Tag Archives: art

Bushman painting as documentary

ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY: Lucille Davie
30 October 2008

There were no Bushmen about to ask how to create the paintings, so artist Stephen Townley Bassett learned how to recreate Bushman paintings the hard way – by trial and error.

His dedication to the task over the past 18 years has led to the first major exhibition of his Bushman works – 30 extraordinary paintings assembled at the Origins Centre at Wits University in Johannesburg in an exhibition entitled Reservoirs of Potency.

“I threw away my penknife,” Bassett says, together with plastic containers and metal tins. And went out into the bush discovering. He learned how to use animal blood, saliva, ochre, cobra venom and ostrich egg shells to create pigment to paint the images, precise copies of Bushmen paintings from around the country.

He learned too how to use porcupine quills, buck horns, rocks, animal hairs, bird droppings, feathers and animal skins that would become his stock in trade. He made mistakes along the way but got it right.
‘I learned that fat is a good binder’

“I learned that fat is a good binder. I would make a paste which was easy to carry. I learned to liquefy it again with gall, saliva and blood.” Bassett also learned about the different quality of hair of different animals, giving him fine hair for a paintbrush, or thicker hair for a bushier brush.

He even made his own stone tools to skin spring hares and foxes he’d shot, to use the skin as a pouch in which to carry his painting implements.

The animals and people in his works, which Bassett calls “documentary paintings”, are the precise size of the originals. The works are done on 100 percent cotton sheets. Each piece, he says, is a one-off.

“So much has gone into each painting,” he explains. He would spend days at a site, deciphering the original, with a miner’s lamp on his forehead.

“The first thing is to document as accurately as possible, doing it with pigments available to them, absolutely life size. I would only record what I saw, making it a little darker, to take account of dust,” he recounts. Then back at home a painting would take between six and eight weeks to complete.

“The work is very exacting, very demanding. There is no debate, the work has to be right – everything exactly there. It is a blend of science, art and craft,” he says, referring to the tool-making as craft.
Endorsements

Such is his attention to detail that the professor emeritus and renowned researcher and author on Bushman art, David Lewis-Williams, comments in the caption of one piece that it was only after Bassett captured the work, the Leaping Lion, that Lewis-Williams noticed fish around the lion’s body.

“Often I return to the site with my half-completed painting to compare colours and overall appearance of my rendition to the original on the rock,” says Bassett. “All paint marks on the rock that are within the frame of reference of the chosen scene must be recorded. All marks must be acknowledged and recorded. The final product must be the next best thing to the original on the rock, a kind of historical document of what has been deciphered from the rock face.”

His paintings have brief notes or paint blotches around the edges which don’t distract from the work, but help to guide him as to colour and markings on the original.

And he has the full endorsement of Dr Benjamin Smith, the director of the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Lewis-Williams, who describes the work as “wonderful” and “very special”.

“You must either do the work accurately or not at all,” says Lewis-Williams.

Smith says: “This is an artist like no other; he bleeds for his art,” referring to the fact that Bassett has used his own blood in his paint mixes.

Bassett doesn’t only do Bushman art – he produces landscapes and takes on commissions from local farmers, who, he says with a mischievous smile, can be very exacting in what they want.

A book has been produced to accompany the exhibition – Reservoirs of potency – the documentary paintings of Stephen Townley Bassett. In 2002, he published another book, Rock paintings of South Africa – revealing a legacy.

“It has been an extraordinary journey,” he exclaims. Bassett is keen for the exhibition to travel, around South Africa and overseas, on perhaps an equally extraordinary journey.

Bassett’s works are available for private viewing and purchase at the Bonair Road Gallery in Cape Town.

Source: City of Johannesburg

Gill’s Perspective

Here is a snippet from a conversation I had with Gill regarding perspective. Gill said that fundamentally perspective relates to the eye level or horizon line of the viewer, parallel to the ground plane. This therefore varies according to our personal height above the ground. When sketching landscapes most often the actual horizon is obscured by hills or other objects so the artist must begin by establishing the horizon in the minds eye, simply by locating it
at eye level.
When this is established it is easy to determine where objects such as buildings fit into the composition in relation to the horizon line.

Perspective relates to the angles of lines which appear to converge in the distance i.e. The vanishing point The parallel lines may be building lines or a line of trees or simply the road which apparently vanishes in the distance.

Buildings, trees and other objects become smaller and closer as they recede. They also apparently meet at the eye level mark. Buildings may also be viewed from a two or three point perspective, this occurs when viewing a building from the corner, you have two angles “moving” away from your eye. You now have a vanishing point on either side of the building. It can also happen that you have both or either of the vanishing points falling off the edge of the paper. When sketching windows and doors remember that the tops of the doors or windows may be angled slightly differently to that of the roof as the window is lower than the edge of the roof.

For more of Gill’s FREE Tips visit the Art Cafe

Tip 2 Remember
When placing people in a painting

  • All heads are at eye level
  • The tops of doors and roof lines go down to eye
    level
    and
  • The bottoms of doors and pavements go up to eye
    level

    Join Gill on a South
    African Painting Holiday
    and get her to help you reach your
    true painting potential while you paint in an amazing African
    landscape

  • Photographic help from David Peterson

    Today some photographic help from David Peterson

    David discusses exactly how to use his technique in lesson 2 of his free Image Editing Secrets course. He has a tutorial for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Paint Shop Pro and the free Google Picassa.

    Have you had a problem when shooting scenes with both inside and outside subjects.

    Either everything inside is dark in the resulting photo, or everything outside is too bright. When a photo has a high dynamic range. That is, they have bright sunlight and dark shadows. It is impossible with current technology to have both parts of the photo correctly exposed.
    While you can’t eliminate the problem entirely, there are a couple of choices you can make to minimze the problem.

    Recompose The Photo

    This is probably the simplest solution. Take a photo of a scene with very bright and very dark parts, move your camera to eliminate one of the extremes ie either close curtains for the shot, or take the photo from the window looking inside.

    Use Exposure Lock

    If you can’t recompose the photograph, instead tell the camera what part of the image you would like to see. The rest of the photo will be either over or under exposed (too bright or too dark) but at least you will see your subject. You can do this by placing the center of the image at your subject; half depressing the shutter to lock the focus and exposure; move the camera to re-compose the image; and fully depress the shutter.

    Some cameras have an option called ’spot metering’ to set the part of the image you’d like to be correctly exposed. If your camera has this setting, enable it before using the technique above.

    Use Fill In Flash

    If your scene has a sunny background, but your subject is in the shade (or has a hat on), turn on the flash. I know it seems wrong but it really does work! By using the flash, your subject will look as bright as the background.

    Use a Filter

    If your scene is of a bright sky and a dark ground (for instance at sunset, or on a cloudy day), you can use a graduated neutral density filter. This filter cuts out some of the light from one part of the photo (the sky). This will correctly expose the ground and the sky. These filters can be complex to setup, so I don’t usually recommend them for beginners.

    Fix The Original Photo in an Image Editing Program

    Finally, if you can’t take another shot at the same location, you can fix the original image by changing the levels using a paint program. This works best when your subject is darker than the rest of the photo (because cameras lose detail in over-bright areas). The darker the subject, the harder time you will have fixing the image.”

    MY PAINTING TIP FOR TODAY

    Techniques are useful tools to learn but your style will become apparent as soon as you understand that you need to produce not the likeness of a scene or object, but an account of how you as an artist, relate to it
    Thanks to Bob Brandt, issue: A&I March 2006

    P.S. Accept our warm invitation to join me on a painting holiday I promise you will remember – forever!
    ALSO: Remember there are only a few days left to book your holiday with South African Painting Holidays if you want to take advantage of
    My Amazing 10% Off Discount Offer


    If you would like a friend to receive these tips
    Please Click Here

    An Interview with Gill Van Wyk Senior tutor on South African Painting Holidays

    Sally: Gill, where do you work?
    Gill:–  At home in my studio but I enjoy working in the open as it’s a challenge working with the real thinggill60x66

    Sally:-How do you find a title?
    Gill:- I try not to think about it and it will just come to me.

    Sally: – What do you most enjoy about painting?
    Gill: – aHa! It takes you into a relaxed mode and I enjoy working with colour and capturing the feeling.

    Sally:What is a typical day for Gill?
    Gill: – Getting going with a cup of tea, then the chores around the house. When they are done I set up my work and usually do three hours of painting a day. Then I have a fairly long break till after supper then I start working again when it is nice and quiet.

    Sally: – Is spontaneity important?
    Gill:- For me it is.

    Sally: – What is difficult?
    Gill: –  Enough time. Things that interrupt me

    Sally:- What is your favourite subject to paint?
    Gill:- Birds and outdoors. I’m not into still life but anything organic I enjoy

    To hear more of my interview with Gill, you can join the
    Painting Circle and watch the video here

    PAINTING TIP NO.02-2009

    To unify your paintings, ask yourself these questions:
    1. Does the painting have a center of interest?
    2. Does it have a dominant value?
    3. Does it have a dominant color?
    4. Does it utilize progression?
    5. Do the light shapes “walk the eye” through the painting?
    6. Do the dark shapes lead your eye through the painting?
    Thanks to Ken Hosmer in our October 1986 issue:  The Artist’s Magazine

    You can catch up on newsletters here

    If you would like a friend to receive these tips
    Please Click Here

    Composition and painting plein air

    Do you have trouble choosing what to paint when working out doors?

    You need to carefully decide on the composition of your work as you have so much more to choose from than you would if you were using a photograph.

    You need to be quite disciplined!

    Try following these simple ideas to help you choose what to keep and what to discard.
    Use a view finder it makes the task a whole lot easier.
    • Look through the view finder using it as the initial tool then take the same view with your camera.

    • Now hold the cardboard viewfinder up like a picture frame. Look through it, moving it across the scene and decide where the best composition is.

    • Keep in mind all along the focal point that you wish to include and place this focal point in the correct position in your frame as this often determines the format of your picture i.e. whether to use a landscape or portrait format.

    Hope that helps you start your year out right with some good compositions.Let Gill help you compose the best bush landscape on one of her
    Painting Holidays

    PAINTING TIP NO.01-2009

    Although landscape painting is generally divided into a simple thirds; sky, middle distance and foreground, this may sometimes change. If you wish to make the painting mainly about the sky, as it may be very dramatic, sky will take up two thirds of the format and thereby minimize the importance of the foreground. But the thirds formula is still being used.

    You can catch up on last years newsletters here

    Bushman painting as documentary

    This I found absolutely interesting. Someone has managed to work out just how the Rock Art was done and stood the test of time and now is actually reproducing the images as a recording for posterity and a novel form of his own art!
    Stunning have a read it was written by Lucille Davie on 30 October 2008 for South Africa Info

    There were no Bushmen about to ask how to create the paintings, so artist Stephen Townley Bassett learned how to recreate Bushman paintings the hard way – by trial and error.

    His dedication to the task over the past 18 years has led to the first major exhibition of his Bushman works – 30 extraordinary paintings assembled at the Origins Centre at Wits University in Johannesburg in an exhibition entitled Reservoirs of Potency.

    The exhibition, which opened last week and runs until February 2009, consists of 19 artworks from private collectors around the world, and 11 from Bassett’s own collection.

    “I threw away my penknife,” Bassett says, together with plastic containers and metal tins. And went out into the bush discovering. He learned how to use animal blood, saliva, ochre, cobra venom and ostrich egg shells to create pigment to paint the images, precise copies of Bushmen paintings from around the country.

    He learned too how to use porcupine quills, buck horns, rocks, animal hairs, bird droppings, feathers and animal skins that would become his stock in trade. He made mistakes along the way but got it right.

    ‘I learned that fat is a good binder’

    “I learned that fat is a good binder. I would make a paste which was easy to carry. I learned to liquefy it again with gall, saliva and blood.” Bassett also learned about the different quality of hair of different animals, giving him fine hair for a paintbrush, or thicker hair for a bushier brush.

    He even made his own stone tools to skin spring hares and foxes he’d shot, to use the skin as a pouch in which to carry his painting implements.

    The animals and people in his works, which Bassett calls “documentary paintings”, are the precise size of the originals. The works are done on 100 percent cotton sheets. Each piece, he says, is a one-off.

    “So much has gone into each painting,” he explains. He would spend days at a site, deciphering the original, with a miner’s lamp on his forehead.

    “The first thing is to document as accurately as possible, doing it with pigments available to them, absolutely life size. I would only record what I saw, making it a little darker, to take account of dust,” he recounts. Then back at home a painting would take between six and eight weeks to complete.

    “The work is very exacting, very demanding. There is no debate, the work has to be right – everything exactly there. It is a blend of science, art and craft,” he says, referring to the tool-making as craft.

    Endorsements

    Such is his attention to detail that the professor emeritus and renowned researcher and author on Bushman art, David Lewis-Williams, comments in the caption of one piece that it was only after Bassett captured the work, the Leaping Lion, that Lewis-Williams noticed fish around the lion’s body.

    “Often I return to the site with my half-completed painting to compare colours and overall appearance of my rendition to the original on the rock,” says Bassett. “All paint marks on the rock that are within the frame of reference of the chosen scene must be recorded. All marks must be acknowledged and recorded. The final product must be the next best thing to the original on the rock, a kind of historical document of what has been deciphered from the rock face.”

    His paintings have brief notes or paint blotches around the edges which don’t distract from the work, but help to guide him as to colour and markings on the original.

    And he has the full endorsement of Dr Benjamin Smith, the director of the Rock Art Research Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, and Lewis-Williams, who describes the work as “wonderful” and “very special”.

    “You must either do the work accurately or not at all,” says Lewis-Williams.

    Smith says: “This is an artist like no other; he bleeds for his art,” referring to the fact that Bassett has used his own blood in his paint mixes.

    The exhibition has a case displaying his tools, the first time they have been on show.

    Source: City of Johannesburg

    WOW!
    Wouldn’t you like to see some rock art up close?
    It really is quite an emotional experience and gets you thinking about how we all evolved and how our painting has changed, or has it?

    The Berg or uKhahlamba

    “The Berg” is a stunningly beautiful World Heritage site.The Drakensberg mountains got their name from the Voortrekkers because the ridges resemble a dragons back but the Zulus call them uKhahlamba the “Barrier of Spears”
    Whatever you call it, the Berg is unadulterated beauty and perfect for any artist who wants dramatic paintings.

    The Drakensberg is located in the west of KwaZulu-Natal along the border with Lesotho, it stretches 150 kilometres, and the peaks are a massive basalt cap on top of sedimentary rocks formed 150-million years ago.

    Usually sunny, the weather is quite capricious and can change in the blinking of an eye so go prepared, as the scouts say. Generally speaking the summers are warm and wet, up to 800-2000mm of rain can fall a year here, it has been known to thunder down in a storm of lightening and rain and clear just as quickly. Misty clouds can pull down over the peaks and leave a hiker blinded until it lifts again.

    A visit in the cold dry winter between April and September is best. The nights are frosty with a daytime atmosphere crisp and invigorating. Above 2000m you are most likely to see snow; however it can snow at any time of the year up on the peaks ( Check out my previous blog about our most recent snow!)

    Hikers and walkers delight in the many trails through the mountains, there are some fairly extensive maps which show the trails to make your path easier to travel.

    THE OLDEST ART GALLERY

    4000 years ago the San Bushmen painted 520 pictures on the walls of caves and rock shelters and despite all those years of weather most of them are still clearly visible. You can hike, with a guide, to view them and see a world unchanged in all these years but accessible to only a few… will you be one of those few lucky people to be transported back to the beginning of painting and the lives of the little guys who made these incredible masterpieces.I’ve been lucky enough to see several sites and each time they really do make your mind scrabble back and try to imagine their life as it was then. There are a few locations where the San are continuing with their life very similar to those days but the modern world keeps getting too close so I’m not sure how long it will be until their life is only to be read in history books. A real shame but we always seem to think the grass is greener on the other side don’t we?

    Click here to see some more rock paintings

    Or better still come and see them for yourself