Project 1: Shallow geometric relief – tonal drawings

Shallow geometric relief: Tonal drawing I

This was interesting – as I didn’t understand why a tonal drawing was required at all.

Yet while drawing I had the sense that I grasped the form – you slow down so much when you draw something that you take in a lot of information as your eyes slowly walk over the surfaces. I find the relief quite balanced as it is, but I imagine that drawing a sculpture you will spot any imbalances much better. Drawing for me is a forced slowing down of the mind which is ever ready to jump to the next thing.

Shallow geometric relief: Tonal drawing II

Shallow geometric relief - lit from the side

1: Shallow geometric relief sculpture (part II, … fixing the mess)

1: Low relief "River and city": finished stage (ca 40*70cm)

This was my first OCA Sculpture project and I was slightly weary to start with it. I didn’t know what half the stuff on the materiallist was, nor did I look forward to the shopping in the local Hong Kong hardware stores. I used to love DIY stores, but I think I just loved the idea of them. 2 weeks later and I suddenly had all sorts of tools and coatings, having learnt a lot – largely through mistakes.

A couple of nights of painting, sanding, swearing … and tadaa… the first low relief is done.

1: Low relief (side view)

The things I learnt:

The sides/edges of an mdf board have to be “patched” with a wood patching paste to seal off the surface. I didn’t do that on the outside of the base board, but the surface seems to have become even rougher (despite sanding) after I applied the underpaint/topcoat of paint. And I thought the latter duo kind of evens out the surface – WRONG.
>>>> patch all edges… and if there are gaps into which you won’t reach after fixing it to the base board (like my 5 mm gaps) – do it BEFORE you glue them to the board.

My infamous Chinese “primer/surfacer” (from a brand called GIRAFFE – I should have become suspicious at that point) is not water based. That means it has to be thinned – and the brushes cleaned – with lacquer thinner. I have no idea what that stuff is, but its super smelly and highly potent. It even dissolved the coating on the handle of my brush when I cleaned it after applying the primer. It’s certainly bad for you and the environment common sense tells me. So is there a water-based alternative? Apparently Dulux has a water-based primer… but then I haven never seen that brand in any of the Hong Kong hardware store. >>>> Check if I can find a water-based replacement once this one is empty.

The (water-based) enamel paint (as a topcoat) looks ok. If I add a little water to the paint the surface evens out better with less visible brushstrokes. When I applied the paint with the brush, it caused tiny air bubbles in the paint. A good way of getting rid of them was to blow sharply against the surface. The bubbles just popped.

1: Low relief (close up, not quite an industrial finish, but fine for a start)

1: Low relief (close up)

How to play God and move things by the sheer power of thoughts

What I saw: Bad composition (and since this was in a class, and I had my "spot" I couldn't just move the objects)

On Thursday nights I go to a “Quick Study Painting” class at Hong Kong Arts Centre. Usually we make 2 pictures per night – the first one is to understand the picture and all elements: composition, colour, shadow and light. The 2nd one is more detailed – implementing the things you learnt during the first quick sketch.

Ignore the slightly garish colours for a while – and focus on the composition of objects. In the first quick sketch I thought the size contrast between the apple and the small coffee pot was not very strong. It was all a bit “same same” as my Singaporean friends use to say. So I shrank the apple in the 2nd try.

And since from my viewpoint the objects had no overlap and no tension in the composition I just moved the apple slightly.

Cuz it’s not a bloody photograph – its YOUR picture… you CAN just do that. I love playing God and moving things by the sheer power of thought.

Abandoned attempt to paint what I saw. What I saw was just not that great.

Try again: 2nd attempt... who cares about reality, just invent things

Research point: Picasso’s work method

Picasso, Pablo: Boy with a Pipe, 1905. Oil on canvas (100*81cm)

I love Picasso’s boy with a pipe. It comes across as warm and melancholic at the same time. And the play of masculine and feminine symbols is just perfectly balanced… a blue working uniform, a pipe and sitting wide-legged and then a wreath in his hair, bouquets in the background.

Picasso simplified the subject a lot… just look at the eyes, ears and the shadows of his face. His brushstroke is thick but follows the “growth/shape” of the face, with a few deep shadows added for contrast. I find the unevenness of the eyes adds to the expression of silent melancholic yet curious observation. I am looking at him – he is looking at me – both attentively.

Picasso, Pablo: Boy with a Pipe, 1905. (detail)

There are so many approaches to oil painting – alla prima or with an underpainting in tones etc, that so far I was left reasonably confused as to where to start. And to start always takes me longest, so I am in dire need of a starting point, a little pointer. I am fine once I get going.

Picasso: The Artist and his Model, 1914. Oil & pencil on canvas (58*55.9cm)

So I decided to start with the direct method, which Picasso seems to have used, judging by his unfinished painting of 1914 that I found. You can see a pretty accurate and detailed line sketch in pencil on the canvas. There are no fills, but the panes are indicated with lines, as you can see for example on the bridge of the nose. Everything is outlined – from pupils, eyebrows, nostrils to the turned feet of the table on the left – and well prepared for him to fill in with paint, which is very subtly shaded.

And on the detail views it looks like he might have sized the picture up with some help lines… but it’s hard to tell if you don’t see the picture in person.

Anyway, for me this is interesting because

a) I often just paint without any under-drawing and then it turns out that the composition wasn’t any good to start with.
b) if I do an under-drawing at all, my lines are more of a searching type and I never quite commit to one, until I really have to, which is when I apply paint, really. For this picture by Picasso preparation of the exact composition was everything, it seems.
c) I am overworking the contrasts on the skin. On the model’s skin above you can see how very subtly Picasso differentiated between light and shade on the body. No changes from pink to purple to yellow ochre like I tried the other day.

For me that means more preparation but less attempting to execute some vague idea in paint with endless repainting. And I should try not to have these monstrous colour changes from the light to the darker areas of the surfaces. Sounds worth doing.

Picasso: The Artist and his Model, 1914. (detail of the 2 heads, one of them just in pencil outline)

Picasso: The Artist and his Model, 1914. (detail of how Picasso started the painting)

Wood preparation summary after last week’s disaster with my low relief

My low relief in its sorry half-finished state after trying to coat it with a wrongly used underpaint (there was no mention anywhere on the product that you had to use a thinner with it... ahhh - Chinese product instructions...

  1. sand: with the grain, sand paper is available with different degrees of coarseness (grades), the lower the number of the paper the coarser the grit. Use medium to fine paper of about 120 grade for new timber
  2. fill: there might be little indents which need to be filled after sanding, (paint will not fill holes, unfortunately) All purpose filler will usually do, but for varnished surface a wood filler should be used in a colour matching the wood used
  3. prime: a thin paint for bare timber in order to seal the wood pores to make them less absorbent, otherwise the paint may flake as the soluble paint ingredients are sucked into the wood too fast. this is done right after sanding. primer is different from undercoat. So the rule of thumb is: “If it is a new surface, use a primer. For surfaces that have been painted before, use an undercoater.” At this stage – if there are any knots in the timber – put knotting solution on it to stop the sap leaking out of the timber and spoiling your paintwork
  4. undercoat: subcategory of primers used to provide a smooth, uniform, even surface for topcoats. Undercoat is often used for previously painted surfaces. For the latter: there is no need to remove all the paint if its is not flaking (if that’s the case – remove it with a paint stripper). Cleaned/degrease the paint with soapy water, then sand it with a fine paper to give a key for the new paint. An undercoat on previously painted surfaces will give a much better finish and stops the paint “dragging” on the surface. Undercoat is often sanded slightly before the application of the topcoat.
  5. topcoat paint

So … I guess I will go back to that handyman shop to get the thinner for my “primer/surfacer”, then sand it and reapply the stuff properly – ey?


A little visual guide to the OCA sculpture material (to take along for when I venture into a Chinese hardware shop again)

Not being as well-versed in building material vocabulary, I looked up at least every second thing on the sculpture “ingredients” list of the OCA course material. I guess I might have known my native German word for it, but aside from learning the English vocab – I often thought I needed something like a picture guide as the people in Hong Kong hardware stores don’t necessarily speak English. And my Cantonese is rubbish. I only know “valve” for some reason I won’t explain here.

Anyway, since the disaster undercoat purchase and application last week, which temporarily put me off my low relief sculpture – still lying unfinished on the balcony – it became more obvious I needed to prepare my DIY purchases here more carefully, research all materials and have a picture at hand so I and the handyman shop people know exactly what I want.

My dummy’s picture guide:

Attaching things: Panel pins

Attaching things: Mirror plates & screws (flat plate which screws to the rear of the picture frame so it can be firmly fixed to the wall)

Attaching things: Nuts and bolts

Attaching things: Hot glue gun with loaded glue stick

Drilling: pilot bit - a small bit that drills a first hole to guide a larger drill

Drilling: countersink bit - a bit for enlarging the upper part of a hole

Separating things: Tenon saw (for straight cuts)

Separating things: Crosscut saw (for straight cuts)

Separating things: jig saw (thin bladed saw, used for cutting arbitrary curves and custom shapes)



1: Shallow geometric relief sculpture (part I, … and then a little problem occurred)

Low relief: Final composition, unfinished wood surface

Project 1 - Low relief: Preliminary sketches (I/II)

I finally started the first project of Sculpture I with some sketches of what I wanted to do. I liked the “river theme” in No 2 of my initial sketches, so I kept coming back to it in variations and finally settled for 2E, resembling a river through a city with a bridge under which the river disappears briefly.

The learning material suggested a bit of a different approach – more experimental, trying out different compositions and then sketching them, before deciding on one. I wanted more control as I could only use the woodworking studio for 2.5 hours this week, so I wanted to know what I was going to be doing.

Project 1 - Low relief: Preliminary sketches (II/II)

Low relief: Material collection after cutting, before sanding

Low relief: Final composition, unfinished wood surface

Low relief - close up

I bought this “primer/surfacer” – apparently for wood – at one of the local DIY shops, where they unfortunately didn’t speak English. Well, I guess I cannot really complain, since I don’t speak Cantonese either. The sad thing was – the instructions didn’t mention you had to thin the stuff with some special thinner. It just said apply with brush. Great Chinese translation.

And most annoyingly I applied it right to the surface of the wood relief. Why didn’t I use an offcut of the wood first? I would have noticed that the stuff cannot be applied straight out of the tube as it is some gooey, super fast drying mass that transformed a simple brush mark into a Swiss mountain terrain. What a horrible uneven surface.

OK, enough of a rant – I searched on the internet to find the full instructions, including that a solvent – which the guys at the DIY shop obviously didn’t recommend me buying – was needed to thin it before the application and to clean the brushes with – no turps worked. Tried that. So adieu to my brushes too, they are wrecked.

I am hoping I can sand off the surface to remove all the unattractive gooey marks.

What I learnt so far in this project:

  • how to use a mechanic jigsaw for the curves/a handsaw etc at the wood carving workshop
  • how to sand, glue, drill
  • “know your f*ing material” – e.g. primer/undercoat etc for wood etc and try it out on a test piece, that includes knowledge of whether you need to thin it before applying it
  • again: have plenty of test pieces at hand to try out any material/technique unknown to you
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