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Mead Gallery: Imagining a University

I visited Warwick University’s Mead Gallery yesterday to see the exhibition, Imagining a University: Fifty Years of The University of Warwick Art Collection, which closes on Sat 20th June.

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Testing Ground

Long time since I last posted here. I have done various bits of work myself and attended two courses at Leicester Print Workshop (one on Mezzotint ad one on Collagraphs), all of which I ought to have blogged about but simply haven’t got around to it. I will try to do better from now on.

Major workload for the past couple of months has been preparing for the Surface Gallery Volunteers show. Those who volunteer at the gallery get an opportunity to show off their own work during an annual exhibition. The range of talents amongst the volunteers is huge and, as 17 of us are showing work, this ought to be a really great show. Many thanks to Colette Griffin and the Exhibitions team for organising it all.

When I found out about the opportunity, I figured I’d show a few of the prints I’ve produced over the past few months. Then the team suggested a theme for the show: Testing Ground (see the website for more on this). I decided to take up this challenge and work out a mode of painting that suited me. I knew that it would have to be abstract painting: I’m really not into anything figurative.

I began with the idea of exploring my own location — here, in Kegworth, in the East Midlands. I looked at where I live using Google maps satellite images and the surrounding area, translated these into abstract shapes and marked out these shapes using acrylic pens then filled in the shapes using acrylic paint. This was interesting but just too forced. I then used torn and cut pictures from magazines collaged onto the paper, drew around them in pen and then painted over and around these — still too ‘realistic’.

The approach that did seem to produce results I could be satisfied with was to layer and build up the torn and cut out shapes into a sort of abstract collage and then work over them with paint so that the colours and shapes painted would work with and against the underlying shapes. I had moved from following the ‘sense of location’ idea into what I hoped was a pure abstract approach. I expected that I needed to work from the idea in the first place but also needed to abandon it.

Testing Ground series #1 Testing Ground series #2

I was really enjoying the challenge of painting abstracts: it really felt as though this was the way I needed to work (in painting, at least).The above are the first two of the paintings that I produced that I thought worth keeping. #1, on the left (I’m not going to try naming the paintings), was a matter of adding colours and shapes over the collaged pieces, building it all up, until the painting seemed to come together. The same approach with #2 didn’t work. I’d tried a looser approach to the painted shapes and it wasn’t cohering. In the end, I painted over a couple of areas with yellow and scraped parts of that back and over other parts of the painting and, with a couple more scraped shapes, it suddenly made sense (well, it did to me: I have no idea what anyone else will make of any of this stuff).

Testing Ground series #3 Testing Ground series #4

I then came under the influence of some real abstract artists, attending the wonderful The Indiscipline of Painting at Warwick Arts Centre Mead Gallery. I was especially taken by the Karin Davie piece, Symptomania no. 7, 2008. I wanted to try and create something similar. I started from the same type of collaged shapes, geometric ones overpainted in red in #3, on the left, and torn, organic shapes overpainted in green in #4. With #3, I then tried overpainting using brush strokes but could not get the same flow of paint that Davie achieves. Maybe it is acrylic vs oil but more likely it is her years of experience and brilliance. I continued adding layers of different coloured swirls but it really did look rubbish. I then returned to my usual approach of painting colours and shapes over the piece until it came together into something I could stop messing with.

The second attempt at this, #4, on the right above, I tried using card to scrape coloured swirls over the underpainting and shapes. This produced a better looking painting but still not one I was happy with. There was no depth to the painting. In the end I loaded a larger piece of card with multiple colours and scraped this over the painting. I liked the effect this made, especially where the card ran over ridges from the collaged shapes. This produced a texture that I thought worth keeping.

In the end, I wasn’t totally happy with these two paintings; maybe because they were so different from what I intended. I nearly left them out of the exhibition but the two guys at the gallery who helped me hang them actually picked these out as their favourites. Que sera.

Testing Ground series #5 Testing Ground series #6

With the next two paintings, I took a more linear, structured approach. #5, on the left above, was an attempt to play with the approach I’d been taking so far. Instead of collaging shapes onto the paper, I drew them on using acrylic ink pens, having first masked out a grid of rectangles (the grid may hark back to my obsession with the Kandinsky circles; see here and here).

I then brushed over these rectangles with acrylic. I loved the way the different colours interact with the ink. I tried to get a range of brush stroking going along with the different colours used, trying to balance them out. I’m pretty happy with the result. One day, I want to go back to this approach and explore some other combinations of inked shapes, colours and brush strokes but, for this series, I wanted to push on to another approach.

This time, with #6 on the right above, I painted the paper in a lime green, to give a clean starting base. Over this I laid a set of masking lines to create set shapes. I then painted swirls of umber and ochre over it all, and peeled back the masking lines. I then applied a different set of masking lines and used card with several colours on it to drag over the painting. It was okay but still not working as well as I wanted it to.

I’d been making some notes about my working practices and thought processes during this project (not as much as I’d intended from the start – what a surprise). Re-reading these brought back the ‘sense of location’ ideas I’d had at the beginning and I started thinking about how landscapes are appropriated and abused, how people will take areas of virgin land because it is clean and new and then mess it up to conform to their own idea of what a nice piece of land should be. That gave me the idea of how to bring the last painting together: I masked out some simple squares over those parts of the painting that still had ‘virgin’ green underpainting and blanked those parts out with white paint. This made the painting work for me.

Anyway, that is it for my works being shown in the exhibition. The idea of the exhibition is that we should continue to work and add to our pieces during the exhibition. I’m not sure whether I’ll do that as I’d marked April down as my poetry writing month. If I do add to my work, it will probably be in the form of collagraphs, but who knows.

I hope you can get to the Surface Gallery to see the show sometime. The Private View is tomorrow night, 6-8pm; all welcome. I’ll take my camera along with me tomorrow night and post about the show afterwards.

Playing on the iPad

For the last week or so, I’ve been working out an idea for a print using five collagraph plates arranged on an A3 size sheet of paper. Each collagraph will be abstract but based on shapes and colours from some of the thousands of photographs we took in New Zealand. Each plate is formed from a mountboard offcut so they’re different sized rectangles mainly (I bought a couple of bags of these offcuts from a framing shop in the Ferrers Centre (Ferrers Frames). I’ve been experimenting on scraps with cutting shapes, filling holes with plaster filler and pushing shapes into them, sealing with spray varnish etc. The whole thing will likely be a complete mess but I hope it’ll let me set a number of lessons into one print. Look out Leicester Print Workshop when I’m done: pity the technician on duty when I come in to try and make this work 🙂

Anyway, the reason for this print is that I wanted to try out an idea for one of the vertical strips of mountboard: a sort of waterfall effect. So, I’ve been scribbling on the iPad using ASketch and InspirePro (just discovered that Cmd-Shift-S on OS X takes a screenshot and sticks it into Evernote).

In ASketch, I drew the vertical shape and then sketched in the rock shapes. It is great the way the lines interact, bleeding from one into the other. Gives some great effects (which you’ll get a better idea of from the website than from my scribbles).


(The squiggle on the right was Vick’s contribution.)

Then, in InspirePro, I had a go at adding some colours to the sketch (by saving the ASketch to the photo album then using that as the canvas in InspirePro). Using a dry-ish brush and quite dark colours, I got an idea of what I want to achieve. InspirePro allowed me to upload the pics to Flickr.


It’ll be a long time sketching on the iPad and trying to realise the sketches in prints, before I know what will and won’t work, but I do love the learning process.

Not quite Kandinsky

This has been a long time coming. My last session at Sycamore Road with Rod was an abstract affair. He had a printout from a web page showing a Kandinsky painting:

Kandinsky Farbstudie

I had a crack at it, drawing up the squares first then trying to match the colours Kandinsky used and blended. I used only the three primary colours with black and white. When I was finished, both Rod and I decided that the square that looked best was the one I didn’t copy (bottom row, second from right).


I really want to try this again but using only my own feel for the colour to see what happens. Interesting to see if I can repeat the effect of the ‘good square’ and if I can come up with a composition that works across the whole canvas.

Another thought. With acrylics, I can work the squares in stages. Fill each square with the background colour, let it dry, then start the concentric circles. It won’t allow any serendipitous bleed to and from the background but will be interesting to see how integrated the image remains as the circles add their own dynamism and start playing off against each other.

Abstract-ish poppy field

I’ve not done any painting at home for several weeks. I started a self-portrait in the style of Hopper but got scared of continuing after the drawing and blocking worked out fairly well – stupid, but there it is. Then, yesterday, I was reading an article in Turps Banana about Robert Welch‘s paintings (quick interrupt: I don’t believe this; only the second time I’ve referenced specific articles in that magazine and this one, too, is available in pdf form) when the style of his paintings and the discussion in the article brought to me what I can only describe as a visceral urge to execute a specific painting.

I love the bread from the Breadfirst shop in the Ferrers Centre and drive there once or twice a week to get a loaf (not to mention some of their cakes). On the way is a field which, over the last few weeks, has erupted into a lava flow of red flowers running down the hill. I assume they’re poppies but have never stopped (no immediate place to stop and the A453 gets some fast traffic) to see. I’ve always meant to pull over somewhere nearby and take photographs but have never remembered to take my D90 with me: I’ll typically work from photographs.

Anyway, this urge was to paint that field of poppies. Not in any exact way, but more in the style of Welch. It was not that I could see what the painting would look like, but that I could feel how each part of the painting should be executed:  strong ochre yellow upward strokes to indicate the field, single red twirls of solid paint for the poppies and harsh, jagged strokes of green for the hedge.

And that is what I did. I went straight downstairs to the kitchen, put a canvas (first time I’d used canvas instead of paper but this felt to be a canvas type of painting) on the easel, got the paints out and got to it. I wasn’t sure about having a bit of sky at the top so put some wet blue/white horizontally across the top quarter. I figured I could leave some of it or paint it all out. In the end it looked good with just that small bit at the top I thought. I added the small black dots to show the flowers were poppies without being too precise about getting them in the middle. I wanted the painting to veer more to the abstract and to look so. The rest was exactly as I wanted it to be.

It was a little heavy so I added some thin strokes of bright yellow to lift the ochre and add interest to the hedge. Also smeared bits of red into the hedge: I wanted that to look more ‘lived in’. So, this is it:

hedge & poppy field

Am I happy with it? Yes and no. I’m pleased that I was able to execute pretty much what I had in mind. I like the way the poppies float over the field, almost like butterflies: it wasn’t deliberate but the look is right. The hedge is supposed to look cluttered and messy, which it does, but does it look it in the right way. I keep thinking of ways to change it but then think that those ways would also have their own problems. The field, I think, needed more solid paint, less water mixed into it. And maybe each stroke could have been edged with burnt umber to put some more structure in there;. Actually, maybe overlaid it with some thinner upward strokes in solid colour to give an indiction of depth (the solid being more foregrounded and the washed out receding). I think the wash effect of the sky worked ok. It does give a sense of distance in the upper quarter where the ochre has washed into the blue/white.

So, yes, overall I’m pleased with it. Whether I’ll keep it or paint over it remains to be seen. At least with this blog, I get to keep a record of it.

My Cezanne

Rod, my painting teacher, suggested I try a copy of a Cezanne painting to get the feel of placing paint onto the paper and making colour and effect from the profusion of marks rather than trying to exactly reproduce an image. We looked through a book of his and chose this one, Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1885-7.

Cezanne's Mont Sainte Victoire

This is similar to the image Rod had in his book, but looks completely different to the copy on wikimedia:

Maybe the image above had been cleaned while I was working with one tinged with old varnish. Anyway, that was the one I had when I started, and it wasn’t as though I was going to exactly reproduce it 🙂

I started it halfway through 15th June class (after finishing the Hopper copy), laying down a base ochre-ish colour. I then started painting in the tree and branches, which Rod corrected me on (he’d gone out to get our tea/coffee): I ought to have started with the sky. So I painted over the branches, leaving just the trunk and put down the sky, or my impression of Cezanne’s sky.

I wasn’t trying to reproduce his painting mark for mark, just to get the feel of how he painted it. Rod helped again when he showed me how to have two brushes on the go at the same time, mixing the marks of the sky. It felt great. By the end of the lesson, I’d done what I wanted to the sky:

my cezanne

I was quite pleased with it, lots of movement. But the test would come with the fore & middle ground.

I worked on that for most of the next lesson (22nd June), trying to put in place the basic shapes that Cezanne used while getting my own balance. It half worked. I got the general colour balance the way I wanted but not the shaping. The middle ground needed a lot more formal shaping to it to balance the unshaped sky and I couldn’t achieve that. I seem unable to paint a small straight line. I’m sure it is partly me but brushes don’t help. Just thought: maybe what I need to do is lay down the colour of the shape and then get the lines smooth by painting the colours next to it. Don’t know. But the fore & middle grounds do not really work, need more precision.

my cezanne

Btw, I captured this image using the scanner and stitching together the three scanned images: seems to have worked ok, better than using the camera which barrels the lines.

Also just noticed, the shapes in the fields are too large. To show the distance of the middle ground, they need to be smaller. Also the moss on the tree needs to be blended more into the bark, less distinct, while the middle ground shapes need to be more distinct. No, not happy with that. Still, lots of lessons learned.

Strangely, it looks more like the second reproduction of Cezanne’s than the one I was trying to copy. 🙂

My attempt at Hopper

In this morning’s art class, I finished off my attempt at one of Hopper’s paintings (Early Sunday Morning, 1930). The original is

Hopper, Early Sunday Morning 1930

and mine is

My hopper red buildings

Not a patch on Hopper, of course, but it is better than the earlier attempt I made at the empty room, so quite pleased. I really cannot do straight lines. Have to figure out an exercise for that. Mine is also a lot brighter: need to get braver with the darker tones. Also need to get better at the detail work.

Have started an attempt at a Cezanne as well. That should prove interesting.

Just realised that the extra tones (shadows and such) ought to have been created using washes. Doh!

Tonal comparison

While writing the last post, I realised that it might be a good experiment to compare my latest attempt with the original Hopper, both reduced to black and white so only the tonal variations could be seen. So, using the Picnik plugin in Flickr, that’s what I’ve done.

Hopper Room B&W Hopper Room 2nd try B&W

The Hopper, of course, is on the left. It has much more tonal variation than mine, which really surprises me. Mine has very little variation in the shaded parts of the walls while the original is much more characterful.

I’m going to have to get some black & white glasses I think – that trick of squinting to reduce colurs to tones never works with me for some reason. Anyone have any better tricks (other than carrying camera with b&w capability!)?

Empty room 2

I reworked my attempt at Hopper’s ‘Sun in an Empty Room’ (see post from 2 days ago).

Hopper Room 2nd try

As I suggested before, this time I worked up a large batch of base colour (about 2/3rds yellow ochre and 1/3rd cadmium yellow) and another batch of grey. I then applied the base colour to each section and worked the grey into it to achieve the right tone. The grey was too light at first so I added more black to part of it. Made a bit of a mess of the trees outside the window: I’m not good at conveying leaves. Will have to have a go at that at one of the classes I think.

Most of the work involved much dry brushing so the colours that I had before were able to contribute to the final colour. The colours aren’t as Hopper had them but the tonal variation is close and that is largely what I was aiming for. I wonder if, instead of using grey, I ought to have used a brown as the adjustment colour. But since that would have been made with red/yellow/blue, it would have combined with the base colour in, to me, unpredictable ways.

Pretty happy with this. Better than the previous attempt anyway.

I’m not sure whether to try this one again with my teacher on Wednesday so I can learn how to do it properly or tackle a different Hopper. Will probably try a different one and see what I can learn from that.

Empty room

In my new art class, I’m going to be trying to copy a Hopper painting next week so I thought I’d have a go at it first. Try to make as many mistakes as possible so I can ask how to avoid them when I get into class. The one I tried today was, ‘Sun in an Empty Room’. The image I worked from was up on Flickr, I think, but I cannot find it again so have uploaded my own copy.

Hopper Room

I also have this in an exhibition catalogue from the Tate a few years ago and the colours are quite different. In fact, even the image above looks different to that which I printed out.

I slapped on a base colour and drew some of the outlines yesterday.

Hopper Room, outline

Then, today, tried it myself. Erk!

Hopper Room, 1st try

Well, at least it is colourful. Nothing like any of the colours in Hopper’s, but.

I’ll have another go tomorrow. What I think I need to do is mix up a huge batch of some intermediate tone of colour for the walls, slap that on each section and then work the change colours into that. I tried mixing each of the above colours individually, with the obvious disastrous result.

Maybe leave the light sections as they’re not too far off and just work on the darker colours. We’ll see how it goes.

It was fun though. I do love Hopper’s work.

Abstract therapy

Feeling a bit off today so decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to try fixing the landscape. What I needed was to just splash paint onto a large bit of paper. So that is what I did.

abstract therapy

Felt good. Balance of colours is a bit off but so are the shapes. Will leave this as simple therapy, I think.

Painting: landscape continued

Had another go at the landscape painting I started the other day. I did indeed break out the better brushes I had and the sable ones were brilliant. I only used one but it held its point and was much easier to use. I’m not sure I improved the painting, though. Certainly, it’ll need more work.

dark hills 2

As far as I can see, the two things I need to work on are somewhat contradictory. I need to blend separate parts of a whole thing so that they look like the one thing, eg the dark and light bits of the hills look too apart, and I need to show that separate things really are so, eg two hills of the same colour need to look distinct somehow. I’m sorely tempted to take a pencil and outline all the hills Smile.

I think, perhaps, I’ve added washes that are too different to the underlying colours, or too intense, eg the red bits of the foreground.

I also have a pretty unsteady hand so find it hard working in A4 but that is what we’ll be doing in the new class so I’d better get used to it.

Maybe one more try tomorrow.