Portraiture- Be Vibrant

1)    Introduce the project:

The final project of the year was Portrait Painting. Exactly like the name, we were asked to paint a portrait of a person, either of ourselves or of someone we knew/know. I chose to paint my mother, and I used acrylic as my media.

Be Vibrant is the title of my piece. The exuberant colors of my artwork pop at the audience and seems to be as if it’s screaming the title out loud. The meaning of this title addresses two guiding questions: how can portraits make a broader social statement? And how can we represent the intangible (the unseen) in portraits?

2)    Formal analysis/Message:

My mother is the star of my portrait. It was under thorough thinking that I finally decided to paint her. In my opinion, my mom is unlike any other moms; she defies the stereotype of a mother figure in several ways that I believe shows her unique qualities. My mom resonates an unyielding strength and confidence that inspires me every day, and I want to capture this cheerfulness and youthfulness others. In my painting, I hope to make a broader social statement on ageism, especially prejudice towards older ages. People of all ages should feel equally happy and free. Age should not be a factor that reduces the fun in one’s life. Although as we get older, we tend to hold greater responsibilities, responsibilities, however, should not replace the fun aspect of life. For this reason, I chose to paint my mom because although she carries a huge responsibility with the title of a mother, she still accumulates fascinating and intriguing stories with her life because she embraces fun and joy.

I show the intangible because what I am addressing through my painting is not what people commonly think of a mother figure and I want to change that. To have fun does not mean to be reckless and be blind to one’s responsibilities. I believe it’s rather to find the joy in life even when life is loaded with responsibilities. My mom does this very well; her strong mettle is truly inspiring. And therefore, I would want to break the mother stereotype and project this unseen idea as loud as possible through my painting.

Visually, my artwork is attention-grabbing as the canvas is flashing neon and bright colors. This supports my intended message because vibrant colors symbolize fun. For principles of Design and Elements of Art, I mainly focused on balancing the negative and positive space, emphasizing on the eyes and face, showing a variety of colors by using every color on the color wheel. The texture is also vital in my communication of the two guiding questions because painting acrylic with palette knives creates a rough and untidy look that shows the carefreeness of my artwork.

My painting should stimulate an ecstatic and excited mood. As mentioned above, I purposely used neon colors to bring about this electrifying mood. The type of paint, acrylic, was also chosen specifically for its easy-to-dry quality. I wanted to add many layers of paint over one another so different colors could be splattered on the canvas and acrylic made it possible for me to do that. The layering effect also helps communicate my intentions because each layer of color represents a new interesting story added to my mom’s life.

3)    Summarize the creative process of making this work:

To create this artwork, I first brainstormed several compositions and sketched them out in my sketchbook. Originally, my idea was to paint my grandpa when he was in his early twenties in Li TianBing’s style. I wanted the painting to be green-monochromatic and to spray paint over oil. However, Ms. Z explained to me that green skin would look ill and it’s not possible to spray paint over oil. Soon after that, I decided to switch my focus. Therefore, what I envisioned looked completely different from what my final product looks like.

The challenge I faced in this project was working with many colors within a limited amount of time. After discarding the idea of painting my grandpa, I decided to try Francoise Nielly’s style. The main difficulty of her style is the need to premix many colors with paint thinner before applying it onto the canvas. This process takes a long time (and also I had to take in consideration of how many trays/palette knives I use because I needed to clean them and that takes up time, too) and class time was just not enough. Therefore, many times I didn’t have the right colors because I could only mix a few in each class. I coped with this time problem by working efficiently and only working with three colors each class.

4)    Effort and Artistic Growth:

I definitely grew as an artist through this project. Portrait painting was new to me, and putting that aside, I also challenged myself to paint with a new technique: using palette knives. I believe I have put in my best effort to create the best outcome. Although everything was brand new, I am surprised that I have finished it so quickly and within the time boundary! Therefore, I believe I havealso taken advantage of class time to work on this project. Looking at my completed work, I can say nothing but stare at it in awe! Overall, I believe this project opened me up to more branches of art and motivates me to pursue art in the future.


Two guiding questions led to my final product. I would like to reinforce some lines and messages that I have mentioned earlier because they carry potent meanings:


  1. People of all age should feel equally happy and free. Age should not be a factor that reduces the fun in one’s life. Although as we get older, we tend to hold greater responsibilities, responsibilities, however, should not replace the fun aspect of life.
  2. To have fun does not mean to be reckless and be blind to one’s responsibilities. I believe it’s rather to find the joy in life even when life is loaded with responsibilities.

Understand the Art World

Looking at my work, it is obvious that my artist influence was Francoise Nielly. I have borrowed her art technique of using a palette knife to paint, her color selection, color contrast, and texture. A video of her painting immediately captured my attention; there was one part where Nielly was painting the lips, and all she did was drag the palette knife right and downwards. As simple as that, it made the painting so astonishingly beautiful. Since watching that video, I decided I had to try it out myself. This process of learning and borrowing allowed me to interact with my artist inspiration and helped me understand how it feels to paint like her.

Stretch and Explore

This Artist Habit of Mind is the one that speaks to me the most after completing this project. Through this project, I have learned to reach beyond my supposed limits. Therefore, I am thankful for this project. It gave me the opportunity explore and discover what lies beyond my abilities. Also, since my original plan was wildly different from my final product, it is true that I explored playfully without a preconceived plan; I embraced the opportunity to learn from mistakes and accidents.

Acrylic Painting Media Testing Blog Post Reflection

What were the steps of this media testing? Explain each step.

To create this oil paint piece, we were asked to print out a photo our face with high contrast under strong lighting. To transform the picture onto canvas, we used matte media to glue the photo onto a cardboard canvas. This acted as a guide. Values and colors were finally added when we applied acrylic painting.

What new things (concepts and/or skills) did you learn about how to properly use acrylic paint and care for the materials?

I worked with acrylic in middle school, so I knew how to apply it and was accustomed to its texture. However, when working with it before, I never noticed how quickly it dried, I only knew from time to time I needed to add paint thinner. By comparing it with the oil paint, I learned that, comparably, it dries in a very short amount of time. It’s also different from oil because water alone can clean the brushes.

What was frustrating about acrylic painting?  How could you deal with this problem if you were to use acrylic paints in the future?

Acrylic paint is pasty, hard to blend, and easily dried. These characteristics can be both positive and negative depending on the art that’s created. If I want to create a smooth canvas, acrylic is difficult, so I would always have a bottle of thinner beside my paint tray. Unlike oil, it’s also challenging to blend colors on the canvas, therefore, I would premix colors before I apply it. Lastly, it dries fast. I deal with this problem by avoiding acrylic if I want to work on a wet canvas. However, if I desire layers, acrylic is definitely on my priority list.

What questions do you have about using acrylic paint? Are there certain techniques you want to learn how to do?  Reference an artist who works in acrylic regarding the technique you want to learn if you can.

I wonder what the thickness of the acrylic paint is that’s used by Francoise Nielly in her pieces. It seems smooth when she smudges a layer on the canvas, but it also creates texture. Does she apply thinner to her paint?

Spring Break Art Gallery Reflection

What was the theme of the show? 

The Duo Solo Exhibition showcased both Zhao Yang and Betty Woodman’s artworks. The artworks were displayed in one gallery to showcase how these two artists from different traditions, regions, background and gender, work on the theme of the body.

What media?  Betty Woodman uses her usual medium, glazed earthenware, but transforms it into multimedia art by combining in acrylic paint on canvas with the traditional pottery. Zhao Yang works with oil and acrylic on canvas.

What genre of art? Contemporary art.

Who were the artists? Zhao Yang and Betty Woodman.

Where did you go?  Shanghai K11 exhibition.

What did you notice about the artwork in terms of the formal qualities?  How did the formal qualities of the work support the theme/message? Zhao Yang’s paintings wander through reality, Eastern and Western fairy tales, as well as fables, transforming themselves as carriers of metaphors and symbols, and finally, presenting the hybrid images to the audiences. All these experiences, emotions, histories, stories and feelings are expressed out smoothly with Zhao’s plain painting language. Betty Woodman’s exuberantly colorful and inventive artwork breaks the limitations of pottery and brings this media to the next level. She began to transform traditional pottery, her usual medium, into innovative multimedia art, moving her work from kitchen cupboard shelves to museum walls.


Oil Painting Media Testing Blog Post Reflection

To create this oil paint piece, we were asked to take a black-and-white photo of our faces with high contrast under strong lighting. To transform the picture onto canvas, we first printed and gridded the A4 picture into ten rows and seven columns and repeated this step on the cardboard canvas. This made sure our proportions were accurate. Then using an HB pencil, we sketched the outline of our faces using the gridlines as guidance. Values were finally added when we applied oil painting consisting only of black and white.

This was the first time I used oil painting. I learned that when painting with oil paint, only a small amount of paint is required. It also can last very long without drying. It’s different from acrylic because water alone cannot clean oil brushes, it requires thinner before rinsing.

From this media testing, I was introduced to oil paint, and I feel as if it had already become my go-to paint. The smoothness and quality of being able to blend so easily really appeals to me because it makes the shading of my artwork realistic.

When oil paint gets in contact with paint thinner, the texture and smoothness automatically disappears. Therefore, I don’t enjoy using paint thinner. However, when I want to change the color of my paint from dark paint to a lighter paint, I have to use the thinner to clean my brush. Next time, I will have with me by my side several hand towels to dry the thinner from my brush. I wonder what other media and canvas material can work with oil paint. Also, what other qualities do oil paint have that make it a good painting media?

A Documentary Review: Sky Ladder

What new ideas or understandings did this documentary shed light on for you in terms of the workings of the contemporary art world?  Please explain in detail. 

This documentary introduced to me how the modern world tolerates art and how it brings it to daily life. I have always strictly limited my definition of art to working on paper with a pencil or on canvas with a paint brush. My stubbornness blocked me from thinking that in the actual contemporary art world, art is so much more. I never even thought of gun powder as art media before, and yet it is as beautiful as magic in the hands of Cai Guo Qiang. This documentary really opened my eyes to what art can be and its potentials.

What is an issue brought up in the documentary that you STRONGLY AGREE OR DISAGREE with? Explain the issue and give us reasoning as to why you agree or disagree with it.

The documentary invited many knowledgeable art critics to opinionate on Cai Guo Qiang’s art and his style. The issue of how fame and money can disrupt the artist’s original intentions was corroborated as both critics have pointed it out. There’s this comparison between, “‘Yes, I want to do it’ and ‘no, we will not let you’ [to] here’s two million dollars, what do you want to do?” I absolutely agree with this rising issue amongst artists, especially ones who are successful. When you work alone and for the enjoyment of art, you don’t depend on it to make a living. However, once you are surrounded by fame, there are people who want to collaborate, and thus, you are no longer free and independent. They will pay in return for your participation and you will have to tolerate what they desire, and thus, you are put on a constraint of freedom. The idea of fame and money will definitely quaver the artist’s original beliefs.

What’s the most important takeaway from watching this documentary? What will you remember about it moving forward? 

A significant takeaway from the “Sky Ladder” was reminding me that art takes courage and perseverance. Working with gun power as the art media is creative and innovative, but at the same time, incredibly dangerous as admitted by Cai Guo Qiang himself. To make make his vision of the Sky Ladder come to life, it took him years after years of preparation and trial and errors; he had to accept failure and keep improving. On his fifth trial, Qiang had to suffer under time and financial constraints and his wife’s disapproval, but Qiang was relentless. On his fifth and final trial, the Sky Ladder, as if a fiery dragon of success, soared in the sky to celebrate his victory.