Artist’s Statement

SUBJECT

‘Portraying Movement of the Human Figure whilst Preserving Some Realistic Detail’

I found Part 4 of this module the most engaging. As I approached the end of that part, I knew I wanted to use figures for assignment five. My most successful pieces in Part 4 were, in my opinion, the large charcoal figures . I really loved working on those drawings so I decided to do a similar exercise but try to incorporate some other aspect that I hadn’t worked through as well as I would have liked.

During my tutor feedback session for Part 4, Ilsa advised me to ‘not miss out on the experience’ of drawing moving figures in real time. This comment planted the idea of trying to capture movement.

I had previously been toying with ideas around ageing incorporating my own artwork I did as a teenager, or to perhaps see where working on a very large scale would take me, but neither idea truly grabbed me. When I later thought of combining my charcoal work with some kind of depiction of movement, my thoughts started running away from me and I had to grab pen and paper to catch them all!

ARTISTS

The research exercises of this course interest me greatly (even though I’m not very good at writing them up in a timely manner…). I come across many works that I instantly love, instantly hate, or that make me want to look at other works by the artist. As I view more and more work, I’m beginning to form a coherent impression of a context into which my own work may fit; a growing list of artists with whom I feel some affinity. This feeling bears closer inspection- I want to try to identify the element(s) that cause it. In some cases it is obvious to me, it will be, say, the use of negative space or the treatment of light and shadow. Other times it is much harder to discern; it might be a subtle quirk, or just gut feel.

MEDIA

Even though I am already certain I want to use charcoal for this piece, I’m considering mixed media depending on where my investigations lead me.

THEMES

I strongly feel that an absence of background is part of my ‘voice’. If it even occurs to me to consider adding background detail, it so rarely feels right to me to do so since it detracts from the subject. Therefore I’m fairly sure I will do this again.

I also have preferred my monochrome work in recent exercises. I appreciate that this is probably just a function of using charcoal but again I suspect that this piece will be in monochrome.

PLAN

Initial thoughts:

Areas to investigate:

  • Will just a lack of focus in some areas do it? Portray in water? Distortion?
  • How do other artists portray movement?
  • Lines, smudges, ‘potential energy’
  • Looking at other artists:

Karolina Szymkiewicz, Tom French, Scott Hutchison, Matthew Ritchie, Marcel Duchamp

PART 5 – Self Assessment

Part 1 – Form and Gesture

Looking back at my work in Part 1 I see evidence of how self-conscious and reserved I was about trying processes, but I can also see how much I was enjoying trying new media.

My tendency towards minimal or absent background was there from the start with the exercise to capture reflective surfaces for which I drew a stockpot and stove-top coffee pot [P1. Proj2, Ex4]. I am strongly drawn to other artists’ work which have the same, such as that of Christina Troufa and Wendy Artin. Having examined this preference over the past several months I now recognise it as a characteristic of my work. That is not to say that I won’t ever attempt to include background; I have found that it can be used as a device to augment the impact of a piece such as the line drawing of a seated figure in part 4 [AS4].

My reflection on my assignment piece for Part 1 was quite detailed but I was oblivious to the problems with the shadows, which is a shame because it is a successful piece otherwise with only a few minor things I would change. In retrospect, having focused subsequently on shadow under advice from Ilsa, those on the right hand side jump out at me straight away as being extremely inexpertly done, almost carelessly.

My ideas then of how I thought I should learn are interesting; I commented about not being experimental enough. This was influenced by seeing the varied work of my fellow students. I didn’t appreciate then that I should be following my own individual path, developing ideas that catch my attention and interest, not churning out a huge variety of work for the sake of volume. An example of this is working on different grounds; I have no interest whatsoever in drawing on unconventional grounds like newspaper. I’ve done it a few times when I liked the effect, such as my mixed media still life [P2. Proj2, Ex3], or it was relevant, such as the ‘sand’ under stones [P2. Proj1, Ex1] or green shadows and eyes in my final self-portrait [AS4].

Points I took from Ilsa’s report that I still apply now:

  • Shadows are complex. They require close attention and, to an extent, interpretation in order to be believable.
  • Relative tonal values. View the entire piece, not just the area you are working on. Reading back over this feedback, I better understand that the point being made about ‘average values’ refers to the piece on a macro level, then ‘working within’ these ranges refers to the next level of detail and that this establishes a strong framework from the start.

My response to the tutor feedback was thorough but showed I didn’t fully understand the points raised.

Part 2 – Intimacy

Investigations into composition and different media, particularly choosing the most suitable media for a particular subject were a very valuable and enjoyable experience. My studies and drawings of seeds, both the multimedia exercise and the line drawing were particularly successful, but the monochrome exercise was less so. The main learning from this was that larger scale requires a different discipline.

I’m still very pleased with my final assignment piece of a room interior [AS2]. During my tutor review, I couldn’t see the issue that Ilsa picked up about the sofa seats. In retrospect, having not looked at the drawing for several months, I can see that I didn’t quite capture the depth and that the seat cushion looks as if it is on the same plane as the back cushions. It is interesting that an amount of time away from a piece can give a fresh perspective upon review. I’m glad to find that I still really love the way I managed to portray the light through the curtain, and the unusual composition.

I very much enjoyed researching the Still Life genre, but really just for its own sake. I didn’t consciously try to adopt anything I found interesting into my own work. During the tutor review, Ilsa gave me guidance about making the research relevant to me rather than following the course instructions to the letter. I have done this in more recent months but still need to develop these skills further. I think I try to avoid emulating others’ styles but perhaps by purposely making my research more focused, I would pick up subtle influences that would change and refine my own work. I have started to isolate what I find interesting in others’ work such as negative space and the effects of light.

Part 3 – Expanse

Sketching trees for this exercise was, I think, the first time I have ever taken a sketchbook outside to draw.

The first place I sat was in the middle of a large grassy roundabout at the bottom of the hill I live on. The area is surrounded by mature woodland full of old oaks that have sections that no longer sprout leaves, creating interesting gaps in foliage. There is a tree like this by the roundabout that catches my eye when I drive past. Positioning myself there also helped me get over my self-consciousness at drawing in public. I had plenty of drivers staring at me sat in such a strange place- fortunately no crashes.

Producing sketches of trees was a great way to develop observational skills, and the ability to find a way to suggest the leaves rather than draw in detail. This learning process is clearly evidenced in my sketch of my cherry tree; very detailed leaves on the lower branches, and attempts at different types of marks other branches trying to find a ‘shorthand’ that works [P3. Proj1, Ex1]. In producing the sketches I found that it is the shape and texture of the trunk and branches that most catch my attention. I’m particularly drawn to oaks and birches for this reason.

My more detailed study was a 30 foot high birch tree on the farm where my husband and I rent a workshop. I was able to sit with a big board on a grassy track in the sunshine and really observe it well. I chose to use pen so that my marks would be more controlled – I find I tend to make much looser marks with pencil or graphite – in order to describe the bark more effectively. I drew the lower foliage in detail and simplified the other areas which helps achieve a sense of perspective. Capturing areas of shadow in the simplified areas was really satisfying. [P3. Proj1, Ex2]

I can see that throughout Part 3 I was exploring the media, choosing what I thought was most appropriate, and refining my methods to mitigate earlier issues, such as starting to use masking. I was also learning more about capturing light and coming to think of it almost as a ‘negative shadow’. I think if I were to choose to work on landscapes or townscapes I would still have to practice capturing necessary detail quickly to subsequently develop further. I tend to have to rely very heavily on memory for the atmosphere, and photographs for detail and composition. When I was able to spend longer, for example on the sketch of the harbour in Monte Carlo [P3. Proj5, Ex1], the result was quite successful. Working quickly and loosely was outside my ‘comfort zone’ at the time. I have found that this is essential in life drawing and my skills have improved in this regard during Part 4. I wonder if I would now be better at fast landscape sketches.

Clouds were a great subject with which to develop the use of media whilst strongly challenging observational skills. I can see that close appreciation of tonal values was the most important aspect to me, which I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. This was a challenge in the final piece and discussed with Ilsa in depth in order to better understand the reason behind the difficulty. We also discussed shadows again in the context of my final piece. I depicted them as flat and black – the town was in stark silhouette. Ilsa has since explained that this is a particular hazard of using photographs as a reference.

Part 4 – The figure and the head

See Reflection on Tutor Feedback for Assignment 4

————–

In the guidance for assignment five there is a note on the value and necessity of sketchbooks and how as technical skill develops so will critical capacity. The advice is to keep reviewing the sketchbooks and past work. In carrying out this self-assessment, I have found that this really is the case; I can understand earlier tutor feedback better now after just one year. I didn’t expect to see such clear evidence of personal development.

Reflection on Tutor Feedback for Assignment 4

I found this Hangout session incredibly motivating. I’m having a difficult time at work which has prevented me from spending the time and energy I want to on art recently. After enjoying the new experience of drawing from life and producing a good volume and quality of work that I found engaging and fulfilling in the first couple of months, I had convinced myself over the last several weeks that I had not achieved much in this part of the Drawing 1 module. Ilsa’s positivity and enthusiasm for my work is infectious and has been a tonic.

We talked about ‘vocabulary’ in an artwork in the context of my reluctance to include background detail in my work beyond perhaps a simple line. Ilsa made an interesting point by saying that this approach requires more care in a drawing than in a painting. Absence of any background in a painting seems deliberate, whilst in a drawing can simply make the piece appear unfinished. This is a useful distinction to bear in mind in future.

We discussed the artists and pieces I chose to include in my research points. I can appreciate that I need to more explicitly analyse my own responses to the work that catches my attention and consciously try carrying the intriguing elements into my own practice to see if I like the influence and impact. For example, I could try using no line at all in sketches, emulating Wendy Artin, or try to create images that are a ‘slow read’ like the digital portrait I couldn’t identify the source of.

The subject of shadows came up again. This time I better understood Ilsa’s guidance because of the context she used to explain it; when using a photograph to draw from, shadows appear flatter than in life because the source image is already two dimensional. In real life, our eyes adjust whilst looking into shadows and pick out contrasts that are not captured on film.

Other limitations of drawing from photographs is that the image is still and you have ‘slowed down’ to capture it so to deliver an image describing movement is very difficult. I will draw moving figures from life as advised in order to experience and appreciate the difference.

Ilsa also recommended that I do more drawings from imagination. I have some very large paper that I am itching to try- I think I’ll do some whole figures from imagination once I’ve installed my super-sized drawing board, hopefully this weekend.

I found Ilsa’s guidance on my unsuccessful final portrait particularly useful in helping me understand why it is still of value. Some of her phrases particularly struck a chord, such as “you were trying to make a mark without making a mark”, “it is better to go too far than not far enough”, and “don’t try to keep something you’ve already lost; use it as a learning tool”. I have a tendency, which I’m sure would be mitigated by doing more sketchbook study work, of always aiming for a ‘finished drawing’.

Thank you Ilsa, I still only have an embryonic idea about what I’m going to do for my final assignment piece but I’m much happier about it now!

ASSIGNMENT 4. Two figure studies and a self portrait

1. Line – Seated Model in an Upright Chair

A1, dipping pen and Chinese black ink

I’ve been looking more carefully at the way other artists use line to suggest shapes rather than drawing outlines. In order to achieve a variable line I used a dipping pen and ink rather than a drawing pen, which I have only ever used for writing. I found it incredibly satisfying to be able to use the same tool to variously describe different fabrics and also hard surfaces and shadows.

My first attempts at the model’s slippers were too loose for the effect I was aiming for. I remembered previous feedback about the need to be more considered when applying pen to paper, and tried a more controlled approach which works much better.

I used a photograph of my Mum taken during a fun evening with friends, we were taking panoramic pictures of everyone and playing with the effects we could create by moving whilst the picture was being taken (multiple limbs, fractured faces etc) and Mum was trying to find the feature on her phone and laughing.

I liked the slight foreshortening of her legs and the chair, and the strange angles of the door and hallway behind her; by paring those background areas down to simple ‘cartoon-like’ lines, I thought I could put all of the viewer’s focus onto her and in turn follow her focus into the phone (it could mistakenly be seen as a comment on people’s obsessions with phones to the detriment of their experience of real life, but that isn’t the intention here). I think this worked well.

I didn’t manage to capture her laughter, a disadvantage of working in ink- you only get one chance! Lesson learned from this is to draw the most important thing first, not last.

I’m pleased with the portrayal of the different fabrics, especially the checked blouse, and I’m satisfied that I have created the impression of weight and volume of the figure. The shadows were interesting as there were several light sources around the room.

2. Tone – Reclining Model

A1, compressed charcoal

I enjoyed doing the tonal study of the standing figure with willow charcoal so wanted to do something similar on a larger scale. I bought some big blocks of tinted compressed charcoal and have been intending to use them for this piece all along. Again, unfortunately I don’t have access to a live model to hold a pose for long enough so I used an image from http://www.posespace.com which had a strong light source producing a full range of tones.

The finished piece captures volume. The sepia tones and absence of background, along with the pose, give a feeling of vulnerability. I’m pleased with the skin tones and the hair works well. The shadows under the torso are nowhere near deep enough.

3. Self Portrait

I used a photograph of myself in bright sunlight for this piece. I chose the green paper so that I could use it to augment shadows and leave it untouched for the eyes (I have green eyes that are quite vivid in bright light when my pupils contract).

It is a fairly good likeness of me, but as I worked on it, somehow the eyes became slightly too far apart. I almost wish I had stopped after this first image, which I like far better than the (overworked) finished portrait. Putting the darker tones in diminishes the contribution of the green ground and takes some of the life away…. I’m quite disappointed with it.

PART 4. Project 6, Exercise 3, Portrait from Memory or the Imagination

I’m a big fan of the Detective Thorne series of books by Mark Billingham. This author deliberately does not describe his protagonist’s physical appearance and is interested to hear the different mental images that readers have of him.

This exercise was a lot harder than I expected it to be. I have quite a clear picture of what I think the character looks like – serious, focused, with heavy features and dark curly hair – but haven’t managed to quite capture it on the page.

https://uk.markbillingham.com/tom-thorne/a-man-without-a-face

PART 4. Research Point 6, Self Portraits

(STILL IN PROGRESS)

Rembrandt van Rijn

One of history’s more prolific self-portraitists, Rembrandt painted around 100 self-portraits throughout his life in various media. This is one of the earlier ones, showing the artist in his early twenties (http://collection.imamuseum.org). He is already beginning to experiment unconventionally with expression, also seen in ‘Self-Portrait in a Cap, Open-Mouthed’ 1630 below.

Compared to other work at time (Picasso)

Symbolism (Frieda Kahlo)

Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year….. diff styles of winners and others who stood out. Pick up those who applied more than once and see how they changed?

PART 4. Project 6, Exercise 2, My Own Head

5 minute sketches to find a pose

Leaning on hand to distort features… not sure I could maintain the pose and draw!

Sideways view from drawing position is interesting and practical, even if it results in an extra chin!

A2, 8B graphite stick on found “leather”-textured paper.

Quite happy with this, I struggled a bit with the furthest away side of the face where it meets the hair in the background, these tones are too dark and give the appearance of a deliberate outline drawn around the forehead. The textured paper caused an issue around the tip of the nose when it caught and pulled my graphite stick to the left. A bit Pinnochio-like, but I didn’t want to risk smudging the picture by trying to lift it off with putty or an eraser. I do have prominent cheekbones with relatively dark shadow underneath, but I could have been more subtle with the treatment of that. Otherwise I achieved a good likeness.

I hadn’t used colour for a while so decided to use soft pastels for the second image and went smaller, back to 30cm x 30cm. I wanted another try at the receding side of the face so I sat up straighter and used a similar pose.

I showed my inexperience with the medium and approached the piece as I would a painting, laying down shadows first. I then learned that the pale pastels are not strong enough to sit over them to the extent I assumed they would. However, I still quite like the effect and the finished drawing is quite ‘painterly’.

I’m really pleased with the nearest eye; it is exactly as I see myself. Unfortunately, the receding side of the face is even less successful this time than in the graphite drawing, not least because the eye is too high (my right eye is higher than my left) . The nose is right this time, but the mouth is too small even after I made it bigger once, giving a slightly mean expression. Apart from the nearest eye and cheek, and the nose, this isn’t as good a likeness as the graphite drawing.

 

I decided to try again with the pastels and not lay shadows down first. I also went back up to A2 size. The skin tones were more realistic but the furthest side of the face is even worse this time, and the piece has a cartoon quality. Irritating. Finishing the hair seemed pointless. I have written in my OCA folder on the assignment piece page – “eye levels!!”

PART 4. Project 5, Exercise 2, Groups of Figures

This is from a photo I took at the Goodwood Revival of people swing dancing. The day was sunny so the marquee was bright and colourful. I’m a bit disappointed with this outcome as the bright colours give a cartoon feel to it. Also, a characteristic of this dancing is that the men dance on light feet with bent legs. The proportions of the left-most man are not right, and that suggests that all the figures have too-short legs! Frustrating. In isolation, I’m pleased with the couple in the foreground as I think I’ve captured their easy interaction and movement.

This is from an old picture of one of my favourite bands. The figures gel as a group and I think I’ve captured the atmosphere of a small music venue, but again it feels a bit cartoonish.