PAINT WORKSHOP: “Working with Grounds”

In this workshop, I explored and made notes on the use of grounds in painting. It is a subject that until now I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable of. I was aware that different coloured grounds were used under paint but it was interesting to learn, that we use grounds in painting for a vast variety of reasons.

Painting a coloured ground onto a piece before you produce the painting changes the colour of the paint applied and as a result changes the outcome of the work. For example, to achieve the maximum luminosity of colour and to create a vibrant outcome, you would paint a white ground to work on. Impressionists introduced the idea of working on a white ground as they desired extremely bright colourful  characteristics within their work. I learnt that working with mid-tone grounds can be beneficial for darker paintings and make the colours you apply look duller and more subdued. An artist that sprung to the mind of the tutor that uses mid tone and dark grounds to work on was Rembrandt. Rembrandt is famous for creating  a lot of depth in the backgrounds of his art. This is down to the use of many thin glazes and painting on many thin grounds to build up a dark background that you feel you are looking deep into. To me, the background of Rembrandt’s work looked as if he had made his own Black and worked with it. It was intriguing to find out that this wasn’t the case and that so much effort had gone in to working into a part of the painting that many of us don’t consider to be as important.


Rembrandt, Hendrickje Bathing in a River, 1654

Using a ground, changes the colour of the glazes you apply. Green was the last colour to be produced/manufactured and was extremely hard to get hold of. Artists cleverly used a Blue ground and painted a yellow on top to create the green tones that they desired within their paintings. In this workshop, another thing I learnt was that using a Cadmium yellow ground does extremely odd things to the colours you apply on top. Painting a cadmium yellow ground is traditionally something you don’t do, but for some artists the outcome is a preferred and desirable effect. Many artists work with a tinted ground, usually a white base with a hint of colour added to it.

Interestingly, I found it fascinating that you could use two different grounds on one canvas or panel. For example if you were painting a landscape you may want to use a mid-tone ground for the foreground and a blue ground for the sky area.

As well as to achieve certain colour outcomes, I found out that grounds are also used to control the absorbency of the surface of a board or a canvas. Gesso grounds are highly absorbant, they absorb oil colour incredibly well and almost make it look like watercolour.  Gesso ground is only to be used with Oil paint, all other grounds can take oil paint too as long as they are fully dry. People use specific materials that have man-made surfaces because they desire the fact that it has no absorbance, a quality you may use if you liked the paint to stay wet and move around on the surface a lot. When painting, the surface has to have some sort of texture. Canvas has a texture, working on different surfaces changes the mark that is made.

I was informed that grounds do not have to be a flat surface, you can use textured grounds and make them up yourself. For example, glue and sawdust. You may want to work on a ground that contains brush marks or sand to achieve a certain result from working with a particular texture. Acrylic grounds dry incredibly quickly, which is both an advantage of them and a disadvantage. Obviously you can work on top of them quickly, but if you don’t like them later on you cannot just take them away. Gesso ground have a lot of preparation to them and dry incredibly slowly. How you apply a ground is highly important, for example, the brush you use has an effect on the surface of the ground. The ground is also different depending on how it is applied, it would be a completely different surface if you applied it with a palette knife. The way you use the materials affects the ground too, long brushstrokes would give a vastly different result to stippling.

Even though a ground is usually considered to be painted on and remain underneath the paint on top, I realised in this workshop that you can still have some of the ground showing in your final result if you desire.

We talked about the endless possibilities of grounds, you could paint a ground and draw into it with a sharp object or nail to produce a ghost image as a guide for your painting. You could also use chalk which would create a more smudgy effect when paint was applied on top. It is completely acceptable to stick things into acrylic grounds like newspaper and photographs as long as the material isn’t organic. You can work with oil paint on acrylic grounds but not the other way round.

In terms of my project, the tutor and I talked about possibilities within my hidden loneliness theme and how I could apply my newly found knowledge of grounds. Working with Black emulsion or layers of dark or mid tone colours like Rembrandt did could be an interesting pathway to explore and something I will consider. I was encouraged to think about the fact that taking away paint off a piece, can be as interesting as putting it on and therefore revealing under painting. Working on dark surfaces or fabrics could be interesting to explore within my city work.

We moved on to consider the fact that Canvas in itself is a ground, even though you haven’t specifically done anything to it, you have decided to work on it. Brown Linen canvas would give you a different outcome to a white one. The choice of something can be a ground, the surface of timber is technically a ground.

I was fascinated when the tutor mentioned that grounds can make your work easier and that it could help you along. And example of an artist that makes the work harder for himself is Julian Schnabel. He uses broken crockery as a ground to work on, the bumpy surface must be difficult to paint on, but he is setting himself up a very interesting outcome. He produces a completely opposite ground to that of traditional portrait painting, he takes risks within his work and they have obviously paid off. Creating difficulties by making a ground such as crockery can make for a more absorbing, charismatic and overall successful piece of artwork.



Work by Juian Schabel

Anselm Kiefer is an example of an artist that replicates real surfaces when producing grounds. Tar and bitumen are prominent materials within his work. However, they are slow liquids so his work can move and in exhibitions of his you may literally see bits falling off his paintings or parts that already have below them. People accept that Kiefer’s work has a sense of impermanence.


From this workshop, I have learnt that working with grounds is all about experimentation. I have gained a knowledge on the reasons we use grounds, the key reasons are to achieve certain colour effects, to create surface or texture and to control absorbency when making paintings. I found this workshop incredibly interesting and inspiring. I will definitely be experimenting with the use of grounds and will think a lot more about the surface I am working on and choose it appropriately. I am already looking forward to the workshop next week where I will be researching painting mediums and glazes, the stage of painting after producing a ground.


City Loneliness: Sketchbook Experiments with Ink, Charcoal and White paint

After being heavily influenced by the colour palette and technique in the work of an artist I saw in the urban spree gallery and the work of the user shoe18 on deviantart online (previous blog post), I decided to experiment with their inspiration. Here I have used Black and Brown drawing inks, charcoal and white paint to produce these quick explorations.



These quick art works definitely highlight loneliness in the city. I used my photo manipulation work as a reference for these pieces. The white silhouettes of all the people around you in the city who may as well not be there, came from the cut outs I produced.

I think the colour palette here is highly successful, I definitely want to produce mixed media paintings using these colour schemes to show the hidden loneliness of the city and how dull and dark it can be and feel. There is a differentiation between the person concerned and the people around them but I don’t feel it’s very successful. To improve it, when I produce paintings, I will take a lot more time making them and paint one person in colour and everyone else white silhouettes. I may even give the other people more definition and detail and give the colour figure no features to show that you are lonely in the city and when wandering it, you may as well not have an identity. People don’t notice anything distinguishing about you. I am keen to progress and move forward with these ideas.

Artistic Influence: Srboohie Abaijan

Whilst researching my subject, I came across a piece portraying loneliness in the city by Srboohie Abaijan. I immediately started finding out about the artist and their intentions when creating their artwork. Even though the piece concerned was the initial inspiration for my coming across this artist, it was their artistic statement that really captured me:

“Art is not a matter of painting something to the last detail. It is a matter of expressing the state, emotions, and thoughts of one’s subject.

True art expresses life as a whole, and it is more alive and moving than life itself.

Art must express those characteristics and emotional states that are inexpressible in words.

Being an artist means seeing the world in a new way. The artist is not the one who paints well and correctly; the artist is the one who looks at life anew and expresses his own philosophy of life.

A wealth of technique is worthless in itself. Technique must serve one’s intended meaning. And meaning must originate from life.”

-Srboohie Abajian

In her words, she captures exactly how I feel about being an artist myself. I don’t believe being an artist is about painting things accurately or realistic practice. I believe it is about expressing yourself. Throughout this project, I intend to express the loneliness of the city within my work. I do not however intend to paint photo realistic imagery because in my opinion it lacks individuality and doesn’t portray your view of the subject concerned. I want to show how people can be lonely even though they are around others and how the city can be a lonely place in general, I will produce artwork that emits and expresses a feeling of loneliness.

loneliness - srboohie

Abajian experiments with Acrylic, Monotype and Collage within her piece “Loneliness in the Big City”. It is a visually stunning artwork in my opinion and to me expresses the need for emotional interaction within the city. It shows how people can be alone so easily within cities and how you can end up on a downward spiral of depression or upset by being alone and craving emotional attachment. The Hollywood sign and use of vibrant colouring makes me think the artist is making a statement about how life in Hollywood is shown to us as being glamorous and full of highly social people and the reality of many of those people feeling lonely. This piece is highly inspirational to my project and makes me think about juxtaposing how the city is perceived to be and how lonely it is within my artwork.

Brian Gaynor – Urban Loneliness Photography

Brian Gaynor photographs urban loneliness and the harsh realities of being alone in the city. His work inspires me to take black and white photographs because it seems to add to the loneliness of the people within the pictures. No colour makes the pictures seem more miserable and you can almost feel the isolation within them. They make you think about the hidden isolation within city society. I would like to capture an element of this within my work.




As I have, his subject matter included the homeless or less fortunate and people on the edge of society that experience such loneliness within the city.



urban-loneliness-art bryan gaynor

He captures the fact that it is very easy to literally be on your own in the city if you are not in the centre. I am investigating the how people are lonely even when they are around people and how you may as well be alone even if there are people around you. However, being literally on your own in the city and contrasting with how it is glamourized to be social could be another route to go down.

Artist relevant to my work: ELLEN ALTFEST

ELLEN ALTFEST – American Artist (Born 1970)

“With exquisite attention to the minutest details, Ellen Altfest produces naturalistic paintings that transform humble or intimate subjects—like houseplants, gourds, rotting items or a man’s underarm—into evocative, psychologically loaded objects that almost exceed realism”.  American artist Ellen Altfest exploits the full potential of green in many of her paintings, as you can see in this nuanced image, here to create the image of moulding or decay.

Ellen Altfest

When I first saw these two pieces, I thought they were paintings but they are infact woodblock prints. She has managed to make them look so textural without them actually being textural. The works accurately captures the decay of the object but are also beautiful pieces. This is a challenging element to achieve.


Green Gourd, 2007 – 18 colour woodblock print on Japan MM7 Kozo paper

 Ellen’s work inspires me to think about textures when creating works to do with mould and decay and to think about how varied the colour palette of mould actually is. In my opinion, Ellen Altfest’s moulding food paintings are beautiful. They capture exactly what most of us take for granted and make something normally considered repulsive have a sense of beauty and therefore she is highly relevant to my project on decay.

Drawing Workshop: Anthropomorphasis

In this drawing workshop, I was encouraged to experiment with anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being.  In this case, we were looking at the attribution of human motivation with plant life and natural phenomena. As well as the relation between the plants and the model, we looked at relief work and experimenting with cutting paper out and sticking it onto our drawings to make a much more free image and shape than just the rectangle of the paper we were given. There were a few initial artistic inspirations that were considered before creating the outcome. This workshop was from life so a life model surrounded by plant life was present. The artists that stood out to me to inspire my piece were Henri Matisse, Graham Sutherland, Ruth Daniels and Georgia O’Keeffe.


Henri Matisse favoured drawing from life. It is interesting to look at his piece below because the plants almost seem more important in the composition than the figure does. I am drawn in by the loose handling used to render the leaves and the fact that the leaves are varied in size and shape. To me, the plants are a far more interesting subject to look at within this painting and I don’t immediately notice that she is there. This inspired me to think about displaying the figure or face of a human woman amongst the foliage around her. Matisse’s work inspired me to use a bright colour palette and to not be too controlled in my approach. This piece also gave me an insight into how the plants and the model can come together to make a successful artwork.



Graham Sutherland’s piece “Bamboo forest showed me how I could approach drawing and incorporating an expressive element into my piece.  I like the limited colour palette in this work and it inspired me to fill the page and cram lots of plant imagery together. Here he has portrayed the plants dominating the figure and there is a sense that the figure is intimidated by all the foliage. I wanted the figure and plants to be harmonious together in my work so in a way Sutherland’s work showed me how to do that by showing the how not to do it.



ruth daniel


The Bright colours in the work of these two artists were highly inspirational to me, they influenced me to use iridescent colouring within my own work and think about placing colours together to make a more striking effect. The Blending of colours was something that caught my eye here aswell which inspired me to be tonal in my work rather than thinking about the use of block colour.


drawing workshop

Above is an image of the piece I produced within this workshop. I am fairly happy with how it turned out and the model and the plant life have definitely come together as one. The bright colour palette and leaves remind me of a carnival atmosphere. I think the fact that the shape of the piece is irregular adds to its success, it would not be as interesting to look at if it was simply rectangular. To create this piece I have used a variety of medias including charcoal, oil pastels, paint, ink and chalk pastel. I think leaving some of the piece white was definitely a wise decision as it heightens and accentuates the bold colouring of the piece. I found it quite difficult to decide which bits of the life model and plants that I was looking at to include in my work and struggled at first to be selective. This workshop taught me that you do not have to draw all of what you see for the image to be successful and that you can combine two or more completely separate subject matters relatively simply.

Key Artwork: I Like America and America Likes Me “COYOTE” – Joseph Beuys, “DINGO” – Andre Stitt

Joseph Beuys (born 1921) was brought up during the war. He came part of the Hitler youth and took part in the Nuremberg Rally. In 1941 he volunteered for the German Air force and it was actually around this time that he seriously considered becoming an artist. He had a crash in one of the aircraft’s in 1943 and famously told how he was rescued by tribesmen who used fat and felt to warm and heal him. Consequently, Two of the main materials used in his art work are Fat and Felt. These materials are seen in his pieces ‘The Chair’ (1964-95) and ‘The Chief’ (1964).

1229112539the-chief 1

 Beuys was heavily influenced by the Rudolf Steiner who created a new spiritual movement where he tried to combine science and spirituality.Following the war Beuys decided to study sculpture after which he took up teaching. In his piece ‘How to Explain Images to a Dead Hare’ (1965), Beuys has used materials such as Bees, hares, Fat, Honey and Gold to represent his feelings and artistic Ideas. The Bees represent an ideal society, the Hare comes from Irish superstition that anyone who harms a Hare will suffer and the iron shows a connection to the earth.


Beuys has used art as a release to help him deal with the memories of war-time. Seen in his piece “Auschwitz Demonstration.” He has also challenged what art is and pushed boundaries. He signed lots of bananas and called them art which encouraged people to think about What art means. Does Art change society? Does Art change you  as a person? Is Art useless? Does art change you as a person? Is it a release? Do many people not understand Art? Can Art give you a sense of the Artists personality? This is highly relevant to today’s art world as artists are constantly trying to push the boundaries of what art is.

Andre Stitt became very inspired by the performance work of Joseph Beuys, particularly Beuy’s performance “I lIke America and America likes me” also known as ‘Coyote’ from 1974. In this performance, Beuys spends 3 days sharing a room with a wild coyote, this piece looks at time and the relationship between the Coyote and the artist.

Stitt says: “If it’s an artwork it is haunted by the idea of a document, if it’s a document its haunted by the idea of the artwork”. With this in mind, Stitt decided to create his own piece entitled ‘Dingo’ in which he uses very similar ideas and makes a response to “Coyote”.

america-l 705196-dingo-man

When we view art and performance art we feel various emotions which inevitably change our lives in come way or another, in that we had that experience and it is now part of us. “The best performance art occurs what subjects or images are wrenched out of context using unexpected, destabilizing or unfamiliar methods and materials. They challenge the spectator’s preconceptions” – Stitt. Performance is almost anti art market. It cannot be bought like a painting it just leaves memories in the mind of the viewer.

At the end of this Lecture, Andre Stitt was asked if he feels his work is about Loss. He replied: “Isn’t everybody’s?”
What are you going through when making art? or when you look at the work of others? “As you get old, I feel you experience Loss more”. Does making art make you feel immortal? “The Idea that a painting could be in a gallery long after you die could give you a sense of immortality”.

Joseph Beuys is very human and full of contradiction which is what Stitt likes about him. Being a human being makes us full of opinion. Beuys really is quite revolutionary and there are countless artists influenced by Beuy’s Legacy.