Decisions decisions

I have continued to think about the way forward with my final assignment piece.

I had reached a point where I liked where I was (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1

However, I realised some people who saw this weren’t sure about what they were looking at. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I wanted to know why and posted on the Drawing 1 Facebook forum. Feedback was very positive and suggestions involved making the feet clearer, drawing his left arm in a more obvious position and focusing in on the figure.

I did a few sketches (Fig.  2 & 3)

Fig. 2
Fig. 3

I liked the composition in Fig. 3. and decided to explore this further.

Fig. 4

In Fig. 4 I used pastel  on a coloured paper. I like the closer perspective on the figure. I wondered about the effect of cropping for an even closer view. (Fig. 5)

Fig. 5

This has made everything much more intimate but maybe has lost the sense of movement in Fig. 1. I would also have to get the drawing of the figure very accurate and I am working off a blurry video still.

I did a new drawing using the closer viewpoint. (Fig. 5)

Fig. 5

I like the tension of the pose and I think the closer view works well. I also like the non-blended pastels on the figure. I think this is the composition I will try to take forward to my final drawing.


Gallery visit. Tate Modern and Basquiat

A day trip to London and I chose to look at some of the free exhibitions at Tate Modern and to visit the Basquiat exhibition at the Barbican.

At Tate Modern I enjoyed an exhibition on artists’ working practices. I would have liked there to be far more information but it was great to see some pictures I had researched in real life. A painting by Bonnard that I looked at for Part 2 was paired with some preliminary sketches and there was also a Morandi painting which I had looked at during Part 1.

Fig. 1. Bonnard
Fig. 2. Morandi

The first two exhibits were an Anthony Gormley figure ‘Untitled (for Francis) 1985. and an Agnes Martin ‘Faraway Love’ 1999 which were contrasted for their approach to realism/abstraction. From the gallery guide: “Martin was one of many twentieth-century artists whose work turned away from the recognisable world and towards abstraction. Gormley’s sculpture shows how, at the same time, artists have continued to find new ways to represent the human figure…Gormley sees his sculpture as a tool to link ‘inner and outer worlds’ while Martin believed strongly in the power of abstract painting to elicit experiences of beauty.”

There was an interesting room full of photographs and videos of artists in their studios which I enjoyed. I always like seeing videos of artists working on YouTube.

Basquiat at the Barbican in ‘Boom for Real’ was a fascinating insight into a unique artist. Again, the artist’s practice was an interesting part of the exhibition. From early graffiti art as Samo, Basquiat moved very quickly and very young into a successful career as a painter. He channelled a mass of cultural influences into his work from race history to Gray’s Anatomy, Picasso, Michelangelo, jazz, sport. He was prolific and seemed to work straight onto canvas seeing himself as the art equivalent of an improvising jazz musician. I think his work is appealing because he was so direct and so much himself when he made it. It is fascinating but also quite alien. I felt there were few points of connection between Basquiat’s mind and my mind. It was a very odd feeling.

There was no photography allowed at Basquiat.

In the weeks after seeing these two exhibitions I have frequently thought about the way different artists make art. Agnes Martin, Morandi, Bonnard and Basquiat are all artists who have produced important, influential work. But their approaches are so very different. Considered or spontaneous, abstract or representational, symbolic or realistic, political or domestic.

Self portrait

Following Assignment 4, my tutor suggested I look again at a self portrait.

I did a sketch each morning drawing on top of the previous sketch.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

I like the way the echoes of previous drawings are retained in the picture.

I enjoyed working like this and wanted to carry on. The problem is that it gets harder and harder to draw over a picture, both emotionally as you erase more and more work, and physically as it gets harder to lift off previous marks.

I had intended to take this further on a larger scale. Maybe paint out marks and perhaps prepare the paper to make it stronger.

These sketches (Fig. 1 & 2) were A3. I decided to try an A1 sketch (Fig. 3). This turned out to be a bit of a surprise. I started drawing in charcoal, intending to lay down some broad compositional shapes before priming the paper with dilute acrylic. Instead I ended up with a completed drawing 2 hours later.

Fig. 3

There are several aspects of this drawing I like. I like the texture of the hair and jumper. The face is generally well drawn but the right eye as you look at the picture doesn’t look directly at the viewer despite my attempts to correct it. I also like the abstract background which does relate to what was behind me at the time. I think the image is quite unsettling especially the way the jumper trails off into lines then charcoal dust (it’s going to be hard to retain this even with fixative). The jumper also looks like feathers and maybe looks a bit constricting as I haven’t drawn my arms.

I also want to note that I listened to music while I was drawing Fig. 3. ‘This Mortal Coil’ was an 80s/90s band playing an ethereal indie goth type music. ‘Song to the Siren’ is fairly typical. Did this influence the way the drawing went?

Finally, following tutor feedback I tried propping up my drawing board on a chair and sitting on another chair to draw. This freed up my arm which, I think led to more expressive mark-making.

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.