I decided to spend much of October and November of 2020 pushing my boundaries by following an eight week course in abstraction and storytelling by the peerless Tracy Verdugo. She has already helped me a great deal in previous, shorter courses both by freeing up my painting, and introducing me to new media, particularly newer and brighter versions of acrylic paints. Who knew, that in the 15 or so years since I last picked up a brush that wondrous products, such as acrylic inks and highly pigmented fluid acrylics had been born? Or at the very least, I had not previously noticed them.
I have to say, that wandering the Internet for art teachers is so very much more inspiring than my single year of Open College of the Arts, or my other single year at Anglia Ruskin University ever were. I found these experiences frustrating and hugely unsatisfying. I found I learned the most from being a member of the local Ouse Life group, both by a regular drawing practice (since abandoned by me in favour of Tae Kwon-Do) and the inspiration of fellow artists.
Anyway, this post is about the third piece I produced for the Storytelling course. The prompt for the painting was given by Tracy as a mermaid sculpture of hers, or any similar personal icon. We were to paint on watercolour paper with ordinary acrylics in a restricted palette (isn’t that so often freeing?) and with a background wash or a contrasting acrylic ink.
A previous lesson had me rifling through my plan chest in search of ancient paintings I might use as torn-up parts of inspiration bundles. In doing so, I came across a 20 year old painting of me as a bathing beauty. I stopped what started a a relatively realistic painting, when I realised that I loved the otherworldy effect of letting some of the contrast underpainting show through. It is a personal favourite of mine and also made me think a bit about mermaids. Enough so that I abandoned, for now, the idea of using an icon such as Boudicca for a mythical image.
I retrieved the original photo (no, I can’t paint myself nude in the bath and couldn’t even in my younger days!. I will spare you this. I headed to my trusty Paintshop Pro to straighten up and shop the image into a more useful shape. Don’t at me but I then traced this image onto my A4 sized bit of primed watercolour paper. I rather like tracing things, it seems more gestural and less weird than using a grid (which I often do). I didn’t want to faff about getting the proportions wrong.
So, what was left was to follow Tracy’s advice about using decorative napkin pieces as part of the background detail, plus a reference to a personal object from the previous lesson (in this case, I only managed a green plant, which I later turned into a pink lotus-like flower. The body took up a lot of space! I had Millais painting of Ophelia in mind, with the lady floating down the river, except mine is washing her hair, thoroughly at home and not in any kind of suicidal mood. Or freezing, like his poor model, Effie, was. To enforce the point of her relaxed mood, in a mythical landscape, I made her green and the background pink.
I have included some of the progress as I painted. I’m afraid I got too involved in the process to keep taking photos, for which I apologise.
I have to say, after fiddling about a bit with some sharpening of detail, I adore this picture, even though it does not seem typical of my style at all. Perhaps that is the entire point of taking a class.