Assignment 4: Tutor formative feedback and reflection

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.

 

Assignment 4: self assessment against criteria

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. 

Context

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. 

Assignment 4

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.) .

Sketchbook Schiele
A3 Sketchbook. Schiele and graphite.

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.

Composition

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).

Paul seated figure
Fig. 2. Source photo

 

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.).

Paul seated cropped
Fig. 3. Cropped and gridded

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.

Assignment 4 stained glass
Fig. 4. Stained glass effect

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.

Medium practise 1
Fig. 5.  Range of media on A4 and A5.

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.).

Medium practise 2
Fig. 6. Charcoal, graphite and pencil on A3 white paper
Medium practise 3
Fig. 7. Tombow, fine-liner pen, ink wash and chalk.

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.)

Assignment 4 Seated final
Fig. 8. Seated model in an upright chair. Tombow, fine liner pen, chalk, graphite powder. A1.

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.).

Assignment 4 reclining sketches
Fig. 9.  Sketchbook tonal studies

Composition

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.

Materials

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.).

Assignment 4. reclining final
Fig. 10. Figure study using tone- reclining model. A1. Graphite pencil, willow charcoal, powdered charcoal.

Reflection

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.

Initial 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.

Assignment 4 portrait study
Fig. x. Portrait study. Pencil.

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.

Final drawing

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).

Ass 4 portrait unfinished
Fig. xx. Initial line and tone with life model. Pencil and pastel.

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.).

Assignment 4 portrait final
Fig. xxx. Portrait combining line and tone. A3. Pencil and pastel.

 

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.