For exercise 1 on the theme of balance I tried out an other idea. I was thinking of towers we used to build with building blocks challenging gravity by trying out precarious constructions.
I cut out paper blocks and inked them by pressing them into an inked plate.
For the first composition I chose two background colours – black and white and then added the inked blocks and a ball to it. I expected them to get a white line around them where the paper would not reach the inked plate.
Having used both black and white as background colours I was left with the problem of the paper colour. I used a beige drawing paper but the white does not show properly. This paper also has a tooth which I don’t like. The colours are less vivid than I had anticipated. I do like the composition, though. A good start.
Next I used smooth white drawing paper and a black background. I stacked the blocks in a similar way but added more circles at the bottom. I felt they were needed.
The background in this is better (except for the white spots – I think the wind has brought in debris. I was working in the garden). The colours are more distinct and show the quality of the prints made by moving the paper bits in the ink on the plate. They are interesting marks but not what I wanted for this. I am pleased with the three additional circles as a counterweight.
For my third attempt I made the background as before but inked the paper blocks with the roller. This resulted in more saturated and even colours. I like that as it also makes the white lines around them more prominent. They suddenly remind me of Mondrian, probably due to the shapes and colours.
When cleaning the plate after the previous print I noticed a nice pattern and thought I might use that as a somewhat chaotic frame around this very square composition. It did not transfer so well and looks more like a mistake than anything deliberate. Like this it does not work. Otherwise I am pleased.
I think this image answers to the exercise brief to make an abstract picture on the theme of balance. Maybe it is not as abstract as it could be? There is balance as a theme in the stacked blocks but also in the composition which is balanced up by the circles.
The strong colours underline the shapes of the blocks which is good. But it makes the whole thing rather stiff. It is strange, I like the implementation of the exercise, the way I thought it through and modified it – but I do not particularly like the images. They are too static, stiff, square. With regard to movement and interest I like my first versions better – although I am less convinced they make good pictures.
Choose one of the 3 drawings from the previous exercise
Enlarge it from A4 to A3 using a grid of squares
Be sure to enlarge the breadth of the marks, too, so the line/volume ratio stays the same (approximately)
I felt sceptical about this exercise. I think it was not so much about the enlarging technique as such but about the idea of copying a whole line drawing. I think I would use it to enlarge an image in order to achieve the same positioning of objects, shadows etc. from a sketch/drawing onto a larger surface. But the actual drawing I would rather do free-hand. I am no fan of grids, and I felt rebellion stir in me. From the very first I was thinking about how I could use the grid aspect of this drawing to make it different from the original. I wanted the technique to be visible.
Over my inkdrawing I drew a grid of 4x4cm squares. To enlarge from A4 to A3 I had to double the area of the squares and find out the new side length:
16cm² x 2 =32cm²
√32cm² = 5.6… cm
I also made a 4x4cm square mask to lay over the drawing in order to block out the surrounding squares. However, I soon found out that it is easier to get the correct angle for the long straight lines if I look where they start and end and then draw them in one go. I did use the mask for more complex shapes like the bottom of the candles and as a reference for checking my lines.
I also found out that in this exercise I had good use of negative spaces. As lines cross a square they form shapes against the square’s edges. These shapes are simpler than the whole negative space between the objects in my drawing: many right-angled triangles or rhombi (rhombuses?). They helped me determine angles and points where lines cross the edge of the square.
In the beginning I drew directly with ink but reconsidered after the first wrong line. I then sketched in the important lines with graphite as a reference. For the candles I made the ruling-pen very narrow and that worked really well. For the cast shadows I opened it somewhat more. Now the hatching began. I tried to observe the way I had hatched in the original drawing and to reproduce that approximately. I think that worked ok, too. But with the dark background things got messy. With that many lines I did not attempt to copy lines anymore but tried to think the same way as when I did this part in the original drawing. The ruling-pen now was set really broad and thus swallowed a lot of ink. The lines took some time to dry and I realised I could not cross hatch until the first lines were dry. I misjudged that sometimes and got a blot, sometimes my sleeve would brush over still wet ink and smudge it. A fineliner would definitely have been a better choice – or more experience with the ruler-pen.
The two pictures side by side:
All in all I am positively surprised with the outcome. I had envisioned a wobbly rendering of my original drawing but I think they are quite alike. The left-most candle is bent, otherwise I have managed to keep shapes and composition. In two places I lost my way and drew the hatching too far (between the two shadows furthest down and the background left of the left-most candle). Also my search for a way of achieving lighter hatching in the cast shadows becomes much more obvious in the enlarged picture. There is no consistency in the hatching there.
Once I had started the drawing I began to understand the exercise better and to enjoy its challenges. It is a technique I will remember and use in the future, I think. Maybe just a bit more freely and probably for much bigger surfaces.
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!
In the evening of day 2 I did a bit of research about drawing people in motion: an instructional leaflet from Citizen Sketcher and a video on youtube. Both stressed the importance of drawing freely and not being bogged down by detail. In the video I saw how the artist moved over the drawing without stopping almost. He also says to find the direction or the rhythm of a movement and to incorporate that into the drawing, maybe even exagerate it. Citizen Sketcher breaks down a drawing into four main steps: First the gesture – very loose and fast to capture the pose, then the line drawing – in ink to define the drawing more, then the darks – find the shadows and fill them in to give the drawing contrast and life, and last to add colour.
In my drawings from day 3 and 4 I concentrated on the first step only. I moved around and stopped when I found something that caught my interest. In the group below it was the woman’s hands just for a short moment. In the woman with the children I liked how the children moved in different directions and how they all held hands.
I found that drawing fast and loose was very liberating. I got more open to subjects and poses I knew would only be visible for a couple of seconds. Some of them resulted in interesting drawings.
I like working men, their poses are varied and different from people on the street.
After a while I sat down at a bus stop from where I had a good view of a stretch along the station where people walked past me for quite a while and at a bit of a distance so that I had time to observe how they move. For some of these drawings I spent most of the time looking and then drew from memory. I tried to get the gist of the movement into the drawing.
I very much enjoy this challenge. It is fun to really look at people, to see how varied we all are and to capture moments in my sketchbook.
The next step would be to make line drawings out of the gesture drawings but I feel apprehensive. Drawing in this way requires a good understanding of human anatomy to make it work. I also feel that I need to get more comfortable drawing faces. I often like my gesture drawings until I try and put in eyes and a nose… The gesture drawings work because the brain fills in a lot of information and is forgiving if something is not right. In a line drawing it would be less so I fear.
In the OCA student group for this course someone has mentioned a drawing challenge: to draw 100 people in a week. I am tempted. But before committing I wanted to see how much that is – 20 a day – and if I would be up to it. This in mind I used a very long train ride to test it – on the train, on the platform and around the stations where I changed trains. All of the following are A5
I like the short sketch best, the faces are ok. But with the more complex poses I feel I have forgotten a lot of things I have learned these past months. In almost all the lighting was deplorable for drawing, very hard to distinguish tone.
All of these people were quite still. I think for the challenge it might be difficult to find 20 holding still, unless I draw in a café or similar. I wondered how I cope with people in motion. So I tried that, too:
Quite a different kettle of fish! There certainly is room for improvement – and what better occasion to practice than accepting the challenge! Start on Monday. I wonder if there are certain techniques or ways of thinking to draw subjects in motion.
Until then, there are plenty of other motives here. And luckily mountains don’t move about much.
Reflections on the definition of drawing based on the Introduction to “Vitamin D”¹
“To draw is to be human.”
With this statement Emma Dexter begins the text leading the reader’s thoughts to cave paintings (notice the term “paintings” here) as the earliest form of human image making and expression. Humans draw and have always drawn, be it historically or in the life of an individual. Children have a natural interest for it and in them we might glimpse something of the early humans’ relationship to drawing. It has, no doubt, something magical about it. And looking at those images in the caves gives us a strong feeling of connection with the people who made them and saw them. Dexter cites Picasso describing art as a “form of magic, designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing the power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires…”(Dexter (2005) p.6) . Rowan Williams, in A History of the World in a 100 Objects, also speaks about art as having deeper meaning to the early humans, deeper than, as he puts it, “managing animals or granting success in hunting”. He says art for these early humans is about “entering fully into the flow of life”, about “being at home in the world at a deeper level” and about “how to be here and now”(McGregor (2010). 9:36-10:33). I like these views very much and think that on some level they are still true today. Art can have an immediacy of expression that connects us – artists or viewers – to our surrounding world and to each other. There is a very nice scene in the animated film How to Train your Dragon, where the boy Hiccup and the dragon Toothless make their first connection over a drawing. The dragon reveals himself not as a mindless monster but as a sentient being.
So yes, art is part of our very being as humans. But I would say “art”, not “drawing”.
How drawing is not like painting
The introduction then takes up different aspects of drawing trying to carve out what drawing is and how it is separated from other art forms. Dexter starts with the “primal, elemental character” of drawing, the “simplicity and purity of the blank sheet of paper”and the “honesty and transparency” of the act of drawing. She puts these in contrast to (oil?)painting, where, as a rule, the ground is covered completely and the process of building up the painting is obscured – where as a drawing uses the relationship of line and supporting background and “wears its mistakes and errors on its sleeve”. Drawing, as the quickest medium, can protect the intensity of the thought, Dexter cites art critic Jean Fisher. In this view drawing is seen as having an immediacy, informality and an intimacy that painting is lacking. Following on from there the implications become quite philosophical when she cites Michael Newman: “each stroke is a sign of withdrawal”, “drawing (…) re-enacts desire and loss”, or when she states that drawing is characterised by an “eternal incompletion”.
Although I can see that drawing can be immediate, informal and intimate I cannot help feeling that this is not all there is to it. And I don’t see why painting as such (and indeed any other art form) should not be immediate, informal or intimate. The further this line of thought is driven the less I understand it and the more I think it confines drawing and robs it of its freedom. Painting, too.
This is strange because whilst drawing is presented as an immediate and direct, quick form of art – which I find limiting – the term is also stretched to encompass almost any medium, from sculpture to landscape art, video, photography… If I understand correctly the connecting element is the line (although I am not sure if the line is a defining element of drawing, there are other ways of mark making in drawing). Where the element of mark making can be seen as a line – be it trodden grass on a meadow (like in Richard Long’s Line Made by Walking), or Monika Grzymala’s spacial drawings made with duct tape or branches in a room the art work could be called a drawing. This, too, is not a new thought considering ancient landscape art such as the White Horse at Uffington. But I feel I have misgivings to stretch the term drawing to photography and video. I wonder what the point is. Why is it important to define drawing to the point of limiting it, or to stretch it and call something a drawing just because it has certain properties normally associated with drawing? I see that by doing this and asking the question What is drawing?, or more to the point What can drawing be?, an artist can open up to new ways of expression and is invited to think outside the box. However, I do not think that we win very much by actually drawing a demarcation line between drawing and say painting . Quite the contrary. It will always imply generalisations that either make the term too wide so it won’t mean anything very much, or too tight excluding too much. I prefer a zone where different art forms meet each other, converge and overlap freely, where elements of art making can be used without having to comply to any predetermined set that can be combined into a “drawing” as opposed to a “painting”. As I believe it is actually done by artists. But in literature it seems art is separated into boxes.
My own understanding of what drawing is is very fuzzy. It has to do with dry materials, such as charcoal or graphite; with line; with immediacy, yes, and spontaneity like in sketching; also, strangely, with lack of colour; with representation. But as soon as I think one of the above I invariably find examples that contradict it. Obviously drawing can be done with wet materials and paint; the line is only one of many ways of making marks; drawings can be very thought-through and built up in layers as much as any painting; there is nothing strange with colour drawings or with abstract drawings. As soon as I try to pin it down, it slips through my fingers.
Dexter says drawings are “eternally incomplete”, she speaks of paintings having, as opposed to drawings, a filled in background and covering up their “coming into being”. But in the book, there are drawings by e.g. Graham Little in coloured pencil with nothing incomplete about them, nothing immediate and sketchy. There are very few lines, too. Following Dexter’s indicators they should be paintings, if it were not for the medium which makes them drawings, intuitively, as indeed Dexter says they are.
But then again: what about the soft pastel portraits by Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757)? Does the medium make these drawings? In this case, I would say not, they feel more like paintings, although the way she handles the background has characteristics of a drawing. She made these portraits of visitors to Venice who had not the time to wait for an oil painting (Stockstad 2008). So one could argue that to all intents and purposes, they were paintings.
On the other hand, there is Joan Miró who’s oil paintings have quite a few of the characteristics usually attributed to drawings.
So where does that leave me with the definition of drawing? As mentioned above, I would like to refrain from a clear definition and instead try and find characteristics a drawing can have. This leaves more room for drawing to be given complete expression. I am thinking of Wittgenstein’s concept of Family Resemblance. He states that some words get their meaning from a set of common features that are present in various meanings of the word, and not in others, “but the general overlapping mesh of these features is where the word gets its meaning” (Philosophy-index). He takes “game” as an example: some games have rules, some don’t, some are played in teams, some not, some need, say, a ball, some don’t. No single thing is common to all uses of the word, and yet, the word “game” has a meaning. I think, “drawing” or “painting” are words like this and do therefore not need to be confined by a rigid definition.
Dexter, E. (2005) Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing. London: Phaidon Press
McGregor, Neil (2010) A History of the World in a 100 Objects. Episode 4: Swimming Reindeer. BBC Radio 4.
How to Train your Dragon, DreamWorks, 2010
Stockstad, M. Cothren M.W.: Art History. Pearson Education Inc, USA 2008 (5th Edition)
Report 2 reflects very well how I felt about the exercises in part 2: pencil drawings work well for me and I am able to work out an object’s form by using tone – but in order to develop I need to leave the comfort of what I know. I need to use other materials, go up in scale and find new ways of making marks. Diana’s key advice, I think, is to Combine the technical aspect with the expressive ways you can work. I have found that often, when I try to work more expressively I tend to forget the technical side of things.
My tutor suggests pastels as they do not lend themselves to detail but can be used expressively. Also my ocher stones are good for that, only I need to learn how to use them to best effect. I have worked in soft pastels and love them – but I don’t like using them in the house as the dust they produce makes my nose hurt badly and it gets everywhere. Oil pastels works fine and I am just about to discover them.
Diana also suggests that I apply what I learn from my research in my actual practice. Very good advice indeed and something I have not done yet.
As mentioned in connection with Part 2 and the last tutor report I tried to go bigger. Initially I thought the specific exercises in part 2 did not lend themselves to large scale and expressive mark making but I think that has more to do with me limiting myself than with the actual exercises. In the end I did make a large piece from one of my spin offs to exercise 2.1.
I´m not sure if the mark making can be called expressive. In the background maybe – it is made with a 20 cm trowel for surfacing and I could work with my whole arm. The pattern, on the other hand, was more restricted although I treated it less timidly the longer I worked.
Working big certainly feels very differently from drawing with pencil on an A4 sheet.