Daily drawing: study of peaches

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

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).

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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):

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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

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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.

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.

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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…).

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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).

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.

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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.

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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.

Expression with charcoal: Jenny Saville

Looking through the work built up in part 1, and the free study I did accompanying it, with hindsight I think I failed to apply certain lessons from the exercises provided by the course. The first aspect of this is in the use of versatile marks in a single piece. During the Dramatic Marks section we explored just that, but then I went on to do several charcoal studies that were very tight…perhaps I need to loosen the wrist a little to explore the possibilities of this medium. I will be exploring several artists that I hope will encourage me to do this.

Jenny Saville

I looked at Jenny Saville’s charcoal study of Mother and Children (a study for a painting, The Mothers), as recommended by my tutor. In general I find her entire body of work very truthful, at least to a part of me.

There is a great recent interview with her where she talks about her career history and ideas that have fed into her work. She is a figurative painter primarily – although that is quite a reductive description*.

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Jenny Saville: Mother and Children (After the Leonardo Cartoon), 2009-2010; Pencil on paper.
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Jenny Saville: In the Realm of the Mothers II. 2014; Charcoal on canvas.

These works very prominently mix and layer tentative and decisive marks, quickly-made  contours and more careful tonal anatomical study. Mother and Children is quite gentle, whereas In the Realm of the Mothers II reads like an explosion. The latter also incorporates vertical segmentation of the canvas, and squares that could be backdrops, or frames within frames – a technique that is used in films not only to add draw the viewer’s eye into its depths, but also to suggest, for example, the juxtaposition of different psychological worlds.

Saville did the Mother and Children work in a period when she was looking ‘under the surface’ of painting. This idea manifested itself in a number of ways. There is the cultural aspect – the patriarchy that envelopes European art history (with women sealed delicately inside that envelope), and how that has affected culture and women’s body politics today. There is also the aspect of the medium itself – in the recent interview I mentioned, she talks about the revelation of seeing the great abstract painters such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in New York, and the effective this had on her use of tone.

These are part of her Pentimenti series, which intends to uncover the layers of evolution that bring a work from its beginning to end. With paint, the layers are obscured, but she brings them to life by contriving to draw one version over another. As well as describing – albeit in this sort of caricatured form – the process of making, this primarily introduces a dynamism to the work, bringing out the movement of the model. This stylistic decision is brilliantly suited to Mother and Children, as anyone who has ever tried to hold a squirming baby can attest to. It is a clever ‘trick’, and it is effective…as the futurist movement of the early 20th century demonstrated…but I can’t help feeling that Pentimenti doesn’t quite fit as a name.

*I have to add, Waldemar Januszczak described her in 2012 as, “the best painter of the female nipple I have seen…She is also a master of the bulging thigh and the overhanging belly.” (retrieved from http://www.waldemar.tv/2012/07/she-gets-right-under-their-skin). God knows what that means.

Research: expressive lines

It was when I was doing the sphere shading exercise from Part 2.2 (Tone and form) that I wanted to look a bit further into expressive marks that I could use to depict tonal variation.

All the pictures here were submissions to the Jerwood Drawing Prize over recent years.

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Carali McCall, Work no. 1 (Circle Drawing) 2 hours 48 minutes.

McCall incorporates the making of this work into her exhibitions. While I haven’t seen the ‘performance’ itself, it seems like a very natural, uncontrived way of bringing the process into the work. The work is very imposing, even violent, and together with its name, which includes the word ‘work’ as well as what is presumably the duration of its creation…the central emphasis is on the labour of art.

Naturally this caught my eye initially because it reminds me of the spheres I am working on. It would be technically challenging to achieve the appearance of a sphere using this method…

 

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Warren Baldwin, Study for Portrait V, 2008.

I liked the flow of this image, given by the application of wavy hatching, which lends the subject a sensitivity as well as a sense of vitality and movement. For me, this is a brilliant confluence of technicality and spirit.

 

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Zoe Maslen, ‘The Absent’s Presence, Hair Drawing’.

From Maslen’s website, she describes the work thus:

“[The work] is an articulation of the ephemeral idea of presence. The indent you left on my bed, a hair on my pillow. My continuing practice investigates the reverberation of the unseen through documenting its evidence. Hair is a visceral reminder of a presence, provoking questions of the who or what it belonged to. Through giving these traces a human form we can finally acknowledge the presence, face to face.”

It is just hair. But only hair – and there is so much of it, all tangled together in a swirling (although not unified) mass. This could be about so many things: the passage of time; melancholy; loss; the duality of mind and body. Hairs left on a pillow are an indicator of absence, but also of something that was, and is no longer. Interestingly, Maslen also sculpts out of hair, and this drawing depicts one of those sculptures – of a face.

This work really crept up on me. Initially, I admired its beauty, yet the name ‘hair’ drew me in as it lent it a real visceral quality, and it became more thought-provoking the more I looked at it. I also love her use of the term ‘reverberation’ – this is precisely what it feels like to feel an absence…or anything actually. Her work seems to connect the seen to the unseen in many different ways. I like that.

 

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Unknown artist, Jerwood Prize exhibition 2016.

Unfortunately I could not find a citation for this work. But I wanted to include it nevertheless as I enjoyed looking at the tangle of lines, finding them expressive despite their abstract quality.

 

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Tanya Wood ‘Pillow’

This doesn’t have much to do with the sphere shading exercise. But this pillow is very beautiful! It simply makes my eyes feel the softness of its fabric and filling. I find that quite incredible. The crumples are so pleasing to look at – the image is about pleasure, much like the humble pillow itself, an extension beyond simply looking or touching.