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

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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.

 

Daily drawing: banana, & self-portrait

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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.

2017-05-30: overripe bananas

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.

2017-05-27: folded pillow on mattress

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Pencil, 2B and 6B in A5 sketchbook. Not really happy with shading. Began with cross-hatching, shifted to blending with finger. Could do with greater contrast, gradients between light and dark. I began blocking out the background in black (last desperate act) but realised that actually casting a shadow onto the pillow beneath would serve this purpose better.

In any case, it was interesting to note how there lay in front of me an indiscernable mess of folds: only I knew that a folded pillow lay on top of another, because I had performed that act of positioning them. Perhaps a single pillow would have sufficed for what was intended to be a short drawing exercise before bedtime.

I had a look at Albrecht Dürer’s ‘six pillows’ in pen and brown ink, shown below (1493; The Metropolitan Museum of Art). There is fluidity (and movement – one can almost feel the act of folding taking place) and curvature lent by cross-hatching with very little blocking out. Reproducing this pillow series (or reproducing the style, or both) would be very helpful in my understanding and developing the cross-hatching technique.

Albrecht Dürer, six pillows (verso), pen and brown ink, 1493. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Albrecht Dürer, ‘six pillows’, pen and brown ink, 1493. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Notes on ‘Drawing now: Between the lines of contemporary art’ (Part 1)

“What do we mean by conceptual? Are conceptual drawings theoretical, abstract, intangible, or ambiguous?”  (Drawing Now: Between the Lines of Contemporary Art. Tracey, 2008)

Drawing Now is a book by the editors of TRACEY containing drawings by a number of contemporary artists, seemingly selected for their range of styles and concepts in order to demonstrate the potential of the discipline. The editors describe drawing today as a “positive, celebratory” – a simultaneous contemporary conceptual exploration with the self-conscious adoption of traditional materials and techniques, in an era where the notion of art being crafted by the hand of the artist, or any hand at all, is no longer necessarily true.

This is precisely what makes drawing so ever-new: the very process of creation can become a sort of performance in the contemporary context; this is fodder to be played with as much as the materials themselves. And because it remains the mainstay of the first stage of creation, it does not need to worry itself with pretensions of more complex modes of expression – it resists convention. As John Berger says, drawing is becoming. Or as Picasso says, it is thinking.

“Drawing is the primal means of symbolic communication”, continues the introduction. “It predates and embraces writing, and functions as a tool of conceptualisation parallel with language.”

The book’s discussion is divided into three themes, which I will summarise briefly (as much as I can given that many concepts are new to me) before talking about a few of the artists that leapt out at me (not literally although I would prefer that, please, in the next edition), because it so beautifully illustrates ideas about perception and reality that remain important questions in a number of fields, e.g. philosophy (Theory of Mind), neuroscience (visual processing) and physics – basically they are questions about the nature of reality and which parts of it we perceive – how we perceive. This is important because we can so easily make assumptions about reality and the way that we see, forgetting that we are trapped inside a limiting frame of reference (the body), that we build our ideas on assumed foundations that are not really there, and that we are – speaking on behalf of mankind – of rather limited mental capacity.

The first theme, ‘playing with appearance’ refers to Derrida’s ‘Memoirs of the Blind’, which I read then, but I will need to read again because I have not read anything by Derrida before and – well, just try. It is taxing. But: “The draftsman always sees himself to be prey to that which each time is universal and singular and would thus have to be called unbeseen“. Derrida writes about drawing kind of like language – the drawn image being not only akin to writing in that it is an imperfect visual code for what is happening in our mind (semiotics), but also in us looking at lines on paper and associating them with verbal signs (we can break down writing and drawing to the same element – the line). He also describes seeing as a type of blindness, in terms of the central role that vision has played in the development of the philosophies of the past centuries leading up to the present. Another idea is that self-portraiture is a blind act in terms of the artist never being able to truly see themselves. Derrida also talks about drawing as having to work against the way that our visual processing functions – to as quickly as possible contextualise light information entering the eye, even if that means skimming over information. Drawing is learning to see, however: an attempt to undo the assumptions and generalisations that allow us to go about our daily lives. But this is also a folly to think we could be representing some new object, because whatever it is that we express, we are doing so out of our conscious minds; in this way everything that we draw is a product of everything we have experienced and are. We have carefully spilled a little of our consciousness onto the paper itself. Indeed, from the neuroscientific perspectice, we have never experienced the world as it is: it can only occur through the ‘matrix’ of our hard- and software.

I have to cut that short as I will never get down to any drawing at all if I continue to read and regurgitate. So I will continue in a couple of days with the second and third parts of the discussion discussion and an expansion of the source material – it will be necessary for me to explore the source material because without it, it is almost impossible for the unfamiliar to understand the concepts so very briefly touched upon in the discussion of Drawing Now.