Developing Your Studies

Reading the introduction to project 3 was a light bulb moment, precisely why I have found landscape so challenging is because I have been overwhelmed with information! Every time I draw outside I am struggling to condense what I see into the limitations of what I can draw on a piece of paper. Putting this into words has helped me, no wonder my brain felt like it was going to explode, it was in sensory overdrive. Photographing scenes and looking at them on screen, and going back and looking at the original scene has helped, as has using a viewfinder.

I’m not exactly sure what I am going to draw in a larger drawing, based on the drawings from project two so, at this point, it seems to make sense to select elements of the ones that appeal to me.

Even though the cloud formations were difficult to draw, I really like clouds so clouds should form a part of my drawing. To recap, here are my three drawings:

From the sketchbook walk:

360° studies:

 

Considering composition, I like the sketches with the paths although the bench is interesting because of the diagonals, the plant pots on the patio are also interesting for the same reason. There are problems distinguishing background, foreground and middle ground so I need to work more carefully. I would say that I haven’t quite found the right composition yet, I need to consider verticals, horizontals and diagonals. Leading the eye around needs consideration.

I feel like I have drawn a lot of trees, which is fine, that has been enjoyable but at the moment I don’t think have found what I am looking for. I think I need to go and look at more open landscapes, perhaps a visit to the seaside is in order, next time there is a dry day. Perhaps also some mountains. Just so that I can compare with the closed landscape I have drawn so far.

In conclusion I need to consider different subject matter, perhaps the coast and/or mountains. Also, I feel the need to draw a more simplified drawing; I can be quite heavy on the mark making and it feels like a good time to experiment with a more minimal approach, perhaps even verging on the abstract, that would be an interesting exercise.

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Cloud Formations and Tone

By now, I should be getting used to the fact that the exercises are often harder to execute than I imagine. I have been waiting weeks for the white, uniform clouds to move on and to see some variation happening in the skies above. On a positive note, I have been observing the sky more than I normally would, and noting how fast the clouds move on windy days and how they hardly seem to budge at all when calm and still.

I have ended up drawing from photographs as I couldn’t wait any longer for the weather to change.

The first one is drawn in soft pastels, which are becoming my favourite thing to use, I like things I can stick my fingers in, and move around. I tried using a brush but it didn’t really work well, I think because it is too hard.

This was a real case of layering in chunky strips of colours in blues, whites, and grays, then rubbing in softly with my fingers and then more finer, sharper layers for more details. I was thinking of Vija Celmins, thinking of how long she must spend creating her intricate works, and I’m just trying to recreate a semblance of clouds.

After I finished I sprayed it with hair spray, which has made it rather grey, which I don’t like but I think it has added some texture, which I do like. A few people had recommended using hairspray as a fixative but personally I won’t be using hairspray again.

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clouds in soft pastels

I spotted a dramatic cloud photo on Facebook so I decided to attempt a version in oil pastels, which I am still learning to use. They are somewhat tricky and I used my fingers again, and the hard brush. I’m not sure about the end result if I’m being honest but here it is anyway.

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clouds in oil pastel

This was not very successful. I found myself really laying the oil pastels on thick so I could manipulate them and blend them but I may have reached the point of resistance! This is often a problem for me, I need to learn when to stop and pull back. Using a wet wipe to remove some of the pigment worked somewhat but I find this overworked.

For my final cloud I chose compressed charcoal which seemed the perfect medium for an overcast day. My approach this time was rather like an underpainting with the darkest points marked in first, then adding medium grey and white for the highlight. I blended it in and ended up with this:

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clouds in compressed charcoal

As soon as I saw this uploaded, I decided I wasn’t convinced it was finished so I added a layer of white slanted lines, that looked like this:

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clouds in compressed charcoal version 2

I quite like this effect but it looks like rain, and it wasn’t raining. Although I think the diagonal lines add some movement, the clouds still don’t have enough weight to them.

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clouds in compressed charcoal version 3

I blended in some more and am left with an amorphous tone, which lacks definition.

Finally, I worked into this some more.

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final version of clouds in compressed charcoal

I don’t think I can do any  more on these clouds. I’m not fully convinced by them so have decided to stop anyway. I think I have to settle for these.

From a distance some of these images seem to work well, especially the first two attempts. My conclusion is that clouds are very challenging to capture well.

Study of Several Trees

After a couple of false starts, due to the weather, I ventured into the garden and quickly sketched a couple of options:

Yep, they were pretty bad and I suddenly felt quite overwhelmed with this and did not know where to begin. There are a lot of trees around my house and in surrounding fields but they all seem to blend into one. Not sure how to proceed, I took a couple of photos to help me choose an area to focus on. I pulled an image up onto the computer and decided to have a go, not feeling very hopeful about it, just as the clouds rolled in and the rain started. I felt like I had nothing to lose but draw straight from the photograph and I wasn’t feeling very hopeful.

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It was hard to know where the start but I went with the contrast between light and shade, using chalk pastels because I really did not know how to draw leaves. Pastel is perfect for landscape and if you don’t want to draw fine details, which I was keen to avoid.

I have spent a few hours on this, and I’m not sure if I’m completely happy with it but I felt the need to stop, possibly having gone too far now!

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trees in chalk pastel

To distinguish the trees I smudged the ones in the background, to make them look less distinct and darker, and hopefully fade somewhat, whilst the two at the front were lighter and show more detail, and are not as blurry.

To show the mass of foliage I really just went for large areas of colour. showing the small bits of sky that poked through some of the branches.

I used yellows and white to show where the light was hitting the trees, as there are a few trees, and they’re quite tall, there was a clear view of sunlight on the two trees in the foreground.

I have definitely simplified the leaves as there is such a lot of foliage going on, the trees are close together and leaves are overlapping. I have almost obliterated the garage as I thought it would be too distracting so kept it dark to blend into the background.

In future, I need to not panic when drawing outside, trees are a very new subject and I probably need to use the view finder and get more comfortable.

Assignment Two

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

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chair in chalk 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.

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chair with throw in chalk pastels

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

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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.

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chair with throw and pineapple in chalk pastels

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.

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chair with throw and pineapple in chalk pastels

 

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

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final version of chair with throw and pineapple in chalk pastels

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

Footnotes

  1. Newton, B.B. (2013) Pastel drawing: expert answers to the questions every artist asks. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s

Still Life in Tone Using Colour

Of course I knew colour was coming soon and at first I was excited to play around with it but then I was apprehensive. Partly this is due to getting used to handling new media and not really having a clue but also, after a few sketches, I was generally unimpressed with my efforts. I’m not sure if there is a mental block that I need to overcome but this week has been a challenging one.

I decided to start with oil pastels as I could sweep them across the page in broad strokes of colour as directed. For a change, I elevated my still life arrangement and placed them on a box for a slightly different view. The oil pastels were not enjoyable to use, they felt hard and sticky, not smooth as I had imagined. I struggled with them for a while, then googled how to use them and tried using my fingers to move the pigment around a bit, which had a very limited success. Sadly, although I worked fast and spontaneous as instructed, I thought the end result was rather childlike.

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Oil pastels

Feeling a bit discontented, I reverted to compressed charcoals, and drew on black sugar paper as I felt I needed to locate myself again, trying to get shapes and tone correct.

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compressed charcoal

Working fast and loosely, I think these shapes are more convincing and I’m happy that I made a range of different marks, this is something I need to expand on but it’s not coming naturally. The proportions are not quite right but I decided speed was more important. I changed the arrangement and made sure the tea spout was not getting lost in the carafe.

Next, I tried conté sticks, trying to keep it fast and free. After doing this one, I re-read the exercise and felt like I wasn’t really happy with the results. Felt a little frustrated but figured I just needed to keep trying.

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conte sticks

The next day I decided I would quickly rework the two drawings before I tried something else, making sure not to spend too much time on them.

This is the reworked oil pastel

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reworked oil pastels

I don’t think I’m ever going to love this but am happier with the tea pot and the carafe. Now that I’ve photographed and uploaded this, I don’t think the jug works, but I think the shapes are more solid than before.

I definitely had problems with the restrictions of the media, I really wanted to get a brush and some turps and work into it, but then it would be a painting no? As I have a tendency to spend too long working detail into drawing and sketching, I was determined not to spend hours over it thus overworking it. I’ve only achieved a very limited amount of depth, purely by placing the carafe at the back.

Being restricted to line makes it seem quite stiff and artificial, obviously the colours contribute to that too but that seems to be the point of the exercise, it doesn’t say to represent the colours realistically. I found the example by Michael Coombes to be misleading, as it doesn’t seem messy and spontaneous to me and has clearly used many different colours.

The use of colour at first distracted me but I don’t think it adds anything to this drawing.

I also reworked the conté stick drawing

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reworked conte sticks

Finally an improvement, this time I am happier with the jug and the carafe, they look more solidly in place and appear to exist as real objects, more so than the previous drawing. Once I added the edge of the table, and more contrast there seems to be a better sense of depth. Again, the proportions are slightly off but I was trying to be fast and not overdo it.  I think the line works better, the curved shapes in the carafe give it more definition and in the jug, the teapot seems to be standing upright so the effects have worked somewhat.

Having reviewed this again, I’m still not sure I have successfully completed this exercise, especially when viewing the example by Michael Coombs. It seems to me that his drawing is not a fast sketch but rather a detailed drawing that uses many different colours rather than the three we were asked to use. The example given is not messy and energetic but rather controlled and, I’m guessing probably took a long time to complete.

As I was feeling unsure about this exercise I did it again! This time with a lovely set of Unison soft pastels, they are thick and chunky and glide over the paper leaving a lot of colour behind.

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soft pastels

It’s far from perfect but it is messy, and has sweeps of colour. I couldn’t really put any more pigment over it, it is so thick already but I changed the direction of my marks to add solidity and definition in the background. I can see I need to work on tone, but this was quite a restrictive exercise, only using 3 colours, but the colour does add something expressive. I feel like there is some emotion now, it’s a happy drawing of a sunny jug of flowers, it was sunny when I drew it. It was hard to add more depth, although I did try, the pastels are so chunky and it was hard to add a lot of contrast. I kept the composition very simple as I knew it would be very difficult to draw a lot of detail with the chunky pastels and I would argue that this adds to the jovial mood.

Using colour was most definitely challenging, at one point I wavered and reverted back to black and white as I felt a bit lost. I do find the black and white drawings useful to place everything on the page, and when deciding on the composition too. I wouldn’t say I was completely comfortable using colour yet, there is a long road ahead.