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*.

Jenny Saville: Mother and Children (After the Leonardo Cartoon), 2009-2010; Pencil on paper.
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 God knows what that means.

Project 2.2 – Tone and form

Exercise: Circle to ball, shape to form

The task is to represent three spheres, each with a unique light source and shading style, using a range of soft B graphite pencils.

The spheres are drawn from imagination. As such, I was having trouble figuring out how to mark out the dark and light… if the task is to be realistic in representation, and having some hazy memory of some basic geometric rules of thumb, I began playing around with my ruler. I didn’t go as far as getting the compass out…by which I mean I couldn’t find my compass.

I found it maddeningly challenging imagining how the light falling in three dimensional space onto the ball would create whatever elliptical shadow on the flat surface under the ball. And this is partially because I drew a crazy-looking diagram, below. While it didn’t really help me, it allowed me to understand how the ellipse’s orientation and length (and consequently angle of curvature) is a function of the position of the light source (angle relative to surface under ball), as well as the observer’s position (ditto), relative to the sphere.


I am still not sure if that shadow makes any sense, even after some cursory investigation with a satsuma and my phone light. It should be angled upward. I very gladly abandoned my drawing, although I would like to return to this problem, because it seems straightforward if I define a horizon line (as described in Bill Martin’s Guide to Drawing.)

I got a bit sidetracked then and started looking through the lecture notes of JMW Turner on perspective (available on the Tate website), and found this beautiful diagram which depicts conic sections…this was very valuable – all the images are wonderful and very instructive.

Diagram c.1810-27 by Joseph Mallord William Turner. Catalogue entry, June 2008, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012,

After having proven sufficiently to myself that I know nothing about perspective, I went ahead with the three studies.

For all images, I first delineated the shadow’s terminator line lightly with 6B, and then the highlight (where the light reflects directly off the ball onto the eye of the observer), and the highlight depicting the reflection off the surface on which the sphere sits.

Spheres 1,2 and 3 (left, centre, right).


Sphere 1

IMG_0951I used a range of 2B-6B pencils, shading with the graphite’s side and then smoothing with my finger. The precision that can be achieved is quite satisfying to create, however the image seems a little lacking in vibrancy… by far I spent the most time actually drawing this one.

Sphere 2 


I wanted to try to edge my way towards some more expressive marks. For inspiration for this and sphere 3, I turned to the Jerwood Drawing Prize website, and I put all my thoughts together in a separate post which is here.

This image was more fun to do than the first. I love the mixture of thin lighter and thick darker lines. I allowed some of the tangles to escape the bounds of the sphere – or rather I didn’t rub them out as in the first sphere. Perhaps it is a hairball, after Zoe Maslen’s hair sculptures.

Sphere 3


This one is a bit more of a curiosity! I attempted to use quick circular motions to depict a sphere…didn’t really work, looks pretty flat on the page, and the expressiveness I had in mind didn’t exactly translate either. If I squint it works, in terms of the light source, however the method of shading looks flat and the shadow doesn’t seem correct (although it would depend on the angle of the light). It was worth a try!

I will continue the subsequent exercises within project 2.2 in a separate post…

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.

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…


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.


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.


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.


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.

Daily drawing – Corner of room

img_0932-e1523953527591.jpgCorner of room. Fine liner on A5 paper.

In an attempt to apply some of the concepts of tonal representation explored so far in this section, I quickly sketched the corner of my room, cunningly avoiding my bedclothes by cropping the frame around the more solid objects in the room 🙂

Having said that I would like to return to soft objects like pillows, because I found this so challenging at the beginning of the course.

I picked out the red and blue pen to bring out the objects from the wall behind them. The pens were running out of ink so it looks more like biro than felt pen.

It was interesting studying carefully the pine bed frame, the plug and socket, and the lamp, to try to tease out tonal variation while minimising the representation of colour, focusing instead on the nature of the materials and surfaces and the way they responded to light.

On that topic,  I was confused by the definition given in the course notes: “Tone describes the way light falls onto an object and the areas that lie in shadow…”. It was helpful for me to think about tone in the physical sense, because it seemed to me that excluding colour is incorrect when thinking about tone, because it all boils down to optics: tonal variation is a function of the way that light interacts with the object, thus it can be used to depict form on a two dimensional plane (the page) when the light source is directional. It conveys information about the material, its surface smoothness, and its light absorptive-ness… in this sense, my saying that tone is irrespective of colour is rather incomplete. So while colour per se says nothing about the form of an object, it is intrinsically an aspect of tone.



Project 2.1 – Tonal variation

Part 2 of the drawing project is about tone, the depiction of the range of lightness or darkness of objects, to give the impression of the object in space – i.e. lending the representation of physical mass and depth upon the flat surface of the paper.

Exercise – Gradations of tone using repeated marks

Project 2.1 involved the use of black conte on slightly toothed drawing paper, fixed to the wall. Beginning with three sheets, I drew very light, mid-tone and very dark lines, each filling a single page. Then I attempted to create an intermediate tone, different from the rest.



This exercise was quite straightforward. However, I cannot say that distinguishing light and shade from colour – i.e. ignoring colour – is not difficult. This is because I naturally tend to think of some colours in certain ways (lighter/darker). I have also commented before in this blog about how I find it difficult to include the full range of tones in my drawings, distinguishing and representing midtones.

I found it very useful playing around with my camera to explore this – taking various pictures, then converting them to black and white, and changing contrast range. For example:

I wanted to go a bit further and look at a number of different marks that could represent tone in interesting ways. I divided up a sheet of paper and drew first light then deeper tones. The first row uses dots of equal size throughout with varied spacing, using fine-point sharpie (remaining rows use B to 4B pencil). The second row does the same as the first, increasingly reducing white space with cross-hatched lines. The third row increases the tonal depth of each line, while I tried to maintain constant distance between lines. In the fourth row I tried to maintain a constant tone while decreasing the space between lines to increase depth. The fifth row is much like the third, but with circular scrawl, pressing increasingly hard on the paper until achieving almost complete blackness in the far-right square. In the sixth row I also looked at the effect of using dashed lines, increasing the line length to deepen tone.


All of these increases in tone were achieved either by reducing white space – by increasing the depth of the marks, or by decreasing the space between marks, or both. Hence, we can think of depth in this setting as a sort of average tone across a single square (kind of like how pixel values are determined).

Daily drawing: cups

Cups. Easier than faces.

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?).

Project 1.3 – Self-portrait

I didn’t really like this effort but I figured it’s time I submitted something. My outline study was accurate, which is more than I can say for my practice runs. And there is a fairly good likeness (captured my angry-concentration face pretty well!), with the exception of my nose – it is a difficult, lopsided bumpy nose, and I get lost half way up it (not literally).

But after getting down the outline of principle features, I then continued to shade with 4B and 6B, using a lot of the side of the pencil, and I think taking it too far in the end: it’s a bit of a blurry mess. Again, there was a lot to keep in mind, and I would have liked to have experimented a bit more with style and a bit more detail, as suggested in the task outline.

I like the contrast on the wooly jumper. Why did I not use that on the face? Not sure. Had more fun with the jumper to be honest.




Self portrait practice studies

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.

These are thumbnails.


Daily drawing update

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…

Here are a selection.

A velvet-shaded lamp:


Girl reading:



Glass of water, detail:                                            Phone doodle:



More phone doodles:


A jumper on a chair in oil pastel and biro:



Gallery visit: Zaha Hadid

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.