Category Archives: Part 1: Marks and lines

Part 1 – Closing thoughts

In 4 weeks my ‘art life’ has gone from 30pm to definitely over the speed limit!

I’ve gone from not regularly using or understanding the value of a sketchbook to religiously carrying one with me and keeping a note book by my bed and copious notes and photographs of ideas on my phone.

I’ve gone from still thinking drawing was perceived as secondary to painting to seeing a great turning of this tide which is hugely exciting to be happening in my life time.

I’ve gone from expecting to be able to dive straight into a finished piece to understanding the need to plan, think, sketch and re-sketch before approaching the final drawing.

I’ve gone from thinking I wouldn’t have ideas to having so many ideas I have had to go through my sketchbook and prioritise those for for the next phase of development, a creative process which I have also researched and now have a better understanding of.

I’ve gone from expecting magic just happens to understanding there are principles and elements of art and design that I must learn and that composition is everything.

I’ve gone from thinking I’m an imposter to respecting myself as having creative potential and the enthusiasm to progress on beyond this Foundation course.

I’ve gone from a fear of ‘just sketching’ and working from life to a growing acorn of confidence.

I’ve gone from thinking I’d have to choose one medium and be awesome at it to seeing how other artists mix, match and even go through phases of using one medium before going to another.

I’ve gone from not knowing anything about the OCA to being wowed by their support and professionalism so far – not to mention the tissue paper wrapped course materials – a beautiful touch.

As Arthur Daley once said in Minder, “the world is your lobster”. Dali would approve.

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Part 1 – research on artists mentioned in course materials

I have spent some time looking at art work and reading about artists mentioned in Part One of the course materials. These are my notes and reactions.

Jean Dubuffet – source: theartstory.org

He developed ‘harloupe’ from a doodle and believed the style evoked the manner in which objects appear in the mind. I can see this plainly when looking at his work. I wonder how this would translate to me as my ideas tend to come when I’m walking to and from work and go into a dream like state. My ideas appear as words and concepts first but I would not want to be tied to reflecting those words in all of my art work.

I spent time with a number of his works (L’Arnaque, Rue des Petits Champs, Portrait de Jean Paulhan, Lever De Lune aux Fantomes, Textural Transcription, Soil ornamented with vegetation, dead leaves, pebbles, diverse debris). I was pleased to see him using gouache which, like drawing, often feels like the poor relation to oils. Like many artists influenced by the surrealists Dubuffet had a disdain for high art and used childlike images and muted colours which I confess I don’t enjoy. They don’t lift my spirits like the colour of Odilon Redon‘s work or that of Dali.

Franklin McMahon (1921-2012) source: illustationart.blogspot.co.uk

McMahon was an artist / reporter who produced some 8-9.000 drawings mainly with charcoal pencil which he coloured using acrylic watercolour after. I was impressed with the speed with which he seemed able to work.

I looked at several of his drawings of (or featuring) buildings such as Pope John xxii, The Vatican and The Duomo Milan. I love Italian architecture so may have been biased by these but I really liked the effect of line and wash with such ornate buildings and this is something I would like to try. I have some very interesting buildings near my office which I can try this on.

Rachel Evans source: rachelevansart.blogspot.co.uk

Rachel was the first artist I researched from the course materials before I had begun reading Contemporary Drawing. I was surprised to see drawing taking central stage and becoming part of performance work. After reading the first few chapters of that book I now see how much drawing is now being accepted and respected as a medium in its own right and not simply as part of the learning and  process of preparing for a painting. This is confirmed by wider reading on the internet which has challenged what I thought in my first post on this log. I also read today the rumour that Tracey Emin has privately been taking drawing lessons. All of this, coupled with the fact the OCA are offering an entire degree pathway for drawing is an exciting sign of times.

David Shrigley – davidshrigley.com

I went to the drawings section of David’s website. My initial reaction was that I did not like his flat style of drawing although I enjoyed his wit (he seems to enjoy taking the p out of Damien Hirst e.g. with ‘Nutless’ and ‘I’m dead’. I was surprised to read he was a Turner Nominee – not because his work isn’t good but because I didn’t realise a broader spectrum of work receives that level of recognition. His work has grown on me as I have gone back to look at more of it and I will consider what I can take from his willingness to ignore correcting lines in his work which gives it character and realism.

Liz Harding, Michele Whiting and Ruby Stoyle – unable to find web sources

Paul Cesar Helleu – see this post

Connor Ragus – see this post

Eva Hesse (1936-1970) source: theartstory.org and notationsaboutdrawing.org

Hesse isn’t mentioned in Part One but I came across her in my wider reading and saw the connection between her repetitious grid  based work and guess that is where the first exercises in the course with circles comes from. On paper as it were, we should ‘get on’ artistically – she produces feminist art and apparently has a self proclaimed fascination with absurdity.

However in practice she seems to be a minimalist (which I’m not a fan of) who subverts the grid “to reassert the hand of the artist”. I spent time looking at Hang Up (1966), Ringaround Arosie (1965), and Untitled (1963-64 and 1967) but her drawings leave me cold.

Claude Heath – source: claudeheath.com

He produces 4D drawings and drawings made blindfolded. His is conceptual and process based drawing which “show the human mind” and “ask us to question our perceptions while viewing the results of his process of working”.

I have mixed feelings. I didn’t like Drawing 188 or Eucalyptus 2001 but Thorax, a print, showing a metallic style rib cage I found breathtaking. I love the monotone and unusual background colour as it lets the beauty and detail of the piece speak. The industrial almost metallic quality of the piece really jumps out at me and I can envisage this as a sculpture.

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Tom Marioni – source: tommarioni.com

Marioni is a concept artist who uses various media including both drawing and sculpture. I looked at a variety of his drawings (Line Drawings, 1997, Out of Body, 2004, Drawing a line as far as I can reach, 1972, Drum brush drawings, 1972-2015 and A Rose 2008). I’m not a fan of concept art so struggled to find anything I liked enough to want to study in detail and consider what I could take from it. However I really liked the drum brush drawings and have some ideas for objects I can use that I can douse in charcoal dust and see what happens when I attack the paper with them.

Wind farm reference photos

I am researching wind farms and wind turbines to inform idea development for a collection of drawings based on inspiration from Project 1.1 of my course. I have also been researching pylons and wrote about this in my Viewpoints post. As I can’t physically get near these wind farms this is my collection of photos I have researched so far:

 

How to create intimidating viewpoints

I’m researching different viewpoints for an idea that emerged from an exercise in Project 1.1. During the mark making exercise, electricity pylons emerged. I wonder if this is a subconscious response to some pylons near where I live, so I am developing a concept around pylons and power in my sketchbook.

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I’d like the pylons in my final drawing to look as intimidating as possible, looming large over the landscape. Amateur Photographer suggests:

“By looking up at your subject from a lower angle you make your portrait subject look more powerful and important. Combined with the right expression it can also help to make a subject look intimidating….[for] landscapes… a low angle will emphasise an object right in front of the camera”

The New York Film academy suggests photographing below, sometimes referred to as “worm’s eye view”:

“…as if you were a worm looking up at the world around you…this makes all subjects look very large, even if they are very small in reality…subjects presented in this way look as though they hold power over the viewer, and can seem very intimidating…you automatically make the viewer feel vulnerable, even if the subject itself isn’t frightening.”

I googled pylons and worm’s eye view and found some great source photos to work from. As I can’t get that close to pylons in person this is useful reference material from which I can develop a number of sketches:

For rows of pylons I found these:

I’ll add to this iteratively as I find more interesting images.

Artist research: Paul Cesar Helleu

My style of using pastels and pencils is to blend. As part one of the course is focused on different types of mark making, I researched pastel artists to see if I could find any art work where the pastel-work is primarily lines. Paul Cesar Helleu (1859-1927) is mentioned in the course materials and I was delighted to find many examples of expressive use of line without much blending in his work.

I copied Helleu’s Elegant woman at the rail pastel drawing to see what I could learn. I chose black, white and brown conte chalks. I couldn’t replicate the fine line of his marks as my paper was too grainy however I still learned a huge amount from the exercise. My work-based art tutor confirmed I needed to use smoother paper, perhaps hot pressed or not paper. He also suggested using a pencil holder which helps you to draw straight lines as it reduces the impact of the curvature in lines caused by the natural movement of the wrist and arm.

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As I normally draw portraits it was challenging to move onto full figures. I was surprised how long it took to get the curvature of back and waist right and it is difficult to rub out conte chalk so this was quite an unforgiving exercise. I misjudged the length of her left arm but I was pleased with the shape of her skirts. I was also surprised how much you can convey with relatively little tonal shading and detail. I am definitely enjoying this looser style of drawing. I feel more encouraged to sketch knowing I can get still a convincing sense of form and likeness in this way.

I really like Helleu’s use of line. The background lines reinforce the path of the woman’s gaze which I particularly enjoyed. The direction of the rail reinforces this. I have not thought about background lines in this way before.  My work-based art club tutor said that diagonal lines are often used in drawings of women as they are gentler and less masculine than vertical lines and confirmed.

I enjoyed the way the use of tone in this piece moves the eye gradually around the drawing. The large chunk of shadow between the woman and the rail draws the eye first so your eye naturally focused on the elegance of her waist line. The contrasting white of the arm then leads the eye up to the most delicate detail which is on the face. The darkest darks are the the collar and hat which frames the detail on the face. The black lines down her spine draw the eye down waistline, which the eye is drawn into by the curved darks on it. The eye is then drawn down by the vertical lines of the skirts. I am fascinated by how well this use of tone and line works as a composition device. I have ordered, on recommendation of my work-based art tutor, The Painter’s Secret Geometry: A Study of Composition in Art so I can learn more about effective composition and inform the progression of some of my sketch book ideas.

 

Artist research: Connor Ragus

I researched work by most of the artists mentioned in materials from the first part of the course. The drawings that affected me most I have referenced below with comments.

Connor Ragus

I really responded emotionally to Ragus’ use of colour and subject matter. The colours are rich and vibrant and evocative of work by old masters. Ragus says his work deals with death, transcience and what his left behind, and borrows heavily from 17th century Dutch still life paintings. In his ‘Still life with fox’ below (oil on framed panel) I can’t work out if he has painted onto the frame or the frame is part of the painting. Either way I love how the picture seems like it is coming out of the painting. I am really excited by this concept and wonder how you can use it to cross over between a drawing and sculpture.

I also like his ‘Bee 2’ drawing in ink. The use of white space effectively reinforces the size and fragility of the bee. Limited lines have created a convincing looking bee that is in the style of vintage books.

 

Project 1.3 A self-portrait

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Project 1.3 was to draw a self portrait in 60 minutes.

My prior experience of portraits and drawing from life

In 2016 prior to starting this course I have focused my attention on portraits in charcoal and pastel. Portraits were not something I had focused on drawing before and I have been finding it very rewarding to capture a likeness. However I have always worked from photographs.

Last year I took a lesson with Billie Bond, a fabulous local artist and sculptor, who taught me scaling up or down in size using a grid, sight sizing and the importance of studying anatomy. Since then I have used the grid approach. I have also experimented with tracing a fine outline of the main shapes and facial features using my laptop screen as a light box before working on the drawing to speed up my work. I am aware this may become a crutch and since starting the course have read plenty of advice from art tutors that drawing from life is key so is something I plan to ensure I do.

Use of preparatory drawings

I haven’t experimented with many preparatory drawings and notes when doing portraits before now. I will plan my actual drawing carefully in terms of taking measurements but that is all. Since my first attempt at the portrait, detailed below, I have been reading about the principles and elements of art and design. I now realise there are many things I need to consider as part of my planning, rather than going straight in and trying to produce a finished based by intuition or by copying a photo.

First attempt

With this context, unsurprisingly I approached this project and assignment with great trepidation. Drawing for only 60 minutes with none of my previous crutches to help me – what would happen? As I normally work in pastel, mark making in addition to blending and working without a stump felt like a mountain to climb.

I was determined to just go for it and did, and the result was very unsatisfactory. In fact I hated it and was hugely embarrassed by it! I tried to sight size and wasted nearly the whole hour taking measurements. Running of out time, I then began hurridly shading, falling back on using a 6B and trying to shade in a more solid way as I would with a pastel as the time ran out. After 90 minutes I had a dull drawing, lacking contrast, interest or balance featuring a squash faced version of me. The awful overhead light threw little shadow and I found it hard to pick out different tones. I had spent far too long trying to draw the eyes which were very detailed compared to the sketchiness of the rest of the drawing. The whole thing looked unnatural.

Reflecting on how to improve

I reflected on this experience for several days then tried to approach each aspect of the drawing in a more planned way. I thought about constraints that would force me to draw differently and tried to give consideration to some of the principles and elements I had been beginning to read about in my desire to take a more planned and informed approach. The result of these ruminations are as follows:

  • Lighting: I researched different ways to light me and decided to half draw the curtain as it was a very bright day. This threw such a level of cast shadows on my face and eyes that I would be forced to draw in very little detail around the eyes and to get on with the rest of the drawing.
  • Comfort, posting and capturing a feeling: I sat on a cushion, made sure I was fully comfortable and tried to sit in an interesting pose.I wanted to capture my sense of determination so thought about ways to hold my head. In the end I chose a slightly uplifted face and a flicker of a smile.
  • Focus: I thought about what I liked in my features to make doing the drawing enjoyable. I also considered what I wanted to bring out in terms of my personality. I like my cheekbones and so decided to partially tie my hair back so I could feature this in the drawing. I chose a lighter style jumper with more interesting shapes so I could trace contours with more expression. I also decided to include the chair to give the drawing a sense of depth.
  • Time constraints: I decided to strictly give myself no more than 60 minutes.
  • Process and proportions: I chose to quickly focus on capturing the main large shapes rather than using excessive sight sizing with a pencil. I first sketched a line representing my nose which I was happy with and then used this as an anchor point for my eyes to help with assessing proportions.
  • Researching types of portrait: I researched different styles of portrait that have used the different types of marks we explored on this part of the course. These are below. I decided I liked the expressive lines in the Jim Morrison picture but also liked the combination of more detailed facial shading using lines combined with the looser lines of the hair in the first drawing below by Paul Thomas – Drawing after Head of  Young Man by Raphael (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford). I was surprised how convincing the second drawing below was just using cross hatching and lots of light. The final two drawings below are self portraits by Kathe Kollowitz. I rejected these as disliked how heavy they were, but her work (she was the first women elected to the Prussian Academy of Arts) has piqued my interest and I will research her in due course.

So here I am after the event, captured for posterity as I was pleased with the result!

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Reflections after my second attempt

I think the constraints, research and reflection I applied resulted in a far more effective drawing. There is more interest, more balance, more depth. It looks more like me and I think I have captured a flicker of the determination in my face I felt in improving what I had done earlier. I was pleased with the effect of the different types of lines and pencils I used, from 6B through to4H.

If I did the exercise again I would push myself even harder:

  • I still felt I had used quite a limited ranged of marks. There was little cross hatching and no dots for example.
  • There is generally an even weight to marks that could be varied.
  • I did not use the rubber in any way other than to remove a few lines I didn’t want around the contouring of my face and going to heavy on the shadow on my neck. Perhaps this is a good thing as I am becoming less reliant on the stump or rubber as a crutch.
  • I still don’t feel confident mixing different types of marks within a portrait. This is something I hope to work on. I am just not sure how. How do you decide whether e.g. to use solid shading versus cross hatching?
  • I am still working quite slowly but this is because I am still learning about drawing techniques and hope with even better planning I will be able to work faster.
  • I ran out of time to couldn’t finish my hand in terms of correct proportions so it is too small, same for my ear which seems too large.

Overall I am very pleased. I looked back at a few portraits I drew intuitively without this planning this time last year and can see a huge difference already. I feel am making a good amount of progress whilst accepting this is a journey not a destination! I am going to focus on more quick sketches from life in my sketchbook. I did a 10 minute sketch of my husband a few days later and again felt like the likeness was captured which has buoyed my confidence to continue my journey drawing from life. I am going to research life drawing classes in London and utilise the large floor to ceiling mirrored wardrobes in my bedroom to do some more self portraits. I have also downloaded the life drawing booklet from the OCA website and will use this to help me think about some poses I can do and draw at the same time.