Drawing Fabric Using Line and Tone

I was quite relieved to change subject matter after a prolonged part three that raised mixed emotions that I am still battling.

The first drawing I used pencil, 2B, to attempt to capture the folds of a tablecloth.

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15 minute sketch in 2B pencil

It was difficult to just use line, although that was what I did. Not a bad attempt, I got a little lost in some of the folds which I found confusing and hard to follow, I tried to capture  too much in fifteen minutes and would have been better to concentrate on fewer folds perhaps. I need to simplify somethings as I am battling to draw everything I see.

For the second sketch, I used conté stick and I was allowed to shade this time.

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15 minute conté sketch

This was more successful but I confess I did try to simplify the folds a little as the first one was a little complex. It was easier to use tone to define the folds than just line.

I then spent about half an hour drawing six different versions using the 8cm square boxes and different materials.

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5 minute sketches in assorted media

Working from top left to right, I used 2B pencil, then vine charcoal. Middle row conté stick then soluble graphite. Bottom row graphite stick and brush pen. I quite enjoy drawing fabric, and like the conté stick and charcoal but perhaps the most surprising outcomes were the brush pen. I have been somewhat fearful of drawing with ink and had varied results but was satisfied with this outcome. I had to work on using line more and be careful not to make errors. I also enjoyed the soluble graphite. Using the different media was good for me and I should do this more.

I think I have managed to create volume in the folds of the fabric, although I used the same tablecloth throughout. I have enjoyed drawing textured things in previous exercises and assignment two so I don’t find this too difficult, rather the opposite.

UPDATED:

I don’t feel happy with my recent work and decided to take another look at it and was disappointed with it. I feel I can do better but have lost some motivation. I’m genuinely not sure if the format of this course is pushing me enough, I suspect I would learn better in a classroom situation.

I decided to work into the conte drawing some more and so this is the newer version. I find it hard to finish the drawings to my satisfaction in the limited time. Yes, I could spend hours on them but that leads to frustration about how long it takes to get through them and obviously means less time for the assignments. I prefer to give myself longer on the assignments which may mean that the exercises suffer sometimes but that’s the dilemma.

Anyway, here is my updated version

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updated version

One of my problems is probably being too literal in interepreting the exercises and rigidly adhering to instructions, I need to work on that.

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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

Monochrome

By the time I got to this point, I was racking my brain for new ideas of what to draw. I find myself scrutinising fruit and vegetables at the supermarket, and randomly buying stuff! As kiwis were on offer, I tried them with last week’s coconut, arranging them in a two-tone wooden bowl but there wasn’t enough contrast in the colour and the texture. The tones were too similar and a bit blah. Finally I plumped for aubergines as I liked the deep colour and shininess of the skin. I then spent some time searching the house and rummaging through cupboards looking for an interesting dish, turns out my crockery is disappointingly dull! Eventually I discovered a  Moorish dish from Spain that was blue but I thought the tones might work well with the purpley-blue fruit.

Dutifully I sketched it, even though I have realised most of my preparation, and thus decision process, is done in my head! I always read the exercise the night before and spend a lot of time thinking. I know I am supposed to be drawing all options down in my sketchbooks but I think my brain works differently, I am trying though!

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aubergines sketch

I wanted an interesting composition so I moved the dish around and decided to place it on a square background as I could see the geometric shapes and liked the combination of triangles and rectangles.

Although I have been trying to use different materials, I do enjoy working with charcoal so tried out a compressed charcoal set of grays that I like. If it didn’t work my back-up plan was going to be coloured or watercolour pencils.

I wanted to draw this from above which meant finding a lower surface level, in thie case a chair. Usually everything goes on the table, but this a different perspective, looking down onto the dish, and it meant I could move the chair closer to the window so the light was stronger. The whole chair was too big to get in, and the chair wasn’t particularly exciting, only in the way the forms cut across the viewer’s perspective, and the lines create different angles which was much more interesting. The perspective would be challenging but I didn’t worry too much, as I didn’t  think being super precise was that important.

The light was lovely on the aubergines, even though they are starting to shrivel a little, they were very reflective and mirrored some of the pattern from the plate. I found drawing the actual plate difficult, perhaps because the pattern was distracting, and I had to remember to add tone to give it solidity.

As I uploaded this onto the computer, I realised it didn’t look finished so I reworked into it.

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aubergines on a patterned plate in compressed charcoal

The most successful part of this is the aubergines, they look shiny and smooth against the patterned dish. Clearly the perspective is a little off so I need to work on that (I think this coming up in a later chapter so won’t worry too much about that now.) I like the different directions of the marks, in contrast with others. The chair and dish don’t work so well but they do work as a contrast to the aubergines and the dish, the aubergines are clearly the main attraction here.

Experiment with Mixed Media

I was looking forward to this exercise as it was so different from the previous ones, and I had no real expectations. I think also I was feeling challenged and a little frustrated with the previous two colour exercises.

I prepared a couple of sheets using a mixture of acrylic paints; green, white and bronze. I really just brushed them on, spraying a little water onto the mixture. It came out a bit dark so perhaps it would have been better to do more of a lighter wash because I really had to work in a lot of colour to make any visible marks.

My approach for this exercise was that, not knowing much about mixed media, not to think too much beforehand and just go with whatever happened. As I watched my paper curling rapidly I realised my first mistake, I should have used a heavier weight paper.

Being conscious of not getting enough depth into previous works, I spent longer getting the composition right, using more objects and moved them around a lot. I’m kind of impatient but was able to quickly find a composition that I liked.

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quick pencil sketch

I sketched onto the paint using soft graphite sticks then decided to use some decoupage paper for a collage effect, to represent two of the bottles; this paper is really light and easy to tear and also easy to draw over. Next I used wax crayons but they didn’t really show up well so I used some marker pens instead, these were strong enough to show through and I had to be quite definite and bold in my marks, primarily to show up against the dark paint. There was a real sense of layering with this picture, probably because I had to do it in stages for the paint and glue to dry and the marker pen seemed to fade so there was a lot of going over. I also used some metallic marker pens for highlights and some coloured compressed charcoal.

This was hugely enjoyable and I am very happy with the outcome, perhaps because I haven’t produced anything like this before. The drawing style was quite bold and definite for me, I had to be bolder and stronger in style so that it would show up. It feels more complete than some of my other work so maybe I am developing this sense of knowing when to keep working into the drawing more. I do hope so as I’ve struggled with knowing when to stop, when to go back and rework something.

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Mixed media

Seeing it on the computer screen, I am very happy with the palette, considering I had to work with what media worked over the dark paint, I think the limited palette works well. One of the difficulties was working over different papers and textures,  as some had different absorbency. I did consider cutting the decoupage paper from the coconut and pomegranate but decided it would look too clean, and I rather  like the overlap and the different textures. There was a lot of decisions to make, especially as it felt experimental in nature, I wasn’t sure what would work or not, but it was quite liberating having no rules to follow, other than my choice to keep everything water based as I thought that would be easiest for my first attempt. In conclusion, a very enjoyable exercise, which surprised me.

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.