Assignment 5. Preliminary work. Part 4.

Following on from my previous sketches, I decided to look at other poses from the same video. This is probably something I should have done earlier!

Fig. 1 sketches. Drawing pen

Fig. 1. I liked the upside down drawing at the top and also the close up bottom right. 

Fig. 2. Pencil

I like the cropped drawing (Fig. 2.) which has an interesting contrast of dark and light. I think it still conveys a feeling of movement through the pose and the tension in the muscles. It will be very difficult to do on a large scale and might be even harder for a viewer to understand, but I am intrigued to see how this will turn out.


Assignment 5. Preliminary work. Part 3

I drew an A3 drawing based on my previous sketches. I was drawn to using pastels to bring more colour and warmth into the picture (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

There was a lamp in the corner of the room but when I drew this in, it became confused with the figure however I felt the composition would be better if I put a lamp against the wall. The lamp shade would then create a diagonal down to the knee, forming a triangle with the head (Fig.2). However, the table is unrealistically tall to put the lampshade where I want it. 

Fig. 2

I decided a standard lamp would be better. I wasn’t able to set this up during this session but I drew imaginary one for now to try out the composition (Fig. 3). I was quite excited about how this helped the composition so I am going to sort out drawing one in situ.

Even though I was feeling quite positive about how the sketch was progressing I was concerned because a couple of people found it hard to work put what was going on in the picture. I posted it to the OCA Drawing 1 Facebook page asking for feedback. The comments were really helpful and suggestions included: look at the proportions of the feet, make the feet clearer, crop the image to focus more on the figure, choose a pose which shows both arms.

Going forward, I am going to explore the issues raised in this Facebook  conversation through more sketchbook work. I cropped the image (Fig.4) which does make the figure more central, but loses some of the compositional elements.

Fig. 4 a cropped version

Assignment 5- preliminary work. Part 2

I suffered a slump after realising the trampoline drawings weren’t working in the way I wanted. I videoed my son again, this time in the house and found a still from this which I liked because of its dynamic pose.  I did a couple of sketches which I felt were more on the right track.

Fig. 1 3b pencil

It’s slightly annoying when your first sketch does pretty much everything you want it to. I like the composition, the combination of line and tone and the sense of movement- especially in the feet. I wanted to explore using some colour.

Fig. 2. Pastel, acrylic, pencil

I did some background pastel in warm tones which reflected the colours in the room.  Then I painted into this with a thinned acrylic. I was aiming to give some texture and movement to the drawing.  Then I drew over with pencil and used thinned acrylic to block out the figure a bit.

The composition wasn’t quite as satisfying in the second drawing and the figure is too upright. I like the small amount of pattern on the rug and the loose drawing of the figure.

I will explore composition further.

Part 5: Research point. Using photographs as a basis for drawing

I used a photograph as the basis for my drawing of my son. The main reason for this is he won’t keep still. But I thought the photograph also captured an interesting moment where he was just starting to move off the sofa and away.


Fig. 1. Photograph of my son
Fig 2. Drawing of my son based on Fig.1. in charcoal and emulsion

I am interested in the use of photographs as a basis for a drawing. I am aware that there is not much point in copying a photograph so the photograph has to be a starting point for the drawing. Photos also distort what we see and fix it. When we look at something directly and draw it, our eye’s can pick out certain things of interest whereas a photo presents us with everything given equal importance. The interaction is one step removed.

In the course of research into using photographs as a basis for drawing I came across a non-academic blog post by Mitchell Albala who is a landscape painter and art teacher.  Using Photographs Like an Artist is an interesting look at how to use photographs which features work by artist Terry Furchgott. It is very unusual to see the artist’s source material alongside the final art work so I was very interested in comparing the two.

Fig. 3. Terry Furchgott, Woman Reading at Window, 2007, acrylic on paper.

It is clear that while the painting is based on the photograph, virtually everything has been changed. In his blog post, Albala lists some best practices when using photographs which include:

  • Photograph more of the scene than you want to include so you can make compositional decisions later
  • Don’t follow photographic colour
  • Don’t trust photographic values – cameras often create too much contrast between lights and shadows.
  • Photographic detail may not be necessary for your purpose
  • Beware of visual ambiguity which makes sense in a photo but looks odd in a drawing
  • Let go of the photo to develop the final piece
  • Make sure your source material has the information you need.

The use of photographs comes under fire in Are Painters’ ‘Reference Photographs’ a Form of Cheating?  a Huffington Post article from 2015.

The article quotes Steven Assael, a painter and lecturer at New York’s School of Visual Arts saying: “There are dramatic differences between how the camera looks at and experiences the world and how we see it. A camera records a scene in a split second, whereas we see movement over time. We synthesize (sic) our observations, and the resulting painting is the culmination of many moments. We selectively choose details and, in that selection process, meaning and surprises happen, giving the artwork a life of its own.”

However, Steve Rogers, a Florida watercolour artist disagrees: “I’ve been in Venice, trying to capture the fleeting light, and the light may change in five minutes,” he said. “There is no way I can set up that quickly and record that light, and I can’t repeatedly come back to the same location. The camera is the obvious choice.”

Finally a blog post on Redbubble by a poster called Blythart who is based in Blyth, United Kingdom. This features some lovely comparisons of photographs and final artworks by artists such as Picasso and Van Gogh which show how using photographs as source material can leave the door open for artistic expression and interpretation.

I really enjoyed looking into how artists use photographs in their work. I recently watched a BBC4 documentary about Augustus John which said he made his children sit for hours while he painted them. If only he had had a camera, they might have looked happier. The Tate features a picture of his son Robin where the gallery label says: “Robin’s consciousness of being scrutinised by his father could be interpreted as betraying resentment or unease. The two had a difficult relationship. Robin’s silences often infuriated John, who declared his son ‘hardly utters a word and radiates hostility’.” Maybe by not having a camera, John revealed his feelings for his child in a way a painting from a photograph would not.


Assignment 5 preliminary work. Part 1

In Part Five I have chosen to look at the moving figure. I enjoyed drawing my son in Part 4 (Fig. 1) and wanted to look at how to depict his restlessness and energy in a drawing.

Fig. 1. Drawing of my son

My tutor has suggested structuring my work as if it is the series of exercises and research points that we have carried out in previous modules. This seems like an interesting and organised way to approach an investigation of a subject.

There were a lot of things I identified in my drawing for part 4 which I liked. I enjoyed working from photographs, I liked the pose which was poised between stillness and movement and I liked the direct gaze. I was also pleased with the composition which is an area where I have struggled.

For my first investigation I decided to look at working from a video still and to investigate the representation of movement.

My video was of my son trampolining and I did some drawings based on stills from this.

Fig. 2. pastel and graphite
Fig. 3 watercolour and charcoal
Fig. 4. watercolour and charcoal
Fig. 5. Watercolour and graphite
Fig. 6 masking fluid, watercolour, charcoal

By figure 6 I was trying to make the background more abstract and give the figure a sense of movement through blurring of the edges of the figure. I also like the way the masking fluid brought the swirls in the background into the figure. However, I don’t like the monochrome figure which doesn’t convey the sense of joy which I get from my son when he trampolines.

Fig. 7a. Watercolour and masking fluid. Figure blocked out with translucent layer of acrylic
Fig. 7b. adding gel pen


 I added gel pen and drawing pen to make the figure more solid while trying to keep the sense of energy. While I have found this exercise interesting. I don’t feel the drawing is as interesting as my initial starting point (Fig. 1). I might try to bring some of the energy of these drawings into my final piece, but I think I will look at more static poses, with the suggestion of movement, which I feel worked well in the initial drawing. 

Research: “Do we smile much when undertaking a self-portrait?”

Tutor comment from assignment 4 feedback: “Do we smile much when undertaking a self-portrait…?  Look at the evidence throughout history; Rembrandt, Alice Neel’s nude self-portrait, Lucy Jones, Frida Kahlo, John Coplans, Jenny Saville… Cindy Sherman.  Self-portraiture is self-reflective / reflexive and contemplative there may be moments of joy and insight, yet it is an internal-external dialogue or conversation with ourselves; as we draw or paint.  I wonder what your thoughts are on this and how it might inform your next self-portrait?”

I am very interested in this question because I think the way we view the face and the smile is changing with massive growth of the “selfie”. We are used to the artificial nature of a pose, the expectation to smile for a picture, the mask that we put on and present to the world – not necessarily a false mask, but to communicate “I am having a great time” we smile. It is a message in a picture. When we meet people we smile to welcome them. A smile is a social construct. It conveys the message that we are not a threat.

In drawing my self portrait for Assignment 4. I decided to make myself look less cross by smiling slightly. I felt this conveyed my inner self more than an intense gaze. I was aware at the time that this was slightly unconventional for a self-portrait although I did look at Rembrandt who has a higher smile rate in his portraits than most.

Rembrandt, stark beschattet
Fig. 1. Rembrandt self portrait. Etching.

I love this etching (Fig.1) which is full of vigorous lines but also delicately drawn to bring out the facial features showing a little smile. It is mysterious but good humoured, full of energy but still.

Rembrandt Laughing / Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Fig. 2. Rembrant Laughing. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Oil paint on copper.

In Rembrandt Laughing (Fig 2) the young artist portrays himself as laughing out loud in costume. This gives a hint of why portraits of fleeting emotions, like a belly laugh, are so rare. They make it harder for a viewer to suspend disbelief. Unlike a photograph, a painting is made over a period of time. A person sitting for a portrait would naturally sit still and maintain a steady expression, a person viewing the portrait can fool themselves that they are looking at a person sitting still and looking back at them. Looking at a person laughing out loud, you know immediately that they are a painting because they are not moving. This makes a laughing portrait more artificial. This is actually one of only a few self portraits by Rembrandt showing himself smiling or laughing although he did do a number of portraits of other people including his wife Saskia smiling.

Saskia van Uylenburgh als Mädchen
Fig. 3. Saskia van Uylenburgh als Mädchen. 1633. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn Oil on Oak

Cindy Sherman’s work is very much about artifice. Since the late 1970s she has produced self portraits using props and makeup to reflect various “styles” of depicting women from film noir and horror to Renaissance style portraits (which also included some pictures of men). These pictures reveal the narratives about women which are embedded in our culture. But Sherman herself says they are not “self” portraits at all.  ‘People assume that a self-portrait is narcissistic and you’re trying to reveal something about yourself; fantasies or autobiographical information. In fact none of my work is about me or my private life.’ My vile bodies: Cindy Sherman interview by Judy Rumbold – Guardian archive, 1991. Although in the same article she admits that the work may come out of her own neuroses. ‘Maybe I am well-adjusted because I live out my neuroses on film instead.’ Which means maybe they are self portraits after all.

Sherman’s subjects are often grotesque and their smiles are too. In a series from 2008 she depicts groomed older American women whose masks sometime slip, showing the vulnerability underneath the clothes and warpaint. It is interesting how the backgrounds to the characters are an important part of the image conveying wealth or poverty, power or vulnerability.

Fig. 1. Rembrandt. Harmensz Van Rijn, “dark shading” (translated from German). Etching. from archives at Gemaeldegalerie, Dresden

Fig. 2. Fig. 2. Rembrant Laughing. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Oil paint on copper. The J. Paul Getty Museum

Fig. 3. Saskia van Uylenburgh als Mädchen. 1633. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn Oil on Oak. from Gemaeldegalerie, Dresden.

Article on Rembrandt Laughing:

My vile bodies: Cindy Sherman interview by Judy Rumbold – Guardian archive, 1991

Eva Respini MOMA Assistant Curator discussing Cindy Sherman’s work in relation to a retrospective of her work at MOMA in 2012.

Assignment 4. Self portrait using line and tone 

Two things influenced the way I approached this self portrait. The first was the work of Frank Auerbach and Jenny Saville who use reduction as part of their drawing method. They draw then rub out, then draw and rub out over and over again in theory getting to the essence of their subject. The second was a friend’s reaction to two self-portraits I did earlier in Part 4. “Is that how you see yourself?”, she asked, sounding surprised.

It made me realise I had tried to draw how I looked rather than who I was.

I decided to do all my work on one piece of paper.  Drawing and rubbing out and hopefully getting closer to who I think I am.

I based the work on some preliminary sketches I had already done. Taking on board my friend’s comment I decided to try to look more cheerful and to include my hands, drawing pad and pencil in the picture.

It was only after I had rubbed out the drawing the first time and drawn over the remains that I realised I should be photographing each stage so here are the next stages.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 5.
Fig. 6.

When I reached Fig. 5. I had to decide whether to rub out again or carry on to a completed piece. While it would have been interesting to carry on with the process I was conscious of a deadline approaching. I would also have found it much harder to rub this one out as I liked it much better than the other drawings. I decided to complete the drawing (Fig. 6).

I slightly regret stopping here as it would have been a real challenge to carry on deleting and redrawing. I’d like to develop the stamina and confidence to do this. I also originally thought I might start incorporating different media and deleting by painting out marks to erase them. This is something I’d like to look at in further work.