Portraits de Cézanne, Musée d’Orsay, June 13 – Sept 24 2017
The exhibition spans portraits from the whole of Cézanne’s career. It shows how his style and method have evolved over time and gives an insight in how he worked by showing several versions of the same portrait side by side. The exhibition also includes a few sketchbook pages and drawings which I found very interesting.
Following my tutor’s advice to study artists’ techniques I decided to draw one of the drawings rather than try to take in the whole of the exhibition.
my attempt, pencil on brown paper, A4
Paul Cézanne: Portrait du Docteur Gachet, 1873
What I learned:
I need to be much much bolder with my darks. Although I saw the tones before me my own ones are very narrow. I deepened the shadows several times but as is obvious now I should have pushed them further still (although I did use a pencil not charcoal and the sketch has since been smudged considerably).
Different tones and different kinds of marks (smudges, hatching, strong single marks…) work out the shape of the coat in a lively manner. Here, too, I need to broaden my repertoire considerably. I see a similarity in the marks of this drawing and the colour fields with which Cézanne builds up his paintings.
Some shadows/hatching in the background close to the figure place it in a space without defining that space.
The lighting in the room was not very good for what I was doing – it was hard to see my own marks and in the beginning I was distracted by the other visitors. Nonetheless I liked this exercise. It brought me much closer to this drawing than just looking would have done. It showed me the difference between knowing to do something (e.g. making dark darks) and actually do it. It allows me to get a direct feedback on what I do and to experience the effect of a mark I would probably not have made on my own.
To get more out of this I would have needed to stay longer and do it again, maybe concentrating on only a part of the drawing. I will have to do this at home where I can visit exhibitions more often and at my leisure.
On holiday in Brittany I found patterns in the sand I want to remember. I liked thinking of them as drawings although they are a result of the tide going out and the activity of some kind of sand worm I think. To a child of the alps like me the tides are fascinating:
I also amused myself making lines with rocks and letting the tide change them.
These are sketches I did after having visited the Zorn exhibition trying to use long and prominent lines to achieve volume.
For the first sketch I chose an easy subject and tried to be bold with the lines. Without having studied Zorn’s etchings I would never have chosen to draw hatching lines parallel to the legs. But I think they work well. The hatching conveys the colour of the trousers in contrast to that of the sock. It also shows the fall of the fabric. Indeed, I think the directional lines work best where they follow the direction of the fabric, changing direction where the fabric does. However, sometimes this does not apply as Zorn’s etching of King Oskar shows.
Attempting this drawing has led to a lot of questions: How do creases work? The ones below the knee look real, but inverted to what they actually were. Why? Some of the creases look glued on – how can I bind together the cross hatching in the creases with the long lines so it looks more convincing? And again: When does hatching across different picture planes work and when not? What does it do?
I need to do many more of this kind. Simple shapes will be best to begin with.
I have made two attempts at hands and a face but I think the subjects are too complicated to get to grips with a new technique like this. Too much to control for me at this stage.
The knuckles of the hand work quite well as do the lighted parts of the hand as a whole. The shadow side is confused. I was searching for the shadows and shapes at the same time as I was unsure what hatching direction/quality to use. This also goes for the face. Too many variables I was not sure of.
This needs more study!
Maybe I should make drawings of Zorn’s drawings first before attempting my own subjects.
Continuous line wandering and curving, crossing itself
Built up marks overlapping and creating tonal contrast
Highly organised, creating grid like effects and geometric form
I had planned to make a kind of abstract landscape inspired by a sketch I had made early in the course.
However, I got distracted and what I did in the end are two very different drawings.
The first one is a development of my test pieces for the texture exercise. I wanted the squiggly line to form a stylised tree with large leaves. This is my search for it:
I then painted the fabric with silk paints and stitched the line with two strands of embroidery thread. Stem and leaves were made as in the test piece.
For the flower/fruit I chose red as a contrast. It is blocked in without allowing any white to shine through and built up from three different reds to give it volume.
I stitched the whole onto a piece of sun blind as a support and frame.
I am not satisfied with the leftmost leaf. I made the creasing too strong so it spreads to the surrounding fabric. The other two are better.
I like this very much although it seems different from what I do otherwise. The semi-abstract drawing appeals to me as do the colours and the single red dot. Maybe I have managed to work in key aspects of what “treeness” is to me – the root and in it the riches of the soil (although it seems to float in the air), green and specks of light around the leaves, all bound together in one movement, culminating in the fruit. But these thoughts came afterwards, I did not set out to depict anything like that. The roots of this picture are in the technique. This makes me wonder where the “meaning” in a piece of art comes from.
A very spontaneuous image. As I was looking for fabric for my second drawing I came across this and the ink stains intrigued me. It was crinkled and some of the creases coincided with a stain giving me the idea to use creases as lines.
The photo does not do it justice, the shadows of unwanted creases become much too overpowering as the colouring is very subtle and delicate.
I chose a white thread so as not to deflect focus from the creases which I wanted to form the main lines. The stitching continues further than the creases to let the lines fade out in a way similar to the stains.
For the lines in the water I used dark grey nylon thread hoping it would reflect the light and glint like water. It has not yet done so but I still think it might given the right light source. I tried to make the water lines horizontal which turned out to be very difficult as the fabric is old, worn thin and losing its shape.
I like the way the ink has followed the weaving of the fabric in the edges of some of the stains. The lines remind me of a skyline of fir trees. I left these lines unworked so they contrast to the creases and waterlines.
I also left the stains above the uppermost waterline unworked to make them retreat and add some depth.
The fabric had become crinkled by the time I was done so I ironed it where possible. I could not do that over the nylon thread so the creases there stand out. They disturb the effect I had in mind with the water lines.
I am not sure if this works as a picture. Maybe the drawing is too subtle in colouring for a viewer to recognise what I saw. Maybe the idea with the creases would work better on a larger scale and with stronger colours? But I like the subtlety, the mere suggestion of a landscape. The colours and composition play first fiddle here, I feel, making the figurative aspect take a step back.
I am surprised at where this has taken me. During the initial exercises I have found new ways of using thread and fabric and they have led me down a different path than anticipated. I like that. Doing has had a different effect on me than thinking about doing. This is something to remember.
I have also seen that translating a paper-and-pen drawing to textiles does not necessarily mean to imitate it. Reworking an idea in a different medium can lead to something new and different. This might not be a new insight but with textiles being very different from pencil or ink it leads further away from the original idea.
In the brief it says the final drawings should be highly experimental. I am not sure if my ideas are experimental in a larger context, but they are for me. Experimental in the sense that I have been experimenting and following ideas I did not know the outcome of. The landscape especially although the stitching in that is conventional running stitch.
I am glad I chose this unit. It has further opened up my idea of what drawing can be. Ideas have been forming while I worked involving all kinds of materials and techniques. I will have to find a way to remember them and to revert to them in coming work.
Look at my drawings and find strong areas of tonal variation
Recreate these using different shades of grey threads
Try to create different textures, visual and physical
After the exercises on line it felt natural to continue with ex. 3 on tone rather than texture so I started with that. I had made many drawings for Markmaking for Shading in Unit 2 from which I chose two I thought would lend themselves very well for stitching.
Pencil on cartridge paper
White cotton thread on pond lining
The pencil lines in this sketch are straight and very directional, like stitches. I had wanted to try and sew on pond lining for some time so I chose that. As it is black I could also try to stitch the light parts rather than the pencil lines. I chose a tiny piece as I expected the stitching to be hard. It was easier than expected but the lining dirtied the white thread.
Looking at it now (after having made quite a few samples) I see that I should have used threads of different thickness stretching into each other to mimic the pencil lines. More like the following.
This sketch, too, is built up with straight lines. However here the directionality of the lines is broken and the overall impression is non-directional. Tone is achieved by varied density of the lines and by the thickness/weight of the line.
The first attempt is made with a thin black thread using only density of lines to achieve tone. In the second I used a thicker thread for the darkest tone. Having combined black and grey threads in the line exercises I decided to only use black for this. I feel the colours distract from the effect of the stitch and I wanted to work out that.
Black cotton thread on cotton fabric
Two kinds of black cotton thread on cotton
The second works much better. The tonal difference is marked which lends the shape a certain 3-dimensionality. What fascinated me most in this, however, was not the tone, but the texture. Stitching changes the feel of the fabric, it makes it thicker and stiffer. The stitches are also raised and cast shadows, albeit very small ones. They change in the light when the piece is moved. This gives the drawing a velvety feel, especially the one with two different threads. This can be manipulated further by using dull threads in combination with shiny ones.
I realised that it is very difficult to separate tone and texture here.
For Exercise 2 I chose a piece I had made for the mark making exercise in Unit 1.
What I wanted to translate into stitch were the dots in the uppermost field and the gradual shift in tone in the spiral at the bottom. I also like the squiggly line forming areas I could fill with stitch.
Not surprisingly, the result is very different from the ink drawing.
The aim with this piece was to try out different kinds of texture, visual and physical. From the pieces above I had learned that stitches have a physical quality in themselves. I started there with the dots and the parallel lines discovering the physical textures as I went. The thickness of the fabric changed, long stitches produced shadows, tight stitches made the fabric bulge changing it from a flat surface to modeled shape.
I am very pleased with the tonal gradient in this. What I had in mind was visual texture here, but when working I felt the physical texture become stronger as I increased the dots.
Again I had to deal with the direction of the stitches. Although I tried to make them as short as possible they are still short lines. I was careful to make the directions random to eliminate that feature in the overall impression. Only when I had reached the solid black part I worked to a pattern in order to avoid white shining through between the stitches.
I used embroidery thread with two strands in the lighter parts, three strands in the darker ones. I also increased the length of the stitches in the darker parts.
Hatching with long stitches
The long stitches are made with double thin thread. I did not manage to keep the two evenly stretched and the tension between stitches also varies. The effect is one of two separated layers. The upper stitched one moves and casts distinct shadows.
In the lower loop I also tried to achieve a tonal gradient by increasing the space between lines. The gradient is there but the wobbly lines disturb it a bit I find. The layering effect is stronger.
Modeling the fabric
I had tried to make an even area here but stretched the thread too much (a problem I am familiar with from sewing lessons at school). I am glad I did because I discovered a new way of achieving texture. Stitching does not only involve thread, but the fabric, too! The piece becomes distinctly three dimensional and the role of the shadows becomes stronger. This fascinated me. I tried an other more conscious one as the last sample in this piece: a leaf.
The creases here are achieved by stitching two veins alternately and stretching the thread on the reverse side. By stretching it distinctly near the main vein and gradually make it looser towards the edges of the leaf the creases can be kept inside the leaf.
I very much liked the leaf, the stipling and the overall build of this piece but it contains too many different things. I decided to use it in a simpler version for one of the assignment pieces.
One of my strongest impressions from these exercises is the amount of time I needed to execute ideas. New ones would line up long before the one I was working on was finished. Rather frustrating. Sketching in stitch has nothing of the fast jotting down I can do with a pencil. On the other hand, ideas have time to ripen while I work.
From having had a rather crude idea of what is possible to do with stitch I think I have markedly widened my horizons. Unexpected effects, mistakes and new ideas popping up while working have opened up my imagination. Very early on I wanted to introduce painted elements into the textile work, on fabric but also on paper. I think combinations of the two can result in interesting images. These ideas are very loose as yet. Some I implemented in the assignment pieces.
Try and imitate the marks using black and grey thread in different thicknesses on plain fabric
As it turns out my marks from unit 1 are not very diverse. I used charcoal and ink, both of which I find hard to imitate with thread. Many of my marks are long and sweeping, playing with the change of width in the mark. Stitch as I think of it at this stage is short. For longer marks I need to combine them in some way which means that the long and sweeping marks become broken into bits. Also the thread has a fixed thickness. So what properties of the line can I translate to stitch and how?
For this exercise I tried to limit my ideas to the line, ignoring ones concerning texture and tone which will be the subject for later exercises.
I started with a simple outline. The fact that it is broken is of little importance here as the eye reads it as a line anyway. Still, I tried to make the parts where the thread is on the reverse side as short as possible.
I took one of my cloths I had used to clean my printing utensils and stitched an outline in running stitch around a shape I saw in the stains. The white flax makes a nice contrast to the dark stains. I like the texture of the line and the shiftings in the stains. I like there to be a yellow one.
The flax thread I used, however, does not lend itself to stitching as it frays from repeatedly being drawn through the fabric.
Next I chose one of the simpler lines from my mark making and made something similar using backstitch.
Ink on paper
Cotton and silk threads on cotton flannell
I tried three different threads and found that the fine ones are much more sensitive to uneven stitching. I also found that the reverse side is much more interesting! This was a surprise.
For my next piece I used the same materials but tried to imitate the varied thickness of the ink mark by stitching more lines where the ink line is wider and by covering an area with stitches perpendicular to the line. (This maybe is using tone rather than line?)
I think the effect would have been better if I had used black thread only. This is something different. However, I quite like the outcome. The reverse side of this does not work anymore as the grey and black stitches go across each other. I made one version where I worked from the reverse side, making the stitches from behind.
I like the texture of this. It also fills out more and actually has a difference in thickness between straight and round line.
One of my favorite pictures from the mark making unit is one in ink and graphite. I like the energetic broad ink marks in this. How can I make tapered marks in stitch?
I tried using a tapered piece of ribbon sown into the fabric as if it were thread. This reminds me more of weaving than sewing and the effect turned out very different from the original in ink. The fact that the mark is partitioned lends it a different character. I stuck to the idea, though, and continued with wool and sewing thread in black and grey for the thinner marks in the ink drawing. While I worked the cut edges of the ribbon started to fray.
The stitching is sloppy and the ribbon used is the wrong kind but I think this could become something. It looks a bit like a tuft of horsetail with grasses.
To translate the energy in the ink marks to stitch I have to come up with something else. This version is much too static.
This is the second time my tutor suggests I study works by Marlene Dumas, in particular the subtlety of her application of fluid media. The superficial google searches I have managed until now have put me off and I have not yet gotten as far as to actually study her work in terms of technique. Her subject matter to me is very hard to take in. Widewalls’ page about female painters describes her work as “defining the anxieties of human existence” (…) and her subject matter “includingnewborn babies, young strippers, and models but also murdered people and bodies in morgues.” At first glance I perceived nothing subtle about her work, whether in subject or execution. I decided, however, to put aside this initial reaction and try to understand what my tutor wants me to see.
As a first step I chose pictures I find less violent and shocking so as to make it easier for me to actually look.
Jan Hoet in memoriam
This one I like very much:
The tones in the face are expertly built up to give it volume and expression. As in the etchings by Zorn I have looked at recently there are small but important shifts in tone, small areas with a lighter or darker tone that model the face. This is especially worked through in the eyes and around the lips. Here she used the darkest tones very close to the lightest, both in small but significant areas. It gives the portrait a very intense look. Painting in inks as opposed to the etchings, Dumas has an other feature at her disposal: the border between tones can be sharp or gradual, straight or fringed. The portrait is kept almost monochrome with the exception of the nose where she used a subtle blue.
I think Dumas started with a wet in wet layer in a light tone on which to build more layers going gradually darker. These layers are put on in various states of wet/dry to achieve a range of soft and hard edges. The effect is an expressive yet very realistic portrait.
Dumas then added marks in white chalk or pastel, a line framing the face, a single line below the nose and stripes in the background and over the torso. They seem so out of place and superimposed that I think Dumas wanted something very specific with them. She does not do this usually in her portraits. The roughly drawn lines contrast very strongly with the realism of the portrait, enhancing the latter. At the same time they frame it and thus remove it masklike from the torso and the background. Maybe they are about a death mask. The white chalk is reminiscent of the plaster used for them. Death masks are accurate casts of a face yet all in white, removed from life.
I very much like the contrast of the fluid ink and the broken quality of the chalk line. It puts a strong accent on parts of the drawing. They play very well together.
In many of her other portraits Dumas uses less tonal variation. The thing that strikes me in them is the harsh contrast between a smooth light area for the face and strong very dark tones used in eyes, nose and mouth. These portraits are less realistic. I feel they are more about inner qualities, a raw nakedness of the human being. An example is Supermodel from 1995.
In this Dumas very carefully models the lips and nose. The eyes, too, are built up with several tonal variations, but less realistically. They contain the only white marks in the picture, drawing the gaze of the viewer and making us look into the portrait’s eyes. The rest of the face is all in the same tone. It looks smooth and young, but also featureless and anonymous. The human quality is reduced to the eyes, nose and lips. This picture has nothing of the suave smoothness of the supermodel that usually lures us to not look more closely. She looks sad and vulnerable.
An other striking feature of this portrait is the total lack of background and hair. It is only a face and a neck, the latter not even connected to the face, only a pointer to the possibility of a body. Humans recognize each other mainly by the face, we are programmed to read subtle differences in faces and facial expressions. The most important landmarks we go by, science has shown, are eyes and mouth, to a certain degree, the nose. These are the features Dumas has carved out thoroughly. By doing that and leaving out the rest of the head and the background Dumas has stripped the portrait of all superficial elements. And such it looks, stripped, naked.
I think I have managed a careful approach to an artist I would have shied away from. It is interesting to see how my view changed. I am still no fan of the cruder and more shocking of her pictures but I feel I am more open to her work than I was before. It seems I have edged my way to an entrance. I can now understand some of the things she does and I see a purpose behind her work where before I felt like a question mark. This is a beginning on which to build I think.
I also noticed that my unwillingness to look at the pictures made me miss their finer points. I saw crude marks, stark contrasts and subjects I did not want to see. To find fine tonal variations like in the lips of Supermodel, or the blue in the nose of Jan Hoet was a surprise. Something to remember, I think. First impressions may deceive.
Keep experimenting. I like to see the exercises as a starting point for further experiments. They make me do things and reflect on what I do which triggers ideas.
Study of other artists: Keep looking at what they do and how they do it. Look at their work analytically and learn from them.
Things to develop
Don’t forget the technical aspects of drawing. I tend to be seduced by materials and mediums and the freedom of experimental, expressive work. It is one of my main aims with this course, after all. But there needs to be room for technical development. I think good sketchbook practice would help here. I struggle with that. Try to balance sketchbook work between experimentation, development of ideas and technical practice.
I was surprised to see that my tutor only saw “some” tonal variation in my hand sketches and consequently only “some” volume. I read that as meaning tonal variation and volume are developing in my work but I’m not quite there yet. When I looked at the sketches again I understood what she means. There are no really dark darks in most of the hands. More dark tones would help to model the hand. I need to be bolder with the darks.
Keep the background in my mind. Not only as an area to fill out, but as a feature and part of the whole picture in itself. In these exercises the background had centre stage. Don’t forget it when it doesn’t anymore!
Including a narrative in a picture adds interest. Sometimes I manage that, not sure how, though. It is an intriguing thought and I would like to develop it. Try to use it more consciously.
Anders Zorn (1860-1920) is one of the most famous Swedish painters. He started his career as a portrait painter and watercolourist but is today best known for his nudes in nature, both watercolours and oils. He had long been fascinated with the light on water which he from 1880 onwards combined with a female nude by or in the water. These are very sensual realistic paintings.
He also made sculpures and etchings.
This exhibition shows watercolours, oils, etchings, sculptures and photographs that are rarely shown to the public. The works come from the Zorn Museum in Mora and from private collections.
Light on Water – Watercolours
I was instantly fascinated by one of the first watercolours in the exhibition:
I am spell bound by the light in this. It is almost as if the light emanated from the picture. How did he do this?! I know it has to do with contrast, but how?
A closer look reveals the colours he used to build up the water. It looks a blue grey with white highlights, but there is actually surprisingly little real blue and white in it. Most of the marks contain a fair amount of brown.
The dark marks are a dark grey, the lighter colours in the shadow a grey with hints of brown in some areas, sometimes verging on green. The really surprising thing here however are the whites. In the part that looks brightest Zorn broke the white with cool colours, further out to the sides they get warmer.
These coloured whites in contrast to the dark marks give the impression of light playing and glittering on the water.
Etchings – the use of lines
In the etchings displayed at the exhibition the most striking thing was Zorn’s use of lines. He uses very prominent roughly parallel lines to build up tone which then forms the image.
In the coat of King Oscar Zorn drew the marks straight from the shoulders down, across lapel and all. Only in the forearm the direction is altered. I am surprised to see that this works! Combined with the coarse shadows it gives the impression of a dark coat in strong sunlight. In the face and the hat the marks are finer and their direction follows the planes of the face/hat. They are still very rough but also precise in that they leave patches of light that model the face. There are more tones here, from very dark around the eyes, lips and below the hat over a variety of dark and light tones to white. E.g. there is a light shift to a lighter tone just over the brow or a slight difference in tone between the mustaches on the lit and the shadow side. The contrast in detail between face and coat is striking and I think important in order to make the face the focal point. This is stressed further by the background which mostly is a simple line drawing. The roughness of the drawing surely says something about the subject. Not knowing anything about King Oscar II I had him down as an old salt.
There is an other etching I studied more closely as it is very different from this one. It is of Queen Sophia:
This portrait has an altogether different character. Sophias dress is of a light colour and Zorn drew lines only in shadowed areas. Cross hatching is used very sparingly and then in a much calmer way than in the coat of King Oscar. Here the lines are mostly parallel or fanning out following the drapes of the dress. In the face, too, the lines are calmer, and are kept roughly vertical. This makes her features fine and smooth.
As the figure here is light, the background is kept dark, but the contrasts in dress and face tell about a strong light falling on her, maybe through a window.
It was very interesting to study these etchings. I am surprised at the level of detail Zorn is able to express using mainly parallel lines. Especially in the portrait of King Oscar. They look hastily drawn and sketchy but it is obvious that he knew exactly where shadows and lights are and what tones he could produce. I often don’t and so find it easier to search for the shape by filling areas with graphite. This hatching technique, I imagine, is only effective if I know from the start where I want darks or lights.
I am not entirely sure whether I like the striped effect of the lines. I am impressed with the craftsmanship of the drawings, but the strong parallel and directional lines disturb me. I am more comfortable with a looser approach, crisscrossing maybe or a less overpowering application of hatching. Still, I plan to try it out for myself.
Homepage, Anders Zorn museum, Mora, Sweden: http://www.zorn.se/en/us/anders-zorn/
Homepage Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. Exhibition description: http://www.sven-harrys.se/en/utforska/konsthallen/anders-zorn/en-annan-zorn/