For this research I chose two paintings of figures in interiors from different periods. One has to be from the 20th– 21st Century. What did I think the artist intentions are and then look at the technical and creative solutions they brought to the subject.
One of the paintings I like is by John Singer Sargent called A Spanish Interior, it is a watercolour painted in 1903
I like this painting as each time you look you spot something else. The more you look the more you see.
To being with you would think the main focal point to be the large person left of the middle, however your eye soon moves over to look at the child they are sharper so you then want to examine their actions before moving back to the people on the left.
The deep dark recess has been cleverly placed to add some tone and depth to the picture. John Sargent is a master of simplicity the items seen in the picture are very similar in colour, the shape handled by applying a light or dark tone.
The material on the clothing is portrayed by simple brushstrokes but it is effective, the darker tones on the clothing are placed well in order to give a realistic touch to the impressionistic scene. My view is the artist has given enough detail for the viewer to create a story within their own imagination.
I also chose the picture above Lovers in a Cafe by Gotthard Kuehl 1915, as it held some good reminders of this section of the course. Here we have such an intimate moment, the lovers alone holding hands.
The couple portrayal alone is very clever, it allows the viewer to remember being in love can make us blind to anyone else around us. Depth really well handled by the vanishing point of the tables and bench, plus we have a glimpse of the outdoors through the net curtain hanging in the window. In the foreground there is an item placed on the table to help with scale and depth.
This is another impressionistic painting in the main because I have been trying to study the subtle strokes used by artists in order to portray subjects without too much detail. I found it difficult when looking at this artist choosing just one of his paintings as I found several of interest in relation to my research.
For this exercise I was to paint a person in an interior there were various options I could look at, I chose to paint a famous person in my lounge. Looking at the light gave a limited area in which I could stand my chosen subject and I found in front of the fireplace to be just about the only place for the light.
To begin with I thought it was going to be relatively easy, but boy was I wrong, trying to get a figure correctly sized in the interior they are actually not standing is difficult. I had to stand someone in the position I wanted to place my figure to get the correct height. I must say I simplified the whole thing and gave an impressionistic view of the room rather than get bogged down with detail.
There is plenty wrong with the picture, angles, shadow, and tidiness.. Most of my time was spent concentrating on the figure. I had a couple of people in mind one was the beautiful Audrey Hepburn, but in the end I chose James Bond, who wouldn’t want 007 standing in their Living Room?
The angle I sat was awkward, but unfortunately I didnt have a choice about, also due to clutter from a prolonged kitchen build I had to close my eyes to all the … er, mess that sneaked into the picture and editing out the items.
I think the head is slightly big but I was really surprised at the fact I had managed passable hands. The angle to the lower hearth and wall needs adjusting. I didn’t measure any linear aspects of the chimney breast and just went for it. I first laid a mosaic of beige to dark grey, then added tone and contrast. This was quickly done and really shows even with a quick application of paint you can define an object.
The wood burning stove was also quickly painted, its angles are not totally correct as can be seen but again it was a quickly brushed in to add depth to the picture. When starting this I had in mind a painting by David Hockney call Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy and wanted to try this technique of giving depth by placing one or two objects within the picture. We can see this in action with the table in the above mentioned picture, and the rug. http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/hockney-mr-and-mrs-clark-and-percy-t01269
Ok this is not the best painting I have done but I wanted to continue my study of limited brushstrokes. It didn’t work as well as hoped, I am guessing I have learnt that although a few strokes can make an object look realistic, placing those brushstrokes needs practice and accuracy.
If I was to carry this through to a finished painting, one I would make sure the angles are marked out before I start, I think I would also add a couple more items as I feel the painting lacks interest.
For this study I could do a portrait or self-portrait. The aim was to convey character through facial expression. To tackle the exercise I may want to work from a photograph, I could pick a television personality if wanted. I thought about it and wanted to do something that showed emotion, children at war was one thought ,then I remembered David Attenborough on Plastic in the Oceans he had shown real passion on so I looked around for a suitable picture and decided to do a painting showing his obvious anger at the state we were making our planet. Two and a half hours is never going to make a brilliant portrait, its more like a sketch but I think it went well. After losing someone close we are never at our best and I found my art was badly affected, at least with this painting I feel I may of turned a corner.
To begin I had to decide on what aspect I was going to portray my character, gentleness, grumpiness, moodiness, humour etc. Then I had to decide how I was going to convey this. I was open to any form of emotion, but I loved this picture of David Attenborough, he looks just like he is about to come out with a word as blue as his shirt.
I have referenced below the website I used the picture from. If you take a look at it, youcan be seen that I omitted the plastic bits and the background. His reason for his mood wasn’t the subject it was the mood itself , so I kept it clean of any objects. The background was also distracting so I painted the relevant area in the colours that would be associated with a sunny day on the beach. For me it worked and says exactly that, I worked it as if I was painting something in watercolour and painted the background first as I wanted the transition from blue to sand smoothly portrayed. This is different from the more abstract backgrounds I have done in the past. The reason for this , is I wanted attention on the facial expression and think a more lively background would distract the eye. For me this is the best part of the picture, it worked really well. I caught the expression, but I hadn’t the time needed for the best application of paint. I felt this was sketchy and unattainable within the given time frame for each exercise on this course.
Colours used were kept simple:
Titanium White, Neutral Gray, Ivory Black, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Burnt and Raw Sienna.
At the end of this portrait I was to review the work done within this part of the course. Portrait painting is not my favourite, and I haven’t changed my mind. Personal events have not helped me gain a love for the subject either.
The main thing learnt is Portraits have to be accurately painted, our individuality, mood, and more are so subtle in their difference it is very easy to go wrong. Eyes slightly too high, eyebrows tilted wrong, mouth drawn with a slightly different curve, can make a huge difference to the look of the person being painted. Looking back I liked the tonal study done of my daughter, I enjoyed doing this one and I think it showed. It was also very like her. Limited palette is a great favourite of mine. The last two paintings,… one of myself and the one above are also worth a mention. I liked the previous drawing of myself Creating Mood and Atmosphere, this was one of the fastest paintings I have done and was instructed not to worry about likeness. This gave me a freedom with my paintbrush, I enjoyed the rapid mark-making which created atmosphere. David Attenborough was a breakthrough in my ability using acrylic so, it was a goal of sorts. For the first time I managed a smooth transition from colour to colour, not easy with acrylics. I also feel I captured the character and the setting well, though dissapointed with the application of paint on the figure, this wasnt done with any particular style or artist in mind. I painted this purely as I felt it should be done for the subject I was covering.
Drawing people takes practice and I think takes all our artistic skills., and I have decided after this part of the course I need more practice.
Ok I don’t look quite as horrific as this but I had the choice of likeness or mood. I chose mood. This to be fair is very abstract and was done at speed the whole painting took just over an hour and is by no means accurate or brilliantly painted. However I got to this point and thought I would stop as it conveyed exactly what I wanted and I was worried I would loose the mental chaos and tiredness I was trying to show. I experimented with some backgrounds before I started and sketches but at the last minute decided to go all Guy Denning on myself.
So I coated the paper with my usual neutral beige and then placed sand on the background because I wanted to dry brush the darker tones into it. Where drawing the figure I rubbed away the sand leaving it smoother. I had after looking at painting the figure in colour decided to use a limited palette, I like the way Guy Denning displays mood with his very dark portraits and thought I would try and do similar.
There is a slight colour to the figure in the hair and the fleece, although I feel if I was to take this further I would put more colour within the picture. Not a huge amount but just a hint of colour and think more about the placement of my brush. This I feel is a starting point and needs a lot of work but I was spontaneous in my work and just went for it. Another first for me was the use of sandpaper. I didnt like the left side just above the shoulder so decided to have a go at sandpapering the area and it looked so much better. I will use this again in the future. I used mirror and photos for this portrait as it was too difficult to hold the pose and paint.
Colours used for this painting were Titanium White, Ivory Black, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue.
For this I had to go on the internet and find some portraits, that convey a distinctive mood or atmosphere rather than simply a physical likeness. Look at Picasso’s blue paintings with their mood of surreal sadness or the dark earth colours of Van Gogh’s early paintings of peasants seated around a fire in their poor, meagre surroundings. Look at the strong tonal contrast in Rembrandt’s portraits and the formidably restricted palette with which he seemed to convey the very essence of a persons mood and personality. By contrast, consider the gaiety or the disturbing, nightmarish quality of the portraits and figure paintings of the Fauve painters and the German Expressionists.
Picasso’s blue period was believe to have been influenced by the death of someone close though it is said there are other influences supporting his artistic path. These paintings show scenes of hardship. Blue is a cold colour and its lack of the warmer light makes you think of the night when all our problems seem much worse.
I love The Tragedy which is set on a beach stripped of warmth and fun by its sombre colours, the adult couple stand with downturned heads and solemn faces, so we know something bad has happened . The child possibly not quite understanding the strength of the problem offers a crumb of comfort as they rest their hand on the male figure.
I like The Tragedy it reminds me of my very young daughter comforting me after a robbery. She didnt totally understand why I was upset, but suggested we went to the beach to enjoy ourselves which she felt would make everything better.
With Van Gogh I was to look at the earlier paintings of Peasants sat around the fire in their poor surroundings. I like the painting below and the limited palette used. The dark earth colours give greater emphasis to the difficult life of the Peasant. Even the light of the fire wasnt given dominance and is dull in appearance, removing the usual comfort and warmth it can give. Looking at the paintings and drawings of his Peasants I can see the flatness attributed to him. Having said that he produced some amazing studies and there were many of them. the Peasant woman in the field drawn below is one of my favourites it looks effortless in its application, the woman shows how well he could draw figures. I admit people are not my favourite things to draw, so I can sympathise with him and admire how he overcame his difficulty.
Peasant woman in a field
Rembrandt used light in a different way, his dramatic use of tonal contrast give a power to the picture. He portrays the light in such a way it showcases the mood of his subject. I love his self portraits and have looked at them earlier in the course, but for this research I chose the picture he did of Christ. The Light falls on the impaled figure in such a way the viewer is shown without mistake the agony being endured by the curvature of the body. Christs agony is also shown on the face which some feel was modelled on an earlier self portrait.
Rembrandts painting of Christ
In contrast to the sombre colours and symbolic surroundings, is the painting of Matisse by Andre Derain which shows a bright impressionistic style. Painted at the time he and Matisse were working together their style was named Fauves by a critic meaning wild beasts. Certainly the paint-strokes have a wildness about their application. In this picture I can see how the colours used give the impression of the warm evening sunshine as friends smoked and discussed the important moments of the day. It makes you realise how brushstroke, colour and light can also tell a story without the need for any props. The loose paintwork most certainly add to the feel of the picture. If you look at this painting from a distance it really does take shape the broad strokes of colour mingle very like the pointillists work.
Andre Derain portrait of Matisse
To finish I thought I would add a contemporary artist I admire Arabella Dorman
The powerful emotion evoked by her work is amazing. I love how the subject is prominent the background is kept very simple just enough work to show the viewer the man is injured and strapped to what looks like a stretcher. The tragedy of war shown in the blood on the man’s clothes his pain and suffering shown by his arm placement. In this day and age we have various ways in which the bloodiness of war can be seen, television, magazines, newspapers photographs we are over whelmed with the visual images of the injured. To some point we have been so bombarded with those images we don’t see them anymore. A picture like Cross-Fire has an artistry about it, there is something that draws you to this piece of art, a beauty, but by drawing in the viewer we then see the horror it holds. We are reminded this man may be injured but, he is in a position of being helped and attended, he has hope, has help, has life. Cross Fire has the ability to bring us the horror this man has been through but the hope he must now have, this has been achieved not only by the simplicity of colour used, but also the clever portrayal of the subject and the use of negative space which draws the eye very quickly to its main message.
For this I was to decide exactly how my sitter will appear in terms of scale, position , background and light source etc. Unfortunately due death of a close relative and time restraints I couldnt marry my time with a sitter so for this exercise had to resort to a picture. There was one I wanted to try however it was black and white the person meant a lot to me and was full of character, unfortuneately he died years ago. His skin colour was interesting being darker than average and the coat I remember to be fawn. I used a second photograph to help with George’s skin tone and set about sketching him several times, in coloured pencil, charcoal and graphite. Then I tried out a couple of backgrounds for my painting. In the time I had to do the exercise I would say the attempt is fair, but the paint application was not as I wanted. I would of liked a smoother transition rather than the painting by numbers effect. I have difficulty in doing this unless I work a small area at a time with acrylic and I just didnt have the time to do this on this occasion. Acrylic does have its benefits though in that it quick drying time means it is easier to store in my small cottage and doesnt smell. Misting with a spray may help so I am going to try one.
George was stood sideways in this picture and it could have been an interesting representation, however I didnt quiet get the right shoulder low enough and fluff it.
One thing I have learnt is painting a portrait is about looking, you have to know your subject well and the above painting is a mere sketch I would need to spend more time with my subject in order to correct the faults.
I began the painting with a line sketch in Acrylic and then progressed by painting the face then the shoulders. As I moved onto the coat I used a larger brush and just made a suggestion of detail, trying to blend the lower coat into the background, but feel that it should have been lighter in order to blend better. Larger looser brushstokes are something I like to do in the all but the most prominent areas of the painting, making the eye concentrate on areas I want the viewer to see, but move around the picture taking in the background. I love the brushwork of John Singer Sargent especially in this picture of Rosina Ferrara.
Rosina Ferrara by John Singer Sargent
The movement and accuracy of this painting with using what look like minimal brushstrokes is amazing. The creases in the dress make my coat look very overworked.
I have been interested in putting in practice a mix of realism and impressionism since drawing one, which was inspired by a small book from Falmouth Art Gallery called Effortless brushstrokes. I am still fighting the more impressionistic style but feel I am beginning to get there.
Having mentioned the coat I feel that was the best part of the painting and although it looked like a dirty version of Columbo’s Mac, it did work quite well. I am thinking of getting some water soluble oil paint to see if these are easier to use, but will have to wait until I can afford it.
For this I was to paint a self portrait of just my head and shoulders. I could choose to work with either natural or artificial light. Light my face from one side. My options were light dark or mid-tone background. I mistakenly did my background skin tone, why I ask myself, it just didn’t enter my head at the time of painting not until it was painted. Possibly because I have had a close death in the family again and my mind is not entirely on the job.
Sample of sketches
To be honest this exercise hasn’t gone well from beginning to end I thought I would loosen up with some quick drawings not too much attention to detail. The light was low and I tried to keep the whole exercise about, the shapes and features cocking my head, frowning etc, however looking back at the sketches, on only two did I get a likeness of sorts. I am usually good at faces and just couldn’t do this, I have drawn myself in the past and had no trouble but hey ho, it happens.
I rarely grid anything and have only done so once in the course I can usually work out my subjects from eye. Not a chance I was all over the place eyes in the wrong place, mouth too big, nose too far down, face shape all wrong. Now I was stressing, not only was I short of time, I couldn’t get the drawing/painting correct. When I came to do the painting I wasn’t a whole lot better and had to use a ruler as my guide to correct features and where they lay. Annoyed I was making a real mess of the whole exercise just added to the problem which in part stemmed from I am sure my ex-husband dying, and the upset of the fact I will be able to finish my course due to time problems. Anyway onwards and upwards for now.
Eventually my painted portrait did look like me, but according to my daughter a formidable version, but it did look like me, I have over accentuated my muscular shoulders and one is lopsided, again this was also a comment by my daughter. Odd I don’t see that anger in the mirror in the morning but have felt angry inside of late. Maybe I am painting my inner me correctly, was I sat lopsided, I don’t know its possible, I just noticed it, so left it in case it was the picture I was painting of myself. The eyes are not aligned correctly, the shadow in the left eye is not convincing and makes me look like I have painted it badly which of course I have.
This painting was kept loose, the dark paint marks in the background added at the end when it looked like I had become the invisible woman, due to skin tone and background being of similar colour.
Ok I can just hear the comment what is good about the painting, not a lot, but the thing I liked most about it was the T-Shirt it was painted with quick strokes of the brush and I like the way just this fleeting application of paint can show the creases in the material.
All in all not my best exercise it does show that outside influences can affect the way in which we paint.
Colours used Neutral Grey, Titanium White, Ivory Black, Raw Sienna, Light Magenta.