I enjoyed the previous exercises on interiors, so choosing between interiors and still life for Assignment Two was easy. Inspiration came quickly – a chance movement of a spotlight created a theatrical shadow of our silly knitted moose head. Gazing at this second, much grander moose head, I was struck by the adventure offered up by shadows – if we can only let our imagination loose. As a kid I was terrified of the staircase and landing that led up from my bedroom door. But this is a different house, and these shadows are kind, they invite you to sneak up and disappear in to them, to become part of their mystery.
While this new world was exposed by the chance shift of a spot light, my youngest sat downstairs in an armchair, bathed in the blue light of the TV, absorbed in the screen and oblivious to this other world. I wonder about our kids today. Their heads are filled with high definition action adventure from the screen, interactive and competitive. How can the shadow of a knitted moose head compare? Will they ever see a witch in the shadows at the top of the stairs?
I’ve done ten thumbnail sketches, with TV, without TV, with moose and without. All with a staircase leading to shadow. But I’m finding it difficult choosing the composition I like best.
It comes down to the staircase. Do I show the shadow of the balustrade or the iron posts themselves? Do I angle the viewer poised to go up the stairs, or looking down towards the TV. There is something spookier in the first composition above, the shadow of the staircase thrown onto the steps, the banister slicing the image in two, the shadows at the top of the stairs have become abstract in their shape. Looking at it I feel the viewer is going to climb these stairs soundlessly, to merge into the darkness and hide.
The exercise asks for A3, which is a relief. With my lack of experience, A1 seems like an enormous space to fill. As with Assignment One, I find myself drawn again to Ben Nicholson, this time to 1943-1945 (St Ives) but one of the Odilon Redon drawings I referred to in earlier research has also been foremost in my mind:
Such different works. I love the graphicness of Nicholson, the play with perspective, negative space. We’re not sure what’s real, what is void. And of course Redon is all about atmosphere, shadow, light and dark, secrets.
In the prior exercise I experimented with a painted background for the first time. I’m wondering if I can follow Nicholson’s example of the painted graphic elements to create the structure of the interior space, drawing the detail over the top? I like the idea of a fairly simple drawing – almost like an architectural plan – things I find quite evocative. These are dreams of spaces, there will always be an uncertainty about whether they exist.
Spent some time messing about with different media. Funny how I was so resistant to it in the multi-media exercise, but now I feel a need to push something into the paper, to bring it alive somehow.
For now I want to keep to black and white with a range of blues for the electric light of the TV. As with the black & white TVs of old, I never tire of telling the kids – we simply saw colour! This is interesting to me – are we kidding our brain that we are seeing colour, is this again some part of our imagination at work?
Perhaps keeping it black & white gives these areas more of a fictional quality – the monotone pages of a fairytale, waiting to be brought alive by us.
My first rough attempt in my A4 sketchbook. Specific problems that I need to watch out for: perspective lower steps, balustrade.
Things I need to work out:
- the colour of the moose – in reality he is made of multi-coloured string, predominately red. I’m worried that putting him in colour may be too contrived, too quirky and give him too much attention. I’m beginning to think that he too must be in black and white though I need to make sure there is enough detail on him to distinguish him from his shadow.
- the foreground – in reality the area leading to the TV is a couple of steps down from the immediate foreground, but leaving out this architectural feature gives the whole a slightly more dreamy and unreal feel.
- The right hand wall is quite flat and lacking in perspective, though it has a solidity to it – I think due to the working of paint (white acrylic rubbed in over black wash), however the left wall seems more atmospheric with its play of shadows.
- I could go stronger with the blue light, and with the middle shadows to the left of the staircase
Slightly worried that I’m not using enough colour, though the exercise asks us to ‘demonstrate a growing understanding of the use of colour in drawing’ rather than ‘use colour’.
Still not totally confident with my plan to put down a watercolour wash first, I mess about more. I use a brush, I use my fingers, I flick paint, use it dry, use it wet, checking all the time that pencil will work over the top smoothly. I also wonder if I can get a decent white if I need a highlight where I’ve got dark paint – acrylic, pastel, crayon – nothing gives me an opaque white over black watercolour but I think it will be enough to lighten.
Taking advice from the oca forum I’ve bought a heavier paper than I usually use (270gsm) and I’m hoping it won’t buckle with added water. After more experimenting I brushed clean water across the page and then pushed in black watercolour (I like the way this gives a range of ghosty blobs rather than plan washes of colour) where I knew the major shadows would be, and applied touches of blue for the light of the TV.
I’ve just learnt how to measure using a pencil or in this case a knitting needle. It’s been a bit of a revelation, and really helped me get my perspective sorted out quicker than I usually would do.
Cats also favour this method.
I actually quite like this with just the basics sketched in. I like the ghostliness of the ink and pencil lines moving in and out of each other, and I’m thinking about how I can keep that essence.
I’m sure now that I will continue solely with pencil (and coloured pencil). I want to keep the transparency and lightness of the paint wash and I from my testing it feels like charcoal and pastels slightly take over. Pencil will keep that ghostly, ephemeral quality I’m after.
As I work through the various oca projects I realise that getting past this initial point, and ‘completing’ the drawing is the stumbling block. My tendency is to tighten up and become fixated on replicating what I see – losing all emotion in the process.
I’m interested in this image, in the potential drama of shadows and intrigue of buildings – and I want to be sure that interest comes across.
There are some areas I like for their spontaneity and I need to figure out if I can keep them as the drawing develops. I also need to straighten out that post. Or do I?
As this image depends on two sources of artificial light, I can only work on it when darkness falls and I perch on a chair in semi-darkness. It’s a little frustrating, but somehow working in those conditions helps. This isn’t a day-time drawing.
About half-way through. I’m pleased with how it’s going. I’ve let the the paint marks play a greater part than I had originally planned, and let the light areas stay where I had intended to darken. At this moment I’m not sure whether to highlight or not. There are areas such as the moose head antlers that are quite bright, but I like the way there is a mottled shadow on them now. Almost moonlight and trees. The outside coming in. Bringing him to life.
My big internal debate now is whether to draw in the balustrade. I like its qualities as an architectural-type drawing, slightly ghostly. We renovated this house and put this staircase in. Before the only way to the top floor was by ladder through an outside window. Keeping it like this is a reminder of the old ways.
Some of my lines are a bit wobbly, giving the effect of swollen walls, but they don’t worry me. It gives a slight feeling of movement, of walls breathing. And old houses most definitely move.
Almost done. I’ve spent a while looking at the foreground, which has no interest. I’m tempted to add in the tiled floor, but this may give me a perspective headache. I’m tempted to add a mysterious shadow – the shadow of the viewer? But that might be a shadow too many. I feel the foreground needs to be darker, but I’m not sure how to arrive at that – whether to go back in with watercolour, or pencil? (I’ve just looked back at the Odilon Redon above and am thinking that he has left his foreground without specific interest, just the texture of the floorboards. Would the suggestion of tiles be enough maybe?)
Other areas to fix: darken back of chair (significantly) and chair’s shadow. Add in the highlight from the TV that falls on the floor. Darken post. Consider darkening moose shadow – he needs to be more dramatic than his owner.
So I’ve finished, but I regret adding the lower stone tile – I wish I had just suggested the flooring – as above – it’s lost some of its oddness, the ambiguity. Now we know these steps come down to a tiled floor. I may take this out. Yes, it has to go.
I’m pretty happy, it’s sort of gone the way I had hoped. There are areas that are problematic, but I put this down to experience, and I will most definitely learn from:
- there are too many stairs (by three!) and it shows
- some of the perspective is a bit wonky
- the doorway next to the chair would have been better left out
- my use of coloured pencils on the chair hasn’t gone so well – I needed to darken it substantially and it’s all got a bit grainy
- the immediate foreground – but I seem incapable of deciding one way or another whether this should be more than a fleeting impression of solid ground
Things I think have worked:
- there is a definite atmosphere, a sense of some magic afoot
- there is a sense that whoever is watching TV is missing something far more interesting going on right behind them
- the paint wash has really contributed – creating ghostly presences – these and the shadows provide intrigue
Things I’m slightly unsure about:
- does the moose head make the whole image a little trivial and childlike?
- there is a narrative here, I am ignorant about ‘illustration’ but I wonder if this leans towards that discipline and away from ‘pure’ drawing? even though I’ve created the narrative myself?
In terms of the oca assessment criteria I think I do ok on the four key areas. I consider my current greatest weaknesses to be:
materials, techniques, development of a personal voice and experimentation – though I have come a very long way in my willingness to experiment since I started the course – I recognise there is a long way to go.
In terms of what I have covered on the course so far, I do think this drawing demonstrates some of what I have learnt – form, tone, perspective, composition, negative space, texture (I’m pleased with that I’ve got the textures of crochet, wood and metal). I think the big ‘miss’ is experimentation – yes, I’ve done a paint wash (new for me), but it is after all a straightforward pencil drawing…