There is definitely a visual difference between the paintings I have done from sketches, and the paintings done from photographs.
Paintings from photographs I think look far more confident in brushwork, colour palette and paint application.
But I think the paintings done from sketches are also a lot more mysterious somehow. They seem more ephemeral, whilst the paintings from photograph are quite literal. By this I mean the photo ref. paintings, although they have conceptual meaning behind them, appear to have less of a process behind the making of them. And this is true! When painting from sketches I apply so many layers of paint; it is a process of trail and error. When painting from a photograph I apply the paint with far more purpose. There are hardly any mistakes covered up or layers painted over. The photograph gives me one perspective which I follow. I just paint and complete it.
This is something to explore further with my practice. I want the movement and, I don’t know, something there that I can’t put into words yet, from the sketch based experiments. But I also want the confidence and impact of the paintings done with a photograph. How do I achieve both in one work? That is something to keep in mind and experiment with.
I took what I had learnt from the test painting to complete this painting.
Two shades of white – blue tone and ochre tone Adds subtle dimension and light to the piece.
I applied white without any Liquin so it was a much thick application than my tester or previous paintings. I did this because I thought there was something missing from the tester – it looks too flat and washy. Making the highlighting paint thicker has solved this issue. The thickness of the paint in contrast to the underpainting and shadows gives the highlights a luminosity that makes the painting striking.
The way I painted the sheets in the bottom right of the painting – letting the shadows be the underpainting, instead of a dark brown I applied. Painting the sheets like this works well because it helps to differentiate between where the duvet stops and the sheets start. The shadows are softer on the sheets than they are on the duvet so it makes sense to not use the dark brown shadow in areas such as this. I want to use this technique on all of the sheets for future paintings.
The size and frequency of the flower pattern. I followed the photograph roughly, and then added more flowers on top. I looked at what the painting needed more than following the photograph and this worked in the paintings favour.
I decided not to add a mid-tone grey. I thought with the tester it complicated things, and add more tonal variation where it wasn’t needed. It makes this painting starker. The two different shades of white make up for not having the mid-tone grey.
I was unsure about how to paint the top part where, in the photograph, the wall is. I liked the idea of leaving the underpainting there, the texture and colour worked well. But I didn’t want that part of the painting to look ignored and unfinished. So I add a wash of warm off-white, thinned with turpentine. Leaving the canvas bare where the shadows of the pillows are. This works well because it is subtle and doesn’t draw attention from the rest of the piece. I didn’t want to apply thick paint which would create a high contrast area, because that would have drawn the eye too much.
Hiding the face of the figure and just having her hair and wrist showing works really well. The focus is very much on the materiality of the duvet, and the shape the fabric is creasing in that follows the position of the body underneath it.
As a viewer of the finished piece, with the pattern on the duvet being so bold and colourful, I try to find some meaning in it that reflect the person under the covers. The blooming flowers seem a reflection of the character of the person – whether that is how the artist perceives the person, or something else. I know this is a self portrait, and the flowers are just what I had on my bed that day. But it’s interesting that even knowing that, my mind tries to find narrative in the pattern. <<This is something I could work with moving forward!
What doesn’t work
Areas of the sheets where I added this dark brown as the shadow. The contrast is too high considering the sheets have a softer shadows than the duvet. It makes it tricky to see where the duvet ends and the sheet begins.
I think generally, the sheets need more experimentation. I am unsure what would look best with them – but I think the direction is to use more of the underpainting and remove the shadows.
Conclusion and moving forward
Overall I’m happy with the outcome of this piece. It felt like quite a stylistic experiment, but the painting does have conceptual implications.
I think the pattern on the fabric has so much potential. I could be painting portraits of people under duvets and using the pattern on the fabric to reflect them, or get them to choose a pattern? There is a lot to be explored! This painting is a good start.
I decided to do a small test piece before doing a larger painting of a person lying under the duvet. I wanted to see how I could translate this pattern onto the painting, and doing this test allows me to make improvements before working on a big scale.
So I used very similar technique to the last painting I completed with the duvet -using a simplistic pattern and extreme shadows and highlights.
I have been influenced by a painting I did for my painting module (LICA236) which tested the extreme light and dark idea:
This was painted from a photograph of the same bed and person, but I decided not to include the pattern of the duvet. The oils were applied wet-on-wet in one sitting with no medium to thin it down. This is a technique I am comfortable with and I think you can see this in the confidence of the strokes applied, compared to other paintings in my studio practice. I wanted to bring an element of this boldness into this new experiment.
High contrast between light and dark. Depth and abstraction come into play. From afar the piece reflects a duvet, then up close you can see the way I layered the paint and which parts I left unpainted and it appears as more of an abstract pattern.
The lighting looks really harsh with this high contrast and I love the effect! It goes against the association of a duvet being all soft and gentle; instead it’s harsh and edgy.
What doesn’t work and what could be improved
In the last layer of painting I added a blue-ish grey midtone to the shadows to act as a middle ground. I think I added too much of this – especially in the blocks of shadow. It’s easy to get carried away with adding detail when I am painting from a photograph because I have all the visual information I could want, so like in this instance I lost myself in replicating the image and forgot to stand back and access the painting separate from the photograph. For the main painting I will check in with the overall painting more often and try and look to the photograph less when adding touches such as the midtone grey.
In the previous large experiment of Devon in her room I put stripes on the fabric, and a linear spotted pattern which guided the eye and gave the duvet more form. With this painting the flowers don’t help show the shape of the duvet at all. There is also a lot of white space between flowers and the flowers are quite large, which means the duvet is perhaps too hard to pick out – it is too abstract. Perhaps making the flowers smaller and closer together and perhaps following more of a line?
Leave more of underpainting to show through – which would be achieved if I made the flowers smaller and closer together. I think this will add the depth and more of an ephemeral feeling perhaps to the duvet. Instead of something rigid and painted as fixed and complete.
I think it’s time to start the larger experiment with these things in mind!
I am pretty happy with the outcome of this painting! I have learnt so much from the process and it shows real potential.
I applied what I learnt from the shadow test paintings towards the end of the painting, which really helped complete the piece.
The duvet I chose to add pattern to the duvet. This choice was partly a reflection of the pattern on the bed I sketched from – which I had noted the colour and pattern. And the choice was partly due to the the artist Remnev, who paints intricate and realistic patterns in his fabric. I knew painting something realistic would never work for my own work, but this idea of putting a more painterly and abstract patter on the duvet seemed fun and full of potential. I mixed my paint with part Liquin to thin the paint slightly and make it dry faster. I waited until the stripes and the ochre dots had dried completely before applying the eggshell blue. This technique works extremely well. The colours – this eggshell blue vs the orangy-ochre are opposite each other on the colour wheel and so vibrate on the paper when put next to each other. The depth of the finished duvet also works so well – being able to see the underpainting through holes in the blue. I have been talking of the importance of the duvet and how I want it to represent everything it is conceiling from the viewer – so this painting technique that has so much depth and allows the viewer small looks into the surface below the blue is exactly the kind of technique I want to be using! The extreme contrast between the eggshell blue and the bluey-grey shadow also works really well. I had two really descriptive sketches to work from so the folds of the duvet make sense. Keeping the contrast to just two shades – light and dark – give the viewer enough information about the form of the duvet without getting caught in unnecessary information. Finding this balance of what is needed and what is not in the information I give the viewer is important.
Covering up the face of the person – the scene was too much about the face before I covered her eyes. It’s a shame because I really liked the way I had painted the face. But without her face shown the scenes becomes about what we can’t see and what we want to know, instead of what the girl is thinking etc.
Perspective – having the viewer feel part of the room, and sat maybe on the edge of the bed is more suggestive and involved than compositions I have painted in the past, and it really works. We are drawn in here by the walls on both sides and that there is an empty space next to the girl. The lower perspective creates an expectation of intimacy that I want to create. And then the narrative and identity of the girl that is more strongly felt because the perspective suggests something else.
What doesn’t work
The shadows and colours on the walls I never could get quite right. The lighting doesn’t have a clear direction (although this flat lighting does work for the duvet so..?). And for fear of overworking the piece even more and ruining what I had I thought it was better to stop.
The shutters in the top centre of the piece. Is brown is a good colour choice? The thin streaks of light are two high contrast and attract two much attention? I couldn’t figure out a better way of painting this section so I left it at that. Experience with these rooms and more direction with lighting will reveal what would work better for the scene.
Push forward the technique I used for the duvets. As I have said elsewhere the duvet and what it hides etc is an important part of these paintings and this technique has the potential to achieve this importance in the paintings. So focus on that (more detailed planning notes in sketchbook do).
Covering the face works, but covering it with the duvet would work better than with an eye mask I think. Since I want the fabric to be the thing that conceals and it would look like a more cohesive painting.
This painting took me weeks to finish. This is due to the lack of reference images (- no photographs and quite vague sketches) so I had to make choices based on instinct and habit and intention, instead of following what was there in real life.
I took lots of time between painting sessions to give myself time to find what needed changing. I’ve learnt a lot from this process so although I’m not happy with the finish product, the lessons I learnt whilst painting is what makes this piece a valuable part of this project.
In the last post I did on this piece I said I wanted to simplify the shapes and colours, and keep this style of applying thin layers of paint. I tried that and this was the result:
So the orange was removed and I added a little more texture to the fabric. In retrospect this wad the best this painting looked. But at the time, I had started a painting with lots of ruffles and detail in the fabric so I thought I would try adding more definition to the duvet:
And this is the finished painting. It has a lot more ttexture, after adding the creases of the duvet. This texture was created with the application of thicker paint and with the contrasting folds in the fabric. Since I was making up the folds of the fabric I don’t think this works well, and it would have been better to keep the plain dark red shadow.
The variation in thickness of paint. There are parts where I have not thinned it at all, and parts where Liquin mixed with the paint to create a semitransparent wash. This contrast exaggerates the differences in paint application and makes for a painting that celebrates painterly texture, keeping in the viewer’s mind the process that was involved in making the piece.
The texture of the canvas and the creases in the canvas surprisingly suit the focus on fabric in the painting. This was something multiple people said to me whilst looking around my studio, and it’s something I wouldn’t have considered myself. That the material painted on could reflect the textures in the painting is an idea I hadn’t considered before, but it would have some potential? – seems like that path would lead to crossing the line into more installation and sculptural work..
I always thought the blue background was the light of a TV since that was what was in the room with the figure I sketched from. But looking at the finished painting, the way I have layered the blue makes it look like a cloudy sky, with the sun revealing itself just off the left hand corner. This may be subjective and the potential of making a painting that can be interpreted to that unrealistic extreme is interesting!
What doesn’t work and what I struggled with
I think the main thing I struggled with in making this painting, and the cause of what doesn’t work in the painting, is my painting style. I was heavily influenced by the artist Felicia Forte when painting this, hence the bold colours and the thin washes of paint. I think the more I worked on this piece the less I was influenced by her. I hadn’t found a visual language to convey these bedroom scenes (and still haven’t) when painting this, so this is piece is one big trial and error, and you can tell my hesitation in the finished painting.
I have been doing a lot of work alongside the completion of this painting so I there isn’t really a black and white conclusion to experiments like this one.
Finding my own visual language that successfully paints these bedroom scenes is what this painting shows I need to do.
Using a very bright colour palette, with highlights in cool and shadows in warm, is interesting and could have potential that I can follow later.
Maybe paint on canvas again? Or try painting on board: see what the possibilities are of different surfaces.
For the first experiment, I used a process that I thought made sense for the scene: Underpainting with darker lines for edges of walls etc in thinned oil paint. Then apply colour to everything and shadows. Then add shadow colour (cadmium red + french ultramarine + burnt umber), thinned slightly with Liquin and buffed in with dry brush.
The end result is an overworked, dull, unrealistic representation of the scene. It’s interesting that the more I looked at the walls to scrutinise for painting, the more the shadows and highlights revealed themselves, especially in relation to each other. What I mean by this is at first I might assume that one side of a wall is pretty dark, so I filled that in with the shadow wash accordingly. But then when I look at the wall next to it, I realise the wall I just painted is much lighter than the one next to it, and so I need to lighten the original wall to compensate. I think these suprises came because I have never looked at shadows in such detail before, and it takes practice to train the eye to see tone etc.
For my next experiment, I realised less layers of paint is better. So I didn’t apply any off-white paint to the surface before going in with my shadows. I also thinned the shadow mix, with a higher ratio of Liquin to paint. This makes the brushstrokes more obvious (which I like, and wouldn’t be able to achieve if I thinned the paint with Turpentine) and the mix more transparent. This corner of the room had quite a lot of colour in it, compared to the first piece. I could see cool yellows, and some blue and browns. I also didn’t worry too much about rendering detail in this test, since it is only a test to focus on shadows.
It is clear I struggled with the colours in the shadows. I made the colours too saturated, and the contrast between each plane, in colour and tone is too extreme. I realised I needed to tone down the colour to make it realistic – I have a tendency to exaggerate colour.
For this third experiment I applied what I had learnt from the last two: I applied the shadow colour (slightly different ratios of cad.red + french ultramarine + burnt umber depending on coolness of shadow) straight onto the paper, with no underpainting. The shadow was also extremely thin, with generous amount of Liquin to a tiny bit of paint. I like how ‘brushy’ this ratio is, it gives the flat planes texture and energy. This was by the far the quickest test and also the most successful! Although there are some perspective issues when compared with the room I was working from, the result independent from that is very successful. It creates a sense of light and the illusion of depth.
Next I can apply this technique to larger works. The question will be do I out the underpainting for the walls of a room? Or can I apply this technique over patterns/other painting?…
I want to explore the importance of the duvet in paintings. And look at how I can use paint to emphasise the importance of what the duvet hides from the viewer.
When painting from sketches I sometimes struggled with capturing the fall and creases of a duvet. And that was due to a lack of understanding of the material. Painting from observation with help me to understand the object a lot better, and let me test the medium and find a style that serves.
These are the images I took from a few different angles. I wanted some from above because you get a good view of the face and the creases of the duvet. And from above the viewer feels separated from the scene instead of in the room. So the paintings will hopefully feel more like material studies instead of paintings with more intention.
I did these two wax sculptures as part of a sculpture workshop. I worked from a sketch for each sculpture. I’m not happy with the results, I think you can hardly tell what they are, especially since the wax is so light. However it is still worth recording, and could prompt some more three dimensional work if relevant.
Since I am working from sketches I found working three dimensionally a good way to think about the space in my paintings; like the space between the shoulder and the face, the way an arm can rest anatomically or how the head rests on a pillow – the weightiness also of the body on a bed.
It was very hard to do! I think because my mind is so used to working on a flat surface, I ended up doing more of an engraving than a 360 sculpture. But that is also down to the shape of the wax mould I made. It was also tricky because the act of removing unwanted wax means if I made a mistake and removed too much wax it couldn’t be undone.
Perhaps sculpture could be useful for thinking about bodies in beds and in relation to surroundings. Working with a material that is more tactile and malleable, where I build up the form on a larger scale.
I have worked with clay in the past and it worked well for sculpting the creases of pillows and duvets – it’s funny that when working with clay in the past I was working with the same subject -beds – that I am now. Huh.
This project is conceptually moving at a slower pace than projects I’ve worked through in the past. It feels as if I am am finding my way in the dark more so than previous work processes. By this I mean each painting is not straight forward but a journey itself. Before this project a painting would have a clear intention, and mostly a clear finished product that would steer me in a direction. Now however, each painting is a maze. With issues to overcome and a lot more thought and therefore time required to complete. This is due to my method of working – from sketches rather then photographs. And so what I want to achieve has to appear in front of me as I work, instead of something I have pre-planned or expected.
I have come to a point in the project where it feels right to assess what I’ve done so far, and think about how I want to move forward. Since the ideas at the beginning of the project were clear, but since then the experiments have been such journeys in themselves it has been hard to keep track of why I am painting them in the first place. Also, the research and thinking I have been doing most recently has brought about some phrases and words that I think are key to my work. These are:
Intimacy and stillness
from brainstorming in my sketchbook
imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative
(Lucean Freud blogpost) Lampert, Catherine., Freud, Lucian, and Whitechapel Art Gallery. Lucian Freud : Recent Work. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993. Pp.11-26
They make “some people transfer themselves, imaginatively, to the situation painted.”
(Lucean Freud blogpost) Lampert, Catherine., Freud, Lucian, and Whitechapel Art Gallery. Lucian Freud : Recent Work. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993. Pp.11-26
Throughout this project I have been talking about how the body can be used to create narrative. And I’ve been experimenting with compositions and looking at artists that use the body (not the face) to create this narrative. But I think my experiments have been doing something quite different. And reading about Freud’s work made me realise this. Especially when I came across the sentence ‘imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative’. I realised my paintings have been denying the reader narrative but providing the context for intimacy. So the opposite of what I had been thinking I wanted to achieve! Examples of my work to explain this:
For this experiment, the room, the lighting and the person in it makes the viewer assume intimacy through association. However the viewer is hardly given any information about the girl on the bed; she is facing away and her face is covered. So the viewer is told nothing about the girls emotional state, or even who she is. The only information we are given is through the vague shape of her body under the covers: curled and wrapped up under the covers. The girl facing away and the perspective of the piece – standing looking down on the bed – makes the viewer feel unwelcome (- something people have said when viewing the painting in my studio).
So I am covering the person with the duvet and this is removing the narrative of the body; this makes the duvet important – something I could play with – a metaphor: physical representation of something illusive/ that doesn’t normally have form?
With this (unfinished) experiment the same ideas apply. The setting of the room and the person lying honestly on the bed causes an unconscious association to be made so the viewer expects the painting to be intimate. But no narrative is given. We do not know how the girl is feeling, what is going on in her mind (I am undecided about whether to cover her face to ensure this disconnected sense, since her face has been painted well and maybe I don’t want that disconnection!). I keep coming back again to the quote: ‘imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative’ – it is definitely fuelling what I’m writing here. The viewer is projected into the space – why? maybe because I include walls that wrap around the canvas and encompass the viewer. This time the viewer is more involved – placed on the edge of the bed. Does this make the viewer feel more uncomfortable or more welcomed into the scene? I am going to ask people in the studio what they think…
Talking with people in the studio about my work: Which feels more inviting of the two paintings? (the two I discussed above): the second unfinished piece “feels more inviting. come join me in bed vibes.” Do you feel more connected to the person?: “something about the person’s face [in the second painting]. the fact that her face is shown in important. the person is looking directly at you inviting you to join her. Also the fact that the girl is facing the viewer instead of away.”
So the face is important. And whether I cover the face or not would make a big difference to the final painting and how it is received.
The angle and shape of the body is not providing a narrative but it is telling the viewer how open or closed the subject is to the viewer being in the room with them – now this IS something I have discussed before. This is a simple idea but one that needed confirming with experiments.
What about this painting? (Also unfinished but I have a clear sense of where it is going now)
This experiment is different because the room the girl is in has not been included. The shape of her body is the same as the first painting however. This is useful because I can directly compare the two.
Just having the body and part of the bed makes the painting about the body. There is nothing else to look at except the folds of the duvet, the colours, the shadows and highlights. So the materiality of the painting is of greater importance. I think the viewer is less involved in the piece. Going back to one of the quotes from Freud research this painting does not “transfer [the viewer], imaginatively, to the situation painted.” The viewer is kept outside of it, and because of this the idea of the viewer being either welcome or unwelcome doesn’t cross ones mind. It appears to me as much more of a technical study of a person lying in a bed, rather than a painting that plays with being welcomed or not into someone’s intimate space.
This is very useful to realise. I can now say that to explore ideas further I need to build compositions that “transfer [the viewer], imaginatively, to the situation painted.” To do this I must include the surrounding room as well as the person on the bed. So far I have achieved this by including three walls of a room that encompass the viewer well. Would it still work if I just included the back wall? Or would the scene feel less involved in the scene? – This question reminds me of Hockney’s double portraits which are very flat and only include one wall in a room… these engage the viewer and make them feel in the room because the sitters are engaging with the viewer by looking at them. So when I remove this engagement with the viewer through the face I need to use the composition of the room – the walls encompassing the canvas to create the same feeling.
SUMMARY OF LEARNINGS FROM WRITING THIS
My paintings have been denying the reader narrative and intimacy but providing the setting for intimacy.
The viewer expects intimacy because the setting of the painting (-the room, lighting, bed etc) is associated with intimacy both emotional and physical.
The viewer is denied any information about the person in bed – her face is hidden/unclear her body is covered – no emotional state or identity is provided.
The duvet/sheet covering the body is an important part of the painting since it hides the person and therefor hides the narrative and emotion.
I want my paintings to transport the viewer into the painting and make them react to the scene as a result.
My work is looking at painting that plays with being welcomed or not into someone’s intimate space.
SO… WHAT NEXT? THOUGHTS
I was not expecting writing this to be so crucial to how I think about my work! But I think it was necessary at this stage.
So I am covering the person with the duvet and this is removing the narrative of the body; does this make the cover/duvet an important part of the work? Something that I can explore in research and in painting.
The less narrative and emotion I give the piece the more space there is for the viewer to find their own narrative/ apply how they have been feeling onto the piece. ( This idea really links to abstract painting like Rothko’s I’m sure).
These thoughts are all good. But what to experiment with next?! Talking to tutor will help with this perhaps.
Looking at books of reading and images of his work in the library.
There is an attentiveness to Freud’s work that I want to read about. He seems to study his subject with such even focus that the finished paintings are gripping edge to edge.
He deals with every part of the canvas with the same attention. There is no more detail in the eyes than there is the ears or the neck. It appears as if Freud has spent the same amount of time on every part of the figure.
Hughes, Robert, and Freud, Lucian. Lucian Freud Paintings. 1st Pbk. Ed. (rev.). ed. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson, 1989. Pp.7-24
P.80 painting. Covers her face with her arm. Removing her face puts attention on the interactions between the dog and the woman and the sheet beneath them.
Lampert, Catherine., Freud, Lucian, and Whitechapel Art Gallery. Lucian Freud : Recent Work. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993. Pp.11-26
Freud has taken his sitters out of the “privileges and burdens of traditional society with expectations attached to roles, relative wealth, age and decorum… The pressure is towards a perilous interpenetration of exteriority and interiority, physical form and feelings, couched in the illusionistic, classical framework of oil painting.” They make “some people transfer themselves, imaginatively, to the situation painted.” (p.11)
“I know my idea of portraiture came from dissatisfaction with portraits that resembled people. I would wish my portraits to be of the people, not like them… As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as the flesh does.” (p.12)
Freud is concerned with all five senses, not just sight. Lampart says: “Freud was open to manipulating the compositions and limbs just because of the sensual presence of the models: ‘the effect that they make in space is bound up with them as might be their colour or smell.”(p.15) – phenomenological approach to painting.
Lampart discusses the painting Pregnant Girl 1960-61: When looking at the painting, the viewer is “invited to have imaginary intimacy though denied a narrative reading of the relationship between sitter and artist. ^This is a really interesting idea and one that is very relevant to my work!
When this exhibition book (1993) was first published, Freud had recently been working with a process of making one “large painting simultaneously with several smaller ones”. This seems an interesting way to to work, for Freud this approach “intensified the pressure overall” of trying something more ambitious. (p.20)
“It is often the sitters who suggest how they wish to lie down or sit.” (p.21) “Freud wants all his works to proceed as if inevitable… It is his custom to start painting the figure and occasionally to nearly finish before other areas of the canvas are even touched with paint, and then revise the whole.” < this could be an interesting way to work since the once the body is down it may be more clear how the surroundings interact with the body and which details should be put down. “Final adjustments come often not to correct what makes us blush, but to draw a larger, more disturbing point from just this gaucheness.” (p.22)
“‘I believe in Valazquez’, says Lucian Freud, ‘more completely than any other artist whose work is alive for me. I understand Ortega y Gasset’s strange remark on first seeing Las Meninas: ‘This isn’t art, it’s life perpetuated’.” (p.26)