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.
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.
exercise one: the single moving figure
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.
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).
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.
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.
Reflect and analyse how the depiction of the male and female nude has changed over the centuries.
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. I 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
Quick reminder of proportions with my head tilted slightly forward. Irises too big!
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.
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.
Changing media – so far I’ve just used graphite and charcoal – here pen and adding some charcoal smudges.
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.
Thoughts on art that depicts the human figure…
Thoughts on my own life classes and also notes on artists whose subject matter is almost exclusively the human figure – not asked for as part of this research point but I’m interested to see if they are driven by the same impulse.
The artists I’ve looked at most during this Part Four are: Freud, Bacon and Alice Neel and it strikes me that each has a different approach, or a different reason for painting people.
- Freud paints almost exclusively nudes – mostly in relaxed positions, but sometimes contorted. They are often facing away from the sitter, or eyes closed. These images seem to be about his own attitude to the sitter, their body, the human body in general.
- Bacon’s figures are mostly clothed and in an abstract setting. The focus of the image is the head, because for Bacon it’s all about what is going on in that head – it’s about his relationship with that person.
- Neel’s sitters are mostly clothed and they almost always look directly at the painter. Her sitters are posed as for a traditional portrait, but casually so, as if they’ve just been asked to take a seat. While there is a clear sense of the contact between Neel and the sitter, the painting is about the sitter and their life – it feels more social documentary – she is capturing something about how their life is going at that point in time.
I’ve struggled with Francis Bacon’s work. I saw Francis Bacon and the Masters at the Sainsbury Centre in 2015, and two of his works have been shown in galleries near to me. I tried to give them time, but found the work so uncomfortable I moved on faster than I should have done, my summary something like ‘distorted pulverised faces, trapped and screaming silently’.
All I really knew of Bacon was that he was often obnoxious and drunk, and that he was very popular with art students in the 80s. No doubt these things lessened my interest in him.
The BBC documentary Great Artists in their Own Words: Out of the Darkness 1939-1966 helped me appreciate his paintings a little more. He had expressed the horror he had experienced (from helping in the war effort), but most importantly, he had done so in a new way.
Watching Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (2017) took my appreciation up a level further. It would be crazy if we had to research a painter’s life before being able to appreciate their work, but I think Bacon’s very public persona had repelled me in advance of seeing his work. Of course we learn about ourselves from our reactions to art and I suppose mine is rooted in fear – and add to that an unwillingness to delve further into the ‘why’.
Bacon however was willing to delve very deep. A friend of Bacon’s (in the documentary) describes his work as “the most extreme expression of what it was like to be Francis Bacon. He would almost empty himself of his bitterest thoughts on canvas and be purified”
Bacon’s life was shaped by early ill-health and humiliation and later by violence. He was a masochist with a penchant for deeply macho men and it’s clear that the violent episodes in his life were the main inspiration for his paintings. Though his partners were often the subject, in his own words: “When you are painting anything, you are painting not only the subject but also yourself …”
His paintings turn us all inside out, exposing the distortion that lies beneath the skin. In the portraits of his friends, partners and of himself there is constant conflict: vulnerability, violence, anger, tenderness and where faces are partly missing, dissolving and contorting, the question is always ‘who are we, really?’
In contrast to Bacon, Freud appears to use scrutiny, analysis in a search for the underlying emotion of the human body – more hidden in his subjects, and certainly within himself. Whereas Bacon’s life was raw and exposed with violent emotion, Freud’s appears to be cool and controlled, emotions kept locked away. In his own words “I hoped that if I concentrated enough the intensity of the scrutiny alone would force life in to the pictures”
Revealingly it was Bacon (the two became friends in 1945) that helped Freud find a closer connection with his subjects. “I saw there was something wrong about the distance between how I felt and the way I was working….I realised Bacon’s work related immediately to how he felt about life” This is the point at which Freud changed from painting with such tight control to using a bigger brush and showing more emotional engagement with his subject.
Like many people who have some difficulty getting emotionally close to others, Freud had a deep empathy with animals, extending to an interest in biology. He admitted: “I see as a biologist. When I’m painting people in clothes I’m always thinking of naked people or animals dressed”. This probably best describes how I feel when I see Freud’s paintings – that he has studied the body of his sitter as he might study the body of an animal, with a biological interest, he sees the bones, blood, organs – and how the skin changes as it runs blue or pink across those insides. He seems to capture instinctive emotions rather than anything running on the surface. Somehow he manages to explain to the viewer what it would be like to be in that body. He works on paintings for many many hours, often across years, so maybe over that time he strips away any superficially from the sitter – they are simply worn down to their basic self by the amount of hours they have sat!
His daughter Esther captures this well: “He’s not trying to depict an image of me. He’s painting who I am. I wanted to be a great beauty. But there I was myself – my teenage self was disappointed.”
My thoughts on Alice Neel are in this previous post
My Own Life Drawing Classes
For the past few months I’ve taken a weekly life drawing class during which it feels like a very specific part of my brain lights up. I am completely absorbed. Why is life drawing is so compelling? At first I suspected it was simply the romance of fine art – perhaps we feel we can channel the masters through our own struggles with a charcoal stub, leaves of newsprint falling around our feet. But they in turn were compelled, and so it goes back throughout history, we have always drawn ourselves.
Then there is also the question of the nude. I say to myself that I am just as interested in drawing someone clothed. But then I think about all those folds of material hiding an extraordinary living being – and how I would miss that link from rib cage to arm pit, the challenge of clavicle and shoulder joint, the incredible strength of thigh locked into pelvis.
I’m interested in bodies and how we use them, our own relationship with them. I’m fascinated by how some people seem quite intimidated by their own body, fearful of twisting this or that, while others have deep understanding of how their body works and demand everything from it. And then there are those that treat it a bit like a handbag that can be changed when it’s worn out, using it as nothing more than a receptacle for junk.
Our posture, muscle tone, how we sit, stand, walk – these things give so much away about how we live our lives, who we are, who we think we are.
I think about the models that have passed through our life class, some just once, others are regulars. From smiles and ‘how are you’s?’ the transition is swift and then they are skin, muscle, bony joints, jawlines. Sometimes as I draw I wonder what it is like to inhabit that body. How they feel in that body, clothed and out on the street, these people that I know nothing about. I think how different it would be if my friends came in and undressed each week. It would be wonderful actually, but so, so different.
I do wonder about the whole process of going to a room once a week to draw someone who has no clothes on. The state of being naked has moved so far from simply being our most natural state. The naked or near naked body is used to sell us anything from aftershave to ice cream to plain old sexual thrills. And all the while creating a new ideal for us to measure our own bodies up against. It is absolutely fraught!
Is the life class a way of removing ourselves from this commercialisation of the naked body? Is it a way of reminding ourselves who we really are? Studying the way the skin stretches taught over a knee cap but sags in the folds under the arm, or how a shoulder blade will slide around the rib cage, and a belly will settle in folds on the thighs.
Having said this, I do sense tension within our art class when it comes to ‘the pose’. There is no instruction in the class – the pose is agreed on and off we go – but there is a split in the group from those that hope for a natural pose to those that prefer what I can only call contrived – an arching back, head thrown back, whatever position will accentuate the curves of hip or breast – a position that invites the viewer to look. As Gill Sanders puts it in her book The Nude, A New Perspective ‘The nude female body is commonly presented as a sexual spectacle, the picture set up as an invitation to voyeurism’. (Saunders, 1989) I’ve drily noted that on the rare occasions we have a male model, he is never invited to display his body in such a way.
Is it possible to draw a nude without sexual connotation? Does it even matter? Surely what is important is that bodies aren’t objectified, aren’t considered a ‘thing’, submissive and available. And how do we do that? Does it come down to the intention of the artist, to the mindset of the sitter, or the viewer?
PS. Something I forgot to mention is that I usually find that it’s more satisfying to draw a female body than male. I’m not absolutely sure why though I think it may be about curves. I’m tempted to suggest that curves are easier and more forgiving to draw than straight lines because actually the thought of drawing a beer-bellied man is more appealing to me than a super-athletic woman. The essential curves of a woman make it easer to convey the body than that of a man where the transition of breast to waist to pelvis is more subtle and demands closer observation for it to make sense.
Saunders, G. (1989). The nude. Cambridge: Harper & Row.
YouTube. (2017). Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgrO5za0lSY [Accessed 27 Jun. 2017].
YouTube. (2017). Lucian Freud a Painted Life – YouTube. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sj9GxzVeYQ [Accessed 27 Jun. 2017].
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].