Project 1 – Exercise 2: Hard or soft landscape – ‘The Rock’

For this exercise I will build on my sketchbook works that I keep as a daily routine for exploring my surrounding environment and for experimentation. I am taken a view from a window out of the residence building of the clinic in Meiringen (Bern) Switzerland. Meiringen, also know as the place of Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Final Problem‘ (Wikipedia).

I will leave out the frame, as the painting is already an enframed landscape: a soft landscape with hard rocks, trees and receding mountains.

I didn’t decide yet which route to take and what kind of painting I am going to make. Therefore I started painting of various studies of my subject matter, rather experimental and use of different media. I am thinking along the line of sublime, fear and beauty the same time. Rocks as a metaphor for stability, memory against the human vulnerability and at times loss of memory. The sky with its transient and transcendent nature.

Contextual research:

In parallel to my experimental studies I looked up different artist to see how their works and approach resonates with me. Perhaps one or the other approach could give me new ideas. Once again I was looking at two artist I know from previous researches and exhibition visits:

(all images accessed between 30 Oct and 02 Nov 2016)

Alois Lichtsteiner (b. 1950) a swiss artist I discovered first at an exhibition in Bern (click here) whose works are available from:

Examples:  ‘Berg (Mountain)‘ 2014, Oil on canvas (22 x 32 cm) and ‘Berg (Mountain)’, 2014 (100 x 160 cm) or in color ‘Berg (Mountain)‘ Oil on canvas (22 x 32 cm)

=> Simple abstract brush strokes in monochrome that conveys the illusion of rocks in snow. I like to simplicity and the visual power of that. Perhaps too calm for my subject matter. Although this still might work considering Luc Tuymans response to 9/11 with his very large Still life painting as his emotional response to terror, a sublime response.

Brooks Salzwedel (b. 1978) a Californian based artist I researched as part of Drawing 1 looking at multiple layers (click here) whose works are available from:

Examples: ‘Gay Speckled Mountain‘, 2016. Graphite, colored pencil, ink (8 x 10 inches) and  ‘Two Mtns, 2014. Graphite, color pencil, tape (24 x 18 inches)

=> simple drawings in monochrome one multiple translucent layers of papers. His works are going rather towards drawing and reminds me more of my own sketchbooks works. I will work along that line further in my sketchbook at smaller scale and see whether this could give me down the road a larger painting made out of smaller serial paintings – as my tutor suggested in her feedback on assignment 3.

My intention for my painting would be to apply rather abstract strokes with brush or other tools alongside an appealing atmosphere that would fit into the concept of the sublime.

Also I find some works by Elsbeth Böniger (b. 1945) fascinating as she works at time with moving the support and not the paint. The paint follows her movement of the support. An approach I will experiment with in my sketchbook. I could sense that the moving support can act as a metaphor for the shaken life experience of the patients in the clinic. The paint – not knowing where to go – like the people restless, facing at times a lack of emotional response, depending on other (support) to support them with direction. Quite a painterly approach.

In this context I continued to look one more time at the work by Laura Lancaster (b. 1979) who works mainly from found images. She applies a thorough preparatory approach, though the making of the painting is less controlled, gestural and building on the free flowing materiality of the paint. More of a playful interrogation with paint and surface to depict forms and expression. (Phaidon, 2016)

Also I looked at some work by J.M.W. Turner as ‘Snow Storm- Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps‘, 1812 for the gestural and expressive painting building on the Sublime theme. Depicted people at the lower edge of the image rather squeezed towards the edge, overwhelmed and with fear of nature’s force.

So my intention so far: Landscape scene as a mirror of stability and movement, loss of both, my painting approach to reflect on the uncontrollable life experiences. The ‘skaken’ support as the trembling foundation of life.

Final Painting:

Building on my work from part 3 and my tutor’s feedback I am going to present two versions of final paintings:

  1. The conclusion: A cluster presentation of my sketchbook and loose sheet studies to provide a wider perspective of my subject matter and my relationship to it
  2. The summary: I larger scale elaborated painting based on my learnings from the studies.

1) The Conclusion – a cluster presentation:
Two options of 13 resp. 10 studies on ‘The Rock

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - Cluster 3

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – Cluster 3

2) The summary – an integrated painting ‘The Rock‘:
Oil on sized linen with acrylic ground (50 x 60 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2

and to visualize better how process as painting can act as an artwork by itself I combined the indivodual process steps of the making of (see below) a video – a time based painting approach:

Preparatory work and Studies:

Initial sketch in bold contrast in ink and gouache:

On my daily sketchbook walks and painting I captured this view from the window in bold tonal contrast in black and coloured ink. The darkness and blackness adds a certain drama to the image.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 1

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 1

Studies in watercolour:

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 2

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 2

The first two are nice but didn’t provide me with more information compared to my initial sketch. Still keeping that as my reference.

I enjoyed the physical approach with textured ground for the rock in combination with the free flowing medium of watercolour in the A3 sketchbook.

For further inspiration on tonal values I run one scenery photo through Photoshop filters (B&W and infrared):

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - photoshop

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – photoshop

Household acrylic resin paint and letting the paint flow

I wanted to experiment with household paints – not enamel, but water soluble – to see how I can work with them with fluidity.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - study 1

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – study 1

Household acrylic resin paint and letting the paint flow on Mylar:
I used A3 Mylar sheet with a grid drawn onto it. Initially I thought to use that one in the previous exercise for the additional layer (kind of viewfinder). But rejected that idea as I found it too consciously placed. For this study I felt this grid sheet quite helpful. I didn’t use it as a scaling up tool but rather as the support. The grid makes the image more framed, controlled, contrasting to the free flowing painting.  I do also see the grid structure as the way mankind tried to control nature in landscaping the environment. See Matko Vekic ‘Mountain‘, 2000 (in: Fowkes, 2010)

I was fascinated by how I can move the household paint around on the surface, using a water spray bottle to dilute for more fluidity.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - study 2

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – study 2

I looked at the image in front of a grey carton and at the window with light shining through. It was quite astonishing to see how the values, especially the main rock is changing: from white to middle grey. Overall it was a great experience to work in that way with paint flowing on the support. I just had to balance the support and from time to time move the paint on the surface around.

Gestural studies in oil pastels, ink

The first gestural paintings inspired me to look once again at Turner’s expressive and emotive paintings (see above). The first one perhaps more a drawing?

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 3

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 3

.. and in gouache

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - sketchbook 4

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – sketchbook 4

The movement and gesture of nature! I truly like the freshness and looseness of the gouache paintings. The last one has a special simple appeal with a few brush strokes only.

Gestural study in oil sticks with white oil paint

I worked directly with oil sticks (I do not have white nor black ones) and added white oil paint alongside turp to blend. With the sticks I could nearly draw my marks into the paint already on the surface. It seemed like a combination of additive and subtractive mark making.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - study 2

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – study 2

Overall I found the coloured a bit too bold and not that adequate for my subject matter. Although the tonal values are quite accurate. Also the left side is too weak without enough tonal variety. Wondering wether a monochrome painting would not be wiser?

I did one more study with oil and wax/tarp paste working with palette knife on paper, using turp and oil medium to world physically with white and grey.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - study 3

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – study 3

I was satisfied with my studies, especially the household paint study on Mylar and the last one with a rather physical and intimate approach. Considering my tutor’s feedback to elaborate serial paintings into a larger work, I will take those studies for a ‘larger painting’ cluster presentation.

Some options could be:

Final choice for cluster see above:

My reasoning for my final choice of the cluster is to enable different perspectives and approaches to reflect on the mere ‘sublime’ task of capturing the expansive emotional impact of nature’s environment. The slight gaps between the images are not only visually more appealing (versus cluster 3b) but also could support the notion that we experience certain gaps in perception. I chose less image (Versus cluster 1 or 2) for the sake of simplicity and better focus on variety versus completeness.

Work in progress:

I used a prepared sized linen and oil paint.

  1. I made a rough outline sketch on my support and blocked in the main areas with gesso and white acrylic.
  2. For the sky I applied a very thin wash of white and cerulean blue. I marked the areas with a grid structure with a comb. This in context of the grid Mylar study and the previous exercise. I tried various options till I found the final one – this grid gives simple structure. I thought with that there is no need to add clouds.
  3. I added a thin layer of ochre in the rock area.
  4. I modulated the rock with a mix of white and wax paste for more texture.
  5. I continued working on the painting with muted colors and palette knife, turp and wide brushes.
Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – work in progress

and here some close up views on the painted surface:

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 -close up

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 -close up


  • My exploration of the subject matter with the various studies was fun and helped me to find a combined approach for the final oil painting.
  • Working with household paint on Mylar was a fascinating experience. Especially the approach to work with the support, moving and balancing it to get the paint flowing, resulted in new visual effects – a combination of control and random movements.
  • Working with conscious simple brushstrokes, e.g. last sketchbook study in gouache, can make a powerful painting. This requires discipline and a clear idea on what to convey. Opposite to a more interactive additive and subtractive painting approach. I have to see when to apply what.
  • I find the underlying grid pattern in painting #2 appealing in a less conscious and illustrative manner.  A grid as a controlled pattern done by me in connection with landscape as a controlled cultural environment. For me think how to push this further and combine textured, at times with regular patterns – man made, with loose abstract strokes.

Next time:

  • I initially researched simple abstract strokes to depict an illusion of reality. In my studies and the final painting I used rather more paint and covered the space quite dense. i could possibly keep it simple. In this context I already found step 3 & 4 of the final painting progress a reasonable painting, not representing reality but with a strong visual perception. I think this is the step where I need to distant myself from representational ‘reality’ painting from artistic visual articulation.
  • I found my last study in white and grey quite strong. But I used more colors in the final painting. Here I need to be more focused on making monochrome paintings when I feel that those would be stronger.


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