Part 5 – Personal project and written element

  • Introduction

Over the last 12 months, my life has been turned upside down. Firstly, partner’s dad in the US became critically ill, then after that my partner had to have surgery to save his sight. This in itself was pretty stressful but after having some strange symptoms since January 2017, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in June. It has been a whirlwind of experience, which has run alongside my studies (suspending them for a short time to help me find my way out of the mire). Reviewing my work from the whole course has been cathartic but also a reminder of how much can happen in one year. It has however influenced my work – art always arises from hard times and suffering.

Part 5 gives me an opportunity to choose a project and work on something I really enjoy doing. Based on a masochistic personality, I decided to tackle something which would be a real challenge for me as it is not my natural aptitude to do it. Whereas “Outdoors” would have been fun, ‘The figure and the face” became my challenging option of choice. I reviewed my sketchbook work and though pleased in general with my landscape work, I was always less pleased with my portraiture. It eats away at me.

I wanted to take my love of charcoal and pastel, as well as my sense of humour and delight of horror and darkness to produce a self-portrait to show exactly how I feel about my illness. I wanted this to be fun (for me anyway) and provoke emotion and thought.

  • My Artist’s Statement

My tutor asked me to write an artist statement (below) which I only slightly tweaked for my final assignment in terms of composition:

Content/Context

  • I want to challenge myself to another self-portrait and provide a more convincingly proportioned and credible likeness than in Part 4.
  • This work would be based on the face I show to the world and the progressive illness hidden away.
  • The vision is of me looking cheerful and carefree, gesturing in some way (perhaps a chance to work with hand proportion more successfully), head and shoulders. However in a haze around my head, there are suggestions of areas of my brain, with evil creatures snipping and poking away causing nerve damage, bright light occurs (my lesions show as white light on MRI) and in the haze/cloud there are suggestions of faces floating away from me (parts of myself perhaps).
  • Inspiration has come from revisiting Hieronymus Bosch paintings studied at school and also my research and joy at the dark humour of Odilon Redon.
  • This assignment would give me an opportunity to work on my portraiture skills, as well as practising my figure drawing, using my imagination and utilising some existing and new techniques.
  • My tendency is to jump quickly into my assignments but this will employ far more preparation and patience. I feel it is ambitious but I would really like to challenge myself for this last assignment.

Media and Processes

I plan to work on a large table easel and board to get the right angle and:

  • use black charcoal (stick, powder and pencil) and white pastel for the portrait, with some gesso texturing as I did in Part 4 with brushes, sponge and other objects to make some different textural effects on the background before I start work.
  • experiment with different papers and texturing at preparation stage.
  • practice blending, brushing, adding layers and trying to loosen up my mark making, to help express emotion and energy.

In preparation, I will:

  • undertake a full study of myself (revisiting the learning materials as suggested) to become more familiar with my likeness. I will do this in front of the mirror and produce a range of preparatory sketches, exploring different composition and lighting effects before I work on the final piece.
  • draw out my little devilish figures in full size, revisiting figure drawing and proportion and learning materials to improve this aspect of my drawing.
  • experiment to best consider how I might best represent faces in the haze.
  • try different lighting approaches to get a dramatic effect.
  • revisit influences like Bosch, and Redon, explore the research from feedback, reflect on and explain any resulting influences or links into my practice.
  • practice communicating physical and emotional qualities through mark-making qualities.

For the final piece, I need to:

  • carefully consider proportion and placement of figure and face as well as re-sizing my figures in the drawing.
  • take time and utilise (and learn from) the preparatory drawings and experimentation undertaken to make the best final drawing (and not experiment too much at that late stage).
  • Final piece title:

“Expressing the emotions of a ‘hidden’ neurological illness through the combination of a self-portrait and figurative drawing in monochrome, using charcoal and pastel.”

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Influences

  • Though I have outlined some of the influences to the style and techniques used in previous blog posts, I haven’t mentioned fairies, Hieronymous Bosch’s and other devils and weird medieval creatures or my love of the work of Alphonse Mucha (the Czech  Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist who produced many iconic images and designs involving ladies of that era).
  • All of these have fed into my vision in some weird way. I wanted my devilish figures to have the elegance of the fairies and I wanted the Mucha lady to have devils floating around her head instead of a lovely garland of flowers.

Preparation

  • The subject for Part 5 is me (I am the Mucha lady). I considered a range of composition options (including portrait or landscape). I chose portrait A2 size paper for this work as felt it fitted the size and shape of the vision and after some experimentation, went for a cartridge paper. I decided to make the head positioned more to the right side to allow space for the tumultuous cloud behind and above. In addition to ‘ditching’ a happy face and gesture, I drew out a rough sketch with parts of the brain showing and it just didn’t look right. Instead I chose to draw cracks on the forehead in the final piece with the light emerging and was much happier with that.
  • In this rough sketch I look like a child and way more ‘Mucha’ than I want to. The devils look like fairies. My brain also looks out of place; too obvious and a bit trite perhaps. I continued to draw my face on different paper and in different media, just to check I was on the right track with my charcoal and white pastel.

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  • Once I had drawn out the work, I applied masking fluid and gesso in specific areas. I needed to leave spaces of light on the paper and create texture in some areas. This time I avoided gesso on the face but kept it focussed on the hair, some key lines of movement in the background and on my bracelet. I masked out the devil creatures and removed this after I was happy with the portrait and had spraying a fixative on the drawing. I chose to do this to avoid smudging and mess in the light areas. The masking fluid removed a little of the surface of the paper, leaving it a little rough but I managed to work around this.
  • From life drawing classes and online video poses, I was able to find some interesting devilish figure poses to add into my drawing, brandishing their weapons. I practised drawing these. Some were reminiscent of the Renaissance classical poses and I like the idea of that. The powerful ‘goodness’ of these clean, classical images set in their lovely bright blue skies (sometimes sitting on nice white fluffy clouds) jars against the hidden devils lurking in their swirling dark world.

Composition and lighting

  • The only change to the original artist statement above was in terms of composition. After trying out various ways of holding my head, practising drawing my eyes and smiling and gesturing with my hands, I decided it was all too flippant and obvious. I took a photo of my eyes closed and my face resting and realised that less is actually more in this case and this would provide a good contrast to what was happening in the background.
  • I worked again in the mirror and adjusted a lamp in the dusk to create the pose in the final piece with my eyes closed, keeping the emotions private and restrained (and to the imagination of the viewer). I kept my hand against my head and away from the forefront of the drawing. I did not want to distract from what was happening. I wanted to ensure that the face was more traditional and restrained and the background was more abstract, with lines and marks to show energy and chaos.

Mark-making, Mood and Medium

  • It was important for this piece to be about line and tone and express mood and emotion. I didn’t want this to be a simple self-portrait. It has to have a purpose and inspire thought.
  • I wanted to ensure that I demonstrated a contrast between the background of energy and chaos and the containment of the emotion in the face. The drawing of the face was handled with subtle and delicate markings and I also kept the drawing of the hand light and gentle. Contrary to my initial proposal written (with the hand in the foreground perhaps, gesturing), I needed to keep the hand as a subtle addition with the purpose of suggesting support to the head and also, to help contain emotion within.
  • In order to help me develop the marks to create mood and emotion I signed up to a Udemy course online, specifically covering this. I found this very useful and used it as a practice before I started the final piece to help loosen up my mark-making, specifically for the background to the drawing. It was good to refer to the practice marks and also the initial exercises I did in Part 1 to consider how I demonstrated some of the emotions at play.
  • I considered how best to make the faces in the gloom and stuck to simple open mouthed ‘faces’ – a bit like Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ using ends of charcoal to gouge the faces into the gloom at various points and sizes to suggest distance and a sense of them being swept away.
  • I made some marks which suggested the sweeping up the figure from the shoulders, trying to suck it into the chaos beyond (I had to be careful here not to get over enthusiastic with my marks and create another ‘screaming pope’).
  • To create some of the sweeping effects and different tones, I used brushing techniques for blending as well as blending detail carefully with paper stumps.
  • Lines and marks in white pastel on the face and background – left on surface – I like that they show up at certain lighted angles and disappear on others, giving it a different dimension when viewing. I contrasted these with a charcoal pencil in the background to demonstrate movement.

Reflections

  • I achieved what I wanted to do with the self-portrait. It looks like me (people also recognised it as me which was a relief!). The lines used are restrained and more subtle creating air of serenity, even though if you look closer, the eyelids are a little strained and the hand cupping on the side of the head is helping to contain or hold emotion inside. The eyes are not closed for rest; they are closed to keep the pain contained and hidden. I am glad I drew them closed as feel this creates a different sense to open eyes, with emotion clearly on display. My default is to have a calm, cheery face on, despite how tired or ill I might feel. I like the effects of light and the composition.
  • It was interesting to reflect on how the piece was perceived by my family. My partner in particular was fairly horrified by it though he thought it was a good drawing – it reveals perhaps what he prefers not to see and think about (which I can understand). He asked me not to share with his mother (who would perhaps find it a bit too disturbing). I wonder if people like Jenny Saville enjoy the uncomfortable feelings they inspire from viewers of their work – I would guess so. I was quite amused at the reaction it created. I think most people I know prefer me drawing lovely pet portraits and I can see why!
  • I enjoyed the mark making of the chaos and the drawing of the ‘devils’ very much. This was the most fun part of the drawing and it was a challenge to stop and walk away from it. I hope it isn’t too busy for the viewer – I like the energy and movement of the darker lines and lighter lines. I was also pleased with the faces screaming in the background, as bits of me are chipped away to disappear into the gloom. I also like the effect of the light behind the head, suggesting there may be more devilish creatures working behind the scenes.
  • Proportion – The ‘devil’ figures are a little bigger than I planned – I didn’t like this at first but on reflection I think it may be better than the smaller figures I planned. You can see the detail of them and what they are doing. The danger in drawing them smaller might have been that they looked more like fairies than devils.
  • It is vital to practice and I found that drawing my face over and over from life, really helped me develop my portraiture skills for this piece. I have more work to do on this but am optimistic that even though portraiture isn’t a natural aptitude for me, with practice I can hopefully improve these skills further

Reflections on my progress against the assessment criteria

Assessment criteria points

  • Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills (40%).

I do feel that my observational and visual awareness skills have improved since I started the course and I draw more detail from life rather than assuming what is in front of me or working from photographs (if  taken now they are used purely for reference as a reminder). I have always enjoyed taking photographs and feel I have a good eye for composition – particularly in terms of landscape and the outdoors. When I started Drawing 1 I had little experience of using or experimenting with drawing materials (I hadn’t drawn seriously for around 20 years). I have since developed my skills in charcoal, oil and soft pastels, pencils and ink. I feel happy with my progress to date in these areas.

  • Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%).

I sometimes rush things but am learning to pace and enjoy the drawing more, taking more care with my work. I think that the last assignment is a good example of quality of drawing in the context of a difficult subject to present. This was a complex and challenging concept for me but I hope I have communicated it clearly but also given it enough vagueness in parts to be open to viewer interpretation. I made decisions about making aspects of the work less obvious than originally planned but with some harder hitting images as contrast.

  • Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (20%).

I have discovered that experimentation is both fun and also a necessity in order to push myself and develop my skills and thinking. I have experimented with dry media, blending with oils and water and also with inks and watercolour pencils. I don’t think my personal voice is there yet but believe I have come a long way to developing it over the course of the learning programme. I know this voice will contain humour, some darkness and some light. My main hope is it will be interesting. I have an active imagination and am able to think creatively on my feet if there is an issue e.g. in Part 2 I adapted my piece by extending the collage around areas of the interior view to ‘clean up’ the drawing after muddying and messing my pastel work up a little. Though I usually have a clear vision of what I want from my work at the start of the process I am comfortable with adapting and coming up with different ideas. I used to rely on doing a lot of this visually, working through options in my head, but now try to get these ideas on paper quickly and try them out before I commit to the final piece. It’s good for my sanity and sleep.

  • Context reflection – research, critical thinking (learning logs and, at second and third level, critical reviews and essays) (20%).
    This area always seems a bit more challenging as I enjoy it but it takes a lot of time for me to process and write up my research (and I have difficulty knowing when to stop). I have tried hard to be more concise and focussed on what I like and don’t like (and why), what I can learn from others and how I apply it to my work. My tutor has challenged me more on critical review of late and this has helped me develop my skills further. My blogs are still a bit ‘rambling’, often due to enthusiasm but hopefully there is more clarity as I have progressed. It is sometimes very isolating to be (I think) the only OCA drawing student in South Wales and due to my physical limitations now, I can’t often go to London or other areas for study meets, which is a bit frustrating as enjoy them. I joined a local life drawing group and the discussions and challenges in the meets are vital to me, to help me keep in touch with other artists, bounce ideas around and learn from them. I am trying to focus more energy on researching and studying artists and their work from online exhibitions as well as some local exhibitions. This is definitely an area for further growth.

 

 

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Assignment 4

This assignment brief asked for 2 large figure studies (A1) and a self-portrait or portrait (any size). I admit that I had to use A2 for my figure drawings. I was under difficult circumstances at the time and couldn’t get out to obtain bigger paper. I am going to make up for this by “going large” in Assignment 5.

1. Figure study using line

I drew a seated model in an upright chair using black pens (of varying thicknesses) and shades of grey pen. Though this exercise wasn’t about tone, but I wanted to show tone through use of line – cross hatching, dotting and other mark making as part of the line drawing. I undertook a preparatory study in pencil to get a feel for the best composition, light etc. I positioned my model with a window at the back to give an interesting background but also, good like to create some interesting shapes in shadow to recreate in line. I am really pleased with this, particularly marks made and it does look like my subject (my partner).


2.Figure study using tone (A1) – Reclining model

I wanted to draw my subject reclining on the sofa with feet at the forefront, showing foreshortening. I practiced the drawing first, before moving onto the larger drawing. He wore jeans and a shirt and was placed under a spotlight to give some shadow and contrast. To create atmosphere I worked in charcoal but for the first time used brush and stump blending techniques, layering shadows, tones and marks. This was something that my tutor recommended I practice.

Overall I was really pleased with the effects of the blending and some of the marks and textures achieved on the figure and fabrics. However I wasn’t sure about the proportions of the figure (the legs seem too long). Next time, I would try to measure the legs and sofa to ensure it was better proportioned, to emphasise the foreshortening.

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3. A portrait or self-portrait combining line and tone 

I tried some different poses but found lying on the bed to be most effective, taking advantage of some interesting textures and pattern. I wanted to draw up close so used a mirror on the bed, facing my head down a little. I was so ill and tired that day. It was a timely moment to look at myself – was quite cathartic.

Before I did the final drawing I explored using some sort of underpainting to create texture, with overlay of soft pastel; brushed to add layers. I really liked the effects, especially for the facial tones and hair. I chose to follow the inspiration of Van Gogh and use the blues, pinks, warm oranges and browns, as a contrast to each other but also a soft colour scheme. I underpainted Gesso for the hair, the texture of stitches in my scarf and also my face and hand, to add highlights and hopefully produce more of a glow in skin tone. I used masking fluid to mark out the abstract pattern of my bedding and rubbed it off gently to expose the paper, covering with white pastel lines. For my scarf I painted an initial layer of silver ink and built on this using soft pastel. I was really pleased with this pose as enjoyed creating the varied textures and a believable skin tone and likeness (my family said it looked like a “miserable” version of me, which was about right at the time!). I was most pleased at my rings. I’ve never painted jewellry but really feel happy that the pastel and pencil marks made represent them well. Overall I learned a lot about technique and posing a portrait in this exercise. The only part I wasn’t happy with was the size of my hand – it seems a bit small in size compared to my head.


 

Research following Part 4 feedback and in preparation for Assignment 5

Jenny Saville (born England, UK 1970)

I had already looked at Jenny Saville’s work when studying for Part 4 and though wasn’t really sure about whether I liked it or not, I did find Rosetta 2 fascinating. I initially liked it because Saville chooses to paint the portraits that others would avoid, to draw out the real person. Reality is perhaps a little exaggerated to make it a little more unpalatable and uncomfortable for the viewer. My tutor asked me to revisit Rosetta 2 as part of my study for assignment 5 and really consider where I had got my descriptions from in terms of visual language or media used. What had made me draw conclusions from the work?

I found it interesting to look at this again afresh and think specifically about the emotions, particularly after undertaking my online drawing course, which covered both mark making and using this to express emotion and create atmosphere, which is always a daunting prospect for me at the outset of my work.

With Rosetta 2, I find the choice of subject powerful. I like the close up composition; simple to the eye yet more complex, the more you look at it. The head inclined towards me, almost aware of me; the bold and expressive mark making, frantic in parts but with a loosening or acceptance of letting go as the paint dribbles to the bottom of the canvas; thick bands of colour from a limited palette, sweeping across the canvas to create the tones of the face, neck and ears as well as the background.

There seem to be layers of person as well as obvious layers of paint. I like the inclusion of the cloudy blue of the eyes into the tones of the neck and shoulder as well as the background, giving this a dreamlike quality and also bringing some sad undertones to the painting. I do feel that there is a pleading quality to the facial expression and a questioning tilt of the head. By the position of her head she appears to be listening and adjusting the level of her ears to hear everything, possibly wishing she could see the view ahead. There is a determined set to the mouth, which suggests someone who shouldn’t be taken for granted or pitied perhaps.

I find something unsettling about the painting though prefer it on second viewing and have a growing appreciation for Saville. The eyes in particular seem to show pain whether physical or mental turmoil – her left eye is grotesque and quite difficult to look into (it really does feel like I am looking into the eyes of a real person). On a different level it reminds me of all the zombie movies and special effects I have ever loved. I imagine the zombie heading towards me with her head up, waiting to hear me breathe nervously and grasp her flailing arms towards the sound!

I found it really interesting to read the attached Guardian article about Saville’s career and work and also, note how unsettled the author of the article is about the painting in her references. At least I am not alone.

Jenny Saville’s work has also struck a chord with me in another way. I have been quite amused by the way that my friends and family have found my assignment 5 “unsettling” and “disturbing’. I wonder if this maybe is a little too close to home for them – the smiling mask is dropped for once. I wonder if Saville gets as much pleasure from this effect as I have (unexpectedly).

https://curiator.com/art/jenny-saville/rosetta-2

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/jun/09/jenny-saville-painter-modern-bodies

 

Euan Uglow (born England, UK, 10 March 1932 – 31 August 2000)

I had not looked at the work of Uglow before and was immediately struck but the solid quality of his figures. Nude (1962-3) below is a good example of a painting which almost looks like a sculpture or solid piece. There is genuine weight to the figure and it is a believable though bizarre pose. It did initially make me chuckle as wasn’t sure why she would be sitting in that pose looking in that direction, but this drew my interest.

The whole pose is one of discomfort and not very natural– even the solid wood chair looks uncomfortable. The head is bent at the neck with one hand gripping the chair as if to rise from it in some pain (it strikes me that I do this myself of late!). The feet and legs are very manly, which is a contrast to the womanly curves of the upper body.

I do like the use of colour – delicate and muted, but very clear. The marks are gentle in part and then stronger in other ways (almost a sharp line on the legs to show shade) but there is nice use of light cast across the body and the floor, scattered in marks arising from darker tones and also shadows darker into the corner and from the table/dresser behind the model. I love the gentle shadow of the chair.

This is pleasing to the eye despite its uncomfortable pose and doesn’t have any of the grotesque shock of the previous work, but is equally impactful for me. I suspect that if I sat in front of this all day and studied it, I would regularly find a new and interesting aspect of this, imagining scenarios for the scene.

My tutor asked me to think about gender of the artist or sitter and if this makes a difference to the painting. I am undecided about this and whether it actually does make a difference across all of the paintings I’ve looked at. This is not a typical elegant female nude pose and I like it for that. Neither is it sexual in any way like the classic female poses of old. It seems like a snapshot of a movement.

I found this article about Uglow after writing this and found it really informative – I hadn’t realised how long he took to produce his paintings and the painstaking way in which he measured his figures to ensure they were anatomically correct. This is something I know I need to do more of – my judgement of proportion can be hit or miss sometimes as I found in some of my life drawing so need to practice and persevere. I don’t want to take years to produce my paintings however.

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/uglow-nude-t00659

Francis Bacon (born Ireland, 1909 – 1992)

I chose to look at “Head IV”, which is this is one of the panels making up the “1949 Head” series)

This was interesting to me as it was modeled on Diego Velasquez’s “Portrait of Innocent X” critically hailed as one of the best portraits ever created. This is a sharply realistic portrait with a truly amazing level of detail and use of light. I love to see detail but can sometimes get a bit hung up on this so like the idea of Bacon using the inspiration of the painting to produce something else entirely.

Bacon’s approach to his painting is in stark contrast. Brushstrokes are really strong, broad and expressive and you can sense the level of pressure put upon the brush when applying them. The figure appears to be in a transparent box or cage. This addition makes the figure appear screaming and trapped inside the cage with “its” features open and shrieking – I assume it is a male figure as in the original painting but is androgynous to me. This painting subsequently inspired Bacon to produce a series of “screaming popes”.

There is great use of lighter colours on black, sweeping upwards with highlights around the open screaming mouth to help focus on this. I really like the drama of this painting, the void of the mouth and the rough upward brushstrokes dragging away the flesh and features of the face. I was so struck by this image even after studying it, that I wondered how I could perhaps create something similar in the “cloud” of angst and turmoil in my Assignment 5. This was achieved through mark making with the void of eyes and mouth and the horror of the face in my mind throughout. It was a real inspiration of how to show horror.

Lucien Freud (1922 – 2011)

When researching Bacon, I came across his good friend Freud. I was really taken by his succession of self-portraits but this one mesmerised me. It has some really effective mark making and use of block colours to shape flesh and background, not just in skin tone but in shape and shadow. This work looks fast and effortless and really effective – which convinces me of how much talent Freud had. I really like this work.

He stares directly at me, judging and challenging. His gaze makes me a little uncomfortable but also, I can’t help but like him. There is a determination in his face and a sense of challenge. I can see a person who strives to show truth and achieves that in his work (like Saville).

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I also really like the composition – again there was something about this that inspired me to choose the composition for Assignment 5 self-portrait. Something about the angle of the head and the use of the hand against the head made me think about how I could use similar as a way to express emotion and hopefully get my message across. After primarily sketching from a mirror for my preparatory work, I had decided to have a direct gaze in my portrait but after seeing this felt that it might give too much away and be too obvious. My eyes tell a story which I would rather people guess at. I chose to express my pain with my eyes closed this time and let the viewer  try to feel the emotion through the closed lids.

 

Drawn in Colour – Degas from the Burrell Collection, Saturday 13 January 2018

For my birthday trip to London, I chose to visit this exhibition of works by Degas, generously donated to the people of Glasgow by Sir William Burrell (1861 – 1958), a Scottish shipping magnate. The collection is currently on loan to the National Gallery. My tutor had suggested me looking at these works and I had included Degas in my research in terms of my use of soft pastels. I wanted to see some of the works researched in person… and I was so pleased I did.

I liked the set up of the exhibition and the categories of works on display. The rooms had a very relaxed and intimate atmosphere, created by softly dimmed main lighting with the focus on the luminous and vibrant works of art.

I moved around the rooms with great interest from “Woman looking through Field Glasses” to later works, statues created in wax (when his eyesight started to fail him) and posthumously cast in bronze.

Degas’ use of layering tracing paper is interesting and I hadn’t really appreciated his use of photography in some works.

Pieces that particularly “spoke to me” were:

1. “Jockeys in the Rain” (c 1883-6), with its layers of pastel and fixative, using thin, diagonal strokes of blue pastel to draw the rain, in front of the horses. I also liked the composition of this drawing and the use of empty space, with the horses and riders set out in a ‘wedge’ shape from back to foreground. When viewing, I felt like I was standing in the meadow, in the rain with the soft, wet grass under my feet.

https://www.wikiart.org/en/edgar-degas/jockeys-in-the-rain-1886

2. “The Rehearsal” (c 1874) which is an oil painting but handled as delicately as the pastel works. Light and soft, delicate tones but with expressive marks to show movement and solidity of the figures depicted. I particularly like the gentle shadows cast across the wooden floor by the dancers, as a result of the light coming through the French Doors and again, the empty space of the floor. The spiral staircase creeps up to the left, meeting the figure descending.

https://www.wikiart.org/en/edgar-degas/the-rehearsal-1877

The staircase creates depth, magnified by the dancers placed in the background, behind it. There is so much to see in this painting from the rehearsing ballerinas and their master to the group in the right foreground, preparing and resting. The gentle expression of the young ballet dancer in her shawl helps create a warm atmosphere for the observer. This warmth is highlighted by the light of the doors, cast across the room onto the soft pink and yellow sashes of the dancers.

Reflections

I thought about what the exhibition meant to me. I found it fascinating that Degas was able to maintain a very clear ‘personal voice’ whether in pastel, paint or sculpture. The cross over from drawing to painting resonates with me as I move from my first drawing module to my first painting module, thinking about how they fit together.

Also, the freedom of expression in terms of materials and experimentation. I want to learn the best of what has come before, but also free up my own view of how I choose to experiment and use materials to suit me and my own artistic voice. The use of layers of paper by Degas as well as adding on pieces to expand a view further in size, might seem like simple ideas but I haven’t done this. I do restrict myself to the ‘rules’ (which aren’t really set in stone – I have made them that way). So for me, this means starting my painting with freedom (within the briefs of my next module) and be open to push my own boundaries and pre-existing ideas.

Overall I found the exhibition inspiring and motivational. I’m looking forward to making my own cross-over from pastel to paint over the coming months.

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/drawn-in-colour-degas-from-the-burrell/degas-from-the-burrell-behind-the-scenes

“Drawn in Colour Catalogue” (September 2017, National Gallery Company Ltd.

Part 5 – Personal Project and written element (a)

  1. Self assessment of my previous assignments

Assignment 1 – Still life

My first assignment was of a still life. I chose a range of items which meant a lot to me as were linked ot lost members of my family – a clock, a wedding photograph, a string of glass beads, a harmonica and a penknife.

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I was pleased in the way I depicted the different types of objects to draw using pencil, black pen, soft and oil pastel– the texture of the wood and the glass of the clock, the reflective surfaces of the glass, the beads and the metal objects. I tried to place together to show reflection e.g. the beads within the harmonica. I was really pleased with my ability to draw all objects so that they had weight and realism. I felt a feeling of reminising and loss when doing the drawing, but also comfort. I was also pleased with the results of using a variety of dry media and ink pens together. It gave the wood real texture and enabled me to put real detail into the picture. This gave me confidence that I could still draw after so many years of not doing so.

However, I was so focussed on the objects that I didn’t really think about them in terms of the whole picture, how the items related to the background and how the objects related to each other in terms of space. I didn’t draw the picture as a whole, but instead drew and completed one object at a time. I also did very little exploration or experimentation before launching myself into the assignment. These things were highlighted by my tutor and are things I’ve made efforts to avoid repeating in the future.

Assignment 2 – Interior view

My second assignment was an interior of the corridor outside my flat. It could have been quite dull apart from the perspective element but it also had a window to the world outside, four brick walls above another interior – the glass roof of a Victorian arcade. I chose to use a variety of pastels and pencils and also include some collage (my own drawings to stick onto the drawing) and acetate to form a reflective window surface.

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Physically managing my time and completing the exercise under difficult circumstances was a personal success. Though I quite liked the final result, I preferred the ‘outside space’ beyond the window than the internal features. I enjoyed creating the space and making the window a physical barrier by using acetate sheet to form the window panes. I did quite like the atmosphere created in the long corridor, with suggestions of dark and light in the far reaches of it. I also liked the  plants I drew and cut out. I wanted to create a 3D look, which I had in a previous mixed media exercise and was happy I achieved that.

I was less happy with the original drawing and my lack of experience in using pastels, which made everything look messy and a bit muddy. Again, I didn’t experiment or practice the skill enough before diving into the drawing following some fast pen sketches (though admit some of this approach was time driven too and a bit rushed). I was able to salvage the messiness and improve it by creating the paper window panes and internal walls, trimming them to create more of a 3D effect, which was actually better. I had enjoyed the experimentation of collage and felt that this put my creative and problem solving skills to the test. I was frustrated by oil pastels as didn’t really know how to use those most effectively at this point. I should have tried to learn more about them before I decided to use them. This is not my best work but I did learn quite a bit about what not to do with oil pastels…

Assignment 3 – Landscape

This was my favourite part of the course but it did seem to last a long time, partly as I was taken ill during it and had to pause my practice for a while until I felt better. My landscape turned out to be a seascape of sorts with a walk along the esplanade. I really enjoyed this assignment and had a clear idea in my head up front about what I wanted to convey, how I would do this and what the best composition would be.

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I really enjoyed the research from this part, particularly the wry and excellently drawn work of George Shaw, which I believed influenced my final drawing. I wanted to show a beautiful postcard view of our esplanade but with its flaws exposed. I took a more critical eye, examining the detail and scratching beneath the surface. The vision came out as I planned but with some elements better than I had ever dreamed of. The colour palette though purposely limited, managed to show light and shade and imply distance and perspective. I also chose primary colours which I peppered throughout the drawing to help draw the eye across the picture. I cheekily put in some extra rubbish, overflowing from the bin, blowing along the pavement. I also feel I managed to achieve a variety of marks to depict movement particularly in the sky, in the rubbish blowing around and the bunting. I also did some more experimentation and practice of media, drawing and composition than I did before. I even learned to conquer my fear of oil pastels! My tutor commented on the mark-making and mirroring within the drawing, which I was particularly pleased at. Another student commented that she found it a little unsettling and lonely with the empty benches and turbulent skies (which is exactly what I wanted to hear).

I don’t have too many personal issues with this piece – it is the one work I could put on my wall and not get tired of looking at. I did find it difficult to see my drawing on the grey paper (good learning) and feel  I should have experimented more with other colours and texture before deciding to use it. I prepare for this drawing and feel it is more interesting than the other assignments. Looking at it again I am struck by the empty benches lined up facing the water, which look like they are waiting; anticipating something. I was a little concerned that the benches would appear a little cliché but think that the flaws around them helped to show a different and darker take on things.

Assignment 4 – Figure drawings and self portrait (3 pieces)

The brief for this was for 2 figure poses, 1 seated in an upright chair and 1 reclining, with one focused on line and one on tone. Also, a portrait or self portrait.

Firstly I will comment on the figure study using line. I managed to borrow my partner for this and as it was a line study chose to use a range of black and grey pens, of different size nibs. I was pleased with this drawing – there is something strangely cosy and comforting about it for me. I feel the proportions are correct. Before tackling this, I looked back at previous drawings where I feel I had made interesting marks (some of my landscape sketches in particular) and thought carefully about how I would use a variety of marks for this.

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Though pleased with this drawing – composition, proposrtions and mark making, I feel I may have overdone the range of marks. My concern is that is perhaps too busy, especially using different size and shades of pen.

Second, is the figure study using tone – a reclining model. Again I borrowed my partner (who is very tall) and positioned him on the sofa reading a book. I wanted to show foreshortening by having one leg bent and his foot to the forefront of the drawing. I also wanted to continue my use of charcoal and putty rubber to create a variety of soft marks and tones in the scene. I was pleased with these results.

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However I was less pleased with the proportions. Something happened to the knee which made it look out of kilter (my tutor commented about length of both needs and width of thighs as well as ambuity of form around the shoulder/sleeve which I can see). My learning from this is to spend more time measuring out the figure in front of me (measuring with my thumb as suggested by my tutor and learned in class).

The last piece for Assignment 4 was the self portrait combining line and tone. I had a determination to do this and cover off everything including creating texture on the hair and face with white gesso and using masking fluid to reveal parts of the drawing as well as using soft pastel, brushing techniques and ink to add in specific effects and detail.

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I wasn’t overly pleased by the final drawing but did like some areas where I had worked hard to create effects e.g. hair, softness of tone and flesh, the details of my scarf and ring. I was not happy with the eyes – my tutor picked this up and I agree. They don’t sit properly in the face and I have tried hard to practice drawing features since this point, even signing up for an online course to improve my drawing in this area. I also knew that the hand was really small (by approx 100% confirmed by my tutor) and I did miss a number of opportunities to make this portrait realistic and also really interesting. It is disappointing – I looked forward to challenging myself on this assignment. I think I tried too hard and as a result succeeded more around use of media than achieving the objective of drawing a self portrait using line and tone.

My aims

Before I launch into the evaluation of my assignments and Assignment 5, I want to blog about my learning and my aims. My tutor asked me to think about my aims for the future and collect these into a list (they get lost in my blog). Looking back on my blog, I realise that this course has been a real challenge for me – not just in terms of learning skills but also when keeping everyting together through one of the most difficult years of my life ever. There were some key pieces of learning and aims that jumped out at me or were a repetitive theme:

  • I would like to bring humour to darkness and be able to distil that onto paper. I like looking at a piece of work with sinister undertones. I love the horror genre and I’ve learned that this crosses over into my appreciation of art.
  • I am still inspired by Odilon Redon, his use of powdered charcoal and dark themes (I started talking about powdered charcoal in Part 1 and finally used it in Part 5!).
  • Underpainting and preparation – this cropped up a number of times during my research for Drawing 1 and has definitely influenced the way I have approached Part 4 and Part 5. I think a lot about texture and mark making now. This was not something I consciously did when I started the course – I relied on the medium to do this naturally and didn’t focus on how I could create this myself. At the outset of a drawing I now think about what I can do to create texture and interesting marks and what paper and media can help me achieve this, to suit the subject.
  • Exploring charcoal and soft pastel – I have absolutely loved this and would like to continue to develop my skills in these areas, even when I move onto painting.
  • More use of pen and ink – I have especially enjoyed the effects of white acrylic ink on paper, developing layers and marks using liquid (like paint but with a different effect). This was new to me and though daunting, will keep doing it as I think that it is good to flip how I use black and white(and keep my brain busy!).
  • Loosen my mark making – I am conscious that I am sometimes focussed on detail and don’t want to remain static and not explore making marks based on my emotions. I find expressing deep emotion a challenge so this will be an ongoing learning exercise to me.
  • I want to retain my drawing skills and produce realistic and well drawn pieces. However I want these to be interesting. The person who referred scathingly to this course being for the more traditional artists sticks in my mind. I really feel that she felt we were a little dull and I definitely don’t want to be that.
  • I was determined to lose my fear of oil pastels and find out how I could use them to work for me and my style and I feel I did, through learning blending techniques (again completely new to me).
  • I had a real fear of drawing people and portraits as had never really tried to do so very often and when I had, was really unhappy with the results. I felt this was my real weakness on the course but was determined to do something about it. I signed up to a regular drawing group who meet once a week in a local cafe- we drink coffee and draw naked people and I lose myself for those 2 hours. I’ve been encouraged to try new media to draw and discuss my work with others in self-organised workshops by the more experienced artists in the group. As my energy and mobility is not great and I still work full time, I am not often able to travel to meet other OCA students. I am (possibly) the only South Walian student so it can be isolating, especially when you see groups getting together for study days or local workshops, learning together. My local art group has helped to fill a gap, challenge my thinking, practice new techniques and given me a chance to directly learn from others which is really important.
  • My last aim has hovered on the periphery for some time but it is so important. I need to continue to develop my critical analysis skills and undertake more research about what I like and don’t like and what I can learn from. Due to my time being squeezed this can be the part of my study which loses focus. I enjoy it very much but it sometimes does feel like an add-on when there is so much practical work to do. It should be integral to my development. My aim is to priorise and undertake research on a more regaular basis and try and use my travel time to do some of this (instead of zoning out on an Arriva Train!).