Quick sketches around the house

I was looking forward to this: make sketches of the rooms in the house, turning 45° each time to give another view. My house is a family home where 3 and a half of us live and work so it is a busy environment and I am not the most houseproud of people so there is plenty of drawing fodder.

I bought a ream of A2 copy paper last year and I’m finding it useful to fold a sheet in half and clip to a drawing board as my A3 sketchbook is unwieldy to haul about, so that remains a static workbook. I took my drawing board around my bedroom, my studio/spare bedroom, the lounge and the study:


My bedroom, with a 2B pencil (excuse dog footprint). I often draw the view from my table or seat at restaurants and coffee shops, or on the train and various other sketching opportunities and this has hugely increased my confidence in drawing from life. Yes, the lines are wonky and as usual, I have an interesting take on perspective, but I do get on with it…

I didn’t bother with any tonal values as I was trying to get the proportions correct – I found this quite difficult in such a familiar setting. I did struggle to disengage my brain and draw what I could see.

I do find a regular pencil surprisingly unforgiving for drawing with so for the next room – my studio – I chose a sanguine fineliner:


I found this room much easier, possibly for a number of reasons. I’ve recently appropriated it as my art room so it is full of positivity, and less familiar than my bedroom, and I use a fineliner for my out-and-about sketches so that felt like an old friend. I preferred the subject matter and enjoyed the lines. Doors have an awful lot of lines!! I particularly liked the top left view through the door on to the landing and the window beyond. And the kitten!

I kept with the fineliner for the next room – the lounge:


The proportions went badly wrong on the bottom right section, although I smiled to myself at the Alice in Wonderland scale of things! Again, I really enjoyed the doors even though the front door looks as if it’s propped up against the lounge door in the top right! I was laughing as I drew it but I’m sure it did look like that. Overfamiliarity again…

I wanted to try a different drawing tool for the study, so I chose a 6B graphite stick:


The graphite stick is super chunky of course and has little finesse but I liked the child-like quality of the drawing and simplicity. Once more, I was intrigued by the view through the door in to the lounge and decided to investigate this aspect further.

I’m conscious this is not an exhaustive study as encouraged in the course text but I have to walk a path between ensuring sufficient groundwork and getting bored/running out of time!


Exhibition visit: Rachel Whiteread

With the next section of the coursework focussing on interior space, I looked in at the Rachel Whiteread exhibition which has just started at Tate Britain. I was aware of some of her work, namely the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square and the concrete-filled house in Hoxton.

In the Duveen Galleries was an arrangement of 100 blocks of coloured resin, each the cast of the negative space beneath a found chair. The specific configuration varies with the siting of the installation and in this instance, it was 5 x 20.

Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) 1995

The cubes help to get you looking at the negative space – necessary for the rest of the exhibition.

The exhibition itself differs from the usual Tate fare in that there are no partitions: the space is open with the sculptures displayed around the walls and distributed through the central space. It gives a wonderful open feel and the presence and scale of her work is immediately apparent. You can also – joy of joys – take photographs. There is very little information about the individual pieces and nothing by way of ‘blurb’ referring to them – just their names and dates. I like this as it encourages further exploration and I have to engage rather than womble round reading the curator’s take on the art.

Rachel Whiteread’s emphasis on the negative space underneath everyday objects cleverly draws attention to this forgotten area which is not there, and yet is. It becomes a space in its own right, and becomes the solid object rather than the object itself. In addition, casting preserves the elements of wear and tear of the objects and retains a sense of individuality of each item. I completely identified with her process and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition because of it. Sometimes when I go round an exhibition, I get bits of an artist’s work, but other elements leave me baffled, so the fact I found her work both fascinating and accessible made it a wonderful experience. I really liked this desk and chair; there’s a recessed part where the chair sits under the desk: is that a negative negative space? A positive negative space? Or indeed a negative positive space…?


She has the resin cast of a beehive, and other objects such as toilet roll tubes and drinks cans. The library was astonishing and the imprints of the pages of the books minutely detailed in the plaster.


Her works on paper were lovely. Drawings on graph paper using correction fluid, and cardboard mock-ups of the sculptures. I was particularly interested in her postcards: areas painted over with gouache and then holes of differing sizes punched through the paint. Outside in the foyer of the exhibition are cabinets with her sketchbooks and I spotted this which reminded me of the coursework exercise I am currently tackling – Quick sketches around the house:


I have a bit of an obsession with door furnishings and often notice handles and catches. When I moved in to my house, one of the main things I found comforting was the door latches on the cupboards were the same, or sufficiently similar, to those in my grandparents’ house where I’d spent many happy days in my childhood. Rachel Whiteread has cast doors and as they are standing on the floor, look like regular doors leaning up against a wall a bit like in an architectural salvage yard, until you realise they’re the reverse and the locks and escutcheons inverted, the recessed panels actually protruding. It’s fascinating. The resin casts of windows are likewise at window height, giving a juxtaposition of unfamiliar and familiar.


As well as casts using plaster, resin and concrete, there are other structures made from papier mache using detritus from her studio. These are necessarily less detailed and have a rough, multicoloured appearance which I liked less than the clear resin, or the fineness of the plaster. In geology, the fine sediments of clay preserve the exquisite detail of fossils and I liked this similarity in her works made from plaster and concrete.

It was great to visit such a brilliant exhibition which linked so well with my coursework.

Exercise 4 Monochrome

I didn’t particularly bond with this exercise as I wasn’t sure if I was meant to arrange a still life of similarly-coloured items (combining something manmade with something natural) or whether to do a still life in one colour. I occasionally find the instructions both very specific but also entirely open to interpretation!

After the pink and blue sunflowers I decided to continue the theme of unhindered use of colour and chose some corn cobs on a wire cooling rack as the subject. I wanted to have some detail as well as expansive sweeps of colour and conté crayons seemed a good place to start, as I could use the narrow tip for sharp lines and the sides for bold gestural marks. I explored this idea in my sketchbook but I had used the crayons for Exercise 2 and wanted to try something different. I have some pristine Inktense pencils and thought they might be fun.

Again, I played a bit in the sketchbook:


You can put a wash across Inktense lines and I wondered if this would be too much of an alteration compared to the pencil marks. I decided to wait and see. Having sketched in the basic outline I built up the detail in the corn kernels, but something very wrong happened with the wire rack!! I pushed on regardless and I struggled to get any variation in the marks as the pencils are beautifully soft and painterly, but too blendable to be particularly interesting. I started fretting about making it accurate which is always a problem when I lose confidence in what I’m doing.

A3 paper, Inktense pencil

I liked the items themselves and the contrast (had I been able to make it work) between the wire and the corn would have been good. The lighting wasnt very interesting  it it was getting late and using my daylight bulb in the evening stops me getting to sleep…

The middle cob should have been propped up more so it didn’t slump tiredly in to the other two and I won’t even mention the attempt at shading! I was a bit distracted and this always screams out so I make an effort to remind myself that these are exercises – not assessment or exhibition pieces. Some will work, some not.

The marks are not decisive enough and it is generally underwhelming. I want to slap it about to wake it up; its lack of presence I feel is more of an issue than the precipitous and incorrect perspective and sketchy notion of shadow. I haven’t tried a wash as I felt this would be too much of a contrast and I could see myself ending up washing it all over in the need to get it to do something – a bit like overblending charcoal! I’m disappointed in the colour too: it looks very soft and gentle despite being strong. The scale was possibly too small as I needed to get some dimensionality  in the corn cobs by using the highlights but it got a bit homogenous and consequently the front cob looks like a flat plane rather than a plump round cylinder.

As this is an exercise I am going to move on and not attempt it again. There are a few square centimetres I think are ok:


and strangely, I’m quite pleased with the drawer but I will chalk this one up to experience and get going with the next section.


Exercise 3: experiment with mixed media

For this, I gathered some various implements to play with, and as per the instructions, had a think about the support. I was given a big roll of ‘ends’ from a print studio a few weeks ago and in it are some pale grey divider sheets which I thought I could tear in half and stick together. This I did, and collaged over the top – the seam with some bits torn from the Evening Standard, other sections stuck on and taken off as they looked a bit contrived. I wondered why I was putting collaged elements on; would it add anything substantive or just be a bit experimental? I decided that it would alter the absorbency of the support which might be interesting as I was going to be using different media.

With this in mind, I rubbed some beeswax over the surface in random sweeps and generally had great fun making the card support a work in itself:


As I wanted to emphasise the materials rather than clutter up the surface with complicated subject matter, I chose my go-to emotionally-charged still life of a vase of flowers – sunflowers to be precise. Having enjoyed the previous exercise of mixing up the colours, I wondered if sunflowers would suffer the same fate as lemons and look unrecognisable if they were changed from their known colourway.

I tried out some drawing media and made some notes about the exercise in my sketchbook:

The composition I chose sat the flowers on the left with the daylight lamp shining from the left to make some interesting shadows to the right. I wanted to incorporate these shadows in the drawing:


I got going with drawing the basic shape of the flowers with blue pen, pink highlighter and indigo oil pastel. I used wax crayon for the chest of drawers, trying to keep a vague theme of pink for light and blue for darks, but it was a little arbitrary! I used both dip pen and brush for the drawing inks, and rather liked how the ink blotched when I accidentally dropped the pen on the card, so I dropped it a few more times intentionally…

The shadows were less successful. I used oil pastel but the support has a slightly bobbled surface which meant the shadows were a bit patchy and I didn’t like them. I love the sunflowers though and the effect of the ripped newspaper down the middle:


I wasn’t quite sure what to do about the shadows so coming back to it the following day, I applied some charcoal to blend the shapes. I’m still not terribly pleased with the outcome as they are too heavy and don’t fit with the rest of the drawing but as a whole I am pleased with the result and thoroughly enjoyed it as an exercise. The sunflowers look like themselves despite the pink and blue which I like.

Conceptually, I love the idea of a support developing in its own right and the media applied becoming variable. Randomness in art media really interests me and I like the sense of adventure, even though I have to accept a certain variability in the response and thus end result. That approach of starting off and seeing what happens does reflect many aspects of my life (!) and I’m finding it fascinating how much my feelings dictate and influence my creativity, even with the relatively prescribed exercises we are given.

The drawing style varied with the media, as expected. I mostly worked quickly and expansively, allowing the drawing to flow as I picked up different things and worked on the drawing, with quick glances at the flowers. It did gain its own pace and I found myself looking more at the drawing and seeing what I wanted to put where rather than worrying about the accuracy. For a drawing to become a thing in its own right, irrespective of the portrayal of the subject matter, hasn’t happened to me before and I enjoyed the potential and possibilities inherent with that.

The visual effect of mixed media is an intriguing one, as it is subjective as to what is necessary and what looks messy and cluttered. I thought a lot about my motivation for using the media I did and whether or not it would lend itself – rather than it just being a chuck it all at it and see what happens – despite my earlier comment about going with the flow. I really felt as if I was working with the drawing not on it, and that was brilliant.

Review of Exercises 1 and 2

My thoughts on the previous two exercises, still life using line and still life in tone using colour:

Which aspects were successful, and what did you have problems with?

Line: I like the shapes and the objects look accurate, although I am probably in a minority with my fascination with oak galls! I usually do line drawings when I’m scribbling in my sketchbook so it didn’t feel like any sort of departure which was good but also less of a challenge. The dip pen brought a randomness to the proceedings which I think added character.

Colour: again, I think the objects look sufficiently accurate given the brief to keep the energy up and vary the mark-making. The difficulty was that the marks weren’t easily adjustable as I didn’t want to keep going over and making it muddy.

Did you manage to get a sense of depth in your drawings? What elements of the drawings and still life groupings helped to create that sense?

I realised in writing this that my still lifes for both exercises are similar in composition and viewpoint. The line one is more at eye level, the colour one from standard chair height. Consequently there weren’t really depth issues as I filled the page with the objects rather than the background/surfaces. This is something I do a lot – unconsciously. It’s the same with my life drawing: I draw the person but no background which arguably is the point of it but it lacks completeness. I think the next section of drawing the home will be good for me. I don’t know if it’s overemphasis on the subject and a sense of heartsink at the prospect of filling in all the stuff behind or underneath but I don’t seem to do it!

What difficulties were created by being restricted to line or tone?

I didn’t mind being restricted to line as I chose objects which leant themselves to fine pen work. I enjoyed the freedom of the restricted palette for the tone drawing and love mark-making and working quickly and freely, so that suited me. The work I did previously on the course helped hugely with my understanding of tonal values. I think I circumvented the problems of depth that would usually come from the restrictions by not drawing a still life with any depth…! Each drawing was a bit of a journey as neither could be easily erased so I think that lack of correction made the exercise more interesting.

How did colour affect your working method?

I enjoyed the colour, and often scribble my chickens in weird and wonderful shades for sketchbook practise. I found it much easier than using graded pencils for dark, medium and light, even though the method should be the same.

I thoroughly enjoyed both exercises and look forward to playing around with the techniques I’ve explored here.

Exercise 2: Still life in tone using colour

With this exercise, the aim was to use different colours for different tones. I wasn’t looking forward to this as I am not very good at seeing tone, or rather I am a bit heavy handed and never know whether to start with light and go darker, dark and go lighter, or mid-tone and go up and down…

I had a go with some knobbly lemons, strong daylight and soft pastels:


I find using a monochrome image helps me see the tonal values. I didn’t really like the composition so I added another lemon: (And temporarily a kitten, which was swiftly removed…)


I quite like the pastel drawing but the problem with lemons is that they’re too colour-specific and I thought they’d just look like random knobbly shapes if I used colours other than yellow. I did have a go with some oil pastels but I was not at all happy with the result (although my skills with oil pastels are middling to none):


As highlights are always a bit of a challenge – I usually forget to leave them white – I decided drawing something shiny where I could colour in the lightest bit might be fun. I made some notes in my sketchbook:


The soft pastels are wonderfully painterly but I used conté crayons for this as I needed to draw outlines and wanted to keep the demarcation between the tonal values crisp:

IMG_5850The perspective is a bit wonky and I’m not sure I’ve communicated the screw top of the glass jar (far right object!) very well. I think it is effective in that I can tell that the different colours represent different tonal values and I like the combination of colours. Erasing mistakes is always difficult and the instructions said to redo the drawing until I was happy but I always find that doing that usually just swaps the problem for another and I’m happy enough with this.

The exercise asks for quick working, variations in mark-making, and an air of energy and spontaneity. Have I made good use of line, tone and colour? I think so. I enjoyed this drawing and I’m wondering if it will help me to see tone more easily? I liked the conté crayons and felt they worked well as they have versitility: fine lines as well as broad sweeping strokes.


Exercise 1: 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:


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:


I used fountain pen to start with:


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:


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.