Project 5 – Exercise 2: Squaring up – ‘Memories’

The course material suggested to look at townscape or individual building that involve perspective. This method can be applied to drawing and photos.  I was looking through my collection of picture and found eventually a good image for this exercise. The squaring up method is to ensure accuracy of scale and proportions and to consider as a guide that should support my initial idea of my painting approach. I am not that excited about this exercise and found this method first rather formal and mathematical. But perhaps I am wrong and it will provide some benefits. I have to say that I never used this method before. So first time.

Final Paintings:

Painting #1: Oil on primed canvas (40 x 40 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - #1

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – #1

Painting #2: Oil on primed canvas (40 x 40 cm)

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - #2

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – #2

Contextual research:

See also my research in Ex.1 on preparatory drawings – click here. Reading John Virtue’s words on squaring up and why he is not doing that didn’t lift my spirit. I found this method not very contemporary.

Looking at some working methods from preparatory drawings and how to enlarge images:

  • Squaring up: e.g. Walter Sickert (Smith, 2012)
    – Walter Sickert ‘Suspense‘ , 1916. Ink on paper squared up for enlargement  (42.5 X 29 cm) and his related painting ‘Suspense‘, 1916
    – Justin O’Brien ‘Working drawing for the painting The Virgin enthroned‘, 1950. Pencil, pen and coloured ink on three sheets ( a) 43.8 × 19.7 cm irreg. (sheet), b) 43.6 × 27.4 cm irreg. (sheet), c) 43.6 × 20.0 cm (sheet) )
  • Pouncing technique: by pricking “a series of holes along the lines of the drawing with a pin. The drawing was then laid directly over the canvas and fine powdered charcoal dust was gently filtered through the pin-holes with the aid of a pouncer. When the drawing was lifted from the canvas, the filtered charcoal dust accurately indicated the lines of the drawings.” (Essential Vermeer) Due to the speed of this transfer technique it was especially useful for fresco painting in transferring large scale cartons.

Another method without a preparatory drawing in directly transferring the image onto the support was most likely applied by Vermeer with the the camera obscura.

Possible painting approaches inspired by:

I am looking at various approaches between figuration and abstraction. Forms to be recognisable from a distance, perhaps in juxtaposition with at times ambiguous shapes. The color as an attempt for exploration of time and space. Line to indicate further spatial dimensions. Therefore I looked up at some artist I already know or who might add contextual meaning.

Uwe Wittwer (b. 1954 ), Swiss artist living in Zurich.  Available from:
=> Intrigued by Wittwer’s large scale watercolor and oil paintings with rather fuzzy and ambiguous images. e.g. ‘Ruin‘, 2015 (Watercolor, 131 × 98 cm), ‘Forest Stairs‘, 2013
(Watercolour, 130 × 90 cm) and ‘Riders Negative‘ , 2014 (Oil on Canvas, 310 × 195 cm). At times the paintings are quite surreal landscapes. As inspiration for fading old photographs: ‘Family after Gainsborough Negative, 2005 (Inkjet, 150 x 160 cm)

Kotscha Reist (b. 1963) Swiss artist born and living in Bern. Available from:
=> I am fascinated by the rather tonal and minimalistic paintings by Reist. They are at times with blurred or sharp edges. E.g. ‘Oslo‘, 2015 (Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm)

Hurvin Anderson (b. 1965) British artist living in London. Available from: and
=>  Anderson works with fluid paint and bright colors. At times his paintings are overlayed with a regular patterns, fence like. E.g. ‘Country Club Series – Ash‘, 2010 (Oil on canvas, 50 x 65 cm) and ‘Studio Drawing 13‘, 2010 (Acrylic on paper, 16 x 22 cm). His paintings do remind me at times of works by Peter Doig.

Laura Lancaster (b. 1979) British artist living in Newcastle. Available from: and (YouTube video, 15:29 min) as well as at:
=> I am intrigued by her way of approbation of forgotten and discarded photographs and home movies. She  re-animates once precious images to someone with a new gestural and expressive painting approach. Her paintings are also an intermediate space between figuration and abstraction as well as between passed time, memory and loss. See the cluster ‘Untitled‘, 2008 with a collection of redrawn found photographs. Another example ‘Golem‘, 2012

I am wondering about the found photographs and memory, perhaps I will look at older pictures in my collection that I could use for this exercise.

Preparatory work:

With my contextual research settled I started to experiment in my sketchbook with some photos from my storage space and worked in loose and various ways seeking for appealing visual effects. I was inspired by Laura Lancaster approbation of old found photos and Uwe Wittwer’s visual works of ‘Negatives’. This reminded me of Tacita Dean approbation of old greetings cards from old Kassel, Germany. Thus I looked at my older photos The first photo from Cleveland, OH (USA) the time I lived there 10 years ago. The second photo taken in Providence, RI (USA) during our vacation this year April (and it was there when I submitted my first assignment for this painting course).

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook #1

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook #1

=> Here I do find the rather simple depiction of form without details alongside the dark ink blots at the bottom quite appealing. The line drawing of the bridge adds a different dimension to the pictorial image. This reminds me a bit of Brooks Salzwedel.

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook #2

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook #2

=> Here I find that I worked a too close to the photo. A narrative with the man looking from an open door outside down the street  – in line with the perspective. From the OCA discussion forum on photography I understand that the is capturing a ‘decisive moment‘?

Then I wanted to go back and search for the oldest photo I have stored (digitally) and found images taken by my father when he was in Switzerland for work in the 1950s. I scanned the originals some time back. My father passed away 9 years ago and it is still a very emotional moment for me to look at objects that remind me of him. I incorporated thus the idea of fading old photos and how memories can still remain vivid – the photos already deteriorated.

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - Sketchbook #3

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – Sketchbook #3

With this in mind I started to work on my scaled up paintings.

Work in progress:

I decided for my two paintings for a square format. First as this reminds me of analog media format camera and today at Instagram. Also I found square as more universal for composition where I want to work on special visual effects. Before squaring up i looked at compositions till I found suitable frames.

I am lazy and we live in a digital world. My photo was anyhow stored on my computer thus I made a simple grid table with 1cm squares in Microsoft Word and placed the photo underneath, printed it out – et voilà:

Painting #1: Oil on primed canvas (40 x 40 cm)

Squaring up:

Making a grid with a pencil on my support and transferring the image. I had repetitively to check that I transfer the image into the right square.

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - #1 - squaring up

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – #1 – squaring up

Painting approach:

  1. I started with rather fluid oil paint to block in the major shapes and tonal values.
  2. Somehow between step 2 and 3 I put my reference photo away and continued with looser and more expressive way.
  3. I added ochre paint to the left for indication of trees and as visual contrasting element the line on the bridge. I used a palette knife to make subtractive markings for the trees as I found the white scrap marks as more appealing and in better contrast to the architecture.
  4. I worked with palette knife and thick paint on the path, indicating roughness and cobblestones.
  5. At step 4 I was not that satisfied with the results, accurate, but not enough drama and visual context. I was thinking about my earlier sketchbook experiments with ink and was wondering how I can translate this with oil paint. Also thinking about my ‘The Mountain cries‘ sketchbook mini series. Also I looked at the work ‘Ruin‘, 2005 by Uwe Wittwer for the fading, blurred shapes and bold contrast with black,
  6. Adding a dark grey mix very fluid with turp. on top edge of the canvas and let it flow downwards. This process by chance was quite risky as it could destroy the entire painting. However I was careful not to tilt the canvas too steep. Also I outlined the shapes of the skyscrapers first as by that the fluid paint flows around. Similar to ink flowing within a wet area only.
Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - #1 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – #1 – work in progress

=> The downwards moving shapes build an interesting form at the end that reminded me not only of a dark sky but also of a kind of architectural construction with pillars touching the ground. The positive shapes of the skyscrapers do present a bold contrasting aspect. With that I decided to stop here.

Painting #2: Oil on primed canvas (40 x 40 cm)

Squaring up:

Second one  – so I got some experience and it went smoother.  I didn’t bother with the small shapes in the townscape. The photo anyway did not provide sharp information.

Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - #2 - squaring up

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – #2 – squaring up

Painting approach:

inspired by some work by Uwe Wittwer (for ‘negative and old old photograph images) and Hurvin Anderson (for rather abstract color blots)

  1. I started with a fluid ochre wash as usually very old fading photos show.
  2. I added random blots with very fluid brown-black paints to indicate some black burned marks. Something one can find often with old cinematic movies – and as I’ve seen in some works by Uwe Wittwer (see ‘Family after Gainsborough Negative, 2005 or ‘Forest Stairs‘, 2013)
  3. I blocked in with light blue the receding shapes of the mountains and the lake water.
  4. With various greens I modulate the shapes of the various trees (with reference to Hurvin Anderson ‘Country Club Series’)
  5. Only with a fee additional strokes I indicated some shapes of the town. I was careful to keep enough underlayer showing through for atmosphere and for illusion of a faded image.
Stefan513593 - Project 5 - Exercise 2 - #2 - work in progress

Stefan513593 – Project 5 – Exercise 2 – #2 – work in progress

=> The black blots were not fully dry thus some dark color merged with the blue. It frustrated my first but than took this failure as an element in the painting. Some interesting greenish blended colors appeared. Overall I am not fully satisfied with the dark blots – perhaps too controlled looking? The painting has got a touch of surrealism what I find in this context quite intriguing. Perhaps influenced by my recent researches and visits on surrealism? Or just an other expression of my Self.?


  • As I was not convinced by this method, quite some efforts are needed. The pro and cons is that an accurate underlaying drawing is on the support. As I kept within those shapes in the first steps the painting turned into a kind of ‘painting with numbers’ exercise. Only when I forgot my reference photo and the drawn shapes were anyway hard to see any longer I went more expressive – especially in painting #1. In painting #2 I started from the very beginning with squaring up looking merely at larger shapes. With that I was more able to follow my line of thought and place color blots according my visual intuition.
  • I can see that with very detailed information of a scene this method could be practical. In case I would like to retain such information in my painting.
  • I am satisfied with my exploration of different painting approaches with a few contextual researches where I feel attracted to.
  • For my painting #2 I took reference to old photographs, seemed obvious as I squared up a photograph. Nevertheless I feel that final painting has its own visual right and expression.
  • I find that with these painting I am coming a but closer to the way I want approach painting and aligned with my sketchbook studies.
  • The paintings got a touch or surrealism and I learned that a combination of chance and control is something that I really enjoy doing. As i my sketchbook paintings ‘The Mountain Cries‘.

Next time:

  • I found especially with painting #1 that I lost once again the freshness of my sketchbook works. I can see once reason in the method, another reason in handling oil paint (at times quite sticks and less fluid and smooth as ink, watercolor or gouache). Only with the later very fluid handling of the dark grey paint I achieved a similar expressive visual effect. I would also approach painting #1 similar as I did with #2 – squaring up only thise shapes that I discern as most important to retains in the final painting.
  • I felt that I could not leverage my visual intention from my contextual research. Somehow I was still focused on the method and my thinking that some ‘squaring up’ benefits should be retained in the final painting. This blocked me at times. Next time I would like to think first on what the exercise / method can give me in my approach and adapt it to my intention – not vice versa. In this context I find painting #2 more successful.



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