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.
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.
Before my printing inks arrived I had tried to use acrylics. It is possible to pull prints from them but they make strong patterns instead of evenly coloured areas. These can be fun of course, but not what I am after. One turned out interesting though:
I have no idea how I achieved the stripes, it only happened once. It looks like tree trunks in a forest, leaving it to the viewer to decide which are the trees. I also like the residue from earlier prints, yellow and red. Acrylics seem to stay layered when rolled so that colours applied first turn up on top mottling the main colour. Oil based printing inks do not do this.
Oil based printing inks (Etching and Relief ink)
To begin with I used different tools to see what marks I could make in an inked plate, printed on newspaper paper. The marks looked fine on the plate but did not print very well – not enough paint. The paint was much thicker than I had expected.
Mark making at random is not so easy, I wanted a subject to work on. Second print with more paint and a picture using marks from above:
For my third print I tried a landscape with mountains and used damp paper. I had learned that this enhances the transfer of ink onto the paper. I probably made it too damp as the print became very soft and details as well as nuances in tone disappeared.
At this point the “Mono” in monotype sank in: there is no using that picture again. A new print wants a new plate. I was not really pleased with the etching ink (although it was said that it lends itself well to reductive monotyping techniques). So I changed to relief ink which is a bit softer. I soon found out that it is harder to remove, it smudges more easily than the etching ink (not wanting to come off), but the prints become more saturated:
I like this one very much. The mountains look very mountainy and the inked areas have the beautiful texture I connect with prints. I like that some of the roller marks show at the edges.
When drawing this I found out a lot of things about the mark making, what tools work for what effect, what not to do and what to do. I decided to try and turn one of my earlier drawings into a print. All my favorite sketchbooks are with my tutor at the moment so I chose the mortar and pestle from the part about tone. I know this subject well and could concentrate on achieving the marks I wanted.
I am pleased with this, too, although the shading is not quite right. It felt a bit wasteful removing all that ink in the background and half way through I regretted it. The picture would have been more dramatic in a dark setting with strong highlights. Too late. But I have a photo of the printing plate (a mirror) earlier in the process:
In order to quickly draw the shape of the mortar on the plate I made a traced print first as this leaves a faint mark on the plate. That print is quite nice, too. I was careful not to touch the paper with my hand as I wanted to keep as much ink on the plate as possible. Still the paper picked up quite a lot from just lying there.
I like the halo effect around the lines, it is all dotty.
The second time I tried this the transfer was much stronger and blotchier. Maybe I had used more ink? Or the yellow ink is softer? Also the traced lines are the colour of the paper rather than printed. Strange.
From this plate I made a reductive monoprint where my marks make darks, not lights, as the ink is a lighter colour than the paper.
Not a very good drawing but the printing part of it is nice. However, the black paper makes the yellow greenish and reduces its brightness. I think it would be better to use the yellow on white paper in combination with black or umbra.
From this I pulled a ghost, after re-inking the plate. I had noticed in an earlier experiment that did not lead to anything, that the difference in hight between single and dubbely inked parts of the plate can show on the print. Worth a try. It produced a very faint image of the hand. It could be used as background to a drawing or for an other print on top of it. Testing it on my son it became clear that the hand is not recognisable without having seen the other print first, though. So to use this technique the shape has to be simple or abstract.
With the rest of what I had on the roller plate I inked a last plate with a hasty drawing. The ink was not enough so the print is pale and there were bits of dust or similar somewhere that made white blotches. But I like the combination of two different colours for the same print.
I had a really good time playing around with this. I learned a lot of things and have started to see what techniques can be used to achieve certain effects. I have also learned that monotype is more difficult than it first looks. But I think, from my research and my own experience from today, that it is a wonderful way of drawing with endless possibilities. I have only scratched at the surface.
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.
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
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:
I am not very happy with any of these. It shows that I am less comfortable drawing feet than hands. This needs more work.
I love hands. They are beautiful and very adaptable, able to follow the curve of an object, to make themselves small or large, changing angles in almost all directions. It is equally fascinating to watch them do ordinary things, like toying with a ball, or intricate well learned movements connected with a craft.
So drawing hands to me is wonderful. I like to observe them closely and work out how the positions work. Today, I just drew and enjoyed. Both the subject and the drawing without restrictions. I chose my A3 sketchbook to give myself room to be bold and draw gesturally, working around the shapes until I got a believable hand. It was wonderful! The drawings are larger than life.
I started drawing one hand on its own – first the left one, then the right one. Drawing with my left – weaker – hand worked quite well. I am not very precise with it and hatching does not work at all. So the mark making is wilder than it would have been had I been able to steer the hand properly, which is a good thing.
Then I drew my hands holding things, which is when it really got interesting.
Part 4 begins with an introduction to negative spaces which contains a student drawing of a pot plant. The student only filled in a dark background where it was visible, all else, i.e. the pot plant, is left white. The drawing intrigued me and I set out to try the technique myself.
It was fascinating. Negative spaces are not a new concept to me but I have never before made them the main feature in a picture. Drawing all those dark spaces was an exercise in patience. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I was doing. I realised how much information the background holds. And also how much of a drawing is interpretation, how much the brain fills in. Which is a very interesting observation with regard to what I need to draw for a viewer to see what there is. It turns out it is actually very little.
The first drawing is of a gap in the “canopy” of a potted tamarind tree. I had not thought about the composition, I only wanted to see if it was doable. It was. Around the edge of the gap some of the compound leaves show enough leaflets to allow the viewer to understand how they’re built. This makes it possible for the brain to interpret the dark triangles where the “canopy” is denser. I had not expected this.
For a finished drawing I would need to choose a composition with better edges, I feel.
I did that for my second drawing. I chose my angle carefully and decided to let the plant hang out of the background a little. I like the effect of that. The shapes of the negative spaces are different, still some triangles but also longer and broader shapes. I think this picture has quite a good balance.
I began to observe the shapes of the negative spaces around me and wanted to draw a lot of them. In the end I only managed one more – an oak. Without the leaves it shows its limbs with all their twists, surrounded by a halo of twigs. This last one was done pressed for time and it shows. I did not plan the composition very well and I caught myself drawing the limbs instead of the negative spaces. The execution of the two earlier ones is better, too. Still, I like the ghostly effect and I think the character of the oak comes out well.
Doing these drawings has opened my eyes for negative spaces. I see them everywhere now and it felt natural to switch my eyes between positive and negative shapes when drawing the still life for the next exercise.
I must admit, I needed Saturday morning to get to the full 100 (101 in fact) but it was worth it. I had a bit of a bad day on Friday but was back on track on Saturday. These new ones are on A4 paper.
I also tried defining the gesture drawings more with a fineliner and adding shadows. I think in some I overdid the shadows – it would have been better to only make the really dark parts dark and leave the softer shades to watercolour. Back home I also coloured them with watercolours. I am pleased with the outcome. I intend to keep this up and improve on my technique.
Some of the better ones from earlier days also got the colour treatment:
After my discoveries during this challenge the 5th day felt rather shallow. I could not get into that loose and free mode I have come to love and the drawings feel rather stiff. I could not seem to find any fun poses either, apart from the young man sunbathing with his pipe. I guess there are good days and bad days for drawing, too. Maybe I need a new place to got to where I can find new situations to capture.
In the group of three men I like the one on the left, especially his legs. I struggle with legs.
With the 100th drawing in view I decided to visit the ibex instead. Their horns curve majestically and grow at an angle to each other which makes interesting shapes and perspectives. I also intended to capture the strength and power of their bodies. However, they were not cooperative. They shed their winter fur and it being a warm, sunny day they basked in the sun scratching their backs with their horns. It must itch awfully – they moved all the time. Good exercise for moving subjects… One of the youngsters climbed for a bit.
With the challenge done I see that I am hooked. I will definitely continue to draw people and situations to grow my collection and my skill!