It was only when drawing the sketches around the house that I really started looking at furniture as a subject. I felt like I was drawing empty spaces as normally these spaces are frequently occupied. It made me think about absence, although we’re not physically there we do leave something of themselves behind.
I started to obsess with chairs, obviously of Vincent Van Gogh’s chair. This lead me to drawing chairs, lots of chairs, hard, wooden chairs and soft, fabric armchairs. I liked the way Van Gogh had included some personal effects so I tried one with a book and my glasses. I added fabric, a throw, some clothes somebody had left lying around. I looked at interiors, stumbled upon David Hockney’s desk, an everyday item, so functional and yet so overlooked, do we even see it anymore.
I looked at Vanessa Bell Conversation at Asheham House 1912 and was inspired by how she added herself to the painting by leaving her empty chair, we can’t see her but her presence is felt. She is very much a part of that conversation, as if she just slipped out to capture it.
I soon realised the importance of chairs in art and discovered Gerhard Richter’s chair and saw how he transformed a simple chair into so much more, reminiscent of the Pop Art movement think Andy Warhol. This idea of something so banal, so ordinary having an emotional element really appealed to me and that’s when the decision was made to draw a chair.
Out of habit more than anything, I started off drawing in pencil and charcoal but as I needed to do this in colour I decided to experiment with pastels, thinking they would be similar. I had to do some research on pastels and by coincidence found a second-hand book by Barbara Benedetti Newton¹ that gave me a good start on how to go about this.
My first sketch was a plain old chair in pastels
I liked the effect of the pastels, I was experimenting here with different marks, trying out different pastelling techniques, crosshatching, light marks with the edge of the pastel, heavier marks with the side of the pastel to block in colour. It seemed evident I could make a variety of marks, something which I wasn’t sure of beforehand and hadn’t been as successful with in an earlier exercise (Project 2 Exercise 2). I decided to continue with pastels.
By this stage I had decided I liked the fluffy throw’s contrast against the leathery cushion of the chair. One mistake I made early one was to sketch the image in charcoal first before using the pastels but I learnt that it is too dark, too muddy against the light pastels so had to use a different coloured pastel.
My second sketch was to attempt to fix down the composition idea I had of a three quarter chair, at an angle with the furry throw added for contrast. This too looked quite interesting. I liked the angles and hard lines, softened by the fluffiness of the fabric.
This time I used the chunky pastels to block in the colours and then smaller, harder pastels for more detail. I was satisfied with the texture of the throw, it seems a successful representation, I wasn’t so happy with the texture of the chair. At this point I was asking myself if the picture was too bare, did I need another object, perhaps to add more contrast. One problem I identified was that the chair back was too short, in real life it is longer so I need to be more observant when sketching the preliminary image. The perspective seems a little skewed here too, I’m glad we will be working on this further in part three.
To mix things up a little I tried a version in oil pastels
I think it looks quite messy, slightly dirty and not as clean as I would like so I returned to the chalk pastels once more. Having said that, maybe it’s more interesting because of that, it does have more movement in it but it was a quick sketch.
The angles continue to elude me and, by this stage I tried adding another element, something to contrast with the smooth chair. A pineapple seemed obvious as I had challenged myself previously to draw one and enjoyed it so set about drawing it again, this time in colour.
I added more colour to the background and smudged it for a softer effect, choosing blue to contrast with the yellows of the chair and the fruit. I liked the overall colours and felt the sketch was progressing. The proportions are better, the textures work quite well.
One thing that was worrying me was there wasn’t a lot of difference in composition so I spent some time taking lots of photos of the chair in different positions.
Evidently I have one particular composition I keep coming back to so thought I should try something different. The options were to zoom in and draw a close-up or to uncover more of the seat, reveal another leg/arm of the chair, did it need another vertical line adding for a believable structure?
So whilst my intention was to draw a close-up it didn’t quite work out that well, the resulting image was not that much different from earlier versions, although I uncovered the other side of the chair, adding a vertical counterpoint.
I did not like this drawing at all. I think you can tell I was feeling challenged and a little frustrated. I questioned my efforts and wavered about whether to keep pursuing this idea or start a completely new drawing.
By the following day I decided I really would draw a close-up version before abandoning the idea altogether. This time I made myself a couple of viewfinders. Feeling at an impasse, I also changed the format from portrait to landscape. Instead of charcoal as an under sketch, I used one of the brown colours, having realised that the charcoal was leaving a dirty tone that didn’t work well here.
One of the dangers of pastels is your colours mix on the paper, which works wonderfully in some instances and messes everything up in others! Because of this there were areas that had to be worked into again and again as it was a struggle to keep it completely clean.
Here is the final version
Ultimately I am happy with the overall result. I like the palette of colours together, it’s a much brighter image than I had intended but I like the contrast of the blue and orange with the yellow/orange of the pineapple.
The fabric came out well, I think it looks fluffy and a bit unruly in capturing the folds. The pineapple does not appear quite right in its angles but I like the textures of it. There is an interesting mixture of angles, the landscape view gives an interesting perspective on the still life interior.
- use of colour
In planning this I went with the colours that seemed to represent the objects as they are in real life, apart from the background which is, in fact, grey. The reason for this choice was to help recede the background and to give it a little interest, in contrasting with the yellows of the fruit and the chair. The colour shows depth and tones to effectively represent this image.
- most appropriate medium for the subject
Pastels seemed most appropriate for this colour drawing, they were challenging to use and I have learnt more about them through this assignment. There is more to learn and I am excited to try a different technique next time, using the information I have obtained through practice. It is possible to create light and shade, tone and contrast and think I have achieved that to some extent. It made me learn about different mark marking techniques which will be relevant to other materials.
- Composition and context
I explained my process of getting from a chair to a chair with a throw and a pineapple and, whilst there is no significance to the objects, they don’t look awkward together, they sit together rather nicely, perhaps because of their contrasting elements. I enjoyed researching other artists’ chairs, most notably Van Gogh and Gerhard Richter.
- Mark-making and contrast of line and tone
This at first was challenging but I learnt to use the hard side of the pastels to add finer details. I did try different techniques but I’m not content that I have exhausted this area, there is definitely more to learn. What I did use was contrast of colour in areas, I used a blue to recede the shadows more and used them in the background. I used a different mark for the background as this added some interest and served as a additional contrast to the soft material.
- Accurate and expressive depiction of form
I’m still learning how to be expressive and I hope I am adding some expression to my work, this is perhaps a subjective opinion though so I will listen to all feedback with interest. Is it accurate? Yes I think it is as accurate as I could manage right now, given that I am learning to handle new materials this is not without a challenge, but I quite like those. I have commented on the areas that perhaps didn’t work well, the pineapple doesn’t look convincing, this was challenging as it is on an angle, but I like the different angles in the piece so wanted to keep going with it. The chair and the fabric turned out quite well, the fabric better than I thought.
- Experimentation with idea, material and method
I thought it was an interesting idea to use the chair, especially as it has such a history in art practice, also it’s such a fundamental object that I haven’t really spent much time observing so it was refreshing to look at it again, an object I have seen a million times, with open eyes. This seems essential to making art, learning how to look at things differently.
The method I employed seems a fairly standard one, although I endeavoured to draw more sketches in my sketch book. An interesting challenge I set was to draw a chair over and over again from multiple viewpoints over the same page. Whilst it looks a bit of a mess, I enjoyed it and will draw it again perhaps with a different material. This was a gradual process which employed a lot of thinking and research, more than my previous assignment. For this alone I am content with the progress I have made.
In terms of assessment criteria
- Demonstration of technical and visual skills
I still find it quite hard to evaluate my own skills, I can only say really that I think I am improving but am not yet at the standard that I hope to be.
- Quality of outcome
Whilst the quality is the best that I can do at this stage, I am relatively happy with the outcome but hope to continue to improve.
- Demonstration of creativity
Again, a subjective statement, this is an area I need to improve on. Whilst I am creating drawings I probably am not creative enough. I know that when I read other blogs I am often blown away by other peoples’ art work but I do read them often and try to absorb all the different techniques and materials that people use. This is a steep learning curve, I often have to google products I’m not familiar with but I am constantly learning because of it. I need to be more creative and apply this to my own work.
- Context reflection
I don’t really understand what this means but I am definitely learning through this process. It’s difficult because there is no right and wrong in the learning process but I do feel like I need more guidance so am happy to get my tutor’s feedback
- Newton, B.B. (2013) Pastel drawing: expert answers to the questions every artist asks. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s