5.4 Time and the Viewer – Reflection

This project has considered time as a multilayered component of making work; the elapsed time taken to conceive it, to execute the series of drawings and then combine them into a single piece,  and the viewer’s time to consume the final works.

Drawing self portraits quickly has resulted in very mixed results. Some of the drawings are a likeness and some are very poor in terms of proportions, some tentative, some bold. My objective for the individual drawings was to find a balance between some degree of representation and the energetic, expressive mark. As you look through the drawings, it is possible to see an ebb and flow between these two. Initially, the representational drawings are tighter and more detailed and the freer marks are less accurate. As the time progressed, the drawings have become freer and simpler whilst retaining some accuracy. The drawings might have ended up completely abstract and that would have been fine, but, in the event, I was unable to leave representation behind, and that’s fine too.

Overlaying the drawings has been useful in showing me that I consistently make the nose and upper lip too long; something to have in my mind when I draw in life class.

My tutor has remarked that I am very process driven and, as the course progresses, I now understand this in a way I did not before. A finished drawing was never as interesting to me as its making and it has been a revelation that process can itself be the outcome. Producing a video felt completely appropriate. The length of time to view the video maps the time taken for a single drawing and the sound track records the process of a single drawing from the starting ping though the scratches of charcoal, to the final fixing spray and timer bell. A four minute video is perhaps over-long for assessors but it is necessary and fitting. I have had to learn a video editing and layering package and my lack of skill is evident with jumpiness in places.

Combining the physical drawings into an artist’s book extends the process. Creating a physical object that the viewer can handle, leaf through and consider over an extended period of time has immense appeal to me, both as a consumer of art and a creator. A book has a long life. It will never be inaccessible because technology has moved on. It can sit on a bookcase waiting to be pulled out on a whim. Both these works break with the tyranny of rectangular, wall-hang art which is always an underlying ambition.

Initially, I struggled to think what I was going to do for this project. By standing back, considering what I am best at and what I find most interesting, going back to earlier work and course books, I feel that I have found a way through to an outcome which goes to the heart of the project and the course and which will also be significant for my future practice.



5.4 Time and the Viewer – An Artist’s Book

Following photographing 48 self portraits drawn continuously in 48 hours for a video, I have now bound them together into an artist’s book. The drawings are made on each side of 300gm cartridge paper for secure binding. The book will need firm protective cover and I wanted these to reflect the nature of the contents and be finished to a high standard. one option was to draw a further self portrait onto good mount board and then bind this on as covers, but the edges and corners of mount can easily get damaged and scruffy. The way this is usually dealt with is to cover the boards with paper or cloth. I have some simple, undyed buff cotton which I thought would be good against the cartridge paper, and I decided to print a self portrait onto it.

I prepared to plates for printing so that I could choose which ever worked best. One was a paper only which I drew with oilstick and then coated with gum arabic for paper lithography. The other was a piece of mount board onto which I drew a portrait with pva in a pipette. I then scattered carborundum over the wet glue and shook of the excess. The paper lithograph plate didn’t make it to printing but fell apart under inking.

Since the drawing was done from life, consistently with the other drawings, it is of necessity, mirror imaged when printed. The carborundum printed well on the cotton. I made a couple of prints and then added a title and reprinted.

Whilst my ink dried, I practised my binding technique. A fellow student had mentioned a single sheet binding and pointed me at this video on Youtube for details.

The cotton was pasted to mountboard and the back covered with more board to cover joins and give rigidity. I chose the print which I felt had the best definition. All the pages and the cover boards were bound together to produce a finished book.

The carborundum print on cotton has a softness but also presence.

The binding is strong and flexible. It is not too bad for a first attempt but could get better with practice.

31cm x 22cm x 4.5cm

The flexible binding allows the book to open out flat. I have added a front page which explains the process. My handwriting is poor but writing  simply, in charcoal, best fits the rest of the contents. I may yet add the ’48/4′ inside the front cover, but I think the less writing the better.  

Here, I have mounted the tracing paper drawings on a slip of the cartridge paper to allow them to be securely bound. The drawing from which they are a progression can be seen underneath, although on the right hand side, this means that drawing 28 is in front of drawing 27. The inclusion of different papers adds variety to the physical structure. The ability to include different papers and even different shaped pages is a major attraction of this binding technique.

The tracing paper allows piling up of drawings and media, here oilstick over a charcoal drawing.

As the process continued, my drawings simplified and became more abstract. The process of turning the pages in the book mirrors the process of making the drawings. It is interesting to turn the pages and see how the drawings changed from beginning to end.

One thing which I would certainly change if I was doing this again is to end with the final drawing on the right hand side. This last drawing, which is the final culmination, looks rather isolated.

It would have been tempting to leave out the really rubbish drawings but that would be dishonest and defeat the point. The book is about the tension between trying to draw quickly and expressively and trying to draw accurately; the struggle to find the expressive line. Some of the drawings look like me, some look more like Frankie Howerd, but they are not individual drawings; they are part of a whole.

Some of the best likenesses are in pencil but are tentative compared to the broader media.

As time progressed, the drawings simplified. Some became more abstract, so more realistic but abbreviated.

The book is a good way of combining the drawings and demonstrating the narrative of the process. The flexibility of the binding means that the drawings can rub against each other, so I am grateful that I fixed them as I went, but I am considering making a slip case or slip band to provide some stability for storage or travel.

5.4 Time and the Viewer – 48/4

In this project, I have committed to make an intensive investigation drawing a series of 48 self portraits over four hours. The objective of the process is to create a combined work which has the passing of time at its core, both for myself as the artist but also for the viewer.   The process will result in two works, one a video and one an artist’s book.

Considerable thought has gone into the setup of this. I want to video myself whilst I work. I also want to photograph and then bind the drawings together. Since the drawings will be bound as single sheets, the paper needs to be thick enough to support this and of a size to make an object for the hand.

I set up an easel with a mirror, tripod and video camera with side lighting for modelling of features. The easel was marked with masking tape for eye and mid-axis level to aid some consistency of placement for photo-compiling. A pinger was set to 4 minutes. A deep breathe, and I was off…

In fact, I did not manage to work without interruption for fours hours non-stop. There were slight pauses for a drink, video fiddling etc. Each drawing had to be fixed before I could turn it over and continue. I chose to draw double sided once I saw the size of the stack of 48 300gm sheets. Some sheets are tracing paper, when I chose to work off one drawing for the next.

Each drawing was numbered as I completed it, and I find that I lost track in a couple of places; there are two numbers repeated, so I actually drew 50 drawings in the end (though I have retained my chosen title for the work because of the relevant repetition).

Each drawing was photographed and then aligned with the eyes (as much as possible) of the previous drawing, using layers in a digital photo editor (Paintshop). These were imported, together with video footage into a video editor (VSDC). I have tried to keep the video simple. I want it to show both how the process of drawing worked and the continuous process of drawing itself. The video isn’t a smooth as I would like, demonstrating a learning curve with the software.

The length of the video was a major consideration. It needs to be long enough to allow the viewer to engage with each drawing but short enough not to be deadly boring. I felt that four minutes was appropriate in that it balanced these two aspects whilst reflecting the process itself. It also allows me to add a sound track which is a single drawing from starting bell to final fixing and ping. It is, however, significantly longer than the 90 seconds which OCA suggest for inclusion of video for assessment.

The final video: 48/4

The drawings with fine lines have not converted to video well, even at high definition. However, the video does demonstrate the tension between the quest for a spontaneous,  expressive line and representational accuracy. The fixed stare of the self portrait robs the face of animation. Towards the end of the exercise, I finally felt that some balance between exciting mark and accuracy was starting to happen. It was a very interesting and productive process and I hope that the video both demonstrates the process and involves the viewer in it.


5.4 Time and the Viewer – Ideas and Physical Research

The objective of this project is to make a drawing ‘which forces the viewer to use time differently’. Different to what? Different to the way in which most individual works of art are consumed. Most people interact with fine art in galleries and a survey conducted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art found that the average time a viewer spent in front of a work was 27 seconds with a median of 17 seconds (Smith and Smith, 2016). The challenge of this project is to engage the viewer for longer or in a different way. One approach might be to create a work which has many complex components which need considering. Grayson Perry’s tapestries, such as ‘Adoration of the Cage Fighters’ (2012), achieve this by their epic scale (2m x 4m) and by the complexity of both the imagery and the construction. This work is sufficiently complex to now have its own app which allows focus on details with explanation by the artist.

An alternative approach, which I want to consider, is an accumulation of drawing over a period of time which requires the viewer to survey the components and compare them. During a summer school workshop, we created small drawings on the same sheet suggested by words and also by touching objects in a bag. Other ways of accumulating images might be to overlay them using translucent paper, or combining them in book form or a video. I have also been influenced by seeing and researching Frank Auerbach’s portraiture. I completely understand the drive to draw the same person (or indeed pot, like Morandi) over and again.

I have also been looking back at two books which have been central to this course for me: ‘Experimental Drawing’ by Robert Kaupelis and ‘Drawing Project’ by Maslen and Southern. Kaupelis suggests an approach to working in series which I feel fits well with the objectives of this project. He proposes drawing 50 drawings, non-stop in 4 hours. With Auerbach in mind, I plan 50 self-portraits, drawn non-stop and then presented as a single work.

Before I start drawing, I need to consider my process and my presentation, and the final presentation will have an impact on my process. I could present my drawings as a single combined work on a wall, as the Tate Modern did with Marlene Dumas’ black and white drawings of black South Africans, but I need to consider assessment practicalities. Size is a consideration for physical work. If I make a book, I need to produce something which is good in the hand and if a video, work I can photograph or scan well.

I have been researching how I can animate drawings as part of my parallel project. I have been experimenting with different video manipulation software and how I can combine drawings with the process of drawing.

A first step for this project was to do a few 5 minute self portraits to test an easel and light set up and to make decisions on size and format of paper. Whether I scan or bind the drawings (or both), a uniform format would be helpful and provide some continuity through the process. I also need to consider if I am going to use the same media through out. In my tests, I used graphite, a carbon pencil, a sanguine pencil and soft graphite on bristol board, cartridge and tracing paper. This project is not about exploring how I can draw the face with different media, rather about intensive study of the subject. However, I suspect that I might want to explore a subtlety of tone or line which could call for different media, or simplify through a continuous line, so I will use a limited set of media and choose an appropriate support. I like the idea of including a translucent support so that the viewer sees images piled up, adding to the accumulation.

This is my initial experimental video, looking at fading drawings into each other, overlaying drawings. The portraits were executed in a maximum of four minutes and are really poor. One objective of the series would be to ‘tune in’ and be able to draw quickly but also with accuracy.

first test video

This is very disjointed so I tried using layers in a photographic package to make intermediate combined images.

second test video

For the drawings to read, one to the next, it is important that the eyes stay in about the same position in the frame. This will mean repositioning the drawings with resulting cropping. It will be helpful to position my support systematically and to mark an eye level and centre axis on the easel.

Time is an important parameter in this work, from several different aspects. 50 drawings in four hours means an average of 5 minutes per drawing. I have decided to use a timer set to four minutes. Some drawings may take less but I might wish to work for a little longer on some. No drawing should take more than five minutes.

To make the video interesting, it has to move along quite briskly. The length of the video should relate to the length of each drawing. Whilst the project s designed to make the viewer consume the work more slowly, I must be mindful of the constraints on assessment.

I also have to plan for an uninterrupted 4 hours. This feels a decadent and selfish indulgence which is part of the attraction of the project. When Auerbach talks about how his habits of working were formed in early life, he says that he was able to give the regular time to drawing because ‘my life was without paraphernalia’ (Tusa). I like the paraphernalia of my life but it certainly does get between me and concerted, dedicated effort.


Smith J. K., Smith L. F. ‘Spending Time on Art’ 2016 Empirical Studies of the Arts Vol 19, Issue 2, pp. 229 – 236 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2190/5MQM-59JH-X21R-JN5J?journalCode=arta (Accessed 6/10/17)

TUSA, J. 2002 [radio]. ‘The John Tusa Interviews’, BBC Radio 3,14 August 2002 21:15

Frank Auerbach Portraits and the Passage of Time

I have been lucky enough to go to two study visits at the British Museum Prints and Drawings Room. Each time, an Auerbach drawing has been included for us to study, and, for me, they were the highlight of the visit. I have to admit that I much prefer his drawings to his paintings. This is partly an inherent preference on my part for drawings. I enjoy seeing how the artist has worked things out, rather than some ‘finished’, polished final piece. Often it is also about the media, a directness of physical response expressed through the physicality of charcoal or graphite. I also like seeing the process, the erasures, restatements etc. Auerbach’s drawings demonstrate his dogged pursuit of a truth which seems to constantly elude him. He draws like a man panning for gold; an obsessive, hungry search. In his famous self-portrait of 1958, he has torn out areas of the drawing in order to restate and find what he was looking for. He calls this a ‘private quest’ (Tusa, 2002). He works with ‘a sense of resolve: Auerbach is battling toward a determinate goal, even though it is one that he can’t evoke verbally.’ (Schwabsky, 2016)

He is dedicated to the process of drawing and this process is both fast and slow. His sketches are clearly brisk and intuitive, each executed relatively quickly but the process of drawing a person or a place is repeated over and over again for decades.

His paintings are completed in a single sitting. The paintings are often rejected, scrapped back and the painting process restarted the next day: ‘there is just no alternative at all’ (Tusa). Days of painting and scrapping off can happen before a painting is finally realised. And what is this quest? What truth is he seeking? The portraits are representational but they are not realistic. The faces are pummelled and pushed into some sort of form. He records his debt to his tutor Bomberg who ‘allowed one to go for the essence, to adumbrate a figure, to redo it, to find different terms in which to restate it until one got something which, however unlike a poster of a figure or a photograph, that seemed to contain the mind’s grasp of the understanding of the subject’ (Tusa).

The parameter of time applies not just to the process. Robinson quotes Lyotard:

‘..between the time it takes the painter to paint the picture (time of ‘production’), the time required to look at it and understand it (time of ‘consumption’), the time to which the work refers (a moment, a scene, a situation, a sequence of events: the time of the diergetic referent, of the story told by the picture), the time it takes to reach the viewer once it has been ‘created’ (the time of circulation) and finally, perhaps, the time the painting is.’

(Robinson 2018:210, Lyotard 1991:78)

Robinson’s contention is that a painting by Auerbach (she is specifically discussing his landscapes but I think the proposition would hold for his portraits which can be viewed as landscapes of the face), is an accumulation of all the times spent drawing his subject, embodying many moments and that these layers of time can be perceived by the patient viewer as a ‘temporal unfolding’.

The Tate introduction to Auerbach says that he draws everyday but this is an historical statement. I suspect it is still true. The most recent work I have been able to find is ‘Reclining Head of Julia II’, 2016 (when he was 84 or 85). Comparing this with an earlier painting ‘Reclining Head of Julia III‘, 1995, this process of drawing over time has allowed him to become more economic, more focused on recording only the necessary and sufficient information to say what he needs to say. No more and no less.

Revisiting my preference for Auerbach’s drawings, I am forced to reconsider. His paintings (the 2016 work being an excellent example) have more in common with drawings than most artists’. The hand of its creator is very evident and the physical manipulation of the materials clearly displayed, and as so often observed, almost sculptural. I need to go and sit in front of his painting and absorb it in the same way that I did with his drawings in the British Museum although he says, ‘I feel very strongly that if a painting is going to work, it has to work before you have a chance to read it.’ (Tate).

Our course notes talk about the need for ‘courage and perseverance’ and these two attributes sum up the work of Frank Auerbach for me.


LYOTARD, J.F. 1991. ‘The Inhuman: Reflections on Time’, Cambridge: Polity Press

ROBINSON, A. 2018.  ‘The viscosity of duration: Painterly surface and the phenomenology of time in the London paintings of Frank Auerbach’, Journal of Contemporary Painting, Volume 4, Issue 1 pp.199-217.

SCHWABSKY, B., 2016. ‘Frank Auerbach’,  Artforum international., 54(6), pp. 247-248.

Tate. 2017. Who is Frank Auerbach?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/frank-auerbach/auerbach-introduction. [Accessed 18 October 2017].

TUSA, J. 2002 [radio]. ‘The John Tusa Interviews’, BBC Radio 3,14 August 2002 21:15

Basquiat – Boom for Real

The Barbican is hosting a large scale exhibition of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat. I became interested in his work when I was studying sculpture and in particular, the contemporary take on African masks by artists such as Romauld Hazoume. It is not easy to access the work of artists who work outside the European tradition of art (although Australian aboriginal art is now well documented). Basquiat was self-taught using graffiti as his early means of expression and his Haitian Afro-Caribbean heritage gave him both subject matter and a cultural otherness in 1970s America. This is outsider art.

Basquiat’s works ranged from street art, through postcards to huge canvases. Through them all, text is an intrinsic element. He used text and symbols from all sorts of books and mass media and also wrote fragments of poetry or social commentary. All of these were mixed in a melting pot with his own or appropriated images, photocopied and collaged, painted, written and drawn.

Having begun as a graffiti artist, Basquiat devised postcards as a way of earning some money. He and his girlfriend would draw four on a page, photocopy it several times, cut them up, mount them on card and then sell them in the street, an early example of artists’ multiples. The postcards are both simple in execution and sophisticated in concept. They include many elements; drawing, painting, photography, collage, text, spatter etc and this might be all on the same, small postcard. It was when Basquiat plucked up the courage to approach his hero, Warhol, to sell a card, that his commercial career really took off.

His work often used the same motifs, especially skulls and skull-like self-portraits. In this work from 1982, he combines a skull headed figure with squiggles, possibly symbols and fragments of text. Typically, the work is in layers with original detail being obliterated or highlighted by overpainting. Often his writing and symbols are in oilstick, resisting the paint and further linear marks are scratched through the wet paint.

Sadly, as he became successful, his work seems to have lost some intensity of energy. This work from 1986 feels like a search for something lost. Music was an inspiration in his work, but the certainty, the crash of many things desperate to be said, seems to have disappeared. Perhaps this is inevitable when creating for a commercial appetite rather than being hungry with your own. He went from struggling to feted artist so quickly that it must have been very difficult to resist the temptations of this new world and drugs and alcohol claimed him in the end. His was a rock and roll story with a rock and roll end.

What I admire most about Basquiat is his fearless mark making. He was unconcerned (at least in his early works) with painterliness or sophistication. I am always concerned about how crude a mark might look and never, if I can avoid it, use handwriting because mine is so poor. He shows so clearly that this is a ridiculous preoccupation. It is the message that counts.

Life Drawing 27/09/17 (Warning – Nudity)

Back to a full session of life drawing this week, with a lovely model who, as an artist herself, likes to challenge us.

Five minute poses to warm up, all A3:

For the short poses, I tried to use media which required me to be quick and decisive; pen and water or large, soft charcoal block, neither of which allow for detail. In the last drawing, I got overly involved in the legs and knees. It would have been better if I had cropped in to start with and ignored the rest of the figure.

Fifteen minute drawings:

This was a strange pose with legs going in opposite directions, and I have failed to make sense of them. I went back to pen, but in the longer time, I have allowed my marks to become more tentative.

After our tea break, we progressed to 30 minute poses:

A2, Derwent XL charcoal block

This was a very elongated pose and I have chosen to crop in to the mid body. The very soft purplish-brown XL charcoal block allows for soft shading to be captured with a wipe of the finger on the support and represents soft curves well. I had to work hard to get the hand, betrayed by the heavier marks there.

Weaning myself away from the Derwent blocks, this next drawing used willow charcoal. The pose was initially blocked in with crunched up charcoal, then worked back into with eraser and stick.

Square on A2 support, crushed charcoal and charcoal stick

The final pose was again very elongated so I have cropped in. I like the darker background which adds drama, but I don’t think I have been so successful in capturing soft flesh here.

A2, Derwent XL charcoal block

Next session, I must try to say more with less. I think this 5 minute drawing was one of the best of the session. There is lots wrong with it (the knee is in the wrong place etc), but fewer, bolder marks, and areas of highlight completely omitted, make for an interesting drawing which draws the eye around.