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.
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.
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.
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.
2B and 6B pencil on A5. I used cross-hatching technique in attempt to retain the thickness of the fabric, and the ribbing in the cuff. The sock drew my attention because aside from being on the floor it looked almost as if a foot was still inside it.
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.
“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.
This was written following the first sheet, right hand, HB pencil:
Ovals with the right hand are performed in an anti-clockwise fashion. Interestingly I began to cross out any circles I accidentally drew, before realising that these are probably ovals anyway. Another interesting facet was the poise of my arm: far too stiff at first, pressing down very hard with the pencil. Relaxing my arm made this much easier.
There was a distinct feeling of being cossetted within the series of ovals – safe in the knowledge that I knew exactly what was coming next.
The entire outer edge of my hand and forearm was in contact with the paper for most of the exercise, not even lifting off the paper but sweeping across the surface. As I draw, I am reminded of the exercise of writing, the emptiness of the ‘O’s, and the meanings this shape can possibly carry.
“This is not going to get done any faster if I hurry – it will only get done less satisfactorily”, was another thing that kept crossing my mind. After all, why am I here at all? Not to rush through, that is for sure.
Following the second sheet, left hand, HB pencil:
Circles travel in clockwise fashion. Much more uniform towards the end of the page. Much more variation in oval orientation, pressure and style.
I noticed that my forearm sweeps like a window-wiper from the centre of the page. My hand was rigid, while my wrist swivelled round in order to trace circular forms on the page.
Third and fourth sheets, fineliner pen
I am reminded of concrete poetry a little bit. Looking forward to the next exercise…
This second exercise involved larger circles with willow charcoal on A1 paper. My forearm remained static while my shoulder did all of the work rotating. I did not really perceive any difference between my left and right arm work, probably because no fine motor skills were involved.
Project 0.2: Drawing in short and long bursts
Drawing in short bursts using sharpened willow charcoal on A1 paper taped to the wall. This involved rather convulsive movements with my forearm while the rest of my body convulsed in sympathy… Yes, compared to the previous exercises, there is so much energy and movement on this paper – lent by the short stabbing zig-zag lines, the varying thickness of line (as the willow charcoal blunted and I didn’t want to ruin the momentum to stop and sharpen), the overlapping lines and varying amplitude of zig-zags. So I opted to intensify the movement with overlaid patterns, allowing the charcoal to crumble and lay alongside, avoiding smudging. Longer lines were then added and the area filled with muted grey. Interesting that previous layer of short bursts were still present behind the smooth grey. Some beautiful texture when charcoal turned on its side (perhaps from the wall underneath), as well as distinct marks on the edge of the paper where it had been ruffled during delivery.
Project 0.3: Using your fingers, wrists, elbow, shoulder
‘Fingers and wrists’ exercise was interesting, although ‘At arm’s length’ really was new for me: drawing freely on such a big scale. I taped two sheets of A1 together in order to really swing my arm around with the compressed charcoal stick for this and the last exercise, ‘Using your shoulder’.
A note on Tom Marioni
Tom Marioni, mentioned in the course notes, is a conceptual artist who has explored the act of drawing in the past.
Marioni is also famous for ‘The act of drinking beer is the highest form of art’, which he discusses in this video clip. The act of drinking beer with friends has also been mentioned as the best form of rebellion against encumbent political systems – i.e. removing oneself from that system of commodities, by becoming ‘unproductive’, i.e. simply being sociable with friends and nothing more. Still, interesting that Tom Marioni managed to (presumably) monetise this concept through his art! Perhaps he is laughing at people like me who try to intellectualise what he is doing…