Abstract Figures

Last week I took a 3-day workshop on abstracting figures. I’ve been wanting to really loosen up in my work and have this idea of just slapping on paint, stepping back, and voila, I’ve created a masterpiece! While I know that’s a pipedream, I’d like to work towards it anyway. So, this workshop was exactly what I needed to push me in the right direction.

Our instructor, Leslie Masters, is a wonderful older lady whose been around forever and styles herself in the most quirky bright-colored clothing; all shades of pinks and oranges! She tough but sweet at the same time and you can tell she really knows her stuff!

The first day we talked about Picasso and Matisse and started with contoured line drawings of faces from magazines. I chose a beautiful Asian model and copied her face onto tracing paper starting with simple line, more detailed line, straight lines, and curved lines. From there, we chose one to paint, using bold blocky strokes focusing on the value and shapes. Below are my classmates works from the first day:

(Side note: most everyone in my class worked in acrylic or watercolor. Acrylic lends itself to these exercises very well – working in oil was much more difficult.)

The following day we began with looking at Pop Art especially Peter Max. I was not familiar with his work and didn’t really care for his style; flat, colorful with black outlines – very cartoony, 70’s psychedelic; think Beatles Yellow Submarine.

Our task for the morning was to work with a partner and transfer an outline of our profile onto a canvas, then create a bubbly landscape in the background that followed the curvy lines from our portrait. I must have missed the memo, because I used straight lines to create my background. I didn’t get too far with the painting and I’ll probably gesso over this one and use the canvas for something else. However, I loved the way some of my classmates turned out. Here is my partially finished design/painting.

In the afternoon we created figure collages based on images from magazines focusing on the large shapes. Next, we painted the figures in an environment – channeling the abstract artist Richard Diebenkorn.

The third and final day was really fun!! We were channeling de Kooning and our task was to create a large, loose, messy, abstract figure painting using house paints and large brushes. I chose to paint from a favorite picture of my young son when he was about 4 years old. Below is the original picture and my abstract interpretation: my pièce de résistance!

In the afternoon, we each took turns showcasing our works from the three days and gave a brief synopsis of what we learned, what we liked / didn’t. It was a great foray into abstraction; I learned several ways to approach the subject without feeling overwhelmed, great techniques to get started, and about several abstract artists. Now, I can take what I learned and hopefully approach my paintings a bit looser. We’ll see, stay tuned!

A Brief History of Color in Art

The Art Genome Project

By Sarah Gottesman
May 20th, 2016
Originally found on Artsy.net

Artists invented the first pigments—a combination of soil, animal fat, burnt charcoal, and chalk—as early as 40,000 years ago, creating a basic palette of five colors: red, yellow, brown, black, and white. Since then, the history of color has been one of perpetual discovery, whether through exploration or scientific advancement. The invention of new pigments accompanied the developments of art history’s greatest movements—from the Renaissance to Impressionism—as artists experimented with colors never before seen in the history of painting.

Found in iron-rich soil and first employed as an artistic material (as far as we know) in prehistoric cave paintings, red ochre is one of the oldest pigments still in use. Centuries later, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the most popular red pigment came from a cochineal insect, a creature that could only be found on prickly-pear cacti in Mexico. These white bugs produced a potent red dye so sought-after by artists and patrons that it quickly became the third greatest import out of the “New World” (after gold and silver), as explains Victoria Finlay in A Brilliant History of Color in Art. Raphael, Rembrandt, and Rubens all used cochineal as a glaze, layering the pigment atop other reds (like red ochre) to increase their intensity. A non-toxic source for red pigment, the cochineal bug is still used to color lipsticks and blush today.

Ever since the Medieval era, painters have depicted the Virgin Mary in a bright blue robe, choosing the color not for its religious symbolism, but rather for its hefty price tag. Mary’s iconic hue—called ultramarine blue—comes from lapis lazuli, a gemstone that for centuries could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan. This precious material achieved global popularity, adorning Egyptian funerary portraits, Iranian Qur’ans, and later the headdress in Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665). For hundreds of years, the cost of lapis lazuli rivaled even the price of gold. In the 1950s, Yves Klein collaborated with a Parisian paint supplier to invent a synthetic version of ultramarine blue, and this color became the French artist’s signature. Explaining the appeal of this historic hue, Klein said, “Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions.”

Few artists in history have been known for their use of yellow, though Joseph Mallord William Turner and Vincent van Gogh are the most notable exceptions. Turner so loved the color that contemporary critics mocked the British painter, writing that his images were “afflicted with jaundice,” and that the artist may have a vision disorder. For his sublime and sun-lit seascapes, Turner used the experimental watercolor Indian Yellow—a fluorescent paint derived from the urine of mango-fed cows (a practice banned less than a century later for its cruelty to animals). For brighter touches, Turner employed the synthetic Chrome Yellow, a lead-based pigment known to cause delirium. Vincent van Gogh also painted his starry nights and sunflowers with this vivid and joyful hue. “Oh yes! He loved yellow, did good Vincent, the painter from Holland, gleams of sunlight warming his soul, which detested fog,” wrote the painter Paul Gauguin of his friend and artistic companion.

While the color green evokes nature and renewal, its pigments have been some of the most poisonous in history. In 1775, the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a deadly hue, Scheele’s Green, a bright green pigment laced with the toxic chemical arsenic. Cheap to produce, Scheele’s Green became a sensation in the Victorian era, even though many suspected the color to be dangerous for artists and patrons alike. The French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom wallpaper even featured Scheele’s Green, and historians believe the pigment caused the revolutionary’s death in 1821. By the end of the 19th century, Paris Green—a similar mixture of copper and arsenic—replaced Scheele’s Green as a more durable alternative, enabling Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to create vivid, emerald landscapes. Used as a rodenticide and an insecticide, Paris Green was still highly toxic, and may have been responsible for Cézanne’s diabetes and Monet’s blindness. Not surprisingly, it was eventually banned in the 1960s.

“I have finally discovered the true color of the atmosphere,” Claude Monet once declared. “It’s violet. Fresh air is violet.” The purple shadows and lavender specks of light that enliven Monet’s haystacks and waterlilies owe much to a little-known American portrait painter named John Goffe Rand. In 1841, Rand grew frustrated with the messy practice of storing paint in a pig’s bladder, which was the prevailing method for preserving pigments at the time, and invented a more practical and portable option: a collapsible paint tube made of tin. This enabled artists like Monet to paint plein air, easily transporting their color to outdoor locations to capture impressions of the environment, and in turn led to the production of nuanced, pre-mixed paint shades in tin tubes, such as Manganese Violet, the first affordable mauve-colored paint that meant artists no longer had to mix red and blue to make purple. The Impressionists—especially Monet—so adored the new hue that critics accused the painters of having “violettomania.”

Zambezi
Frank Stella, Zambezi, 1959

The darkest pigment found in Old Masters paintings is aptly named “bone black,” and is produced by burning animal bones in an air-free chamber. While the Impressionists avoided black paint—finding areas of darkness to be filled with color—American artists in the ’50s and ’60s returned to black with a vengeance.

Frank Stella, Richard Serra, and Ad Reinhardt all created monochromatic black paintings, stripping the canvas of any subject matter other than the paint itself. Taken together, these painters prove that black is as nuanced a color as any other, capable of many permutations, tones, and textures. Speaking about his practice in 1967, Reinhardt quoted the Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, saying, “There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow.”

Robert Ryman
Robert Ryman, Series # 32, 2005

Of all the pigments—Chrome Yellow, Scheele’s Green, Paris Green—that have been banned over the centuries, the color most missed by painters is likely Lead White. This hue could capture and reflect a gleam of light like no other, though its production was anything but glamorous. The 17th-century Dutch method for manufacturing the pigment involved layering cow and horse manure over lead and vinegar. After three months in a sealed room, these materials would combine to create flakes of pure white. While scientists in the late 19th century identified lead as poisonous, it wasn’t until 1978 that the United States banned the production of lead white paint. In this era, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Ryman, and Agnes Martin turned to titanium and zinc whites to create monochromatic white paintings, while artists like Dan Flavin bypassed pigments altogether in sculptures that emitted white light directly.

Live & Learn

Our second major assignment was to design a small space to be used for both living and learning, such as a student. I imagined if I had my own place what it might look like: a small one-bedroom apartment with the basic amenities plus two cats.

It’s crazy how much technology has changed in twelve years! I’m sure the ID students today are rendering giant flat screen TVs instead of tiny televisions and they surely aren’t rendering speakers hanging on the wall!

(Side note: Why did I choose a hot pink wall? I hate hot pink!)

Live & Learn Presentation

Color & Rendering

8″ x 11″ Marker on Paper

As part of the Interior Design program, we took classes on color theory and rendering by hand. We didn’t have fancy computer programs that did the work for us and I’m glad for it!  Rendering allows you to convey your ideas to clients in a visual manner by making presentations appear realistic and three-dimensional. For example, when looking at your presentation, a client should be able to tell what colors and materials, e.g. wood, stone, cloth, leather, metal, etc. are being used.

For this assignment, we had to recreate the missing half of a photograph. On the right-hand side is the photo and on the left is my rendering.