1.1 Observational Drawing

The course notes identify the aim of each project and invite the student to absorb them and reflect on them at the beginning of each project. The aim for this project is to explore the ‘wider potential’ of observational drawing using an inconspicuous corner or area of the domestic environment and identify, through drawing and experimentation, an interesting composition from an initially uninteresting subject. Since the exercise is observational drawing, I feel that the composition should not become completely abstract but should have clearly recognisable elements of the location. Rather than abstract, I would wish my composition to condense and intensify the essence of the location.

At the beginning of a new course, I was keen to ‘dirty’ the first page of my new sketchbook before I got intimidated by it, so I drew a quick, wide field view of the corner of my kitchen including the coffee machine and ironing board. This was chosen because I would never normally dream of drawing it but it does include some curves and a variety of shapes.

project 1 (1 of 6)

This was followed by sketches isolating/investigating interesting shapes or reflections.

project 1 (2 of 6)

Sample A3 sketchbook page

Considering the sketch examples in the course notes, I felt that these were successful because  of the contrasting  organic  shapes of the plants.  The shapes in my area were entirely man-made and I needed to find a way of moving beyond making a still life arrangement of them.

I thought that it would be helpful to look at how some other artists had looked at a collection of objects within a domestic setting.

William Scott viewed objects from obliquely above in ‘Winter Still Life’ (1956), simplifying the tones thereby flattening the forms. He has retained the context of the surface on which they stand by including its corner. The image is monotone requiring the viewer to concentrate on the simple shapes. In this later ‘Still Life’ (1973) he has simplified the forms even further but still retains the context via that corner of a table.

Ben Nicholson used collage in this painting ‘Jan 27 1933’ (1933) to create a sense of place or context for his fish on a platter. He regularly drew or painted collections of table wear and sometimes placed them within a landscape suggested by sweeping lines, for example in this print. In his painting ‘August 1956 (Val D’Orcia)’ (1956) he has suggested the objects by open shapes and shadows. Much is left to the viewers imagination.

Considering the use of collage, I tried to find examples of how Kitaj would have approached an interior. An example was quite difficult to find but ‘Desk Murder’ (1970-1984?) shows a section of an interior in which he has created a rather dream-like stillness and places us, the viewer, outside the space by the addition of black shapes interposed between us and the observed screen. Rather than involving us, he has removed us.

Another artist who uses collage to establish area of tone is Kurt Jackson.  In his book ‘Sketchbooks’ there are many example where he combines collage with pencil and acrylic very effectively in order to block areas in, provide colour and create a sense of place using papers found in or connected to the moment and place.

Following the advice of the course notes, I took photographs and experimented with cropping in, different view points and focal lengths. I overlaid potentially interesting areas of shapes using the ‘layers’ function of my photo editor.  This allowed me to combine different view points and scales.

project 1 (3 of 6)

The sketches, which I then developed from the photos, pick and choose shapes and lines and further simplify.  I homed in on the coffee machine, eliminating the iron and ironing board (art imitating life), but including the picture frame and wall apertures to left and right which give the sense of location and also add block areas of tone which would give a drawing an underlying structure.  A preferred sketch was photocopied and then worked over with elements from other sketches.

project 1 (5 of 6)

project 1 (6 of 6)

One interesting aspect of using photographs was that they made me consider the use of colour. I hadn’t really considered how the shiny metal expresso machine and milk jugs, even the reflective glass in the picture frame, bounced colour around. Up to that point, sketching in pencil, I had only considered relative tones.

Having arrived at a starting point for my composition, which included recognisable objects but also lines and shapes derived from alternative viewpoints, I made notes on possible materials, supports, size and framing options. A square format was selected using cartridge paper prepared with gesso, in order to create a surface which would withstand some moisture. Basic, large shapes were roughly blocked in using collage papers torn from a Sunday supplement.

collage base (1 of 1)

I also prepared some collage papers using frottage in wax crayon from the impressed logo on the coffee machine and its  perforated grills.  Part of a coffee bean catalogue was also included.  The collage was brushed over with more gesso to define and integrate the shapes and also provide a surface which could be worked back into.

One aspect of the chosen composition was the strong diagonal from the bottom right corner.  At this stage, I thought the picture on the wall was too small and weak in the composition and too detailed.

project 1 (1 of 8)

I have developed the composition as I went along, obliterating with gesso in places, working Inktense pencils which I have washed away in places, restating, pushing some bits of the drawing back and making others more definite. I have tried not to be bounded by my original idea but see where the drawing took me. Having originally blocked in the drawing from my photograph, I returned to direct observation from several angles to complete the drawing.

When I had come towards some some of fruition, I decided that I wanted to extend the edges of the drawing, especially as the collage extended beyond my support. The original cartridge paper was stuck down on to a larger piece of lining a paper and some of the drawing carried over on to the new support.

At this point, I stopped working on the drawing for several days whilst I considered it, and what I liked or disliked about it. I don’t like the way the framed picture intersects with the edge of the original support, or with the cups below. The intersection of the edge of the cups and the jug lip it too exact. The pipe at the bottom is too assertive and, again, intersects the paper edge to abruptly.  Where I have worked over the paper edge bottom right with coloured pencil, the colour is too warm. Returning to direct observation, the cups, jug etc have become more representational than I had intended. The whole thing is rather more mannered and controlled than I had expected or desired.

project 1 (2 of 8)

Thinking about the materials, gesso over glossy collaged papers has worked well, allowing me to draw over the surface but also scratch back to the underlying paper.

project 1 (6 of 8)

The collaged coffee brochure and frottage add texture and context without being too assertive.

project 1 (5 of 8) project 1 (4 of 8)

The gesso has sufficient texture from the brush marks that it will take pencil and white pastel building up a rich surface.

project 1 (3 of 8)

Even the un-worked areas of the support have some interest of texture where the gesso has picked up stray pencil dust or under-working.

project 1 (7 of 8)

Whilst I considered the first drawing, I did a second, this time monochrome using solely charcoal and working from my sketchbook rather than direct observation.  I worked pretty quickly over about 15 minutes in order to try and capture a greater freedom and be less literal.

The charcoal used on its side has created some lovely textures and by its nature it created velvety blacks in contrast to the white support. In trying to work freely and use my whole arm for curves, my draughtsmanship as gone astray. Using a plastic rubber cut into a wedge has allowed me to remove charcoal and draw through areas creating interesting transitions from light to dark.

project 1 (8 of 8)

40cm x 40cm, charcoal

After a separation in time, I revisited the original drawing mainly  to extend it outside the bounds of the first support and the square edges. I think that the unresolved edges of the shapes give a better impression of a space within a larger space. The shapes work well leading the eye around the drawing and there are centres of attention but also quiet areas for the eye to rest. I don’t feel that I have found a satisfactory balance between good draughtsmanship and experimental drawing, or even if I know quite what balance I am seeking. The process of obliteration and restatement with both wet and dry media was very liberating and has created a rich surface.

Previously,  I have tried to avoid drawing from photographs, but in this exercise, I found the use of photography to assist analysis and to pile up images really helpful as part of developing a composition. I also found that looking at a photograph of my drawing can help me analyse its strengths and weakness better than looking at the original, which seems bizarre.

56cm x 56cm, gesso, graphite, Inktense pencil, white chalk

56cm x 56cm, gesso, graphite, Inktense pencil, white chalk

I walked away from these drawings for a week and then looked at the afresh. In the charcoal drawing, the shiny face on jug really jarred as being crudely drawn, dominant in the composition and too representational. I tore the drawing into large pieces and tried rearranging them. I like the way the composition is no longer contained in a square or rectangle.

torn it (4 of 5) torn it (3 of 5)  torn it (1 of 5) torn it (5 of 5)torn it (2 of 5)

This final arrangement was selected as the basis for a further drawing. At this point I am drawing from a photograph of a torn up drawing of a sketch from a photograph. I think that I should have returned to drawing from observation even though my composition was derived from an earlier sketch. I feel this final drawing is an unmitigated disaster, loosing all grounding in the original situation and it has become merely a crude exercise in mark making. The paper, at A2 wasn’t big enough and I allowed it to constrain the composition.

torn it (2 of 1)




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