Ex 2.4 – painting on a painted surface

By the end of my allotted time for this exercise I’d made 4 paintings.  I’d like to continue, but as my deadline for completing the assignment looms I have to be disciplined and not run over on the exercises.

Two of my four paintings were more successful than the other two.  Painting 2 (bird, pan, coffee pot) is imaginative and bold, with a strong design, good use of line and tone, and an interesting palette.  In painting 6 I’ve turned everyday objects into another imaginative assembly of objects whirling in space; it owes a debt to Gorky and Miro particularly for the colour palette, and also, I’ve since realised, to Klee, particularly his paintings Fish Magic and Bird Garden.

Painting 4 (pink, jewellery) is ok, pretty but a bit empty I feel.  Painting 1 (perfume bottles)  I left at a stage where it has plenty of room for improvement, as I felt at the time I was getting nowhere except towards a rather pedestrian, amateur representation – but that could be remedied with time (to spare, and to distance myself).

Here are the four finished paintings.

I’m really happy with the way the exercise went, because I learned a lot about new possibilities: different ways to approach making a painting (one on top of another); a more imaginative use of colour (you don’t need just bright primaries to make a bright painting); ways of depicting collections of objects that conjure up imaginative worlds.


Here are the notes I made as I went through the process:

The remit asked us to concentrate on tone in this exercise, and to use water based medium but ‘feel free to experiment’. I’d like to experiment with some of the following ideas

  • Ink / gouache resist
  • Ink / oil pastel resist
  • Watercolour with salt, cling film to create texture
  • Collage
  • Acrylic with thickening gel and using sgraffito

The exercise can also be used an opportunity to experiment and play with layering paintings, so the thin wash of colour mentioned in the brief could be developed from a simple background into a painting in its own right – using a mixture of media and techniques, including accidental developments where the media is allowed to flow – dribbling, spattering, wet in wet splodged of colour for example.

The initial background paintings I made are described below.  The tone and colour contrasts in some of them would need to be subdued in some way to work as backgrounds for new paintings.  Sanding, bleaching, soaking in water, scraping on a layer of gesso or acrylic paint are some of the ways I could do this.


Background painting no.1 A piece of paper was wetted and splodged with watercolour – crimson and ochre – then scrunched up stretch wrap pressed onto the wet surface and white acrylic ink injected underneath with a pipette.  Weighted and left to dry – nice texture! Thoughts for painting collections on top: colours are delicate and texture lacy, perhaps collection of perfume bottles.  Second idea – make use of white areas to paint lightbulbs collection.


Background painting no.2. Derwent xl charcoal was rubbed into a piece of canvas paper and fixative sprayed on.  White acrylic ink splattered on and encouraged to run, then left to dry.  Then wet paper and dropped in dark red and brown W&N ink.  Thoughts – white objects collection –  I see a saucepan shape bottom left – use the white lines to suggest kitchen pans & utensils?  Or turn it through 90 degrees and I see a white table lamp, coffee pot &c.


Background painting no.3. A support I made long ago and never used – dark reddish/brown pastel pigment rubbed and painted into a piece of fine black sandpaper.  On to that I now grated inktense block colours and sprayed with water (a bit like my ice painting), then white spray paint, and finally more inktense, applied with the block direct into wet areas.  Thoughts – the tone contrasts in this are so great it’s hard to see how I can adapt it to a new painting without subduing it first; it would just be too distracting as it is.  Turned upside down I can see my swimming costume collection there if I try hard.

Background painting no.4. Soft edged washes of magenta, violet and carmine watercolour, using hairdryer to create runs.  On a separate piece of paper, I made magenta and green splodges, printed on top with bubble wrap, tore the edges roughly, collages this on to my painting and added black ink lines.  Thoughts: this could be the foundation for painting my jewellery collection; I can imagine  pearls, chains, a pendant

Background painting no.5. Hard edge washes of W&N inks (vermillion and ultramarine, runs created with hairdryer, salt (table and crystal) dropped on.  Non-stick mat painted with blue ink and used to print chequer pattern.  Circles of magazine print collaged on, black ink outlines added with brush, a chimpanzee face collaged on top.  Thought: again, too much contrast to easily make a background.  Perhaps the collaged circles could be incorporated as sunglasses somehow.

 Background painting no.6. A mixture of objects from different collections (scissors, buttons, socks and reels of cotton) painted in white gouache on white paper; when dry and cured the support was completely covered with black ink and left to dry and cure again.  Gouache resist washed away (with difficulty), leaving some nice textures and approximate edges.  An opaque medium would be suitable for the painting on top, perhaps painting thin and transparent over the white objects and opaquely over the black areas.

Here are the paintings I made on top of the background paintings:

Top painting no. 1. Back to the first background painting though, which, offering a more homogenous background, could be painted onto directly. I drew perfume bottles lightly with a pastel pencil and painted in watercolour and white gouache, paying attention to tone.  The white gouache was needed because the background was midtone, and transparent washes on their own weren’t effective over it.  I concentrated on tone, and found it quite a challenge to depict the form of the glass bottles with their many reflections and refracted light.  I stopped this painting and moved on, at a point where it’s still very much unresolved.

Top painting no. 2. I couldn’t quite form a vision of what the second painting could be like, as the dark areas on this under-painting were distracting me from imagining the painting on top.  I could see a way in though, so started by stating the white and dark areas depicting the large pan, with a ‘see what happens’ approach.  It turned out quite unexpectedly, colour palette and choice and interpretation of objects suggesting themselves from the painting beneath, and changing from one thing to another in the process.  The distortions of the objects were made in playful spirit.  In fact I found the constraints of the background painting helped free me from a literal interpretation.  I would never have made such an imaginative painting had I started with a plain support.


Top painting no. 3. I painted bleach onto the third background painting.  Either the bleach was too concentrated or I left it on too long, because when i washed it the whole inktense painting washed away down the sink, leaving me with the original pastel ground with some black sandpaper peaking through!  I’ll leave this aside for now


Top painting no. 4. I painted strewn pearls and a cameo pendant, gold chains and a bee onto my pink collaged painting.  Perhaps I needn’t do much more, except crop it to a wide format which emphasises the idea of the jewellery having been strewn out of its purse from left to right. Doing this painting showed me how two paintings can be combined to form one cohesive work;  so this has altered my earlier ideas about needing having to subdue the underpainting.


Top painting no. 5 Chimpanzee painting can stay as is.  He’s somehow become associated in my mind with the unbearable sadness of space animals. I can’t bring myself to obliterate him.


Top painting no. 6. Gouache resist painting; for the palette, taking inspiration from Joan Miro’s Still Life with Old Shoe I painted the objects against the black ink background, using acrylics.  But instead of bright colours I looked at Arshile Gorky’s Garden in Sachi Motif, and used similar but toned down hues.  i also coloured some of the background, dark blue /mauve top right, khaki green lower down and left. I scratched and added a grid of faint lines – it seems to contribute a little structure to my chaotic universe.  The vertical line attached to the moon/button at top anchors it in the image, stops it floating away.  The scissors and other objects are whirling into a vortex, pulled towards and into the central blackness.  The socks provide a sort of stable frame to the  whirling activity.




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