David Blackburn and negative space

I have been very interested in David Blackburn’s work since my tutor introduced me to him, so I was delighted to find the drawing by him below which works almost in negative form like some of the Alexandra Blum drawings I have been looking at. It looks incredibly difficult to achieve and something that requires real forward planning, but it creates a very atmospheric feel and is something I may try, particularly as charcoal is so forgiving.

(Woodland Scene, Bairnsdale) Trees 1965. Charcoal, signed and dated lower right, 28.5 x 38.5 cm


Sketchbook: David Blackburn, abstracting and pastels

Last weekend I was looking at a watercolour I had painted of Venice, and decided to have a go at doing it in an abstract way using the Unison pastels my husband had bought me. I didn’t really have a plan, I just decided to pick some colours I thought were complementary and try to emulate using blocks where I could see different colours, brights and darks. Below is my first pass. I hadn’t used a ruler for the horizon and being left handed I seemed to have inadvertently got the blocks sloping downwards which was frustrating. I need to remember to pause and step back more from my work when I become absorbed in it.

I straightened up the lines a little but decided it was too harsh so began to blend the edges between the blocks a little, as well as adding some rounding on the domes of the building to create more interest.

[insert picture here]

I wasn’t sure where to go next with it so decided to pause and research some more pastel techniques. This was quite nerve wracking as the Unison soft pastels go down so quickly and this was working on A3.

I aspire to create the light and warmth that David Blackburn achieves in drawings like the one below, which glow. If I only had £8,000 to buy it! A guide to pastel techniques has just arrived by post so I will experiment further before returning to my drawing.


Sketchbook: Chris Cornell pastel portrait

I haven’t done a pastel portrait in my self taught style since the first module. I felt compelled to draw Chris Cornell this week as I am a huge fan and was very upset by his sudden death. I chose a still from the Cochise video, one of my favourites.

When I took up drawing again some 18 months ago, I only had cheap smooth paper which I used with soft pastel blocks and medium to hard pastel pencils. I enjoyed laying on quite a lot of pastel and the forgiving way it was possible to blend and achieve gentle gradients of greys. For a relatively quick (3 hour) bout of drawing when I tired after work I went back to what I was comfortable with as this was personal and for pleasure rather than for exploration.

The video itself is shot on the roof of a building with very bright spotlights and fireworks going off behind the band. Even though I was basically working off a still from the video, I wanted to capture that brightness and the way he can be at once a bundle of raw energy but also so fragile.

The consensus on forums and art websites seems to be to use a toothy paper so you can load up with pastel but when I’ve tried this with Strathmore paper I didn’t like the regularity of the grain showing through. Perhaps if I used more pastel that wouldn’t have happened so perhaps it is poor technique.

I was a little hesitant when starting this drawing, wondering whether I’d ‘forgotten’ how to work in a way that comes naturally to me after learning so much on the course. I think for where I am I have achieved a happy medium (unintentional pun!). Rather than diving straight in like I used to, I thought about the following:

  • What part of the drawing do I want to draw most attention to, and so where will I concentrate most and least detail to support that?
  • Are there any parts of the still that I want to achieve e.g. if over or under exposure, greater or lesser detail works against what I want to focus on?
  • Where I my lightest lights and darkest darks?
  • Do I want to include the whole still or just a part of it?
  • Which pastels will I use for my different gradients?

As a result, I felt more in control of what I was doing. I paused to consider the fact I would have to work front to back which I wouldn’t have done previously. As a result I managed to get a relatively convincing effect on his hair whereas I have always struggled with hair before. I decided his closed eye and mouth were key so I concentrated detail there and chose not to go as dark on the right side of his face as I his cheekbones are strong and I wanted to show that too. Before finishing I used downward diagonal strokes to soften the background and give a sense of the diffused light behind him.

I’m relatively pleased with the result. I like the contrast between the soft but bright lights that bring out the spikiness of his hair. I was pleased with my choice of where to remove detail but I think his hand is poorly rendered. His nose is not convincing, something looks off about it and the form lacks depth. I always struggle with noses and should spend some time practising them from different angles.

Artist research: Alexandra Blum

My tutor suggested I look at how this artist investigates positive and negative space. I began with her Boundaries 2014 work which are drawings from her flat window that ‘combine spatial illusion with the materiality of negative space’. There is an odd filmic quality, perhaps due to the off kilter viewing angles and strong vanishing points she uses. In one drawing, airplanes are repeated on different trajectories showing the flight path. This reminds me of some Giacometti drawings where movement is conveyed by multiple outlines of the figure in slightly different poses. I have complained about my fidgeting cats and daughter but maybe embracing this and using the above techniques may produce some interesting results. 

The sky plays a strong role and she achieves almost a fisheye lens effect in some drawings. Using ink means the sky is quite blocky in places but this is softened by wavy edges and finer lines drawn over the top. I haven’t yet mixed brush pen and fine line pens.

Some drawings are in almost negative photo style with the brightest highlights and in one case all of a tree’s branches except its trunk conveyed using negative space. Again not a technique in its own right I have considered. 

These drawings are vastly more complex on studying them than they appear. I can’t say I’d have them on my wall but there are interesting techniques to experiment with.

Gallery visit: Jo Broklehurst and Quentin Blake

This weekend I visited The House of Illustration to see the above two exhibitions. 

Brocklehurst’s work was new to me. It was great to see an artist focusing on unconventional subjects. A lot of her work was large format pastel, quite sparing in how she filled the paper with more focus on line than shading which I am now keen to try and has given me confidence with larger formats which my tutor has encouraged. 

You can tell she studied life drawing from how well she draws the figure, and her background in fashion shows in the swaggering poses she captures – presumably executed at speed if she was working in nightclubs. I liked her unusual mix of media and colours too – paint and pastel, neon, metallic and uv paint as well as a range from muted to garish colours depending on her subject. Below are a few pieces I found particularly interesting that show this. It was encouraging to see her pale blue lines where she sketches out forms first before committing using a darker colour on the first two below which are large format pastels. 

As someone who costumes for charity, her approach to art as performance with her Alice in Wonderland pieces has given me ideas about how I might be able to draw my fellow costumers before and after events. 

I adored the Quentin Blake exhibition which was a selection of bird drawings. I tried to identify the media used before looking at the hand guide and was pleased I got it right in all cases. I was surprised he uses watercolour pencils as I always thought these were perhaps a poor  relation to painting and drawing ‘properly’. I love the uneven, loose way he draws, the amount of expression and emotion he conveys with such sparing lines. I grew up loving his work and characters from things like The Muppets and The Labyrinth. Inspired, I did two cartoon sketches this weekend in Blake’s style. The first is the winner of the worlds hairiest man competition, inspired by an idea in a book about illustration. The second is my friend and I having a coffee after the gallery visit. 

When drawing these I was beaming from ear to ear and laughing which doesn’t happen when I work in other styles. Joyous, I’d say is the right word for how this style makes me feel. It’s ironic I can’t loosen up when I’m doing what I previously saw as ‘proper’ drawing – a view that has changed since studying Blake’s work which may look simple but is not. 

My daughter and husband laughed and really liked my illustrations. I loved that I could bring them pleasure in this way. My husband says I have a great sense of humour and keen observational skills. I feel this style is where I belong and am at my happiest. This may also be due to its immediacy as it feels I have a mountain to climb with eg pastel. I was able to use skills practised on this course in both drawings below e.g. perspective.

The surprising outcome is I think I will be more suited to the illustration modules of the degree course so I will investigate their content and see if this is the case.

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.