In Part Two of the course of this Drawing 1 module I shall focus on my environment this will involve experimentation in colour texture and light which will help to build observational skills. A key element will be composition whether drawing found objects directly or bringing one or more together in a still life. The following is a brief survey of still life in Western art, including reference to young contemporary artists.
Research Point: The Still Life Genre
Another key element is the use of positive and negative space – positive referring to the actual object/s and negative to the surrounding space. Although I would tend to home in on the positive space, the subject of the drawing, both elements are important in creating both interest and balance. What follows is a brief look at artists who are working today and how they make use of positive and negative space in their work.
Research Point: Positive and Negative Space
Project 1 Detailed observation of natural objects
Exercise one: Detail and tone
Select a single object such as a shell or piece of driftwood. Get a varied effect by combining soft and medium grade pencils and altering the direction of the strokes you make. Use A3 paper and a variety of soft and medium pencils.
Starting Part 2 I was fortunate to be stay in Dartmouth for 2.5 months and so had plenty of access to the sea shore and free rein to collect and draw natural objects. As mentioned above I had also begun to look at the still life genre and came across this drawing in brush and ink by Matisse done in 1900. I love this little drawing and was especially struck by the life and simplicity of his marks and the elegance of his line. In preparation for the projects and exercises I made still life sketches in my A3 sketchbook of some natural objects from the beach, first with a found stick and Indian ink inspired by the Matisse drawing and then the same arrangement with Blackwing 602 pencil.
The stick was a piece of driftwood and I found it made an interesting variety of marks from dark lines and shadow sections of pure black to quite subtle textures particularly on the pieces of driftwood. I also drew in some lighter marks to suggest sand. I was particularly pleased with how I was able to show the twisted nature of the top driftwood towards the left. There are some nice contrasts between the darks and lights which bring the subject to life for example the front shell and the positive/negative edge.
For the image in pencil I used only a Blackwing 602 pencil which I think is about 2b and versatile for both light marks and shading as well as darker elements. As before the objects were on a table with a light cloth with light coming from the right. I am interested in light coming from the right as in most Western art the light is shown coming from the left. Ernst Gombrich, suggested (Gombrich, E Art and Illusion 1960, Phaidon London) that this was because it is the position most convenient for drawing and writing with the right hand. With light coming from the right part of the drawing would be shaded. But I am left handed and the light was coming from the left as I sat at a convenient end of the dining table. It was bright sunlight hence the light table top and the light highlights on the objects. I was particularly pleased with the textures of the left hand shell which I think looks convincing and the very different pearly white of the inside of the right right hand shell together with the sense of hollow shape created by the variation in tone.
As we had brought some broccoli I decided to set myself the challenge of drawing a stem also in my A3 ssketchbook . This was more difficult than the shells and driftwood because of the more complex structure and details. Again I used the Blackwing pencil but also decided to add a little colour with yellow and blue. This was to give some suggestion of a more botanical drawing. I was particularly pleased with the natural shape and gesture I achieved with the curved stem and leaf but less happy with the florets which turned out more like blackberries. I think the Blackwing pencil is versatile but I think this sketch would have been improved using a range of soft pencils.
Main drawing for Project 1 Exercise 1 – Pine Cone
I chose a pine cone which I had picked early one winding morning whilst out dog walking. The walk went through a group of beautiful Scots pines and several large cones had fallen which, at that time, were tightly closed up. The exercise asked for one natural object using soft and medium pencils and A3 paper. After I had drawn my initial cone, which I found difficult to make much larger than life size, I decided to do the other side of the cone and from a different angle. In this view it is possible to see the scar where the cone was wrenched from its branch in the wind.
I drew both drawings with b, 3b and 9b pencils. It was a very complex thing to draw to get the overall shape (a subtly twisted cone) and tones, the alignment of the closed seed scales and the changing size and tones of the individual scales. I have since discovered that the scales are spirally arranged in fibonacci number ratios! I think I have given an impression of this by my own observation even though I did not draw it out mathematically. I have given a sense of the weight of the cones by their form and the cast shadow
I like both my drawings and I think their quality has surprised me. I can draw even if I have lots to learn and that gives me more confidence. I needed to better follow the brief which was for a drawing using A3 paper ie. a large drawing than mine. I have been used to smaller drawing and painting and still find drawing a larger than life image quite daunting. As suggested in the course material I lightly sketched out the outline of the cone each time but made it roughly life size. I should have made that initial outline sketch larger. I think I would also have found it easier to make a larger drawing if I had worked within a frame. This was my tutor’s advice which I didn’t make use of for the drawing. I have done an additional A3 drawing in charcoal of fish for which I have added an outline frame. I also plan to make use of thumbnail and other preparatory sketches in future work.
I have learned to use and to enjoy developing my observation skills in drawing, to really look at and objects and to record what I am seeing. I was able to see some of the subtle shapes and patterns that make up this cone, for example, which enhanced the pleasure I had in finding it in the first place.
Additional sketch – Mackerel
This drawing is in charcoal with which I had been experimenting and I include it because I had been inspired to sketch these beautiful fresh fish and without pre-planning got started with an A3 pad and compressed charcoal. I liked the result but had drawn the fish, without a frame, too close to the left edge of the paper. I cut the image out pasted it into my A3 sketchbook, drawing a frame on three sides representing with a simple line the paper on which the mackerel had been wrapped. There are some inaccuracies eg the facial features, but I like that this gives them individuality and character. I also like the sense of smoothness of the skin and, with the use of subtle blending, the way the flesh undulates indicating that the bodies of the gutted fish are no longer firm. I also added a small amount of blue pastel to the head area suggesting the light and colouring.
Project 2 – Still Life
Exercise one – Still life using line
Set up a still life group and select objects that either seem to connect naturally or deliberately contrast or clash. Use A3 paper and a medium suitable for drawing (a dip pen and ink, an oriental brush pen or a fine black pen)to make a drawn study that shows how your understanding of the forms, and the connections and spaces between the forms. Concentrate on patterns, textures and shapes. This is principally an exercise about line.
I selected some items for this exercise which have an obvious link. They are part of a set of dinner ware in Denby pottery. It is a set that we use very infrequently and goes back to the 1970s. It, therefore, has stories to tell of meals eaten, conversations had, times of celebration and of difficulty.
In the feedback from Assignment 1 was encouraged by my tutor to look at the work of Morandi and Cezanne. Both focus on objects that may or may not be beautiful, that are insignificant in themselves and yet have a history that the viewer may contemplate or imagine. They can be seen as contemporary icons which evoke the viewers attention and contemplation. I wanted my own drawing to be seen in this way.
In my initial thinking and sketches I chose a sketch from each artist and sketched myself using objects from the set. Morandi’s etching is ‘Still Life with Five Objects” 1956 Art Gallery of New South Wales
I like his little grouping and the rhythm and pattern of the dark and light objects and their highlights. In the sketch on the right I have tried to reproduce a similar feel with a tight group of objects a repeated shape of the style of the pottery and also the repeated highlights. Subsequently, having thought more about positive and negative space in Morandi’s drawings I returned to this sketch and darkened the background to better emphasise the positive and negative space and the interplay between them. On reflection I think it would have been improved to have brought one of the items forward or introduced something to break into the negative space in the foreground. This was the grouping to which I returned for the line drawing proper for Project 2 Exercise 1.
Next I took a little pencil sketch of a pitcher from a sketchbook of Cezanne c.1869/70 (Cezanne, P. A Cezanne Sketchbook, Figures, Portraits, Landscapes and Still Lifes 1985. Dover Publications New York) and sketched three objects from the set in the style of Cezanne. I also explored a more challenging perspective from above.
I like how Cezanne has studied the shape of the pitcher and has conveyed its form with simple lines and minimal shading. As in other sketches and in final paintings he frequently eliminates details. In the introduction to the Dover Publication he is described in the introduction as “a master of elimination”. One line only indicates a flat surface, table or ledge, so that the object is solid, resting on a surface and not floating in the air. I have tried to use his unfussy approach to suggest the shape and forms of my three objects.
Thinking about simplicity and elimination reminded me of the work of Ben Nicolson and I decided to try a more experimental and abstract sketch in his iconic style.
I chose a Still Life etching from 1948 which had a similarity with my own chosen subject, the Denbyware set. I drew with a 9b soft pencil in a similar style though mine is less abstracted. I have made the objects more like the subject but have eliminated any tone or shadow with the exception of the hole of the teapot spout which I have shaded in. This suggests an eye, underlining that the objects could be looking back at the viewer, that these object are also subjects with their own history. I like the interlocking jigsaw-like pattern of shapes I have created with the objects themselves and the spaces between objects and borders.
I further experimented with these simple forms using brush pen for the first and a Chinese brush pen and ink for the second. This time I also added an element of collage, a 1970’s advert for Denbyware. This suggested a narrative aspect to the drawing and, together with added line to the body of the objects, introduced further tones and patterns. I then also added a wash in blue ink to hint at the colour of the objects whilst at the same time maintaining what was essentially a line drawing.
As I wasn’t sure which of the three experiments I wanted to reproduce in A3 for the Exercise, though I had a preference, I decided to ask friends on social media which they preferred. All preferred the blue image. This I decided to use though my own personal preference was for the still life inspired by Ben Nicolson. My uncertainty about this was whether or not there as enough work in it for the purposes of the exercise.
So I reproduced in my A3 sketchbook a version of the blue image.
Again I used a Chinese brush pen and ink and have added cast shadow with further lines to the objects to the left. The irregularity of the blue under painting offer changes in tone and although random have tries to work them in to the drawing where possible, for example, under the rim of the taller jug to the left. The collage also offered changes of tone, for example, the pot with the handle in the front right. I am not sure that the wooden slatted table-top works I think it makes for too many lines. The background, which I have left as a floating, ethereal blue, references back to the existence these objects have in memory as well as in reality.
I think the composition works in that by placing the objects in front of one another there is a sense of recession and depth in the drawing, together with the strong verticals. Although they are different objects they are linked by a similarity in shape, the style of this product, and also by their proximity. I think this reproduces the fact that these items are mostly bundled together in a cupboard these days which I think is suggested by the way the teapot is partly concealed. I think the lights and darks work will in the mage by changing the gap between the lines to indicate changes in tone.I have introduced an abstract quality to the picture by flattening the shapes as if they are viewed at eye level but drawing them as though receding. The use of collage for one of the items also builds on this element of abstraction which serves to break up the set formality of the items and invite the viewer’s own response and interpretation.
Exercise two – Still life in tone using colour
Set up another still life group. Sketch in dark areas then use a different colour to sketch in mid-tones and yet another colour to sketch in the light tones. Add layers of colour on colour, varying the type and pressure of mark, building up tone, shadows and contrasts.
I chose a group of objects from around the house consisting of a large pottery jug, two bottles and a carafe, a small bowl, cafétiere, an orange, a lemon and a knife. I experimented on my A4 sketchbook with some thumbnail sketches of possible groupings and colours using water soluble crayons and chalk pastels. These raised the question of which three colours would work given that colours have their own tone. To explore colours and tone a little further I created a small series of colour swatches in my sketchbook with corresponding tones from light grey to black.
The course notes gave no indication of size or this exercise and so I chose to work with A2 paper and pastels. I felt I needed practice with larger size paper as in the beginning of the course I had found larger sizes quite daunting. Also I am still enjoying getting used to charcoal and pastel and felt that pastel would work well for this exercise with its blending and layering qualities and ability to cover large spaces quickly. I worked up
In the red, orange and blue image I have loosened this relationship and spread the objects back into the picture which gives the drawing a sense of depth. I have used positive and negative space, for example between the carafe and the jug and also made use of lost and found edges to increase a visual low through the image.
For my final image for Exercise 2 I used black, dark and light blue. I wanted to create more of a sense of drama and to make the glassware sing by using the very dark and very light tones.
The cartridge paper I used had texture so I was able to make more of the texture of the objects by showing the texture in the pottery jug and the wooden slats of the table and, by using my fingers and a tortillon, the much smoother surface of the glass objects and the metal coffee pot. I also like the composition that evolved from the earlier drawings to have four larger items to the back and the three smaller objects in front. I used the knife to contrast with the objects and also to draw the eye into the picture and contribute towards depth helped by the angles of the paper sheets
I think I have made good use of line tone and colour . The colour is more varied in the first two images and the third more monochrome. In the third I found it easier to show highlights and to make the glassware zing. In the previous two, especially the second the earth colour give a sense of warmth to the still life and to give form through light and dark colours but I found it hard to show highlights with recourse to the white paper ground, which of course introduced a fourth colour, for example on the rims of the objects. I think colour in all three images gives them a sense of realism which is more difficult when restricted to line or tone. The use of coloured pastels is similar to charcoal though different from pen or brush and ink in that they may be applied in different ways – with the point, with the side, blended with fingers or tortillon, wiped out with baby wipe or brush and water or toned down or eliminated with a coat of gesso (although i didn’t do this for this exercise as it would have introduced white). This means that your working method is enhanced, and made more complex, by a whole orchestra of possible hues, shades, tones and tints. In my previous experience I am used to this with water colour but am learning more about the versatility of coloured pastels. My visit to the Joan Eardley exhibition, for example, and seeing her sketches of children and outdoor scenes, done with pastels. I ant to continue to develop my skills with pastels in these different ways.
Exercise three- Experiment with mixed media
Experiment using both traditional art tools and ‘non-art’ media.
In an earlier part of my A3 sketchbook I had responded to encouragement from my tutor to explore different drawing positions and had remembered a drawing by Vanessa Bell from 1914 Still Life on a Corner of a Mantelpiece which I had seen some time ago at Tate Liverpool and liked. I had done a couple of sketches to explore this angle thinking that I might use this more unusual view in the future.
I chose the left hand corner of our mantelpiece with the light coming from the window to the left. I had decided on collage as one medium and used newspaper for the structure of the fire surround and mantelpiece which gave tone as well as structure to the wood. I also used pencil,. inktense pastels and brush, acrylic ink and the dropper from the bottle, felt pens, brush pen and sketching pen.
I did a couple of quick sketches from the floor under the corner of the mantelpiece and then a photograph from the same position which I then used as my reference material to avoid having to sit for a long period in an uncomfortable position. On A2 paper I outlined the mantel first in pencil and then measured, cut out and stuck down shapes to fit the side and front edges of the shelf and the visible front of the upright. I used the side of a brown inktense pastel to colour these sections and go over them with a brush and water. I did this several times to build up the rich colour of the wood, finally drawing into the wet surface with a darker colour to depict the grain of the wood. I used the darker brown to create the shadow areas and when it was dry a white pastel pencil to depict the highlights.
I drew in the vase with cooler brown chalk pastels to give contrast and the small black bowl with artist pen, leaving white space for the flower design. These are all items actually on mantel, together with the small photograph which I also added with an abstracted image. I wanted to add another item and, further inspired by Vanessa Bell, I drew an imagined Omega Workshop style jug which would give colour and a focal point. I drew in the shape and outline pattern with a brush pen and then coloured in the pattern with felt pens. I rubbed black charcoal lightly over the jug to create form and shadow and used a white chalk pastel for the highlights and shine on the jug’s surface. I then drew in chalk pastel the portion of the picture visible from this view but changed the content of the actual picture to an imagined still life using some of the same colours to resonate with the photograph. I chose a cool green to shade in the background wall creating shadow with light use of black charcoal. Finally with nibbed pen I drew in the stems and flower heads of the dried agapanthus in black ink and used the ink bottle dropper to suggest the seeds.
Having used the musical metaphor for various drawing tools in my previous reflection I really enjoyed this exercise, though it took a long time, because of the larger orchestra of artistic instruments. I was very pleased with how the painting turned out with dramatic visual effect of the shape and dynamic structure of the wooden mantelpiece and surround created by the collage with the layering of inktense pastels, contrasted with the curvaceous jug with it’s bright colours forming the focal point of the drawing. This is further created by, for example, the similarity of the secondary purple colours in the picture on the wall and the little propped up photograph provide a contrasting foil to the primary red colours in the jug. I think the unusual viewpoint and perspective works well in contributing to an arresting image.
Exercise four – Still life using monochrome
Create an image in a single colour combining natural and man-made objects and contrasting materials
The idea for my drawing came from a visit to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (see my research piece on Still Life). Just as those 17th century Dutch artists had displayed items of significance and importance in their lives or the lives of their clients I thought I would create a display of items from something I enjoy – cooking a recipe for baked sea bream in a Spanish Rota-style which I learned from a programme by the TV chef Rick Stein. Given my context my drawing is a more homely, informal still life drawing than those of the Dutch masters in oil painting. I used chalk pastels in a more down to earth burnt sienna for my monochrome. I experimented with some sketches first to explore tones and then did the drawing on A2 cartridge paper.
The centrepiece to the front is a fresh sea bream on a plate. In a display to the right is the variety of ingredients used in the dish and on the left a large casserole pot. The recipe in fact would require a more open dish but I felt that this pot, which was a favourite of my late mother’s as well as mine, would be a better balance to the collection of ingredients, would be in interesting contrast in size and yet also connect through similar shapes, for example, to the garlic and the red pepper. There is also a reference back to 17th century Dutch painters who had used a partly peeled lemon, as I have done, to spiral down over the front of their table. The still life objects sit on a table with a cloth which overhangs on the two visible sides. I have used small rucks in the cloth to suggest the weigh of the object resting on it, for example the casserole and the glass of fresh parsley in water. I have also made use of collage, in this case a print-off of the recipe which as well as adding interest and curiosity also provides tone and texture in the background and to the oil and sherry bottles. The remaining background is simply done suggesting part of a curtain.
I am very pleased with this image. I think the viewpoint works well and the composition and collection of items is reminiscent of a stall or display which resonates with the Dutch paintings. I think the shapes of the objects work well and are realistic and there is a good combination of line and tone using only one colour. I think the casserole has turned out especially well (possibly because it is something I love) and there is a lovely contrast between the sharp positive shape of the lid against the lighter negative background and the less defined shadowy lower half of the pot. The shape and tones of the pot dominating the left hand side of the picture also balance nicely with the two bottles to the right. I am not sure about the collage ‘recipe’. I think this does give texture to and breaks up the background but don’t feel I have worked it in so well with the bottles, particularly with the clear glass bottle where the straight lines of text seem to fight against rather than enhance the round and clear shape of the bottle.
Project 3 At home
Interior scenes, an ideal subject for both objective study – finding a still life rather than composing and arranging one – and more expressive exploration
Exercise one – Quick sketches around the house
Work around rooms in your house making four quick sketches in each room turning 45 degrees after each one. Simple line drawings or may have elements of tone. Then look at all drawings and see which are the strongest and why.
The images below are a selection from those in my A3 sketchbook. I mainly used a Rotring artpen with some smudging, pen and wash and pastel pencil.
- Which drawings are strongest and why: They are the ones I have photographed above. I like their simplicity and directness. I think I have made a good effort at getting the right perspective which gives the images depth and depicts them as three dimensional. I like the one of the stairs (3rd one in top row). I think this is an unusual image and the use and combination of tone, line and perspective gives it a dramatic sense of height and plunging down. The bedroom by contrast with simple suggestion of broad flower shapes on the duvet cover and the flatness of the bed filling over half the picture makes for a sense of calm.
- Which drawings did I enjoy most: I most enjoyed those with a simple, not quite continuous line. I like the freedom of outline contour drawing which i have used in part. And I like the simplicity, fluidity and freedom of the resulting line. I enjoyed developing this approach in the picture of the kitchen where I have conveyed more detail contrasting the broad shapes of the cupboards and floor space with the clutter on the surfaces, typical of our kitchen worktops!
- Which area in which room do you want to study further: I have decided to explore further the sketch of the lounge, (bottom left). It is an important room in our house where we spend time reading, listening to the radio and to music, watching tv and also meeting/entertaining family, friends and neighbours. I like the welcoming shapes offered by the sofas and cushions and the light from the large front window as well as the view to the outside world, the houses and gardens of our neighbours.
Exercise two: Composition – an interior
[Please note there is a contradiction on page 50 of the study guide. Paragraph 1 says to ‘keep shifting your viewpoint until you find one that pleases you’ and paragraph 3 says, ‘ in each of four sketches shift your viewpoint or eye level’. I have interpreted the exercise as follows:]
Find a viewpoint in your chosen room that pleases then make quick sketches in landscape and portrait format to outline basic shapes and map out tonal areas, then decide on the basic structure, outlines and format of your interior study.
Our lounge is separated from the dining area by sliding doors. In deciding on view point I liked the A4 sketch on the right hand side below which included the tops of the dining chairs thus indicating this continuity.
The light source in the lounge comes from the window and creates an interesting pattern of lights and darks from this side of the lounge. By introducing the chairs, however, I would be letting in another source of light from the dining room french window, behind me. On balance I decided I would include the chairs and a section of the table as this would break the rows of darks in the room facing away from the window. On another occasion my wife sat on the sofa and I liked the idea of including a figure in the composition.
This added an interesting element and interest to the composition and so I did another which I then decided would be the main composition for my drawing in Exercise 3, effectively the A2 sketch on the left hand side of the bottom row in the 5 round the house sketches above, together with the figure sitting on the sofa reading and the addition of table and chairs. I also decided to use the portrait format as this gave a more realistic feel to the room with its greater depth.
Exercise three – Material Differences
This is my final drawing for Exercise three, those process toward which is described in the previous section.
To create further interest I added a still life bowl of lemons to the table which, with the light coming from behind, contrast well with other elements in the room.
I think I have mapped out the broad tonal areas in this room created by the bright light source of a south facing window. I have used compressed charcoal with varied pressure and using my fingers for the broad areas and a tortillon or pastel pencil for the details. I have added human interest with the figure and also the three still lifes, the bowl of lemons on the table, the single pot in the hearth and the vase of flowers in the window. I have successfully shown different materials, surfaces and textures for example, the smoothness of the lemons, the hints of texture in the material forming the back of the sofa, the shiny nature of the surface of the coffee table and the grainy wood of the dining table.
Overall I feel I have created an accurate depiction of this room and it contents through sharp verticals and angles contrasted with the more curvy items of furniture and furnishings. I think there is a good balance between lights and darks using the light from both sources which realistically shows the interior at this time of day.
Assignment Two – please go to this page