Still life using line

This exercise required a collection of objects either connected naturally or deliberately contrasting. I decided on a selection of bells – two cowbells and a handbell, but I didn’t feel these had enough detail to warrant a line study.

I’ve always been fascinated by plant galls and the oak trees I pass on dog walks are covered in them. I knew you could make an ink from oak galls so I decided to bring that element in to the story and duly procured some oak galls, rusty nails and gum Arabic to make some ink.

I had a go at drawing some different found natural objects in my sketchbook with my fountain pen and a pheasant quill pen:

I tried some various compositions but didn’t want anything too contrived so ended up with a tumble of hazelnuts to one side, and the cowbells to the other. I put the knopper galled acorns to the front so I could focus on the detail. I liked the idea of the wheat creeping in from one side so wrapped them around the smaller cowbell. I liked the random quality of the feather quill for the wheat but the smooth nib of the pen for the hazelnuts and acorns.

I made some notes in my sketchbook:

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The main points:

  • Links: colour, of the land, season
  • Natural vs manmade
  • Detail: contours on galls, texture/seam on cowbell, pine cone
  • Draw eye in to centre to counterbalance compostion

The text said to think about the background so I used a backdrop of my two art boxes, and sat back from the table on a low stool so I was almost at eye level with the arrangement:

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I used fountain pen to start with:

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I felt there was something missing on the right hand side and wondered about an apple or something in front of the box. I wanted to have another go with a dip pen and the oak gall ink:

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I like this one but I needed to go in closer to make the objects a bit bigger; there’s too much empty space and it was the lines I was after. The dip pen was quite difficult to control – I’ve not used one before – and I didn’t especially enjoy the experience.

I think regarding the exercise I have explored the concept of line; a combination of the two drawings would bring out the best end result but I need to move on.

 

Exercise 1: Detail and tone

I chose the deer skull for this exercise as I wanted something which had enough going on as a single object. I started off by doing a quick sketch to get the feel of it with my fountain pen and then had a go with some conté crayons. I went for some cross-hatching as per the instructions to build up tone but it wasn’t terribly effective:

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I swapped the skull over to face the other way as the light was better, and did a pencil sketch using 9B, 5B, B, 2H and 5H pencils. I really like this drawing but I got a bit engrossed in tonal values and forgot about cross-hatching:

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I think I have good areas of light and dark and have managed to get the shapes and sutures quite well. I enjoyed doing it and it gave me a good idea about the end result I wanted to achieve.

For the next drawing I used newsprint paper as I’d just bought it and it is nice and smooth, and A3. It wasn’t the best choice as it didn’t ‘take’ the pencil very well, being slightly shiny; consequently it is rather an insipid drawing but I wanted to experiment:

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This paper does show up the cross-hatching quite well and I have got a range of lights, darks and marks. Am I filling the paper in a varied and interesting way? I think I need to be a lot more bold and use better paper. I find crosshatching tedious and it takes a long time to build up the tone which I struggle with, not being the most patient of souls.

 

 

 

Red pepper study

The first section of Part two suggests different media to explore still life, so for Project 1, detailed observation of natural objects, I chose a red pepper.

I started with Pastelmat and soft pastels:

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I like this but I ended up blending it too much and lost the highlights. I tried it again on pastel paper, again with soft pastels:

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And with the pepper the other way around:

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And again with oil pastels focussing more on the green stalk which was a bit more interesting than an expanse of red:

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I don’t really like the paper showing through and I don’t have many reds in my collection of oil pastels. I decided to have a go with gouache:

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I really like the reflections and highlights on this one, and think I’ve got the angle of the stalk end twisting round slightly from the rest of the pepper.

I have not used  drawing inks before but I used a fine paintbrush and quite like the effect of the cut pepper:

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These were all quick studies to get a feel for the different materials and see what, if any, I felt I wanted to take further. I love the feel of soft pastels and how they sweep over the paper but I need more practise in getting the best from them, and I perhaps need to go bigger, as they lack refinement and I want to celebrate their exuberance and colour. The strength of the pigment is wonderful, although in my selection of 30, I only have a few of each shade and I don’t know how to blend the colours without going overboard and losing all the character of the drawing. I like the oil pastels but I’m wondering if I should use them in conjunction with another medium such as a water-based paint? I have seen people use them in a sort of resist technique on paintings so I shall investigate further.

 

Research: positive and negative space

I was interested to look at this as I’m not very skilful when it comes to using the negative space around objects, as I still tend to go for the outline of the thing I’m drawing. The course text suggested looking at Gary Hume for inspiration, and I also found a couple of good ones in drawing now: eight propostions, which is on the reading list and absolutely excellent. I like these two:

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The top one Five Nocturnes by Russell Crotty (p24-5) is masses – millions! – of fine lines in pen, with the sky marks orientated horizontally, the terrestrial ones vertically, and from what I can see by squinting (and resisting the urge to double tap the page to zoom in…) the lines are the same thickness, just more densely packed in the dark area. I really like the simplicity of this picture and the naive quality of the shapes . The bottom drawing, EINUZWANZIGSTERSEPTEMBERZWEITAUSDENDUNDEINS by Ugo Rondinone (p28) is ink on paper and is a series of splodges and dots of varying tones and densities to give the stunning and quite haunting effect of trees – in moonlight perhaps? I am always impressed by art where there are no lines; it must take self control and a lot of stepping back and perusing to inch in to where you want your boundaries to cross. And patience; I don’t profess to have much of any of those skills.

Another artist I like who uses a lot of negative space in his paintings is wildlife watercolourist Darren Woodhead. The birds appear out of the shapes in the paint:

Positive and negative space are really brought home with printing, and these are two artists I like:

David Wightman uses wallpaper and acrylic for his landscape paintings, and his prints are a great demonstration of negative space not needing to be white:

I also like this one from an artist called Joss Fenn. Working with the negative space is something I tried with some paintings I have done:

I really enjoyed doing these and like how the brain fills in the blank. With my still lifes I’m going to see if I can incorporate an element of this as I think it makes the eye work harder.

 

 

Edgezine process

I have contributed to Edge-zine before but missed the last submission so I was keen to get something in for July, on the subject of Growth. Feeling inclined to do a bee-ish theme, I started with some honeycomb frottage, having liked the effect when I did it for a Part one exercise. The foundation worked better than the actual honeycomb as I could apply more pressure:

The paler sections on the paper are the bee-built honeycomb, the darker sections, the mechanically-impressed sheet of wax. I tried drawing a bee on top of the frottage but it was too dark so I thought about printing off a photo on to tracing paper and placing it over the top. I printed this one out:

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…but it smeared rather and was too dark and heavily coloured to see the pencil marks underneath. However, on the paler sections of the photo, and especially where the bees’ wings are transparent in the sunlight, you could just about pick out the comb pattern underneath. I fiddled around in photoshop and got a really pale, rather ghostly effect:

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After printing this out, I placed it on top of the sheet of foundation and rubbed over it with a 6B graphite stick, applying varying amounts of pressure. The pale parts of the photo really picked up the hexagonal pattern and I am pleased with the final effect:

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The next copy of Edge will be available in July, on the Issuu link above.

Still life research

I must admit I’ve always found the still life genre rather dull, but as with most things, a lack of understanding is usually at the root of the problem! For this part of the course, I’ve been looking at the concept of ‘nature morte’ from the traditional examples from the 1600s up to the present day.

Still life was a lowly subject matter in the seventeenth century compared to portraiture and landscape as dictated by the French Academy. I remembered my trip to the Prints and Drawings Room at the British Museum where our excellent guide said that at the time, your art was judged and you were assigned a rank and that is where you stayed. Interestingly though, the idea of still life was that the objects don’t move – you do. You are capturing the passing of time and especially in the age of allegorical references abounding in art of all types, still lifes could be infused with symbolism and meaning. I wondered if the subject matter – usually food or other consumables – meant that the moment had to be captured even though in real life it would have deteriorated over the duration of the task of painting the objects; there weren’t photos to refer to.

As I mentioned in my post about my final assignment piece, I wondered what constituted a still life. Is it the subject/collection of objects or more the approach or considered observation and recording of a moment in time? A still life is traditionally a group of man-made or natural objects, but I noticed a lot of historical still lifes have very much alive cats in them, usually on the verge of stealing some choice fish or piece of game on the display. I have a cat: I sympathise. Perhaps this is slightly tongue-in-cheek and the idea of cats being annoying is relatable down the centuries!

The still lifes of Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and Léger are interesting:

The colours are more vibrant, the subject matter more simple, and the lighting is less naturalistic. With all the ones above, the picture plane is almost vertical. The influence of cubism – taking different surfaces of an object and displaying them on a two-dimensional plane – is clear and gives an abstracted view of the still life.

More recent artists have also instilled the principles of cubism. Patrick Caulfield, Roy Lichtenstein, Juan Gris and Ben Nicholson display their still lifes in an abstracted, cubist manner. Someone I follow on Instagram, Dan Morley, (@danmorelyart) does some wonderfully-lit still lifes, similar to Peter Kelly’s Brown Eggs and Gold.

William Scott has taken the still life concept and pared it down to its most abstracted form. Using everyday objects such as saucepans and painting them on a flattened plane, he endeavours to leave the viewer with a simple yet striking image. These diverse interpretations of the traditional still life are more interesting to me than a more representational drawing and I’d like to see if I can recreate some of these effects, although I’m conscious that the simplicity of the image belies the skill required to achieve it!

 

 

 

Alberto Giacometti

I have had a postcard of Giacometti’s ‘Man Pointing’ up in my bathroom for ages, and was curious to see the exhibition at Tate Modern as it was getting rave reviews. His elongated figures are well known but some of his other sculptures looked intriguing.

Alberto Giacometti, the son of Impressionist painter Giovanni Giacometti, started his art journey by doing sculptures of his brother Diego – primarily his head. The human head held a profound fascination for the artist throughout his life and the numerous sculptures and busts of various people that he produced make this apparent.

He was influenced by the abstracted figures of Africa and Oceania, which is clearly evident in his work on display at the exhibition – both the sculptures and the drawings/paintings. The simple faces staring straight ahead are slightly disconcerting, and I feel they are strangely devoid of any life:

I know when I did my first self portrait the studied look of concentration made me unrecognisably stern and I feel it is the same with these. I found them quite mesmerising, especially as they were in the exhibition, displayed en masse. Giacometti cast many of his sculptures in bronze but also enjoyed working in clay and plaster as he could mould these materials with his own hands. The faces and busts of Annette, his wife, were brilliant as the likeness between them all was astonishing – much more so than from the paintings and drawings. I’ve never seen sculptures as portraits:

The other sculptures interested me too. This one in particular:

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Man, Woman and Child

http://www.kunsthaus.ch/giacometti/en/

I read this to be quite sinister – it was about the size of a tea tray and initially it looks a bit like a child’s toy but on closer inspection it takes on a more domineering tone.

The male element is pointing at the woman who can move from side to side. The child – the small ball bearing – could also move and would be protected by the woman if she moved too. This depiction of the “father’s gaze” [1] was possibly Giacometti’s response to his deteriorating relationship with Giovanni. This reference to the gaze is repeated in more sculptures, such as Point to the Eye. 

The elongated figures are fantastic. The Four Women on a Base is probably my favourite:

Four Women on a base, 1950 (bronze)

http://www.bridgemanimages.com/fr/asset/478115/giacometti-alberto-1901-66/four-women-on-a-base-1950-bronze

What I like is how they are so obviously women with so little detail. I can relate to how he wanted to make them more and more stretched and minimialise the features; it must become strangely addictive. These are dated 1950; his Women of Venice of 1956 are more obviously women:

I find the figures mesmerising and could look at them for hours.

 

 

[1] Wilson, L. (2005) Alberto Giacometti: Myth, Magic, and the Man Yale University Press