This post analyses further researches in to present and absent media though repeated applications of paint and then removal to build a history of marks.
At the London Original Print Fair, I saw Basil Beattie’s mono-screenprints on Two Rivers paper. Some years ago, when I was painting watercolours, I bought some of this wonderful handmade paper, but have never used it, partly because I have moved on from mannered watercolours, but mostly out of fear. It is just too beautiful and too expense to leap into. I see the proprietors occasionally through canal and life drawing connections and at art fairs where they demonstrate the handmade process. They often have Oliver Lively demonstrating on their papers and his process is very interesting to watch, as he often scrubs away, quite violently, at the surface. Last summer, Oliver suggested that I buy one of their small sketchbooks to liberate myself of paper fear. This came back into my mind after see the Beattie prints and also some recent sketchbook disasters trying to paint on cartridge.
I have phoned Two Rivers to order sketchbooks for summer travel. Chatting about painting and printmaking on their papers, their advice was to use it, and then if that wasn’t a success, scrub it off under a tap and start again, because the surface sizing will take repeated media removal. Suddenly, this long drawn out thought process over their paper has played into my researches on adding and removing media.
The paper is highly textured and stiff as cardboard, with irregular deckle edges on all sides. For my experiment, I used acryl gouache, as I hoped that this could be removed, especially if not completely dry, but the acrylic content might mean that it would not be completely removed. I want to leave ghost marks, although i have no idea what their character might be.
Each layer has been allowed to dry a little more so that the marks have gradually become more defined. This latter layer was allowed o dry overnight and then a scotchpad taken to some areas. So, no paper fear now!
This, probably final, layer uses rich, black, barely dilutes gouache. The character of the paper is clearly visible even in the blackest areas.
This is amazing paper. I cannot decide whether this is ‘finished’ and whether it has any great merit beyond research, although, in that respect, this was a very useful experiment. I enjoy the rich and varied tones and the layers and variety of of mark. The final layer of marks was developed in response to earlier marks using a photo and drawing app on the ipad, but the sweep of paint at in the lower half has come out too symmetrical. This goes away into a folder for a while, to be got out later and considered more objectively. It may get developed, or completely painted or scrubbed out to produce a new surface, or left alone.
At life drawing this week, I continued to work in graphite; pencil and soft graphite block with eraser. This week we had an excellent model who struck unusual, challenging poses.
Arthritis in my dominant hand seems to be progressing very quickly, and I can no longer draw a fine pencil line where I want it, no matter what grip I use. My lines have become very wobbly, so using large, media seems to work much better but difficult on the smallish scale of an A3 sketchbook. This next drawing is horrible with cramped, small legs.
This pose was challenging for us and the model, with her body twisted to almost 90 degrees sideways. I just tried to capture the jist of the pose resulting in a rather abstract sketch.
Lots of folk were moving around to try and get an angle on the next pose which gave them more than a back to draw and made more sense of the legs, one going forwards over the stool, one back, but I decided to accept the challenge of trying to draw the subtleties of the back.
I am trying to crop into interesting sections of the body and get away from drawing outlines with limited success. Large, block media made drawing delicate folds of flesh difficult.
A longer pose gave me more time to consider How I could respond to the shapes with out outlines. Erasing the graphite models the body interestingly, but the eraser marks are more hard-edged than I wanted and I should not have tried to describe the head, beyond a shadowy smear.
What an amazing pose the next one was! How on earth did she hold this for half an hour? You can see that she gradually sank into it and eventually her left foot was also touching the floor. rather than worry about the pose changing, I have tried to capture the movement.
Next, a more conventional pose, and again I have cropped-in to what I hoped was an interesting composition. The proportions of the arm are too slight. I think that I have been dictated to by the paper format here and that a square format would have made a better composition, as in the photo crop below.
It was my week to get backs, which are up there with hands in drawing challenges. The shadows modelling the anatomy of the back are so subtle and I was not able to apply my graphite in the gentle ‘washes’ that I was after. The graphite picked up the texture of the paper too much. Perhaps a makeup sponge would be a good applicator?
I used liquid graphite to wash in the dark background but not as accurately as I wanted in places, for instance the top of the shoulders are horrid, but the right shoulder blade is more what I wanted. I do find it difficult that in life drawing, you have to pretty much make up the background from the maze of tones of easels, other people etc.
Life drawing is wonderful, maddening, frustrating and exhausting.
In creating work for this assignment, I have tried to be experimental and unorthodox in my choice of location and material. I have tried to make work which is on a big scale and which exists outside, to be seen by the public.
The success of the first piece was limited because the blossom did not extend and connect the drawing of the tree sufficiently into the physical space of the bus shelter. I needed about five times more volume of blossom than I was able to collect, and the blossom needed to be on the drawing, and on the glass, the seat and the floor so that it was a real experience for the passenger as they waited or got off a bus. Drawn on a large scale, my tree lost its charm and the shapes became more crude. Whilst I think the concept was sound, it lacked in execution, so I am glad that I decided to make a second drawing.
The drawing of simplified fern fronds is completely appropriate to its environment, both in materials and in subject. The location chosen is visible to passers-by and visitors. A drawing here is not just an assignment piece but a real asset on a dull front drive. For practical reasons, I chose a very simple design. I am not entirely happy with the curves of the frond on the right but I do like the fact that it continues around and over the corner. With hindsight, the balance of positive and negative shapes might have been improved to cover more of the wall surface area, but then the fronds would not have been so elongated and graceful.
Deciding to use moss, rather than just clay, meant a lot more work and risk of failure, but I think the result is much more interesting than flat clay would have been. The moss has a raised texture which successfully negotiates the non-flat surface, and if it grows, will eventually have a range of greens from the variety of mosses used.
One of the great pleasures of this part of the course has been creating art to share. I have tried to make work which is simple and accessible whilst being unexpected and which enhances its environment and connects the observer to the location.
Reviewing my bus stop drawing for Assignment 4, I don’t feel that it addresses my appetite to create a form of graffiti and it also lacked the environmental credentials I was seeking, although it did meet my ambition of making public art. It leaves me unfulfilled. After considerable sleeping over it, I have therefore decided to make a second work which is graffiti based, but not on public property.
I am considering three mediums, grass (walked or mowed), clay used as paint or moss. I like the idea of using grass. It offers a large canvas but being large and horizontal, it would be very difficult to photograph well for the purposes of the assignment.
Researching moss graffiti on the internet yields quite a few examples and recipes, such as this or this. These generally involve mashing moss in to a soup with a nutrient such as yoghurt, rice water or beer. However, it you look carefully at most of these examples, it seems clear that the graffiti is using moss rolled up from other locations and laid like turf then cut to shape.
This post, by gardeners specialising in growing moss gardens, is much more helpful. It explains exactly what you need to make moss grow, which mosses will work best and that yoghurt etc is just likely to go mouldy. Their recommendation is to establish moss on horizontal, water retaining surfaces (ie soil) rather than attempting to establish it on walls etc. So, sounds like a dead end. At this point, I decided to use yellow London clay, dug from the garden, as my medium.
I have a really boring bit of north facing wall on the front drive, adjacent to the garage. I really don’t mind graffiting this, as long as it is natural and removable. It is not, however, flat. The pointing between the bricks is considerably inset. There are ferns and primroses growing at the bottom, and it just so happens that I have been sketching ferns recently, as their unfurling stems in spring always fascinate me.
The curves and spirals which ferns produce as they open up are truly magical. A drawing on this wall which references the ferns below and in the rest of the front garden, would be a good use of the wall, enhance the space and add quirky interest to a boring area. It is on private land but actually is highly visible to passers by and visitors, so nearly public.
My first a step was to do some more investigative sketches of the ferns in the front garden, examining their habit and how their shapes could be simplified.
Most of these shapes are too complex to draw on a non-flat surface. The detail just would not read. However, the shapes of the harts-tongue ferns were more promising. These can be rendered in a graphic way that would have impact scaled up and be practical to draw on the wall.
My ipad was used to take a pic of the wall and try shapes out. So far I have not found my self using an ipad for sketching on location as I like getting my hands messy with media, but I am finding it really useful for trying out ideas.
The shapes I finally decided on are not so much a drawing of the fern leaves as two graphic shapes which reference the garden. I have tried to find interesting negative shapes between them and also have them relate to the edges of the wall. The wall actually has a step in it and I have decided to carry the drawing right over this, but only with the linear tip of the leaf so that it reads from any angle.
Clay was dug and prepared by soaking in water and the squishing it until I had a suspension like very thick cream. The design was mapped out on the wall using water.
Clay was then painted on the wall.
The prepared clay was really sticky and difficult to get off the brush. At this point, I realised that it could be used as a glue to fix moss to the wall, which would be far more interesting than a flat clay drawing. The clay is also moisture retentive and the moss might just grow if watered reliably. Moss grows at the base of the wall and on the drive, so it stands a chance.
I wasn’t happy with how the frond on the right had come out and considered remodelling it. However, I have decided that moss and clay are like a water colour wash; it would be a mistake to try and touch it up.
The moss has now been in place for two weeks. As to be expected, some of the moss embedded in the clay has died, but much hasn’t. A bit has fallen off. The moss has been sprayed with water twice a day. My hope is that live moss will eventually grow out to populate the clay substrate. I have started this project at the worst time of the year when it is very dry and hot, and it is a long term commitment if I want to see it grow. The moss garden experts say that it can take up to six months for some moss species to anchor themselves and develop outwards. How it will cope whilst we are away on holiday, I don’t know.
Two weeks on, the fronds of the ferns at the bottom of the wall are now fully extended.
If the moss survives, this will become a feature, brightening up a boring wall in a difficult, north-facing corner.
The annual London Original Print Fair is held at the Royal Academy where the exhibition rooms are taken over by many galleries from all around the world which specialise in original prints. This means that there is a huge breadth of work to see, spanning different ages and different artistic cultures, from Picassos and Bawdens to contemporary Chinese woodcuts and the latest Peter Bakes. I can’t imagine any other place where you could see works by such a wide range of excellent and emerging artists, all accessibly displayed and with knowledgeable people to tell you about the work. There is also every conceivable printmaking technique to examine, and it is even surprisingly affordable.
Here are just a few of the printmakers who caught my eye:
Tom Hammick’s huge woodcuts are always interesting, especially how he layers colours.
Cornelia Parker’s polymer photogravure images of glass, particularly those of broken glasses.
Glenn Brown for his rather bizarre, affectionate but irreverent, take on art history
Victoria Burge brings together science, mapping and art. She used heavy embossing to create three-dimensionality in her prints.
Bill Jacklin creates monoprints in several layers with wiping and white spirit spattering, creating movement and atmosphere.
James Collyer’s Yamashiro Falls married simplicity of design with technical complexity. This gallery picture is so poor that it hardly does it justice.
For inventiveness and originality, Thomas Gosebruch really stood out, and, wonderfully, he was there, happy to talk about how he made his work. I was intrigued by how he folded paper and then printed on each segment and how he got ink or paint to be 2 or 3mm deep. The paper folding is an idea well worth stealing.
Basil Beattie’s prints were monoprinted using a silk screen, a process I have been experimenting with. The print studio representatives were really helpful with a discussion about papers, inks, mediums and screen mesh size. The prints were very tactile and heavily layered in oil paint, quite unlike run of the mill screen prints.
My very favourite prints were by Kate McCrickard. These were really complex, many layered monoprints using really bright luminous colours in the initial layers and muted colours on top, with an outline ultimately added to define the figures (I think). The gallery owner told me that she sketches in local cafes and then translates these sketches into monoprints. The whole process must be very drawn out, as each layer of ink dries, but I think she probably works on a group in parallel because the prints naturally formed sets with a rhythm of the same coloured layers between them. Another idea to steal.
I have to thank Rabley Drawing Centre for sending me a complimentary ticket for the Fair. How could I have missed Emma Stibbon’s Vent from my list of eye-catching prints? There was just so much wonderful stuff.
This week, I have resolved to use graphite for drawing. I have put together a drawing set of 2b, 6b and 9b pencils, powdered graphite, liquid graphite, XL soft graphite block, brushes and erasers. My plastic erasers are cut into wedges and I am also trying out an electric eraser. I love drawing into charcoal or graphite with an eraser but it is now particularly painful, so I have been bought the electric one.
This week, as usual, we started with short poses, but the model was placed on a rotating platform, so that we got the same pose from different angles for three minutes each. I trued drawing each pose other the other to make a time sequence.
The model started with his one arm elevated, but had to drop it after a few minutes. I have tried to use different graphite mediums (or an eraser) for each pose, but for one I used a carbon stick as it was getting so confusing. The rotation was only announced as the first pose started, and I wish I had had a little longer to plan this. I would have rotated my paper to landscape and planned my media to just use graphite.
As usual, I find the quickest poses produce the drawings I like best for their spontaneity. This 15 minute drawing is overworked, especially in the face, the head isn’t sitting in the shoulders amongst many other problems. I was trying to consider ‘lost and found’ and define the figure by the tonal contrasts against the background, with very limited success.
I am still hearing my tutor from Drawing 1 telling me to position the whole figure on the paper. I am trying to override this, and focus in on details or completely fill the paper with body, not have acres of negative space around the body. The next pose was very vertical and I have tried to crop in so that the body has a presence across the width of the paper. To try and avoid drawing outlines, I brushed in the mass of the figure initially with graphite powder and then developed it with the large graphite block and an eraser. The size of the block precludes any detail in the face which I think has worked much better. I think that I should have cropped in more, and I am sure that I have made the torso too long. The softness of the graphite tones is lovely and carving out shapes with the eraser is very effective but I have to ration its use. The electric eraser makes much more mechanical marks, unsurprisingly, and was too noisy and intrusive.
For the final pose, I cropped in even harder to focus on the elbow resting on the knee. I could have cropped in even more but found all the negative spaces really interesting and challenging. I deliberately cropped through the hand because I wanted to draw it but didn’t want to push the centre of attention of the drawing right over to the edge. I have tried to create a composition which draws the eye right around the support.
I have used sparse liquid graphite on a bristle brush to try and describe each muscle and its volume. Liquid graphite has been used to create blocks of strong tone in the background. It has given this drawing drama. Once applied, the liquid graphite cannot be erased and my brushwork is not sufficiently accurate in places; I have lost the bottom of the heel on the right and tried to refind it, unsuccessfully, in pencil. The drawing makes a statement about the muscular strength of the male body in contrast to the soft, delicately curved, female body last week.
Setting myself clear objectives and limited media works well for me, and is stopping me getting stuck in the same rut. I hope and believe that my life drawing is progressing. I need to experiment with colour, although I know this is not my strength.