Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Part 3 - Project 1 - Drawing Blind

This was a great exercise to do after a tiring day at work. I started with a pair of needlework scissors.
The first drawings were done slowly as I traced the lines with my free hand as I drew them. I found that my accuracy improved when I worked faster. Did the drawings get better because I was practicing drawing with my eyes shut or because I gained a better understanding of my subject each time I drew it? I changed to coloured pencils and changed colour each time I looked at the drawing.
I also cut the shapes out of brown paper with scissors without looking (or cutting my fingers) I did however cut one of the blades off my paper cutouts. The middle, single lined red drawing is the best because it has energy, the scissors being open and part drawn. This could make a symbol or logo.
A bit bored with scissors I drew an old small pewter(?) pig pin cushion.
Again I used coloured pencils. They all had some porcine elements and I was surprised how I managed to get the snout each time. They look like cartoon pigs though the ones from the front could be cats. Fun to do but not as lively drawings as the scissors.
This is the pig, drawn from observation after I had finished the exercise.

Reflection: How far were you recording the sensation and the act of touching, and how far were you trying to use touch as a replacement for sight?  
I had to read the above sentence several times to make sense of it. If I understand it correctly then I was very much using touch to ground my memories of the objects I was drawing. The exercise became about controlling my pencil without looking at the page which is a useful skill for reportage drawing. It was also about remembering the shape of the object which improved with repeated examination. The exercise called for an object you know well. There is potential for an interesting different exercise drawing an unfamiliar object so I hunted round my house and rediscovered a box of chess pieces which haven't been out for ages so I couldn't remember exactly what they looked like. I put them in an opaque bag without looking at them and drew first looking at the pencil (on the left) on the paper then on the right, completely blind.
It's impossible to find something that I can't recognise by touch in my house and of course I know generally what chess pieces look like although I had forgotten the exact details of the design of these. The drawings are very simple and although I considered different viewpoints they only really lend themselves to blind drawing in a conventional plane. In an unconventional plane there is a similarity to the shapes of Angela Eames Making it up drawings but she has clearly spent time getting the perspectives correct.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Part 2 Assignment 2 - Reflection

My first thought when I read the brief for this project was slight alarm as I couldn’t see how I could make something interesting from itself, but I really enjoyed working with the feathers and felt that they had a positive influence on my drawings. My instinct is to draw carefully and accurately but the feathers had just enough lack of control to make drawings that were accurate but not too accurate. Working from memory or imagination is challenging for me and I have always found birds to be difficult subjects as they move so much. The combination of necessarily loose impression and a subject that looks unnatural if it is too detailed and static meant that even the drawings I wasn’t pleased with had an element of their subject which I haven’t achieved before.

The tree drawings were less successful as finished drawings but I learnt from the act of making them. The composition was weak. I should have made more thumbnails but I was aware that my opportunity to draw directly from life was limited in this instance and I have drawn this tree many times from all the angles that don’t involve trespassing into my neighbours garden. I wanted a big close up drawing to get the detail of the tree but lost some of the planned composition because I was too close and got more interested in the texture of the tree and less interested in the overall shape. Again the drawing tools lacked precision which was perfect for the rough and random shapes made by the bark and the branches. Some of the accidental marks conveyed the textures far better than I could have managed with more conventional media. I think I could have made a better more considered drawing if I had stuck to a single colour but experimentation seemed to be the point of the exercise. I find monochrome much easier so I wouldn’t have learnt as much.

I have a lot to learn about considered use of colour. In the later drawings I tried to be less representational. I have always shied away from bright colours but I have just read the Will Gompertz book about modern art and I enjoyed many of the brightly coloured works. I am starting to appreciate that it is possible to make sophisticated works using saturated colour. This might not be the way forward for my work but I need to explore it to understand how far to push my own colour usage.

My first assignment was criticized for not occupying the full space of the page so I have worked hard, though not always successfully, to include backgrounds. This really changes the balance of a drawing and I need to work harder to balance the subject I am most interested in with the background which has a tendency to demand equal attention. I need to think much more carefully what I want my audience to take away from their viewing of my work.

Assessment criteria points
1) Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills.
Technical skills is difficult to judge as this project required use of novel tools to create an image. Historical observation was employed for the birds from my imagination and I think I need to look more closely. The trees didn't sit on the page as I had planned so I need to work on translating my observations more accurately. Composition, as ever, needs to improve.
2) Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
There's quite a lot of content. Am I applying my knowledge? I am trying to relate my work more to that of other artists and I think it is presented as coherently as my random train of thought will allow. I'm not sure how discerning I am, that is probably for others to judge. My thoughts and ideas aren't very sophisticated so I hope that I have communicated them effectively. I need to work on being more original and unconventional.
3) Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice.
I have tried to be more experimental and less hung up on a successful outcome whatever that may be. This project has more scope and has been much more interesting  than I had expected. There is a lot more potential here chichis why it has taken me so long to submit my work to my tutor. With regard to personal voice I have been following the thread in the Coffee Shop and can only say that my voice is still very much in it's infancy.

Tutor feedback

It was suggested that I redo the seabird on a coloured ground varying the colours to explore the way that this affects the mood. 

I've not managed to get the bird quite right this time yet and the pictures are still quite monochrome but I really like this technique .

Drawing 2 - Assignment 2

"Make a drawing of a subject of your choice using the subject itself, or tools constructed from the subject, dipped in ink or paint." 
I share my house with my daughters cockateil and a budgie who was dumped outside a vets and I often find their feathers when I clean them out so it was a logical step to use the feathers to paint a bird. The birds are difficult to draw because they move so much so I practiced a bit by taking some photos to work from in my sketchbook using fineliner and felt tip, softened with water.
Then did some rough drawings from life using a multicoloured pencil (somehow my dog crept onto the page too).
For guidance I looked back at the RSPB Guide to Drawing Birds which has some excellent drawings. A lot of the pictures are of static birds rendered very carefully. John Busby and Eric Ennion managed to keep the pictures lively using a few well placed lines. David Measures is better know for painting butterflies in flight, he worked in loose watercolour and his fingers to suggest rather than define his subject. I also Googled bird drawings and found Charles David Viera and this is the sort of thing I want to achieve with my bird pictures.

Experiments with feathers, first with drawing ink, using the end of the feather as a quill. Then the body of the feather as a brush and to make a feather shaped print.

On the left I tried dipping the feathers in crushed charcoal to make a print which was too feint to be much use,
and on the right watercolour paint which seemed to have the most potential so I tested it on some newspaper, a paper bag that had contained bread and a scrap of sugar paper. 

The fluid patch of green on the sugar paper is a nice shape, grass in sunlight.
I tried mixed bright colours on proper watercolour paper.
I like the way the feathers apply paint in a random fashion so that the resultant image owes a lot to chance. This makes me work more freely, the only way to paint the bird is to suggest the shape so it is particularly well suited to the movement of birds in flight.
I had fun painting birds from my memory/imagination.

I think this picture is a bit overworked.

This is my favourite image but I don't know if you would recognise the bird if you weren't told first. Is the sea in the foreground a bit weak?
I did a few more birds to see if I could work into them more, and have more background without loosing the freshness and immediacy of the original idea.

I'm not pleased with these pictures but I have obviously subconsciously referenced this painting
I still prefer the seabird.
To explore this project more fully I made some drawings of the eucalyptus tree in my garden which is  heavily shedding its bark at the moment. Van Gogh drew and painted trees beautifully responding to the shapes of the trunks and branches and Cezanne uses a great colour pallet which I have failed to reproduce in the picture below.
Black ink and gouache

This has become overworked as I tried to get the leaves right but I like the effect of the ink and gouache on the trunkI have drawn this tree many times from most angles but I discovered a different view so I did a sketchbook study.
I used the pieces of bark which peels off the trunk to reveal a smooth surface. Also sticks and leaves from the tree and the leaves from the strawberry plants that grow beneath it. However the finished drawing has lost the tilt of the original idea because I was drawing outside close to my subject and lost perspective.
Sepia ink and gouache
This is dull and would have looked better at an angle.

So I had another go.
This version was done in 20 minutes before I had to go to work, then embellished a little with leaves when I got home again though I had to work indoors as it was raining and the light was going. The angle is better and as time was short there was less risk of overworking but I don't think that it is solid enough beneath the tree so I added some more and overdid it instead.

It has also lost some of the freshness of the earlier drawing. Running the base under the tap (rain, watering the tree...) didn't move the gouache much but did soften the sepia ink a bit and made the whole thing rather ill defined.
The best version of the tree is the first one but needs to be rotated and cropped.
I had an idea that the drawing might work better on a dark background so I did a test drawing with water-soluble crayon on Canford black paper.

It's not as striking as I had hoped but maybe that's because the crayon lacks intensity so I thought I may as well do a full drawing using the bark and twigs and acrylic paint. I abandoned representative colour though I didn't manage to make it as brilliant as Kandinsky
It still lacks intensity and the structure of the tree is loosing something with repeated drawings (it's still raining outside so I can't work directly from my subject.)  The yellow acrylic on black paper gives the right sort of green (my pallet was Cadmium red and yellow and raw umber). Since I have acrylic paints out I went back to white watercolour paper and had another go (I added some Phthalo blue to deepen the tone) .
In all these drawings there are elements that I like, the bark on the picture above feels right and the red foliage works (I gave up on the strawberry plants) but I haven't managed to properly convey the curve of the branch that comes towards the viewer. The layout of the higher branches is weak.

Reviewing the work ready to post to my tutor I feel that I have dismissed this tree too quickly
Its on A3 portrait close to the top so there is space to write a caption beneath and some writing around the sides.
" Imagine if trees gave off Wi-Fi signals. We would be planting so many trees and we’d probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe." 
I think this may be attributed to Mary Walters. Sadly further research doesn't support trees as net oxygen producers (also here) and I don't like to propagate falsehoods.
However this eucalyptus tree is an alien species, but it still enhances my garden. In the current political climate where we potentially face exit from the European Union and there are elements within our society who distrust immigrants and seek to expel them it is a metaphor for what immigrants may have to offer. I just can't think of a suitable phrase at the moment so I kept it simple.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Contextual Focus Point - Cornelia Parker

Cornelia Parker is listed as an installation artist and sculptor. To get some background I looked at some of her other work, here is a review of one of her exhibitions which shows some of her works.  Much of it is deceptively simple, but technically complex. Her casts of the cracks between paving stones reveal surprisingly delicate structures. I like the photo of One more time the way the clock floats in space. It must have been very challenging to create replica that could keep time accurately yet float safely above a busy station.  Cold Dark Matter must be impressive to see in real life.

After I had studied it I was walking my dog and was struck by the similarity in layout to the leaves and branches of this tree.

I looked to see if any of her work was currently on display and discovered that  I have seen Breathless a recent visit to the V&A but didn't realise who the artist was. The piece caught my eye because of the way it was presented, floating in a circular space, and because of the destructiveness of its creation which made me feel uncomfortable so I was interested to read that it has been a controversial installation. I also admired Stolen Thunder when it was exhibited in the 2014 RA Summer Exhibition. There is a subtle sense of humour and irony within much of her work which can coexist with more serious themes, the Poison and Antidote drawings were used in a project with Friends of the Earth.

The Poison and Antidote drawings are delicate and beautiful though I wouldn't describe them as drawings. They are made from fairly large amounts of liquid which is allowed to spread in a similar way to the happy accident of watercolour so I would describe them more as paintings but I guess it matters less what you call them and more what they look like and represent. Could the drawings have been made without the addition of the poison and antidote? did their addiction to the ink cause it to behave differently? The lines of white on black are more delicate than I have seen in other Rorschach blots but I guess usually they are usually only done with a single colour. 

To explore things further I decided to have a go at making my own copies (minus the poison and antidote!) I don't have Quink so I used black Pelican ink with white Winsor and Newton drawing ink on watercolour paper which has a machine made rough surface.

After making my own pictures I changed my view and decided that there is an element of drawing in the making of them. Although you apply random blobs of ink to stop the white and black just mixing into grey you have to control how they are positioned before the ink is squashed. I applied ink in one and two stages, black and white together, then black and white followed by additional white and a repeated fold. I also tried black Winsor and Newton ink to see if it behaved differently to the Quink (it didn't). The definition between the colours improved as the ink dried and made the lovely delicate feathery structures. If you look closely you will see that my pictures are not entirely symmetrical. I checked and neither are the originals although they are a lot closer and a lot more detailed. I wondered if the poison and antidote made the ink thicker and less inclined to mix to a uniform grey, then after I had finished I noticed that on the British Museum explanation it talks about correction fluid rather than white ink I would expect correction fluid to be more viscous than ink. The rough surface of my paper made interesting shapes as the ink spread, the originals are done on much smoother paper and don't seem to have this effect.
Making my own pictures gave me much greater appreciation of the originals. It was also fun and a distraction to delay answering the questions:

What do you think Parker is trying to do in her piece Poison and Antidote Drawing (2010)?
Her stated aim is to explore opposites and transformations, plus an interest in making "something physically dangerous" The use of poison is certainly a good way to make a potential audience sit up and take notice and the value of publicity cannot be underestimated but I see it also as a comment on good versus evil. The good white ink (Tippex?) versus the evil black ink working randomly and out of control. An underlying explanation that makes a visually pleasing piece of art have a meaning too. The shapes do look a bit like a snakes head, ready to pounce so there are layers of interpretation and potential meaning. Where does Friends of the Earth come into this? Do they see themselves as the good antidote working against the evil poisoners? 

Poison and Antidote Drawing is created using rattlesnake venom and black ink, anti-venom and white ink. Parker often uses bits of her subject to make her artwork. Why do you think she does this? 

There are limits to what you can do with traditional media. As I have explored in the last exercise the medium that is used to create a piece contributes to how that it is read. She is using rattlesnake venom to make something look like a snake, she is destroying instruments to make Breathless, they are flat and literally breathless. There is potential for further layers of meaning.

How do you think it feels to stand in the presence of artworks that are constructed from original objects of great cultural significance? How does that differ from, say, standing in front of a painting of the same object? 
A painting is a 2 dimensional representation of something which has been filtered through the skill and intentions of the artist. The object, even if flattened, still retains some of it's solidity (unless it's graphene from an old master's drawing) Working from life rather than a photo is a more rounded, three dimensional experience and the resultant artwork is generally more lively and considered. This argument can be applied to something made from it's original. There is potential for a greater depth of meaning from such artworks if they are handled sensitively.