Note to self. Stop thinking and analysing. Get on with scribbling, splashing, experimenting and enjoying yourself. (Do a bit more thinking as you go along).
I had a hangout with my tutor to discuss Assignment 4. I also received this written note of our discussions. Tutor Feedback Assignment 4 Janet Davies
As well as discussing my work it as also useful to discuss the timing of the submission of Assignment 5 and which degree pathway I should pursue. I was urged not to rush Assignment 5 for the November formal assessment, which I thought over and agreed. I will now be aiming for March formal assessment. I am also in discussion with “the office” at OCA as to whether I should switch to the Fine Arts degree pathway from Painting.
Reflection on tutor feedback
I was a little deflated by the feedback. I had reflected that I had struggled with the creative element of Part 4 as I was concentrating on getting form and line right. But it seems I didn’t do well on that either.
I had to submit work physically for this tutor assessment, but I am now unsure as to what I should have submitted. The guidance said to send the two large drawings, portrait and preliminary studies (which I did) and a “sample of your research for this assignment…”. So I sent two life portrait pieces, a moving figures sketch, one of my self portraits, which I received mainly positive comments on. I also sent 2 of my sketchbooks.
I was therefore confused by my tutor’s statement that “there was very little life drawing or quick sketches of the figure”. I had completed all the drawings for the exercises, often completing more than one sketch for each exercise. In total I had drawn around 30 sketches and studies, but I didn’t do them in my sketchbook. I also didn’t blog all the warm-up exercises that I did at life drawing sessions as I thought that would be repetitious. I can only assume that my tutor hadn’t looked at these on my blog, or that more than 30 are expected. Still, I am not going to labour on this as I don’t consider any of my life drawing work is good enough for formal assessment.
I had positive comments about my learning log which I will build on. I am urged to continue to develop less conventional approaches to my drawing “that allows the materials to inform the outcome” because of my weak observational skills. I do like using different materials and approaches, but I do think I have reasonable observational skills and I want to work on those too. I intend to continue with life drawing classes as I can see that I have improved over this last few months and I enjoy the challenge. However experimental I get I do want my work to be under-pinned by good observational drawing.
One other thing we discussed, which isn’t reflected in the feedback note, is avoiding over-working. Knowing when a drawing is finished is difficult for everyone I know, even professional artists. I think this happens most when I am experimenting, and to a certain extent this is unavoidable when learning (reminder to self you are still learning.) Linked to this is leaving space on the page. I have successfully been cropping images to good effect, but I don’t need to cram everything in, even within an image areas can be unclear or ambiguous. I like David Shrigley’s view about his “deliberately crude and childlike” drawings: “that hold just enough information for their message to be recognisable” (Stout, 2014:67). He says “I suppose holding back information acts like a catalyst. Sometimes you only have to say a certain amount and it captures the imagination of people. If you need to describe everything, tell the story in full, then you’re probably not telling it vey well.” (Ibid.)
I will look at the artists suggested. David Hockney I know very well, and I have already studied the work of Julie Mehretu and William Kentridge (but always worth going back to). I will look further at the work of Luc Tuymans, Paul Noble, Dryden Goodwin, Kate Atkin and Gemma Anderson. The Rabley Drawing Centre does look interesting too.
Self-assessment against assessment criteria: August 2017
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills
I had done some life model drawing before but Part four on the figure and the head really made me focus on observation. I valued the exercises looking at proportion, form and structure which helped with the accuracy of my drawings. To some extent, particularly in life classes, this meant that I didn’t experiment too much with materials and techniques as I was concentrating on accuracy. Blind drawing was a new experience that I learned a great deal from and which I also used to an extent in drawing moving figures. Drawing with my left hand was also surprisingly effective. I am keen to continue with life drawing classes as I can see that with practise I will be able to be more expressive and experimental as my confidence with the basics grows.
Quality of outcome
Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, with discernment
These comments are unchanged from Assignment 3. I have reviewed them and they are still relevant.
I am increasingly aiming to draw subjects which provide me with a narrative so that I am engaged with the work. I think this is leading to better outcomes. When I look at other artists work I aim to analyse how I might use their technique, composition or approach in my work. I am now also aiming to consider conceptual issues matters in my work.
I am continuing to working in a way that helps me step back from my work to gain distance and perspective. I find that working on more than one piece at a time allows time for reflection and better decision making on whether a piece is “finished” or needs more work. However, I am aware that I need to guard against over-working or over-analysing a piece of work.
Demonstration of creativity
Imagination, experimentation, invention, personal voice
Although, as I said above, I did not experiment a great deal in life drawing classes I have continued to try out new materials and approaches in my sketchbooks and other exercises. This includes using: masking tape; coloured carbon paper; acrylic and gouache; temporary drawings (admittedly by accident); digital manipulation of photographs; collage; transfers (two methods) and mono-print.
I think that my personal voice is starting to emerge in the way I think about my subject matter. One of the themes that came out strongly for me in Part 4 was about communication and connections. I am beginning to understand that my “voice” is more about what I want to say, rather than the technical aspects of how I say it – though the latter is not unimportant.
Reflection, research (learning logs)
I regularly attend exhibitions, and have aimed to see more contemporary art such as the BP portrait awards and the Graphic Witness exhibition. It was exciting and revealing to be able to talk to one of the artists at the latter exhibition to get his views on his work and process. I continue to aim to translate what I see at exhibitions, and what I read in books, into meaning for my own art practice – both from a technical point of view (mark-making; techniques; composition) and conceptually.
I am starting to think about my work in a more conceptual way, in particular my self-portraits and the use of masks and what they may say about identity and recognition. I had originally thought I might undertake the Painting degree pathway but I am now thinking I might pursue Fine Art as I find reading about the context and culture of contemporary art stimulating. I don’t want to slow down on the practical side though as I really feel I am only just starting to gain confidence and some competence. I will be discussing this with my tutor.
I continue to have excellent library facilities at Morley College and the (recently discovered by me) Drawing Room, of which I make good use. Although the internet is a useful source of information I am keen to have broader sources of information for my research. I access the OCA discussion forum to look at issues and debates across disciplines. The photography section is particularly lively and I find there is a lot of discussion there that has relevance for drawing and art more widely.
Figure study using line (A1) – Seated model in an upright chair
I must admit to having “Assignmentitis” for this exercise. I wasn’t sure whether to use a clothed or unclothed model; what media to use; what background; and the thought of producing something on A1 made me anxious. But I needed to make a start so I went and bought some sheets of A1 paper in black, white and mid-grey.
Review and research
As this study was about using line I went back over my previous work as suggested. My tutor has indicated that I often get better results when using fluid media (ink etc), that in larger pieces I need to a variety of marks (no filling in for the sake of it) and should vary the quality of the line. I have had success using line on a textured/collaged background (Part 2, Exercise 1, and Assignment 3). I have also enjoyed using charcoal and conte on a larger scale when doing life drawing classes.
I looked again at artists I have studied including William Kentridge (perhaps more for the tonal study), Henry Moore (tempting but I wanted a simpler line), Tracey Emin (too scribbly) and Egon Schiele. In particular I sought out further clothed drawings by Schiele and printed off a few for my sketchbook (Fig. 1.) .
I like his flowing and economic use of line, the changing weight of lines (perhaps a different media?) and also the subtle tone he uses for the clothed figure. My doodle in the corner of this page is my practising with charcoal powder – dry and wet.
I decided to use my partner as a clothed model as any life classes would not guarantee that I would get the right pose or length of time to dedicate to this drawing. I wanted to get an unusual angle for the composition so I tried a few different views and photographed them. The ones I thought most interesting were when I was looking down on him as I was standing on a chair. I liked the way that it seemed to increase the intensity of his study of his mobile phone (which he is never off) and I could see that the line across his body to his legs could form a pleasing diagonal for the final drawing. I photo-shopped the drawing to make the lines clearer and gridded it up so I could see ratio and use for scaling up (Fig.2).
I then had to decide how much to crop the image. I wanted to fill the A1 sheet of paper as much as I could, so the temptation was to put all of the image in. But playing around with A4 paper (which is smaller but the same ratio as A1) I decided to crop part of the head and the feet (Fig. 3.).
This also has the benefits of providing some interesting negative spaces between the figure and the edge of the paper. I don’t want to leave the model’s right foot exactly meeting the edge of the page though so will have to adjust for that, but I don’t want to crop that foot as I like the shape. The decision now is whether/how I should fill some of the empty space at the top right-hand side, perhaps introducing a table into the drawing to add interest and balance the composition, or to leave empty to allow the drawing to “breathe”. I like the textured effect on the carpet that digital alteration has revealed.
This texture reminded me of stained glass windows. So when I finished with the scaling up I converted the original photo (Fig. 4). I have practised stained glass effects previously in my sketch book. But I am too nervous to try this out on a larger scale for the assignment.
Testing formats and media
I didn’t want a complicated background for this as I wanted the lines to speak for themselves. But I did experiment with a few different colour backgrounds and media (Fig. 5.). I tested out the composition on a sheet of A5 white paper.
The grey paper (top right) I didn’t like at all as it didn’t show the lines properly. I wasn’t too sure about the white on black. Chalk is effective but the white ink isn’t definite enough, and A1 will be too large to use my fine white ink pen. The orange was chosen as it’s the colour of my partner’s football team. It has some possibilities, particularly if purple used as a contrast, but I am not convinced I could pull it off in A1. I think the colour might be too distracting. Black on white can be bold or delicate depending on the medium used. I was keen to try out black media on larger sheets of white paper (Figs. 6 and 7.).
Both have possibilities but I think the media in Fig. 6. will be more suited to a figure study using line. I can get good sweeping lines of varying thickness with the Tombow, and it is water-soluble so you can get a wash from it. Though I won’t over-do that as this is about line rather than tone.
I will think about using the media in Fig. 5. for the figure study using tone. Again on white paper. Could even dig out my oiled charcoal (thank you Odilon Redon) for some of the darker areas. But that’s another drawing.
This is my final drawing for Assignment 4.1 Seated model in an upright chair (Fig. 8.)
Reflection: The unusual aspect, as I planned, does focus the viewer on to the hands and the phone. Which is why it is a shame that I didn’t execute the hands better. The model’s left hand is OK but I had real problems getting the right hand right so it doesn’t look natural.
I improved the composition and narrative by adding a table and iPad at the top right-hand side. If he’s not on his phone he’s on his Ipad. I think it works OK but it would have been better if I had worked the composition out properly at the start. What I really wanted to do was to draw square. But then that wouldn’t have been A1.
The lines on the clothing are not very well observed. I was trying to be loose with my lines, but they ended up a bit messy. This is always a tricky one for me. It doesn’t help that I was working from a photo. I only had an A4 reference. I tried doing this on a easel but resorted to a table after a bit. I can get more expressive marks when I am stood at an easel and use my whole arm. But I was keen to get this accurate so I scaled up from a photo with faint pencil lines to get the proportions right.
I like the chair seat and leg. It’s a tricky angle but I think he does look like he’s sitting on it.
If I were to do this again I would use brush and ink rather than Tombow pen.
2. Figure study using tone: Reclining model
Sometime just selecting the model and pose is the hardest part. My partner is not the lounging type. Trying to get him to sit down on an upright chair while I took some photos was hard enough. He doesn’t do reclining. But I wanted to do a companion piece for study 1 so I asked him very nicely if he would do some poses on the sofa (yes, the ubiquitous “husband on the sofa” pose). I took a variety of reference photos, but also some quick tonal sketches in my sketchbook (Fig. 9.).
I wanted to ensure this time that I had the composition figured out properly before I started. I thought the most potential was my first sketch, but which I would need to crop further to ensure there was no wasted space and that the figure was the focus. I moved the lamp around to get some good, strong shadows. There were also some good diagonals with the shape of his arms and the angles of the legs. I also welcomed the opportunity to practise foreshortening. It’s the longest my partner has sat down for ages.
I have been practising in my sketchbook, and drawing at the National Portrait Gallery, with graphite pencil, charcoal and graphite. So although this isn’t particularly creative I wanted to try my hand at a drawing on a large scale. I re-visited some of William Kentridge’s drawings, in particular Bird in a Cage, 2005, in which he uses a series of marks and erasings. I printed this out and kept it next to m while I drew.
Again. I scaled up from an A4 photo, but also had my tonal sketch. To be honest, the sketch wasn’t detailed enough, but I think just doing it does give you a better feel for the mood than just a photo alone. I drew main outline in pencil, then rubbed powdered charcoal all over the drawing to break up the white paper. I knew I could add to this with pencil and charcoal and also remove areas with an eraser to bring out highlights. So the charcoal ground acts as the mid-tone. This is the result (Fig. 10.).
I wasn’t optimistic when I started this drawing. I was desperate to find a model and get this done – not the best attitude to have. There is an anti-narrative to the subject as it’s my partner in a non-typical pose – hence the lack of phone for one thing. But as I got into the process of the drawing, particularly the achievement of tone and the foreshortening I started to really engage with the task. I actually got a bit obsessed with the tone. As soon as I made one bit darker then I had to darken somewhere else. In the end I set myself a deadline and stuck to it. As I write this I am still inclined to tweak it but I need to move on and get it posted off to my tutor. I need to make sure I fix it properly too as it is easily smudged – particularly the charcoal.
Overall I am happy that I have achieved a range of tone, the photo doesn’t reflect the tone on the face very well, and I do think there is more work to do there. I am not too sure if I have over-done the tone on the bottom of the feet though. I have caught the highlights around the toes, but perhaps there should be more modelling on the bottom of the feet.
I paid more attention, and simplified, the folds on the clothes this time and I feel this has been successful. The hair, with pencil, charcoal and flicks of a tiny eraser also works well.
The model’s right hand was tricky as it was in a strange position, so I don’t find that convincing. I did move the fingers around quite a bit but it needs more work. The model’s left hand is better, but looks a little large. Also, the drawing technique looks different on the left hand – softer. It was in more shadow and the highlights were more complex but I think it is successful.
The shadow around the model’s body gives a sense of sinking into the sofa. I am also pleased with the texture of the sofa, which I made up to add interest to an otherwise blank area.
There may be a mixture of too many different marks used but I was seeing what would work.
3. Portrait combining line and tone
As I had done exercises on self-portraits I decided to work on a portrait for this exercise. I attended a life drawing sessions with a clothed model. She had a very distinctive and interesting face. She was very upright and had a very slight smile on her face and was looking to her right (my left). I was in a group situation and didn’t have a choice of where to sit so the profile was full on and the lighting diffuse with natural and artificial lighting. Nevertheless I think she has sufficiently interesting features to make a good drawing.
I spent about an hour on the initial pencil drawing (Fig. x.), making sure I had the measurements and relationships right and adding some tone. I believe I have caught the liveliness of her expression in this drawing; her upright posture (she was a dancer and actress before she retired); her hooded eyes; and her asymmetrical bobbed hair which was beautifully styled. I was keen to keep the character of this face into a final drawing.
Light box transfer
As part of the class exercise we were urged to copy the drawing to another sheet of paper using a window as a light box. I was interested to do this as I hadn’t tried it before. So I transferred my original drawing to another sheet of paper. I had rather too much background around my initial drawing ( a common fault of mine) which I did on A2 paper, so I transferred it to A3. This is a useful method as I can use the initial drawing again to make other copies and use different approaches to the final drawing. The only negative side was that you have to use fairly lightweight paper to transfer on to as you need to be able to see through it against the light to the initial drawing. Therefore the paper I used for my final drawing was not ideal, particularly as I went on to use pastels and the paper didn’t really have enough tooth.
I completed the final drawing in two stages. Ideally I would have completed it in the live session, but there was only enough time to add some detail to the pencil drawing so I concentrated on getting some of the hair and skin colours and tone on the face and neck (Fig. xx).
It was suggested that we use pastels, which I have had varying successes using in the past, but I thought I would give it another go. This time I wanted to avoid over-blending and try and keep some lively marks.
I wasn’t able to take a photograph of the model so I completed the drawing at home from memory, and a bit of imagination – particularly the clothing and background which I hadn’t focused on in the live session (Fig. 3.).
I used frottage for the background, for which the thinner paper was ideally suited. I tried to readjust the final drawing to indicate a slight smile which I seem to have lost at stage 1.
Reflection: While I am still not at ease with pastel I feel I have used it fairly well in this drawing. I haven’t over-blended. Compositionally it isn’t very imaginative, but I feel that the character of the face is enough to draw you into the drawing. I have also tried to add some variety to the background and clothing to pull the eye around, but I didn’t want to over-emphasise to detract from the face, which is the main focus of attention. I have used a range of colours for the skin and hair to add depth and I have echoed some of these in the background and clothing to pull the piece together.
Assignment 4: Overall reflection
I have enjoyed life and portrait drawing but feel that I have only scratched the surface of its, and my, potential. It is hard enough to get an accurate likeness, never mind being creative in how you do it, and have a message or mood to put across. Perhaps aiming for all three, at least at my stage of development, is too much. I think that I need to decide if my aim is accuracy, or mood/message. Though I know that my accuracy will improve (has already improved) with practise. I also know from looking at other artists (Giacometti, Schiele) that expression and getting to the essence of the subject is critical. But it’s not easy.
Alberto Giacometti (1901 – 1966)
I was introduced to Giacometti at a Morley College drawing class in September last year, just as I was starting this OCA course (see Blog posts 1st October and 12th October 2016). I noted then that Giacometti drew and painted his brother Diego many times and that he took pains to scrutinise his subjects intensely – saying even of his brother “when he poses for me I don’t recognise him” such was his concentration on portraying what he actually saw, rather than what he was familiar with. Yet this is at odds with the connection that Giacometti obviously felt for his sitter. While he may not have recognised the physical elements of his brother he obviously saw deeper. “It was not his aim to create likenesses but a reality in real space corresponding to the essence of a personality.” (Tate curator notes)
So it was exciting to be able to see this Tate collection of Giacometti’s works, with some paintings of his brother. The exhibition also included examples of his sculptures, decorative objects (such as lamps and vases) and drawings.
The portrait paintings were even more complex in real life than I had imagined from looking at photographs. While initially appearing random, the lines had a definite structure – veering towards the figure, linking the subject and his/her background in a flowing dance. There wasn’t much variation in colour – just some hints of red here and there. But the point wasn’t colour – it was about form and space.
Kaupelis (1992: 87) discusses “modeled space” and highlights the importance of drawing empty space around, and even in front of, a model. He writes about “Masters” of art – “Everything is one to them and they don’t really think about first drawing this object and then that object. They all flow together and become one thing, a totally integrated drawing.” This is certainly true of the way that Giacommeti draws.
I admired Giacometti’s bronze sculpture “Three Men Walking” for the simplicity of the arrangement – three elongated figures seemingly the same yet facing different directions, on the point of passing each other by, looking towards where they are going rather than at each other. We know they are walking by the purposeful bend of the body and the stretch of the limbs.
It reminded me of when I was attempting to sketch the commuters at Liverpool Station recently. I marvelled at how they all managed to avoid bumping into each other, particularly the ones staring intently at their mobile phones. It was as if they had a sixth sense – something like a murmuration of starlings who flock and billow in the air making fascinating shapes without ever crashing. They are interesting individually but the instinctive, unacknowledged interactions add up to much more. Perhaps “man’s spiritual alienation in tune.”? (Honour, 2009: 841)
I was amused to overhear a mother explaining another sculpture “Walking Man” to her child by saying “his feet are stuck” – and indeed the overly-large feet of the figure do appear to be almost part of the ground beneath them. Yet such is the forward angle of the body you have no doubt that he is striding forcefully forward with purpose, overcoming whatever may be trying to hold him back (the stuck-ness).
I think what I took away from this exhibition most of all was the importance of relationships. The relationships between the:
- artist and his materials;
- artist and the subject;
- subject and its surrounding and/or other subjects.
I am starting to learn that when I am more engaged with a subject that the outcomes are more interesting – and the process certainly more enjoyable. Part of this is to try and move beyond recognisable representation towards capturing the essence of the subject, particularly in portraits. How we see things has to be personal, not contrived or copied. I am not sure how to arrive at this point as I am still overly-concerned about adhering to what things “should” look like. But I know that in my more successful drawings I have either been engaged with the subject matter, or at times the process. I don’t feel that I have yet identified a preferred medium to work in, but I do find mixing mediums exciting.
 “Giacommeti preferred to work with clay or in plaster, materials which he could form and shape with his hands.” Exhibition notes.
The National Portrait Gallery has free drop-in drawing classes on Fridays. There isn’t much tuition as it is normally quite crowded, but they provide free paper and drawing materials if you need them. You get a word or two comment from the tutor. Of my pencil drawing she said “well he certainly has character”, which I am taking as a positive! It’s a great experience and good practise. It’s also interesting to see what other people draw as they have a gallery of all the drawings at the end.
I have made a few notes in my sketchbook about where I went wrong with the drawings, but I am basically happy with them. But it demonstrates how much you have to concentrate on detail to get a likeness. By the way, if you don’t know about the subject Samuel Romilly you should look him up. He was a very great man with a sad ending to his life.
Drawing Room, Bermondsey: Graphic Witness: 18th May – 9th July 2017
I have only recently discovered Drawing Room in Bermondsey. Apart from being a little tricky to find it is a great resource, with exhibitions, courses, talks and a comprehensive reference library on contemporary drawing.
I visited the Graphic Witness Exhibition in June and went back to a talk by the artist Nidhal Chamekh, who kindly also discussed his work Studying Circles, 2015 with me (through a translator) after the talk. It was illuminating to discover the artist’s intent and working methods of a work I had seen and made notes about a week earlier.
My original notes on Studying Circles, 2015
I was permitted to take a photograph of the drawing (Fig. 1.) and I explained I would be using it on my public student blog. Apologies that the photograph isn’t very good. You can see a better image on his website.
I was drawn to this work initially because of its composition, and I wondered what it was trying to say. The exhibition overall was about being a witness, and portraying this by drawing. The drawings were political and many drew attention to issues of concern, injustice and suffering.
The person at the centre of the image seemed to a victim of some sort, he appeared to be the only black figure. So I wondered if this was a record of racial abuse. I knew the artists was Tunisian, so perhaps this was a commentary on how Tunisian’s are treated as refugees. This image is fractured, it looks like he is moving his arms about – to protect himself from attack. He has his eyes closed or is looking down
Most of the people stood around were cut off at eye level – was this a commentary on “turning a blind eye” to abuses? The right hand figure is holding a selfie-stick and phone like a golf club, and he has no trousers on. Is he wondering if he will be vulnerable if he takes a photograph? He also has an anklet on – it looks a bit like one that offenders wear when they are tagged. The background figure with his head bowed is holding his arm. Is he too a victim of abuse, or a perpetrator dusting himself off?
There were also strange symbols in the drawing which looked like measuring devices but I didn’t know what their significance was.
The work was completed in graphite. I did wonder about his technique as the drawing was very large: 240 x 300cm. I couldn’t even begin to think how graphite could be used on this scale – it must be the powdered type I guess, which I have used a little but on a much smaller scale.
Post-viewing research revealed that the aim of Chamekh’s work was to highlight the plight of Tunisian protestors who set themselves on fire. I couldn’t find any information about the symbolism in the drawing.
Nidhal Chamekh: Talk at Drawing Room: 19th June 2017
These are a summary of my notes, they capture an essence of the talk but I apologise if I have missed anything as they were delivered through a translator and at times a little difficult to follow.
Chamekh explained that he liked to use different perspectives and dimensions – images as if floating. He wants things to be out of space and time and different levels. He uses images, particularly those of the ancient world, as a way of thinking and questioning modernity. He said that the Arabic world look at things differently. He likes using sketchbooks, as they are less pressure (I can identify with that!). His final drawings evolve – he doesn’t always know where he is going with an image. He doesn’t want to adhere to a fixed style. He mostly copies real images – his drawing is not expressive. Drawing takes time – image crystalised within drawing.
His inspirations: technical drawings; Middle Ages etchings; different periods combined; different styles – as if more than one person drawing.
He is political and aims to install doubts with the way image perceived. Images clash. Viewer must form own opinion. Images are as important as speech. He talked about being inspired by art historian Aby Warburg and his work recorded in The Surviving Image[i], where he stopped writing and collected images as he believed he could say more with just images.
Another of Chamekh’s inspiration is Rauschenberg’s transfers (which I have written about in an earlier post).
Discussion with Chamekh on his drawing
On the symbolism: the bare legs are an image from antiquity – contrasts with modern selfie-stick. The anklet is not a tracking device but a traditional Tunisian anklet that women wear – the Kholkhal. It is very heavy – can be restrictive so might be suggestive of power dynamic, though he said he hadn’t thought of it in that way. The measuring devices are about space and time. There are moons and planets in the drawing too (which I hadn’t noticed) which are also about space and time.
He was interested in some of my interpretations, and said they were as valid as his intensions and that he was glad I had taken time to think about the symbolism.
On the technical side, he said he uses large sponges on sticks to draw with the graphite. Some areas are meticulously drawn, but others only indicated or sketched.
Reflection: I am still thinking about this experience and digesting what it has taught me about the production of art and its appreciation and interpretation. Some of my thoughts are:
- Images don’t have to have a literal or metaphorical meaning, sometimes they are just there because the artist likes them or they fit his/her style or philosophy.
- Is there any value of protest art if nobody sees it or understands it? Or if the only people who see it are those that go to the trouble to visit out-of-the-way galleries? I guess you can’t wait until you are famous or get publicity though. Or do artists feel they have to do this to express their opinions even if it doesn’t have an audience? Or is it sometimes done because it is fashionable or fits the remit for a commission, exhibition or trend?
- How valid is the viewer’s interpretation of the art if it doesn’t fit with the artist’s intensions? If it doesn’t fit has the artist failed? Or the viewer? Or is there no failure at all if both are honestly and thoughtfully expressed?
[i] “The Surviving Image, originally published in French in 2002, is the result of Georges Didi-Huberman’s extensive research into the life and work of foundational art historian Aby Warburg. Warburg envisioned an art history that drew from anthropology, psychoanalysis, and philosophy in order to understand the “life” of images. Drawing on a wide range of Warburg’s unpublished letters and diaries, Didi-Huberman demonstrates unequivocally the complexity and importance of Warburg’s ideas and the ways in which his legacy was both distorted and diffused as art history became a “humanistic” discipline. The Surviving Image takes Warburg as its main subject, but also addresses broader questions regarding art historians’ conceptions of time, memory, symbols, and the relationship between art and the rational and irrational forces of the psyche.” Amazon website.
I thought I would try one portrait from memory and one from my imagination. I have done both in my A3 sketchbook. I used gouache and pencil for both as I discovered that Graham Little uses gouache and pencil so I thought I would have a go.
The first drawing was a bit of a disaster (Fig.1.).
I tried to remember the head of a life model I drew about six weeks ago. I got the eye wrong so many times and couldn’t get it right. I tried to remove some gouache and nearly went through the paper! I actually had to cheat and Google a man’s profile so that I could see what was wrong. And of course, if it’s a full sideways profile the eye has a totally different shape – and not one I had practices in my sketchbook previously. At the bottom of the drawing is a rough attempt to get it right – or at least better. I also got nowhere near depicting the likeness of the model – he had a much finer nose – and I have stuck the nose on the end of the face rather than embedding it.
This is the original drawing I did of the model (Fig. 2).
Granted, I took about an hour to complete this as there was lots of measuring and changes. But you would think that as I had concentrated on this lovely man for so long that I would be able to render something a bit better, even if it is 6 weeks later. Sigh. Still, I think this proves there is no substitute for careful observation.
Having said that … my second drawing is one from imagination (Fig. 3.).
I started off with diluted gouache to give main tone to the face, then added pencil lines. I wanted to leave the right hand-side of the drawing untouched with additional lines (apart from the eye). I may have gone too far with the “fascinator” effect on the head, but I do like the gouache and pencil effect. Not at all like Graham Little but worth persisting with I think. The figure looks a little androgynous too – not sure if its just the lack of hair, the mouth may be a little high (or the nose too long) so it looks like a moustache.
Before Albrecht Durer (1471 – 1528) few artists had taken an interest in self-portraits, but Durer painted three life-size half-length self-portraits and several drawings. (Honour, 2009: 455)
In this extraordinary self-portrait completed when he was 28 years of age, he portrays himself in a way that normally only royalty, or even Christ, was historically presented. (ibid: 456) Honour suggests that this bold move can be attributed to a “literal interpretation of the doctrine of the ‘Imitation of Christ’” and Durer’s belief that his artistic powers were a gift from God. Whatever his motivations this must surely have been a powerful and controversial step forward in self-portraiture.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1609 – 69) is well known for his series of self-portraits which he painted most of his life. These hundreds of paintings and etchings provide a fascinating longitudinal record of Rembrandt as artist and individual. He portrayed himself in a number of roles and never flattered – his aim was to convey expression and meaning rather than to boost his vanity or status. He turned to self-portraits (he also painted his family) because his popularity as a commissioned portrait painter lessened (Honour, 2009: 594).
Tracy Emin uses a number of formats to portray herself and her life in a very open way. We are urged to look at Emin’s monoprints, which I hadn’t seen before. The Tate website has a few, of which Terribly Wrong 1997 is one.
In this strong and shocking image Emin aims to communicate, or expunge, her experiences of a week in her life where she had “major dentistry, split up with her boyfriend and … an abortion.” This is not an attempt at an accurate visual representation of her body, but more a symbol of her experiences and feelings. She often uses words to intensify her message. She is certainly not holding back. She says of her work “It’s like a cleansing of my soul. It’s not just getting rid of baggage or carnage. It’s not that simple. Something actually happens within me.’ (References Tate.org.uk)
I also note from the Tate website that some of Emin’s other self-portraits, for example Tracey Emin C.V. (a written account of her life); and My Bed 1998 (installation); are of, or about, herself and her life, rather than simply portraying her face or body. This is a much more complex way of communicating about a person and their character and feelings. But perhaps it doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
I want to include Maggi Hambling’s self-portraits because they are so full of character, and so her. I haven’t met her in person but I have seen quite a few interviews. She is a strong character, I can imagine her chain-smoking and swearing through her portrait process. Indeed, in one of my favourite of her self-portraits “Self portrait working” (1985) she is smoking a cigarette. It shows wonderfully her mascara-enhanced intense hawk-like gaze as she scrutinises herself. The lines are strong and certain – just like her.
Many contemporary artists use a much broader approach to self-portraiture beyond the classical representation of a likeness. Although I must admit that there wasn’t much of this innovation in evidence at the current BP National portrait awards at the National Portrait Gallery. Although there are some stunning paintings (this is a painting award) I was surprised how many conventional head and shoulders “look this is me” portraits there were, with very little sub-context.
I am asked to create two interesting images of my own head. For the first self portrait I decided to try combined digital, transfer print and collage. I aimed to work from a photograph (selfie, Fig. 1.) taken while I was lying on the bed. This counteracts gravity and irons out many wrinkles marvellously. Not sure I can spend the rest of my life lying on my back though.
Warning: There is a lot of description of process in the following. Apologies, but I wanted to record this so that I can remember how to replicate.
I was going for a sardonic look, which I think goes to my essential cynical nature. I wanted a semi-profile with one brow slightly raised – not quite Roger Moore but something asymmetrical.
I had tried transfer printing with acetone in a drawing for Project 5 Exercise 2 Groups of figures for which you need laser prints. For this Exercise I wanted to try a method using an inkjet printer (which I have at home). Basically you print an image on to a non-stick paper (I used the backing paper to sticky labels but I think you can also use non-stick baking paper) and then press this on to another piece of paper. I didn’t take a photo of this stage but I was surprised how easy it was and how clearly (more clearly than I wanted actually) it came out. This image is of course reversed.
I then worked into the image with coloured pencil to give it more tone and interest (Fig. 2.).
The transfer process had taken out some of the tone so I started working on that with dots and lines – and the background. I could have done a lot more work on this and its something I want to return to, but I also had another idea for adding to the image.
I have an entrance ticket to the Picasso Museum in Malaga that I have been keeping for years as I love the drawing on it. I don’t know which of Picasso’s drawings it’s from but I have always loved the economy of line and the expression (Fig. 3.)
I felt empathy with the slightly annoyed/angry look of the model (Picasso was a difficult man) and wanted to incorporate her into my drawing. I did this by simply photographing the image and printing it off roughly to scale and placing it on my drawing at two angles (Figs. 4. and 5).
It’s interesting how the expression changes with just a slight shift of the angle of the eyes. I think Fig. 5 looked less annoyed and sadder.
I am aware of a few things with these self portraits.
- I have an empathy with, and feel a connection to, the eyes Picasso drew – but they are not my eyes. But they do convey the emotion I wanted to express, so they are a reflection of the inner (if not outer) me.
- I haven’t actually “drawn” that much, but I am still trying to discover what drawing is and I am happy that this is helping me explore.
- I like the fact that the two images are different, I think that this adds positively to the dramatic effect. I could have drawn my eyes in the style of Picasso but I am not sure that would have presented the contrast I wanted. I like that the collaged eyes are slightly bigger too – adding to the strange effect. My critical audience (my sisters) responses were: “Bloody hell, that’s spooky.” and “If I look at it any longer I’ll have nightmares.” Result! I haven’t shown them the next images yet.
While researching Egon Schiele I discovered this self-portrait which had a similar look to the eyes (Fig. 6.)
I liked the world-weary expression and thought it might be an interesting exercise to try and include his eyes in my self-portrait. I started out by cropping and printing off the eyes and just adding them to my transfer/pencil image Fig. 7.
This doesn’t work so well, I feel, as the marks are quite different, but I did adjust the lightness of the Schiele extract to help it blend more. I then wondered what would happen if I cropped the Schiele collage a bit more with a scissors to make it less obviously a rectangular photo, and the result was Fig. 8.
I like this effect better, it looks more integrated. It has an element of the collaged eyes being a mask now, which could add all sorts of meaning – hidden identity or feelings; how we portray ourselves to the world and how we really are; do self-portraits reveal who we really are or how we would like to be seen?
I wanted to integrate this image further so I turner this photographic image into another transfer print by printing on non-stick paper (I told you there was a lot of process). This is how it looks when it comes off the printer (Fig. 9.) which I didn’t show before.
You have to be careful at this stage as the ink is wet and smudges easily. I try only to handle the borders. I then transferred this to a plain sheet of paper (Fig. 10.) – which again, comes out in reverse – so I am now back to the orientation of my initial photograph.
This was on a rougher paper than the original and I didn’t pay as much attention to the registration so it got a bit smudged. And I just rubbed it on the my hand where last time I used more pressure and a roller. Nevertheless this is an interesting outcome. It is a little indistinct in places but that adds to the mystery. I feel I could do more with this but I am going to leave it for a while and have a think.
I also noticed that there was some ink left on the non-stick sheet after this transfer print. So I used that to make a ghost print (Fig. 11.).
This time I used the end of a pencil to scrub into the paper to get the rest of the ink off. This gives some good directional marks. It’s a little indistinct in this photo but it will make a good background for another drawing – particularly for another self-portrait as there are elements of the eyes and mouth that can be seen. I have printed it on to A3 size paper so there is a boarder around to play with too.
All the above images are A4.
- know what aims are with collage – to incorporate or deliberately stand out;
- transfers – can be bold or sketchy or ghostly – work out what is needed for a final drawing;
- consider the mood of the self-portrait, what do I want to portray?
- is there enough actual “drawing” in these drawings?
The mask is an interesting area that has potential to be pursued for Assignment 5. I am aware of the work of artist Gillian Wearing and her use of masks and alternative images in her self-portraits. And Cindy Sherman who adopts a range of personas in her self-portrait photographs. But there is potential for much more research and experimentation for me here I feel.
For my second self-portrait I wanted to use transfer printing again but I wanted a bolder drawing with more additional actual drawing and no collage. I had made a note when drawing eyes of the effect glasses can have on the image of the eye. I am particularly short-sighted so the lenses of my glasses are thick and distort and reduce the size of my eye. I also thought I should attempt to get a few more wrinkles in this portrait so no more lying on my back.
I started with a close-up photo of my eye with glasses on (Fig. 12.).
You can see the distortion and my eye is not really that small.
I put the image through an app which makes it look more like a watercolour painting (Waterlogue) and then printed it off on non-stick paper as before and made a print (Fig. 13.).
Working from my original photo (which I reversed in photoshop to make it the right way around as the print) I added marks with Woody pencils and hard pencils, and included a border as a frame (Fig. 14.).
I have found that the Woody pencils can be smudged with the finger to blend into each other and the paper. I don’t really know why I though this drawing needed a border, but it does seem to increase the focus on to the eye; as does the close cropping and the glasses frame. It was difficult to know when to stop working this. I probably could have put more tone at the hairline. The hair probably needs a rethink – I kept adding lines in different colours but I could probably do with some broader marks. Good fun though.
Overall reflection: I am really enjoying portraits. Even more than full body life drawing it really does call for acute observation, particularly if a likeness is to be achieved. But even if a true likeness isn’t achieved there is lots of scope for producing interesting work. I keep staring at people on buses to look at their features.
The whole subject of “capturing” someone essence is endlessly fascinating. I have even had photos taken of me which people say “that doesn’t look like you” or “that really looks like you” (the more “recognisable” ones are when I am without make-up and casual – my usual state). There is also the area of family resemblance. I used Picasso’s models eyes and Schiele’s eyes in my self-portrait and the results were immediately strange and unsettling to people who know me. What if the differences were closer – say I substituted my sister’s eyes, or hair, or mouth?