Close environment is a very broad topic! I’d been mulling this over for weeks, but decided to start with a mind map which helps me to develop in new directions.
This first painting was inspired by an article on homemade bombs left by terrorists in Iraq. This would be bad enough, but they had been wired up to toys to appeal to children to pick them up, an absolutely sickening thought.
My recent visit to the Nottingham art exchange to see graffiti in Iran and the Egyptian uprising [ 1] made me feel more drawn to painting a more serious subject than I have been in the past.
Above is some sketchbook work developing my ideas. I was going to do a single painting of a bear wired up to dynamite but decided to try a series of smaller works, considering round supports but deciding for the smaller size that rectangular would be best.
Next was to decide support and media. As these were simple compositions I thought about acrylic or enamel on metal. I had a choice of metal offcuts either aluminium or a darker aluminium surface with imperfections. I decided the latter would suit the dark subject better. I was influenced also by Nathan Eastwood who paints in enamel on board and is described in the book ‘Documentary Realism’  as ‘ uses loose brush marks, surface has imperfections like trapped hair – makes the paintings look not photo real’.
I tried acrylic on a dark ink ground first, then on metal and it worked alright. But then I tried glossy enamel and I felt this looked much more vibrant.
The use of enamel was inspired by my visit to George Shaw’s end of residency exhibition at the National Gallery . He also puts shocking objects such as porn magazines in a beautifully painted woodland. I felt this related to the linking of dynamite to the toys. I like the loose enamel brush marks in Geraldine Swayne’s work too  and one of her first paintings was the Nazi female applying lipstick.
After initial preparations, I decided to adjust the compositions slightly to make the dynamite more prominent in the bear work for instance, and make the toy truck larger and spill off the support on one side.
Enamel is tough to work with, it quickly goes gluey but I enjoy the medium because it encourages loose work.
Here are the final images. I tried to work with the medium – allowing it to mingle wet in wet in places such as wires. The bear fur I painted it more thinly in places to suggest shadows rather than just darkening the paint which hopefully gave it more delicate texture. These are small supports so I did not try to cram too much in.
I experimented with the order of the works and tried black and white backgrounds.
I decided I preferred the white as it made the darker grounds stand out. My final choice had the white card in the middle as I felt this was the focal point because it had the greatest difference in tones.
I hope that the images I’ve made are clear enough to tell what they are but as I’ve found on many gallery visits now, a title can be very illuminating!
I wanted to paint some local street graffiti after being inspired by the street art at the Art Exchange  which led to me buying a book which comprehensively documents it . The book explains how much the streets mattered in the Egyptian revolution, starting with small stencils of people killed developing into massive murals depicting protest and hope.
Ar0und my city centre is some graffiti, and I found an intriguing image of a woman on a wall dressed in her dressing gown and slippers next to a canal. I’m not sure what the message is, but I felt it really stood out painted white against the dark brickwork. Other things I’d looked at seemed more ‘tag like’ and less interesting.
I wanted to keep in mind my tutor’s advice about varying my brush marks, and Kim Edwards monoprints  seemed a good place to start research.
I like the composition where the top half of the horse looks to be leaping out of the paper, and the rapid and varied marks.
I also looked at Natalie Dowse’s work  where she uses very dilute watercolour to make strong shapes with some parts left open, and the negative shapes of her monochrome oils.
Lastly, I looked back at Maggi Hambling’s reductive monotypes from my visit to the National Gallery  because I really liked the expressive and varied marks used here. I wondered about trying reduction prints with a rag and cotton bud.
First, I sketched out my composition a few times, choosing the middle one as having the graffiti figure large enough and a small part of background.
Next I painted larger works 20cm with water colour to develop the image further and realised the figure needed even more enlarging as she is the focal point. I also wondered about making this print a tondo.
I liked the circular shape as it contrasted with the straight lines of the canal scene next to the graffiti lady. I wondered if using an oil monoprint would give it more definition.
I practised using Sakura printing oils with a smaller tondo, using reductive techniques on the black oil with rags, cotton buds and cut up credit card for the bricks.
I realised that I could use the circular cut out to paint within it on the glass plate, and then could produce a rectangular print from the circular image. I decided that was more interesting than using circular paper to print off.
I also needed less oil, and to thin it with Sansodor to make it easier to remove.
Next I used a larger 25cm circular cut out to paint in very varied brush marks on the plate, and used the techniques I’d been practising to remove the paint in a more precise manner.
I added a little more paint to the image to make the canal background clearer and some parts of the figure, but I did not want to obscure the marks, some of which were accidental and I think added to the character of it.
I think I managed to convey the graffiti on the curved brick wall. The canal part is probably not that clear, apart from being an urban landscape, but I was worried that adding much more paint could lead to it being overworked.
23/11/16 – Note added following tutor feedback. What did I feel translating the original stencil to a monoprint added? The graffiti artist thought of the concept – still not sure what a dressing gowned figure with bag means, is it a feminist comment?- and used a stencil which takes out expression but does mean it’s quick and accurate. My work is darker and has more tonal differences. It has been made in a more random way, but would have been more effective in a larger size like the original.
For this painting I wanted to do a ‘selfie’ but not a realistic portrait, going more for atmosphere. I had been thinking of looking at how I feel on work days as a doctor, as these are very pressured. During the day, I feel shattered, drained, overwhelmed, tired, angry, sad…the list could go on. Mostly I do love my job, but it is all consuming on those days I work.
From my visit to the BP portrait exhibition, I wondered if I could capture a selfie in my computer screen in a similar way that Charlie Masson had done in his mobile phone.
I looked again at Marlene Dumas’s ‘Stern’ 2004 that I saw in the Tate Modern . It has a very pale face, with a green smoky outline of the face and certainly looks ghostly. She is dead but with her mouth open, eyes closed she almost looks ecstatic.
I also looked at Rezi Van Lingard again, in particular at Linger 2004. I like the suggestions of body parts and am interested in how this is reached. There are large brush strokes and dabs, are some parts reductive? I have bought a book of her work , and read that she woks on panels on the floor and applies tonally similar paint. the image arises out of the meeting of the two colours ‘cajoling it into the semblance of a figure’. She uses oil on canvas or board. I wondered if the paint was thinned to make it mix like that. It almost looks to mix like I’ve seen enamel do.
I also looked at the work of Alexander Tinei  which I like because the painting is not repetitive marks – it is scraped and dragged. Thin blue lines appear and disappear. Is this blue his signature mark? He uses photos from the internet and reworks them . He says he uses the boundaries of private photos and public gaze.
In the end, the selfie reflection did not work well in the computer screen, one in the window was possible but very blurred. I thought back to my quick ink portrait from Ex 3.1 and I liked the one looking upwards the best.
So I took selfies after a good time at being at work because I wanted to see the emotions in my face.
I tried a few sketches and the last two appealed the most. I wondered about trying cardboard as a support, after part 4 and looking at ‘rubbish’ I decided to try cutting panels from an old cardboard box. Then I thought about scrunching up the cardboard because these emotions I’m trying to convey are more negative ones. I put on some gesso with black acrylic to make it a rough grey. My last thought was about mounting this on white card and letting the painting come off the support onto the mounting, so it feels like it’s less ‘contained’.
I tried blue black and black on smaller supports I’d made. I liked the compositions coming off the page, but felt that should be just one side rather than all four sides. I thought the blue black looked better than black, which made me wonder about a second portrait in a different colour, and I tried cadmium red and viridian green.
I decided to go for the red because it contrasted well with the blue black.
I painted this quite quickly, using wet in wet and large brushes to start with, changing to a few smaller ones later. I liked the effect of the crumpled card and was careful not to cover that over. This was quite thick paint and I wondered about trying thinner paint and seeing how it mixed together for the next one.
Again I only used one colour and white but this time I let the grey background show through for darker areas. I wiped some paint off to get this effect too. I let the thinned red and white mix in places and I liked the effect when I tipped the support in different directions. It made a red tear come out of one eye which I kept in, as I have certainly shed a tear at work at different times.
I would present them together like this;
I think the proportions are not too bad, considering I did not want it to be too perfect anyway. I’m pleased with trying the crumpled cardboard as a support, as I think the rough texture added something. The gesso background was fairly neutral but I liked the marks and colours were not even and showed through. I think I have made selfies that sum up how I look through my work day. I’m glad I tried out a different colour for the second portrait. Also, that I just went with the flow of development – I did not set out to make two, but that just seemed a natural progression, as did painting on the white mounting.
I’ve been trying to develop life drawing in the last few months, painting with acrylic and more recently with rags [can be seen on ‘non course work’ for each part].
I was inspired Chantal Joffe  who paints in a gestural style which gives a sense of the sitter in a way that is interesting and leaves a lot to my imagination.
I bought the book of her recent exhibition  and one painting that stuck me was ‘Paula in a striped dress’ 2015 which I could not find a picture on the internet to put here sadly.
There is a vibrant lime green ground which shows through in various places in the face, hair parting and highlights the old-fashioned dress [which is at odds with the modern colour]. The figure is negatively highlighted by black, the hand looks exaggerated, the eyes are simply painted with no eyebrows. The dress is broad brush stokes, but I can see different sized brushes have been used with a variety of marks for the whole figure. In the book, she says ‘I was always trying to inhabit other people, particularly other artists…I love them so much I want to be them’. She paints friends and family and American literary figures. The way she paints makes me wonder about her relationship with these figures.
Emily Ball  paints in a more abstract way. In her book  she describes how she painted ‘Flora’ below. The model stood right in her personal space forcing her to be ‘engaged, sensitive and find the figure with a sense of urgency and purpose’. Oil and charcoal was used, and the marks are varied with the oil and charcoal mixing in places.
The artist described an exercise where 3 colours of different tones are used and dragged through each other wet in wet, following contours until the body is ‘found’. I have tried a similar technique using charcoal dust and then charcoal stick on top.
At past life classes, I have tried this technique with rags to produce more abstract marks in acrylic paint;
But I wonder if the marks might be more varied by using brushes and oil paint? The rags make the paint look a bit flat, and the acrylic dries so quickly perhaps it doesn’t mix wet in wet as well as I had hoped.
John Skinner  is an interesting painter like because his work contains surprises.
The lime green ground highlights the figure and the inside of the arm. The lack of jawline makes the mouth float somewhere in her face and neck. In her book  Emily Ball explains how this girl annoyed the artist by being on the phone for most of a dinner party and this emotion inspired the painting.
Inspired by these artists, I made a particular point of getting to know the life model before the session started. During the session I kept reminding myself to be engaged with the form of the model, as its so easy to drift off and not actually see whats there.
I was not aiming for photo realism, but more of a merging of colours to produce a form which was more of a fresh observation.
Before going, I completed some research as above, then warmed up with 5 minute charcoal drawings.
With these, I first pushed charcoal dust in the general shape of the figure, adding a few marks later and not following the lines of the charcoal dust if they were not right.
This was an OK practice but the mixing of the colours was not successful and it felt confused. This was not helped by continuing the figure colours on to the cloth. The black rigger lines look boring and uniform.
I felt this was an improvement, but again that there was too much paint on the paper. I let the lime ground show through in places but this felt a bit random as I was time pressured and did not add anything to the finished work in the way that Chantal Joffes had as discussed above. Addition of black to red was almost too dramatic and was helped by toning down with white. Better that this was kept to specific areas whereas the first attempt the paint was applied too uniformly.
I felt this painting contained all the elements I wanted. An interesting composition, as I was looking down from standing and could not see the model’s head. It has the gestural marks I wanted, without getting confused. I felt the black rigger marks added the bit of detail needed but was not overdone. I felt that leaving the blanket as a simple outline worked, because it focussed the eye upon the figure. I thought the body looked almost mountainous. I think this loose wet in wet technique is difficult, like watercolour, as once it starts to go wrong, its hard to pull it back and I think I have to accept this technique means there will be more failures than successes. I’m pleased to have tried painting with rags at previous sessions, but also recognise that the brush marks here add something to the work that rag work can’t.
For this painting I was inspired by the resident Portmeirion artist Briony Clark  to make y own paint! I sourced rock from Paris Mountain on Anglesey [a disused quarry]. This was ground down to a fine powder with a pestle and mortar, baked and linseed oil added. It was then ground again and sieved through muslim cloth. It was quite oily, I wondered if it would print well or work on a dark ground or with oil paint?
I went on a sketchbook walk and tried to look for unusual things that this medium might suit.
I thought about a crumpled bag left in a layby [too similar to exercise 5.4], telegraph pole [not suiting the medium], vines on a tree and dandelion head but decided in the end on a found image of a crumbled half statue head in Art Review.
As inspiration, I looked in the John Moores Painting Prize catalogue from the OCA study visit . I liked Benjamin Jamie’s ‘Dissolver’ 2015 which uses oil, distemper, wax and charcoal.
He is inspired by many sources including fly tipping and studio detritus. There’s an organic ‘stickiness’ about it, I wondered if my paint would be as fluid as this? From the same show I also liked Talar Aghbashian ‘Untitled’;
I like the contemporary theme, a memory of a toppled statue seen on the news. It’s an interesting viewpoint and I wondered if the paint would have enough tones to paint a statue?
I looked at the book Painting Now  and William Daniel’s ‘Shipwreck’ 2005, who reconstructs well known paintings into maquettes made of scavenged materials, which then model for his painted works.
I liked the muted colours, it recalls cubism and gives me the idea for muted colours in this painting. I decided to keep this idea for the future.
Finally I looked at the work of Tanya Wood  who uses pencils to draw everyday objects, pillows, paper bag whose creases tell a story. This made me look at the Mcdonalds bag discarded in the layby. This reminded me of George Shaw’s work  of disturbed beauty spots with traces of humans.
Next was trials with the paint on various papers, including black.
I tried adding Winsor and Newton fast drying medium which made it more gel like and transparent. After a few experiments, I realised I had to add some yellow ochre oil to make it print. Next time I do this, I won’t add as much linseed oil.
I tried watercolour compositions as I wanted to see what a coloured or white ground would be like.
The printing process was a steep learning curve. I made black paint out of charcoal dust and linseed oil. It was hard to print with and finally I got a successful one off a glass plate. I felt the white ground worked better than the ochre or blue watercolour ones. I had also tried black paper but felt this dulled the paint.
The paint made an interesting organic tree like shapes when printed. I added a little more paint but did not want to obscure the pattern. I took off a little paint with cotton buds around the eye and mouth.
I’m pleased with the creative process to get to the monoprint, the days making the paint made it feel more special. I have other rocks to try with the process for the future, but it is time consuming! I needed the practice from part 3 to do this print, as I had to adjust my amount of paint compared to conventional oil paint.
For this last of the series I wanted to experiment with a medium I have a love-hate relationship with….watercolour. It’s not as popular in contemporary art as oil, does it have a reputation for being boring and old fashioned? I saw a couple at the British Art Show 8 and Georgia O’Keefe study visits , and have since found a great book Contemporary British Watercolours  which was inspiring. In it I found Barbara Howey, who uses images from the internet of places she has lived. She uses swirls of watercolour, allowed to mix but with a definite edge perimeter and in one corner of ‘Saxa Vord’ is a tiny collage of a delapidated building.
Cecily Brown ‘s  ‘Untitled [The Flood] 2015 leaves 1/3 of the paper white with her composition squashed up in one corner. She uses a narrow palette, earth tone and black and the animals are in dynamic poses, some have tones, some are sketched.
James Quin  has a varied style in his works, his ‘survivalist’ 2010 shows a man climbing from a pavement door, but there are few clues as to who this man is, which I like!
Finally, Louise Cantrell  is in the book, and I generally like her watercolours, which are a simple style but I could not take to ‘Mount Coutha storm’2008.
Maybe there isn’t enough white paper left? But it does give a sense of tangled foliage.
I took a sketchbook walk to my local tropical house to see if there was anything interesting.
I decided to go back to a vines entwining a tree I had seen earlier in the week and had been an idea discarded for painting 5. I liked the shapes and distinct tones and I thought it would suit a fluid medium. I thought of bleach and ink [but already tried that], coffee [tried but did not react with bleach as well as acrylic ink and granulating watercolour]. I thought about trying a palette knife again as I had done back in Part 1.
I experimented with bleach on a variety of media and various watercolours. The best were the granulating ones and the acrylic ink.
I tried the picture in coffee and watercolour but it felt a bit twee and a stronger version with the palette knife of the vines, and bleaching the background tree colour;
Next I experimented with larger versions with the vines in masking fluid and another with them palette knifed in a pale buff watercolour.
They were both a good learning experience and playing about with the media and bleach but I thought they both looked too confused, neither had the strong look of the vines I wanted, and neither had the bleach effects. The placing of the colours needed more care. I was pleased with the spattering for the leaves, and the bleach making the watercolour granulate, and the ink form patterns. The paint on top of the masking fluid is something I will remember for a another project.
I used the same colours with the addition of ultramarine red to make the palette knifed buff vines stand out. I was more careful with colour placement and the drawing of the actual tree which I think made this more successful;
I recorded a short 2 minute soundtrack in the wood accessed by clicking the link above as I hope that listening to this while viewing the painting will enhance the experience of being there.
I like the different marks and textures that came out using bleach and the palette knife. It was hard knowing where to stop, as it would have been easy to keep adding marks, but I wanted to leave around half the paper white [almost did it!]. I kept the foliage at the top of the tree light so it did not detract from the trunk [I experimented with using a kitchen towel to get random marks applying it]. I think this is probably the weakest of the series, but I’m still glad of the experimentation and learning that has come from it.
Following discussions with my tutor after the final feedback, who reassured me that I didn’t really need to change anything if I didn’t want to, I did decided to add a few marks to the tree foliage and make it less ‘comfortable’!
I practised on the development pieces until I felt I had the right marks and colours. I realised it need to be 3 marks in a dark colour, as the rest of the foliage was light enough. I liked the marks with a palette knife best, because they seemed more random and exciting. I do see how they add something to the top part. I think adding more would look overworked and am happy to leave it there.
Reviewing against assessment criteria
Demonstration of visual skills; this course has made me so aware of my environment, I feel my eyes hurt when I go out! I see so much more than I did before, and have found interest in things I would have passed by without a thought before. I really enjoy using found images for things that really speak to me, like the toy homemade bombs. I think better use of sketchbooks is improving my composition skills rather than going for the first view I think of. I’ve used a variety of materials [enamel, oil, watercolour, printing ink, acrylic ink and even tried making my own paint! Supports have been varied too with metal, tondo paper and cardboard.
Quality of outcome; I have tried to persist in development until I get to a work I think is successful and sometimes this has taken many versions [particularly in the home made paint print and watercolour/bleach paintings. I think I have started to become more discerning with what material will suit each project after investigation.
Demonstration of creativity; In this last part, I’ve tried to strengthen my thoughts in my sketchbooks but recognise this could be improved further. I know I can be self conscious about writing thoughts down when they’re being read by someone unknown but I recognise how valuable an idea can be to come back to in the future. I’ve tried new techniques or to develop them with all the work for this assignment and I don’t believe before this course I could have done that. Using a sound recording is a first for me, and I now wonder about going on to try video.
Context; I think this has been the major part of this course for me. I have looked at a diverse range of artists suggested in the course, and through attending as many OCA study visits and galleries as I can – and not being discerning, so that by going to ones I’m not so keen on, I can usually find something in the work that I like. I think my work as a doctor can’t help but filter in to my work, as well as my own political views and general interests. I have a healthy art library at home now which has been invaluable for inspiration. Buying catalogues from each show has also been helpful to recall work later. I think this enthusiasm for contemporary work will help me to develop further and I really can’t wait for level 2 and the new doors this will open!
- Documentary Realism. Painting in the digital age. Robert Priseman. Seabrook Press. 2015
- Walls of Freedom. Street art of the Egyptian revolution. Basma Hamdy. From here to fame publishing. 2015
- Painting People. Charlotte Mullins. Thames and Hudson. 2008
- At the first clear sight. Rezi Van Lankveld. Ridinghouse. 2011.
- Picturing People. Charlotte Mullins. Thames and Hudson. 2015
- Chantal Joffe. Victoria Miro. 2016
- Drawing and painting people. A fresh approach. The Crowood Press. 2015
- Painting Now. Suzanne Hudson. Thames and Hudson. 2015
- Contemporary British Watercolours. Simon Carter. Amazon. 2015