Here’s the final painting I made for this exercise. I think the tondo format echoes the composition quite nicely; the eye follows the drummer’s left arm, torso, and right leg, returning full circle to the drum. The viewpoint and vertical perspective is quite dramatic.
My foundation work for the painting was a series of sketches I made for Drawing 1 three years ago. They were each done within 5 minutes, using ink or markers on the end of a long stick held at arms length, ie with a large amount of control relinquished. I would refer back to my sketches, but also work from direct observation of the figure in front of me.
The subject is a terracotta seated figure, drumming (based on pre-Columbian South American figurines), which I bought around 1987 and have taken with me wherever I’ve lived since then. I looked at Annabel Dover’s watercolour paintings of figurines (Work from the Psychopathology of Everyday Life) and I thought of painting the drummer as a tondo in a very loose and fluid way.
First I played with ideas for a background, recalling my tutor’s comment in ny Part 2 review that often a strong background makes for a successful painting. I wanted to use coffee washes to create an interesting textured base layer. I made a few tryouts, wet my support (300gsm textured watercolour paper, 45cm diameter) with water, then dropped in blobs of diluted instant coffee with a pipette. I got some nice hard and soft edges, runs and blooms.
Separately, I made a quick drawing of my figurine in my sketchbook using coffee and a pipette, starting with a dilute, wet solution, and blowing it around with a straw. When that was dry I painted another line drawing, then a much darker one, each time refining the lines, but keeping them loose and variable with the aid of the (rather unpredictable) pipette. When dry I experimentally added a rough ultramarine wash, thinking I might develop this idea in my painting.
I preferred the curve of the back, the twist of the head, and the feeling of movement in the arms in the middle (green) sketch in the gallery above to the somewhat static frontal viewpoint. I set up the figurine in front of and below my eye level, lit it from the left, and mapped out the lines in charcoal on my painted coffee background.
reinforced some basic structural lines with dark coffee and pipette
Darkened the background using ultramarine/coffee solution dropped onto wet paper with my pipette and manouevered with a big chinese mop brush, a natural sponge and tipping the support.
Added fluid washes, wet in wet, of burnt umber and cadmium red. I think using a limited palette has brought a harmony and economy to the piece so far. I felt the painting becoming over dark and lifted colour from the background using a soft wet brush and a piece of kitchen paper. I’m pleased with the modelling of the head and the braids. The form is developing, with the top of the head seeming almost to protrude upwards out of the picture plane.
I continued adjusting tones by lifting colour and by adding cadmium red, until I remembered the advice to stop early. My overall conclusion is that the background is too dark and the figure is somewhat lost in the ‘busyness’ of it. I lightened it as much as possible, and in doing so removed some of the distracting textural elements. The figure came into focus and the painting now seemed to have more room to breathe.
My final step was to add several coats of yacht varnish to the figurine, leaving the background as it was. This added a deep glaze of warm colour. Interestingly the gloss disappeared without trace in some areas, and dried to a high gloss on the surface in others – mainly the areas with more concentrated coffee solution, ie. outlined and darker areas. This means as the viewer moves around looking at the painting, the figure’s outlines, details and dark areas are glossy while its other areas remain matt.
The varnish adds interest to the final image, but the sporadic nature of the gloss could be distracting. The final version of the painting is shown at the top.