Category Archives: Part 5

5.2 – contextual research


Two artists who make work involving walks:

Jane Griseman makes drawings while walking between places that have poignant meanings for her – the Line Journey drawings.  She simply records on small pieces of paper the movements of her hand as she walks, and by doing this she not only refers to movement, duration and distance, but also records her thoughts, feelings and memories, rather than making observational drawings of the things she sees.  Mourning Walks were made walking between home and a burial ground, in response to a recent bereavement.  There are also videos and series of photographs recording walks, for instance between homes she has lived in, or along a childhood beach (trailing a piece of driftwood along her walk and photographing the resulting drawing in the sand) etc.   http://www.janegrisewood.com/Drawings/project2.html

http://www.callytrench.co.uk/rcc-jane-grisewood.html

Idea for my own work – take large water bottle filled with dissolved charcoal (from forest fire?)and trickle it along as I walk – then look back and photograph my zigzag path, with Hammie, my aged retriever, plodding slowly along behind.

Richard Long has come to be called a ‘Land Artist’. He makes art based on walks he is doing or has completed, and this can take various forms including text, drawing, sculpture and installation, photography.   He often intervenes in the landscape, making his work in and of the place itself.  For example ‘A Line Made by Walking, 1967, is a photograph of a path made in grass by his feet tramping up and down.  Many other works are displays of materials (eg stones) collected from the landscape and arranged in unnatural ways (eg circles)

I like the way he uses text – sometimes just lists of single, evocative words – to record and describe a walk.  Here the walk or the journey itself is the art. For example his long distance walks themselves (30 miles every day for weeks isn’t unusual!) become the work, recorded as text phrases describing places or his experiences and actions in the landscape.  

Like Griseman, Long makes work that records not only what he sees but also his response to the landscape and his feelings about it.  Inevitably much of his work in the landscape is impermanent.  According to Guggenheim, since his early work Long has been ‘experimenting with the idea of impermanence, a theme that would inform his work throughout his career’ (https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/richard-long) .  This impermanence is a concept i could consider in the context of my work recording my local neighbourhood.  The environment around me is changing very fast, and my place in it will soon also be in the past.  In the process of making my work, I will be exploring my own feelings about the place, and my aim will be also to create, or at least reinforce my own memories of it; the work itself will deteriorate over time, but the memory will have (I hope!) a longer life.

Idea for my own work – some arrangement on the land (circle, path or line) made of hundreds of lemons or walnuts


And an artist who makes lots of quick watercolour studies:

Mario Rossi

There are  some massive watercolour paintings on Rossi’s web site at  http://www.mariorossi.co.uk/Gallery-2/mario-rossi-circulars.html which are almost photo-realistic textural studies of (what looks like to me) the wake created by a motor boat (maybe a ferry) travelling at different speeds.  The supports appear to be made of six strips of paper, each about 40cm wide.  I like the idea of piecing together watercolour paintings to make composites; I saw a similar idea at work in Hockney’s exhibition at Saltaire recently.  Traditionally watercolour is used on a small scale, but by making composite paintings size can be almost limitless.

Going back to the course manual, I couldnt find Rossi’s watercolours of ‘the restaurants and shops near where he lives’ so contacted him.  He very kindly emailed me a pdf of several of these.  They were not in fact paintings of restaurants in his neighbourhood, but mainly painted from images found online, so nothing to do with the artist walking around making paintings near his home (suggest the factual error in the course manual is corrected).

However, they are inspiring paintings because theyre painted in a very fresh and direct way, and I can now envisage being able to go out and paint the houses in my neighbourhood, without feeling i have to make perfect ‘traditional’ watercolours.

Idea for my own work – quick watercolour paintings of my neighbourhood houses


References  (all websites accessed 23/7/17)

http://www.callytrench.co.uk/rcc-jane-grisewood.html

https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/richard-long

http://www.janegrisewood.com/Drawings/project2.html

http://www.mariorossi.co.uk/Gallery-2/mario-rossi-circulars.html

5.2 – painting and sketching while out for a walk

Here are the sketches I made during some early morning walks.  The ink sketches on white ground (I forgot to use the toned paper I’d prepared) were done on day 1, and I can see a big step in confidence between these and the day 2 watercolour set.  Also i spent more time on the watercolour sketches, taking the same time to do four of them as it took to do the five ink ones.  I had another go at watercolour on day 3, using a toned support.

It was a good experience painting outdoors from life, with water based media and a brush.  I still feel self-conscious and I expect I’ll always have to pluck up the courage to venture out.  Next would be to introduce pen, and also to make lots of quick line sketches with colour etc notes, and take these back to develop in my studio – see my next post for further sketching safaris in my neighbourhood.

Here’s what I did :-

Day 1

I prepared a simple kit for going out for a walk to make the 5 small ink sketches:-

  • clipped on to a hand-held ‘table’ (35x25cm piece of perspex), several small containers for ink and water and a small rag
  • camera bag over my shoulder containing pre-prepared postcard size stack of loose paper with a couple of bulldog clips;  Rotring black ink in a small nozzle bottle; size 8 watercolour brush, size 1 waterbrush; pipette; small water bottle; pieces of kitchen roll; specs, iphone, drinking water and pepper spray!
  • hat, foldable stool.

6.30am (no-one around?) stood at my gate looking out and made a quick, surreptitious ink sketch of next door neighbour’s house and garden.  It shows my haste to get away.  300g HP watercolour paper.

 

Retreated back to own garden, made a cup of tea, checked facebook, decided one sketch (not bad for a first attempt)  enough for this session, told self not to be idiotic, agreed with self to have courage to do one more.  Walked a bit further, lurked round corner from another neighbour’s house, sketched her old 1952 Fergusson Massey tractor. Its a family workhorse – where not long ago a donkey was used for the same tasks, the tractor now helps the family with all the heavy graft involved in a self-sufficient family life.   Unfortunately she came along and drove it away before painting finished, so looks like its flying.  300g HP watercolour paper

Went a bit further (feeling bolder), sat on stool sketching wheelie bins, one tilting, one deceased and fallen.  Neighbour passed by and had a look, then sent small daughter who helpfully pointed out details I’d missed, and promised to have her portrait done another day, then neighbour’s husband and other neighbour, all interested in what I was doing and asking after dogs, husband etc.  The wheelie bin looks too regular somehow.   300g HP watercolour paper

 

Getting used to going straight in with ink and brush.  Painting main composition lines first with nearly clean water.  Adding very light washes feeling my way into composition; gradually reinforcing withstronger washes, then finally starting to be a bit braver with darks and mark-making. Learning to control hard and soft edges.

Walked on up lane, sat looking along path at distant trees.  Tried to capture morning sunlight contrasts.  185g Arches rough wc paper, so tried ‘dry-brush’ technique, dragging brush along on its side (see foreground area), liked the effect.

 

Finally, painted trunk of an old fig tree, impressed by its textures and twisted growth.  Used more dry-brush on 185g Arches textured wc paper, also hatching with brush to mimic marks on tree.  A bit overdone – but good exoerimenting with different ways of applying the ink


Day 2

Next morning replaced Rotring ink with small watercolour box, walked in opposite direction.  Arriving at our large rusty oil drum which we, like our neighbours, use as a dustbin, I made a monochrome study of it in the surrounding context of hedgerow, barbed wire and forest path.  Alizarin / burnt umber

 

Down a lane leading to some gardens and small fields where I take my dog for walks there is a group of striking cypress trees.  I was looking eastwards, so they appeared sillouhetted against the sky, with the sun bathing the ground around them. The colours where there are any, are tonal and washed out, and i think this successfully gives the feeling of the pale early morning light blinding me.  Pleased with the aerial perspective.  Cool palette of Hookers green/burnt umber.

 

Retracing my steps, admired a glimpse through an opening to an orchard, where the sun flooded in, and walked on.  Turned back, realising I should paint it, I might never get back to the exact feeling again.  Pleased with the composition, how it swirls round, and the textures of background foliage.  By using warm colours and leaving pure white for light, I think I captured the light and heat – ultramarine/burnt sienna/burnt umber.


I came to my neighbours house, across the gardens from our own, could hear the husband hollering at the boys to get up, and breakfast-making sounds.  Placed my stool at the end of their drive outside their garden gate and painted their old, iconic, Renault 12. Made a reasonable fist of the proportions/perspective.  Prussian blue/viridian/burnt umber.

Day 3

And the following morning I saw a row of sunflowers in my neighbours garden.  It was a struggle to paint as I was greeted by three small dogs jumping all over me, spilling my water container, puting muddy paw marks on my trousers; one stayed and chewed through a stem of sweetcorn until the whole thing fell on my head.  Done on mid tone support. Lemon yw/yw ochre/hookers gn/burnt umber/cad red

My bro-in-law commented ‘like William Blake’, so googled ‘William Blake and flowers’ and discovered his poem, comparing the sunflower (a little sardonically I feel) to the travails of romantic love.

Songs of Experience

AH! SUN-FLOWER
 

Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire.
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.

Blake used pen and watercolour, touched with gold for this A6 page, on which the representation of a sunflower may appear at top left of the poem itself.  This reminds me of my artist book ‘Family Album’ where I combined handwritten text (my father’s poems and letters) with painting.


 

 

 

 

5.1 – detailed paintings of plants

  1. I made four paintings for the exercise, using water based media – gouache, acrylic ink, watercolour pencils as well as watercolour – and A4-A5 paper:  Here is my Hedgerow series :

No 1 hedgerow

No 2 hedgerow

No 3 hedgerow

No 4 hedgerow

Reflection on the outcomes:

My preparation for the exercise, a series of early morning walks observing the hedgerows along my route, was eye-opening.  What seemed at a casual glance non-descript, on close observation became full of interest and yielded endless possibilities from which to develop interesting paintings.  The light was great; the low sun revealed the forms of things,  created bright contrasts between foreground and background, and enriched colours. As the sun gets higher, forms are flattened and colours become washed out.

Evaluating and comparing my outcomes, I like the fresh sketchiness of No 1 .  The brushwork in the foreground is bold and expressive; my aerial perspective works well, with a gold field transitioning to pale gold distant hill, and sense of a vast sky.  Not sure if the flowers work left as they are,  they are really the focal point of the composition.   Compared to No 1,  No 3 painting seems overworked, with the middle ground and the tree not really working.

No 2, different in feel to the others as it has no perspectival clues,  has a Japanese feel, with a very large, pointed round brush used to make quick descriptive marks in the foreground.  The simple complementary palette works very well.  Again, flowers are suggested simply as unpainted shapes, but here I think that’s more successful.

No 4 has a sharp transition from foreground to background  I thought the composition was too much in two halves, so I  made a final adjustment, adding some more foreground foliage at the lower right.  I painted the flowers quite positively with thick gouache, a different approach and works well without being picturesque.

What I did

In the previous post I researched some artists who paint plants in a detailed way and thought about how I might adopt some of their ideas into my work.  I’m also thinking back to part 4 and a successful painting I made, Drummer Boy, in which I used fluid water based media (watercolour and coffee), in a very loose way.  Detail was only added at the final stages.  I decided to develop this process for my plant paintings, particularly incorporating blot techniques (I looked at Alexander Cozens’ process, my tutor’s suggestion) and a sort of decalcomania for watercolour, where the paint is allowed to dry before the two surfaces are separated.

It’s July and along my morning walk the hedgerows are in summer regalia – deep blue-green foliage of oleander bushes with brash pink flowers;  blue and silver hebes; figs gone wild; the odd fag packet, a couple of stray shoes (Richard Wentworth comes to mind here); all manner of grasses, seed-heads and sharp blue thistles; a smattering of plastic bags and plastic water bottles.  The landscape behind it all is bright gold.

I took loads of photos, zooming in and out, holding the iPhone at hip level, tilting it, focussing on different elements, manipulating exposure levels; some had glimpses of the landscape behind the hedgerows, others were close-ups of weeds forming striking patterns.  The weeds in Mimei Thompsons paintings are usually placed within some sort of background context, so I chose four images to work on which also showed a bit of context, rather than the zoomed-in abstracty ones.

I roughly wet my four stretched papers, skipping some areas,  (paper size between A4 and A5) and one by one, I dropped in blots of colour, keeping a separate palette for each painting (forgot to photograph painting no 1 at the blot stage).  The blots and colours roughly corresponded to the compositions I wanted, but I kept it all very loose and wet.  I let them dry under a weight, having first sprinkled fine and coarse salt, and applied stretch wrap and cellophane, aiming to achieve some hedgerowy , landscapey textures.

With number 1 hedgerow  (A5) I just carried on at the wet blot stage, adding layers of dark blue-green representing the tangle of foreground foliage, drawing grasses with a stick up from the wet paint, lifting paint where I wanted a lighter tone, drawing hebe flower outlines with a mauve watercolour pencil. I intended to add more foreground detail, and to colour the mauve hebe flowers, but I like the looseness and lack of fuss, so stopped early.

Hedgerow no 1 – cad red, perm gn olive, Prussian bl, aureoline, cad orange

Number 2 hedgerow is based on a white hebe with a bright gold mown field behind it.  I liked the contrast between the dark leaves and the shining background, and the lace like pattern the leaves make.  I’d been looking at Archie Franks‘ watercolours, two in particular struck me with their bold brushwork mark-making, describing trees and water (looking more closely some of the mark-making may be ink, something I’ll think of trying next time).  They can be seen at :

http://www.marlboroughcollege.org/art/artist-in-residence/?no_cache=1&cid=1043&did=7983&sechash=0430c584

My simple A5 blot underpainting, textured with stretch-wrap, quickly developed into a tangle of dark calligraphic marks made with a large brush, using an intense mix of deep red and perm green dark watercolour.  The field was intensified with cad orange and dried under cellophane, then a suggestion of grasses added in the foreground using a small brush.

Hedgerow no 2

No 3 hedgerow (A4) was developed in a little bit more of a considered way, adding more layers of the same colours as the original blot painting, plus lemon yellow and May green.  To describe the foreground grasses I used gouache, watercolour pencils and acrylic ink.

 

No 3 hedgerow

Finally for No 4 hedgerow (A4) I worked into my blot painting no 4, adding more layers of watercolour, particularly in the foreground to describe the pink flowering oleander bush.  I left the background hazy to give an aerial perspective to the composition, and added watery cerulean at the top.  The flowers were painted impasto using a coffee stirrer to dab thick colour in in random shapes, first in white gouache then pink and finally blue.  The painting in the course manual by Thomas Hall inspired this approach; looking closely individual flowers aren’t accurately painted, as they are in the pre-Raphaelites’ work.

No. 4 hedgerow

 

 

 

5.1 – contextual research

We’re asked to paint very detailed depiction of plants or weeds in the garden or nearby environment, using oil, watercolour or acrylic, and an A5-A3 mid-tone surface

To inspire me for this exercise I first looked at the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, Mimei Thomson and Richard Wentworth.
 
Pre-raphaelites
 
Their paintings are rich in highly detailed and realistic depictions of hedgerows, brambles and wild plants.  They’re also decoratively and romantically done.  John Everett Millais’ drowning Ophelia is surrounded by a very detailed and complex background of thick undergrowth.  I think the way to make sense of depicting such complex vegetation, without spending weeks or months on a painting, would be to look for broad areas of light and dark tone, and gradually add some suggestive detail.  The way Millais has made a focal point of the tall leaves in the left foreground pulls the viewer’s eye to Ophelia’s face.  Composition is important to get your message across; rather than slavishly copying a scene, elements can be added and subtracted and moved, deleted or invented to suit what the artist wants to say.  Its interesting to learn that the many flowers in the painting mostly have symbolic significance, and were depicted with painstaking botanical detail (Terry Riggs, 1998, at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-ophelia-n01506. Would roses, daisies, pansies and poppies ever be found flowering together in the wild? – the Pre-Raphelites were, in the end, like the Dutch still-life masters, more interested in allusion and symbolism and perhaps decoration, than realism.
 

Mimei Thompson
 
Thompson’s paintings are mostly quite small, and her subjects are often painted in a simple context, on a pale background.
 
Two things spring to mind on looking at her work; firstly, what an imaginative eye she has, her weeds look like alien creatures; and I then notice the name of an exhibition of hers – Lunar Asparagus – which seems to sum up these paintings of weeds, which hover between a realistic and an litother-worldly interpretation.  Secondly, I notice the brush strokes are highly evident, and this apparently is a result of her process, which she describes as follows:
 
“The paintings go through a liquid stage, where the whole surface is covered in a fluid mix of paint and Liquin medium on a smooth, non-absorbent surface, and that gets moved around and worked into while it’s all still liquid. The whole thing might be wiped or brushed off a few times before it settles down. I then go back into this, when it’s dry, and add detail, shadows and highlights, or sometimes make larger changes, over the weeks that follow. It’s really a combination of planning and leaving space for chance and improvisation. I find control and looseness, and other opposites, really useful to work with” (Decidedly Alien: the Paintings of Mimei Thompson, Wayne Burrows, 2014 at http://www.thedoublenegative.co.uk/2014/08/decidedly-alien-the-paintings-of-mimei-thompson/)

Then I realise it is these very dominant brush strokes are one of the ingredients that give the depiction of her (mundane and overlooked) weeds such a strange feel.  
 
Her work is highly detailed, but with imagination the everyday becomes fantastic.  In this sense it isnt unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, and I think I can also see a connection between the way she paints individual flowers and plants, and the painting of individual plants and flowers in Ophelia.

I like the idea of a combination of control and looseness in painting, and will keep this in mind when i make my paintings of plants.  I’ll be using water based media, so using techniques like blots, decalcomania, texture with salt, spattering, will help lay in loose tonal textured areas, and on to that I could add details of plants with an opaque water baesd medium, pens and pencils.
 
 
Richard Wentworth

Wentworth juxtaposes ready-made objects and materials that aren’t normally seen together, arranging them in a way that makes us look with fresh eyes – something Wentworth calls “observational intelligence” (http://www.thewhitereview.org/interviews/interview-with-richard-wentworth/)
 
This observational intelligence is the foundation of much of his work: the street is where he mainly finds inspiration: “the street is a site of total gorgeousness. Just look outside: it’s momentous.” Richard Wentworth, Interview by Lorna Barnett, The Guardian, 2013 at https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jun/11/richard-wentworth-sculptor-portrait-artist?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other. I think what he’s saying here is that opportunities for finding rich subject matter are all around us when we venture outside, if we can look with fresh eyes, or work hard at nurturing our observational intelligence.
 
He makes, or finds, lateral connections: “Wentworth is continually distracted by quirky details, visual anomalies in the urban fabric: a crushed box with a wineglass symbol indicating this-way-up; …a gap in the double yellow lines on the road where someone clearly drove while the wet paint was still wet” Article by Mark Hudson, The Telegraph, 2015 at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/11401173/Richard-Wentworth-interview.html. This ability to see everyday details in a fresh way is easier for someone living in a foreign culture.  I see strange and remarkable things on my walks that neighbours wouldn’t notice, and would see as perfectly ordinary.  To me, these are the very things that describe the differences between my world and theirs (an armchair abandoned in the forest; an unwanted loo dropped by the side of the road).
 
Wentworth’s book Making Do and Getting By (Published by Koenig Books, London in association with Peter Freeman, Inc., New York and Lisson Gallery) contains a series of photographs by the artist celebrating the ingenuity of people in relation to the functionality of everyday objects.  He finds discrepancies, chance pairings of objects and materials, improvisations and human resourcefulness.  His subjects are “often rendered functional in an altogether new and unexpected way. A car door serves to mend a wire fence. Wooden crates, wedged into a doorway, exert the function of a door. ” http://www.gupmagazine.com/articles/making-do-and-getting-by. (in my environment – a piece of shalwar fabric torn and caught on a thistle, a wood-burner rigged up in a rickety bus-shelter, a tractor hopper used to cart the wife to market, a goat riding pillion on a motorbike) – these things are amusing because they say something about the resourcefulness of hard-up people unfettered by too much strict adherance to rules.
 
Looking at Richard Wentworth’s work, and reading his interviews, has given me fresh ideas about the way in which i might depict my environment.
 
References
All web sites accessed 6/7/2017