Last weekend, I attended another of Petra Siering’s workshops in her studio in the old Tapetenfabrik in Bonn-Beuel. The focus of this workshop was to find ways to abstraction using mixed media. We were free to find our own path while the artist herself provided guidance as we needed it. My personal aim was to choose a simple motif and work out my own route towards abstraction.
There was a very Zen still life with some large flat stones set out in the studio. A coil of wire on the table, may or may not have been part of the set up but I decided to include it. The shapes were simple and coherent. I did not draw the objects in their setting; rather, I used a viewfinder (actually an old photographic slide frame, which fits in a pencil case, pocket etc. – very handy!) to select four different views and drew these fairly rapidly (10-15 minutes each). All four fitted on to a page of A4 but as two were portrait and two landscape, I have edited a photo to make it easier to interpret them. I used HB and 4B pencils.
Here are sketches 1 & 2, in landscape. The division between them was a light pencil line and is unclear in this reproduction – it lies roughly halfway. The same goes for the portrait images below.
Here are sketches 3 & 4, in portrait. Afterwards, I selected sketch 3 to develop further:
I chose sketch three because the composition had a better balance of wire and stones and, because the focus was close-up, it seemed already half-way to abstraction. It was possible to see the next step away from the reality of the subject into a freer and potentially interesting representation of the objects.
I decided to use watercolour, wet-in-wet, in order to achieve softer, blended edges. I have very limited experience of watercolour so what followed is not what was in my head at the outset! I chose a limited palette of ultramarine, carmine and emerald green. I also mixed the blue and red in different proportions to produce some different shades of violet. Blue and violet dominated with red and green, applied as accents. The paper was A3 200 g.sq.m, rough.
I produced a few “cauliflowers”, which thankfully responded to a wet brush and could be lifted away. Some of the edges lacked definition where it seemed as if there ought to be some, while some other edges had too much. Therefore, after it was dry, I applied coloured pencil lightly over the surface, which created a sense of depth in places, as it clung to the surface of the rough paper, while the paint was visible beneath.
Here is the finished painting:
I rather liked the colours in the final product, even though it felt at various stages as if it was just going to be a mess. However, the dense blue patch is too intense – it is not matched elsewhere in the image.
I experimented with cropping the image to achieve further abstraction. The first attempt is too empty. It feels as if the objects are sliding off the right hand side of the page.
This is better but is much like the original with the edges removed. However, it benefits from having lost the dense blue patch. There is a better colour balance here.
The third one creates a new composition by altering the balance between the objects and changing the viewer’s perception. The blue patch is back but, because it is now at the bottom of the format, it creates “weight” in the composition and so works a bit better than in the original and serves to lead the eye into the composition.
While the paint was drying, I sketched a corner of Petra Siering’s studio. I didn’t finish it… I see now that the large paint containers are too close to the left edge…
On the second day, Frau Siering showed me a book by Ulrich Klieber “Wege zum Bild”, which was written for art teachers but which is accessible for students, too. I have stored up a few ideas from this and developed one of them at the workshop.
I wanted to use different media from the day before and have wanted for a long time to bring elements of collage into my work. I began by making a simple A4 design in pencil based on the printing rollers and brushes stored on a nearby bench. An old newspaper nearby caught my eye and I ripped up a page to add text to roller handles. A cartoon supplied an alternative to text, in places, as did a colour photo on the front page. If I were going to develop this, I would be tempted to spend more time on the text elements, so that the lines of text followed the contours of the rollers. The “Druckindustrie” (printing industry) label from a headline was just one of those serendipitous things! I finished off by loosely defining the contours in water-soluble fine liner and adding a wash in a few places.
A painting that I had seen in Klieber’s book interested me. It involved layers of acrylic paint with an image etched into the surface at different stages such that a single layer of paint could simultaneously be a base for another layer, showing through where the upper surface had been etched, as well as the top layer elsewhere in the painting, into which a design could be etched. I began by exploring possible colour combinations. I wanted to use white and Payne’s grey and a warm red or red-brown.
In the preparatory painting below, I experimented with red ochre, brilliant red and vermilion.
The paint dried very quickly and it was obviously not going to be possible to produce an image in the top layer of paint in one go. You can see where the paint resisted the etching (which was done with the end of a paintbrush). I went over the etched lines in a pen to make the design clearer.
Frau Siering suggested using oil paint on the top layer because of its slow drying time but that would have taken too long to dry. I decided to try it in stages – paint – etch – paint – etch – across and around the paper and see what happened. I chose brilliant red out of the three tested colours.
Here is the outcome:
There was not a lot of intention behind this composition because of the need to focus on the technique. If the paint was wet enough and of the required consistency, I etched a roller or a brush and then let it dry and moved on to another bit. It was an improvement on the preparatory painting in that the paint did not snag during the etching. The brush on the left was initially etched but the lines were careless and did nothing for the image. Frau Siering suggested that “ein Strich ist auch ein Pinsel” (a stroke of a paintbrush is also a paintbrush) and I took her advice and drew a line standing directly over the painting, splaying the ends of a dry brush for the hairs. I am pleased with this effect – the brush and beaker are the best part, I think.
I am quite pleased with the colour balance, although would have liked to have managed greater transparency in the white such that more of the red had come through from beneath to create greater tonal variation, as achieved partially in the preparatory painting. The red tends to sit around the edge for the most part, a consequence of the need to focus on the consistency of the paint more than its colour!
New ideas, new techniques and lots of fun! I am content that I achieved my aim as a first step on a path towards abstraction….. What a great weekend!
Klieber, Ulrich (2007) Wege zum Bild: Ein Lehrkonzept für künstlerisches Gestalten. E.A. Seemann Verlag.