Anuk Naumann demonstrates how she uses the possibilities of collage and acrylics to develop her ideas as she works
When asked what subjects I paint I would always have replied that I was essentially a still-life painter, gaining inspiration for my work from my immediate surroundings. A memorable family holiday to the Outer Hebrides was to change all that, however. Having gone for a rest, with no intention of making it a ‘working holiday’, I merely took a camera to record family outings. I was unprepared for the assault on my senses that the place would bring, and for weeks after getting home, the images of sea and light, strange rocky landscapes and sheep-covered hills, raced around in my head. There was no escape, I had to put down my thoughts and impressions on paper.
For many people the sea has at one time been part of their lives. For those lucky enough to live by the sea, an endless source of inspiration lies at their doorstep. Most of the rest of us have to rely on happy memories of summer holidays, of sun and heat and the shimmer of light on the water. Once I had rediscovered my love of the sea, I needed more images to sustain to me, and a trip to St. Ives, the place of inspiration for so many painters, gave me a further wealth of memories to keep me at my easel.
Because of the way I work, using collage and mixed media, painting en plein air is not a workable option. As a result my work, which is created in the studio, draws on memories and impressions rather than attempting to portray a faithful representation of a particular corner of the landscape Colours, and impressions of light, together with the atmosphere of the scene, are therefore more important than minute details. In this way I like to feel that I am capturing the spirit of a place that has made a great impression on me.
Acrylics and collage
Although I love the effect of oils I feel more comfortable using water-based materials. Acrylic paints on their own, although constantly being improved, lack something of the depth and richness that an oil painting can produce and so I have experimented with the effects of collage, adding this at first to watercolour and then increasingly as a medium in its own right. With the occasional use of acrylic in combination with collage, layers of colour can be produced, giving a depth and richness I have looked for in oils.
Mixed media, as the name suggests, can produce an infinite variety of results, depending on the materials and techniques. Using collage gives me the freedom to explore the unknown, how a painting will end up depends very much on the way in which the paper is torn, random shapes are often created, which take the picture off into an entirely new direction. I use various tissues and papers painted with acrylic, as well as Japanese handmade paper.
Before starting work on a painting, I give myself time to conjure up the mood of the picture. I often use a coloured board as a ground to the painting, but in the case of the picture of St. Ives, demonstrated here, a heavyweight watercolour paper, Saunders Waterford 300lb (640gsm), was more appropriate.
A very basic sketch gives me a framework for the development of the painting. I do not try to reproduce a faithful representation of a particular landscape, rather I try to give the spirit of the place and what it means to me. At St. Ives, the white houses tumbling down the steep lanes, all seemingly piled on top of one another when seen from the beach, give the place a strong, unique character.
For this quick drawing I used a blue Rexel Derwent watercolour pencil. As the painting is a seascape the colour of the pencil reflects the mood of the picture, and any lines will be easily covered once painting begins.
Once I have established my sketch, I begin the layering process. I use a variety of handmade papers which I paint with acrylic paints and leave to dry before applying them in torn pieces to the paper or card on which I have drawn my design. Using Liquitex Gloss Medium and Varnish I paint the support and apply paper or tissue, then overpaint with gloss medium. In this way, I am using the papers as the equivalent of the pigment in a painting – so I am painting with paper. The use of the gloss medium also allows me to use acrylic paint together with the collage, as the medium is compatible with the paint.
At this stage I outline the elements of the landscape; the sky and beach, with the sea in the foreground. No details appear and I am free to tear paper at random, choosing the colours I want but I am also prepared to go in the direction that interesting shapes of torn paper or tissue suggest to me.
I now develop the painting to give the feel of St. Ives, with the houses jostling for position along the edge of the beach. My intention is not to give an accurate representation of the place, but rather convey the spirit of the scene, so some existing buildings have been left out, and windows and other architectural features are kept to a minimum. With the addition of fishing boats in the foreground, and some indication of reflection in the water using coloured tissues, the painting is complete. 16” x 12”.
During the time that I was there, the sun shone continually, and the colours of the sea and sky were breathtaking. The houses shimmered white in the bright light and I wanted to reflect this in my use of paper.
House on the Cliff, mixed media 16” x 16”
The use of mixed media and collage can also be applied to create seascapes with a very different mood from the tranquil St. Ives harbour scene. In House on the Cliff (above) I again used a combination of acrylic paint and collage, this time omitting the initial sketch and going straight in with colour. The rocks were formed with randomly torn paper, while the foaming spray was created with layers of Japanese handmade paper. The fibres incorporated in this paper give the impression of white surf very effectively. Once the main elements of the seascape were complete, I cut out the shapes of the seagulls to give the finishing touch.
For Rocky Coast (below), I pushed the seascape elements one stage further towards abstraction, with the areas of rock depicted as planes of contrasting colour and texture. Most of the scene was created by collage; paint was applied only to the papers before collaging and as a final spurt of fine spray on the crest of the wave breaking over the rocks. For this finishing touch I used acrylic paint on the bristles of a toothbrush and flicked the paint on to the picture. This can be a risky business if not controlled, but with practice the right effect can be achieved.
Rocky Coast, mixed media 16” x 16”
As with my still-life paintings, I never fail to marvel at the many possibilities that are open to an artist who works in mixed media. Each new painting is a journey of discovery; I usually don’t know at the beginning how the painting will turn out; so much depends on the way the paper is torn, or what ideas will present themselves to me as the design develops, with each layer of opaque or translucent paper. There are no limitations, only a few rules that cannot be broken; the only restriction is your own imagination!
An article first published in the September 1999 issue of The Artist