There are three parts to this assignment – two figure (line and form), one portrait.
Two Figure Drawings – first sketches, first thoughts
My starting point has been two good friends willing to sit for a couple of hours (laptops cunningly deleted from sketch). I couldn’t ask for more but it was time enough to do three A1 sketches of each.
I sat them both on a sofa, framed by the staircase and looked down on by a knitted moose head – both of which featured in my Assignment Two. I wasn’t thinking about the stairs or moose, but I was aware of a voice in my head trying to point this out to me.
Though these aren’t the poses I was initially after, I’m happy with them. They’re natural but quite different from each other. One sitter is confident, stretched out, feet up. The other is folded in about herself – arms and legs, one hand to the face, I am in her sight.
The relationship to the sitter is an interesting one, I think of Alice Neel and the engagement her sitters often show with her: intense, almost leaning forward. Diebenkorn’s ink sketches look as though he has just come across his sitter, and would they mind keeping still for a minute or two? And at the other end is Matisse with his string of models seemingly always on hand.
These are the artists that have been in my head most while thinking through this Assignment (Richard Diebenkorn, Alice Neel and Matisse). I’ve long admired Diebenkorn’s casual ink sketches that capture splashes of light and movement. Matisse is an artist that will always stop me in my tracks. And Alice Neel is a relatively recent and very happy discovery, I’ve spent many hours absorbed in her work following a retrospective in an Arles gallery (see post under Research and Reflection: Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life)
Since working on this assignment I’ve discovered the strong influence Matisse had on Diebenkorn. I can’t wait to get my hands on the catalogue for Matisse/Diebenkorn – an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art and SFMOMA this year (2017) though it’s proving a difficult order.
However Janet Bishop, who is curator at SFMOMA (and co-curator of the exhibition and co-author of the catalogue) features in a fascinating podcast by Modern Art Notes that compares specific paintings, highlighting the Matisse influence – which for Diebenkorn seems to be specifically colour and composition.
It almost feels as if these two sketches are having a conversation with each other. Though Matisse dominates: the arms of the chair come forward to us, as if the chair could almost scoop us up in its arms. The sitter is natural and relaxed – almost to the point of inelegance. Fabric with an over-sized motif brings the sketch alive, creates a sort of vibration. And then the graphic handling of the space behind, and bold lines of fabric encasing legs. A disinterested expression. Strong light washes across both sitters.
Figure Drawing – Line
Developing one of the sketches
My first question was landscape or portrait but as I tried to go landscape it took on a life of its own and became portrait.
Plenty of questions at this stage and plenty of things to investigate from getting the perspective right, determining a light source (it was coming in at all angles), media, colour?
I love the busyness of Matisse’s interior scenes and I’m certainly thinking about them here. Matisse seems to either fill his interiors with colours, all rubbing up against each other, or, in his pure line drawings what feels like a single piece of string bends and curves to miraculously contour up his drawing.
Organising the composition and perspective. The perspective is super tricky here, the end of the sofa almost touching my leg. I am almost there, not quite. There is a sense of hiding, or is it of being hemmed in?
I’ve given the staircase a bigger role (need to decide on actual curved banister or replace it with a straight one – think the real-life curved adds more rhythm – needed with so many straight lines – also echo of leaves?).
The plant is finding its place – now a screen against the light – these plants are all about their eaten-out leaves – the light will filter through those holes. Or should it go at the end of the sofa (its usual place?). I quite like the inappropriateness of it. Like someone leaning over the sofa, intruding on that solitude. Though if I move it, there is a clearer conversation between the sitter and the stairs that asks questions.
The railings and the plant provide a continuous divide between sofa and outside world. Or are they containing? I find myself going back to an earlier theme – what is the difference between being safe and being trapped?
Colour? Media? This is where I always struggle. It comes down to lack of experience. I would be happiest using just a pencil, but A1 and even A2 is a huge area to cover with a pencil.
Tempted to use black ink alone, as Diebenkorn does, but I’m aware that I didn’t have a very clear light source for my sketches and I may make a mess trying to make up the shadows. The exercise asks for a line drawing though, so can I strike a balance between the dramatic light/shadow ink sketches of Diebenkorn and the clean lines of Matisse?
And then Alice Neel is pushing me to colour. I’m fascinated by the careless way she adds colour, never quite filling the canvas, choosing to leave some areas bare. She knows just what it takes, and will stop when she doesn’t need to say any more. Is a mix of the two possible?
Intrigued to have found preparatory sketches of Alice Neel’s paintings where she has clearly indicated areas of shadow. I suppose this is so she can work at different times when the light has changed – so obvious, yet I didn’t think of that when I had my sitters in front of me – so keen was I to get the right lines in place.
Using black ink and brush I suddenly have a landscape sketch of a girl in a rubber dingy at a garden centre. This has thrown me in to doubt because although I was only testing the placement of the plant with the two of them, having even one now seems quite contrived and though that’s what I enjoyed at first, I’m not so sure now.
Some things are working though:
- staircase bathed in light
- drama of plant in black ink (from first trial)
- I am going to struggle with the shadows around the body – not having taken note
- Composition is still bothering me, moving back to portrait feels calmer but less lively. One issue seems to be the position of the sofa and staircase – it’s as if the sofa is about to go up the stairs. Or an unruly teenager has just pushed the sofa down the stairs. I know that artists move things around in composition all the time. Could I move the position of the sofa within my drawing?
Took delivery of 10k of off-cut newsprint today, letting me scribble away to my heart’s content and not worry about wasting paper.
Have been trying different compositions to avoid the sofa/stair issue, but this means losing the far end the sofa which makes everything feel as if it’s on top of each other whereas this is about someone in a certain space. I want a structure around her.
I’ve considered moving the sofa forward of the staircase but I can’t get my model back for another sketch and I think I will struggle to match up the perspective, so I’m sticking with the original.
Sketching out with a nib pen and black ink.
I like the spidery-ness of the ink and having my mistakes and corrections on display doesn’t worry me – the myriad of lines seems to create a kind of vibration.
Various things need fixing on this but compositionally it seems to be working better – the sofa feels further away from the bottom step. Not sure at this point whether I should add the plant back in, and again, not sure if it should be at the end of the sofa.
Feel tempted to colour in just the sofa – but will that be a bit too design-y? Maybe sofa and plant – these are the moveable things – the items that were brought in to this house, and can be taken away again.
Very roughly scribbled in with watercolour pencils – two rusty colours and orange for sofa. Two greens for plant. When I went to add water it turns out the ink I had used is entirely water soluble – my brush eliminated lines, picking up the ink and depositing it in pools of watery ink. The whole feels like a painting left out in the rain. There are aspects I really like. After the initial surprise I went back in with water to work some of the ink around the body, creating the merest suggestions of shadow.
I’m interested by how the plant has come out of this – the double outlines of the leaves, the extremes of light to dark, the not knowing what is actually there – the ‘dead’ structure behind or the living plant?
Quite excited now by how this might work out. I like how there is a ghostly quality, a fading in /out of body and its surroundings. We can’t be quite sure what is imagined, what is real. Are the girl and the stairs traces? imprints? Even the plant is joining in.
However, I have lost some of the light/dark drama of my earlier ink wash sketches, which was important to the whole – creating that sense of inside/outside – do we feel hidden or trapped?
Though there is a more obvious tension created by a staircase and a door. We enter and leave each others lives via staircases and doors, whether invited or not – friend or intruder?
Need to test out position of plant again (end sofa/behind sofa) and see how I can bring back in the intense light/dark. A voice is still whispering ‘moose head’ in my ear.
On the wall just behind where I’ve been sitting to draw is a print and a watercolour that I grew up with. My parents used to take in lodgers to help feed the gas meter and somewhere along the way an artist paid his way with these.
I love them both, with their faded colours and defiant 1970s aesthetic.
Somehow I feel their influence seeping in to this picture, or into the picture I want this to be. Which feels like I am coming full circle somehow. Back to the house with the scary stairs, the shadows on the landing.
Have gone back to look at Matisse:
(It’s probably time to confront the cheese plant – I think it’s a mix of things: childhood nostalgia, yes Matisse, but also it’s simply a fine plant with all you could wish for: structure, pattern, exoticism.)
The above sketch was one of a series Matisse did in preparation for a painting, though I prefer this, his final sketch. It has so much rhythm to it, the eye sweeps up the huge swathe of dark dress, arcs around the umbrella of a cheese plant and lands on the delicate reading figure. The cherry on the cake is the dog curled up at her feet.
There is a surprising mix of bold graphic shapes (the structure to the left) and loose sketchier areas (feet and dog), a certain flatness of pattern (plant and back wall) , but still some perspective (chair, floorboards). Then there is the extreme or dark and light for the dresses, and for the near floor/far wall.
I already have fairly bold graphic shapes but I’m not sure about the tones to use. I’d like to use a range from black to white like Matisse and Diebenkorn, but I’m slightly torn because I also like the sense that the room is bathed in light – that the hall and staircase lead to the light.
As ever I’m hesitant about media. My latest rough sketches were using an ink pen with a cartridge of unknown ink in it. When I added water the ink lifted and I could push it about on the paper.
Messing about with my options I plump for water soluble ink + coloured pencils. I end up adding intensity with the permanent black and green ink.
Now finished, I have my doubts and I think it would have worked better:
- without colour
- with dark leaves against white wall
- lighter, sketchier, airier
What specifically hasn’t worked:
- I’m disappointed with the plant – it was working so well in my prep sketches but has become a bit flat and skinny in this drawing. I also think I’ve made a basic mistake of not sizing up the leaves to suit the larger paper.
- The structural aspects have lost some of their rhythm. I’m torn between leaving them very open and sketchy and filling them in with blocks of dark. I’m tempted to darken the entire wall behind the plant and the floor and wall to left of sofa…..
- My sitter’s shoulders seem too narrow though I’ve checked again and again with my sketches. I think she was sinking in to the corner of the sofa so her whole body titled left. But I can’t be sure.
- The water-soluble coloured pencils looked great as they had water added to them, but now the drawing is bone dry they’ve lost the smooth intensity of colour and seem to have reverted back to dry pencils.
What I like:
I haven’t said ‘what has worked’ here, because I’m not sure anything has. The whole is a bit weird that has become normalised in my head because I’ve been looking at it on and off for so long. So I like:
- The more delicate areas – around feet, top part of plant, staircase.
- The boldness of the sofa right up close.
Figure Drawing – tone
This hasn’t turned out to be my best life drawing, but it had clear intention so I’ve stuck with it as part of Assignment four.
I had four hours in total with this model, split in to two sessions.
The first session produced this (image on left), so I’m pleased with the improvement, though of course it leaves me wondering what I could do with another two hours, four hours, six, eight…a lifetime?!
I’ve been obsessing over Richard Diebenkorn’s ink life drawings, pouring over his sketchbooks (Museum.stanford.edu, 2017), and listening to the Royal Academy’s podcasts – most recently a talk given by his daughter in which she talks about the Wednesday evening life drawing sessions Diebenkorn and a few other artists organised. She describes them as drawing sessions that went on late in to the night and how interesting it was to see the very different interpretations of the same model. She also mentions what a good natural model her mother was, and how her father would ask to hold a pose mid conversation while he grabbed his sketchbook.
I copied Diebenkorn’s ink sketch left (Untitled, 1964), to try to understand some of the decisions he took.
In hindsight I think the pose and the black pants and stockings help give this sketch its drama of light and dark but that said, there is still such confidence in the decisions of what is left blank, what is left to line alone, and then the mid and darkest tones.
A quick re-working of my life class drawing using a stronger Diebenkorn approach. I’ve been too bold in some places, not enough in other, though it’s an approach I will definitely work on.
Another re-working of one of my life-class sketches. Again I’ve gone in too bold (on the leg) and not left enough blank whiteness, so the whole has gone flat and muddy – that’s the problem with ink – once it’s down it’s down!
My final drawing doesn’t have the boldness I had been aiming for, though the set-up didn’t help me. It was a medium light, if there is such a thing, with little contrast. I am getting more confident at exaggerating what light and shadow there is, but I think I can push this further.
In the end I quite like the delicate quality it has – it feels rather tentative and old-fashioned. The likeness is good – the sitter asked if she could photograph it afterwards – I’m hoping because she was pleased rather than planning a lawsuit.
I’m happy with the bright light falling across her body (though it could be interested to accentuate this even further?) and the accents of dark shadow created around the foot and underarm. The right hand and right foot are a little fudged – I tend to leave them until last and then run out of time as I did here.
Before this part of the course I hadn’t done any portraits (excepting one hilarious attempt in OCA Foundations Drawing). It feels like a whole new world, there is a huge amount to learn.
For this assignment I’m sticking with a self-portrait for purely practical reasons – my face is always available to me. And I’ve made use of it, endless drawings that started out bearing no resemblance to a face, let alone my face. Slowly as I find my way around the bones and shadows, loose and taught skin, a resemblance is forming.
I’ve ended up with two portraits – created with and without thought.
I have spent enough time drawing this year to know that when I am faced with a new challenge I tend to tighten up, drawing carefully and without emotion – just trying to put down what I see, without regard to what I feel.
Which is why this self-portrait is interesting. I began it this evening, once the kids were in bed. I’d just got going on what I had planned to be a study of one eye when the phone rang. Without turning this into a radio 4 drama to rival the Archers, the information given to me on the call left me furiously angry about the treatment of someone close. The conversation then revolved around whether or not I should ‘make the call’ and tell the person what I thought of their behaviour.
Should I speak, should I stay silent, should I sleep on it? To open my mouth or not. Once the words are out they are out.
When I put the phone down, I found I had drawn this:
Which is kind of weird but very interesting. I had no idea what I was doing until I finished the phone call. And this doesn’t look like a mouth that has been gagged to me, it looks like uncertainty. There is a buzz of words on my lips, like a swarm of bees. Should these words be allowed to fly or not?
Our hands are often by our faces, protecting, hiding, reassuring. My first self-portraits for part four were with head resting on hand – a position I probably adopt too often. From there I went to drawing my face from touch alone. Which had me thinking about hands and faces. Our own hands are often by our faces, but to touch another’s face is possibly the most intimate gesture we can make. It can be loving but also threatening or controlling.
Two of numerous sketches, each time edging closer.
Some of the portraits I had looked at in the Research Point have stayed with me through this assignment, namely the Frank Auerbach self-portrait. Kathe Kollewitz also popped in to my mind regularly. Though I marvel at her skill, I don’t find her self portraits that interesting, though having said that, her images are firmly imprinted on my mind which surely shows their power.
Much covered in this part already is my current Alice Neel obsession, but there are two I haven’t yet mentioned that I saw recently in Lyon: by artists I had never heard of Louis Janmot and Eugène Carrière.
Janmot’s self portrait made me laugh – this wonderful earnest young man, trying to get his likeness just right. He’s bending forwards, leaning towards himself, the interaction is between him and his reflection, nothing else maters. It’s also very beautiful, with luminous skin. The Carrier portrait jumped out in a room of huge, bright, over-the-top oil paintings. It sat by the door, quiet, sensitive, intimate. It felt of a different time and place to everything else in the room
Aside from the Carrière portrait, what these have in common is a connection to the sitter, which may seem obvious, but I don’t think all portraits have this. Many just seem to about trying to ‘capture’ the sitter, but these portraits say something about the artist, and about the connection between the two.
Drawing my face using touch alone. I did a few of these – they all came out pretty much identical which I found interesting – as if touch is more true than sight.
I became very aware of bone structure: eye sockets, cheek bones, jaw bones. The mass of bone across the forehead. Then came the squidgy masses of cheek and lips, the gristle of the nose. Finally the feel of taught skin and not so taught skin.
I had started this portrait wanting to capture me looking for me, but the sketches using touch alone led me down a different path. I began to think about how to convey touch itself.
These two images are photocopies of my own hand with a sketch of my own hand meeting the other (pencil). I’m really happy with these images – all the more surprising because they took a nano second to do! A little like the trees on tracing paper image (part 3 expanse), I like the layering and delicacy, the ambiguity. I did consider adding my portrait to these images but really couldn’t envision it working, I thought it would look very clunky, and as ever running out of time I moved on to what had already developed in my mind – a memory that had resurfaced.
For some time after my mum died, I would wake up suddenly, convinced her hand had been on my face. That she had been standing by my bed. Which is creepy, and scary, and wonderful, all at the same time. So that’s where this self-portrait came from, though I think it’s ambiguous and I hope throws up questions. That the viewer will read the image according to his or her own history. Is the hand calming or threatening, real or imaginary, fantasy or nightmare?
Things that have worked:
- the feeling of being alone – of facing an experience alone
- the feeling of waking suddenly at night and being somewhat lost, at sea, in that dark expanse
- my expression, for me, captures a mix of emotion: the moment of trying to comprehend something, to capture something fleeting, the reminder that the loss is real. Though the reality is this is just my face trying to draw me.
Things I’m not so happy about:
As ever I had gone into this imagining something quite light and delicate, something suggestive, the ghost of a handprint….and yet I’ve gone all shouty – shouting out my story in dark charcoal with a very obvious hand. I don’t know how I feel about this – whether it happens this way because I don’t have the technique or skills to convey something with delicate touch?
As I start to draw I find I want to add more darkness – that all sounds a bit gothic – but it’s more about wanting the darkness to create a structure. It’s a more architectural thing I think.
I knew as I was working on it that the eyes would seem too big but I didn’t adjust them. At one point I wanted my face lying flat on the bed (so looking up) so held a mirror and a sketchbook precariously above – I think this is why the eyes seem to big – part of my face is pulled back by gravity, leaving the eyes behind!
The Modern Art Notes Podcast. (2017). No. 266: Matisse/Diebenkorn, Klimt’s Portraits. [online] Available at: https://manpodcast.com/portfolio/no-266-matissediebenkorn-klimts-portraits/ [Accessed 25 Jun. 2017].
Matisse, H. (1995). Henri Matisse, a retrospective. New York: Museum of Modern Art.
Delectorskaya, L. (1988). With apparent ease … Henri Matisse. Paris: Maeght.
Bancroft, S. and Devaney, E. (2015). Richard Diebenkorn. London: Royal Academy of arts.
Museum.stanford.edu. (2017). Cite a Website – Cite This For Me. [online] Available at: https://museum.stanford.edu/diebenkornsketchbooks/ [Accessed 22 Jun. 2017].