Incy wincy new assessment piece

In the last tutorial for this module, we reviewed my selected pieces for assessment. I have re-worked one (The Speed of Things) but the replacement for Blue Bus to Keswick is coming from a standing start.

I decided to focus on techniques and subjects that would be consistent with the body of work I’ve already assembled, and while these vary from the ecological to the illustrative, they are all what I would define as more painterly than the Blue Bus piece. Brush strokes over reliance on exotic media such as mirror foil.

At present I have no more commissions for paintings to accompany literature and so my mind went to the Mitigation series which comprises osprey and a seal, the existence of which in their painted settings is due to positive anthropocentric intervention. I decided to include spiders which, due to my own personal positive anthroposcenic efforts, I find not only less abhorrent and alarming than before, but actually attractive.

I had joined a Facebook for enthusiasts, observers, and cautious onlookers of insects and invertebrates. The impact on my approach to spiders has been remarkable. From near panic at the sight of most spiders to tolerance of even the Giant House spiders that amble across the floor (but not quite the one that landed on the sofa between me and my cat when all three of us took off in different directions!), cellar spiders in the shower, and crane flies almost anywhere except the shower, and genuine delight at the sight of many more.

One such little cutie is the Jumping Spider, a tiny creature with large headlamp eyes at the front (and several more round the sides so it looks like a Dalek ), neat little furry palps, and tucked-in legs that help it to jump like a ball bearing on a drum. I found a macro photo on the Insects site for reference. Photo credit: Rory Lewis.

This turned out to be cute but not at all what I wanted. Acrylics on A2 primed and glossed cartridge.
Taking shape and with something of the crab about it now – which might offset those very appealing blue eyes!- it feels more alive than any of the previous pieces.

As always in these kinds of paintings, for me the eyes are critical and however impressionistic or gestural the rest, this feature needs to hold the life of the animal and make the viewer believe in it. This little poser has a bandit mask around his!

22nd October. I’m beginning to wish I’d gone for Seti rather than setae. These feathers are complicated and counter-intuitive and the changes of focus in the photo make representation more difficult than it might otherwise be, at least for me. I want movement and a clear indication of what this is without looking as though I’m fudging the tricky parts, although it may come to that.

This looks better on-screen than it seems to me in reality. There’s movement but I’m not sure it’s in any way realistic, even as an impression. And the wee fella seems to have a mouth.
I’ve restored the colours of the foreground/rock/piece of gravel the spider is sitting on, added some red pigment to the legs which I’ll mute later with a brown wash, and indicated movement with streaks where the setae are. The alternative would be to paint them in fine lines which would, to me, be a static rendition, but there may be a way round this. The pink under the eyes is a light wash to underpin a later white/Naples yellow mix. When I painted the seal, I found that a few light brush strokes to suggest whiskers worked well and so, although they were quite large and amenable to gesture, it might be the way forward here. The pedi-palps (under the ‘chin’) need a little more definition too. Blunt the perch? I’m not sure just now.

23rd October. Last night I had one of those sofa-to-easel moments and deployed not only a dark wash to the lower ground but also the acrylic pens to my spider. I have LED lights in the studio; bright white and a little distorting of tones and saturations, although no more so than the natural shift from yellow to blue over the day; so I applied a filter to compensate, then got carried away with several more. It makes me wonder now what the original is – a true representation of the pigments, tones, and shades I put there, depending on lighting conditions, or the cake with all its substance to which icing can be added. Light can only draw out what’s been put there, and filters can only add purchase to existing elements. If you wear tinted glasses, your experience of a physical painting will be different from someone else’s – unless that person has a differently constructed perception of colour, cataracts, or genetic anomaly. These filters accentuate or mute, warm up or cool, the tones I’ve used.

Close crop with iPhone Vivid filter. It feels true to the spirit of this little beast and also to my interpretation of it as an articulated, armoured, mini-droid that would have a future as a mechanised house pet. The lines are acrylic pen and are chosen to hint at a metallic exoskeleton and micro-fibre sensors. Again, I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible with the eyes, and in this instance it’s clear that cute could get you access anywhere.

No filter. LED light.

Looking at the various digital versions, including the crop, it seemed to me that less is probably more and much as I hate to waste any part of the painted effort, a crop is my preferred submission piece**. But first I experimented with some masking tape painted black to assess the best frame and aspect ratio. I was keen to keep all those legs but in the end went for the close crop I’d made originally.

This is the model for a more competently framed crop.

There wasn’t a huge amount of difference that I could see between the various formats, nor the slightly differing border sizes although the narrowest felt better placed, clean, and operating as a relatively unobtrusive marker.

Jumping Spider. Acrylic paints and pen on gloss varnished A2 cartridge cropped to27x24cm. Natural light, no filter. Photo reference credit, Rory Lewis, member of the Facebook group, Insects and Other Invertebrates of Britain and Europe to which I owe both a much improved knowledge of insects and a considerably reduced flight response to spiders.

24th October. After a brief email exchange with my tutor and some thought about her view, I have changed the submission piece to the full image rather than the crop. I think my choice was more ‘spider’ than ‘painting’ focused due to a feeling of pressure (never expressed by anyone) to get this right for the insect/invertebrate audience. A painting is not a document in the sense of accurate reporting of its subject, and mine certainly isn’t. Someone seriously suggested Christmas cards though, which might be a first!

Uncropped. Natural daylight, no filter.
Large crop to exclude physical background.

In MotionLeap there are eyes …

Made in MotionLeap for iOS, I think this small intervention epitomises the all-round vision and mystery of spiders. I read a sci fi story years ago in which, as I remember it, spiders suddenly became the dominant species, hunting and exterminating humans. One spider, from a faction not in favour of the genocide, has a conversation with a man hiding in an attic saying, ‘I think we can save you’. The man looks hopeful and the spider, embarrassed, says, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean you personally, I meant your species’. Be kind to spiders.

*Setae is the (plural) term according to the Insects and Invertebrates group, and means ‘bristles’ according to wikipedia. This unattributed paper, The Hairy Spider – Sensing the World with Hairs and Pits, 2018, comes via the Australian Museum and was suggested to me by Insects/Invertebrates member Anna Mathisdottir. Accessed 22nd October 2021.

**One of my earlier tutors on this course told me how, after working and fiddling and making all kinds of adjustments to a piece, she had suddenly realised that a particular crop was the work and the rest was just noise. Here, I’m hoping I have been wise enough not to have cropped out the work and left the racket!

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