|Signs of Activity||09-10-2022|
A single light blinks on within the DIODE TAPESTRY. Painting progress continues, despite the distraction of a dozen other pursuits. Here's a new gouache study in black and white. I'm wrangling with the colour for this picture now, just taking it step by step.
A little while ago I wrote something here about the merits of painting's slowness but lately I've been thinking about the other side of the coin. The slowness of painting (at least the way I practise it) and the lag in time between the moment of inspiration and a picture's complete realisation has me frustrated, and searching for more immediate methods of making images. The posters of the Academie Populaire from the 1968 Paris uprising offer an inspiring example. The designs are so clear and simple and there is an attractive levity to them that contrasts with the browbeating, antagonistic tone of other political art. I'm also drawn to the woodcut prints of Felix Vallotton for similar reasons. I have done some crawling around on social media and found more inspiration in the work of the contemporary Brazilian artist Dinelli and the more local Workers Art Collective. L has been teaching herself how to do screenprinting recently, and I intend to sponge some knowledge off of her so that I can make some posters of my own.
Related to this is that I have been trying to participate in activism and protest more. I don't have a lot of experience, and often feel out of place or unhelpful, but I feel strongly that I want to contribute. So far it has been fun, and people have been very nice. For now I'm just trying to follow along and learn what I can.
I just finished listening to Hannah Arendt's amazing Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. I so admire her resolute commitment to reality, again and again she returns to the sober facts, casting down the more comfortable beliefs one wishes to hold in the face of atrocity. Her writing casts shame on denial and bad faith and extolls the essential usefulness of the unpleasant truth. Stay safe out there friends, and don't forget to KYEO.
I'm still working away at lots of incomplete projects; wrestling with sculptures that form and collapse, paintings that accumulate layers only for them to be wiped off the following morning. Maybe I should write here more often, rather than waiting for the occasion of some successful sketch or study to post with. But anyway here is such a thing - a drawing of a person to use for a picture I showed a couple of posts back. I have had awful trouble getting the point of view right. I've made plenty of failed drawings, paintings and attempted sculptures along the way. Once I get stuck on an idea I'm like a dog with its teeth sunk into an offending limb, holding on despite all shaking and blows. Belief in the value of the picture only takes me so far, at some level it is just a refusal to fail, or a conviction that success must be possible via some route or other.
Alongside these personal projects I have been turning out some smaller gouache pictures for group exhibitions. If they are fun and don't take up too much time I think it is worth it. Going to these sorts of shows for the opening night is nice and makes for a good reason to go out with friends. I usually treat the paintings less seriously and experiment more graphically with composition, colour and pattern. I've learned how to cut the glass and matts and build the frames so it is not a significant cost to put something like that on show and see if it sells.
Another diversion lately has been a self portrait that I just finished for the Rick Amor Self Portrait Prize. I used the water soluble underpainting method I described in the last post for this painting and it worked perfectly. I'm really chuffed with the result, it gives me confidence that my studies have been worthwhile. L also painted a really excellent one using two mirrors for a side profile view - she always has such great ideas for pictures.
I set myself to listening to an anthology of George Orwell's work. I had only read 1984 and Animal Farm - maybe a decade ago. I really loved Down and Out in London and Paris and Road to Wigan Pier partly because of my admiration for muckraking, social justice type of journalism, but also for Orwell's mad and comic willingness to insert himself into the conditions of poverty at the cost of his own embarassment and suffering, and to try to overcome the bias of class and upbringing in understanding his subjects (though he readily admits the limits of that task). I found his political essays and works of criticism entertaining, clever and relevant. Coming Up For Air and Homage to Catalonia were both brilliant and Burmese Days is worth a go if the setting and subject matter draw you in. However I found that the undercurrent of bitterness and misogyny that occurs in his other books so pervades the depressing Keep the Aspidistra Flying that I couldn't bear to finish it. Well but so I'm back to listening to 1984 and this time the extra context and background has made it much more engrossing and fresh. I have put a link to a website that hosts plaintext copies of his work on my links page, as well as a good source of audiobook torrents.
After a trying out a few substitute mediums for underpainting sans solvent I painted this study of Andrea del Sarto's Portrait of a Man to try out water soluble oil as an alternative medium. The first shot on the left is a single pass with just raw umber, on the right a second layer using sepia (ivory black + red oxide) and white. So far, so good. Painting with water feels pretty similar to solvent and allows for the same kind of loose, thin, reworkable application of paint. In the second layer I could develop the tonal range, add some more opaque pale tones and make needed corrections to the drawing. The plan is to work over the top of this with good ol' fashioned oil paints, the drawing and tones of the picture having been established with a minimum of paint.
Now that I have produced a good number of small studies and some full size cartoons for pictures I'm about to embark on some big studio paintings. It's been a while since I have done this and I'm been feeling a little lost and hesitant w/r/t method. Browsing through Solomon J Solomon's book The Practice of Oil Painting and Drawing as Associated with it has been instructive in this regard, and his emphasis on the importance of the grisaille prompted this exercise. I'll try to get my hands on a physical copy and read through properly. As well I have been taking some close, hard looks at Degas to try to glean some hints about painting process. This exhibition of 'Unfinished' art from the Metropolitan Museum is also worth looking through, although many of the images are restricted in size.
The DIODE TAPESTRY now includes some texts in the links section. Share and enjoy.
My computer's storage is getting close to capacity, such is the way of the DIODE TAPESTRY. A lot of my drive is taken up with digital painting files, many of which are just aborted attempts at studies from life or quick value sketches of compositions that didn't really turn out to be too interesting. In cleaning up though I found a few which are worth a second look so I'll share them here. I was talking to a friend who said he keeps old unsuccessful paintings around to "scavenge" ideas from. I think that is a good strategy. No ideas are total failures, there's always some aspect or feature that is strong and valuable that you can rescue and reuse in a new way.
Most of these were done on location, painted straight into Photoshop. Typically I would work on these after work or school in the city at night, standing around with my tablet computer and pen, painting until my battery died and then heading home. Working digitally is pretty good for painting plein air in a city. It's inconspicuous and you can do it places you would never try to take an easel - like on a train or a busy footpath.
I've been playing a lot of music during the lockdown. I've had plenty more time to spend playing guitar and have been putting a bit more effort into learning music theory. I'm recording demos on my phone and it's sounding better all the time. One day I'd like to put some tracks up on a bandcamp page or something. But for now that's just a nice little daydream. In the meanwhile here's a music recommendation.
Here's another idea for a picture. I've been trying out different variations on this composition without feeling like I was really getting it quite right. In all my other attempts the advertising image was situated on the vertical plane in the bottom half of the picture - viewed directly as a poster mounted on the wall. I let the idea be for a long time while I worked on other things and then it occured to me to overlay the image onto the figure walking outside the window, as a reflection of a screen inside the building. The study above was supposed to be just a quick underdrawing to be painted over with gouache but I kind of got into the zone with it and kept drawing. I'm sold on this composition so I'll stretch up a canvas and get to it.
We're still in lockdown, so I'm painting and drawing a lot. I put my name down to exhibit something in a 'Spring' themed group show. I would have painted something plein air - there's lots of nice flowering trees around my neighbourhood, almond blossoms and magnolias. Plenty of buzzing bees out and about, going from flower to flower. But I'll have to come up with something I can do in the studio. I want to make a painting of my cat anyway, so I'll contrive some way to make it relevant.
Lockdown again. Again I have enough free time to push forward a bit on some work. It doesn't bother me though, moving slowly, because I feel like what I am doing is worthwhile. Extension of time might be healthy for painting, what sets it apart from other methods of image making. It gives time for an idea to mature, for little influences and insights to seep in and for quick judgements to be counter-balanced by long consideration. This oil study is for a painting that I was intending to do for an exhibition in 2018, but never followed through on. The composition has been expanded and contracted, changed orientation. The figure has been brought closer in, pushed back, put a on bicycle. I keep my eye out on bright overcast days for the way things look under a cloudy sky and pay attention around construction sites for things to include. In time it will look right and then I'll paint it. No rush.
I finished a good portrait of Lexi recently, and just framed it up with a nice heavy dark frame. Portraits are so frustrating and it feels good to be satisfied with one. I'll post a picture when I can manage to make a good photograph of it. Anyone out there got some good advice for photographing dark, glossy artworks? Email me please, I'm having no luck blundering about on my own.
Locked down at home for a couple weeks again. It's really great for painting, just knowing that I have a good number of free days ahead of me really lifts off a tonne of baseline anxiety and lets me focus on more important things. One thing I have been working on is this idea for a picture. I saw a view like this on a road trip a few years ago and it stayed in my mind. I've made a couple attempts at painting it in the past but I haven't been satisfied with it. Recently I sat down and tried painting different versions of it under different weather conditions. These are the two I like the best, and I like them both equally so I might end up painting large versions of both (these little oil studies are about 10cm across, painted on illustration board). One seems like an early morning mist kind of effect and the other puts me more in mind of fog at the darkening end of the day.
I'm still here, down in what must be the deepest layers of the DIODE TAPESTRY. I can only liken it to the sensation that you experience, when having been suddenly tumbled into a body of water, you scrunch your eyes closed, collect your strength and try to push off of the bottom of the pool - only to feel your legs strike out uselessly into the water around you. Maybe there is no bottom, or maybe you have gotten turned around and forgotten where the surface really is.
Here's a new gouache study, for the same picture as the people from the last post. Even though all my finished paintings are in oil I find gouache is really good for preparatory studies. It dries fast enough to quickly put down an idea, handles well at a small scale and doesn't tend to shift much in tone or chroma when it dries. I don't mind the matte finish either because I like my oil paintings pretty matte.
This is a painting of my cat. She's 7 years old now and she is a really sweet and wonderful companion. I do lots of little paintings and drawings on cards for friends and relatives because it is fun and it feels nice to paint with someone specific in mind. This one is for my great aunt.
Life goes on in the DIODE TAPESTRY much as it always has. For my part, I am feeling very content to stay in my apartment and dedicate my time to making artworks. Here are some paintings of the people that will be in a picture I am working on. I shared a composition study for this picture a couple of posts back. For these paintings I used black watercolour over pencil drawings and then added more modelling and detail with sepia and white gouache. I try to challenge myself to always be painting and drawing different people, from different angles and with different lighting. One reason I do is because it will help me develop a broader range of skills, and I won't be confined to painting the same types of pictures. Another reason is that there is a very broad range of people where I live. Painting has historically focused on representing narrow subsections of humanity and there is an insidious tendency to go on repeating this error in novel ways.
For our exhibition last year, Lexi and I decided to make our own picture frames. We had not done it before and didn't have any specialised tools but we managed to work out a reasonable way to do it. First you need to get your hands on some picture molding, the hardware stores here sell cheap short lengths of Tasmanian oak, or you could scavenge some from an old frame. For the pictures below I used samples of discontinued molding that my work were tossing out. They are only about 20cm long but that's just enough for little panel paintings. I cut the corners using a hand saw and a plastic mitre box and then sanded off the existing paint. To join the pieces together I used pva glue, and once that had bonded slightly I screwed a right angled bracket into the back of each of the corners. I fixed up any little gaps with wood filler and then gave the frame 3 coats of a black lacquer. The finished product is not as elegant as a v-nailed corner but it is cheap, strong and reasonably simple. I just got some better framing equipment for Christmas (a Nobex mitre saw, a band clamp and a v-nailer tool) so I should be able to accomplish some more sophisticated and professional looking work in the future. I'm looking forward to trying out different lacquers and finishes and getting my hands on some cool decorative moldings as well.
I have been tied up doing some other things lately, and working on some Christmas gifts that I don't want to spoil by posting here so I'll just share a couple composition sketches from my wall. This is how I have been starting pictures for the last few years. Later I usually go and do location sketches/paintings or build up little reference libraries of photos to help develop the idea, but I always want to start with a drawing from my head. Sometimes it is a view that I have seen and I try to recreate it in a drawing, sometimes it is a picture that drops into my mind like a daydream and other times I will start drawing with nothing in mind and scribble out a little scene from intuition.
I'm very interested in the working methods of other artists and lately I have been looking at Goya's preparatory drawings for the Los Disparates series of etchings. They're really compelling and confident (and weird), and it is interesting to see how the nebulous and messy sketches get resolved into finished pictures in the final print series. The staging of the figures and the arrangement of tones in the sketches is really excellent and varied. Goya was an irrepressible moralist who obviously felt strongly about his subjects but it would have been for nought without the visual intelligence to give those thoughts and feelings coherent form in pictures. He would have been in his 60s or 70s at this point and the experience of decades of creating pictures really shows. Really inspiring stuff, I think this one is my favourite.
I have been back in the city recently which has been really nice. Mainly I was glad to go to the second hand book store, where I bagged copies of Germinal and A Room of One's Own. I started reading Germinal years ago after seeing it mentioned in Van Gogh's letters. There was a raggedy copy in the art school library and I used to read it at lunch time. I didn't finish it before graduating and it bugged me not to know how it ended. There's lots of new developments and construction sites in the CBD so both times I have sat down to paint my attention was on the skyline.
I rode my bike into town both times so I only had my previously mentioned pan gouache kit and a pocket sketchbook with heavyweight paper. I switched back and forth between painting layers in gouache and then adding lines in pencil and that was a good way to work. Neither are quite finished (the cranes in the first one are missing tops) but I'll keep picking up speed I'm sure. I've been listening to a recent biography of Vincent Van Gogh and nothing lights a fire under you like hearing about the feverish pace of Vincent.
Halloween, the only cool holiday, has just been and gone. This year we carved a pumpkin to celebrate and then lit it up to paint while we played some spooky movies. Now he sits on our balcony, coolly surveying the summer skies and grinning ever amiably at the wattle birds and crows that come to perch on the powerlines.
The support is a hexagonal MDF coaster from the craft store. Very fun format for a picture.
I have been trying to paint some portraits lately, lockdown has given Lexi and I the perfect opportunity to sit for each other. They haven't gone so well, which is fine, but so I wanted Lexi to give me some advice. Her paintings have such accurate tones and colours, and her tightly controlled modelling gives every object a unity of form and surface that perfectly preserves the invisibility of the picture plane. I'm always looking over her shoulder noticing her doing little things differently to me. I asked if we could each do a study of a Velazquez painting together, and I would follow her lead vis a vis palette, brushes, method.
Here's the result. Lexi painted one too (also on a 4x4 gessobord) and in half the time it took me. Here are my notes on the session:
I could have made my tones a little smoother on this one and used a little less paint in the lighter areas of the face, so I'll keep practising but this was good to do and it gave me the confidence boost I needed to give portrait painting another shot. Here's a self portrait from last year that I found too:
I have been having a bit of burnout with my personal work and decided to take a break from a couple projects over the last two days. Often when I watch a movie (especially one I have seen before) I keep an eye out for interesting shots. Maybe they are compositionally artful or striking, or they might have a lighting scheme or colour palette that would be a good reference for a painting. I take screenshots and organise them in folders and so far they have just sat there on my computer and I'll flick through them now and again. For something to do while I cool off from my other projects I picked two out and painted studies of them in oil on scraps of primed polycotton.
The first is from THX 1138 (which I have to admit I didn't actually finish because I got a little bit sleepy) and the second is from 1984. I feel like 1984 should get more credit than it does. The film doesn't really do anything special that isn't already put forward in Orwell's book but the visualisation of the world by way of the sets and props, especially the screens that dominate the film's world, is really compelling. John Hurt is also spectacular in it, and the whole tone and atmosphere of the dystopia described in the book is really beautifully imagined. I tried rereading 1984 recently but a couple chapters in I stopped because it was so familiar to me that it was a dull experience, but the film has stayed exciting somehow.
I really tried to knuckle down and do some thorough and accurate colour mixing and paint in an efficient way, letting the combination of well chosen colour spots laid down in the right shapes make the forms read. I also tried painting with lavender spike oil as a medium and I liked it. I'll try to work it into my regular painting practice.
Lexi was also working (on her website!), and while we worked we listened to a bunch of albums. Two things we both really dug were: Finding Gabriel - Brad Mehldau - an experimental jazz journey with way out combinations of rhythmic vocals, samples and synths with more typical jazz instrumentation and the Day of The Dead OST - John Harrison which didn't make an impression on me when I watched the movie but boy oh boy it's real good listen.
Pulled out my gouache kit that I wrote about a couple posts back and used it to paint the sky from the kitchen window. It was good fun and made me want to keep up a habit of it. It was late afternoon when I started working and just about to rain. Since then it's kept up pretty rainy and grey outside. Hope everyone else in lockdown is having a good time - don't hesitate to reach out if you're bored or feelin' blue and want to chat.
So here's one of my current pictures in progress. I painted the first gouache study standing on one of the platforms at Flinders St. It stayed in my sketchbook for some time but then I cut it out and put in on my wall. I liked it, but didn't know what to do with it. The giant advertising screen mounted inside the structure there lit up people's faces in different colours as they were transported down by the escalators, and all the light spilled out to tint the condensation formed on the windows. It looked eerie, and interesting, but not quite complete on it's own. I though maybe I would go back with more gear and paint a bigger study at the train station.
Then the pandemic happened and I wasn't going to the city any more. So I started researching other similar buildings, looking at photographs of airports and shopping malls that featured these kinds of transitional structures. I traced and transfered the contours from the painting onto a large page and started to extrapolate outward and draw the surrounding area.
To populate my picture I drew these studies, trying to stretch my brain and visualise the people from the right angle. When it goes right this is one of the most fun parts.
I transferred part of the perspective drawing and painted it with black and white gouache. This was starting to look good to me, but the composition here is just incidental - I stopped at the edge of the page.
So I dropped a photo of the gouache painting into Photoshop and started to tinker around, painting over the top. It would need some reflections in the glass. I curse myself everytime I decide to paint a subject that involves glass at nighttime. You can end up putting in two pictures worth of effort for the payoff of one. But just like paintings that feature screens or printed images it is a way of getting to use juxtaposition in a format usually based around single static images. Anyway, I zoomed the scene out and tried a whole bunch of different architectural forms before settling on the way it looks now. Expect more to follow!
Here's a little experiment of mine from last year. Having not been able to get my head around watercolour and prefering the opaque layering of gouache painting I made a pocket set of dry gouache. I mostly used Daler Rowney Designer Gouache because it is cheap and didn't seem to flake or crack too much. Adding a bit of gum arabic appeared to help with that too but as you can see there were mixed results. I would carry this around pre-loaded with little bits of watercolour paper that would fit into one of the mixing areas. Also I would have a refillable water brush and a tube of white gouache. It is small enough that you can get it out on the tram and do a quick sketch, and quick enough to get down a momentary light effect, like in the little evening scene below. High key saturated colours are pretty much out of the question, but you can get to a hard black using a black brush pen and the tube white works for an opaque highlight.
I have also clipped it to one side of an open watercolour sketchbook and used the gouache over the top of ink/fineliner drawings as in the two studies on the right. That was a good way to have a strongly defined underdrawing, and I can stand around in a train station or wherever and because it all fits in my hands and pockets I can paint without having to bring an easel or pochade. Here are some studies I did on the tram to and from work for a painting last year. I haven't used this kit for a while now, but it has definitely proved it's usefulness.
I started building this website a few months ago. I decided I wanted to do it all myself and began reading tutorials on w3schools in my spare time. The vague initial idea for the site morphed over time as I fiddled around and figured out what I would be capable of. I spent a bunch of time browsing Neocities and Brutalist Websites seeing what other people had created, and found a bunch of cool pages and interesting people in the process. I learned a bunch about the internet and webpages, going down a bunch of interesting tangents and into technophobic realms of paranoia. But now it's pretty much done and though I can't imagine it's very elegantly coded, it seems to work and it makes me happy to see it up and running. I'm on Neocities while I test it and if I stay in the habit of updating and it grows too big then I'll migrate somewhere else.
Most of my ideas for pictures come from walking around the city or just being out and about at night and since I haven't been doing that I have been working with older sketches and ideas. It has really put the focus on studio painting since I can't depend on doing sketches or studies on location. So far that seems to be a net positive - though I'm spending more time working on preliminary studies and relying on perspective drawings to work through problems and mysteries, I think the pictures are more imaginative, or less mundane. I don't have any deadlines at the moment, or any economic pressure sell my labour so I want to really dig in and make some larger and well-considered paintings.
I don't have a comments feature on here (I have no idea how to do that and don't really mind that much) but I really would like to hear from you if you have something you want to share or say, so please email me if you want.