Daily drawing: study of peaches

Early stages. I set out the principle features in pencil before layering oil pastel from light to dark.
Final study. Oil pastel and 8B pencil on paper

It was not intentionally that the edges of the pastel are so rough…but I kind of like the look. This paper has a very rough tooth (watercolour paper I think – the watercolouring itself is having some teething problems, so I like to retreat to the comfort of media that only move around when I tell them to), and it suits it a little.

I made up for the rough edges a little by sharpening certain features with a toothpick. This allowed me to expose the lighter layers underneath.

I did find it quite difficult rendering the furry edges of the peach, as well as highlighting in general the lighter areas.

I also made a rather gross-looking yellow mess on the page with the side of my hand. I should probably take those simple steps to avoiding that (not sure why I don’t, it’s quite undisciplined).


Daily drawings: Tissue box

This is pen and ink on lined paper. I made a few attempts at the tissue until this one. I was trying to figure out the best way to use hatching strokes to depict the wavy surface. My hatching needs a lot of practice, but at least some of the folds have depth.

I began with the wavy line of the tissue (below) because I figured this is an important foundation when I thought about the randomness of the folds.

Daily drawing: Abstract after Julie Mehretu

This was done with fibretip pen, watercolour wash, and charcoal on A4 paper. I had a totally random (well, not *totally*!) play with movement in mind, trying to incorporate some of these elements of visual language.

Inspiration: Julie Mehretu

I really enjoyed Julie Mehretu’s layering of differently textured strokes full of so much energy. I also liked the paring down from ambient washes, to coloured shapes, to lines, all the way to detailed scrawling that resembles some kind of text. All of these elements seem to fade forward and backward as you observe them. There is no obvious foreground or background, each layer has its meaning and prominence should you focus on it.

This is her piece, Stadia I (ink and acrylic on canvas):

Julie Mehretu, Stadia I (2004). Retrieved from https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/2006.7

I also think it’s neat that she has used, in some of her work, a layer of acrylic resin over the surface of the finished work in order to eliminate surface texture.

Daily drawing: avocado plant, pen and watercolour

Avocado plant (permanent ink and watercolour)

I have got a lot of confidence from reading about artists and their methods and attitudes to drawing. It allowed me to permit myself to slow down, to spend more time looking before committing to paper.

On the other side of this coin is my wish to use more of my arm (rather than just my hand) and to employ the fluidity that comes with this and faster motions effectively. I would also like to be able to sketch quickly without becoming preoccupied with details.

I started out with permanent ink quill in this drawing – I did not sketch out with pencil first because leaves are quite permissive in that way… if you miss off a little something nobody is going to know. Having said that, I wanted to capture the rippling surface of the avocado leaves, so I went over the permanent ink with watercolour.

It is nice to finally be setting out into representing real objects with watercolour – having never really used this medium I have spent a few days over the past fortnight trying to understand and control it… I now completely understand what they mean when they say it seems to have a life of it’s own.

Nevertheless, these basic skills stood me in good stead as I layered from light washes to dark, not always waiting between layers in order to blend, or patiently letting a layer dry in order to capture the stark tonal contrasts that demonstrate the very pronounced undulations on the leaves’ surfaces… this was effective to a certain degree, although I could have been more careful (I was trying to work quickly).

I was much less careful with the brown area, and this was done after the graded wash in ochre at the top.

Part 2.2 – Tone and form (cont.)

Exercise: A spoon

(From course notes) Work on an ambitious scale for this exercise. Lightly map out an outline of the rounded bowl of the spoon so that it fills more than half of your sheet of paper…Adopting the techniques and methods you’ve practised earlier in Part Two, try to describe in visual terms what you see reflected in the mirrored surface – in the bowl and along part of the handle. (You can use the back or the front of the spoon.)…Try not to use an eraser except to lift off one or two tiny areas of the lightest tone.


Day 1

Me and my spoons

I chose the ladle, originally setting out to draw both. The above image is overexposed. Below is the ladle in detail, giving a better representation of the tonal variation I need to aim for. Although of course this was taken as a close-up, while the reflections obviously appear different from my vantage point.



I began by sketching it out using an H pencil on A4 paper, pressing way too hard at first (ignorance tends to make one fantastically confident).

This is a strange shape to draw. The eye plays tricks on you – closing one eye you see that the depth of the bowl is just shy of half of the width of the opening (from this angle)… doesn’t appear that way with two eyes, because you end up ‘translating’ the depth.

I then felt happier about proceeding with the larger A3 drawing. As I did so, I noticed that the ladle is narrower than I drew in the A4 picture, so I made amends for that.

A3 contour drawing

I could already tell that representing the bright rim of the ladle was going to be challenging, because it terminates in such a narrow sliver…

I began by delineating the main features reflected. It really helped to kind of squint at the spoon to pick out the general flow of the arcing lines that become stretched out as they approach the border of the spoon as far as my eye observes. It was difficult though, faced with a blank spoon on the page in front of me, to transfer what I saw to paper. It involved observing the angle of curvature as a curve lying on an ellipse, and then looking down to the paper and trying to recreate that.

I then went ahead with tentative mid-tones before filling out the main features and darkening areas. I completely blocked in the darkest areas. I tried to run the pencil along the contours of the curvature. I went over only the brightest areas with a rubber.

I was pleased that, as I had observed in the real life spoon, when the tone had been drawn onto the bowl it looked wider than in does in the contour drawing. There is something about adding the tone (introducing depth) that gives that illusion. It’s a good sign!

Day 2

I took a break and returned the next day to look closely at the picture in terms of tonal range. I was looking especially at matching regions of tone within the image… those regions that I had failed to notice. I hadn’t been bold enough with the dark areas, and was getting wrapped up in the details of the shapes of reflections yesterday, which is fine. So today I made a few adjustments to really bring out the roundness of the bowl, smudging with my finger and then cleaning up the bright regions in the bowl and on the rim with a rubber. I think this is better (below).

Ladle, A3 and pencil on paper. Final effort.

I would conclude that I am happy with this effort, and working on A3 was not nearly as tough as I thought (although I did spend several hours drawing this), and it gave me a chance to actually capture all the details and crisp lines.

However there are a few things that need improving. Despite focussing on the flow of the tonal features, I still don’t think some of them make sense or lend themselves to the appearance of curvature. I also really wanted to eliminate as far as possible the texture of the pencil. But this was difficult. So in the blown up image the pencil markings don’t really lend themselves to depicting the smoothness and shininess of the metal’s surface. I feel like either charcoal or even watercolour would be better suited… maybe I will test that idea out.

Daily drawing: view the from sofa

Charcoal pencil on paper

Studies like this I find very useful in terms of measuring lengths and angles by pencil/eye, measuring tone, and perspective. I can see a few things are a bit off here, such as the direction of the foreground floor, and the size of the feet (should be bigger!).

While I was drawing loosely – it’s expressive and very rewarding to look at – I did not intend to draw incorrectly with respect to perspective. I was drawing quickly so perhaps I need to work on, maybe, timed drawings to push my eyeballing skills.

One thing that I was unsure about while doing this was whether or not to darken the background, e.g. the tiles as they go under the worktop. Although that would be true to life, I didn’t want to draw attention away from the armchair as the focal point of the picture.

I have mentioned uncertainty either regarding focal points and what to do with negative space, or the arrangement of tones to accentuate the depth of space. I think this is something I need to play around with – while in my reading I see how tonal range can be used effectively in, say, traditional landscape portrayal, I would like to understand first hand what this means in the more abstract sense in terms of how the eye is drawn to areas of contrast…

Käthe Kollwitz

I am taking a break before moving onto the spoon exercise to think a bit more about charcoal and its versatility. There were a few artists that my tutor recommended, including Henry Moore, Käthe Kollwitz, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and William Kentridge.

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945)

I found it difficult understanding Kollwitz’s expressive and often gutwrenching work at first. It is so bleak that you would be wise to look at cat videos afterwards (it’s the modern panacea).

But, persisting, I noticed some interesting things. She seems to have an intense focus on the eyes, the hands, and the power of touch. Hands cover brows, eyes often fall into shadow (but not in the stylised sense like a Modigliani – more as a depiction of a sort of spiritual blindness perhaps), figures clasp onto one another desperately. The marks carry the emotion somehow. The pathos is…incredibly intense.

Peasant War print 3: Whetting the Scythe, 1905. Etching.

I wanted to find out more about her life and work, so I read her wikipedia page and watched a lecture to provide me with some context. Her works and life appear during a very interesting time in history – the turn of the 20th century and the industrial revolution – for her as an artist, as a socialist in Germany during the rise of fascism, as a woman and later as a mother losing her son during the first world war (he was an underaged soldier, only being permitted to go to war because Kollwitz signed a document allowing him to do so…).

Self-Portrait, c. 1891/92 Black gouache, with brush and gray wash, heightened with white gouache on brown wove paper.

Her use of self-portraiture as psychological exploration is fascinating. Of course one can never extricate portraiture (and I would even extend this to any art made by an individual) from psychology of both the subject and the artist and their cultural legacy. But this is particularly palpable with Kollwitz – she is scrutinising herself, and this prompts the observer to do the same.

Her body of work is a combination of narrative-driven and more thematic works. I find this interesting in the context of what has been over the past few centuries a general move away from the narrative bent of the renaissance towards the philosophically-driven works of latter times. I know that this is a generalisation though, and many contemporary artists explore visual storytelling as an art form (e.g. Ernesto Caivano, who features in Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing).

The German Expressionists moved beyond the draughtsmanship and physicality of the renaissance, bringing forward instead the phenomenology of being into physical representations. Despite the movement being associated with a set of styles characteristic of the era, the principle of making marks to depict inner or unseen worlds – however this may be achieved – is something that is a true end goal for me (despite being still at the very beginnings of teaching my eyes and hands how to see and represent).

Project 2.2 – Tone and form (cont.)

Exercise: Observing light and shadow

(From coursenotes) Place two objects together and position a lamp so that they’re lit from one side. Observe the main areas of light and dark on your two objects and make some quick pencil sketches in your sketchbook.

Day 1

IMG_0966My chosen objects were a wooden block and a hollow cardboard cuboid. I initially set out with a pepper grinder and a shiny coffee pot. Then I went downmarket for my own sake… plus the shiny surface of the coffee pot didn’t really give me a decent shadow.

I then, as instructed, drew all the gradations of tone, beginning with midtones.

Wood block and cardboard box, second attempt

The light is coming from the left here, shining down at about a 60-degree angle onto the paper. There was also light coming in from the window (behind me), which caused these double shadows.

Before this drawing a did a quick sketch but clearly missed a *few* things. This first drawing is here:

Wood block and cardboard box, first attempt.

There is a lot of detail missing here. But doing an initial sketch allowed me to get a basic idea of the tones.  I subsequently noted the reflections of light present within the core shadows, in the region closest to the objects. Then, within the shadow area there were many gradations of light, with shadows either ending crisply or fading out. I then noticed that the cardboard box’s edges were not crisp like the wooden block’s. The ‘edge’ was actually a narrow surface (upon which light fell fully, on the nearer portion of the box). I am not too happy with the representation of tonal variation on the surfaces (ignoring the shadows case on to the cardboard box).

I did want to verify my judgements, so I ended up taking a photo of the objects, and then converting that to black and white:

The perspective is different (this was taken using my camera phone, which has a slight wide-angle), but the tone is there which is the main thing I was after (although that doesn’t mean I’m letting myself off the hook for my inaccurate contour drawing). This really helped me to understand what was going on… and identify some additional things I had missed, such as the light reflected from the paper onto the bottom of the wooden block (front face). I went back and added this in. Another aspect I had simplified away is the cross-section of the cardboard. The grain of the wood is also non-existent, although even from across the table its rough surface is clearly visible.

There are a few things that leap out at me from doing this exercise. I would like to develop:

  • Accurate contour drawing
  • Observation of edges and interplay with light – reflections as well as shadows
  • Applying the above to increasingly complex objects and arrangements of objects.


Day 2

I faced down my cuboids once again (that’s six faces against one). It is interesting coming back to your drawings the following day, to see it again with fresh eyes. You can often leave it feeling pleased, but return to see its flaws staring you in the face.

So I began again. The arrangement was ever so slightly different. Yesterday I was sitting very close to the objects so binocular vision started to play a significant and disruptive role – closing one eye and then the other really changed the relative position of the objects a lot, and I think I made the mistake of not picking one of my two eyes. So today I moved the objects away slightly, and made sure to measure with the same eye. Theoretically this should also help in removing depth perception – but in practice this doesn’t really work, because the brain is so good at filling in the gaps.

Here is my ‘still life’. Again this is taken with a wide-angle lens, and I was drawing from life, so the perspective and proportions differ. Also, the light from outside was much brighter, so the shadows were not as defined as yesterday.


Below is my initial contour drawing. I spent a lot longer measuring out the proportions with my pencil and thumb, and really tried to see the angles between the vertices. I did end up changing the dimensions of the piece of paper that the objects rest on, but the rest was kept pretty much consistent:

Third attempt: contour drawing

Below is my finished study, which includes detailed study of the objects themselves as well as a shadow study. I spent time here building on my observations of yesterday. I am pleased with the grain of the wood, and the crosshatching on its front face I think suits the rough material. On the paper I stuck mostly to shading with the pencil’s side, or smudged cross-hatching. I was pleased with the depiction of layers of card ply and the stark contrast between the layers (I am a little embarrassed about enthusing about cardboard but…here I am). I would say that actually the previous drawing does a better job of depicting the shadows, as the stand pretty much alone. I didn’t make much effort observing the tonal variation on the cuboid shapes themselves – when there is a unidirectional light source that should have been a piece of cake. But I just didn’t see it.

However, in the picture below I repeated that mistake. The two visible sides of the cardboard oblong are not well-distinguished in terms of tone. But from the photo I can see that they clearly are.

Third attempt: contour and tone
Third attempt, detail
Third attempt, detail

This latest effort is a little mixed – it definitely is the best depiction so far. But I neglected the accurate representation of tones a little in favour of the details of the objects themselves.



Day 3

This morning I had another look at the shadows and surface tones. I think it is important, when you are trying to draw something that makes sense, from the perspective of optics, that the relative tones are in proportion.

With this in mind I decided to carry on with yesterday’s effort, simply erasing and reworking parts of it to (a) contrast the different sides of the cuboids given that the light was coming from the left, and (b) to show now the shadows created by the objects were really segmented, given that there was light coming in from the lamp, and from the wide window behind me. As I enjoyed the effect of the cross-hatched shadow on the wooden face, I also adopted the shading on the cardboard box, to give a sense of its surface texture (which wasn’t really that apparent unless you looked closely at it).

Fourth and final drawing, in which various areas of tone of the third drawing were erased and redone, with a more subtle depiction of tonal variation, especially with respect to multiple shadows and reflections.

It is amazing what a valuable instructor my camera is becoming. It allowed me to see where I was going wrong – somehow much clearer than looking at the page with the naked eye.


Going back to the topic of depth and negative space (in reference to my other posts about Jenny Saville and another about David Hockney): I think this picture could do with a horizontal line just behind the end of the paper on which the objects are sitting. I would fill that space above the horizontal line in black. However, I am not entirely certain about this, so I haven’t done it. In a way the fact that I drew in the piece of paper gives the objects a sense of depth that I doubt they would have had I not done this. I am quite pleased with this effort. It is not perfect, and it has really brought into sharp focus that I need to work on measuring angles between vertices, proportions of length, etc., as well as seeing gradations of tone.

However, the sense of struggling, of being exhausted after a drawing, is satisfying – and, as with any practice, this tends to be a sign of improvement (however slow!).


Economy of line: David Hockney

There is something very endearing and sensitive about Hockney’s line drawings. He is fundamentally a very good draughtsman, but he also uses negative space very boldly.

Celia Sleeping. Ink on paper 1972.

This is part of a series of sleeping people done by Hockney (whether that is intentional or not I’m not sure – perhaps sleeping people are just very good sitters). Here, he has depicted only the objects of interest, letting the rest dissolve into the white of the page – most notably the space in the front left is essentially a blank triangle delineated by the edge of the blanket and then Celia’s forearm (which itself is very pleasing). Then another behind her head.

I am always very worried about putting a thing (any thing!) into the blank spaces around a subject. If I leave the space blank it is usually out of indecision, with the feeling that I should be doing something with it.

One thing that strikes me about Hockney’s line drawings is how engaging simple contour drawings can be, and how useful a study it is to do to developing skills of observation, the depiction of texture and depth, and the use of positive and negative spaces.

Another thing that strikes me is how much one needs context to sort of (as much as possible) get rid of one’s awe in a work – part of understanding it better. When I see a line drawing I always want to know how long it took the artist. I don’t know why – because some people work fast and others slow. Incidentally (and I took this from the Waterman Gallery website), Hockney once said, “You can’t make a line too slowly.”

Some more reassurances from his include: “You have to go at a certain speed; so the concentration needed is quite strong. It’s very tiring as well.”

This is precisely how I feel. It looks so easy sitting on the page, but every drawing worth its salt is a mammoth task. I therefore must resign myself to the notion that I will always take a lot longer over a drawing than I intend to…but perhaps, with time, I will be more certain of those lines I am drawing.

Some more interesting factoids on Hockney from the same page of the Waterman Gallery website:

In 1965 he began an intensive course in drawing using pen and ink, a rare choice for a modern artist. A year later he met Peter Schlesinger who would become his lover and main model for five years and the artist’s desire to fully capture his emotions for this person through a more naturalistic approach to the human figure also contributed to his move towards the use of pen and ink.

By the end of the 1960s Hockney had become extremely proficient in this medium, and many of his drawings are notable for their strong linear appearance as well as the sophisticated use of cross-hatching and shading in detailed areas such as the face, as we can see in the present work.

This refers to ‘Gregory in golf cap’ (1967), below.


I fell in love with Hockney’s early work (from the early 1960s: the ‘Typhoo Tea’ era), because it surprised me, having grown up with his later more stylised work, with its scrappiness and experimental nature. He uses coloured pencils (not sure why they fell into ill repute). His later work appeals to me though…even if it’s not always the imagination-running-wild playfulness that I really enjoy.