Tutor Report 4

Things to keep up

  • 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.

4.3 Experiments with writing

As I looked through my work from early in this course I came across letters as a means of mark making and decided to try it out with the feet. 

I had also been thinking about the relationship I have to my feet, what they mean to me and how to bring that across in a drawing. It is much more undefined and harder to express as with the hands. Especially as I can’t draw my feet running or walking. 

I decided to put some of my ideas in a text an draw with that. However, I did not want the words to destract from the drawing so I wrote in German cursive. The text is memories from my barefoot days as a child. Where I grew up the rural kids (and farmers) walked barefoot from spring to autumn, in all weathers.

I started by making blue footprints, then sketched the outlines of my feet and legs. 

“Bodenhaftung”*, ink pen and watercolour

I like the effect of the writing and how the feet seem to stand on it. I also like the footprints in blue. The picture has a subdued quality in colour and line that I think goes well with the idea of memories. 

But The squiggly writing makes the drawing chaotic, too much going on.

In version 2 I tried to make it calmer. But I think I overdid it making the drawing too stiff. 


Also the left foot does not seem to be mine.

Version 3 is the opposite of v 2, leaving the background blank and using the writing to model the feet only.


I like how the direction of the writing gives volume to the feet, adding a dimension more to the painted shadows. 

All in all I think I like my drawn drawings better than these although I like the idea here. I have also strayed from the exercise and negative spaces so I’ll leave it at that and send in my assignment.

*Bodenhaftung, (German) means traction and figuratively grip on reality

4.3 Feet – Exercise 2

  • Draw your feet from the outside in
  • Blocking in the negative spaces between feet and edge of the picture first
  • Work around and then inside the feet
  • Make your drawing interesting

This was a much harder task than part 1 of this exercise where I began with negative spaces inside and between the feet. I feel I lose my way when concentrating primarily on the spaces round my subject leaving it wonky. Usually when I draw I concentrate on the subject using the negative spaces to check on the shapes and get to grips with difficult ones. My perception flicks between the two.

This said, I found that looking at the shapes and spaces surrounding the subject makes me more conscious of the composition. There is a balance between positive and negative spaces, both in their size and in the way they are distributed. I kept that in mind when following the exercises in my first two sketches, but lost it, once I again concentrated on the subject and the medium more. I only noticed afterwards.

For this exercise I sat in front of a mirror and used the edges of that as the outer demarcation of the negative spaces. I began by jotting in the shapes of the negative spaces with graphite first:

neg spaces

Here the shapes of the feet are still ok, I think. Then I blocked in the background before adding shadows and lines to the feet and trousers in compressed charcoal (for the second drawing I used lighting from the left, the first one is in natural light).

The feet are all wrong. But somehow I still like both these drawings.  I like the shape of the x that balances the picture nicely. The feet have volume which brings out their shape (even if it is a wrong one). I don’t like the background. I chose a horizontal movement following the direction of the floor boards but I think it has too much movement. On the other hand this makes for a nice contrast to the smudged shading of the feet and legs. The background also lacks depth. I am still not comfortable with charcoal, maybe that is what is wrong with the background. It certainly is with the shadow line in one of the legs in the second drawing.

I think I like the initial graphite sketch best!

Are these drawings interesting? These are initial sketches, trying out the exercise. I would like to do something with them as I did with the hands. I did not have a very creative day so went for something similar as with the hands. A line and wash. The difference lies in the red trousers I was wearing, they blocked out the yellow/blue idea from the hands:

red trousers A3
Oil pastels and watercolour, A3

I think the shape of the feet is much better in this, but something is lacking. It’s a bit pale and uneventful. And I’m not sure if I like the red “roof” the trousers make in this composition. I liked the more balanced x better.

Here a version with stronger colour and more interaction between oil pastel and watercolour. It is only A4 and the feet fill out more of the paper. I like that.

red trousers A4
Oil pastels and watercolour, A4

4.3 Feet – Exercise 1

  • Draw your feet beginning with the negative spaces between them and between the toes
  • Work out from that

To begin with I did the same sort of sketches of my feet as I had done of my hands. I did concentrate on the negative spaces as the exercise states, but worked quite freely otherwise. This was about getting to know my feet, find their shapes and lines. I found this more difficult than the hands. One reason for that is that I don’t think I ever studied feet before. But they are also different from the hands in that they have less separate and small shapes to build them up, less definite features to guide me. There are the toes at one end, but then there is the whole of the foot as one block, so to speak. It is difficult to find this shape.

It was also less easy to find interesting positions and still be able to see them when I had my sketchbook on my knees. Seeing the underside to draw needs a mirror.

All drawings on A3 cartridge paper:

I then asked myself how I could portray feet in the “act” of being feet – something like the tools for the hands. It must be their relationship to the ground. Here is one idea, digging my toes into the soil:

striking root
Conté, oil pastels and watercolour splashes

I am not very happy with any of these. It shows that I am less comfortable drawing feet than hands. This needs more work.

Hands and Spade, version 2

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.

spade no 2
Oil pastels and watercolour

Reflections

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.

4.3 More Hands

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.

pastel ink
Yellow oil pastel, charcoal and calligraphy ink on A3 Cartridge paper

Different paper, different colours and watercolour instead of ink:

pastel waterc
Cool and warm yellow and blue oil pastels, orange and phtaloblue watercolour, background Payne’s Grey. A3 Watercolour paper

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:

pastel watercolour
Oil pastels and watercolour on A3 watercolour paper

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.

coal conte fist
Charcoal, conté, red oil pastel and plastic eraser

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.

coal conte
Conté and charcoal on cartridge paper, A3

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.

spade preparations

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.

spade
Oil pastels, watercolour and masking fluid, 57×76 cm

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!

4.3 Hands

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.

Hand 4Hand 2Hand 3

Then I drew my hands holding things, which is when it really got interesting.

Hand 1Hand 5Hand 6

Working on my Still Life

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.

indianink
Indian ink on drawing paper, 58 x 74 cm

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:

yellow
Stage I, watercolour on watercolour paper, A3
yellowblue
Yellow and indigo watercolour on watercolour paper, A3

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.

 

Reflections

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.

Thinking of Morandi

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.

sketch Morandi
Graphite, A4 cartridge paper

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.

sketch morandi 2

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.

blue bottle
Calligraphy ink, A3 watercolour paper

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.

Morandi / Edmund de Waal

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.

bedrock

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.

exhibition room

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.

plates
Canzoni, Edmund de Waal, 2016. Porcelain vessels with gilding and alabaster blocks on an aluminium shelf
floating
In Time I, Edmund de Waal, 2017. Porcelain vessels, porcelain shards with gilding, alabaster blocks in tin boxes in aluminium and plexiglass vitrine

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.

purple forest
Part of #835, Edmund de Waal, 2015.

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).

an other hour
Another hour I-VI, Edmund de Waal, 2017

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.

music
Music in thirteen parts, Edmund de Waal, 2017. In the background still lifes by Giorgio Morandi, reminiscent of the gold used in other works by de Waal in this exhibition.

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:

ghostobject
Graphite sketch, Morandi, 1956

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?

neg space
Graphite sketch, Giorgio Morandi, 1958

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?

disolving b
Natura morta, Giorgio Morandi

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.

kanna
Giorgio Morandi

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:

shining
Giorgio Morandi, an earlier painting

Reflections

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!

Sources