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:


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:


…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:


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:


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:

Man, Woman and Child

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)

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

Assignment 1 feedback

I’ve received my first report back from my tutor and I’m pleased that so far I seem to be on the right track. I’ve noticed my attitude is different now that I’m doing a course as part of the degree and I’m glad I did the Foundations course to introduce me as I would have definitely felt swamped if I’d gone straight in to Drawing 1.

Assignment 1 D1

The main points that Hayley has made are the following:

Using other artists’ work to find similarities in the work I do or in the exercises.

This is something that I didn’t really get into in Foundations and was flagged up by my tutor then! I suppose I simply don’t think to do so, and as I have probably said before, I’m never quite sure where to start. I’m hoping that the more I find through research and sinply exploring, the more pointers I will have rather than fumbling around trying to think of the correct thing to type in to Google.

Take time to practise compositions, experiment with materials and do preliminary drawings in sketchbook before committing to a final piece.

I really haven’t done this at all! I need to bond with my sketchbook and feel it is a place for me to explore my ideas, and Hayley suggested I separated it from my daily practise sketchbook, which is a good plan, and something I will do from now on. I like the idea of practise sketches allowing me to take more risks; I think I’ve always viewed it as a having to do some boring stuff before getting on to the real thing but I now see that it is a process and it can take me to different places.

Experiment with different papers and materials.

I do revert to charcoal as it’s quite forgiving and I like the look but I’ve been advised to try B-9B pencils to see what I can make of them! I’d love to try some different papers so I will invest in a few sample packs.

Include own interests.

Again, this was highlighted by my previous tutor, Emma, as I have a habit of getting so caught up in the instructions I forget that it’s me doing it and it feels more like homework! It makes more sense and is more enjoyable if I incorporate my own inspiration and ways of working within the context of the exercise.

So, all in all I feel encouraged and inspired to tackle Part 2.

Assignment 1

For this first assignment, I had been thinking about a few objects which would be suitable as they needed to trigger a response but nothing was really presenting itself as terribly interesting. I was then handed a suitable topic by my daughter, who by way of apology for an explosive exchange of words and thoroughly inconvenient decision, gave me a bunch of tulips. I really don’t like cut flowers and her choice of this somehow made me feel even more distant from her than the original cause of the argument. At 17, she is betwixt childhood and adulthood both emotionally and geographically, living during term time with me in Sussex and the rest in Newcastle with her boyfriend; it can be a turbulent situation.

I referenced the Angry gestural marks from the first part of the course and after drawing the basic glass Kilner jar and the leaves of the tulips in charcoal, I made a quill pen from a pheasant feather and scratched the heads of the flowers in to the paper using red ink. It took about 10 minutes and I worked fast and instinctively.

I was then in a bit of a dilemma as although I felt it was a good drawing, it wasn’t a collection of a few items, as per the instructions. Or was it? Given that I had a jar and flowers?? I decided to contrast the angry tulips with something calming; the dog’s rope lead. I also felt something sweeping and flowing would look good compositionally against the spiky marks of the flowers. Using graphite putty to give a soft outline, I drew in the shape of the lead and it didn’t work at all.


I tried drawing a more detailed lead with the lines of the rope which I thought I could stick on below the tulips afterwards but I couldn’t do it and was getting more frustrated. I then decided to dispense with the tulips as a still life and do something different. However, nothing really appealed and anything else seemed rather pedestrian and didn’t evoke much of a response. Perhaps trying to do something calming against the emotive flowers wasn’t going to work so I wondered what else I could do alongside the tulips.

My other daughter suggested my tea mug – the one I use for my first cup in the morning when the house is quiet and I’m pottering around feeding the animals. I tried this with the slightly less angry tulips a day or two after the fallout:


I like this. I know the ellipses and general perspective of the cup and jar are off and a bit cubist but as the flowers are abstracted I didn’t see the merit in trying to make the rest of the drawing particularly accurate and potentially run the risk of losing the energy and personality. I am far more interested in lines and gesture than whether something is a perfect rendition and love the freedom and release of making marks on paper. I wonder if more dark would work as there isn’t a lot of contrast but I used natural light from the window on an overcast day so the light was quite diffused.

I used charcoal as I like the variation, which links the random element of the quill pen. I washed over some of the petals with water to smooth the lines, and likewise putty-rubbered the charcoal to render it a little more even.


Assessment criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

I like the subject matter and the general composition, and the combination of ink and charcoal. Quill pen gives a random aspect and a spontaneity to the drawing. Charcoal is a variable medium and as such the marks are going to be partly dictated by the particular make up of the willow stick used, which makes it interesting.  The perspective is off but I like the effect as my take on the brief was about mark-making with emotion.

The contrast could be greater which would add more drama. The tulip flowers are clustered at the top which looks a bit contrived and the background is rather homogenous. The highlights could be whiter and the shadows darker.

Quality of outcome:

I think it is an interesting drawing and the marks and materials used show a variation in the mood of the piece. I’ve captured a sense of emotion in the flowers as well as the smoothness of the charcoal denoting a sense of calm, and these were the two opposing elements were what I wanted to incorporate in the drawing. I hope I have communicated my ideas via my learning log in an accessible manner.

I did no preliminary sketches, although I tried some after the first tulip drawing to see if the dog lead would work. It was a reaction to a situation rather than a carefully constructed piece and it would have been very different had I chosen some items that I could arrange, alter and think about.

Demonstration of creativity:

This drawing shows a creativity and a certain amount of experimentation as the combination of ink and charcoal is not common. Home made quill pens are fun to use and give a good range of marks. I enjoyed doing it and I feel this is evident, and it is a drawing which is personal to me and feels authentic.

I could have been more adventurous with my mark making and the subject; I feel it lacks a bit of energy. Perhaps including some other items would have added interest or options for further exploration but as I said, I wanted to utilise the emotions I was feeling and hate objects they related to. I suppose there will always be a trade off!

Context reflection:

I’ve not done much research and this needs addressing, and I was very aware of being “assessed” which threw me mentally and gave me a bit of a block to start with – hence my decision to plough on and do the tulips whilst I felt some momentum rather than faffing around worrying about being judged. I am so new to the art world and constantly finding new rabbit warrens to explore and this needs to be quantified somewhat in my approach so that I can use what I’ve seen and learnt for my own purposes as opposed to just being something I like. I enjoy writing the learning log and I hope this comes through and represents my journey thus far. I also need to be more experimental with my sketchbook as at the moment it’s mainly full of chicken drawings!

Life Drawing

I’m not a great fan of Bank Holiday Mondays at the best of times but it now means that Life Drawing class isn’t on, so I was pleased to get up there this week. James first:

Then Valentina:

Apologies for the dodgy lighting and crinkled paper! James is 6’3″ and lean and Valentina is a burlesque dancer and much more curvaceous so it was an interesting contrast. I found Valentina much easier to draw than I have done previously but I had spent the weekend indulging art and my observation was definitely more honed; I get out of practise so quickly. I was pleased I managed to keep all of James on the page as he usually loses his feet or head as I don’t judge the distances. I still prefer feet to hands, and hands to faces!