Category Archives: Part 3: Illusion of Form

Sketchbook: Brush pens

Before I went on holiday I continued exploring different techniques following my tutor’s encouragement. I bought some new brush pens and below are a few attempts with them, all in A4. The second is a sketch of a very bright door way in the morning sun in the Californian mountains. I tried to use all of what I’ve learnt so far from urban sketching, adding in more detail where I wanted to draw the eye by using a finer black ink on the detail of the plants in the doorway.  Afterwards I realised the shadows of the door way make no sense, things are reversed and dark where they should be light. In my defense it was 6am and I’d been up again since 5am with horrific jet lag.

Next is an unfinished sketch a Griffith Observatory, abandoned due to the breeze and my husband’s fear of heights.

Finally is a drawing I did before we went away based on a favourite photo I took in Venice. I was not pleased with the results despite spending a long time on this. The water is not convincing and I struggled with the concept of having to think about drawing from back to front.

I like the brush pens but feel a bit overwhelmed by trying all these new techniques and fear I am jack of all trades and master of none at the moment. Or perhaps that’s just my inner critic getting at what should be a time of fun and exploration!

Sketchbook: Reflective surfaces

Module two left me quite irritated that I couldn’t convincingly draw reflective surfaces. I’ve had a few chances to practice since then during my trip away. The first is a quick and unfinished sketch of a wine bottle and glass in pencil. Beneath that a A5 tea cup I finished and then an unfinished brass A5 vase. The very bottom is a bottle of water drawn in A5 pencil on the plane which I think is the best of my efforts although I still don’t have this technique down at all.

Sketchbook: Animals

Whilst in the US I stayed on a ranch with 4 horses and 2 dogs. I had some time to do some sketches of the horses which I hadn’t tried before. They are difficult but I tried to think about shapes and how the anatomy was the same or different from humans. I can see why the masters were so focused on anatomical studies as it makes such a difference in how you look at things. These are not ‘good’ sketches in that they are quite basic but I learnt a lot from them. The first is from a photo chosen as the horse was standing in a challenging position. These are A4 and graphite pencil.

After I returned I remembered my tutor wanted me to do more in large format so I took some A3 paper and did something I hadn’t done before which is try line in large format. For once the cat stayed still. I was nervous but enjoyed building up the layers of lines to achieve the shading. I really like the curve of his paw over his haunches. I’d like to try this again and then try adding some watercolour paint or just water so the lines bleed.

Sketchbook: Shell

I spent over 2 weeks in the US so much of my sketchbook is from that holiday. I thought I’d have more time to draw but I’m glad I took my pencils with me as I found some interesting objects. This was a shell from the Mermaid Suite, a grandly named shack on an ex 60s hippy commune in Topanga canyon. I was up at 4am with terrible jet lag. I ran out of time to finish it but was quite excited by the sense of depth I was beginning to achieve on the curvy edges at the front of the shell.

Assignment: Organic forms

I was initially looking forward to this exercise as it seemed like a great opportunity to tie together and try out combinations of what I have learned so far on the course. This quickly changed and I realise it is deceptively the most difficult assignment yet.

I initially picked an apple, an avocado and some peppers in a bowl. I tried a preparatory sketch and soon realised the bowl made it unnecessarily cluttered, I’d reverted back to boring old realism for the apple, the surface of the avocado required new mark making skills I didn’t have and I the surface of the small peppers was actually very reflective, continuing my battle with reflective surfaces. I noted down the problems identified which you can see on the image below.

I though I’d try some individual prep sketches of the items paying attention to hard and soft lines. I was still frustrated by how tight the drawing was so set off to research some creative marks. I’ve gone into more detail on how this made me feel and what I learnt here.

Here is a further preparatory sketch where I tried to experiment with a looser more expressive type of line. I found this difficult on the smaller long peppers because of their size, even working on A3 paper.

Here was what I intended to be my final drawing. I happy with the apple. The looser edges on the left came out well and I liked the way the more expressive lines still conveyed a sense of shape. I don’t think I achieved this with the avocado because I got hung up on the surface texture. I really didn’t know what to do with the small pepper and didn’t really resolve how to be loose and expressive on a smaller item. I think the work on the shadows is poor and shows I was getting tired and frustrated at this point. I also didn’t know what to do with the background to make it interesting. I was drawing items on the table so they didn’t really have a background for shadows to be cast over for interest.

Two days later I felt unsatisfied and restless with the drawing. By now I’d eaten the apple so it wouldn’t go off (!) so grabbed a few peppers and tried again, beginning with a warm up sketch which felt stilted and not as relaxed or expressive as what I had achieved with the apple, which annoyed me as the shape and size wasn’t hugely different.

This is my final drawing. By now I think I had realised the limits of my ability at this stsage. The background still lacks interest and the shadows are still poor. This is looser than I normally draw but still tighter than the apple in my first attempt. I was happy with the depth I achieved with the two larger peppers. The problem with being expressive on smaller items remains as can be seen with the smaller peppers although I liked what I achieved with the stems and the stem shadows. Underneath is a photo of what I was drawing.

Overall I found this incredibly challenging and wonder why, three modules in, I am still falling back on realism when I don’t consciously push myself to try other styles. I still don’t find expressive, loose drawing a natural or comfortable thing. I wonder what exercises I can do to relax into this more. Something to research as when I persevere I do see progress although it is very slow and small.

Assignment: Man-made form and perspective

Measuring out perspective of shapes in 3d like this was new to me so I had to do some internet research to figure out what the lines within the forms on the example student drawing in the course notes meant. I found this quite easy to learn. Below is my first preparatory sketch before I realised what I needed to do. The second preparatory sketch shows me experimenting with research on drawing ellipses in 3d.

This is my final sketch. I was happy with the curved forms, although my lines were less curvy in places than they should have been but I felt I conveyed the depth with the 3d lines well. I was not happy with the rectangular shaped packet. Having reflected I realise that I have not thought about where the vanishing point (if indeed there is one) should be inside the cupboard. I tried to work this out when drawing the shelf but didn’t succeed and I think the packet looks distorted for this reason. I will need to do more research to understand how to correct this.

Exercise: Organic forms

This exercise lead me to have a bit of a creative breakdown then a rather exciting creative breakthrough. On first reading I thought I had to draw some fruit or vegetables in A3 and that was that. I began some preparatory drawings defaulting mindlessly to realism. Then I re-read the exercise and noted the instruction to use creative marks and all of what I had learnt on the course to date. Cue a panic.

Loosening up and not opting for a realism has been a hobby horse of mine since the course started. One part of my drawing was an apple. I didn’t know where to start and the A3 large size was intimidating. After staring at the page for an eternity I realised inspiration would not strike. I remembered from earlier in the course how planning to draw was a bit of a revelation so I decided to go back and research some examples of organic matter drawn expressively.

Eells_pencil_sketch_09098I came across this lovely example from this site and spent some time reflecting on it. It seems simple but there are a deceptively wide range of marks in different directions and weights as well as strong highlights and shadows.

I did a few preparatory sketches limiting myself to different types of marks. Although I have to literally bully myself to just draw when I do loosen up the experience is always incredibly enjoyable and uplifting.

I would give anything to allow myself the freedom a child lacking self consciousness has. I’ve studied Jonathan Haidt’s ‘Happiness Hypothesis’ and Chip and Dan Heath’s wonderful book on the psychology of change called ‘Switch’ which both use the analogy of the emotional elephant being in control of the rational rider. Although I conceptually understand all of that, even though I’m not consciously being self critical or worrying what others think, I might be at some deep rooted level else I’d be surely picking up the pencil and just drawing?

I can be hard on myself so perhaps this is as much a symptom of where I am on the creative journey. That being the case perhaps I should not be bashful about admitting I had to go and research again about creative mark making because it is new and something I have not yet had enough practice of aside from the need to plan and do preparatory sketches.

After I had done some preparatory sketches, I faintly outlined the main shapes on my final drawing and decided to begin with the apple. It was not easy to get going but once I did, presumably because I’d done a few dry runs in different ways, it became easier. For a short while I seemed to go into some sort of almost zen like state where everything was tuned out except for drawing on the page and studying the apple. For what almost felt like sketching I was drawing the apple for a reasonably long amount of time. When I felt myself coming out of this state, I was actually pleased with the result.

Interestingly when I tried to ‘just draw’ the other items – an avocado and a chilli pepper – without the experimental preparatory sketches, without a break inbetween, the result was very unsatisfying and it almost makes the finished piece look like two separate drawings. 

I’m not sure what happened. I feel sure I can’t will it to happen again. I hope if I follow a similar process of researching what I want to draw, preparatory sketches, outlining my main shapes, a break then quiet time to make my marks then perhaps Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ will grace my doors again.