Seurat, The Model From Behind

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My Sketch, based on Al Gury’s study on Pointillism, Color for Painters, A Guide to Traditions and Practice

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Model From Behind, in stitch pointillism

I undertook this study with excitement and trepidation. What would I find out?  Well the first thing is that it was a crazy thing to do because it has taken 2 -3 weeks of my time and I am now very behind on my programme. However, it became compulsive and I could not let it rest.  Even now after photographing it I want to go and change some of the colours.  Nooooooo!

Al Gury’s book Color for Painters, a guide to traditions and practice is a very clear and inspirational introduction to the history, the science and the technical/stylistic development of colour in oil painting.  I find it quite clear and direct in tone and a book I dip into and also want to read from cover to cover.  The colour exercises are akin to those on our course, and in Hornung’s book, but the difference in this book is its section on major methods and practices in colour.  The sections on Impressionism and pointillism were very relevant to this part of the course, and I was excited to see his guide to painting in the style of Seurat, explaining the ‘colour interaction and optical mixing’.  He guides the student to copy the techniques used to paint the above painting of the model, using oils. I decided to try using oil pastels, and to build up layers of colour to see the interaction.  Then I wanted to experiment using french knot stitches to build a picture through mixing yarn colours.

I expected that the warmer colours of the body would stand out from the cooler shades of the background.  I expected to use the same colours as I had in the oil pastel sketches. I expected to take 2-3 hours. This is how I started:

Initial stitches

Initial stitches

Blues were the first stitches, then the three colours into the body. Then I concentrated on the lefthand background and found that the sketch had 3 colours, and my stitches were 4.. I found I had to take out a lot of the teal colour and add the ultramarine cord, to increase the blue. I found the wools absorbed the colour and were consequently darker and duller. I had to use a thin embroidery pearlised cord and a plasticised blue cord to compensate for the wool.  The texture is solid and deep in depth.  The righthand side has 4 colours also, with maroon predominant rather than green, as I found I wanted to bring out some of the tones in the hair to give a hint of light/shadow action.

The body , oh it took a lot of work. I had gone to the souk looking for colour matches but on return home found that thin ribbons would not french knot into the base fabric at an appropriate texture, so I used whole 8-10 strand embroidery cottons as heavy yarn. Nevertheless the texture is softer and lighter than the wool backgrounds and so I had to make sure the body colours were warm and rich, to dominate against the cooler but denser backgrounds. I ended up taking out the shade of brown, seen above, and used 5 colours ranging from cream to ochre and pink to give the movement of light across skin. The pink was necessary to give the warm hint of red, which also reached out to the maroon in the hair and in the shade of the righthand background.

I can see how I could continue, maybe even adding a soft hint of blue into the skin, as in Seurat’s painting, to give the pale glow of light to the skin, I would like to also add a movement to light and shade across the body to reflect the background changes.  But it is just an exercise and I need to stop!

I am fascinated in the way the points/dots interacted on each other and gave tension to the image.  I humbly suggest that doing this in yarns is possibly more tricky, as we need to consider thickness of yarn, type and then gather  a wide range of potential colours. Certainly for me, there was trial and error and I frequently had to change out the number of stitches in one colour, or to even take them out. My sketch took me about 45 minutes. My stitch took 3 weeks. hmmm!

I love pointillism!