be more about the shadows which can represent the chopsticks without painting the chopstick, this would allow the spoon to be painted over.

 

 

 

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Moving forward, Claire Woods approach feels to be an appropriate response to apply because it encourages me to not be so realistic and focus on the form and composition and use of negative space.   I would need to look at the use of brush sizes to ensure the scale is appropriate.