Big canvas painting process

This is the first big painting of this term, but my process and scale etc is all built on what I was doing the term before. There are however a few changes I made to the painting process for this piece which has changed because of feedback I have had on previous paintings, and the want for an easier process.

I had a comment this term when talking with one of the tutors that my colours are a little dull in last terms canvases. He wondered whether my turps was dirty, and I said that it definitely was! I have worked in the past with greeny-muddy coloured turps because I have only had slightly muddy turps to work with and only one pot of it outside with me, which quickly gets even muddier.
The other reason I thought my painting might be muddy is because the palette size I had outside was tiny compared to the size of my brushes.
For this painting I wanted to change my outdoor painting system to address these problems.

The Muddy Turps Problem addressed

I brought two containers for turps to go in this time. And worked with clean turps instead of muddy stuff.

Too small paint palette addressed

Before I had a white tile that I was used to using in the studio or when I didn’t have my massive glass palette:

This tile was hardly any wider than my biggest brush, but it was also extremely heavy and so impractical for carrying outside.

I don’t have a big enough reusable palette for this, but yesterday before I went out painting I had the not so radical idea to use greaseproof paper taped to a cardboard sheet instead! This is a cheap and customisable mock up of the fancy reusable palettes you can buy.
For this I taped two layers of greaseproof paper to the thick card, with the idea that when one layer got too messy I could take it off and have a fresh one beneath. The thick card was also super light! And I could slot it at the back of the canvas when carrying everything outside.

This worked so well!

Before I started painting. These are the colours I used.

You can see ^ the flat palette knife here that I used for the first time outside to clean the palette and mix colours. This worked so much better than mixing paint with a brush. Mixing with a big brush meant all the paint would get pushed inside the massive brush head and I would waste so much paint because it got trapped in there! Mixing with a palette knife was far more controlled and meant I could mix in a smaller paint with less paint wasted.

The mess! After I finished the canvas.

You can see on this image^ that the colours I was mixing hardly mixed because there was enough space for colours to sit side by side. And having two layers worked really well as well.

Location

I did a sketching session before bringing the canvas outside where I wondered through the woods and found the spot I wanted to return to and paint. I picked this spot because the canopy was so dense I could hardly see the sky! And the colour palette was lovely and springy and fresh green. The trees in the foreground were also arranged in a shape that I imagined my most recent sculpture would fit into well.

Doing this pre painting sketching session was very useful because I could explore locations without having to lug the canvas around to do so.

The weather was still, cloudy and warm. It had rained heavily an hour before and so everything looked and smelt lush, and it felt like it could rain again soon, luckily it stayed dry the whole time.

The painting in stages

I tried to apply paint really thickly onto the canvas towards the end of the process. This was due to thinking about the thickness of paint earlier this term. I used lots of Liquin towards the end for thickness and so colours wouldn’t blend together, and used less turps than in the past because turps removes texture and thickness.

The finished painting

The colours are so much brighter than anything I’ve painted before! This is fitting since I painted this in spring. And previous canvases were painted before the everything blossomed etc.

I’m not sure how I feel about nearly all the colours being very bright. I was talking to some people in my studio and they were saying how they liked the pastel colours in my previous paintings, and they seemed to describe the colour palette of a woodland more accurately. I think a good medium would be to use muddier colours but also know how I can achieve brighter colours if I wanted them, and use a larger spectrum of bright and muddy colours:

Overall I’m happy with how this painting turned out. My painting process and been refined and I learnt far more than I thought I would.
Applying thick paint with Liquin at the end of the process, turps at the start and pure paint in the middle. This process works really well and this painting has more texture and depth of marks than ever before (harking back to Howard Hodgkins when I think about paint layering and depth).

It was really fun to do one of these big paintings in a new season. I’m looking forward to adding the structure on top.

Second Paper Mache Sculpture Process

I was writing in my sketchbook that I wanted this final sculpture of the term to be geometric. But when I sketched ideas out in my sketchbook I realised that fan faults are the most iconic Cathedral architectural feature, so this is a shape I need to explore! This shape is both simple and intricate and so I thought it would be interesting to see translated back onto the canvas.

I used super tough wire for the armature of this sculpture and it worked so much better than the thin wire I had been using before! I could manipulate one end of the wire without the other being distorted as well, which made the process of getting straight lines and smooth curves so much easier.

The part I struggled with the most for this stage was attaching lots of layers of wire ends to each corner of the octagon frame. It began easily, using thin wire to tie two ends of wire frame together. But I ended up attatching so many ends to each corner that I ran out of wire, but also each corner got unnecessarily bulky.
It would have been better in retrospect to have more wire, because more wraps of wire made for stronger attachments, but also, instead of making each curve as I went and adding the curves one at a time, it may have been better to make all the curves before hand, and tie them all together at once, attaching all of them to each corner of the octagon frame at once. When I make more structures in the future of this kind I’ll try this method.

I did consider just leaving the wire armature as the finished sculpture. The corners of the sculpture were ugly, but the wire on top did look so smooth and pretty. I knew however that I needed to add the paper mache because that meant I could smooth out the corners and paint it white as planned.

Another reason for adding paper mache that I realise only now having completed the sculpture is that covering up the wire and painting the structure white makes the shape look like nothing recognisable. When the structure was wire, the making of the sculpture was obvious – the maker had bent wire and attached it together to make this pretty shape. But when the wire is covered up and painted, the making process is far less obvious and the focus becomes the mystery and weirdness of the object, instead of the familiar artist’s process that made the object.

Painting the paper mache white removed so much of the surface texture and shadows of the piece. It makes the lines look a lot smoother and refined.

Finished sculpture thoughts and next

I’m super happy with how this sculpture turned out!
Structurally it’s very strong. Using thick wire plus the paper mache and a complex set of structures on top means it is sturdy and stands easily on its own.
Visually it looks best from either looking down on the top or looking up from below. The size of the sculpture means it’s tall enough to be explored from all angles (the size also meant it was big and easy to work with the shapes, too small = too fiddly).
The curves of the arches are a great nod to cathedral architecture but the shape is simple and repetitive, and I’m happy that the shapes created by the curves from above or below are fairly symmetrical.

I can’t think of anything I could have done better at this stage, not because I think it’s perfect, but because I need to see how well the sculpture works in my paintings before I can say. Also this is such an explorative branch of my work – making these sculptures, all I want to say is ‘cool, now let’s make another one.’

Now I focus on drawing the sculpture, first in my sketchbook, then onto acetate, then onto a big canvas!

Using a projector in the painting process

Why haven’t I done this before!?

I was home one evening talking about my work and I was reminded of using a projector to project shapes onto the canvas to get proportions right etc.

SO I found an overhead projector – I chose this instead of a digital one because I can still hand draw the shape I want to project onto the painting.

Acetate proved the best paper (not greaseproof paper which I originally tried). This is the drawn shape, based on a photo of the sculpture and the most successful sketch in my sketchbook.

The I projected it onto the painting and traced the white lines on top! This made my life so much easier omg.

The result is so much more exact than the previous two paintings. I’m going to use this method from now on!

The thing I need to refine now is how I draw the sculpture – how far do I reduce the shape down to single lines? Here I think the structure is too curvy and complicated.

Second experiment drawing sculpture into a painting

First of all I did a series of sketches in my sketchbook, this was the most successful and so I wanted a sketch like this but more refined on the painting.

Turns out it is a lot harder to paint this shape onto the painting than I expected!! Problems with the process of this experiment:
– No ruler used to measure proportions or draw straight lines. When the structures I was drawing were very geometric I used a ruler for everything and it guaranteed nice lines.
– I couldn’t think of any material that I could draw the structure with that was easily erasable when I made a mistake. The easiest was just going straight in with white acrylic paint, and wiping it away when I did something wrong. This is a slow process! And without being able to roughly mark the shape before I fill in the details I went very proportionally wrong very easily.

Problems with the finished painting:
– Structure is very curly and wobbly. The reason my geometric structures worked so well in the past was because they were angular and straight and so were a direct contrast to the curvy random blocks of colour.
– The legs are too thick. They draw too much attention. This just requires more patience for drawing very thin precise lines! Using a ruler would help a lot.

This is such an important part of my painting I need to get this process and drawing right!!!
Improvements for the next test:
– I had a grand idea last night: use an overhead projector to project an accurate drawing onto the painting! This should work far better.
– Use a ruler!
– Use one kind of paintbrush throughout so for now the lines are all the same thickness.

Sculpture drawing at an angle

This went terribly!!!

I did no practice, I just started on the paper – turns out that was not a good idea!

I first mapped out only the lines, following the pattern I made when drawing the sculpture straight on. But the shape didn’t make any sense. So i blocked in the white to see how that would look.

That looked slightly better, but still very terrible.

The I thought well it’s not working so I’ll just add grey shading and see what that does.

I used a white posca pen to do the white, because it is smoother and faster than acrylic paint, for these experiments.

What works

Laying the structure on top and underneath the paint layers. Although this was hard to do because the painting was so dense with brushstrokes and I hadn’t planned it.

White colour. Contrasts well against everything else.

Blocking in areas in white of the shape. Actually works surprisingly well. It makes the shape make more sense as a design. If the sculpture had less blocked areas, filling in with white would be less obtrusive.

What doesn’t

Grey shading. Helps to create dimension, but if the drawing and sculpture is good enough, it shouldn’t need it!

Wobbly legs. Just use a ruler! The more exact the better. For some reason all the things I learnt, such as exactness and measuring from last term went out of the window.

The whole thing! The sculpture is not drawn accurately enough to make sense and so it fails.

The angle of the sculpture and where it is placed. Needs to be planned and considered. Having a less confused painting underneath would help with this.

Scale. The bigger the more all encompassing and vast. But I knew this, and I will be going bigger v soon.

Next

Plan my next attempt! Use digital editing to do so.

Practice drawing the sculpture at these angles in my sketchbook.

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.

Reading: 3 X abstraction : new methods of drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz and Agnes Martin by

Klint, H.af et al., 2005. 3 X abstraction : new methods of drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz and Agnes Martin, New Haven, Conn. ; London: Yale University Press.

I wanted to read more about Kunz’s work since I realised how similar her drawings are to some cathedral architecture. Surprisingly the only book I could find on her in the library was this one, but it is actually very relevant to my work.

Chapter ‘Abstract’ by Catherine de Zegher

preceding the abstraction there is something from which the form has been drawn. While this something may be a concrete object in the phenomenological world, it could just as well be understood as the formation of an idea apart from any perceivable object in the phenomenological world.

P.23

^ This is what the structures I make in drawing and sculpture are.

Abstract art can be envisaged as an oscillation between the imagined and the concrete… with both to draw from and to draw form

P.23

Zegher goes on to say that the three artists in this book don’t approach abstraction ‘as a kind of formalism’, but as a way to structure ideas of philosophy, spiritual and scientific ideas. Kunz for example draws to connect ‘a cosmology of invisible forces’ – I love this idea!

These woman’s projects were aimed at summoning an ideality understood not only as a rational model of perfection but also as an emotional model of relinquishment… and response

P.24

Using drawing as a tool to elevate the mind. P.25

Their work was is inspired by an interest in nature and therefore human life.

A connection between the ‘physical phenomena and the spiritual universe’.

Using art as a bridge between the spiritual and the experimental makes sense to me. Abstracting things on a canvas that cannot be seen in the rest of life seems a way of capturing things that cannot be said with words. Things to consider in my work for sure. This is the kind of writing that I will read and only realise the total implications of it far from now! I wish I had more time in this project to read the book carefully, without a deadline fast approaching.

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.