I spent the weekend at an acrylic workshop lead by a young local (i.e. Bonn) artist, Lena Frings. The weekend was very well structured and we received just the right level of advice and support. This post documents the various activities.
1. Working with tone – exploring tonal values through colour. The image below left shows initial straightforward tonal exercises. These graduations were then used to create an abstract image in which tones change gradually. I like the transparent layers that occurred in places. A meditative exercise and good for brush control. Colours used were ultramarine and yellow ochre.
2. In the next exercise, were we encouraged to incorporate tonal range into a still life. As I have been working on transparent and opaque grounds recently, and the interplay between transparent and opaque layers within an image, I incorporated these into the painting. I built up the image with a wash but then thickened up: The onion and lemon were finished with thick luscious acrylic. I scratched into the onion to create the markings in the papery skin. I tried to use the main colours in the image in the water pot in the background. It doesn’t look too much like water but the curves echo those found in the fruit, while the vertical edge of the pot provides a contrast.
3. We were asked to bring a photo to use as the basis of a portrait. I used an image from a magazine, which I chose because the subject was shown unsmiling, three-quarters on to the camera and, therefore, not looking at the viewer. I sketched the image below in my sketchbook first. I did not faithfully copy the face – I wanted the directional gaze more than anything. As I drew I decided to leave the hair and use the shape of the head. The day before, I had played around with ultramrine / madder red and white paint, which had created a bit of a mess. I wanted to recycle this in this portrait image. The challenge that I set myself was to incorporate the ground and use it to enhance the image. The page below shows initial experimentation with the colour of the intended ground with possible skintones.
The images below show the initial and a middle stages of the portrait. I began with a charcoal sketch on the “bare” ground. The image on the right shows the head after it has received one coat of transparent skin tone. I had experimented with some colour blends that might work with the background (see sketchbook page, above). These blends used different mixes of warm and cool reds and yellows. The one I chose was cadmium red / lemon yellow, with a touch of yellow ochre, thinned down to a transparent wash. I adjusted the facial features – was not happy with the nose and mouth, in particular. The reference image was rather different – my subject now reminded me of a Buddhist monk, albeit in Western clothing, but that seemed to work with the ethereal background.
I tweaked the features further and built up tone with more transparent layers, to model the head and facial features. Finally, I redefined some of the lines with charcoal. I am quite pleased with the portrait overall – there is a sense of a person there and I like the way that he emerges from and simultaneously merges with the background. This was serendipitous – I had no real plan when I began and the idea of the transparency came from our workshop leader and it is definitely something that I will take further.
4. The final exercise was a landscape. I used a passepartout to isolate a tiny section from a photograph of a rocky landscape in Austria. This section was then abstracted into an image. The planning page is below. I wanted colour and texture contrasts between the bright, smooth foreground rocks and the blue wall of bare, rocky mountain in the background.
In the preparatory sketch, I had tried to reproduce the striated rock in the background. However, as I painted the image (which is little more than A4) and added, towards the end, the blue foreground marks, it seemed necessary to use this colour elsewhere in the picture. I added white and the colour also merged with other paint on the palette, which was then roughly applied to create the mountains / cloud in the background. This seemed suddenly to create depth in the painting, as well as providing a rougher texture to contrast with the smooth rocks.
The rocks were painted using a cadmium red / ochre mix (as used for the skin tones above but with very different outcome). I applied several layers, adjusting shadows and light continuously.
I am pleased with the muscular feel of these rocks, as well as the depth of field. I would like to explore this further using different colour schemes.
Four very different exercises and a very enjoyable workshop. I now have a better sense of feeling for acrylic and more confidence using it, as well as ideas for taking these techniques further.