I grew less and less satisfied with my last drawing and decided to try and be less controlled.
To save preparation time and also to make it less valuable I drew the same image on the back of the first drawing by hanging it on a window and copying the lines. I wanted to get to the problem area directly.
With the oil pastel I used more yellow and kept the blue to accents more like in the picture of the open hand. I was less meticulous with the wetting of the paper and did not always check how much paint I had on my brush. I did not try to get an even wash for the background but to fill paint on it and let the paper and water do their magic. I also avoided to fill in the whole paper. The colours in the first attempt are too cold and too pale. I mixed in Sepia into Payne’s Grey to warm it up and used pure Sepia by the end, quite strong, too. I tried to get some nice splashes and dry brush marks to make the drawing less clean. It is about digging, after all, which involves a lot of earth and dirt. I also wanted there to be energy and force.
I do like the background, it has energy, movement and texture and leaves the drawing space to breath by leaving areas of untouched paper. However, with all the stuff going on I feel it takes focus from the hands. Maybe there is too much of it? Larger hands closer together might work better, as it did in the sketch with the open hand.
The oil pastel marks are more gestural and less controlled. I also like the reduction of the blue. I did keep it to mainly shadowed areas but not consistently and there are yellow shadows, too. I like that. Less rigid rules. Over all I feel there are not enough oil pastel marks to weigh up the large background. Again: larger hands, less background would work better.
Having studied my hands from different angles I felt it was time to leave the graphite. I had two combinations of media in my head: Charcoal with reddish conté and, strangely, lemon yellow oil pastel with watercolour. Where this last one comes from I have no idea. Could have something to do with the fact that I only have yellow bits of Neocolor crayon left over from school, but the idea persisted even after I had bought other colours. So yellow it was.
The first sketch in my sketchbook did not work well. Wrong paper as I should know by now. Also the contrast between yellow and charcoal is too strong I think, and I do not particularly like the brown – as companion colour to yellow maybe something equally unnatural would work better.
Different paper, different colours and watercolour instead of ink:
I like the volume and texture in this. Also the bleeding. The pad of the ringfinger and the heel of the hand are wrong, otherwise the drawing is right, I think. But it is not what I’ve had in mind: a gestural drawing in oil pastel, where the oil repels the watercolour thus emphasising the line:
I like how the background moves in and out of the hand and still gives it volume. I also like the gestural drawing and the touches of blue for contrast. This drawing has a lightness and immediacy to it that I like a lot. Interesting to see how much work spontaneity needs!
For the charcoal – conté idea I chose to try and show my hands in strained positions as opposed to the relaxed open hand above. This offers different shapes and the possibility of different mark making to express the energy. I liked drawing this.
I like the contrast between soft smudged marks and hard energetic ones. I also like the effect of the eraser marks although I think they could be placed better. I’m not sure if the drawing is correct, it feels strange but I cannot put my finger on why.
I had ample opportunity to study my hands when working, strained positions as well but less violent. I drew these with the help of reference photos and my hands empty. This was more difficult than I had expected. I think I prefer drawing from life.
I like the combination of charcoal with conté in this particular colour. They both offer expressive mark making and are quite versatile. With me the paper always becomes messy, but I like that. It is part of these pictures, expressing energy and anger in the first, in the second it makes a contrast to the clean area of the spade handle where I rubbed it out.
The yellow oil pastel lines had not yet left my system and neither should they as I still had to do the drawing I had been wanting to do all week. I had bought large watercolour paper for this and wanted to get it right (a dangerous attitude, I know). The exercises above were part of the preparations for this.
Early on I saw that the line work would be less gestural than in the exercise but I could not see how I could change that very much. The shapes in the fingers are much smaller and there are less lines inside the shape of the hand, unlike an open palm. I was probably afraid of wasting a lovely sheet of paper, too. Because the paper was lovely, wonderfully large and pristine, the largest I have worked on up to now.
The result is more controlled than the drawing of the open hand above, in the line work as well as in the watercolour. It looses interest due to that. I concentrated on keeping the sheet wet and getting the shadows right. I also wanted to avoid too strong and too obvious marks in the background which resulted in almost no marks in that area. So yes, too controlled. An attempt at a less controlled version can be found here.
Working on this scale felt absolutely wonderful. The actual hands are not bigger than the A3 studies as I had to fit them on the paper in a somewhat realistic distance to each other. So the next step would be to draw something that fills all this space. Looking forward to that!
I love hands. They are beautiful and very adaptable, able to follow the curve of an object, to make themselves small or large, changing angles in almost all directions. It is equally fascinating to watch them do ordinary things, like toying with a ball, or intricate well learned movements connected with a craft.
So drawing hands to me is wonderful. I like to observe them closely and work out how the positions work. Today, I just drew and enjoyed. Both the subject and the drawing without restrictions. I chose my A3 sketchbook to give myself room to be bold and draw gesturally, working around the shapes until I got a believable hand. It was wonderful! The drawings are larger than life.
I started drawing one hand on its own – first the left one, then the right one. Drawing with my left – weaker – hand worked quite well. I am not very precise with it and hatching does not work at all. So the mark making is wilder than it would have been had I been able to steer the hand properly, which is a good thing.
Then I drew my hands holding things, which is when it really got interesting.
I like the way in which “vertical” and “horizontal” lines interact with each other in my candle drawings. The alternations between light and shadow are quite striking, I find. I wanted to work more with that, this time not as line drawings, but with ink and brush.
I chose one of the earlier sketches from my sketchbook and drew that onto a sheet of drawing paper, slightly larger than A2 (58 x 74cm). I simplyfied the candles somewhat and decided to use 4 tones with white as a fifth: lightest for the shadow side of the candles, a bit darker for the cast shadows on the white ground, a lighter dark for the black to the right where the light falls, and darkest for the black behind the candles and the cast shadows on the black, and for the used wicks.
Indian ink can make a wonderfully dark and deep black and can easily be diluted to any shade of grey. I was aiming for clear white against dark black with soft greys in between in even washes. However, I noticed, the paper did not allow that. It was too thin and made the areas blotchy. Apart from that I am satisfied with the outcome.
Early on I had bound together the lighted side of the candles and the white background where they “touch”. This, I realised, is a kind of play with boundaries, is it not? Being my own idea it might work better than my attempts at Morandi still lifes. So for my next version I simplified the drawing further by choosing only one tone for light shadow instead of two. This allowed me to bind together candle and background on the lighted side as well as on the shadow side.
This time I chose better paper and two colours, yellow and indigo:
The watercolour paper worked much better for the washes. I now almost achieved the print like look I was after. The candles are still recognisable despite the simplification and I think the light/shadow aspect has now become the main theme. Which I wanted.
I also like the warm against the cold.
Although I like what I have done with this I feel more and more strongly that I now need to shake off the restrictions I have put on myself. These are drawings from my head and I enjoyed following up on thoughts and making connections with the exhibition I have been to. But this is not what I want to develop primarily. I want to put my head in the rear and see what happens. More on the lines with what I did with unit 3.
Morandi’s sketches and paintings seen at an exhibition struck a chord with me and I tried to do something with the idea of aligning objects in a still life. It turned out this is much harder than I had expected if I wanted to avoid boring pictures.
I chose simple objects: 2 white vases with square base, a tin cup and a blue glass vase. When sketching I noticed that I did not really have any horizon line and I also wanted to see the objects straight on, not from above. So I moved them up onto a box.
I do not really see any merit in these. The glass bottle broke the light in interesting ways which I found much more interesting than what I had set out to do. What had caught my interest in Morandi’s sketches – the sharing of lines and play with positive and negative spaces – I had not produced.
So I moved my objects onto the window sill and arranged them in a way so that lines from the window would continue as the vases’ edges. It did not get any more interesting.
Maybe if the vases were round? Or if I added the blue bottle? Although it is the blue glass that fascinates me in that, which is not the point here, I made an attempt in ink.
This, too, turned out boring and timid. Maybe it could be turned into something, but I feel I am moving backwards from what I have achieved in unit 3 and also from the exercise with the candles. I think, at this point, working with rigid rules and concentrating on reduction and simplicity in order to achieve graphic impact is not good for me. So I decided to leave this.
I also feel that I want still lifes to have other qualities than graphic ones. I want to have an emotional connection to them maybe, at least feel fascinated by what the light does or something like that. I want them to have a twist.
an exhibition on the theme of still life, pottery and the investigation of boundaries at the art museum Artipelag, Stockholm
Private study visit with a fellow OCA student. Find Gwenyth’s account of the exhibition here.
The venue – inside and outside
Artipelag is a museum for contemporary art built 2009 – 2012 in the archipelago east of Stockholm. From the beginning in the planning office the surroundings in which it is built have been an integrated part of it. (Source: Artipelag Hompepage) Large windows open the spaces inside onto the pines, rocks and water outside. In the café-area and the video room the rounded bedrock beneath comes through the floor. The boundaries between outside and inside, between art and nature, between planned and accidental are opened up.
The exhibition – painting and sculpture
Edmund de Waal’s installations occupy the main exhibition room. Here only one small painting by Giorgio Morandi hangs on the wall. The room feels large with a lot of space between the showcases. In the middle black yoga mats lie on the floor inviting the viewers to lie down and look at the showcases suspended above. The idea here is partly to offer an unusual viewpoint, but also to slow down, to allow for contemplation and stillness.
Further back one enters a flight of three smaller rooms. The first is arranged as a library with books and pads of paper. Again an invitation to slow down and contemplate. Sketches, etchings and watercolours by Morandi hang on the walls. In the next room one finds earlier oil paintings (mainly still lives with a few landscapes) by Morandi and in the last room, which again opens to the archipelago, there are later works by Morandi and two sculptures by de Waal. All four spaces are connected by one long line of small handwriting on the wall on about eye-level. It is a text by de Waal about Morandi, still lifes and his own works for this exhibition.
Edmund de Waal (*1964) – visual art and music
de Waal has built this exhibition with great care to its surroundings. The woods outside and the light falling in through the windows are part of his installations. He says that they change character with the changing light of day. (Source: Audioguide)
At first glance the installations seem very simple: groups of white porcelain vessels and alabaster squares on shelves or in showcases, some behind clear glass, some behind milky glass. And similar ones in black. On closer inspection, however, they become very complex and fascinating to explore. Especially in the white ones a lot is happening: There is a tension between the slender, round, opaque pottery and the heavy but translucent square blocks of alabaster. Light and shadow are playing. Some groups stand on reflecting glass, some on glass that makes them look as if they float. Behind some of the white objects de Waal has placed small gilt plates. It is quite difficult to see them, but they change the cast shadow of the objects into a warm glow. Some of the groups seem like symphonies on white, where white becomes very relative.
The black ones were more difficult to take in, I found. It seemed to me at first there is much less going on. They seemed like simpler more distilled versions of the white ones, emphasising certain of the aspects present in the white ones. But then I saw that they showed a stronger and stranger interaction with the wood outside the window. It was reflected more clearly but in strange colours. There was purple and sea green we were unsure where it came from.
I also found in one of the black sculptures standing on a black plinth that when I moved the vessels and the frames of the showcases engaged in a dance.
Some of the groups were placed behind milky glass with different levels of opacity. I found these annoying as they would not let me see clearly. However, seen against the window the shapes became much clearer and I saw a direct connection to the tree trunks outside (observe the one empty and open rectangle in the third column from the left).
Other objects behind milky glass became sharper as one looked from a distance – which feels counter-intuitive. We usually go closer to see something better.
In an interview (Source: Video) de Waal says that music plays an important role in his work. He says that when he works he has “serious music going on” as a kind of landscape to be in. He also says that he hears sounds in shapes, so by grouping the vessels and blocks he builds melodies and rhythms. I cannot hear that, but I can see rhythm in the grouping of objects and the grouping of groups and I can feel the quality of a base in the heavy squares and the quality of a melody in the slender vessels.
Literature and especially poetry are themes that go in a similar direction I feel, rhythm, groups and spaces play an important role there as in these works.
Another recurring theme in de Waal’s work is memory and time. How they change. The installations behind milky glass maybe express the feeling of almost grasping a memory, but loosing its sharpness when trying to look at it closely. In the black sculptures I see how the light of the now changes the “memory”. The boxes of shards are like memories, too, pieces of what was, moments of gold, de Waal says, briefly shining and then lost. (Source: Audioguide)
Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) – object and background
Giorgio Morandi was a painter of still lifes and landscapes and a professor for etching at the Academia degli Belli Arti in Bologna. He lived a quiet life and kept to his routines as far as possible. He won several prizes for his still lifes, and his work inspired artists and was shown in many exhibitions during his lifetime and afterwards. (Exhibition leaflet)
I found Morandi’s paintings less easily accessible than de Waals installations. They are kept in rather drab colours and seem quite uneventful at first glance. I first reacted to the unorthodox positioning of the objects. I have learned that in still lifes I should avoid lines, such as the horizon and the tops of objects, meeting in the same spot or coinciding with each other. In these still lifes, however, it seems Morandi went out of his way to make them meet and coincide.
In the library room we found sketches which offered me a possible insight in what it was Morandi was investigating: shapes, lines and where they belong, boundaries between objects and background:
Here he has added or omitted lines, I cannot say which. The bottomline between bottle and boxes (?) suggests another box, as does the invisible horizon line just above and the shadow on the bottle. However, there is no top edge to this object. Is it object or is it background?
In this sketch I feel the dark object in the middle flickers back and forth between being object and negative space.
With this in mind I can see why he wanted to align his objects as he did. The aim does not seem to have been a realistic depiction but rather studies of lines and shapes and boundaries.
The small painting in the main hall had me confused and I did not understand the colours or the brush strokes. Why does he choose the same colour for bottle and background. Why does he change the direction of the brush strokes in the background to follow the curve of the bottle?
After having seen and discussed the sketches above and looking at the painting from a distance I noticed that the bottle disolves into the background. It is only the little shadow in the (to me irritating) brush stroke near the horizon and to the left of the bottle that suggests that side of the bottle. That shadow, however, on closer inspection, belongs not to the bottle but to the background. The top line of the white box meets the horizon line to the right and another line suggesting a lable or some such meets the horizon line to the left. Both these lines I feel give volume to the bottle – also the one that belongs to the white box.
In this painting it is the pitcher’s handle that plays with our perception. When does it stop to be the handle and becomes the shadow between the first two beakers?
So I think these still lifes are not about objects. They are abstractions that play with lines and shapes and colour.
I was surprised by the luminosity of these pictures, despite the cautious colouring. They have a special glow to them as if the light comes from them, not into them. The photos do not really reflect this. In the following painting it is really remarkable:
I am glad I visited this exhibition in connection with unit 4 of my course. I had been studying pale upright shapes and their shadows and thus my senses were hightened to that sort of interplay. I saw negative shapes changing as I moved past, I saw the shapes of shadows and how they move. Morandi’s sketches also struck a chord. Not so much at the exhibition, but afterwards. I want to try and set up a still life playing with the lines and flat quality of the drawing. It seems like a natural thing to do after unit 4 and this exhibition.
I very much enjoyed interacting with de Waal’s installations, to go and look for the hidden gold, to lie down and let Atmosphere affect me. I feel that the exhibition has a very playful side to it. It is about looking, finding out and finding. de Waal has one installation at the back of the big hall that is a bit hidden and not lighted as the others. He says this is a piece for the visitor to discover by his/her own, not at all in line with the convention to label everything in an exhibition. (Source: Audioguide) In the boxes he has hidden gilded plates – more to discover.
Having seen the exhibition it feels quite natural to combine works by Morandi and de Waal. But I found it hard to put the feeling into words that there is another common denominator that goes deeper than the obvious pottery and still life connection. But I think the play with boundaries that I find in both their works and in the venue itself is important. It is something I would like to take with me into my own work. I have tried to do still lifes with Morandi in mind here, and made a version of my drawing for Exercise 4.1 where I blurred boundaries between objects and background.
I have very much enjoyed visiting and discussing the exhibition with a fellow student. For me, looking and discussing is so much more rewarding than just looking and thinking by myself. The other person’s thoughts trigger new ones of my own so that together we can go deeper. It has been a lovely day out and a wonderful experience! Thank you!
Exhibition Leaflet (2017): ArtipelagMorandi/Edmund de Waal. Göteborgstryckeriet
Choose one of the 3 drawings from the previous exercise
Enlarge it from A4 to A3 using a grid of squares
Be sure to enlarge the breadth of the marks, too, so the line/volume ratio stays the same (approximately)
I felt sceptical about this exercise. I think it was not so much about the enlarging technique as such but about the idea of copying a whole line drawing. I think I would use it to enlarge an image in order to achieve the same positioning of objects, shadows etc. from a sketch/drawing onto a larger surface. But the actual drawing I would rather do free-hand. I am no fan of grids, and I felt rebellion stir in me. From the very first I was thinking about how I could use the grid aspect of this drawing to make it different from the original. I wanted the technique to be visible.
Over my inkdrawing I drew a grid of 4x4cm squares. To enlarge from A4 to A3 I had to double the area of the squares and find out the new side length:
16cm² x 2 =32cm²
√32cm² = 5.6… cm
I also made a 4x4cm square mask to lay over the drawing in order to block out the surrounding squares. However, I soon found out that it is easier to get the correct angle for the long straight lines if I look where they start and end and then draw them in one go. I did use the mask for more complex shapes like the bottom of the candles and as a reference for checking my lines.
I also found out that in this exercise I had good use of negative spaces. As lines cross a square they form shapes against the square’s edges. These shapes are simpler than the whole negative space between the objects in my drawing: many right-angled triangles or rhombi (rhombuses?). They helped me determine angles and points where lines cross the edge of the square.
In the beginning I drew directly with ink but reconsidered after the first wrong line. I then sketched in the important lines with graphite as a reference. For the candles I made the ruling-pen very narrow and that worked really well. For the cast shadows I opened it somewhat more. Now the hatching began. I tried to observe the way I had hatched in the original drawing and to reproduce that approximately. I think that worked ok, too. But with the dark background things got messy. With that many lines I did not attempt to copy lines anymore but tried to think the same way as when I did this part in the original drawing. The ruling-pen now was set really broad and thus swallowed a lot of ink. The lines took some time to dry and I realised I could not cross hatch until the first lines were dry. I misjudged that sometimes and got a blot, sometimes my sleeve would brush over still wet ink and smudge it. A fineliner would definitely have been a better choice – or more experience with the ruler-pen.
The two pictures side by side:
All in all I am positively surprised with the outcome. I had envisioned a wobbly rendering of my original drawing but I think they are quite alike. The left-most candle is bent, otherwise I have managed to keep shapes and composition. In two places I lost my way and drew the hatching too far (between the two shadows furthest down and the background left of the left-most candle). Also my search for a way of achieving lighter hatching in the cast shadows becomes much more obvious in the enlarged picture. There is no consistency in the hatching there.
Once I had started the drawing I began to understand the exercise better and to enjoy its challenges. It is a technique I will remember and use in the future, I think. Maybe just a bit more freely and probably for much bigger surfaces.
choose 4-5 of the same long, pale, plain objects and group them in upright position
add a black background
block out daylight and light the scene from the side with a lamp
Now make 3 drawings of the scene using 1. a finliner, 2. graphite pencil, 3. charcoal pencil
avoid too much space around the objects
sketch losely, then work across the whole surface using hatching
Compare the 3 drawings
Further instructions included: make the image dramatic and richly textured, use techniques learned in earlier projects, fill the entire rectangle with hatching.
I had a hard time getting to grips with this. There were so many instructions and I did not really see why they were so detailed. I felt constrained. And then there was the next exercise looming (enlarge one of the drawings) which inhibited me further and made me want to make the picture simple so the task would not become too difficult. Neither could I choose any objects for quite some time.
Finally I decided to get a move on. I settled on white candles in different lengths, two new ones and three used ones. They felt like something different from the usual fruit and veg. When drawing I realised that I would not be able to make them “richly textured” as they are very smooth. Neither did I find any use for earlier techniques with the candles except that I omitted lines on the lit side to reinforce the feeling of light. I did get a dramatic effect, though.
I started in my sketchbook to test compositions and mark making in the different mediums. This helped me to place my still life on the page and find an interesting composition. A lot of these first mark making attempts did not work at all – especially the charcoal. I tried several different pencils until I found a rather hard one that worked.
With these first attempts I found that the image plays nicely with vertical and horizontal long shapes coupled with light and dark. I tried to work that out more with the composition and the black background. I like the shadows creeping up the background (a black sketchbook), and I like the tilting of the candles. I like the composition of the graphite one best, but for the final drawings I chose one with less empty space. Not sure if I succeeded, though.
In all of the sketches I did not like how I rendered the candles. None of the shadowing reflects the smoothness of the wax. In the final drawings I reduced it to almost only vertical lines, in the ink one very few and very thin. That works much better.
I was positively surprised by the effect of the fineliner in the background, although a pattern crept in that I did not like (darker streaks). With the graphite I eventually found a way of criss crossing that gave an illusion of blackness with a nice movement to it. I tried to duplicate that in all of the final drawings. It worked best with the graphite and maybe it would have with the fineliner, but all my fineliners were emptied by the sketch above so I had to improvise. I used a ruling pen and ink instead.
These are the final drawings:
The graphite and charcoal ones turned out quite similar. I liked using them as I feel I know what I’m doing. However, they lost their point very fast and my hand smudged the lines. The ink was easier in that respect, as long as I allowed it to dry. A fineliner would have been easier still, no doubt.
The charcoal one has a nicer contrast than the graphite which makes it seem more like a drawing than a sketch, more permanent in my eyes. I also like the velvety quality of the background in the charcoal drawing.
With the ink it was more difficult to get the background dark. Probably because it did not smudge and the ruler pen kept to one thickness. I think I have not yet found out how to make this kind of hatching so it looks consistent.
The cast shadows on the white paper are lighter than the background. I had difficulties showing this in a way that worked with the hatching. Lighter hatching seems much more difficult to achieve with regard to the consistency mentioned above. Especially with the ink. I tried different ways but am not really satisfied with any of them. This needs more work.
For the next exercise – enlarging the image using squares – I chose the ink drawing. Its lines are definite and clear. I plan to use the ruler pen’s ability to change the thickness of the line it makes (a rather messy affair as it turned out with the wider lines…).
I am glad I did this exercise. It was difficult working under so many instructions and it felt limiting occasionally. But this made me do things I would not otherwise have done, like the choice of the objects or trying to fill a black background with a fineliner (I long to make a drawing of this with ink and brush!). I am pleased with the graphic effect of the candles and shadows and I have gained valuable experience with regard to using lines to depict areas of tone. Something I have avoided up to now. I would like to try different kinds of mark making with this composition, though.
Part 4 begins with an introduction to negative spaces which contains a student drawing of a pot plant. The student only filled in a dark background where it was visible, all else, i.e. the pot plant, is left white. The drawing intrigued me and I set out to try the technique myself.
It was fascinating. Negative spaces are not a new concept to me but I have never before made them the main feature in a picture. Drawing all those dark spaces was an exercise in patience. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I was doing. I realised how much information the background holds. And also how much of a drawing is interpretation, how much the brain fills in. Which is a very interesting observation with regard to what I need to draw for a viewer to see what there is. It turns out it is actually very little.
The first drawing is of a gap in the “canopy” of a potted tamarind tree. I had not thought about the composition, I only wanted to see if it was doable. It was. Around the edge of the gap some of the compound leaves show enough leaflets to allow the viewer to understand how they’re built. This makes it possible for the brain to interpret the dark triangles where the “canopy” is denser. I had not expected this.
For a finished drawing I would need to choose a composition with better edges, I feel.
I did that for my second drawing. I chose my angle carefully and decided to let the plant hang out of the background a little. I like the effect of that. The shapes of the negative spaces are different, still some triangles but also longer and broader shapes. I think this picture has quite a good balance.
I began to observe the shapes of the negative spaces around me and wanted to draw a lot of them. In the end I only managed one more – an oak. Without the leaves it shows its limbs with all their twists, surrounded by a halo of twigs. This last one was done pressed for time and it shows. I did not plan the composition very well and I caught myself drawing the limbs instead of the negative spaces. The execution of the two earlier ones is better, too. Still, I like the ghostly effect and I think the character of the oak comes out well.
Doing these drawings has opened my eyes for negative spaces. I see them everywhere now and it felt natural to switch my eyes between positive and negative shapes when drawing the still life for the next exercise.