Project 1.2 – Contour drawing

Using a regular unbroken line to depict the simple shape or outline of an object. (From course notes)


Exercise – Contour of a simple object

Jug 1:  Initally I classed a small jug (Figure 1) as a ‘simple’ object. I was unable to work out the contour as my hand seemed to travel ahead in panic, leaving my brain behind. I slowed a little, making six attempts, but couldn’t get away from messy lines or overblown shapes. I went back and made corrections to some drawings to try to understand where I had gone wrong. (Figure 2)


Cup 1: I went back to basics, without spout. Much easier. This is where I tried breaking down the angles and distances, measuring by eye. This cup’s only challenges were proportion, degree of curvature. The only fiddly bit was the handle, which was challenging to mentally ‘flatten’. (Figure 3)

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Figure 3. Contour drawings, simple cup

Cup 2: To prove to myself that I now understood cups I took a curved one, more difficult that the rectangular cup 1. Achieving a fairly good result I returned to the jug.

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Figure 4. Second cup contour drawings

Jug 2: (Disregarding drawing 1 where I seem to have slyly pointed the spout forward!) Drawings 2-4 I was very pleased with. I began to notice additional details, but I didn’t have the guts to tackle the incredibly faint ridges running along the blue portion of its body… I did pause, but here my pen did not leave the paper.

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Figure 5. Jug contour, second attempt. Much improved.

General observations on use of hand and eye:

  • For larger lines (e.g. the long curve of the cup rim) I only really looked once to understand the degree of curvature and its proportion relative to the rest of the cup. Shorter lines took longer to judge because they involved an estimation of angle relative to some landmark already drawn, and estimation of length – so for shorter lines my eye flicked back and forth a lot.
  • I gained an awareness of my hand’s position in space – or rather the tip of the pen. The whole process was made much easier by holding the pen nearer to the end, as it meant I didn’t have to move my head.
  • My hand was desperate to leave the page when things got rough or I made an error, and indeed it couldn’t resist it at certain points (is it legitimate to blame my own hand? Probably not).
  • For me, this exercise was very challenging. But it forced me to make decisions about what I was seeing; by committing my mental judgements to the page, I could then evaluate them and identify where I was making judgement errors. I will be continuing with this exercise in my daily exercises…



Exercise – ‘Blind’ contour drawing

Using a pencil I drew the same small jug with an HB pencil, without looking at the paper, restricting to 5 minutes.

photo 2.JPG

Some unexpected results: I drew relatively quickly, finding that that way I could judge distances quite accurately by the movement of my forearm (again, the sweeping arc movement). This was helped by only rarely lifting my pencil off the page. Notably my ellipses seem more symmetrical than those ‘seen’ drawn looking at the page – indicating that I should pay more attention to the sensation of drawing action rather than the physical presence and visual cue of the pen or pencil in my fingers. I was surprised at how short 5 minutes of drawing is.

Q: How different are the resulting images? How did it feel to draw each one? Which outcome and experience do you prefer? Why?

These blind drawings I find very pleasant to look at – especially the handle of number 7 which has been ‘disassembled’ into short strokes but still recognisable – and are much more interesting than the contour drawings of the previous exercise (above). The lines are very smooth and intentional, which again I found difficult to achieve in the previous exercise where I was hesitant and constantly reassessing in a (vein) effort for reproduction accuracy. The blind drawings I feel are actually saying something (perhaps an impression of movement) rather than repeating what my eyes see.

My assessment of these two methods reflects how I experienced them. I found the ‘seen’ contour drawing very challenging and gruelling, because the object was accuracy. I found the ‘blind’ contour drawing very fun, quick. In short, I take something from both – I would do well both to improve my drafts(wo)manship and to loosen up my lines to create a more expressive aesthetic outcome.


Exercise – Drawing from memory

I chose a large aluminium colander for this exercise. Studied it for 1 minute, then drew it with HB pencil in A3 sketchbook under a time limit of 5 minutes. The result is mildly embarrassing – I am so slow! If this drawing says anything it’s, I’m panicking while drawing a colander. 

The picture is so flat! I left tone as an afterthought while it would have really brought the object out. I spent most of my time planning out the holes and trying to get the handle right (it’s not right). By that point the tonal differences had escaped me and I made a rather hackneyed guess as to where these lie. And again I am not bold enough with the tone, hence the large patches of white or near-white. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.


Exercise – Drawing blind

Returning with gratitude to my (now beloved) little jug, undertaking another blind drawing with the A3 sketchbook under the table with a 5-minute time limit.

Exercise - Drawing blind.jpg

I was surprised how well this method worked. Clearly it could be better – I got lost lifting the pen off to draw the handle. Shoudln’t have done that. The edges are quite feathered as I drew the pencil back and forth checking I had estimated distances correctly (as least, that’s what it felt like I was doing). Imagining my eyes as a paintbrush was very helpful.

Reflection on methods

I can imagine how the final exercise would have turned out had I not done the sequence. There is not only a value in active looking, but in examining an object and memorising its basic shapes, proportions, and areas of tone, being in touch with the movement of the hand, keeping the pencil on the page, etc.

I would have preferred to draw the final A3-size little jug (final exercise) much larger. I found this was just one too many elements to keep tabs on while not being able to look at the page on my lap. I think it would be easier to plan out the space looking at the page.

This was my first foray onto my A3 sketchbook incidentally. I feel encouraged to move away from my tiny A5 drawings, perhaps to loosen up a little as I love the way that approach turned out here.

Daily drawings: cherry without stem

cherry 20170608
Cherry. Charcoal and black Conte stick on A5 paper.

This was deceptively difficult because of the scale (meaning I couldn’t just fudge the highlights!), but I chose the object and the scale because I wanted to look in detail at the surface reflections to apply as much as possible of what I have learned so far about the use of light and dark, as well as just wanting to draw a gigantic cherry, obviously. I regret now not taking intermediate pictures, at each point I felt it was ‘done’ before changing my mind and continuing…

[A note on light: I had originally planned the space for two cherries. There was light streaming in the window as I drew the first cherry, but the light had totally gone by the time I turned to cherry number 2 so I abandoned it due to the importance of consistent reflections. Despite this in the end with the right-side shadow the composition is quite interesting, if a little desolate. What this tells me is that I should have tackled both at once – for the sake of consistency and efficiency if nothing else.]

The first drawing stage was very light, with only charcoal used and quite velvety-looking due to the texture on the surface of the page.

I went in again, darkening everything except the very striking highlights on the shiny surface of the fruit. I reason that the cherry itself is a dark colour, and therefore I am not just representing light and shadow.

After drawing in the double-shadow, I darkened up the dark areas of the fruit with black Conté. The texture still wasn’t right, so I used a pointed blending stump to really get the colour into the grain of the paper, and to push charcoal around to make sure all edges were sharp and gradients smooth. Worked beautifully, although I thing I have too much Conté coverage on the right side of the cherry – the gradient has gone, and I’ve worked the paper too much to lift any off.

Returning to composition:

It was interesting the composition that emerged from my mistake of not drawing two cherries from the outset. I then played around with cropping the image tighter on the left side. It was satisfying having the main three tones (black cherry, grey shadow, white paper) into roughly thirds, and it also gets rid of some of the negative space introducing more of a question mark regarding the empty third on the right side of the image. I originally discovered this on Whatsapp (playing around with my profile image – it was a slow evening!), and this actually worked better in terms of symmetry in a circular frame:


Daily drawing: boy on tablet at kitchen counter

ziggy standing 20170608
Boy on tablet at kitchen counter; 2B pencil on A5 paper.

I think my methodology was quite successful here, both in terms of anatomic accuracy and filling the space: first I really roughly sketched the basic shapes in the picture, to get an idea of what I was seeing. I then concentrated on the back of the neck and cheek by blocking in tone – the anatomy really was striking in the natural light coming through the window. I tried to be bold. I then blocked in arm shadows.

In an effort to redress my pillow ‘failure’, I paid attention to representing the folds of the  t-shirt. I made sure to spare totally white regions for only the absolute lightest areas of skin and t-shirt. I actually began by shading the t-shirt in the same manner as the pillow, finding myself in the same situation with weak, confusing-looking smudges that had no movement… cursing mildly I continued (perhaps in exasperation) by simply scrawling. This was fun and turned out much better: not only did it contrast nicely with the more controlled shadows on the (smooth) skin, but it actually gave the right feel of the fabric’s texture and flow. This is something I realised in trying in making several copies of the folds and undulations in Durer’s pen and ink pillow study, which I spoke about in this post.

Note on composition and negative space:

While I think I am doing well so far to fill the space given by the blank page, I am pretty much leaving backgrounds to their own devices – which is to say they remain blank! I find myself totally devoid of understanding here – hope to address this as the course goes on.


Exercise: Dramatic marks

Blocking out A4 page with charcoal was followed by erasing surface with putty rubber and drawing over this with willow charcoal. These steps were repeated. Here is an intermediate stage where I have swiped lightly with the charcoal and combined this with some very thick defined areas.

dramatic marks 1

I then continued the process. My final picture (below; I kind of arbitrarily stopped when it began to look messy) did not look at striking in terms of objects disappearing into the page as the previous stage, although it is more interesting. I was able to layer up the erased lines, such that one appeared to lie on top of the other. It began to get more difficult to make a definite line as the paper became more impregnated with charcoal.

dramatic marks 2

The nex drawing required 6B pencil with putty rubber. I found I had to sharpen a lot of the painted surface of the pencil away with a knife in order to shade uniformly and quickly. I am getting an idea that the subtraction can be applied to bring objects into light, to signify depth, light and shadow, and textured surfaces.

dramatic marks 4

Daily drawing: banana, & self-portrait

pen and indian ink on A5 paper

I drew seriously with pen and ink for the first time recently. I really enjoy it, especially the mundanity of drawing repetitive lines or dots (I shadowed using dots in the above picture, before washing over with ink).

I drew a banana in pen and ink after the charcoal effort – I wanted to compare the feel of the different media. I find this one more vibrant and energetic, although charcoal can be so dramatic because of it’s blackness and smudginess…you know that somebody’s hands were rubbing all over it.

And after this banana (quite a banana-flavoured log so far, is this my defining gimmick?), I drew my face  in pen and ink knowing that there is a self-portrait coming up, and I really enjoyed trying to see/draw faces earlier on in the day. It was incredibly difficult to see myself objectively.

self portrait 06-06-2017

It has a nice ‘look’ or style, and the likeness is good, although it is quite cartoonish; my proportions are incorrect (and that is fundamental, I am trying to learn how to see here after all!), which happened because I failed to measure the nose. It is much wider in reality and as a consequence the mouth is also too small as my mouth is the same width as my nose.

And, although I like the picture, it does look quite flat despite my furious and laboured cross-hatching to signify the curvature. It is possible that I didn’t go far enough – there are quite large patches of white on the face that I can attest are definitely not flat in real life! Maybe an ink wash was in order.

I am realising the difference between being 100% faithful to what I think I see, and how I must represent it on the page; in this instance, I ought to have carried out feathering out the crosshatching into the cheeks, and across the chin and forehead. I could not see it as the shadow was quite hard, but those softer gradients in depth are there.

Daily drawing: Child eating from a bowl

ziggy eating 20160606

HB pencil on A5 paper. This was a 5-minute sketch while a small boy, my son, ate his dinner. He is extremely animated, incapable of sitting still even when eating if one can imagine that, so I found him the perfect subject for the purposes of practising the drawing of moving objects with a known but manageable time limit of around 5 minutes. I started with a soft line and then went back and blocked in some shaded areas and strengthened some lines. I can see where he has moved and I have simply carried on drawing without correcting. He has a tiny neck in this image, his upper arm is too fat. I retained the wobbly line of the arm because it seemed appropriate for the language of movement – c.f. Schiele, for example.

I realised that because I know a priori what my son looks like very well from every angle, I was able to recognise when I had reached the likeness of the face and the way his neck falls downward. This felt… not entirely like cheating, but I imagine that were I to reach a likeness of a total stranger there would not necessarily be this sense of recognition. I would have to look much harder at the subject.

This was my first ‘speed’ drawing in a long time. My aim was to capture the likeness and the shape of the body, the movement. While there is a likeness I can see that the anatomy is incorrect. I had forgotten how, at least for me, the end result can be a little hit and miss.

Fernand Leger

I started reading After Modern Art 1945-2000 (David Hopkins; Oxford University Press, 2000), whose first chapter outlines the politics of modernism. Although I was familiar with the popular notion that abstract expressionism was funded by the US as a reaction to social realism, reality is always far subtler:

Art & Language’s opening image [1] can clearly be seen as a demonstration, in line with the thought of historians such as Guilbaut and Leja, that Abstract Expressionism was unwittingly infused with the politics of the Cold War. It is important, however, to stress that this is a selective and inevitably partial interpretation of history. Its value lies in accounting for the extent to which US-based Modernism quickly commanded authority in the West. In fact the impetus behind official American backing for Abstract Expressionism and its offshoots came as much from ‘local’ European antagonisms as from the imagined evils of Russian Communism.

(Hopkins, David. After Modern Art 1945-2000 (Oxford History of Art) (p. 12). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition)

The chapter also touches on the notion (and this is something that Grayson Perry talks about too) of concepts emerging from the depths of otherwise subconscious-driven work – i.e. after the fact. This is opposed in a sense to concept-driven work, which risks being rather one-dimensional, or obtusely ‘saying’ something that could be expressed perfectly well in a short written sentence.

Segueing painfully, the narrator continued: Fernand Leger was mentioned then as a member of the French Communist Party (PFC). Communists were expelled from the government in 1947, coalescing with the US’s Marshall Plan which poured aid money into Western Europe with the idea of bringing centrist political stability to Western Europe in opposition both to communism and far-right spread; arguably this was as much about control as about ‘stability’. Interestingly, this mirrored the remit of the USSR’s Molotov Plan.

Putting that perhaps irrelevant information aside, Leger struck me as someone who escaped me until now. Here is his ‘Playing Card and Pipe (Carte et pipe)’, whose name and composition amused me:

© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017. Photo credit: Tate

…along with his ‘Two women holding flowers (Deux femmes tenant des fleurs)’:

Two Women Holding Flowers (Deux femmes tenant des fleurs)

…and this one, ‘Star of the sea (L’Étoile de mer)’:

Fernand Leger:

His work is so honest and fresh – like comic book art or indeed (perhaps more appropriately) pop art. I have been considering outlines lately, and how we actually see… I like to gain clues from the way that children represent real-world objects in their drawings. Edge detection is a very important first step in visual reproduction – I think that is why Leger seems so innocent as well as being a great playful composer.

Project 1.1 – Fractured and dramatic marks

Exercise: Fractured marks


Playing freely with charcoal reminds me of my envy of the drawings of children – so free! Did my best to empty my mind as much as possible. The first strike on the page came only after a series of hesitant gestures towards the paper…

1. Began by horizontally swiping the thick compressed charcoal stick across the page in bursts, pivoting from the elbow, overlapping these swipes down the page. Paper grain came through nicely with contrast from top to bottom of each swipe, the top being darker and the bottom lighter as I was pressing down slightly with the top of the stick. Actually there is a great deal of curvature depicted in these swipes because of this. Image wound copper pipe/wire, or the coiled corn snake I saw at the terrarium/aquarium last week.


2. Drawing (1) did not convey much in the way of feeling fractured, however. So I turned the charcoal on its edge (45 degrees) and really stabbed across the paper, letting the line feather out to ‘evidence’ the speed of movement. I kept the lines straight though, but varied thickness and pressure. This one is distinctly artificial – man-made in fact. We do love grid arrangements, and speed.


3. This time I curved the lines and created something like birds wings, or the raffia palms that grow around here (inexplicably…). These looked good laid over some lighter shading with the side of the charcoal – instantly the ‘feathers/leaves’ are given depth. I then made a slow stripe down the length of the page, to fill the space and provide contrast to existing marks.


4. Using only curves and the edge of the charcoal. A lot of movement in the quick circular strokes, thinking about the sureness of Matisse’s lines (one can dream). Then I added a head, to make it a roly-polying figure. Why not.



Willow charcoal, short broken marks followed by free movement with patterns and curved shapes – followed by scoring putty rubber. The lightened stripes of the putty rubber were not white – rather light grey. At first I followed the lines of existing charcoal marks. Then I went in all directions, making new erased marks in perpendicular directions which made these erased lines appear to sit on the surface a bit more. This one reminds me of the new Chinese overpass I just read about on the BBC. IMG_5316.JPG


I spent some time with pen and ink making lines and shapes. I then drew some water through the wet ink with a brush, which allowed me to move around areas of ink to create new which dispite bleeding left quite distinct traces of the original pen lines. This wash seemed to create depth – nice against the stark white of the paper. Areas of early-penned ink lines had already dried by the time I got to the water wash – and remained unbroken by the water (although will retry with non-water-resistant ink as this appears to be what I have bought! Not very experienced with pen and ink).


I then tried again with water-soluble felt tip. The pigments in this black felt tip pen’s ink are actually a mixture blue and what appears to be a yellow pigment. When water was added, I could push clouds of blue around, although I tried not to mix the water and pigment uniformly. The blue travelled much further than the yellow, and when the clouds dried (below, right) a really solid-looking shape, with a fine dark blue outline, appeared amongst my scrawled pen lines. Interestingly when dry the centre of the cloud takes on a pink hue rather than yellow. I took a picture of it still wet (below, left), as I knew it wouldn’t last.


2017-05-30: overripe bananas


Charcoal on paper, A5. The bananas in reality looked as though they are splattered with ink and scratched with black lines. But this was quite easy to reproduce with charcoal by sharpening or applying with the finger. The natural blackness of the charcoal forced me into a higher-contrast drawing; one of my objections to my pencil drawings is that I am not bold enough with contrast even when the subject is very starkly shadowed. I tried to bring the front-most banana (which has broken off the bunch) forward as the focal point by darkening its contrast. May try pen and ink tomorrow.