3.2 Leaving my Comfort Zone

As suggested by my tutor I stepped up the paper size and chose chunky materials to draw. In my stash I found water soluble crayons, oil pastels, acrylic paint, conté, coal and soft pastel sticks, watercolours, acrylic markers and promarkers plus A2 drawing paper, coloured drawing paper and large newspapers.

With the first one I tried to achieve dynamic marks, using a broken piece of crayon on its side.

ohne-farbe
Water soluble crayon on A2 drawing paper

Apart from the beetroot I am quite happy with the result. But my crayon box contains coloured sticks, too. So I tried that, rather timidly.

fullsizerender

I then tried to add water to it, but it turned out I had used too much crayon for that. Everything went black.

How would water(colour) work on oil pastels?

oil-pastels
Oil pastels and watercolour on A2 drawing paper

Still a lot of black, especially in the pepper. Also the marks in the pepper make it look as if it were creased paper and the back of it jumps forward. But I like the way the oil pastel repels the water and so restricts colour to spaces between marks. I had used the groves technique on the beetroot again. The watercolour would enter into them making them red instead of white. I like that.

beetroot

I had tried to be more gestural with the application of colour and paint outside the lines. No success there. The cast shadows are smudged oil pastel. I found that the depth illusion is stronger if I smudge in the direction of the ground (horizontally) not in the direction of the light (dioganally). I used the side of my hand for rubbing. Flakes of pastel drew nice lines in the smudged areas. I like the cast shadows.

Now that I had begun using colour I moved to acrylic paint.

on-acrylics
Acrylic paint, oil pastels and ink on newspaper

To begin with I used the acrylic to make a white ground on the newspaper to draw on with oil pastels. I then tried shadowing with ink which did not work at all. The ink is not repelled in the same way as watercolour and just makes rather ugly and dirty areas. What I liked discovering was how the crayons work out the pallet knife marks in the acrylics beneath. I also like the rough edges of the white background, leaving not an edge but an area for the picture to run out.

So what if I use acrylics for the coloured bits, too?

light
Acrylic paint and acrylic marker on newspaper

I decided to draw the lit parts of the objects this time to see how that would work. My markers were not so opaque as I had thought so I first painted a white ground for the coloured parts. I used a rectangular pallet knife which made very distinct marks. I then coloured the white. The shapes were very hard to recognise so I added some lines to the mushrooms to suggest their form. It does not really work. Especially the beet root is all wrong as I also drew in the shadow. The mushrooms in the foreground are fine I think. If I had arranged and lit the objects in a manner so that lit areas define dark ones like in the middle mushroom’s foot it might become very nice.

Even if I consider these last two experiments failed I like the colours. So the next and final experiment I started with the colour. I used a pallet knife and had only roughly sketched in the position of the veggies in order to not being able to stay inside the lines. I then drew in the heavy lines with a felt tip pen.

akkryl-stage-1
Acrylics and felt tip pen on wallpaper

To add shadows for depth I used conté sticks in dark grey and black. I used them for the cast shadows, too, but they became very much too heavy. So I tried to get rid of them and use smudged oil pastels instead. I decided to add a bit of blue into those and also very sparingly in the shaded areas of the veggies. I like the effect very much.

akryl-stage-3

Acrylics, felt tip pen, conté sticks, oil pastels on wall paper

 

Conté for the cast shadows was a mistake and it mars the picture. Apart from that I am really pleased. I think this is the best of all the pieces I have done for this exercise, including the graphite ones.

 

Reflections

I am very glad I used larger paper and different drawing media. It really opened me up to new ideas. Changing paper and media kept the ideas coming so that each drawing jogged new ones. I tried to listen to my own reactions and curiosity and to act upon them.

I have kept to my still life throughout these experiments in order to concentrate on finding new ways without the need to get to know new shapes. I am quite tired of it now.

Looking back I realise that for the final picture I have used things I liked from most of my experiments and sketches and collected them in one drawing. This drawing would not have been possible without all the studies that went before. So even if most of the experimental drawings are failures, they were necessary for the process. It is one thing to be told this, and quite an other to experience it.

 

Add on

Is a still life a still life if it is not situated in an environment? Only one of the above pictures give any clue as to where the veggies are. I wanted to see what would happen if I add a dark background to the last of the still lives to suggest a table.  So I made two more of them. I found it difficult to duplicate the picture. The new ones lack the immediacy of the original. This is something I experience often, not being able to achieve a certain effect again. The following two pictures have aspects that are better than the original and others that do not work as well.

blaues-papier
Acrylics, felt tip pen and oil pastels on A2 drawing paper

The background hightens the sense of depth I think. And the mushroom in the foreground is very nice. However, the dark paper changes the hue of the paints. For the pepper this works well, as the dark in the thinner layers suggests a shadowing. The beetroot on the other hand turned out too dark and muddy so I decided to give it a layer of white first. Applying it I lost track of the shape so that turned out all wrong. Also the blue paper does not add any interest. The blue in the shadows does not really show in the photo, in reality it is much stronger and bolder than in the original drawing. I like that very much. I also like the shadow beneath the tip of the pepper which makes it arch over the surface.

buff-paper
Acrylics, felt tip pen and oil pastels on A2 drawing paper

In this version the paper works better and the beetroot turned out really nice. But I am not satisfied with the mushrooms and did not at all succeed with the pepper.

So even if certain details are better in the two latest versions, all in all I think I still go with the original.

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3.2 Natural Form and Space

  • choose several organic objects and arrange them
  • concentrate on accuately representing their forms, considering light, shadows, ground and spaces between objects
  • Draw boldly, larger than life. Don’t be hesitant
  • Experiment with the weight of marks
  • Reflect: How can you describe the objects’ form through your marks, what is the surface like, how do the objects relate to each other?

Preparatory work

To start this exercise I googled “Still life drawings” to jog some ideas on mark making. I was initially looking for the “weight” of marks and for gestural marks and how they are used. I did not really find what I was looking for but ideas about other aspects of still lives started tumbling in: subject matter, arrangement, drawing surface… One of them was about combining media to achieve certain effects. This is new to me, I tend to restrict myself to one medium and often one way of using it, too. The different media should be contrasting in different ways: hard – soft, sharp – fluid, light – dark, b/w – coloured etc. I put these ideas into a research map which I referred to frequently during the following process.

I then decided on my subjects. I wanted them to have some kind of correlation and I wanted them to be different in their texture. With this last specification I wanted to challenge myself into versatile mark making. I found the following:

  • A beetroot: rough texture and uneven shape
  • 4 mushrooms: velvety texture and rounded shapes
  • A pepper: smooth and shiny texture, interesting bumps and indentations

Initial Sketches

I started in my A4 sketchbook to get to know my objects and test some of my mark making ideas and media mixes:

sketch-pilz
Graphite hatching (above) and ink with charcoal (below)

I like the ink with charcoal best as it renders the velvety texture of the mushrooms very well. I managed to place the different tones of the ink washes right so they reflect the actual shadows. With the charcoal I added detail and strengthened some contours.

The hatching is nice, but does not really fit the texture here.

 

 

 

 

 

sketch
Sepia and black ink, graphite (mushrooms), sepia ink, charcoal, sepia chalk pen

I found the cold colour of the graphite did not combine well with the warmth of the sepia ink. However, the colder black shadows work well.

Beetroot: Very nice ink marks in the right spots where the root has blemishes. The chalk pen was moody – sometimes it would make nice strong marks, sometimes none at all. And the tip broke all the time. When I got so frustrated that I used it with barely any tip at all I found that the wood makes grooves, where the later charcoal smudges would not enter. Very nice effect! I like the rough and dirty texture of this beetroot.

 

 

 

 

I like this very much. I managed to make the ink shadowing

sketch-peperoni
Black ink, graphite, charcoal

nice and soft without any hard edges. I also left one highlight. The hatching in patches of different direction and intensity gives an illusion of separate tilting planes which describes the shape of the pepper very well. However, I feel it does not describe the smooth and shiny texture. I tried to add highlights I had accidentally painted over with white acrylic marker. That did not work at all.

The charcoal on top of the cast shadow works well to show a smoothish non reflective surface (tabletop).

 

 

 

I then combined them into a first still life.

still-life-1
Sepia and black ink, sepia chalkpen, charcoal pencil, A3 cheap drawing paper, spotlight plus daylight from the right

I think this has a nice depth. I made the contours in the mushrooms and the pepper tip in the foreground stronger, in the background I did not add any contour lines and tried to be lighter with the shadows to give a sense of depth. I think also that the dark strip behind the table strengthens the illusion of space. Maybe even the arrangement of the veggies, especially the pepper.

Again I like the beetroot in its knobbliness and roughness.

The ink works well, as it reflects shadows and lights.

I did go for the hatching in the pepper and felt that for reasons of cohesion I have to use the same technique in other parts of the picture, so the mushrooms got it, too. I am, however, not sure if this is important.

I had put the veggies on a white cloth. I liked the way it messed with the cast shadows. But it does not work like this, I will have to study fabric separately some time.

First Drawing

For this I put the veggies closer together and chose watercolour paper for the ink to behave better. Also I skipped the cloth. As I wanted to use graphite I chose the black ink. I did not change the water, though, hence the warm tinge to the lighter areas.

graphite-and-ink
Ink, 9B-B graphite pencils, rubber pen without rubber, graphite shavings and paper stomp, white chalk pen on watercolour paper, A3

In this I was less successful with the ink, so the lit parts are much less prominent. I tried to remedy that in the mushrooms with a white chalk pen.

In the beetroot I overdid the pencil marks which caused it to lose shape and interest. However, the grooves (done with the metal tip of a pen eraser) work well.

The mushrooms turned out very nice, I think. For their shadow side I used the pencil on its side, trying to give no direction to the marks. The watercolour paper’s tooth thwarted that somewhat, but not too much, I think.

For the pepper I tried a paper stomp and graphite shavings. I do not do that usually, but I think it works better than the hatching for the pepper’s texture.

Apart from the beetroot which is quite flat there is some sense of depth. It is less than in the sketch above but then the veggies occupy a smaller space. Maybe I should have left the lone mushroom where it was.

Reflections

I felt the step to A3 changed a lot. The nice expressive marks from the sketchbook did not work as well as they are much thinner in relation to the size of the objects. Maybe this is why I overdid the marks in the beetroot. I felt that I have to find other marks and media for this size.

During all of these – sketches and drawing – I tried to be more adventurous in my mark making and get away from the pencil. It proved to be difficult. Maybe it is the wording in the exercise description where it says “accurate depiction” that held me to the pencils. I am very glad I had the beetroot! When I realized this, I decided to go bigger still and have a rummage in my art supplies. But that is a different story.

3.1 Open Cupboard

  • Choose a cupboard containing packets, jars, boxes
  • Open its door and draw the contents and the cupboard with its open door
  • Use line only to achieve a sense of depth by means of perspective
  • Draw the items as if they were transparent

Once I had chosen my cupboard and sat down I first drew the horizon line at eye level and the central vanishing point. Then I sketched in the cupboard. For the open door I needed two more vanishing points, the right hand one on an other piece of paper. This gave me the frame for the items inside. Drawing all the lines to the central vanishing point was very helpful and prevented me several times from drawing awkward angles.

From my vantage point on the floor I had an interesting view on the scales, the honey jar and the toaster on the counter top so I drew them too. I also liked the idea of the wide angle so that I would see parts of the picture from above and parts from below.

I have made several versions of this and all have mistakes, mainly around the scales. This is the best one:

fullsizerender
2B graphite pencil and sepia ink pen, 2x A3

Reflections

It is very difficult to draw these long straight lines between two points. I was tempted to use a ruler but I fear the eye would become much less forgiving. Like this the lines are not really straight and thus indicate a certain margin of tolerance that also covers the angles.

I like the effect of space and depth I achieved, especially in the extremes like the door and the counter top. The boxes in the cupboard are rather boring on their own so the sharp angles and strange viewpoint add a bit of interest.

There is a major mistake in the top corner where the door should meet the frame – it does not. In consequence the upper left edge of the cupboard (inside) is wrong, too.

I liked drawing this as an exercise although it felt more like constructing. I think it makes for good training that will come in handy in more free drawings.

On Perspective

Perspective is a way of representing objects in 3D space – i.e. reality as we perceive it – on a 2D surface as we draw or paint. It gives the viewer an illusion of depth and space. For us today this kind of realistic representation seems natural and obvious. However it was a sensation when it was invented – not discovered: seeing in perspective is an acquired ability (Missfeldt). I think this is a noteworthy thought: not only drawing in perspective must be learned, but also seeing (a picture) in perspective is learned. Today we are surrounded by realistic pictures, not least photographs, and learn to read them at an early age. According to scientific research visual processing in our eyes and brain build on textures, invariance and movement – perspective does not come into it (Missfeldt). Perspective becomes only relevant in the translation of space onto a surface.

Perspective in this sense – one-point perspective with one vanishing point – was first used in the early 15th century by Filippo Brunelleschi (1410) and described in detail not much later by Leon Batista Alberti in De Pittura (On painting) (1436) and others. During the Renaissance and later it was further developed and refined and soon became the major way of representation in western art. It superseded other ways of representation in the west until they were rediscovered during the development of modernism.

The word “perspective” derives from latin “seeing/looking through”. The thought behind this is that the picture frame becomes like a window through which the viewer looks into a three-dimensional space. The objects in this space are constructed with reference to a horizon and a vanishing point on that horizon. Lines perpendicular to the horizon and parallel to the ground merge in the vanishing point. Lines parallel with the horizon remain so. For objects seen edge-on two secondary vanishing points to the left and right are needed. The position of the horizon changes the impression from where we see the scene. A horizon on eye-level seems natural, a horizon high up in the picture gives the impression that we are looking from a vantage point high up (bird-perspective) and one near the bottom that we are looking from a very low view point (frog-perspective). Objects’ shadows can be constructed in similar ways by defining a light source either in front of, to the side or behind the viewer/painter that acts as a vanishing point for the shadow lines. Viewing angles above 60 degrees lead to distortions.

This kind of construction can be expanded to include up to five vanishing points: the central one, two to either side on the horizon, one above and one below the horizon on a vertical axis. The latter two being vanishing points for the vertical lines. For a short description of these check out this website.

Perspective is a way of deceiving the brain into seeing things that are not really there. Patrick Hughes’ reversed perspective pictures show this marvelously. The three-dimensional parts stick out towards the viewer while their painted sides suggest that the image recedes. It is fascinating how the illusion is stronger than the real thing! At least on video, I wonder how it feels to see these IRL.

There are other ways of suggesting space:

Overlapping: The simplest one is probably occlusion, where objects in front of others partly cover objects behind them. This can be found in many cultures such as ancient Aegyptian, classical European, Chinese, Japanese or Medieval art:

herr-bernger
Painting of Her Steinmar (Sir Steinmar), Codex Manesse 1300-1340.   (Source: Wehrli 1955)

The trees are behind the people and the people partly obscure each other. However, there is no actual space in which this scene takes place.

aegypten
Segment from the Stele of Amenemhat, 2000 B.C. (Source: Stockstad 2014)

Observe the legs of the three people. They are before the bench. But the way the two men’s legs cross looks strange in our eyes.

In the cave paintings I looked at I could not find this very simple way of describing space. Even if there are many pictures where animals are drawn on top of each other I do not get the impression that this is a representation of space. I get a feeling that it is about something all together different. A synchronicity rather, or its opposite, or an overlaying of different aspects of the same thing. In pictures with many animals and hunters where I do see a group of animals and hunters they do not overlap.

Oblique Projection: Combination of front view (elevation) with side (section) or top view (plan) at an angle.  They show one side in plan, section or elevation which would make the others invisible and thus are not realistic depictions. They are early representations of space resembling perspective. They can be found in pictures from classical Greece and Rome, the Near East, India or China as well as the European Middle Ages.

img_5334
Yusuf Fleeing Zulayhka by Kamal al-Din Bihzad, 1488 (Source: Stockstad 2014)

Atmospheric or aerial perspective makes use of the fact that particles in the air filter the light and make objects a long distance away appear bluer and less saturated than ones in the foreground. This technique is widely used in Chinese and Japanese landscape painting. Our brain reads the lighter tone as distance even if the picture does not give many other clues to space.

Relative size: Objects further away seem smaller in relation to ones in the foreground. Widely used in landscape paintings such as this very famous one by Katsushika Hokusai

Focal perspective: Objects in the distance or very close seem less defined and slightly blurred compared to objects in focus.

These last three techniques are combined with perspective to make for realistic pictures.

In modern times stereograms have been developed that let you see three-dimensional pictures by unfocusing the eyes and kind of looking through the picture. Done right the brain interprets the visual information as a three-dimensional picture of seemingly magical depth. The fascinating thing is that once the brain has switched it is possible to move the eyes and take a look around in the “room” that suddenly opened.

Early modernist painters like Cézanne and cubist painters began to move away from realistic perspective representation and instead experimented with a flat picture plane. This process has gone on since then and it seems to me – after having studied for this essay – opened up for new ways of painting/drawing figuratively. Realistic depiction is one way of showing the world in a painting. There are other ways expressing very different things. Earlier European and non European cultures were not interested in showing the world as it presented itself to them visually – that was already there. But maybe how it feels, or how things are connected, or what their place is in the world as humans, or what there is behind the things we see or what it is all about. It is a very interesting thought and one that allows for a new angle on non-realistic pictures. Such as this one that tells a story beyond what we see with our eyes.

img_4251
I fantasins värld (In the world of fantasy), Isaac Grünewald, 1915

 

 

Sources:

Stockstad, M., Cothren M.W.: Art History. Pearson Education Inc., USA 2008 (5th edition 2014)

McNaughton, Phoebe: Perspective and other Optical Illusions. Wooden Books Ltd, Glastonbury 2009

Wehrli, Max (Ed.): Deutsche Lyrik des Mittelalters; Manesse Verlag, Zürich 1955

http://www.martin-missfeldt.de/