There were several options for this exercise, from a self portrait in a known context, to a celebrity in one’s own home, through to a known person in a fictional background.
My first step was to look through various photographs I had – I prefer to use ones I’ve taken myself wherever possible – and see if something ‘spoke’ loudly enough to be considered. I found one I’d taken two or three years ago of a place called The Hub which is a cafe attached to the local Baptist church and which caters for many of the elderly and disabled residents here, and also the mums with small children needing a breather and a sit down in the afternoons. It’s a bright and friendly place with coffee, tea, and a good many cakes on offer. Today though, it’s closed to its usual clientele, open only as a base, an actual hub, for the many volunteers working to support vulnerable people in the community during this crisis*. One picture stood out – it was of an elderly man almost out of frame at the side of the picture with empty chairs but no other people to be seen. I don’t know why that was but in today’s context it seems to speak volumes about social distancing and loneliness.
I made some paint sketches for compositional purposes, using frames as advised during a recent tutorial. I wanted to work out what to do with the clutter, keep it or leave it out? Simplify or stay true to the photo?
I chose to simplify. To make the figure quite stark in the empty space with the suggestion that the place might be deserted. This is the first larger sketch on A2 cartridge prepped with transparent gesso for solidity and texture. I was tempted to add a flush of colour to the body of the painting but, seeing it on screen, I think the starkness emerges more convincingly with just the dab of flesh colour on the man’s face. I want to tidy up some lines – Hockney-fy it because for some reason it makes me think of his style – keep it clean apart from the man himself. While I’m not at all sure this meets the actual brief of the exercise, I am rather pleased with what has unexpectedly transpired. I’ve used colours and paints that are quite cheap and also less likely to be mainstream for a painting course – metallic silver and anthracite, for instance – to preserve paints such as Liquitex heavy body titanium white which is currently unavailable. I’ve also used Mars black and burnt umber.
Today, I straightened up some lines, emphasised shadows and highlights, put in some lines to indicate perspective in the floor area, and used the colour of the man’s jacket to provide a connection between him and the area through the hatch. Hinting at an eventual return to normal colourful life maybe? I used a cheap magenta student acrylic for this, one of the sacrificial paints that are ‘shielding’ the more mainstream, less blingy paints that are likely to be in short supply just now. It’s an interesting exercise and does demonstrate some versatility in these products.
For me, this painting meets the spirit of the brief but probably doesn’t meet the letter of it and so I will look for another image source with a little more figure and a tad less interior.
Plenty of figures in this one. I’ve returned to a staple of figure drawing that also capitalised on a tiny obsession; the building of the 2020 Mars rover. There was a live feed from the clean room at NASA/JPL and so a constant flow of moving figures – albeit ones looking more like larvae than actual people. Nevertheless, I was able to make sketches and to find shapes that spoke of the humans within the suits, and for this exercise I’m interposing a sketch of myself leaning against a large cupboard (in reality my wall at home opposite the mirror) as an incongruity. There will be a little more figure but still quite a lot of interior. I’m also interested in the idea of making the smooth, clean, and shiny environment more blocky, less real than my first painting for this exercise, especially as the palette is looking as if it will be much the same. Again I’ve used the metallic acrylics silver and anthracite along with Mars black and a rather fluid titanium white. As this is a composite, I’ve used a bit of artistic licence to fill in gaps in some places and leave spaces elsewhere. The rover itself I think I will ‘make’ by suggesting the complexity of the build rather than trying to show its detail. I’m looking forward to dabbing some bright blue onto the top of one of the dark objects at the back – that was the light indicating power to the rover and got people quite excited in the live chat sessions. Those sessions I’m planning to indicate along the right-hand edge but we’ll see, maybe I’ll turn it into part of a rocket.
Day Two in the NASA LiveLab:
The camera is located high up in the viewing gallery of the lab and so the figures are small and seen a little from above. The position I’ve chosen to insert myself would be on a gantry raised up from the floor. These appeared and disappeared at various times, along with a massive crane that could lift the rover in its cradle and move it v-e-r-y slowly from one place to another. I’ve marked out the rough outlines of the staff in their suits to help find some ghosted shapes in the layer of paint already applied. I may change my hair colour, I do that often enough in real life!
Rapidly approaching the event horizon with this. Still, it’s an interesting exercise and if nothing else I’ve learned just how difficult it is to pull off an entire interplanetary space vehicle in acrylics without a bit of support from a stick of conte. In this (possibly) final version, I’ve straightened some of the lines, abandoning the original blocky idea for the laboratory, enlarged the NASA figures to be more consistent with the perspective, put in the blue power indicator light, added some colour to the chat frame on the right, and given myself an upward glancing slightly knowing look; I’m watching the watchers from inside the watch tower. Tomorrow, I might just attend to the over-greyed figure on the right, do something with the arms of the figure above even though there often was someone standing in an oddly inexplicable pose, and straighten the NASA banner at the bottom.
I think I’m done with this. It’s been an interesting exercise but as a composition it falls short of interesting to me. In fact the most interesting thing about it has been the realisation that the rover is upside down. Pictures from NASA’s records show that the area at the top is actually the belly and it’s where the revolutionary helicopter has now been installed. It still seems to be on schedule for launch in June/July this year. Bon chance Perseverance.
*Coronavirus has almost all of us in lockdown with virtually no socialisation outside of our own households.
Time taken: hours, many, forgot to keep track!