Felt tip on paper. I started with the wine glass – wasn’t really looking properly and by the time I had blocked bits in it was too late… I am pleased with the tumbler though. Although everything on the page seems to be leaning to the right (right-handed drawing?).
I did a few sketches in the run-up to the self portrait. This was necessary to start to look at myself as an object (not something I would usually approve of mind). I tried a number of poses, although this was really unwittingly done and mostly just reflected what position my chair was in relative to the table and mirror. In the final picture, where I’m looking over my shoulder with my legs crossed, the paper was on my lap. I tried to keep in mind all I have done so far in terms of measuring shape and proportion, looking at tone and how different types of marks can create a bit of (amateur) drama – and really what happens when I look away from the object and try to put the contents of my visual memory onto the page before I forget.
This was incredibly useful. Not least it has made me realise that as I pay attention to different particular aspects of the subject, others tend to suffer.
I had a tiny break but back now. I wanted to upload a selection of daily drawings, and a smattering of photo inspo, which I found I have either drawn or shot on my phone camera from this interim period. I actually drew a lot on my phone too – which is dangerous as I tend to delete them. I aim to stop doing that, because they are often quite colourful even if a little unstudied and affected by whatever public transport vibrations are affecting my hand…
I wanted to include these images from my trip to the Serpentine in late 2017. Hadid’s drawings are full of movement as well as being incredibly beautiful, and this is dynamism is not restricted to the more developed colour images.
There were also virtual reality headsets with which you could fly around within the abstract space of some of these images. Obviously that was an amazing experience.
I have drawn a few fruit daily drawings now. Just wanted to pause to start a collection of some of my favourite pictures within the genre over the 20th century.
The first is Cezanne’s basket of apples. When I first saw it I became quite obsessed with that drunken wine bottle. The saturated colours, the thick dark lines around the apples and cloth are so vivid.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  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:
…along with his ‘Two women holding flowers (Deux femmes tenant des fleurs)’:
…and this one, ‘Star of the sea (L’Étoile de mer)’:
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 processing and reproduction – I think that is why Leger seems so innocent as well as being a great playful composer.