Part 1, exercise 1:4 – 10 and 20 minute paintings upside down

Not beating about the bush, I find this sort of task difficult because meaning drives my painting and reducing an image to shapes strips it of that. But I know this image because I used it in the previous exercise and so its meaning, or a skinned down version of it, probably hitches a ride.

For the 10 minute painting, I used gouache on the back of the cover of an A3 sketchbook (folded to A4 I realise), having used the card in the previous exercise. Gouache dries quickly which provides an extra incentive to get a move on. The result is an abstracted piece that, to me, feels disconnected from the original, although again I find the crop quite interesting in its own right, probably because it carries the whole meaning of the image.

Gouache on A3 paper
Crop showing osprey inspecting their eggs

Crops always surprise me because somehow I seem to apply paint in ways that make more sense up close that perhaps at a distance. This time it’s the feathers.

The next part of this exercise is a 20 minute upside down painting. I have prepared an A3 sheet of sketchbook paper with transparent primer because it’s quite old and rather thin and fragile. The primer will give it a bit of substance and resistance. I have also enlarged and reprinted my osprey photo to help with visualising the essential components.

Well, other than one looks like a hedgehog and the other has seriously dodgy legs and a tree growing out of its back, that’s not so bad. I think the eggs win this time.

One more attempt. I prepared the paper again with transparent primer then washed it with T Buff. After using brushes of various sizes for the previous paintings, I chose this time a small pointed palette knife with the intention of making shapes with impasto and sgraffito.

I found this very satisfying, the result looking quite a lot like a lino print (which I’ve never done), and my osprey appearing much less small mammal if still not quite enough bird (the one on the right) than I would like. My paint application is layered so that the underlayers can be exposed by either dragging the knife across that existing texture or scratching them out from under the subsequent layers. The thin paper has put up with this better than I had imagined it would.

As a matter of interest, I would guess that this technique originated with male artists whose well-documented systematising approach to images means that they tend to focus on detail rather than the ‘big picture’. Women do the reverse; detail is often secondary to the whole and so they a less likely to go down highly focused rabbit holes. This is from my PoP blog where I was discussing gridding:

… it’s a very well established phenomenon such that, coming across this technique the first time I immediately judged it to be a male invention. This is not entirely unjustified. Simon Baron-Cohen, a clinical psychologist and professor of autism at Cambridge, has been researching what he refers to as systematisation which he finds to be more common in men than women. People who systemise tend to order things and attend to detail while those who don’t are more likely to overlook detail in favour of the bigger picture. At the extreme is the person with autism who requires absolute adherence to routine and for everything to be the same. [For an absolutely delightful, funny, sympathetic, and accurate perspective on autism, you can’t do better than watch BBC’s The A Word]. In my time as a clinical psychologist, I have watched clients on the autistic spectrum draw very detailed copies of images which were upside down, sometimes never taking their pencil off the paper. They rarely had any notion of what the picture was though, and no interest in finding out.”

Conboy-Hill, 2020.

The reason for raising this is to suggest that, art being very male dominated and techniques often being handed down because they are assumed to address a particular problem in new artists, no one has really questioned either their original perceived value or whether they apply to everyone. If women are more inclined to see the whole rather than the parts, this technique may be of less value to them. There is overlap, people’s ways of doing things are dotted along dimensions, not trapped in categories; and as I’ve noted in the original post, the greater access both to un-gendered toys and to STEM subjects may have skewed these findings in younger women and men.

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