Experimental Painting by Lisa L. Cyr

Spotted this at my local library, I really need information on experimentation and thought it would be helpful.

Here’s the contents list:

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It has a several demonstrations in it, e.g. making a customised roller, experimenting with metal substrates, foam substrates, employing inlaid boxes etc but it does not give step by step instructions. For me, it was lacking information on how to do these  methods but may suit other artists who have a basic knowledge.

It has given me a couple of ideas of materials to use but really not that suited to where I am at in my study but it was a quick read.

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360° Studies

I swear the weather Gods are against me, every time I step outside, loaded with drawing gear, the heavens open. As a result I have been working from photos, which I know is not the same, but in order to get going on this part I need to move on!!

I feel like I am struggling with part three and I’m not sure exactly why. However, using compressed charcoals I attempted  my first drawing:

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fork in the road, compressed charcoals

I really struggled with this drawing and I can’t fathom why, I didn’t enjoy making it and can’t say that I am enjoying Expanse in general but this feels like quite a negative drawing. Maybe it’s just a funk or maybe nature is not for me, I’m can’t say.

Second drawing:

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lone tree in compressed charcoal

Perspective is an issue with the road on the left, the horizon is wonky, everything is at a slant so not the most successful sketch.

At this point I decided to abandon the compressed charcoal and try regular willow charcoal:

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graveyard wall in willow charcoal

This felt a little easier to draw, perhaps because I am more comfortable with the willow charcoal than the compressed? The shapes are recognisable, the horizon is straighter and I think it has more character than the previous two.

Finally, the fourth in the 360° series:

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wooded path in willow charcoal

I decided to try a slightly different style here, to use less strokes as the first in this series was very dark. It has lightened it a little. Not an exciting series I’m afraid. Perhaps my mood has been affected by the consistently bad weather here and also my return from a fortnight’s vacation. Hopefully next week will be better!

Sketchbook Walk

I decided to potter around my own garden as I would like to make changes in it so thought it was a good idea to go out and study it. It is quite overgrown in places and the wildness appealed to me. There’s an ongoing battle, us against nature, which I thought would be interesting to document.

My first image is where the gazebo used to be and where some container plants had been moved temporarily. I am investigating this theme of human absence at the moment so this sketch appealed to me on that level too.

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patio and plants in pencil

 

I chose this primarily for the composition, the different shapes, the round pots against the geometric bricks, and the strong verticals of the budding plants. This lacks a bit of depth too, and I found it challenging to fit everything in. Only afterwards I thought perhaps the image lacked colour.

I realised I should use more colour so decided to use watercolour pencils. I really did not like the drawing so used a paint brush to water them down somewhat. I did not like the effect of this either to I decided to draw back into with an ink pen.

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picnic bench in watercolour pencils and ink pen

Adding the ink improved it, I like the verticals from the trees and the cross angles from the picnic bench. This image appeals to me as, although the main subject is the picnic bench, it’s as if nature creeping slowly in to dominate. The bench works well to divide the background from the foreground, and thus the different textures are also divided. The resulting composition is more interesting than I imagined, due to all of the differing lines.

My third drawing I drew a pile of grass my husband made in the front garden. I picked it because I thought it was a bit of a different image but when drawing it I really hated it!

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haystack in coloured pencils

Whilst the hay pile was the most interesting to draw, there was a lot of grass going on in the view and it was hard to distinguish between the foreground and the middleground. I really detested drawing the back shrubs and trees. Sometimes the minutiae of detail irritates me as it did here. I think the background looks quite childlike so I scribbled vertical lines over it to make it recede. This is not a great sketch although the verticals may add a bit of interest.

The weather has been so overcast of late that everything looks dark and depressing, even though it is summer it has been dark skies. This probably has influenced my mood somewhat, maybe I am expressing my dissatisfaction with the weather!

My final image is a small shot of the birdhouse and the stone wall which I like, with one of my favourite plants, the cordyline.

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birdhouse and garden wall in coloured pencils

Although the drawing isn’t particularly skillful, I like the horizontal lines of the walls echoing the horizontals of the fence. These lines are broken up by the foliage and the main focus, the birdhouse. There doesn’t seem to be much depth here, I’m not sure the middle ground of the plants on top of the wall is well represented, I would say it is lacking depth.

For all of these images the sky has been overcast, when it wasn’t raining so light direction wasn’t really an issue here. I have chosen different patterns, juxtaposed verticals and horizontals and tried to create interesting compositions. Not my finest work

Cloud Formations and Tone

By now, I should be getting used to the fact that the exercises are often harder to execute than I imagine. I have been waiting weeks for the white, uniform clouds to move on and to see some variation happening in the skies above. On a positive note, I have been observing the sky more than I normally would, and noting how fast the clouds move on windy days and how they hardly seem to budge at all when calm and still.

I have ended up drawing from photographs as I couldn’t wait any longer for the weather to change.

The first one is drawn in soft pastels, which are becoming my favourite thing to use, I like things I can stick my fingers in, and move around. I tried using a brush but it didn’t really work well, I think because it is too hard.

This was a real case of layering in chunky strips of colours in blues, whites, and grays, then rubbing in softly with my fingers and then more finer, sharper layers for more details. I was thinking of Vija Celmins, thinking of how long she must spend creating her intricate works, and I’m just trying to recreate a semblance of clouds.

After I finished I sprayed it with hair spray, which has made it rather grey, which I don’t like but I think it has added some texture, which I do like. A few people had recommended using hairspray as a fixative but personally I won’t be using hairspray again.

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clouds in soft pastels

I spotted a dramatic cloud photo on Facebook so I decided to attempt a version in oil pastels, which I am still learning to use. They are somewhat tricky and I used my fingers again, and the hard brush. I’m not sure about the end result if I’m being honest but here it is anyway.

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clouds in oil pastel

This was not very successful. I found myself really laying the oil pastels on thick so I could manipulate them and blend them but I may have reached the point of resistance! This is often a problem for me, I need to learn when to stop and pull back. Using a wet wipe to remove some of the pigment worked somewhat but I find this overworked.

For my final cloud I chose compressed charcoal which seemed the perfect medium for an overcast day. My approach this time was rather like an underpainting with the darkest points marked in first, then adding medium grey and white for the highlight. I blended it in and ended up with this:

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clouds in compressed charcoal

As soon as I saw this uploaded, I decided I wasn’t convinced it was finished so I added a layer of white slanted lines, that looked like this:

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clouds in compressed charcoal version 2

I quite like this effect but it looks like rain, and it wasn’t raining. Although I think the diagonal lines add some movement, the clouds still don’t have enough weight to them.

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clouds in compressed charcoal version 3

I blended in some more and am left with an amorphous tone, which lacks definition.

Finally, I worked into this some more.

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final version of clouds in compressed charcoal

I don’t think I can do any  more on these clouds. I’m not fully convinced by them so have decided to stop anyway. I think I have to settle for these.

From a distance some of these images seem to work well, especially the first two attempts. My conclusion is that clouds are very challenging to capture well.

Vija Celmins

Continuing with the theme of expanse, we are introduced to a different way of drawing landscape with the work of Vija Celmins. She is best known for her highly detailed, monochromatic paintings and drawings of nature. She was born in Latvia in 1938, relocating to America in 1948 as a refugee from the second World War, her career spans six decades.

Her graphite drawings focus on natural elements, such as the ocean, the moon, spiders’ webs, the sky,  shells and close-ups of rocks.

Her night sky images are perhaps what she is known for best, these are pictures of huge, vast natural phenomena that is hard to capture and yet she does capture them, in painstaking detail. There is no focal point, or horizon or even perspective in some, but the detail of her work allows you to really examine it and get lost in it.

For many of her works, Celmins followed Ad Reinhardt’s 12 Rules for Painting, 1953, which dictates no form, no colour, no movement, no light, no colour etc.,  thus determining a ‘pure art’, where more is considered less. Celmins’ work epitomises these rules, the lack of horizon enables her to imagine that “I wrestle a giant image into a very tiny area and make it stay there so that it seems inevitable that it is there¹.”

I find her work a little difficult to explain well and I suspect that much of its significance comes from the process of making her work and why she makes the work. I know that she collected images from childhood, some of her early work of war images is probably a reworking of her early years when she was caught up in the Second World War. This use of found images was popular in Pop Art but she was more influenced by Magritte and Morandi than Warhol. The two dimensional aspect of her painting is important to her, labouring to capture a three dimensional living, moving object, into the two dimensional picture plane of a canvas. It’s important to note that her works are not drawn from the subjects directly but rather from found images, or newspaper clippings or photographs. This suggests a distance from the subject but the meticulous detail of her works suggests something closer, more intimate. I feel like there is a whole lot more to her work than just the microscopic detail of her drawings.

Her work lacks colour, probably originating from her source material of newspaper images which mostly came from black and white newspapers. After the war images, she also painted very severe objects like lamps, space heaters, etc, in an attempt to reject her earlier learning and progress her thinking about art, “I was trying to get back to some kind of a basic thing where I just look and paint, and sort of an old-fashioned kind of way of starting out³.”

Her work is intense, she is studying, examining and then recreating what she sees, in relentless detail. In her interviews she talks about capturing the essence of the subject, so that the subject matter and the image exist together at the same time, they become enmeshed and she wants the viewer to have that same experience of recreation. It creates an intimacy with the subject that you can’t get from the subject itself, e.g. the ocean is too big, constantly moving and splashing but in her pictures it is still so just for a second, if you could suspend it in time, that is what it would be.

The lack of horizon is also intentional, “I want to place the work in a wall, I don’t want to make a pictorial picture where you might imagine a horizon and what’s other the horizon. I want to keep you in that rectangle³.”

 

Whilst her galaxy pictures are about infinity, with no perspective, her cobweb series offer us a map of surface texture, inviting us to look up. They can also be considered as negative or eraser drawings where a black background is laid down with charcoal and erasers used to bring out the image from the original paper. There is no spider, shifting the importance onto the structure rather than the creator. I think this may be as personal as reference to herself as any; she does not seem to really enjoy talking about her work but she wants us to study her work, and interact with it.  She is as considered as her work.

In the video she discusses how she doesn’t think of it as drawing but more “using a pencil as my medium”. Later, when discussing her sculptured stones  To Fix the Image in Memory 1977–82, she says “the point is not to mimic but show a kind of attention span and a thoroughness of putting the paint down and looking at the found object and picking this tiny, tiny area, remembering it and putting it on another object which I had made.” Whilst her picture is still, with no obvious movement, a still life if you like, the natural object is moving, spinning and turning. She is redescribing and remembering a moment in time, capturing it forever.

Close up her pictures are like photographs, highly detailed and textured but from a distance they seem empty and lonely, there is no focal point or people, this feeling is emphasised by the lack of colour and use of greys. There is a real sense of space and time, of movement captured, achieved through the intricate, repeating patterns created throughout her structures.

I’ve read a lot about Celmins now and I’m still struggling to fully understand her approach, in her interviews she talks about her fondness for scientific images, such as the stars and galaxies because they are anonymous². She doesn’t give anything of herself away in these images, rather they are intense studies, almost microscopic in detail, which I would love to see close up. She examines photographs of her chosen subject matter, to “relive that image and put it in a human context, and I would like you to be able to scrutinise it and relive the making of it the way that I have been doing for a long time¹.”

 

Footnotes

  1. Kennedy, Randy, February 9, 2017, New York, the Artist Vija Celmins Conjures Sea and Sky with Brush, accessed 27 June 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/09/arts/design/vija-celmins-matthew-marks-gallery.html
  2. Tate Shorts, April 4, 2014, Vija Celmins Artist Rooms, accessed 27 June, 2017, http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/tateshots-artist-rooms-vija-celmins
  3. Sussler, Betty, 18 October 2011, New York, Interview with Vija Celmins, The Museum of Modern Art, http://www.moma.org/pdfs/docs/learn/archives/transcript_celmins.pdf, accessed 27 June 2017

Bibliography

Manchester, Elizabeth, 2005, Tate Website

Goertz, Ralph, 2011, Cologne, Vija Celmins Desert, Sea and Stars, Institut für Kunstdokumentation

https://art21.org/read/vija-celmins-building-surfaces/