Drawing a Drawing

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.

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.

Reflections

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.

The difficult thing will be to find drawings…

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Marlene Dumas

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 “including newborn 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:

Jan Hoet - M Dumas
Marlene Dumas: Jan Hoet in memoriam, 1992 (Source: Invaluable)

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.

Supermodel

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.

Reflections

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.

Sources

Anders Zorn

Exhibition at Sven-Harris Konstmuseum, Stockholm

About the artist and the exhibition

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:

IMG_6197
Anders Zorn, watercolour, 1886

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.

IMG_6198
Detail from above

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.

IMG_6200
Detail from above

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.

IMG_6206
Anders Zorn: King Oscar II, 1898

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:

IMG_6208
Anders Zorn: Queen Sophia, etching 1909

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.

IMG_6208 (2)
Detail from above

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.

 

Reflections

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.

 

Sources

  • 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/

 

Printing technique – UCA video

(Videos can be found in the Resources section on the OCA student website)

Monoprint >< Monotype disambiguation

According to Jonathan Jarvis, technician tutor printmaking at Farnham, a Monoprint is a one-off as opposed to a monotype which is a series of prints. Permanently marking the plate does not at all come into it. According to Drawing Magazine it is the Monoprint that produces the series (see blog post Research into Monotype)

Preparing the plate:

  • work the ink with a pallet knife. Cold ink is stiff, working it makes it softer.
  • Draw the ink out with the roller – the rolling movement has a flip (ensures even spreading)
  • fast rolling picks up ink – slow rolling puts ink down -> control amount of ink on the plate
  • Amount of ink on the plate:
    • thick layer of ink: saturated marks but hard to control (esp. for traced monoprints)
    • thin layer of ink: less saturated but results in clear and controlled marks
    • -> use not more ink than necessary. Listen! it should sound velvety
    • Traced monotypes need a thin film of ink for controlled marks
    • Reductive monotypes need more ink

Paper:

Direct printing (not put through a press) is very sensitive to the paper used. The surface of the paper remains much more visible and influences the outcome very much. There are special printing papers that are not sized and soft.

  • Thick, soft papers result in soft marks >< thin, hard papers allow sharp, crisp marks
  • Absorbent papers draw the ink in >< non-absorbent papers keep the ink on the surface (can become glossy). Jonathan Jarvis also mentions that the ink can be put behind the paper. I wonder what he means??

Wetting the paper:

Different types of paper need different wetting techniques.

  • Wet thin papers with a sponge on both sides
  • Thick papers can be soaked. Soaking time varies greatly between papers!
    • Soak
    • Let excess water run off
    • Sponge off excess water on both sides with a natural sponge to not harm the paper.
    • Roll between two sheets of blotting paper
  • Sync the wetting with the plate, both should be ready at the same time!

Modification of the ink:

By adding printing bases the ink can be modified. Translucent base makes the ink more translucent so it will combine with the paper or colour(s) underneath it. An opaque white will make the colour of the ink chalkier and less translucent. -> Check out what there is and what it does!

Overprinting colours:

  • Where colours are overprinted they become darker and lose some of their hue. Can be compensated for by adding an opaque base or white
  • Colour A on top of colour B does give a different result than B on A
  • Remember: The colour that is on top on the printingplate will be at the bottom on the paper, everything is reversed!
  • By overprinting colours a sense of pictorial space and depth can be achieved
  • Explore this! 

 

Source

Reeves, T. (Project Leader): Printmaking – Monoprinting, UCA Open Educational Resources. (parts 1-5) http://www.oca-student.com/resource-type/video/printmaking-pt1-introduction-uca-video

Art Made of Nature

Thoughts on Forest, Field and Sky, a BBC art documentary

This documentary  touches on the very essence of what art is to me. The artists presented all work directly with nature. Some use only materials they find on the spot, creating an artwork by rearranging what there is.

To me this feels like something deeply human. It is about making a mark, about creating something that would otherwise not exist, and something that does not serve any practical purpose. It is about seeing what there is and what could be. It is intuitive and immediate.

I am especially taken by the works of Andy Goldsworthy. I like the fact that they are ephemeral and very beautiful. And it seems he makes them just somewhere in the country, where he happens to be. No gallery, no money, no advertising involved. Although it is a bit of a shame that as a viewer I cannot visit his works, this is part of what makes them attractive to me. They are there for their own sake, for the sake of creating and for the sake of beauty.

Some of the works, like Julie Brook’s firestacks (cairns built at low tide with a fire on top which would eventually be quenched by the tide) or Andy Goldsworthy’s dry stone wall art, involve hard labour and dedication. They tell about the struggle against the forces of nature, and still they have something playful about them. I like that.

I think for me the point here lies not with the fact that these works are made from what nature offers. More importantly, they are made from materials that are already there and they are made for a specific spot and, sometimes, born from the moment. It is this that is important to me. The idea connects to working with used materials or found objects. Rearranging, changing an object’s purpose, putting things where they don’t “belong” naturally and so change the way we see our surroundings.

The documentary inspired me to try some of my own. It was the day after Walpurgis Night. I had planned to get some pieces of coal and burned twigs from a fire site and make something from them. It turned out the remains of the fire had already been thoroughly removed. I had to abandon the idea of a black piece.

I had come here with a very vague idea of what I wanted to do and that did not even work. But it was fascinating to experience how it developed by what I found, the few black sticks, the hole in the tree, the sticks of different colours. I rearranged them several times following ideas, first with what I had collected before I knew what I wanted to do, then with specific colours I went looking for. It was absorbing work even though it is so simple. Very rewarding to see it develop. I also enjoyed the freedom, no demands at all, only my ideas. It doesn’t even have to last very long, it is for here and for now. But I like the idea of people coming by, saying: Oh, look! Maybe wondering who made it and why. And maybe they then notice the colours in the winter-brown landscape.

Source

Fox, James: Forest, Field and Sky – Art out of Nature. BBC Documentary 2016

Tutor Report 1

The tutor report on my first assignment reflects very well where I stand and how I feel about my work myself. It is good to know that I perceive my work realistically.

I am very happy to have succeeded in loosening up my mark making and be expressive and experimental. This was my main concern with this part of the course and also one of my main reasons to start the course. My tutor suggests larger surfaces to work on in order to have enough space to be expressive on.

On the other hand I need to develop my drawing skills and observation. This involves more practice and doing things several times in order to learn. I think this is really important if I want to adopt a loose and immediate style. I have always felt that when reducing the information in a picture to a few expressive lines it is very important that those lines are right.

I am currently working on Tone and Form. Implementing my tutor’s suggestions regarding observation and rules of drawing fits in very well with these new exercises. The ones about expressiveness and going up in scale is harder. Or is it? (I spot a challenge there 🙂 )

 

Luis Deza

*1953 in Amazonas, Peru

His work includes paintings, sculptures and installations in a range of materials.

I came across these two masks in a café in Stockholm and was captured by them. I love their shape, the colours and the free use of materials. They feel like threedimensional paintings.

 

Patrick Hartl

*1976

Urban calligraphist, freelance graphic designer and illustrator, Munich. He has his artistic roots in Graffitti which I think shows in his pictures and is one of the aspects I like in them. Diverse experiments in illustration, calligraphy and digital compositing have devoloped his art into what it is today. He prefers working by hand but says that he is tempted  by digital possibilities, mainly in combination with handcrafted work.

For exhibitions, awards, publications and his artwork see:  http://www.patrickhartl.bigcartel.com/

Source: https://www.facebook.com/stylefighting/, published with kind permission from the artist

What fascinates me in these pictures:

  • Writing as a pattern
  • how they are built up in layers
  • the energy and movement in them
  • Cobination of the strict writing with handwriting and less controlled elements like splatters, drips and washes