Saturday, 1 July 2017

Artist research - Stephen Farthing and Kelly Chorpening

Stephen Farthing has a variety of drawings on his website using ink and watercolour, crayon, charcoal and mixed media. He employs a variety of styles from loose diagrammatic drawings (Taxonomy of Drawings, The drawn history of painting) abstract drawings (Drawing the atlantic) and rough childlike drawings (HMS Victory) I think that the best drawings on his website are A man reading a newspaper which were influenced by Jean Helion's painting The big daily read. They look as though they have been done from life and are full of energy created by the loose scribbled lines and bold use of charcoal. As a professor of drawing he has written extensively on the subject.

My research led me to this video lecture in which he draws drawing and discusses what it is. His definition of drawing is ; "a 2 dimensional representation of multi dimensional events".
Until I watched the video I did't understand the diagrammatic drawings on his website. I like the way that he includes maps and writing in his classification of drawing. I believe that if you can write you can draw, its a skill you can learn if you are sufficiently motivated to practice. He also says that the judgement of whether a drawing is good it whether it conveys what it set out to, not whether it is aesthetically pleasing. On this basis a map is an excellent drawing and the drawings of drawing are better than the man reading a newspaper. My judgement is swayed but what is aesthetically pleasing which is probably why my primary interest is in illustration.

Kelly Chorpening works in 2 and 3 dimensions. Her statement talks about works that focus on the unseen back of a painting and her 3 dimensional work is flat pieces peeled off the wall. Her older works are reminiscent of complex cityscapesinteriors, and scaffolding. She also has some great, restrained, text based work which becomes more lively when projected onto a wall creating layers of image. I think that this is her best piece of work.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Study Visit Brian Sanders at the Lever Gallery and a degree show

Brian Sanders was interviewed by Robert Elms on Radio London.  I'm not old enough to remember his work but it has a lovely familiar feel so I guess I must have seen it when I was a child. The Lever Gallery is dedicated to showing illustration and when I visited it was being manned but a very chatty man who told me loads about the process of creating artwork in the 1960's.
The figures in the drawings are realistic but loosely executed, Sanders used a confident flowing line to draw. The backgrounds are realistic but he isn't afraid to make buildings lean or have his people at an angle to make the pictures dynamic. The exhibition focused on his commercial work from the 1960's and reportage art made for the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The original work for Kubrick has been lost so this part of the display was of prints made from photos of the works. I was fascinated by the way he had painted the space suits which looked as though they reflected the light. The bubble and streak technique which was very popular in the 1960's was an attempt to recreate the effects of acrylic paint which was available in the states but not here. It makes paintings look as though they have been stitched and must have been incredibly difficult to handle without making them look muddy. They represent a world where illustrations were much more common in magazines. Sadly many of the originals were never returned to the artist and either got thrown away or were taken by magazine staff.

I also went to the degree show at the University of Hertfordshire - just about. Its always quite difficult to work out when it is but this year I had a tip off from another OCA student. The problem was that it was only open for a few weekdays between 10 and 4 which is when I'm at work. Apparently you could apply for tickets to the private view which was a Tuesday evening but I wasn't aware of that and it was too late. Luckily a very nice staff member let me in to the illustration room for a quick peek although as she was about to finish work it was hardly relaxed viewing. The work was well executed and presented but there seemed to be a very strong house style which I found a bit disappointing. I expected a degree show to be much more experimental. I post this because I felt that as a distance learning student I have a much better deal. I can look at what is produced by my fellow students but its influence is no greater than the influence I gain from other established artists so I am in a better position to create more individual work. Also, should I make it that far, because I'm an independent student I can (and will) choose the venue and times of my degree show to suit the viewing public.

The RCA degree show was in another league. I didn't understand a lot of the work which included work for the MA in Information Experience Design. In the past I have found that the only way to understand design is to ask the designer to explain their work me but on this occasion I was short of time. I watched some lovely videos form the MA in Animation. There was a lot of stop motion work with models and an interesting piece about children mining cobalt which makes me feel a bit guilty about my art materials, I need to do some research. Short animations are a good way to tell unpalatable stories.

Charcoal drawings by Latifah Al-Said stood out. Her displayed work was about human slavery and was both thought provoking and hauntingly beautiful. The RCA building has three staircases which does seem a bit excessive. She had drawings and lettering on the steps of one of these. I wish that I had taken a photo. Here is her instagram photo of the work in progress

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Study Visit Jo Brocklehurst at the House of Illustration

This was great. Big bold drawings of big characters. The punks particularly leapt off the pages so lively. I hadn't heard of Jo Brocklehurst before but I've enjoyed previous exhibitions at the House of Illustration and I was reminded in time to visit by an interview with Isabelle Bricknell by Robert Elms on Radio London.

The figures took up all of the paper but there was rarely any background, seated figures with nothing to sit on except each other - many of the subjects were couples drawn together. The works are on fairly thin cheap paper, mainly in pastel with ink and metallic or fluorescent paint in a supporting role. There were touches of collage and hand drawn lettering. Her lines were sweeping, bold and confident. Apparently she wasn't interested in capturing beauty so she was free to draw pouting lips and dead limpid eyes but somehow they still looked beautiful to me. The hands were slightly oversized and knobbly drawn with confidence. The drawings are lively and energetic because she drew rapidly even when there was time available. The lines were often in orange, blue or red, or latterly in fluorescent colours. She drew live in darkened nightclubs whilst wearing dark glasses so I guess whilst she was making them the colour was irrelevant and it was the shapes that she was concentrating on.

Information about the exhibition at House of llustration Some images here and Vice tells you more about her as a person here. She was taught by Elizabeth Suter who also did some brilliant figures of women.

There was also a small selection of drawings by Linda Kitson which are so much nicer in real life than I could have imagined from the online photos.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Assignment 5 - Drawing over a period of time

Its spring so all around me things are growing. A long time ago I had a plan to draw daffodils every day from bud to the end. I've always been fascinated by the shapes that flowers go through as they die off, I usually keep cut flowers in a vase long after a normal person would have thrown them out.

I did some preparatory studies.
The bunch fresh from the shop. Pencil. 

Ink and watercolour
A stick dipped into drawing ink which has become a bit sticky and doesn't work with a pen
Fountain pen
Biro Ink and coloured pencil
Oil pastel

Oil Pastel
Whilst I liked the loose oil pastel drawings it was impossible to properly represent the dying flower with such a thick line.

I liked this little ink drawing
and the subsequent drawing where I added coloured pencil
This is about the passage of time from birth to decay but the original idea seems a bit stylised and forced. Influenced by Lisa Milroy's pictures of collected things, I chose to draw the flowers in ink with a fountain pen mixing them randomly on the page.  

Here is a close up.

Growing daffodils appear in a haphazard arrangement, not neatly lined up. Whilst daffodils flower in the spring, if you buy cut flowers you control the beginning and the end of the cycle, we are playing with time. The drawing evolved over a week, the first bunch of flowers were starting to die off so I bought a second bunch and drew from them simultaneously so that I could mix the stages of the flowers together on the same page. Is this a cheat? If I had just relied on a single group of flowers all at the same stage I would have been unable to mix them up. The shapes of the flowers evolved as the drawing progressed over time. I started close to the middle of the page and randomly worked my way outwards to mix everything up a bit more. 
This drawing is about the clash between the natural and the artificial. I was influenced by Elsworth Kelly's wonderful plant drawings and by the detailed drawings of weeds by Jacques Nimki who was recommended to me by my tutor.
The original plan was to add colour but I really like the picture as it is. I posted the picture in the Critique section of the forum for advice. The opinion was mostly for leaving it as it is. I was surprised at how strongly many of the respondents reacted against the colour yellow as to me the brightness of yellow daffodils is a welcome change from the dull colours of winter. Because it took so long to draw I've become a bit precious with the drawing which I know is unhealthy. To get round this I photocopied part of the picture (it's A2 and I only have an A3 scanner so it had to be a sample) and played with colour on the scan both with Photoshop.

Background colour, aerosol greens and yellows

Here committing the heinous crime of using yellow...
Then working on printed copies.

What worked?

 I like the background colour in this. It separates the individual flowers but still gives them equal importance. However it starts to look like a wrapping paper design.
 Although this has the dreaded yellow it's subtle. It's unifying but a bit tentative.
I'm interested in the shapes of the dying flowers and one of the replies in the critique suggested that I just coloured the dying flowers. This does present a bit of a problem in that it's not always clear when this point is reached and which flowers I should include. Here, using Photoshop, I singled out just one flower but on reflection it's important to me that they are all given equal attention. 

This drawing started out as a piece about time but became a comment on beauty, equality and ageing. I want the viewer to spend time with my crowd of daffodils and examine them, appreciating their individual beauty.

I don't know if Part 5 just resonated with me or whether this has been the point when it all started to click. The projects that I have completed feel more honest in that I have been able to respond to the brief and experiment whilst producing work that feels like it is truely mine. Others will judge whether the work has any quality.

Assignment 5 appeared to be the least inspiring project to me when I read through the brief but it has generated so many parallel ideas I wish that I had time to develop all of them thoroughly, although I am very happy to take a short break from drawing daffodils. It was the first time that I have posted anything on the Critique forum and I was surprised at how the comments helped to clarify my view of the work and see what I wanted to represent with it. With the help of these comments I feel that I have made a piece of work that has more depth and meaning than I have done before.

The figure drawing exercise at the beginning has improved my ability to capture moving crowds which I have been working on for years. Capturing people, particularly in motion is a recurrent theme in my personal sketchbook work. Artists books are a new area for me and I would like to do more projects like this, particularly working over existing texts which sparked ideas to pursue. When making my artists book I didn’t consider the Edge group of students who made the work that I was subverting. One of the students has subsequently been in touch and the project was shared with them. Their reaction was fortunately positive and I hope to come up with an idea of my own for the next issue so that someone else can give me a taste of my own medicine!

Project 3, A finer focus was less challenging, this is the sort of work that I have been making at home for years. My drawings were too traditional and dull, I should have been more subversive with the subject matter. It did however show me how much more confident my mark making has become, an enjoyable meditative exercise for all that.

Project 4 was totally different to anything that I have done before and there are many adaptations that I could make to my Hagiograph that would tell a different story. My interests lie in illustration and so many of the projects in Part 5 can be interpreted in an illustrative way.

This does feel like an endpoint and I still have to pick up the threads of my parallel project which has been neglected in favour of the Critical review which I found challenging and have spent far too much time on for the quality of work that I have produced. I need to get better at looking at and
interpreting other artists work. I still feel that good artwork doesn’t need a wordy explanation but I need to convey my own ideas and interpretation. The critique of my Assignment 5 provided by others was invaluable to my understanding of it’s potential.

I wanted to do Drawing 2 from the moment that I saw the description of the course but it hasn’t been anything like what I expected. There is a lot of mixed media which suits me as I don’t like my ideas and options being limited by the tools and materials that I am using. It has taught me to think differently and really experiment with ideas and push them away from their source. I like the way that the course is so open to interpretation, is this because it’s a level 2 course? Although the course was different to what I expected I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m on the Visual Communication pathway and I’m looking forward to Illustration 2.


The ink drawing is quite tight and the piece is quite illustrative. This may be a product of working on a large scale and smaller versions, possibly with different flowers, could lead to a looser approach. The coloured versions all have predictable colours, brighter and different colours could work better.
Look at Anya Gallacio, particularly Preserve Beauty. 

Anya Gallacio (also here)
She is interested in the process of change over time using flowers and other materials such as fruit ice and chocolate. They are treated as a performance art which is set in motion then observed over time. The artist and the viewer have no control over how the installation changes but are passive observers in the process. In a world where we try to control and manage everything it is good to sit back and just watch what happens. We also dismiss natural objects when they are not in perfect state which means that we miss some stages of beauty because we aren't programmed to look for it. 
Preserve Beauty is also a comment on our disposable culture, artificially bred flowers which don't last, resources spent to create something that wilts and rots.

Research point - Frank Auerbach

The text gives this link. There is a short article about a retrospective here. Tim Adams, writing in The Guardian links Auerbach to the concept of time "the longer you look at Auerbach’s painting, the more it lets you see" and there are interviews with his sitters here. Auerbach himself says of his process he paints, "to play a small trick with time", turning "the curious nullity of a silent man by himself in the studio into something that happens" (also from the Guardian) He was influenced by his teacher David Bomberg, this can be seen in Bomberg's charcoal drawing St Pauls and the River, and his portrait of his wife Lilian Holt

I prefer Auerbach's drawings to his paintings, but maybe that is because I saw them at the British Library Study visit last year. It is so much easier to appreciate a picture in real life.  I like the feel of the face being carved out of the charcoal marks. Both his paintings and drawings are busy but coherent. They are paintings to study, to stop and consider. 

His work is about charting the small changes over time of a select group of subjects whether they are people or the streets of his home in North London. They reflect time shifting slowly, the pictures aren't purely figurative representations but they seek to capture the subtle changes that occur as they are being made. Even a still life evolves over the day as the light changes. They have to be made from life to really capture the time as it evolves. A painting or a drawing from a photograph is just a copy of that moment in time, frozen and static. Although it is possible to use photographs for reference they are like working in a single hard pencil instead of having a whole array of art material to give texture and colour to the image. In time there is shape, colour, texture, temperature, movement, smells and interruptions. You can choose to ignore these distractions, but if you do you may as well take a photo. A picture made over time can integrate all the senses.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Project 4 - Time and the viewer

The brief says "Make a drawing that forces the viewer to use time differently" I'm still in Artists Book mode and I was interested in how something like a flip book could change the viewers relationship with time in that they control the speed of movement. I found this variation on a flip book in The Huffington Post. Stephen Walter uses a hagioscope to slow the way viewers examine his Nova Utopia map. I remember a scrolling book from my childhood and found instructions to make one for children (you have to scroll a long way down the page to find it I'm afraid but here is a picture)

Some preliminary sketchbook ideas

I experimented with a modified coffee cup.

The burgundy part is the peeled off cover. I drew on the underlying cup and cut a triangular hole (where the logo was) The sleeve can then rotate around the drawing, allowing the viewer to control what they see through the peephole

I found that it was impossible for one person to turn the sleeve around the cup and video it so you will have to use your imagination.

 Moving on, I have an old wooden box which I modified with two pieces of dowel to scroll a continuous piece of paper.

The box had a grubby perspex sliding lid which I replaced with a piece of cardboard. This meant that I could cut a window to limit the view.

I now have a primitive hagioscope. Videos of it in action are herehere and here.
The first scroll was splodges of ink with a darker area to represent night and a wavy line to represent movement.
For the second scroll I glued some black paper to my scroll to make darker night.
The white stars are drops of white ink spread out with a tooth pick.
This is the opposite daytime side.
My visual imagination of time is a sort of tape reeling out into the distance.

I thought that it would be interesting to cut the timeline out of my paper scroll.

Interestingly the two sides of paper, which aren't connected any more, do move at slightly different rates and start to overlap a little over time.

What is drawing without time? Even snapshot sketches require an investment in time to make them and to develop the skill to quickly communicate an idea without lots of preparation. Most drawings take quite a bit longer to produce and can only successfully communicate with the viewer if they are prepared to invest some time in looking at them. Microsoft published some (maybe discredited?) research that attention spans are decreasing.  Whether the research is accurate or not, what is clear is that we are constantly bombarded with images and information and it is a challenge for visual communicators to make their information stand out and seize the time to get a message or concept across. My response to this project has an element of gimmick to it. The viewer needs to stop and actively engage in the process of revealing the drawing. The definition of a "successful" artwork must in some way be whether it can persuade the viewer to spend some time with it. Eye catching or complex pieces may achieve this, but how do you get someone to linger with a simple drawing such as Ellsworth Kelly's Plant Drawings? There has to be some sort of resonance with the image to persuade the viewer to invest their time.


The hagiogaph has potential to be a significant piece. If it is to be sent for assessment it will need to be very well made to ensure that it works for the assessors. It could be represented by video which gives me control of how it is viewed. What is the purpose of the piece? Is it that the viewer turns the handles and chooses how fast it moves or is this dictated by me and presented in the video. Is the piece just about the moving parts or does the supporting box play a part? 
There are 3 different sheets, the cut line is the most successful. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Project 3 - A finer focus

There is something disturbing about Gwen Hardie's skin paintings (also here on Artsy) and I'm not quite sure what it is. I think it is the colours, the blues are reminiscent of bruises or distorted veins. The nipples are seen so closely I fear that they are being inspected by a malevolent stalker with a high definition telescope.

Turner Prizewinner Richard Wright says in The Tate's video "This work is not for the future this is work for now" Lots of images at the Gagosian website and he discusses an exhibition that he curated for the Tate here. I like the way that Wright responds to the environment around his work and his use of repeated pattern and shape. I am pondering on his statement in the Tateshot film that the exhibition was about slowing down the viewers engagement with the pieces. This has relevance to this project about time, but also the general relevance of artwork to the public, particularly work which addresses the ordinary and everyday.

I have enormous respect for Grayson Perry, his Reith Lectures were fascinating, but I was underwhelmed by his work Julie and Rob for the 2015 RA Summer exhibition was brash and kitchsy. I had never looked that closely at his pots and I find that they have lovely narrative drawings. I'm not sure that I agree with the course notes which describe them as detailed extended doodles  but I will look more closely next time I get a chance to see his work.

Jim Shaw makes work that is very busy. There are so many cultural references bursting to get out it's like being inside a 1970's American comic. He is incredibly eclectic in what he does ranging from drawings, paintings and installations to thrift store paintings. I found an essay in Frieze which is a good summary of his ideas and interests. His pencil Dream drawings are very detailed (I was in a Vegas show about a Viking farmer...) Also this study for Seven Deadly Sins and a study for Anal/Isis which I read as hair though I may be wrong?

Detailed Drawings is a Tumblr site with loads of artists collected together. I find that repeated exposure to these complex works does feel rather frenetic after a while. They aren't relaxing pieces, and part of me does worry about the mental health of someone who works this way on a large scale.

I have a jam jar of keys which I daren't throw away in case they unlock a forgotten door somewhere so to get going I drew them.
I think this project calls for something larger and more detailed.

Dawn Clements here and here does some very detailed drawings which take you through a scene. I remembered being very excited about them at an exhibition at the Saachi Gallery.   The Guggenheim Foundation says "She creates a sense of wholeness from fragments, piecing, editing, suturing multiple points of view to create a sense of moving through spaces, extending time. In her work images are fixed, but the vanishing point is usually in motion, and unstable." 

Inspired I sketched the desk in my studio/dining room.
It's an interesting idea but probably too derivative for me at the moment.

I'm not keen on hyper realism, I don't have the patience for masses of detail unless it's a subject which really inspires me so I need to choose something that will keep me fiddling to get this exercise done properly. Lynne Chapman did a residency with the University of Manchester which included a study of dormant things, (also here) stuff that doesn't have a current purpose but you can't throw away (like my jar of keys). I've downsized fairly recently so I don't have quite as much clutter as in the past, I considered the cutlery draw or my toolbox, maybe my pens and pencils, but Andrea Joseph has that covered.

Living things get me excited enough to fiddle. The course notes say that 'It’s not ‘cheating’ to use a projector or tracing paper here to create extra layers of complexity.' I don't have a projector but I read this as a go ahead to work closely from a photo. My dog is 14 so in a way he covers the underlying time factor of the project. I have drawn him regularly from life but for this level of detail I need a photo.
I used a propelling pencil so that I didn't have to keep stopping to sharpen it. My dad was a draughtsman so I have a pot of leads which are unlabelled but I suspect to be a bit harder than HB, maybe H? 
I grew up using cast off H pencils and I've never been a fan, they make a very weak line, but I found that with lots of layering I managed to get some depth of tone. I drew a very feint outline before I started to be sure that everything was in the right place before I added shading and this had to be erased in places to stop it giving conflicting information about the fur to the viewer. 

I learnt a lot doing this exercise. My aim was to render individual hairs - I didn't manage all of them. I found that if I was lazy and made longer marks I didn't properly represent his smooth coat. I wanted a minimal background, the pencil is so weak that anything behind the dog would make him disappear. This meant that I had to either choose to have a pencil outline around the white fur on his neck or draw in something a little darker but boring. I chose to extend the beanbag, however I've not managed to completely get rid of my earlier pencil marks. The detail makes this a very static picture and it was hard to decide when to stop fiddling. I am quite pleased with the result though I preferred it when I used the auto tone button in Photoshop and made it bolder.
Although the background is rather pixelated if you see the screen at an angle. On some level I think that I might quite like that.... 

If the darkened drawing works better maybe I should repeat the exercise working in ink. I chose a different subject,
and decided to draw in biro. I've never done much more than doodles in biro and there are some very detailed drawings made with ballpoint pens from artists such as Samuel Silva and James Mylne.
It's not as detailed as it should be. It takes a lot of concentration to copy so closely and I think that it was a mistake to attempt two very detailed drawings one after another.  The biro did tend to blob, it's not new, it may be best to use a fresh biro for a very detailed drawing. 

Moving away from representational, and for completeness, I did an extended doodle in ink.

Stephen Walter
I went to The Island exhibition in the crypt of St Pancras Church in 2008 and, spookily, walked past a gallery in London yesterday which was displaying a print of Subterranean.(video interview about it here) Also a video about the making of Nova Utopia. The Guardian has an interview. This weekend there seems to be something wrong with his website, remind me to go back to it.
Getting slightly distracted, there are some great animated maps here


I interpreted this brief literally and in making the finished drawings the use of detail made them very static. The pencil drawing lacked depth because it was done with a hard pencil which has a limited range of tone. We discussed the possibility of using a very fine tipped ink pen to give variety of tone but I have found that ink is too dominant when mixed pencil. I didn’t manage to find a way of extending this project beyond the brief in the text.