Ex. 1.2 Black and white

Before I started the exercise I looked at :-

Luc Tuymans paintings – This article is full of information about his thoughts, ideas and working practises.

A Necessary Realism: Interview with Luc Tuymans

Annie Kevans portraits (Boys, Muses) – thin, sparse carefully placed washes of monochrome, occasional touch of colour; tones describe essential characteristics.

Degas – cropping and asymmetry in his compositions, particularly his scenes in theatres and ballet dancers.  He sometimes uses unexpected viewpoints and contorted postures.  “Perhaps the language of cinema best describes Degas’ work—pans and frames, long shots and closeups, tilts and shifts in focus. Figures are cut off and positioned off center. Sightlines are high and oblique. Degas’ interest in photography is revealed in these elements of style, and the flat space, patterned surfaces, and unusual angles of Japanese prints, which enjoyed huge popularity in Paris in the late 1800s, also influenced the artist.” (www.nga.gov)


Here are my ten paintings – the theme is Hands!


Below are the found images

I’ve had a quick go at arranging the paintings in a format that’s pleasing to me.   I like the idea of having incomplete rows in the grid.  The background is a painted board I had, in a colour I hoped would make sure white, black and midtone paintings would all stand out well.  If I did it again I’d choose a less bright, more tonal, more sympathetic colour, because the blue/purple is distracting, and also it’s reflecting onto the paintings, altering their perceived colours.  Also the three lightest paintings (doorknob, gloves and bones) have somehow ended up in a clump – when I group future paintings I would try to be more aware of this.

Developing the idea of grouping, I could also (another time) introduce a time dimension to the arrangement of a series, for example charting the progress of life through hands of different ages and with different attributes.

General reflections

The most successful is water – it has life and energy because of the textured diagonal marks in the background as well as the gesture of the subject.

The three least successful are doorknob, gloves and bones; they’re not so well observed.  They also seem static – perhaps because they are, being still life’s rather than life studies. If I did the exercise again I’d do a few ‘extras’ so I could select the best for display and reject these three.

Painting on such a small scale gave the opportunity to really study and analyse the images.  But I felt I was approaching the exercise too much by attempting to copy; that I should in future use found images more as a starting point to develop on from; to add my own interpretation and express my ideas.  But observational drawing & painting is an excellent way of getting to know a subject intimately; without this, an expressive interpretation might be in danger of being shallow.  What I’d like to do therefore for my assignment pieces is to do sketchbook studies of my images, to try and really get beneath the skin of them and to start developing my ideas, and use these as a stepping stone towards realising looser, more interpretative paintings.

One aspect of my group of images that appealed to me was the different greys – put side by side there were green, yellow and tawny as well as neutral shades.  When I’d finished the ten, I found this didn’t come through in my paintings, so added thin coloured glazes to some.

Another striking aspect was cropping, some dramatically so (applaud, crossed hands, one eye and hands on chest stand out in this respect).  Degas’ compositions have some dramatic and unusual cropping too, as noted above.

I enjoyed using ink media least, although I do like the effects it can give.  Perhaps I still haven’t found a practical modus operandi yet – brush, support, palette etc haven’t quite done together.  I’ll persevere, and return to ink in exercises 3 & 4.

This is what I did:-

Made 5 black and 5 white (all A6) acrylic undercoated supports on 300gsm Strathmore mixed media paper.

Using found images of hands from a Stephen Elcock’s facebook collection, I drew the main lines, then painted.


White backgrounds:-

Doorknob – China ink with acrylic ink highlights.  V surprised how absorbent my support was, despite acrylic undercoat.  Learned to use this quality, but not ideal – I wanted the thin washes to float.  Next time make 2/3 undercoats.  Made coarse brush marks in keeping with subject.  The ellipse of the ‘sleeve’ looks wrong and clumsy.

Glovesacrylic – white & black, touch of colours.   Acrylic can be used as transparent and /or opaque media.  Can be blended to graduate tone.  I would make more of tonal variations next time..the arms look two dimensional.

Applaud – used acrylic opaquely.  Mixed a tiny bit of yellow to get greenish-grey.  Finely blended and graduated tones, almost looks like graphite, in keeping with elegant nature of hands. This one is more successful than ‘gloves’  because the arms and hands (particularly that crooked little finger!) are expressive, have good tonal contrast, with the bracelet and cropped shoulder suggesting a genteel applause.  Added a glaze of sap green later.

Water – created dribbles of thin black watercolour for background (my fingerprints formed a resist in places!).  Used gouache for the hands.  Blending more difficult with gouache, had to use different technique, wiping brush frequently and using hatching strokes.  I like how the left edge of the left arm is lost against the background, while the right edge of the the right arm forms a very strong contrast.  The hands look as though they’re dancing.  The curves of the fingers, and the diagonal lines of the background add life.

Bonesgouache – the strange bracelet and the over emphasised contrasts in the bones have given it an appearance of a mechanical hand.  Not so successful as others – a more interesting background would have been better with the subject


Black backgrounds:-

Shadowsgouache; shadows of hands on a white object create drama.  The shapes are difficult to decipher in detail; I like that ambiguity.

One eyeacrylic.  Stippled the background with a stencil brush & a touch of yellow in the grey.  The hand is much lighter tone than the face, making it pop forward.  The eye is the whitest spot, and draws the viewer’s eye.  Used the black of the background to describe darkest darks (hair, clothes)  the texture of the hair is a successful detail because it convinces.  The sleeve doesn’t – looks more like a rigid pipe than fabric.  Added a glaze of sepia later.

Crossed hands – grey acrylic background field, hands in white inktense.  Difficult using crayons on this scale, also hard to get strong light tones, so did cheat a bit with acrylic.  The ‘graffiti ‘ rectangle is scratched in.  The ‘X’ repeats the hands’ gesture in its lines; but in another way the crude scrawl negates the fine, elegant hands.  Two complementary, but opposing, human gestures.  I like the merest hint of face and shoulder in the left – puts the hands in a context.

Hands on chest – acrylic – I like the way the edged of the dress describes the collar bone and breast. The cast shadows of the hair on the face and the head on the left shoulder.

Scratching hands – gouache – I set about this in a different way; so as not to lose my drawing I first mapped in broad areas of light, mid and dark tone juxtaposed to describe the subject.  Then I started adding a bit more modelling all over.  Then I refined the painting.  I found this to be a good method of producing a decent result quickly and without unnecessary fiddling, correcting, and anxiety.





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