Assignment 5- Windows from another Age

The brief for this assignment is that we submit a series of three to five paintings on a theme of our choice.  Subject matter, approach and techniques are up to us.   It’s suggested that paintings could be linked by subject, technique or a common theme, such as progression – through the seasons, or paintings of the same subject that become progressively more abstract.

Initial thoughts and planning of the process

I think it is very important when one starts to plan for this assignment that you have a clear starting off point, otherwise you are going to wander about all over the place.  Initially I thought I had made some reasonable decisions and proceeded along that path, however as is evident in these notes later on, I changed direction slightly.   One of the reasons why I chose to use windows as my subject, was from being encouraged by the remarks of my tutor regarding one of the paintings I did in part 4 – the under-wash of a window study  …

loose under-painting

… and how he felt it stood well on its own and was in the spirit of something Luc Tuymans might do. 

I decided to use this concept as the basis for my work in this part 5 – i.e. a series of paintings of windows and light. I had originally planned to do a series of paintings of the same reference image developing the works into more abstract forms.  I felt I could keep the palette for the series of paintings muted but this would be open to suggestion (by the work) as I go along. 

After choosing the concept, I then thought about the kind of work that inspires me.  Natural light coming through windows always fascinates me and I am inspired by several paintings from various painters who have used this subject – from the highly decorative and colourful windows in Pierre Bonnards paintings to the dark, sombre graphic work done by Rothko and others:  

I am interested in the interiors of restored castles and fortified manor houses, like Stokesay Castle, which was the inspiration for my first assignment piece.  I used one of my own photos for the subject of that assignment and I decided to revisit this concept, again using my own source photos.    These are some of the thoughts I had around the series of paintings of ‘windows from another age’

  • Interiors of ancient places, especially the windows, are fascinating.   Immensely thick walls protecting the inhabitants from the weather and marauding armies, featured windows usually only on the top floor.  These windows were often protected with wooden shutters.
  • The windows in these buildings took on a deeply philosophical and spiritual significance.  Many of them are designed in the style of monastic or church windows, i.e. arched.   Great skill in stone-masonry was required to fashion the more ornate windows, often incorporating stone seats, where ladies of the castle or manor house would sit and sew.   Most windows in these old buildings did not have any glazing and some were often barred.
  • We are facing isolation on a daily basis at the moment due to Covid-19 and the pandemic is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, no matter how hard we try to ‘carry on as normal’, sometimes it’s a wonder whether it will ever end.  We seem to spend our lives looking out of windows watching the world go by.  Yet people who lived in the buildings where my subject windows are located, faced even harder times and often were shut away for months, if not years, at a time. 
  • I am mindful of my tutor’s comments around my first assignment piece and hope to be able to take all this on board. 

For your first assignment you chose really interesting subject matter and produced a well-composed photograph to work from. The photograph is an ambitious source image – i.e. complex transitions from light and dark are not easy things to do well. Apart from some points I mention below, you managed to capture the aura and sensitivity of this image rather brilliantly; I immediately feel a sense of being in this space. You also captured an historical ‘emptiness’ and in a way that hasn’t resulted in ‘an empty painting’. I do, however, have a few suggestions to help with future paintings like this.

It is clear that some of the things you learnt in the exercises were put into action in this final piece. These include employing transparent and opaque areas of paint, using a range of brushes and painting without brushes, and using different drawing and painting mediums. I would be mindful, however, of not including too many approaches in a single painting. Sometimes it is good practice to reduce the terms of engagement and keep things relatively simple. For example, working with the single medium of paint and a limited palette (based on what the subject matter is presenting), would be a good way forward here. You can make a convincing painting of a subject with only a few colours and just one approach, and I would encourage to you explore this more fully in future.

Indeed, this photograph has a very limited palette and it is predominantly made up of imposing dark areas – it is a great photo by the way. To convey this in a painting, a relatively simple approach is needed. Address the whole painting and try not to focus too long on any one area. Instead, build up the painting in layers from extreme darks to the vibrant lights. Remember you are dealing with a really dark photograph, so it needs a lot of dark paint to get the point across. Also, try not to invent too much colour in the darkness, or too early in the process – colour is present in the photograph but more minimal than you think.

These are my source images  :

The Zoom session with my tutor showing how to work from dark to light, has also been an inspiration to tackle this subject, especially taking into consideration his remarks made in the tutor report for assignment 1 (highlighted in bold above).  I thought it would be interesting to see if I could produce three totally different paintings of a similar scene, using techniques discovered in part 5 coursework.  That was the plan anyway.

I first started with preparatory sketches for the Window and Barrels composition, to figure out the proportions and format for this work, which initially I thought would be on a squared off support (i.e. not landscape or portrait format).   I quite heavily cropped the images whilst working through these preparatory sketches.

I worked from dark to light on tinted paper (middle image in soft pastels on Pastelmat) – not a warm tint but a cooler brown, I think that helped me to see the dark tones better and stopped me putting in colour, which as far as I can tell is only in the foreground barrel and under the eaves (the struts for the ceiling support are a soft blue in tone).  

The only issue with this cropped version is there isn’t much area of wall on the right  (the heavily textured section), which would give me less scope to use heavy texture, as I’d originally planned to do.   So, I then tried out another pastel study this time incorporating the wall area.    I am thinking – even though this sketch is very rough – that the landscape format, utilising more space for the right hand side wall area,  would create a more balanced composition, plus I would have the opportunity to use more of the picture plane later for textural effects.   

Note to self and anyone else who uses pastels – always use the right paper and shy away from using white as it doesn’t help at all with colour balance (at least in my experience). A tip I picked up from a YouTube pastel artist ( Les Darlow) is to tape off a section of the paper to place your dots of colour – for reference purposes later on. It’s really a helpful tip, as it avoids you having to keep trying out different colours once you’ve got the palette right. I know a lot of painters already do this anyway but I’d never used the tip for working with soft pastels until I saw Les Darlow demonstrating it.

CHANGE OF DIRECTION

After doing the preparatory sketches for the Barrels and Window subject, I had a rethink about the way I want to tackle this assignment.   I’ve decided that a ‘drippy’ kind of approach to the Barrels and Window composition would not work very well.   I figured there’s no reason why I can’t use different windows, so I decided to make the Barrels and Window composition in soft pastels the first painting in this series.   For the second piece, I will use the ‘Arrow Loop’ window as subject and the final piece will be the ‘Arched window and seat’

Barrels and Window

After doing the preparatory sketches, I took out my very large sheets of Pastelmat paper, which is in a sienna tint and cut a piece from it measuring 35 x 35cm or approximately 14 inches square.     I first roughly drew the main shapes with charcoal pencil and then started working on the darks first.   I used Sennelier, Rembrandt, Art Spectrum and other cheaper brands of pastels to get the required level of dark black and also the greys for the shadow areas and walls.   I put in a tiny dab of bright orange on the front left side of the foreground barrel and also included dove grey and blue tints in various other parts of the painting.  The tone of the paper, a rich sienna, helps to create a warmth in what could otherwise be a very cold and dead looking image.   For the light in the window itself,  I used cream, light blue, pink and white tones.   I did a small amount of pencil work – using Caran D’Ache soft pastel pencils but I didn’t want to fiddle too much with the pencil work.  Overall, I think I’ve captured the depth of tone reasonably well in the final piece and I’ve kept the transitions soft.  By providing more wall space  behind the barrels, painted in light greys, blue and white, this balances the very dark opposite side of the ‘room’.  I think if I hadn’t put the lighter grey wall into this painting, it would have been very oppressive.

‘Barrels and Window version 1’ – soft pastels on Pastelmat 35x35cm

I did a second version of this painting, also with soft pastels but in a landscape format.  I used a lot more colour in the underlayers on this painting and I’m also quite pleased with it.

‘Barrels and Window version 2’ – soft pastels on Pastelmat 35x50cm
textural detail

Arrow Loop Window

I discovered an old piece of hardboard that I usually use as a support to draw on, which measures 40.5 x 30.5cm   I felt that this would work well as a support for this painting, as I knew I was going to load the surface with a lot of pastes, gels and other materials to create the texture, so I needed something strong that would not warp.   I first gesso-ed the hardboard.  Once it was dry, I gathered together items that I could use to incorporate into filler, to create the illusion of an old wall.  I didn’t want to build up the texture too much as this would end up being a bas relief sculptural effort and I am not going for that with this piece.   I put down some filler onto the board and then mixed in small chipping stones, I continued to build up the filler, eventually adding some tiny pebbles.  Certain areas of the filler I left smooth – i.e. to the right and left of the window shape.  In order to make the smoother surface, I first brushed it with water and then lightly smoothed over with my fingers.  I also used a left-over orange bag to press into the wet filler, as this also makes interesting texture, simulating the rough stone plaster.   I waited for this all to dry before working on it further. 

This took two days.    Once it was dry, I used acrylics to create the tones on the surface. 

‘Arrow Loop Window’ – mixed media on hardboard 40x31cm

Arched Window and Seat

While my Arrow Loop project was drying, I decided to plan how I would compose this final Arched Window Seat painting.    I felt that it suited the addition of a human being into the composition, perhaps a young girl reading a book (or cell phone!?), maybe even dressed in medieval costume.   I decided to try and recreate the idea of a girl seated in the window seat that I had photographed in Stokesay Castle.  And then perhaps work from both photographs, incorporating the girl into the final picture.   I asked my son who is very proficient in photo-editing to help me roughly ‘splice’ the two images together, so that I could get a better idea how the project would look.     

reference photo idea with cut out of girl in window

After doing a very rough drippy acrylic version of this scene, I decided that it would look twee and very naïve to include the figure in the window seat,

Preparatory paint sketch in acrylics

I did however, have a go with a collage’d image of the woman taken from my mock-up photo-edited picture and messed about with a lot of paint and brush pens.

Collage element in mock-up of woman in window

I still didn’t think that this would work for the final piece.

I was nervous of tackling this piece and I suppose that’s why it ended up being the last one I did. I used Arches for oil paper 300gsm (about A2) and for the palette, I used Cobra magenta, primary yellow, brown and paynes grey with some white and black. I ‘tidied up’ some of the construction lines with Tombow brush markers. 

‘Arched window seat’ Oils on Arches paper 57x38cm

These, then are all the pieces:

Assignment criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I feel I have incorporate all of the following techniques/skills into the final pieces:

Painting with pastels;  working with different coloured grounds;  colour accuracy;  from inside looking out ; linear perspective; painting from a working drawing and photographs, squaring up; impasto; adding materials to paint. 

Quality of outcome

I am happy with the outcome of these pieces, I think they all work well together as a concept. However, I think I could have made my final piece a bit more ‘drippy’ and looser.

Demonstration of creativity

I feel I have demonstrated several creative concepts in the production of all four pieces.  The choice of soft pastels for the first image was a natural choice for me, as it’s a medium that I enjoy working with.  I also enjoy working with texture and the application of pastes and fillers to create the second painting was a lot of fun.   In my treatment of the final piece,  I wanted to really stretch myself and work with oils to try and create the same amount of luminosity that is possible with pastels. I forced myself to use a very limited palette in all pieces and I think it works with this subject matter.

Context, reflecting thinking, critical thinking, analysis

I noted in my research relating to Luc Tuymans that he starts with the lightest colour and then works up to higher contrasts*   I often do this but it is interesting to start with the darkest areas first, it helps cement the image I think.   I believe I have taken onboard the comments my tutor made relating to my assignment one piece and have not introduced unwarranted colour into the pieces.  The colour has been used specifically to create atmosphere and a background glow, it is not being used to overpower the finished piece.  I’ve used a lot of restraint in the application of colour, which is naturally difficult for me to do.   I don’t know whether that shows a degree of personal growth on my part – in other words, what I have produced here is diametrically opposite to how I would have tackled this subject at the outset of this course.  Things don’t have to be drenched in colour to convey the idea of a story. 

Bibliography

All assignment piece source photos are my own.

Windows in medieval castles/homes: https://www.castlesandmanorhouses.com/architecture_06_domestic.htm

Arrow Loop window – The narrow window of a wall or tower through which arrows and crossbow bolts could be fired. Usually a vertical slit, sometimes with a short horizontal slit to improve sighting.   https://www.ancient.eu/article/1233/an-illustrated-glossary-of-castle-architecture/

Les Darlow  https://www.lesdarlow.com

Luc Tuymans   https://www.tuymans-prints.be/en/luc-tuymans/4pm   (Source for image of ‘4pm’)

Vincent Van Gogh  https://www.vangoghgallery.com/catalog/Drawing/1684/Window-in-the-Bataille-Restaurant.html   Source for image of ‘Window in the Bataille Restaurant’)

Mark Rothko   https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/rothko-black-on-maroon-t01031 (Source for image of ‘Black on Maroon’)

Bas Relief https://www.thoughtco.com/bas-relief-183192

Tuymans L.  On&By  Whitechapel Gallery, London. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.2013  p.42  (source for information relating to how he paints)

http://www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/procktor.jpgs (source for image of Patrick Procktor’s Nasturtiums, Wusih)

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