Paint thickness and next drawing sculpture experiment

Location

I painted outside just now to prepare the page for the sculpture test drawing I’m going to put on top. This was the first painting in this style I have done in what seems like a while! This is not really true, but compared to last term I have been doing less painting outside.

The woods that I painted in I am really familiar with. I have visited other woods, but I keep returning to this one. One reason for this is convenience – it’s right outside my studio and so I don’t have to haul all my painting equipment a long way. But also, I was listening to a podcast yesterday, this one:

And they were talking about returning to the same objects or places again and again. It made me consider how I have returned to this same woodland for over a year now, and how that impacts how I paint and what I experience. I haven’t got any answers as of yet, but it’s an interesting thing to consider. Is my painting affected (for good or bad?) because I return to the same woods? Am I training myself to notice new things whilst painting in the same environment?

One thing I did notice about these woods from where I was painting was the depth of layers of trees and foliage. This photo contains the view that had this depth, you can see trees in the distance that are lighter, washier shades of green than the foreground. It was a lovely place thing to try and paint on part of the paper.

I painted this view as well as a clearing to the left of it, where I imagined the sculpture I had made to sit.

Painting process

Acrylic on paper. For speed and ease.

^ This is a screenshot of a zoomed in image of a painting I did last term (oil on paper). Looking back on it it strikes me how effective the paint application is – there is so much depth. I think there are two reasons for this:
– Thickness of paint: I remember using a lot of Liquin with the paint to bulk it up and make it very slidable on the canvas. The thickness means the paint layers hardly mix with one another, instead they look like they are floating near each other with space in between them.
– High contrast in tone: The dark background behind light blue behind varying tones of colour marks. Contrast creates greater separation between marks, making them seem more separated.

I have only considered the second reason now, after already painting this most recent experiment. I would like to test these two ideas in a series of future paintings. I wondered whether having not many marks on the canvas also added depth, but looking back at Howard Hodgkins work that doesn’t seem to be true…

Although I didn’t follow through with the idea of high contrast tones, I did make sure the paint was applied very thickly.

Finished painting before adding structure

What works

Thick pain: It does add depth, and it prevents the colours from mixing together.

C shapes marks are lovely! I realised I was reducing boughs of trees into these c shape marks. Describing blocks of leaves and branches with blocks of colour.

What doesn’t

I applied paint too thickly too fast, without considering my marks and colours enough. I ended up battling with the thick paint.

My palette was too small. When applying thick paint, I needed to mix a lot of paint in a variety of colours, so I needed lots of palette space to do so! Because I had a small palette, colours were easily getting mixed up, and I could never get the right shade, because it was mixing with other colours and going muddy. As a result the colours are dull and low contrast.

Lots of small marks added at the end. Disjointed, no sense of direction, so feeling of woods whatsoever. This is due to me battling with the thick paint as mentioned above, and adding lots of unnecessary marks on top to try in vain to get the colour and layering of colours that I could have put down earlier in the painting process.

Page too small. I am used to working with big canvases now! Which means lots of room to fit in all the layers and detail I wanted. I was trying to cram too much onto a tiny piece of paper.

Improvements for next time

Bigger palette

More contrast in tone.

Do underpainting of a block (dark?) colour – like I’ve been doing before! I don’t know why that went out of the window.

Keep the thickness of paint, just don’t start adding so eagerly and early. When working with really thick paint, colour mixing and placing of marks need to be carefully considered!

This has to be one of the worst paintings I’ve done in a while. OHWELL. I need to do some more, since I have learnt so much from doing this one.

Now to add the drawing on top.

Drawing the paper mache sculpture

HB – 2B Pencils

Detailed drawing. Transferring dimensions back onto paper.

I then traced this drawing with clean newspaper paper, and cut around it so I had a template for the next drawing.

Black and white thinned acrylic paint

I reduced the detailed painting down to lines.

It’s interesting how this drawing is so different from the original design for the sculpture below. The new drawing is far more organic than the design.

The problem with drawing this sculpture looking straight ‘up’ at it, and not including any shading, is that the shape loses all of its dimensional qualities that are so crucial to these structures. I thought drawing things looking straight up would help me work out the design of the structures better, but it now appears that just drawing the sculptures looking straight up misses half the point, since these sculptures are meant to be drawn from angles and have real dimension I shouldn’t just be drawing the sculptures like this.

Acrylic and a white POSCA pen to outline the structure

I had one more go drawing the sculpture looking straight up. This time I wanted to block in areas that the sculpture would cover of the sky / canopy above. (The painting underneath is also of looking straight up at the sky / canopy) This shows how much of the sky the sculpture covers! In my next design for my next sculpture I need to make sure there is less planes that block out the sculpture.
Also, adding lines as if the legs branched out was useful in imagining the sculpture standing up high. I definitely need to add legs to my next sculpture.

Learnings

Draw the sculptures from different angles of standing underneath, not just looking directly up – this is why I’m making these sculptures!! – to paint from angles and create dimension in my paintings, so PRACTISE THAT!

Less coverage of the sky and trees above the sculpture with finer coverage and more just lines.

Add legs! – This will mean I can draw the sculptures from angles more easily. And also photograph the sculpture in the woods!

I want to experiment with blocking in white areas in drawings when drawing the structure from different angles. Would it add or subtract from the finished painting? I haven’t done that before so would have to see.

Wire and Paper Mache Sculpture (#3)

After a tutorial about my work I wanted to try out paper mache. It sounded like it had the potential to be a lot finer and more delicate than clay, and also much stronger than clay and not subject to cracking.
I designed the shape being far more precise than I have made designs in the past. This shape was inspired by Emma Kunz’s drawings, and also by the Cathedral architecture imagery from the books I had been looking through.

Using a very accurate design with shading to demonstrate depth, and knowing how I wanted the finished product to be, was a much clearer way of working than I have worked in the past, for example with the clay sculpture where I did very rough sketches and then finished the sculpture off as I went. Having a detailed plan meant I didn’t waste time, and I added the full wire armature before I started adding paper mache.

I started with this octagon shape, using wire criss crossing the centre to keep the shape in position. It’s been a bank holiday this week so I couldn’t go out and buy thicker wire! So I made do with the bendy wire, wanting to get started with this process instead of delaying it.

I knew that the paper mache would dry very firm, so I thought if I start laying down paper mache early, it would act as a support even though the wire was thin and bendy. But, the problem I didn’t anticipate was the drying time of paper mache – it’s sloww. So I would have had to have waited hours for this initial frame to dry before I added the next layer – too slow. It seems there’s no getting round having wire that’s too thin!

The Paper Mache

Half flour half water. Mixed to a smooth thin glue-like consistency. Not too thick or it’s too gloopy, dries even slower and is sloppy to work with. Not too thin or it doesn’t have enough sticking power.
I used newspaper thin paper, which I luckily already hah yey. This worked really well – it was thin enough that it applied really thin layers, but not too thin that it disintegrated when trying to work with it.
I would rip strips of paper and then soak it in the paper mache on both sides before removing it, scraping off the excess glue with my fingers, waiting a couple of seconds and then applying it.
At first I really struggled wrapping the paper strips around the wire – it’s harder than it looks! But eventually I got to know the right angle that you wrap the paper around the wire.

I should have taken more progress photos along the way!

To get to this ^ point, I made the outer hexagon and the inner hexagon shape and then attached them together with wire connecting corners to corners and sides to sides. Then I added the curved shapes.

Then I covered it all in paper mache. I was surprised at how easily the paper mache held its shape when I applied sheets of it to the curved shape. I then waited for the shape to dry.

The sculpture dried a nice light colour but once it’s finished I intend to paint it white so it matches the colour I would be painting it.

I went in with a second layer of paper mache on the underside of the sculpture. Unlike my previous clay sculpture, I wanted both sides of the sculpture to be finished. I used a small brush here to get into all the small areas, and lay down more paper and glue to smooth over any gaps.

I now realise I didn’t do the bottom part of the sculpture! This bit:

I just didn’t notice that I hadn’t added this part of the sculpture in. It would have been hard to differentiate between the part I left out and the bigger plane because I am not using black lines to separate sections. So I could have left the bottom part of the sculpture empty that might have been good.

Leaving this out has proven that the more detailed the structure the better.

The finished sculpture after two coats of white acrylic paint! I decided not to add legs to the sculpture because I would have had to have added them before using any paper mache, plus I don’t think this sculpture, as my first try has been successful enough to bother putting legs on.

What works

The sculpture translated well from drawing to finished piece. Using a very geometric and accurate design was very helpful. It was really cool seeing the sculpture transform from a drawing to a 3D object. I had to change the design slightly when I was making it, my intentions on paper weren’t realistic for manipulating wire in real life, but that way of thinking will come with more practice.

Paper mache is better than clay. For these delicate structures paper mache has such potential! I really enjoyed working with clay, and how you can add textural detail and streamline every form. But working with paper mache allows for such fine shapes, it is the perfect in between of the delicacy of wire and the form of clay. And with more practice I can make the paper mache smoother and more clay like in its streamlined-ness.

Painting the sculpture white. I need to bring some salt into the studio for my next piece so the glue doesn’t go all browny/green! But I would have painted it anyway. Painting it white highlights the form of the shape, and removes and distracting texture and colour.

I can see this sculpture translating well into drawing, but we will see!

Measuring things with a ruler as I’m working

What doesn’t work

The thin wire is once again an issue – it is too bendy! Any angular, straight precision is lost because the wire was way too bendy to control. I’m not using this again. The sculpture looks too loose.

Design is lacking legs duh. Next sculpture I’ll add some.

Too simple a shape I think.

How effective the shape is will be revealed once I have made some drawings of the sculpture. That’s what I’m doing next! I’m excited to do more.

1st Clay Sculpture

I decided to do a clay sculpture, to experiment with building an armature and then adding clay on top to create more intricate shapes than I have ever made before. The design was influenced by :
– the columns and ‘fan vaults’ I had seen in cathedral architecture, with peaks and troughs.
– Ink sketches I did in my big sketchbook last week of simplified leaves of canopies which I wanted to represent in marking the clay with little dents.
These two influences create the design of my first attempt at combining trees and architecture into these shapes.

Building the armature

I used wire, masking tape and tin foil to build a supporting structure that the clay would be put onto. The wire was a little thin, but still did the job.
The tin foil wrapped around the wire is there because clay doesn’t adhere to clay at all, using tinfoil bulks thickens the lines and I can do some initial shaping (creating rough curved shapes) but also the rough texture of the crumpled tinfoil is a good base for the clay to stick to.
I used a donut shape of tinfoil to support the structure. In retrospect this tinfoil support wasn’t symmetrical and so the symmetry of the finished experiment suffered, that is definitely something to bear in mind in the future.

Working with the clay

I then began to build up the clay on top of the armature. Building the rough shape first and then using a selection of tools and my hands, keeping the clay wet and malleable. This was SO ENJOYABLE. Sculpture is so tactile and absorbing and way less frustrating than wire! Hmm.

I then added the in-between sections of the four main columns in the sculpture. I should have made the armature for these bits at the start before adding any clay! But alas. I just made my job a little bit tricker. So I added the sections, and completed this side of the sculpture.

Before painted white
Finished sculpture

I’m happy with the outcome of this sculpture as it is, for my first clay sculpture in a fair while! I have only done this side of the sculpture, and that is all I can do until the clay dries. I do want to work on the other side though, at least on the bits you can see from the side.
This shape is designed to be turned upside down and be the inside of the structure that can only be seen by standing inside and looking up. So the outside roof which I haven’t worked on would be just as important. I can’t decide whether I want to work on the outside on a new sculpture and leave this one, or finish this one as much as possible… I’ll think on it.

What works well

Having gaps in the ‘roof’ / sculpture. This would allow the sky / canopy to be seen through it.

Concentric shapes – having a point in the centre of the shape that everything points towards. Even in a flat photograph there is a suggestion that the shape recedes backwards in the centre.

The symmetry – okay so the shape isn’t perfectly symmetrical, but you can see the design was intended to be. For example having random shapes on one side but not the other would definitely not be as effective, the feeling of a grand shape wouldn’t come across and it would feel more whimsical instead.

Details! Having all the lines in the centre meet up and make sense. Having ridges separating parts of the sculpture, defining them. Refining the shapes makes a difference.

What doesn’t work

The shape isn’t exactly symmetrical because some legs of the shape are longer and wider than others! This has two causes:
– the wire was quite thin so would easily bend out of shape as I was shaping the clay
– the donut shaped base made of tinfoil I used to rest the sculpture on wasn’t even on all sides, so the sculpture was pushed out of symmetry whenever it rested on the base.

The dotty indents. They don’t look bad, however I think the shape could look better with shapes that are more uniform and geometrically ordered.

Conclusions, thoughts, moving forward

How much tree inspiration do these shapes have to have? The small indents in the clay are inspired by looking up at a woodland canopy of leaves, but aren’t these shapes supposed to be inspired by the architecture of the trees and of the cathedrals, not of the textures and decoration inspired by trees. Using the indents reflecting trees takes inspiration from something that is important to my painting outside – the movement, texture, sound, light of the leaves, not the solid structure I paint on top.

Saying that, I still want to see what this shape in a painting. So next, before I move onto another sculpture I want to paint this one. See how the shapes transfer into lines on a drawing/ painting. This will allow me to discover how I could improve my sculpture for the betterment of the paintings.

What do I rest this shape on to present it? Wooden supports cut to shape and glued to a base? You could just having the sculpture resting on the wood so you would be able to see both sides of the shape. A smaller base that’s less ugly that the shape could be lifted up from?

I want to try another sculpture with more geometric folds and angles, like the one I sketched for the Kunz drawings. That should be fun – maybe wire vs clay one.
Also I want to add legs!!

1st Wire Sculpture

I made my first sculpture!
Made completely out of wire, with clay to support the feet and stuck to a board.
This is the first time I have worked with wire like this in a couple years, I am not very familiar with having to think about a work in 3D.

Reasons for making it

Based on this sketch in my sketchbook, which was inspired by trees I painted outside with the same curly ink shapes. This shape is neither symmetrical or precise, however I thought it would be a good starting place. because the shape has lots of freedom and was a chance for me to become familiar with the materials.

Also, the shape is such a contrast to the angular, precise and symmetrical sculptures I want to make next, I thought this piece would serve as an interesting comparison, and to make sure these free structures aren’t what I want to make more of.

What works

The thinness of the wire gives the structure a really delicate touch, which suits the curly shapes it makes. The thin wire also means that this sculpture would be easily paintable in the way I have done – white thin lines. The shape doesn’t take up too much space so painting underneath it wouldn’t be too covered up.

The dome shape works really well (instead of a flat roof or pointy one). They nod to cathedral domes.

The curly shapes look as good in the sketch as it does in the sculpture from the side. It suits the material very well.

The sculpture is separated into three bits, each with two legs that support each other. This means once the clay bases are stuck down the sculpture wobbles but is in no danger of collapsing.

What doesn’t work so well

The wire was so thin and delicate it has been hard to manipulate one part of the wire without disrupting the whole thing. I assume with thicker wire this would be less of a problem. But this was the first time I have worked with wire in aages so that’s worth baring in mind as well.

Linking with the above comment, not being able to isolate one part of the wire and manipulate it, meant it was really hard to get the wire to define an exact dome for the ceiling. There was one curl that I would manipulate into the right place, but then the rest of the wire would then be out of place, and it went on and on! HMM.

The lines are a bit wobbly. This is again down to the thickness of the wire I think. Thin wire is easier to move around and a slight move makes the legs of the structure not straight.

Taking a photo underneath of the structure and looking up reveals the shape if it were to be just a drawing. The curls are interesting; they look organic, but the shape from this angle is I think too abstract and not structured enough to even slightly resemble a cathedral interior. This proves that symmetry and more cleaner shapes will probably suit these sculptures more for my purposes.

Improvements if I were to work like this again

Try with thicker wire. This I assume would mean you could isolate parts of the wire without disturbing the whole shape more easily. This could mean straighter legs and smoother curves.

I could try soldering part of the wire together. This might make it self supportive, and join the three pieces together.

Better ‘feet’ – less ugly! Perhaps having the base made out of wood and making small holes in the wood for the wire to sit in, then glue filled so that the legs just appear out of the wood instead of being obviously secured down with clay.

Overall

This was a good starting point! I feel more confident moving forwards now, onto designing a second sculpture, this time with a design more relevant to cathedral interior roof and column shapes.

I want to try painting this sculpture into a sketchbook painting. Since this is the idea of these sculptures – that they are pieces in their own right but also tools for me to add better shapes into my paintings.