Monday, 28 December 2015

Experiments - Making colour

Who knew that if you boil up carrots then forget and leave the water on the side overnight it goes blue/green in colour? My son decided I was a witch when I boiled up the residue to concentrate it and make ink/paint.
It has a slight sheen about it and a blue/green tinge in real life.

 It could be applied with a dip pen or a brush. To test it I did a sketch of our Christmas tree and then a squiggle. In keeping with the experimental nature of the project to I added baubles from a tester pot of wall paint which has a sponge applicator (I have no idea how I ended up with such a bright colour) and a sprinkle of glitter.
Belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Drawing 2 - Part 1 Project 2 - Part 2

According to Peter Harrington Elizabeth Blackadder was influenced by the colour of Henri Matisse.You can see this when you look at Matisse paintings such as Still life with GeraniumStill life with Pomegranates and Still Life with Vegetables simple shapes, gradated coloured background, vegetables "float" in space, cubist influences. Lemons in a Tin Plate (or pewter plate depending upon which source you use) is done more in perspective although the red and white cloth or table running up behind is not in perspective. The reflections of the lemons on the tin plate and the shininess of the plate are beautifully observed. 
The clean, simple lines of his drawings and linocuts are easily overlooked I particularly like drawing Peaches and Leaves for the way you can see how he searched for the lines that pleased him. The way the drawings spill off the edge of the page e.g. Outamaro. I like the colour choice and the simplicity of the lines in The Window. The perspectives are slightly out of line but in a pleasing way, sometimes something slightly off of true screams at you and spoils the whole drawing/painting such as the left leg and foot in the otherwise brilliant Odalisque assise la Jupe de Tulle.
How do Elizabeth Blackadder and Henri Matisse differ? It's very difficult to generalise but Elizabeth Blackadder uses detail even in her more abstract paintings such as Still Life - Red Table with Chinese Teapot whereas Matisse's Dishes and Fruit although well observed, uses a broader brush to create an impression of the detail and looks different close up compared to the view from a distance. I can't define it but, when compared to Matisse, I feel that there is something more "modern" about Elizabeth Blackadder's work which could be identified without knowing who the artist was. Whether this is the quality of the colours of the paint or some sort of mindset derived from the ability to closely observe objects through the media of film or magnification I can't say.
I've not got Matisse's sense of pattern but I can understand his simplified, outlined forms. So I tried a very simplified sketch in my drawing book.
Rather than develop this I chose to use oil pastel on black paper. This is Version 1
The drop shaped bauble is actually clear glass but it would be too complex for the drawing I have in mind although I'm using it because I like the shape. I'm still aiming for over sized baubles. For this version I drew the white outlines first then added colour. I don't think the elements or the layout work and it's too simple. I'm aiming more for deceptively simple. So, Version 2
This was drawn in colour first then the white outline was added. It's a bit weak at the bottom right hand side but on the whole I'm happier with it.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Drawing 2 - Part 1 Project 2 - Using Space

The Scottish Gallery Edinburgh has two short videos of Elizabeth Blackadder talking about her painting and printmaking. Her book The Nature of Things has objects arranged quite formally on plain white backgrounds so I guess this wasn't one of the styles I am to take inspiration from. The BBC has a nice slide show of her images. White Still Life is doing what we were asked to do in the last exercise as far as it has multiple viewpoints and pulls the objects together. I'm very excited by Dragonfruit, bold colours and confident angles, the white background reflects the flesh of the fruit.
This exercise asks for brightly coloured objects to be pinned to coloured paper or fabric. Subverting things slightly, at Christmas I attach brightly coloured objects to a fir tree so this is what I have chosen to draw. I've drawn my Christmas tree many times over the years with varying levels of success. First some sketchbook studies using coloured pencil and water soluble crayon.
These 2 studies are on A3 paper (sorry you can see the ghost of the next drawing through the scan). I need to draw larger.
This is still a very small study, about A4 size. Using coloured pencils on black paper I tried to draw the light coming through the branches from behind but it's a laborious job.
 Even severely cropped it's not working for me.
In order to enter the drawing from the side and work up to the edges I did double page spread on 2 sheets of A3 in my sketchbook which I scanned separately and stitched back together. This is with water soluble crayons again to help draw bigger.
Its not in Elizabeth Blackadder's style and there are large areas that have no drawing and are just space around the tree. However I developed some methods to represent the baubles which I'm reasonably happy with.

 Cropped the big drawing fulfils the brief better so I drew a close up oversized view on A3 paper.
This looks quite a bit better scanned and reduced in size here than it does in real life. I think the problem is that in real life the baubles look ridiculously over-sized. There is an area of plain white paper at the top left hand side but I'm leaving it there as I think adds balance the busyness of the main image. Still aiming for a larger than life picture I used pastels on sugar paper.
It's very brightly coloured in a bland sort of way, but again looks better reduced in size. In the spirit of experimentation I broke the "rules" and added charcoal
I think the charcoal is just confusing but I'm still keen to get some darkness into the image so I had another go with pastels this time using black paper as my support.
The big bauble is actually made from mosaic mirrors but it has lost its solidity in this version. Other than that I like the depth from the black background. This black paper lacks tooth so if I worked from bottom to top I removed most of the pastel with my sleeve. I sprayed it liberally with fixative and had a go at editing.
I can see where I've fiddled and to me it's starting to loose the original freshness and look overworked.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The London Illustration Fair

I spent Saturday browsing the stalls and wishing I had enough walls to hang some of the beautiful things that I saw. Although I am enjoying my drawing studies illustration is my first love and it was inspiring to see the work on display. I bought a copy of this print by Robert James Clarke, so loose but so accurate, I'm in awe and I'm very critical of animal (particularly canine) art. There were a lot of animal illustrations, Ben Rotary's Birds on a Wire series stood out for me, it's not the first time I've seen this linear arrangement of birds, it's an obvious device that works well, but I particularly like the quality of the drawings and the liveliness of the layout. Ros Shiers also does dog drawings in black and white. I'm a bit scared of black and white, it's what I do from choice, for me, but I feel the rest of the world wants some colour for their money. There's nowhere to hide if you're working in black and white and I like that, the drawing has to stand up on it's own. Maybe I need to be more bold and stick with my pencil drawings. (I also like her simple, clean, modern, typographic cards and posters) Mister Peebles is the full colour experience with well observed, believable underlying drawings and gentle puns. Less representational is the work of Nikki Strange which is highly coloured but still with a natural plant/wildlife theme. I'm interested in the drawing workshops and ideas of Camino Studio there is a lot of interesting projects and ideas on their website. It's not illustration or drawing but Anna Wiscombe was selling some beautiful wooden Christmas Wreaths and flowers and lovely wooden earrings.
The Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf is a brilliant venue for an arts event. It's crumbling walls (I'm sure they're structurally sound - its just the surface) covered with tiles and fading and peeling paint and it's old bricks are beautiful in their own right and make a good backdrop for prints and it doesn't matter what is hung on the walls or how it's attached. There are views over to the London Eye and the blue and white lights of the Christmas decorations on the South Embankment which made me feel quite Christmassy.
I couldn't quite capture the lights as I was making the smallholder who isn't in this photo very uncomfortable taking the photo but you get the drift.
I had discussions with my tutor about my composition for Assignment 5 of Drawing 1 and I was interested to note that a lot of the illustrators used plain (mostly white) backgrounds and centrally placed images. Are they responding to customer preferences, are they missing an opportunity to make their work more lively or is it just a current fashion and style will move on?

Drawing 2 - Part 1 Project 1 - Observational Drawing

This project asked for a drawing of an unpromising subject, I seem to have already drawn nearly all the unpromising subjects in my house at various times. I started by drawing the draining board, a subject which I visited in Drawing 1.
I wanted to use ink and coloured pencil to be bolder with my drawing. A sort of still life version of Veronica Lawlor's drawings but it's too measured and it was too much a conventional still life set up.
It does work a bit better cropped.

I struggle with proportions if I try and draw off the edge of the page so I find it easier to crop once I've finished although I don't think I'm bold enough.
There is a corner of my dining room/studio/office that contains the fridge (it's a small house)
I think this is suitably inconspicuous.


Some sketchbook drawings to explore the subject. I became rather interested in the way the keys hang and the shapes they make.
Pencil, coloured pencil and watercolour
 Some photos of details

fibre tipped pens with added water

My tutor for Drawing 1 felt that the arrangement of my sketchbook studies was often superior to my finished pieces so I approached this exercise with that in mind. I'm sure I've seen artists employing a fractured viewpoint but I'm struggling to find good examples. I was pointed towards Lisa Milroy's A Day in the Studio but I think it is more like a graphic novel. The Cubists mixed viewpoints. I'm trying to understand Picasso but I don't get his work yet. I prefer Georges Braque and The Billiard Table has a similar multi faceted approach.

This was my underlying pencil drawing. I used a nice A3 Seawhite drawing book but the drawings on the reverse side of the paper show through. I started by drawing the magnets and leaflets on the front of the fridge to use as a background then drew elements that interested me over them.  The various elements are linked by the circles from the apples and the red nose from the fridge

To make them stand out I used black ink and coloured pencils. I'm not happy with the way the inked lines dominate the drawing, darker pencil might have been better. I'm not sure about the panda fridge magnet at the bottom left but I was trying not to edit the image or the content too much. 

Like the earlier draining board drawing it's much better cropped

Have I moved far enough from my original subject? Probably not but I do think the final drawing is a lot more interesting than the original subject promised. Having just finished the long final project in Drawing 1 going back to shorter projects feels a little strange. With time I think I could take this further. It could be drawn on a coloured background or just with the circles filled in in red or another suitable colour. I didn't think too deeply about positioning of the elements within the final drawing and on reflection I wonder if the basket should be moved to the left. The colours could do with being bolder too and maybe less representative of what I see. What stops me from doing all these things is that I feel myself starting to become a bit precious about this project and I think I could easily go to deep and draw the life out of it. Also there are another four projects in this Assignment and I'm never going to get to the end if I don't let this one go.
Yes the drawing is still about the original subject but viewed in a more interesting way so I think that is being creative. Maybe I've used enough space to keep the drawing open but I could have made it more busy by crowding the objects together so that they further loose their identity, do I want that? I'm not keen on the idea. I quite like the idea of feint drawings of the objects, maybe in pencil, behind a bolder drawing but I do like the clean lines of the picture I've made.
On balance I'm reasonably happy with the picture so I'm leaving it here but I welcome comments.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Why drawing?

Drawing in a more "academic" way forces you to thinker deeply about the place of drawing in the modern world. Drawings certainly grab my attention better than photographs. That may be because I like to draw but also because the world I live in is absolutely saturated with photos, Iwona Blazwick calls it a deluge of photographic images in the recommended  2011 Jerwood Drawing Prize conversation with Deanna Petherbridge wonder how it must have felt in the past when a photo was remarkable and unusual and how it would have grabbed the attention. Maybe I'm slow but it has taken me years to really understand how the lens distorts the world even without photoshop. I think that may be because I've never really tried to take photos in the past, I only really started when I got a phone with a camera. Initially you think it's the quality of the camera or the lack of skill of the operator (me!) Slowly I came to really understand how difficult it was to make a permanent accurate record of what I saw in front of me.
But then actually I never wanted to accurately depict what I saw. Yes I'm a figurative artist (it's hard to call myself an artist, I should retype that to say that I like to draw in a figurative style) but I'm a secret megalomaniac who wants to manipulate the world around me. I remove backgrounds to make things stand out. I remove objects that are slap bang in front of me that I don't like the look of, lamp posts, cars, furniture, people. When I draw I make a snap decision whether I like you or not, if not you're out.
Drawing is about thinking and seeing. I've just read Andrew Marr's A Short Book about Drawing which failed to make the connection between drawing and meditation because he felt that drawing is an active and difficult process that requires effort and concentration. I've tried to meditate and I can tell you that meditation isn't easy either. Drawing is about being really present in the world and really seeing not just glancing at something and filling in the gaps.
I like to see other people's views of the world whether photos or drawings. It's the only way to step inside somebody else's head and get some idea of their personal view of the world. I don't think it is surprising that for me the most striking image of the atrocities in Paris was Jean Julien's Peace for Paris Symbol which rose above all the awful images.

References from Andrew Marr;
David Hockney's favourite drawing by Rembrandt
William Gillies simple drawing of trees
Katherine Kollwitz etchings

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Reflection on Drawing 1

I did this module as it is the gateway to Drawing 2 but I learnt a lot more from it than I expected. This is my 4th and final level 1 course and it has raised more questions than the previous modules maybe because I am starting to think more like a higher education student than a hobbyist. What constitutes drawing? Why do we do it? What is it's place in the modern world with the availability of photoshop and where nearly everyone has access to a camera?
Challenging myself with different materials and techniques has undermined my confidence a bit as I struggle to create something that I still find visually pleasing. Because I have drawn for a long time without receiving formal instruction I place too much emphasis on the technique and not enough on what I want the viewer to get from looking at my drawings. To really embrace education I need to find the confidence to let go of being representative and realistic but I still want to draw like myself not be a pencil for hire working to produce someone else's visions.
As ever some drawings worked and some didn't. These are the ones that I am pleased with, I would love to know if you prefer others.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Lots of drawings, what worked best?

I'm still reasonably pleased with my watercolour drawing from my first submission
and I like the liveliness of this drawing even though it's not what my tutor was looking for.

If I'm trying to do what he wanted then I think these are the best drawings
but both probably fall into the illustration category

and in response to his comments I have rewritten my statement

Artists Statement

Using loose flowing lines to convey a frozen moment in the swirling performance of the figure skater. The focus is on the person, a human being working as a machine. The surroundings are a blur, an unimportant background. The figure is glimpsed and incomplete, small and alone in the vast rink.

I want to use drawings as a way to make time stand still so that the uniqueness and beauty of the moment can be captured to be examined and fully appreciated. To do this, for this project, I choose to use ice skaters as my subject because they move rapidly, but in a predictable pattern with repetition. I have had plenty of opportunities to closely observe how they move, and as an amateur ice skater I have myself experienced many of the movements that I have drawn so that I can include my own feelings of how the pose works as well as how it looks to an audience. 

My interest is in the beauty to be found in ugly places and the effort of people to achieve that beauty. My drawings are meant to be contemporary, not historical, I am in the here and now, this is what I am seeing and recording, I don't feel able to comment on the past or look into the future. I fluctuate between wanting to record and expose the rigours of practice which the public never sees or to comment on the loneliness of the performer in front of the crowd, maybe the resultant image is a bit of both. We the viewers look on from the stability and relative comfort of the sides outside the barriers which contain the ice. We could be supportive and encouraging or pushy and domineering. Because we are outside the ice we have only our single window view to try and understand the complexities of the relationship between the skater and the ice, a world we cannot enter unless we are prepared to embrace the unpredictable and step onto the ice.

Before I started I looked at videos of ice skating on YouTube to try and break down the elements of action, and made drawing based on what I saw however I found that I made better drawings by using my memory and imagination which was based on my earlier visual studies.

My work has been influenced by my research into other practitioners, Rubens, Tim Stoner,  the carefully executed dance drawings of Karolina Szymkiewicz and the multiple overlaid lines of Jane Waller. Also the paper preparation techniques of Laura Ferguson.

I have treated every drawing as an experiment so the drawings weren't planned but were allowed to evolve, sometimes successfully, sometimes into a dead end.  The liveliest drawings happened when there is evidence of my search for the best line and when I didn't know how the figure was going to take shape or what they would be doing.  A variety of media was tested and this experiment with different media is an ongoing theme in my work.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Further drawings in response to tutor feedback

Armed with my research I did some more drawings. First some sketchbook studies.
 of parents and spectators
 of the architecture of the rink
and of the coaches which I didn't do in my normal sketchbook and now can't find....
Working on an A1 sheet of paper I started by trying to convey the shabby environment of the rink using charcoal then added a skater in ink using a dip pen. The two mediums don't sit well together.
I smudged the charcoal then added more skaters, rubbing the smudged charcoal out so that they stand out. Influenced by Ruben's paintings I aimed for a busy group with lots happening.

The background has parallels with the paintings of Colin Crotty
I quite like the technique and the effects of the rubbed out charcoal so I covered a sheet of paper in charcoal, rubbed our the figures and added details in charcoal and white conte. I find it so much easier to draw on A3 paper that I can place on my lap rather than trying to draw on an easel or lean up against something. The lack of an ink outline makes this a rather indistinct fuzzy drawing that wouldn't grab anyone's attention except maybe to look closer to try and work out what is going on and why I bothered.
I switched to watersoluble crayons. This first attempt looks too tidy
So I added water and smeared the crayons. It's better but not quite right yet.
I tried to make the background more ugly and ended up adding some more figures which seems to have some potential 
A pencil study of the potential of this idea
Lead to this drawing in water soluble crayon on blue/grey sugar paper
This approach looks at the repetitiveness of practice and the movement towards performance (the crowd) Is it too self explanatory? The blue grey of the sugar paper has been lost in the earlier photo so after I added some colour I photographed it from a distance then cropped it which managed to fool it into accurately representing the blue paper. I'm sure I've been subconsciously influenced by Cezanne here

The other approach was to look at the loneliness of the skater in front of the crowd and the role that other people play in their lives. With this drawing I wanted the viewer to question the role of the larger figure in the foreground. I used white conte and pastel on black sugar paper.
I tried cropping but I think this is overdoing it
This is better

I explored scenarios and narratives but ultimately what interested me about this project was the feeling of movement and how it feels to be part of or inside that. Revisiting my sketchbook drawings I drew this sequence of movement which emphasises the repetitive nature of practice required to master a movement.
This drawing was influenced by Howard Brodie's pencil sketch of battle I redrew it in white pencil on denim paper from the Apsley Paper Trail
Then added some colour give it definition
This has a touch of Beryl Cook mixed with Tim Stoner
My reason for doing this course is to push myself to work differently and explore new ideas and I'm conscious that this drawing doesn't answer any of the challenges set by my tutor in my feedback. There is no narrative and the background is abstract and unreal. It is more an illustration than a drawing and lacks academic content.
This is a better response but although I'm reasonably happy with it I don't feel it is truly my drawing or expresses what I want to convey in this project. My challenge to myself was to better represent movement and was partly in response to the criticism of the static skateboarding figure in Assignment  three which I fully agree with. I think the challenge in doing a course like this is to take on new ideas and be responsive to external views and criticism without loosing your own personal style or viewpoint in the process. Following my external research I feel that many established artists and illustrators are employed or commissioned to translate what they see into their own predictable style almost like employing the services of an interpreter. If you order a Julian Opie you are expecting a simple computer generated cartoon style and you're not going to be very happy if he does something different (though his style does appear to be evolving) Well established artists such as Peter Blake seem to manage to work in a variety of styles but it doesn't appear to be the norm. Is "success" a recognisable style or the freedom to work in different ways and how much do you need to let go of your own preferred style and taste to learn and progress as an artist?