Research Point – Odilon Redon, Two Trees c.1875

If only we could all manage to convey so much feeling in our work as Redon does here, the clever contrast between the dark shadows and brightly lit trees focus our attention, giving the trees a vitality that is almost human-like. The use of chiaroscuro focuses the eye on the parts you might normally skip, forcing you to look at the detail of the varied marks used. It is evocative, expressive and almost emotional, the left tree leans into the right tree, rather like two people meeting for a private conversation.

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Redon was a French symbolist painter, printmake, draughtsman and pastellist, with a clear love of detail, even in the small details of the flowers and the darkest areas.

Around this time he made many other works of art, including this Angel in Chains, very colourful but still with the powerful contrast of light and dark

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A few years earlier in 1872 he drew Fallen Angel, again with the same focus on the interplay between light and dark, he understood the dramatic element it added.fallen-angel-1872

It is clear to see the influence of Rodolphe Bresdin on his work, his master and teacher who was himself interested in depicting nature and its intricate details.39

Clifford Ackley, chairman of the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, called Redon ‘the father of modern art, coming of age with the onset of the French Symbolist poetry movement of the 1860s, he sprung more from literature than the visual arts, eventually having a huge impact on surrealism.’ His other works depict a surreal world of impossible landscapes, strange creatures and demons.

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He was a close friend of Les Nabis, the prophets or symbolists, who believed in the idea that colour and shape could represent experience. He was influence by Rembrandt and his chiaroscuro technique and also  by his many years of working in monochrome. It taught him the importance of tone.ophelia

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Shadows and Reflected Light

photo-19-01-2017-10-09-55This was the first drawing in many months so I am somewhat content that I am just getting back into the swing of things. Having had surgery on my finger in December I am finding it challenging, not to mention painful, to draw again. Sketching is probably good exercise so I am endeavouring to get things flowing again.

Whilst I always read and re-read the directions, I am often plagued with self-doubt, asking myself am I doing what is required from the exercise. I do start off following the advice but then seem to end up doing my own thing. My first thought is always to notice where I’ve gone wrong in proportion, size, the composition feels a bit cramped here. Not a bad first attempt to represent reflections and shadows but decided to keep working on it.

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I wanted to get a bit more space and softer although I actually prefer the first drawing as I think this now lacks definition and the shadows are unconvincing. Am still struggling with a stiff finger so the tea-pot looks a little off.I also changed the bowl for a jar for a change.

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conte sticks

My third and final attempt, I wanted to use something other than charcoal which seems to be my go-to tool, so I chose conte sticks, grey, white and black. I swapped the objects again, and enjoyed drawing the jug. My accuracy is still lacking but am pleased with the reflections although the shadows are not very convincing. More practice required!

 

Creating Shadow using Lines and Marks

Using a variety of drawing tools; mechanical pencil, biro, pigment liner and, being brave, dip pen and ink, I focused on two shapes, rectangle and sphere.

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Sketching Exercise in Tone

After this I did a selection of shapes using different techniques. Here’s a selection:

I found elements of this difficult so spent time on it using different techniques and tools, it was enjoyable and relaxing although I found afterwards I had misread it and had to start again. Nevertheless I was glad I had the patience to practice, especially the stippling as, although laborious I think it gave a good effect, in fact I was surprised by the effects produced using scribbling. Perhaps my favourite was the pen and ink, again challenging but good practice, using just ‘w’ shapes. I don’t think I am ever fully satisfied with the result when it comes to reflecting on them, I spot mistakes or areas I could have worked better but this is learning!

My final drawing of 4 objects was done quite quickly in pencil, mainly because I work faster this way. Distinguishing between light from the primary source and the reflected light was at first challenging but depended a lot on the materials. I found using a small desk lamp useful. I think I have always struggled with depicting tone but two key pieces of information have helped: there should be four distinct grades of tone and that shadow will always be the darkest point. From now on I will look closer at tone and try harder to demonstrate it. In future drawings I will be more conscious of tone affecting my depiction of form, I think I am more aware of it now.

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Observing Shadow Using Blocks of Tone

I’ve been reading Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis and decided to start off with an apple and an egg (page 67).

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For my first attempt I was fairly satisfied with this although I can see now that it is not well finished. I started using a chunky piece of charcoal but eventually swapped it for a finer one. Funny how when you take a photo you can see what you couldn’t see on the page, I must try taking photos and viewing them this way whilst working, it was helpful. The egg was, of course, difficult to render and again, lighting is a bit of an issue.

My next attempt also involved two eggs, not surprisingly they are proving difficult to master. I figured though this is good practice so I kept at it. I’ve been using coloured sugar paper as I think it’s not a bad medium to work with, for some reason A1 paper seems hard to acquire.

photo-17-10-2016-09-54-46I was having problems with my eggs so ventured onto YouTube and watched somebody else draw one, I did learn something so would recommend watching others practice art this way. One tip I learnt was that the shadow should be the darkest point, not the egg, which makes sense. I decided another attempt was going to be the one to crack this.

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My some miracle I bought some A1 paper, turns out this did not work well with charcoal, there is not enough tooth in it so blending and erasing was a bit of a nightmare.  Came back to it later in the day but of course the light had changed and so did the shadows. There is still room for improvement, the lines are too hard and need to be softer, that’s partly down to materials but also user error but I think progress was made.

Groups of Objects

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After selecting my household objects, I did a quick blind contour sketch,before attempting to get the shapes correct.  Whilst I was happy enough with the arrangement I knew immediately that the bowl would be a problem so I spent some time practicing ellipses.

The above image is my first attempt and was a fairly quick capture. I spent more time on the following piece:

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There were a few problems to overcome; drawing on a large scale, working on the positions of the items and how they relate to each other, proportions and negative space. Lettering was difficult so chose not to focus on that today. The black granola box turned out to be a bad choice because it was hard to see the difference in tone, it was too solid. Lighting was also a problem, it’s not particularly well lit where I am working, some of that is seasonal, but will have to rig up extra lighting in future, as it was difficult to see all of the shadows.

There was a lot of editing, erasing and redrawing to get everything more or less in the right place, which I did fully achieve. Next time I will place a white sheet underneath to improve shadows and perhaps add a table light. Whilst trying to capture the weight, shine,transparency etc, have I been too rigid? Is this loose enough? I suspect not.Have I evoked some kind of expression in the marks and the relationships created inside and around the edges of the forms and the picture plane?? Whilst I have tried to add expressive marks, I’m pretty sure I have failed this exercise. I think I will need to reconsider this drawing.

Experimenting with Texture

The marks at the top left are where I tried the frottage technique; as you can see, it didn’t work out very well. I found this quite challenging, using pencil first then charcoal. The pencil was perhaps the better tool as it was hard to be precise with the charcoal and it kept smudging. I soon found myself to be very impatient and kept losing my place so it’s not especially accurate. I tried charcoal pencils and afterwards came back to it with a mechanical pencil which ended up being my favourite material.

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woven drink mat

Whilst the frottage worked better (top left), drawing with charcoal was quite tricky so switched to pencil. Again, I got lost in the intricacies of the pattern and was struggling.Again, I came back to it with the mechanical pencil and used a different technique, which I can only describe as ‘liney drawing’, making faster marks, perhaps more gestural strokes, not sure of the terminology here but I preferred this technique and think I was more successful in representing the texture.

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wooden table

I chose wood next, thinking this would be simpler after the place mat, using just a HB pencil. It was easier but not sure if I captured the wooden texture.

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leaf from my garden

Finally, I chose a leaf. The frottage worked better but not convinced with my interpretation. The next day I reread the exercise and wasn’t satisfied that I had followed the instructions correctly. I added some wavy and curved lines to my work and I can see how this works well in some areas.I think I failed with the leaf and the wood but managed to convey the texture somewhat in the mats.photo-17-10-2016-11-34-16

Experimenting with Expressive Lines and Marks

CALM

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Calm, clockwise from top left, charcoal, oil pastel, sepia ink and chalk pastel

At first I was frustrated that the compressed charcoal didn’t respond well so I switched to willow charcoal which is softer, meaning I didn’t need to press as hard, (trying to stay calm!). Using long, relaxing strokes, which were curved at first but the straight lines won over. I certainly felt calmer by the end of this exercise.

Choosing Cobalt blue oil pastel, lines became straighter, slight gradient in colour, darker at the bottom, afterwards the phrase “still waters run deep” came to mind, bringing to mind a calm sea.

Used Sepia Ink with a 1 inch brush and twigs. I confess I have never used ink before so this was interesting. These started to look like feathers, by the end they reminded me of peacocks. Most surprising, and unexpected, was the twig gave a feathery effect which was rather pleasing. This looks rather heavy-handed, due to my inexperience with ink.

Light Gray chalk pastel was trickier, not being experienced in pastels so not sure I quite achieved the look I had in mind but the resulting effect reminds me of ripples in the water. It came out darker than I liked so need to learn  how to use pastels so conclusion is more practice required.

In conclusion, I think I can safely say that I enjoy nature, especially the sea, picture the gentle lapping of the waves perhaps with some birds flying overhead. This also lead me to read about pastels and ink in The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer. Turns out sepia ink is better known as writing ink. I also learnt that pastel  “is one of the simplest and purest, being a method of painting with pure color without medium.”

JOY

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Joy, clockwise from top left, charcoal, oil pastel, sepia ink and conté stick

After listening to some happy music to get into the right frame of mind, I had some fun and felt happy doing this. The willow charcoal felt light in my fingers, the oil pastel was a happy, joyful colour using curves and squiggles. Bought some conté sticks so gave them their first outing, found them to be a little easier to use than chalk pastel. Still finding sepia ink tricky, you can’t remove it from the paper so need to be more careful applying it. Overall the last two images made me think of fireworks and champagne popping, the ultimate celebration.

ANGER

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Anger, clockwise from top left, charcoal, oil pastel, sepia ink and conté stick

Was a bit trickier trying to feel anger but I think I got there in the end. I love the willow charcoal, it’s so smooth it glides over the page, used longer, harder strokes to achieve this. With the oil pastel, I used such hard strokes I broke it! Happily this was a stroke of luck and used the smaller piece in its side to make lighter tones, a happy accident.

Still finding the ink to be quite unforgiving so there is not much difference in tone, would have liked to get more variation.

The conté stick was fun, I liked the effect, looking a little like Sumi-e brush paintings. I felt quite angry now, too angry to elaborate and didn’t feel the need to express myself any further. I liked the gradient effect.

Looking back on these now, I’m being reminded of long grass and foliage,  which makes me think of Henri Rousseau’s foliage, with its thick foliage in the foreground.

HOPE

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Hope, clockwise from top left, charcoal, oil pastel, sepia ink and conte stick

Because I was feeling quite positive and hopeful I chose Joy as my final emotion, this exercise, which had intimidated me at first, made me happier and relaxed towards the end.

I used willow charcoal in simple, curved expressive lines that represent joy to me.

This time, using the oil pastel, it occurred to me to try blending to soften the effect.

By far the hardest material to use was the sepia ink but I persevered, trying to keep it simple, however I’m still not satisfied with the result.

Using the conté stick, I thought this was a tree with branches, I’m going to guess this is me, trying to grow. Some of the images look like branches so nature has found its way into my work again.

Initially I did find this task hard to complete, I kept putting it off, finding reasons not to do it, the paper wasn’t right, I didn’t have the right tools etc but, in the end, I just went for it and found it a release. In conclusion, I have much to learn but need to have the confidence to just do it.