very strict art class

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A2, white conte crayon on black paper

My last monochrome exercise in my weekly art class. Next week I get to use colour!

This done from a photograph with the added challenge of adjusting the light values of the original photo – rather like with the previous cow exercise – I’m learning to add something, to make the subject my own.

I’ve learnt a great deal in these strict art classes and if I look back at my first exercises eight months ago I can see how much confidence I’ve gained. Initially my marks were tentative, regular, they weren’t saying much.  I’m more free now (though still have some way to go!) and able to put more emotion in to those marks. Even within this one drawing I can see the difference between the tentative first marks and the ones made in the past 30 minutes of drawing.

Specifically I learnt:

  • don’t be tempted to assume that leaving areas black will give more atmosphere – when I added the gentlest of marks in to the black it created more interest – there IS something going on in that dense shadow.

 

  • don’t be tempted to do a perfect drawing before getting going with the tonal work – this is more about ‘sculpting’ an image out of the black – and that’s where the joy comes too. I was surprised at how much easier this was that I was expecting – and how little I used a rubber – I think just once to get rid of an early line of placement.

 

 

 

reflection at end of part four

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My main reflection at the end of part four is that I am freaked out to be at part five.

Like many I have plenty of reasons for not having the time I had hoped to spend on the course, but what bothers me more is the guilt I feel when I do skulk off to ‘do my art’. Once I get going of course I’m lost, but the getting going is too often held back by the guilt.

Aside from the guilt trips and the freaking out, there have been moments of joy in part four. Mostly from feet and finally understanding the surprising mass of them, the height of the arch and the width of the ankle.  Also the sense of a growing connection between hand, body and eye. The hand I am drawing with feels as if it is on the body as I draw, as if the body itself is imprinting the graphite on the paper.  That all sounds rather fluid and instinctive. I hope one day it is, but for now it is less smooth of a ride and more a continuous state of manically checking and re-checking angles, measurements, proportions.

I’ve begun to get a sense of the freedom that can come from being able to quickly capture a form with accuracy – I’m nowhere near this of course, but I can see how important it is to have the basics in place. Artists may abstract the body, distort it or simply suggest it, but it is seems to be always underpinned with a sureness of anatomical line.

Looking specifically at the criteria:

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I’ve gone from drawing bodies with uncertain calves, dislocated shoulders and no feet to bodies that actually look as if they could carry out most of the basic physical functions so yes, I’m happy with my observational skills in this part.

Still I question my use of materials and technical skills. In this part I used conte crayons, inks, water-soluble pencils, chalk, graphite, charcoal and different colour paper. But there is more than this – I see other students investigating collage and bleach and using found paper – and I know I am lacking in this. It just never seems to fit with what I am doing, or aiming for, at the time. Note to self: maybe don’t be so earnest? try to play more…

Still battling with composition. In this part I had less control – having to take what space is available in the life classes. Where I did have control (Assignment: Line Drawing) I did struggle with composition. I messed around a lot with it but in the end found that it was to a large part dictated by my original sketches.

Note to self: In part three I noted my stubbornness to not change composition (I often get fixated on an idea before I pick up the pencil) – and I didn’t really address this in part four. I realise I need to begin working and let it lead me, rather than trying to lead the work.

I think this is quite critical for me – on the odd occasion I have let the work lead me I’ve gone to quite interesting places (in this part for instance the exercises on movement)

Quality of outcome

As with part three I found it trickier to work my way steadily through the challenges set by each exercise – primarily because I used a model in life class rather than finding my own – but I think the resulting sketches do get across what I need them to.

Aside from the Assignment- Line Drawing however, I haven’t worked on any of the sketches beyond the life class, and I wonder now if this is something that would have been worthwhile. Well I know it would have been worthwhile, but in the race to submission deadlines, I didn’t make time to do this – to mess around, investigate, find out where I could take the drawings. (I have had one particular idea swirling around my head, and maybe in the last couple of months left to me I should look in to it)

Demonstration of Creativity

This is a weird one. My tutor pointed out a developing voice : “embrace the atmospheric / dystopian graphic novel style imagery as this appears to be your voice or style coming through” which I have to agree does seem to be my thing, but I have no idea where it comes from. I have not so much as opened a graphic novel and I’m not keen on a dystopian/apocolyptic narrative in films or fiction.

I thought this tendency may be restricted to architecture (as in past assignments). I admit to a long-held fascination with abandoned structures, heavy industrial equipment (tugs, fishing boats, cargo ships) and pretty much anything rusty, but this ‘dystopian graphic novel style’  has even gone stomping across the self-portrait of Assignment 4 and if I’m honest was also trying to get a look in on the line drawing of Assignment 4 too.  My tutor has encouraged me to ’embrace it’. I would like to say that I’ve heeded her advice but honestly, I sense that I push away from it rather than embrace it. My hope is always to create something light and beautiful but each time some inner goth takes over and I seem to go back to the darkness.

PS. an after thought – ‘atmospheric’ certainly does not have to be dark – in either sense of the word.

Context

At the start of this course I found my sketchbook a bit of an awkward friend. I wasn’t really sure how to engage with it and my attempts felt a bit forced. That has begun to change in part four – it became a more natural thing to turn to and I found myself referring back to it more frequently. It has more ideas in it now, ideas with loose ends ready to be picked up.

My online learning log too has become a place where I come to think. I’ll write notes in here as I work through something and I find that if I get stuck, that process of writing down what’s going well and what isn’t, will often help unstick me.

Lastly in terms of research – I was so delighted that the Alice Neel exhibition came to my neck of the woods and I felt reinvigorated by it though I do still become a green-eyed monster when I read of the exhibitions (and workshops) available in the UK.

I am getting more confident at the research that comes as part of the course, and get a peculiar satisfaction when I instinctively see connections across artworks or artists.

 

 

 

Just thinking

Recently I’ve been obsessing over Richard Diebenkorn, though only just now come across his ‘Notes to myself on beginning a painting’ which he could have written for me – for these are exactly the things I struggle with (excepting number 9 – chaos is a very natural state of affairs for me).

“Notes to myself on beginning a painting” by Richard Diebenkorn

1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.

2. The pretty, initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.

3. DO search.

4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.

5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.

6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.

7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.

8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.

9. Tolerate chaos.

10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

Taken from: Royal Academy

project five: the moving figure

 

 

exercise one: the single moving figure

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This exercise began on a weekend trip to the beach.  I spent a couple of hours each day trying to capture those unique positions that you only really see at the beach. The solid, wide-legged stance at the water’s edge in contemplation, perched on the end of a sun lounger chatting, prone on the sand. I had hoped for more movement, but people are surprisingly static at the beach. The only excitement came from a scrappy game of football – extraordinarily hard to capture – I ended up getting most down when the players stopped and stooped to pick up the ball or throw it in.

The following were a more simplified attempt to catch movement and energy.

 

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The sketches above led me to the charcoal sketch (first image in this post), which I’m pleased with (except for the feet – I’m cross that I wasn’t really able to catch them in movement and using my own static foot as a stand-in model isn’t really working).

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These sketches began with the pink-red swirls to capture movement, I then added in the forms. I’ve struggled with the upper bodies – with the position of the heads and arms – the movement through the shoulders is not believable. However the lower half of the body works better, I particularly like the lower legs in the left image though I’m not convinced simply cropping the sketch works.

My regular life class is very static but I was lucky to find a one-off class where the model changed positioned every minute or 30 seconds for the last 10 minutes. It was exhilarating. Unfortunately I used quite a hard pencil and the results are very faint. I went over them after the class with charcoal and red pen but this seems to have lost some of the dynamism rather than brought it out.

What I learnt:

  • Heads on a moving body seem to be the hardest thing to capture. Sometimes they all but disappear, often they’re seen as a strange distorted shape rising up behind a shoulder or arm.
  • Hands and ends of arms are most often in a blur – this makes sense, they will often be the part of the body covering most distance, with the torso the most static. I remember looking at one of Degas’s dancer pastels and noticing that he just made the hands a blur.
  • It seems that men power their body more through the upper part, and women through the pelvis. (I’ve never forgotten a self-defence tip for women which is to get on the ground and kick upwards – women have most strength in their legs).
  • As with heads, arms can be hard to capture – especially if they are extended towards to viewer.

exercise two: groups of moving figures

I’ve spent less time on this, though the resulting sketch is different to anything else I’ve done and I’m happy about that. I’ve been struggling to spot groups of moving figures – there is no rush hour here!

I did pack my sketch book when we went to a recent music festival but in the excitement I plain forgot it was in my bag. So when I got home I dug out a video I took at a festival last September, in Berlin. It was the last night (Radiohead), late, very hot and very dusty. Hordes of people swarmed away from the stage. I took three very short snippets of a girl who had stopped in the crowd to check her phone – while people parted around her like fish. In the second clip she turned to try and go against the crowd. In the third she thought better of it and headed off with everyone else.

(video clip shot on iPhone using hyperlapse app. If there is not play button just clicking the centre of the image seems to work!)

I don’t like to work from photos – it always feels like something is missing to me – but this sketch was challenging in a new way because only parts of the crowd were visible – patches of lit faces, arms, sometimes a thigh or a light-coloured t-shirt.

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A4, coloured pencils on black paper

With more time to experiment I would like to have filled the page with my ‘transparent’ figures, but short on time I didn’t want to mess up what I already had. Another project to revisit!

The area to the left is more successful in terms of a sense of a crowd moving forward – some bodies to the right are rather static and the mix of directions stops that sense of flow.

research point

Reflect and analyse how the depiction of the male and female nude has changed over the centuries.

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Across time there has been quite some back and forth as to what nudity signifies and what is deemed acceptable, but the overriding factor that strikes me most is the presentation of the female nude as passive and available. Not always, but often. And what I find really surprising is that this tendency continues today in my own weekly art class where our female models often assume a sexualised position while the male model  will lounge about just as he might at home.  And it feels like we don’t really stop to question these ‘norms’.

 

 

In Classical Greece, to depict a nude was to celebrate physical beauty, and most especially the heroic male ideal, though Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Knidos introduced the idea of female beauty. Much influenced by the Greeks, the Romans continued this celebration, with a general mash-up of gender roles and sexuality. sleeping-hermaphrodite-ss-slide-2GVG-jumboI still remember coming across Sleeping Hermaphrodite at the British Museum and wondering if anyone had spotted what I had? Turns out that this sculpture was a popular choice for the gardens of the wealthy – it was considered amusing – perhaps the ancient equivalent of a herd of giant topiary elephants. However the curator of Greek and Roman Art at the Met, Mr Picón, warns that  “it would be a mistake to interpret the popularity of these works as a sign of ancient tolerance. The birth of intersex people was seen as a bad omen; those born with ambiguous genitals were usually killed.” (McDermon, 2017)

Medieval times were less playful however, and Christian art saw nakedness, and most specifically female nakedness, become a signifier of guilt, shame, vanity and sin. The Renaissance of course looked back to the classical ideal and we see the naked body once again representing the ideal concepts of truth and love while Leonardo da Vinci celebrated the perfect geometry of the male body. The female body was less celebrated and was often depicted as a deviation from the perfect male form – with comical add-on breasts and a strategic cloth or hand to cover the missing penis.

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Angelica saved by Ruggiero
1819-39, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Museum walls seem laden with voluptuous naked women reclining on ornate sofas, admiring themselves in mirrors, or chained to rocks awaiting rescue by a hero – dressed, of course, in shining armour. They are all waiting to be looked at, just as the often-quoted John Berger, puts it: ‘…men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” (Berger, 2008)

Meanwhile men are rarely depicted as passive, and if they are it’s usually because they have been made a victim, martyred or crucified.

Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe of 1862 and Olympia, 1863 seem to be the paintings most often credited with first challenging this perspective of an ideal fantasy woman, naked passive and waiting. Manet’s naked woman owns her sexuality, she is in control. But more than this, in each painting she has turned to look the viewer directly in the face – a direct confrontation.

Something I had never considered before reading Gill Saunders’ The Nude, A New Perspective (1989) is the frequent fragmentation of the female body in images, rendering it an anonymous ‘object’. Saunders makes much of this – especially those images without arms – describing them as ‘cropped and truncated’, ‘mutilated and thus literally powerless and passive’. (Saunders, 1989). It’s rare to see a male nude depicted this way. I’ve just done a very unscientific Google search of male nude/fine art and female nude/fine art. Of the first 22 images that appear, just one of the male nudes is ‘truncated’ while seven of the female nudes appear solely as torsos.

An artist who fragments the human body (often to abstraction) though does treat male and female bodies with equality is photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. I will never forget stumbling upon an exhibition of his in Sydney. I had no idea who he was. My first reaction was to marvel at the beautiful forms he had created, my second was surprise…

The feminist art movement kicked off in the 1960s as an attempt to redress an art world that was seen as created by and for men. This was not just about the representation of women in art but the exposure of female artists.

 

Post in progress – to be continued!

References:

McDermon, D. (2017). What the Sleeping Hermaphrodite Tells Us About Art, Sex and Good Taste. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/27/arts/design/statue-hermaphrodite.html [Accessed 29 Jun. 2017].

Berger, J. (2008). Ways of seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation.

Saunders, G. (1989). The nude. Cambridge: Harper & Row.

project six : the head

exercise one: facial features

I’ve spent some time watching online videos on drawing faces and of course seeing how the masters do it. Key things I’ve picked up on:

  • Noses are all about the highlight
  • Mouths are all about the shadow
  • Eyeballs are balls and so have areas of shade!
  • Getting the proportions right is absolutely the hardest bit

Above pages from sketchbook


exercise two: your own head 

First six awful sketches

In life classes there is already so much to get wrong before I even get to the face, so I’ve always even them wide berth. But now I have to face my own head on. I’m putting just about all my sketches up here, to see if I can track improvement. The first few are pretty terrible. I didn’t want to sketch straight on, but with my head at an angle I struggled with placement of features and proportion.

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Number seven and it’s the first that I’m reasonably pleased with, done very quickly, no time to really think, but I am getting features to sit in place. Eyes are over-sized but I think that kind of works.

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8

Number 8 – Back to just trying to get the eyes right but this is a very sanitised sketch. No sagging skin, no wrinkles, no age spots.

Number 9 – quite happy with number 9.  The features seem to be in place though eyes a little wide apart maybe. I like the expression – this is quite me – this is my resting bitch face, though still missing the wrinkles, dark circles. I guess that’s the upside of a self-portrait. Apparently Lucian Freud said that the difficulty of a self-portrait is you don’t want to make yourself look too good, and you don’t want to look too bad either (via Lucian Freud Painted Life)

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9

Round Two

I’ve been researching artists who paint portraits and listening to Maggi Hambling in conversation (see Research Point: Portraits) and have decided to approach this differently. Or at least to explore from a different angle.

First up, drawings I made with my eyes shut, just feeling my way around my face.

I rather like these, especially the first. The face divides in to hard places (eye sockets, bridge of nose, cheekbones, jaw bones) and soft places (eye balls, bottom of nose, mouth). At first I thought how wide I had set the jaw bone, but it’s probably not far off.

These two are drawing blind – i.e., looking in the mirror but not at the paper. The second is weirdly accurate in terms of what got placed where.

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Quick reminder of proportions with my head tilted slightly forward. Irises too big!

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10

 

 

 

 

 

Doing this investigation has definitely changed  things – the next few sketches I did were all quite different – from the last batch, and from each other – with something of a real face emerging.

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11

 

 

A little odd but I’ve added it here because I was pleased with the light on the left side of the face – though the face in shadow looks more like face rubbed in charcoal. I was slightly faking the extreme light, but it would be interesting to set up like this.

I worked out of the charcoal for most of this – covered most of the paper in it and drew/erased the face from it.

*I like the left hand collar – heavy lines over charcoal ‘brush strokes’

Looking at it now I might go back in and soften the shadows, see if I can rescue it.

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Changing media – so far I’ve just used graphite and charcoal – here pen and adding some charcoal smudges.

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13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Number 13 and my favourite so far. Not sure where I was when I was drawing this, but I think it was somewhere under the skin.

It doesn’t look much like me (though the dishevelment and haggardness is more true than the previous) but I can sense me trying to find me in it and that makes it interesting. The search is there.