These are portraits of neighbours who have all died since I have been part of my community. I knew them and have good memories of them.
The final portraits
Reflection on my process and outcomes
Compare outcomes – did I achieve my aims in bringing out the individual character of each person? On the whole yes, I did succeed in portraying my neighbours’ characters as I knew them. Ayşen comes across in the portrait as an uncomplicated, open and cheerful person (I think this is one of the best of the five, her eyes follow you, her expression is one of a simple joy). Sergül looks vacant; her flat eyes and her broken teeth and the hand on her neck tell part of her story (this is a very effective, moving portrait) ; and Birdal a solid young man, a loner of relatively few words. Eyüp could have been portrayed with a more obvious twinkle in his eye. Feride looks calm and venerable.
I brought a lot of learning and experience from my part 3 portraits to this, using a range of techniques and tools to paint my glass plate, both additive and subtractive methods, and added different media (coloured pencil, oil and water soluble crayons, charcoal and soft pastels, pen and ink, marker pen, watercolour, more oil paint and more monoprinted layers) to each portrait after printing. I remembered how the oil paint in a monoprint can act as a resist to water based paint layered on top, to produce texture and optically mixed colours, so I was able to use this in a more refined way. Monoprinting in layers was also a technique I developed in part 3 and refined here.
Im happy with my decision to use a uniform size and format; with their wide, decorative borders the paintings become icons, a tribute to the people portrayed (thanks Adrian Eaton for that insight). The colour choices – the planning I did, my reflective thinking while the project was in progress, and the experimental tryouts all helped create a set of five cohesive paintings.
I’m aware the unprimed paper will slowly deteriorate in a few years from the use of oil paint. I chose not to prime the paper because leaving it raw can give unpredictable, and beautiful results as the paper absorbs the paint so readily. Also it seemed appropriate to the subject – the idea of people dying and their memory diminishing over time, as the portrait will also slowly dissolve.
What I did
These portraits of neighbours who have died inevitably had to be made from photographic sources. I collected photos I’d taken years ago, as well as others taken by their families, after I’d explained what I had in mind. They varied from highly detailed large size images, to a blurred id card photo about an inch square. In Photoshop, drawing on my learning in part 3, I was able easily to alter them to a similar size, play a little with positioning,and print flipped versions in colour and black and white.
My intention was to make monoprints of all five, then review and decide whether to add paint to the prints. I was quite taken with the idea of framing each portrait in a painted border. This idea came from an exhibition I visited of a series of prints by Munch, The Madonna. Each version of the black and white portrait is hand painted in colours which echo the colour of a three-sided border. In the border, there are patterns and shapes painted in line. Each of my borders, I thought, might be developed to say something, in images or text, or a simple motif, about the individuality of each of my subjects, things that were important or joyful in their lives. Robert Priseman frames his paintings of houses, emphasising their precious nature. Another recent example of borders used to contribute to and elaborate on the image is in William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience – I like how he weaves the tendrils, leaves, birds etc of the border into the image itself.
I sat and thought and reflected on each person, remembering what I knew or thought about them, what was good or beautiful in their lives, and jotted down a list of words that popped into my mind. I would try to keep these thoughts in mind and to bring them out in my portraits and in the borders surrounding them.
Ayşen – beloved child, bread, warm love hold caress help give aşure laugh food water herbs peach green forest smile laugh lace embroider fish ( motif embroidery)
Birdal – Bird sky blue sun cool earth flash blue sheen gold bronze flutter honey sound mother (motif, bird in flight)
Feride – Daughter child Ramadan bayram clean wash water bread all together pray teacher lemon quince honey walnut olive good good hold fast Ramazan Eid (motif olive) neighbour
Eyup – Walk café village friend road hello! A thousand thanks snake man woman young dance drink merry (snake motif)
Sergül – Walk go search sky road neighbour far away golden sky blue breeze cool free gentle pomegranate field distance girl not-mad mountain water (text, or herbs motif) gezme ayrıl, ufuk ara, gök mavisi, yol komşu dalgın altın esinti serin hür nazik nar çayır gelin dağlar pınar
Here are the five untouched monoprints and a ghost print.
The image sizes are identical (20x25cm), and the supports are 32.5x30cm to allow for the border, and vary from 40g Kozo, through to 300g card, and from smooth to textured. I used oil paints diluted with turps. I had some technical challenges; the temperature is high and I’m running a fan, so the paint dried on the plate rather quickly, but I learned to compensate. I forgot to remove masking tape from the plate before taking some of the prints, so the edges weren’t always sharp and clean.
Thoughts on the untouched individual monoprints
- Ayşen – mum of Volkan. I like the composition, her simple, happy expression, the dark background which I may glaze to a darker tone. There were a couple of faults in the printing – the registration slipped during burnishing, so apparently she has two sets of eyebrows and lips – and I forgot to remove the masking tape from my plate before printing, so the edges are ragged – but both these faults can be worked with and if anything add character. Her border will contain motifs of the turkish embroidery she made, and in the bottom left corner a drawing of her son.
- Birdal – shot by his own hand by accident while hunting, I didn’t know him all that well. I may darken the background and tone down the marks I made around his head. Also darken the hair. The face is relatively unblended, but I dont want to interfere with it too much as the print is a good likeness and characterisation. The border will contain stylised marks representing the birds he was stalking, who had the last word in the end.
- Feride – sweet neighbour, stern mother, a friendly and pious, sometimes cantankerous, old lady. Printed on matt side of cheap card by mistake (thought it was my mixed media paper). I like the strong burnt sienna background, echoed in her scarf and features. Need to add definition to the headscarf and under chin, possibly to face too. Her border will contain the olives she grew. Border Artbar, Sharpie. Portrait Artbar or acrylic paint, marker pen?
- Eyüp – roguish character, jolly and laughing, wheezing his way to and from the cafe each day. He was a ‘snake man’ – a villager who’d inherited the skill of extracting venom from both snake and its human victim. Painted all over my glass plate then brought out the portrait by removing paint. Printed in a mixture of black, white and burnt umber on textured watercolour paper. I like the graphic quality. Sucessfully used a cook’s silicone pastry brush to make texture of hair and bristles. Again forgot to remove masking tape before printing, hence ragged edge, which I’ll try somehow to incorporate into the border. Border watercolour, pen and ink. Portrait Charcoal, soft pastel, water?
- Sergül – my late next door neighbour. The touching thing about this image is the hand of her son – or husband? – on her neck, steadying her – or controlling? – as she stood for this tiny id photo to be taken. By then, she’d lost her mind, to the imprecations of a drunk husband and an untreated illness. I took a ghost print on 40g kozo. Her border will contain the fractured words, the images and impressions which I like to imagine may have flitted through her mind as she wandered away o the road for the last time.
I laid the monoprints out together. Most were faint but lifelike and promising. I decided all had potential for development – but using what colours and what media; how might I make the five into a family of paintings which could be displayed together cohesively; and what will the borders look like?
Choice of media to use for developing the monoprints – need to take the qualities of the support into account – ie how robust is it; will it take water based media without buckling; does it have tooth to hold dry pastel, etc.
- Ayşen; 100g Shiramine would buckle with water media; a quick tryout in the corner of the portrait with coloured pencil felt successful, and seemed delicate in keeping with the character of the person.
- Birdal – 40g Kozo would buckle; oil pastel felt suited, and potential mark making in keeping with strong marks of the monoprint.
- Feride – cheap card won’t take much water; would possibly take acrylic paint, maybe marker pens, or Artbar; could monoprint the border – undecided
- Eyüp – 300g Canson Montvaal fine grain cold pressed wc paper will hold charcoal and soft pastel, both could be used to enhance the graphic quality of the print
- Sergül – 300g Canson Montvaal fine grain cold pressed wc paper – watercolour is a good choice for the support, and also for the vulnerable character of the person.
How to link the colour palettes of the group of paintings together – Remembering that I would want to display these portraits togetherr, I needed to look at the images as a whole, including their borders. I made 5 sketches on A6 paper, quickly copying what I’d printed, then started playing with enhancing some of the colours and playing with drawing the borders and designs in coloured pencil. A colour palette theme of red-brown and blue-green emerged, echoing between the paintings. The portrait of Birdal seemed problematic until I lightened the tone of his shirt. I ended with a set of sketches I was happy formed the basis of a cohesive group for my paper museum:-
Adopting Munch’s idea in Madonna I outlined the edges of the 3-sided border of Eyüp in black acrylic marker (freehand, not worrying about imperfect lines). I liked the hand-drawn look of the line, and I think black will be very effective in highlighting the portrait and drawing the viewer’s eye into the image. The other portraits will all have similar outlines.
I decided against monoprinting my painted borders, worrying about registration being off. Instead I made a series of tryouts, below, which helped me to find media suited to the support, and techniques for the effects and colours I wanted to achieve for each of the portraits’ borders. I arrived at the colours by reflecting on each portrait – for example, I wanted Ayşen’s skin tone to have a gold hue, so I chose to echo that in her border.
Developing the monoprints
I chose Ayşen to develop first. The border went as planned, in yellow ochre and gold Prismacolour colour pencil, then I used that colour and others to develop the portrait. With light-handed touches of colour a head with three dimensions, and a very alive expression emerged from the monoprint. The small portrait of her son in the corner is again a nod to the character in the corner of Munch’s Madonna.
Reflecting later, I feel the portrait can still be improved; the background could be darkened around her white headscarf, and her right shoulder looks two-dimensional.
Leaving it for now I started work on Feride, using Artbar as planned, adding blues and greens (plus minimal water) to the border, and drawing sprigs of olives from observation of a live example in front of me. I like the outcome so far; the colours are fresh, the image retains the looseness of the monoprint. The area under the mouth could do with a little more modelling later, and maybe the nose too.
Reflecting on Eyüp, the only monochrome print in the series, I’m concious that in the OCA Discuss forum recently Peter Haveland wrote:
‘The problem with mixing colour and monochrome is that unless there is really good artistic reason for it, it breaks the unity of the set. In photography at least each assignment needs to be seen as a cohesive set of images not a group of individual photos.’ https://discuss.oca-student.com/t/diptychs-and-triptychs/5399
With that in mind I added colour; I laid in the border, a red-brown soft pastel brushed in with a little water, then repeated that colour in the lips, eyes and background, also using charcoal and white pastel (sparingly) to define and adjust the portrait. I’m happy this image will be seen as part of a cohesive set, now it has a third colour to add to the black and white. The snakes were fun to draw, and they have touches of warm colour too.
Sergül‘s portrait will ultimately still have a pale and vulnerable look, and I thought a light hued border would help, so thick black outlines seemed a bit jarring. Instead I drew the outlines in blue/green coloured pencil, the added wet in wet blue-green watercolour wash in soft patches (no gouache). Her monoprinted portrait was faint, so I added watercolour, struggling a bit to depict the hand round her neck in a recognisable way. I put a strong wash of deep red over the background (which I knocked back a bit later), then with a bamboo pen and yellow ink ‘scrawled’ text from my musings above over the border.
I knew very little about Birdal – as a person, so how to develop his portrait was the most difficult of the five to decide about. I had decided on using oil pastel however, inspired by the background swirly marks. I lightened his shirt, changing the colour to lilac, echoing Aysen‘s headscarf, and thinking of the lilac haze we often see in our distant view. Then I darkened the background around the head with shades of dark green, thinking of his last venture into the forest. The only changes I made to the head were small touches to the eyes and hair. The portrait was left like that for a few days while I thought where to go next, and made some sketchbook studies of birds in flight, trying to hone them to a few simple lines. Eventually I painted a border on glass in a deep blue-green, weaving lines into the oil paint with my brush, then printed these on to the paper around the portrait. To my relief it had a successful outcome, the combination of process, paint and paper combining to produce a beautiful, unpredictable texture. Finally I painted stylised bird-in-flight lines within the border with a yellow crayon.