Part 4, exercise 4-1/4 – the tondo

This section brought up memories of circular horrors marching up the staircases of elderly aunts so I wasn’t looking forward to it. In the end, though, it’s just a painting that’s round instead of rectangular and because of that, draws out a different notion of what composition means. Or that’s the impression I gained from reviewing the work of other artists who have used this format in the past. Instead of some grand expositional landscape or ‘framed’ portrait, containing an image within a circle seems to set a new focus, one that’s quite intimate and doesn’t care much for the bigger picture, like looking down a tube or a microscope and focusing only on that small delineated area. My aversion has been dispelled by this thought although not necessarily the suggested subject matter, so building on the thought and on the conclusions I came to from the research, I am looking for images that describe a brief moment, a cameo or clip that intimates a story but doesn’t tell it.

The exercise requires five paintings, initially in thinned down paint but with one selected later to build on, and since it isn’t clear that these should be of the same or different subjects, I chose the latter for interest and practice in making unique paintings in this new (to me) format.

I took a number of photos around the house, framing each as if I were seeing them in their eventual tondos. What would be in the frame? What sits outside or behind? Is there a detail that provides that intimate focus?

I’ve worked quite large, circles cut from A2 cartridge, to accommodate my near vision difficulties.

This is the first, and while the instructions suggest to add more paint to one of these later, my inclination is to leave this one at least as it is. On-screen I can see the shapes I was hoping I was making and I absolutely know if I come at it again I will over-work it and lose the simplicity I’m trying so hard to achieve. I’m certainly not touching that eye again, and I really must draw attention to my first legitimate use of a fan brush on the fur!

24th November and this is tondo number 2. For a simple image, it’s been much more difficult to paint than the first. There have been more layers, more adjustments, more washes, which rather militates against the initial instruction to use thinned down paint. To add to the mix, I’ve used charcoal to help make floorboards.

Staying with the cat theme, this is one of those toys that shoots across the floor and positions itself directly under where your foot is about to be.
First ‘pass’ – and it looks like the eye of Jupiter! These are dilute acrylics in Naples yellow, Payne’s grey, and Cad orange as a base.
Second pass with bronze acrylic. Admittedly this is a little less dilute than might fit the brief, but it’s quite transparent and it scrapes well with a pebble.
Crimson and sap green to make the toy, and raw umber mixed with phthalo blue for the shadow. The ground is too dark at the moment and needs adjusting. I considered leaving that for the next phase but then found I was reluctant to leave it as it was.
Final version with a wash of T white and some highlights to the ball. I used the inner ring of a roll of masking tape to make that circle.

Overall, and for this phase, I’m happy with this piece. The board is beginning to look interesting too!

25th November, tondo number 3. This photo is of the catflap with a fast disappearing cat exiting through it. It’s blurred as you might expect, but only where there is movement. The static elements of the door frame and catflap structure are clear. It put me in mind of time, how a single millisecond is irretrievable, and how this particular image in this particular moment will never happen again. Perhaps a little esoteric for this exercise but still, I’d like to nod towards those ideas.

First ‘pass’ with dilute cad yellow, Naples yellow, T white, Cad blue, and Payne’s grey. I’m not sure anyone would really guess at what’s going on here, although they would probably notice a paw.
Here I’m strengthening the verticals and horizontals while trying to suggest a whirlwind of cat. Making definition without making too much definition is very tricky. I’ve deliberately dragged paint from right to left out of its primary position to infiltrate the adjacent area using a fan brush. Primitive motion blur! I think there is a more obvious cat shape here, and maybe a decent hint at the catflap and this could be enough. I’ll see tomorrow.

26th November. I’ve adjusted the size of that tail, added some shadow to the left foot and the right leg as it exits the aperture, and used the fan brush to make suggestions of movement.

I believe this is a good point to stop working this painting and move on to the next before I begin fiddling with details. This is my overriding objective from feedback and realisations over the preceding modules but front and centre with this one. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!

This is how I watch TV. I don’t watch football though, so why that’s there is anyone’s guess.

I prepped this with black primer with the intention of leaving the two silhouettes unpainted, but looking more closely and I could see some different tones in the foreground areas. This first pass marks out the pitch, the angles, and the shapes. Next, I’ll bring some more muted colour to the cat nearest the front, the dragon under the screen (doesn’t everyone have one of those?), and the lighter ground behind it. Keeping in mind the K.I.S.S. principle, I intend to make the pitch a uniform green and to add some marks indicative but not descriptive of players, edges, and the crowd at the top.

27th November and the sudden realisation that a) I have conflated 4-1 with 4-4 by posting photos of all these pieces at each stage from thin paint to, in some cases, thicker applications, and b) that cropping is my solution to scale. When I’m asked to paint small I feel confined and tense, partly because my focal length doesn’t accommodate close work of any intensity, but also because my more natural gestural style feels cramped. I remembered though, what my first tutor told me about how, when a painting wasn’t working and she felt she’d tried everything to remedy this, she suddenly realised that there was a particular part that was and if she cropped this out, it would do the job for the whole piece (my paraphrasing). By this principle, I can not only paint at a scale that suite me but also crop out the part or parts that have that zing. Looking back now, I can see many more tondos than are actually required and so I will use my photo-editing software to pull these out. First though, the (now) final large tondo.

Based on a photo of two cats obstructing the screen and looking for the ball that had just gone out of shot, I used green conte to mark out the silhouettes, almost as though they were in front of an animation green-screen, then layered the pitch from bright green, through to dark green and back into light bright green again with smudges of players and their shadows to provide context. I’ve also used mixes of Payne’s grey, Naples yellow, raw umber, and T white to make the shapes of the cats, the tv table, and the dragon ornament. I was given a new set of paint brushes recently, of much better quality than my usual ones, and this set included a sponge which I used to add light to an area of the pitch. This is masked at the moment by light from the daylight lamp so I will try for a better image when the natural light

And initial crops.

New crops made in Paintshop Pro.

Thinned acrylic paint. Two areas please me in particular – the cat’s face bottom left which is focused and detailed, and the sleeping cat top right which is neither. The first is many brush strokes and the second is one or maybe two. I decided this needed no more paint.
The cat toy on floor boards. I began with a wash of Naples yellow and then built up using bronze and other pigments but with small areas of wash exposed towards the edges. I’ve discussed edges earlier with my tutor – I like quite raw edges although I’m also happy, as in the crops here, to impose quite clearly delineated boundaries. These liminals are markers of a shift from one geography or state of being to another and while sometimes they are tangible as at national checkpoints or the outer perimeter of a cell, others are political or conceptual like the idea of party allegiance or where (and whether) there is an outer edge to the universe.
Cropped detail of the toy.
Cat rapidly exiting the cat flap so there is a lot of movement which I’ve tried to image using light, almost dry, brushstrokes, and feathering from one area of colour to another. Because this required the addition of further layers of paint to the original light washes, it probably qualifies for exercise 4-4.
Again, this is worked beyond that first light covering but this time with very little of the original base layer exposed. I think the subject matter, being so starkly contrasting, lent itself to more substantial treatment.
Bonus animation using Pixaloop.

Impact of additional paint and reasons for leaving some unchanged

I think, given the serendipitous way in which exercise 1 has merged into exercise 4, I have followed my instincts regarding leaving or adding to different layers of paint. And because one of my driving mantras at present is to avoid over-working and over-detailing, there’s a chance I will drop out too early in the process sometimes. But that said, the TV piece was the final large tondo out of which three smaller ones emerged and I think those crops show the difference between working and leaving alone. The cats (left) are worked and I don’t think are as successful as the pitch + players (centre) or the dragon (right) neither of which comprise much more than touches with a flat brush.

A very helpful finding with this series of exercises has been that, to produce a small end result, I don’t need to begin with a small surface. Painting on a larger scale gives me the gestural freedom to make the kinds of marks that suit my style and requirements and quite serendipitously gives rise to what another tutor described as ‘moments’ whereby a smaller area (or areas) carries the value of the whole better than the whole itself. This is a really important realisation for those times when small is the final objective.

A further useful discovery has been the circle selection tool in Paintshop Pro which I had somehow never seen before.

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