Category Archives: Part 1

Part 1 – Assignment Report

The report from my tutor on Part 1 of the course was supportive and encouraging with my tutor challenging me to pursue my investigation of materials for looser, semi-abstract work.

Particular points I want to take forward are:

  • be aware of and resist the tendency to slip back to visual conventions. I think it is so easy to think in terms of doing a drawing of something; I need to think in terms of drawing an idea or feeling.
  • extend my investigations into materials and propel this into my work
  • continue attending study visits and seek external stimulus through gallery visits, location sketching, life drawing, workshops
  • do more project related research before rather than in parallel with physical work
  • be physical, work large.

My tutor encourages me to be less dismissive of my work and to lay it out, identify good elements and work from those, thinking about where I want to go forward.

She was sceptical about my choice of the garden as a subject for my parallel project, and I do understand the danger of choosing a subject which could be banal. However, I want to use it as a source of ideas for abstraction. Having shared a couple of sketches and a finished piece with my tutor, she writes ‘I like the abstraction idea of the garden and the third piece you attached is the most exciting one and it involves imagination and something away from the obvious.’ I now need to consider a subject for my critical review, ideally relating to and enriching the parallel project.

1.4 The Human Body (Warning – Life Drawing, Nudity)

I am lucky enough to have the choice of several local life classes which offer drop-in sessions, so life drawing is something I do on a reasonably regular basis. However, these are un-tutored and it is very easy to find one’s self just repeating the same thing over and again and not necessarily progressing or being creative within the context of the class. I try to challenge myself by using different media or techniques but really welcomed this project as a way of challenging my composition. I think composition is particularly hard to manage in a life drawing class where you have no control over lighting, background, pose and often little control over your own location in the room.

The aims of this project are to create a composition of two combined body parts or limbs in a way that leads the eye around the composition and which makes a powerful statement.

At a life group this week, after the initial 1 minute and 5 minute poses, I tried to find sections of the pose which fitted the aim of the project. I also tried to think about bringing forward the parts of the pose which interested me whilst under-describing the more distant of less relevant parts of the pose, whilst still trying to be observationally rigorous.

In this 15 minute drawing, I laid down a charcoal ‘wash’, worked into it with a rubber and then added some line and tone using the side of the charcoal. I have tried to suppress the detail in the head, since we are programmed to be drawn to facial features. It is clear that I didn’t get the upper hand right and have repeatedly redrawn it; the dark lines are a dead give-away. The remit says ‘don’t leave the limbs to taper off’ which I have done with the foot and hand bottom left. This was deliberate because I don’t want the eye to be drawn too much to the corner, but want the right hand and left knee to be the centre of attention.  This drawing is full of errors of proportion but I think it is successful at a compositional level.

limbs (6 of 6)

Cropping the drawing photographically, I don’t think cropping in harder would have materially improved this composition.

limbs cropped (2 of 2)

The course method says ‘don’t be tentative’, ‘redraw and correct’ but I find these two actions in tension against each other. In a long pose, I correct and I find that this makes me more tentative. In a short pose, I feel able to take more risk, make assertive marks but have no time for correction and refinement, or time to give composition much consideration.

In this 5 minute pose, I feel that I have used much more assertive marks and drawn with a more instinctive feel for the muscles and joints, but the composition is not as considered.

limbs (1 of 6)

I feel this is a much more successful, spontaneous drawing. It has not been reworked, or overworked. If a line has been redrawn, usually the original line has just been left. It is, of necessity, a very simple drawing.

limbs cropped (1 of 2)

Cropping this second drawing photographically, I feel that a more successful composition could have been created by concentrating on the smaller area. Here the enclosed negative space becomes important and the composition triangular.

The human body is an unfailing pleasure and challenge to draw. Usually, I concentrate on getting the whole body in the frame and getting the balance and weight of the body right. It was a delight to consider cropping in and composition instead. I only wish that I had more control over the poses and was able to change my position in the studio. I would like to continue this project indefinitely at life class.

 

Study Visit – Hilma af Klint

This week’s study visit offered the opportunity to see the work of this little known Swedish artist working in the early 1900s. I don’t think that I would have thought to go to this exhibition on my own, and I don’t think that I would have found it particularly accessible without the introductions provided by the gallery here, and by our tutor.

Af Klint went to art school and studied classic drawing and painting, portraiture and landscapes but her inner spiritual life came to dominate her work and she is now heralded as possibly the first abstractionist, predating Kadinsky. I am not sure that this is really valid. I think that she was trying to represent spiritual ideas which were, to her, completely real, and in this sense her work is absolutely representational, just not of the natural world as we see it.

Theosophy was spiritual and spiritualist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which mashed together philosophises from a number of religions. Af Klint developed her own system of symbols, signs and word fragments which she wove together in images. She explored representing opposites, male, female, light and dark etc in terms of shapes, colours and decorative designs. These became more sophisticated and moved from small watercolours and drawings to huge oil paintings, intended for a ceremonial space, which she was directed to create by her ‘spirit guide’.

A number of her works can be seen here.

Her themes or investigations included evolution and cosmology and I found the paintings which considered the beginning of the universe from a point source the most interesting. These were painted before the big bang had been theorised and even before the existence of other galaxies had been discovered. She was certainly before her time in her scientific interests but also in the graphic nature of her art. Many of these works reminded me of 60s and 70s album covers for instance Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon‘ or the more recent  ‘Resistance’ by Muse, whereas her earlier, more floral and sinuous works remind me of 1950’s curtain material.

Since she assigned complimentary colours to opposing meanings and used symmetry, spirals, and geometric shapes, her designs have a powerful graphic effect. The colours are often muted and the dictates of how she used the colours produced very visually pleasing results. However, very few people would have seen these in her lifetime. On the advice of Rudolf Steiner, she did not publically show her work, and one can only wonder at how and why he chose to control her in that way.

In the game of ‘which would you take home if you could choose one’, I would have chosen a small watercolour expressing the creation of the universe, like this one.

Her works have a very specific purpose of religious or philosophical enquiry. They, and the process by which she arrived at them was interesting but I felt I was looking at rather clinical illustrations or diagrams. I think this is why I did not find an emotional engagement with them. The exception was the small watercolours in which she was trying to represent the single moment when the universe exploded outwards from a point source.

 

Workshop – Expressive Drawing at West Dean

I chose this workshop because the tutor is Emily Ball, the author of ‘Drawing and Painting People: A fresh Approach’, which I have found very helpful in giving me new ways into life drawing, where I can easily get stuck in a rut. I find her approach to mark making and viewpoint very interesting and different. The course was offered by West Dean and its wonderful gardens were to be our inspiration.

trees (3 of 14)trees (1 of 14) trees (2 of 14)

trees (4 of 14)

Painted glass in the house, inspired by the gardens.

The workshop was over four days (an evening introduction, two and half days drawing in the West Dean Gardens and a critical review to wind up). The trees in the gardens were our subjects and, in addition to framing the class around mark making, composition etc., a lot of guidance was given around how you prepared yourself to draw, how to work outside and then develop work in the studio and into final pieces. This was an excellent and, for me, unexpected aspect to the course, not just technical or creative but also about personal or professional development and practice. All the drawing was monotone which was a disappointment to some, but I found concentrating on mark, mass and tone quite complex enough without considering colour, especially green.

Materials used included:

  • charcoal
  • black and white pastels
  • black and white acrylic paint
  • shellac based indian ink
  • white acrylic ink
  • white and black oils sticks
  • black and white paint markers
  • large round brushes
  • graphite pencils, sticks and dust
  • rags, hands, erasers
  • water
  • cartridge paper, Fabriano Artistico paper

Emily has devised a series of exercises which allow you to connect to yourself, your materials, your subject and the environment in which your subject exists. The course was packed with practical information and for my own use I have structured these into:

  • getting ready to work
  • feeling your subject
  • process
  • professional practice and study

Getting ready to work:

  • prepare physically, breathe, relax, stretch, rotate neck and shoulders
  • warm up/loosen up with the materials, doodle, make marks with your eyes shut
  • immerse yourself in the place, walk, look, listen, sit with closed eyes

Feeling the subject

  • talk ‘paintish’ – that is don’t think ‘tree’, ‘leaves’, ‘green’ but think ‘sparkling’, ‘thrusting’, ‘dripping’, ‘cool’, ‘pivot’, ‘press’ etc
  • feel the shape, feel how it goes around, over, bulges etc
  • use your hands or body to describe the shapes
  • look all around it
  • listen to it

Process

  • drawing from your drawing
  • editing, add, remove, paint over, built up
  • working over
  • cutting/tearing out a bit the works, sticking it onto a bigger paper and working out from it
  • small sketches
  • the difference between sketches and studies
  • consider the edge of the paper – do the marks go out of it, are they contained within it, avoid unwanted marks produced by tape or clips, use tape to constrain edge for mall sketches and remove, possibly then work out from the sketch, etc.
  • make marks in response to ideas not things (‘paintish’ again)
  • use stick, leaves, grass etc as collage tools to think around the design
  • draw something by drawing the space around it
  • if you have made regular marks , think how to make them irregular
  • consider the direction of marks, where are they going and why, maybe change direction
  • consider weight of line
  • consider black on black, grey on grey…
  • consider large shapes to lead the eye around
  • consider pushing space into shapes
  • find positive and negative spaces
  • push things back, pull things forward with tone, weight of mark
  • if you are struggling and getting dissatisfied, leve that drawing and start another, come back to it later
  • no ‘windscreen wiper’ marks
  • combine different viewpoints and scales
  • take previous days sketch and use as underpainting for today’s
  • borrow shapes from one drawing for the next
  • ‘white is your friend’

Professional Practice and Study

  • “always work outside your comfort zone”, David Bowie
  • develop a body of work  through sketching, studies, final pieces
  • studies are different to sketches. Making many sketches prepares you for studies and studies should so thoroughly acquaint you with the subject that you have enough material to take back to the studio to use to produce a painting
  • draw from a drawing without copying it, develop the idea
  • don’t preconceive what the outcome will be, allow yourself to be surprised by final result
  • decide what you want to achieve out of your studies (or in my case, my parallel project), what you want your studies to give you

Emily brought along a drawing which she has done of a relative’s garden and the painting which she  is in the process of developing from it.

trees (7 of 14)

Emily Ball, apologies for bluish reflections on gals

Emily Ball, work in progress, oils, 6' by 4' approx

Emily Ball, work in progress, oils, 6′ by 4′ approx

You can see the history of the drawing in the painting, but the painting isn’t ‘of’ the drawing.

I have noted some of the exercises which I want to use again as preparation for work.

Exercise:

Draw on A1 paper on the wall with charcoal on stick, rag bundle on end of stick with paint or ink, make marks with closed eyes

Draw on A4 sheet with eyes closed listening to the different drawing materials, feel the physicality of your muscles making the mark.

Draw on A4 sheet listening with eyes closed, listening and responding to the sounds around you.

Exercise:

We took a stick, a  leaf and a bean pod and arranged them on an A4 sheet with the only constraint being that they should all touch in some way. We then made six drawings very quickly using a different media for each with just a few strokes, paying particular attention to how the objects touched each other and to the space between the objects. We then arranged these in order of most to least favourite and analysed our choice. We the took the least favourite and redrew our three objects on top, editing the original marks in response to the new ones.

trees (6 of 14)trees (9 of 14)

I extended this to large scale works outside, working on three A1 pieces in rotation adding just a few marks at a time.

Here is a selection of the many pieces I produced during the workshop:

trees and bods (8 of 26) trees and bods (9 of 26) trees and bods (12 of 26) trees and bods (11 of 26)trees and bods (4 of 26)trees and bods (10 of 26)trees and bods (15 of 26)  trees and bods (1 of 26)  trees and bods (3 of 26)

Emily got me to turn this drawing by 90 degrees and use it as a starting point for the next, but I ended up very, very dark.

trees (10 of 14)trees and bods (5 of 26)

Towards the end of the workshop, Emily challenged me to work with space, and to realise my subject in terms of its space by using a few marks and large shapes. These two works turned out to be my favourites.

trees and bods (6 of 26) trees and bods (2 of 26)

At the end of the course, we all set up a selection of out work on the studio walls and talked briefly about what we had got from the course, how we had progressed and what we could take away for our future practice. Emily had considered all of our work and progress carefully and offered each of us advice on future directions. She asked me to keep working on using a few, big marks and getting large shapes and space into my work.

My favourite pieces by other artists, with their kind permission.

Liz ?surname?

Liz Shard

Artists who we looked at during the course:

  • Jim Dine
  • John Virtue
  • Per Kirkeby
  • John Skinner
  • Hughie O’Donoghue
  • Modrian

In the context of trees, consider also:

  • Kurt Jackson
  • David Hockney

This was a wonderful course, full of practical tools and insight into the creative process. I have written up as much detail as I can remember because I know I will return to this again and again.

Ideas to take forward:

  • few, significant marks – consider working on translucent Japanese paper and layer the marks, using both sides of the paper and layering up the sheets – artist’s book?
  • drawing space and air
  • consider doing layers of drawings, tearing through to the drawings beneath – mark selection
  • take this into monoprinting
  • consider my garden as a subject for my parallel project
  • think about format in relation to subject
  • apply these mark making ideas to life drawing
  • experiment making expressive marks with etching/relief ink for printmaking, in addition to negative marks, removing ink
  • experiment with carborundum and pva for mark making for printing, expressive line and mass tone
  • maintain excitement, get stuck in, graft.

1.3 Changing the Scale

The aims of this project are to ‘explode notions of scale’ and ‘experiment with extreme changes of scale’ to achieve a powerful drawing which suggests a monumental landscape or architecture.

This made the consider how to create the impression of monumentality. How do we know the size and scale of an object in an image? I need to consider:

  • context, ie size relative to reference objects
  • level and scale of detail
  • focus, depth of field
  • perspective, size implied by converging lines
  • solidity, implied mass
  • viewpoint

To work my way into the project, as suggested, I draw a small portion of a still life painting. I chose to work from a physical painting , rather than a photograph because photos have to be of very high quality to retain any information when blown up. I chose an area of a small watercolour still life of dried bean pods by a Russian artist Sergei Botnaryuk, which I own and so could observe as closely as I wished.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My drawing represents an area about 1cm by 1.5cm.

close up (9 of 12)

Analysing this in the context of the aims, I did not feel that I had achieved any sense of the monumental, partly because this is a quick sketch but also because I feel that to express monumentality requires a gathering together of mass and here the mass is dispersed. The stalks have an inherent twigginess and don’t look like massive tree trunks. Also, the view point in from face-on and size would be better implied by looking from beneath. To be monumental is to tower over.

Bearing this in mind, I considered objects for drawing. Had the season been different, I would have loved to have drawn seed pods. I do collect shells, flints, sea tumbled stones and bones for drawing. I gathered together a selection of shells and stones and placed them on a high shelf using a low stool to sketch from. I love sketching these objects which remind me of the places and outings when they were picked up.  I experimented drawing groups or single items, more or less detail, but always cropping in hard.

close up (10 of 12)

Through this I was reminded of the works of Henry Moore (also a bone and stone collector). In this drawing from the Tate, he has drawn stones or rocks as ideas for sculpture. We really don’t know their size but I suspect they were quite small because I have collected similar stones from Dorset beaches where molluscs bore into the stone leaving those distinctive holes about 15mm across. In the upper drawings he has given the figurers and a stone monumental size by placing them in an imagined landscape. In all the studies, he has created mass by emphasising the solidity of the form through shading and its relationship with the ground. He has also dispensed with detail and texture. In this figure, he has again created mass through strong shadows and by placing the figure in the landscape. We know this figure is huge relative to the hills and clouds. In this drawing of Stonehenge, he has used perspective to show how huge these stones are.

In my small sketches, I found it more difficult to create monumentality with the shells, mostly, I think, because one knows how big shells are. I think to achieve the project aim, I need to zoom right into a shell and explore its structure and eliminating the overall outline. This put me in mind of O’Keefe’s studies of the structures of flowers where she eliminates context and focuses in on the ‘landscape’ of the flower’s interior.

o'keeffe still

Video still from ‘About Georgia O’Keeffe’, O’Keeffe Museum, ‘Music – Pink and Blue II’, 1918

This watercolour is featured in a very interesting  video by the O’Keeffe Museum discussing her life and works. The subject of the painting is lost in the close examination of the form. Her soft colouring and delicate tonal transitions imply the subject, possibly a shell, possibly a flower, but it is still endowed with a sense of geological landscape. If I were to use a shell as my subject, I think I have to crop in really hard. I hadn’t, up to this point, considered flowers, but these are now added to my list of possible subjects, especially if they have a sculptural, solid pistil.

I continued exploring subjects but increasingly I found myself producing small studies rather than thumbnail sketches. I also moved into colour, initially for tone and to separate objects visually, but also as a self indulgence. During this week, I joined the study visit to see Hilma af Klint’s works at the Serpentine and came away determined to return to some watercolour painting after a break of five years (in fact since I started studying with OCA). I went back to thumbnails, finding the need to crop in and enlarge even more.

close up (11 of 12)

The first large scale drawing executed for this project is a tulip, chosen for its sculptural pistil. I have used an XL coloured graphite stick. I decided that I wanted to stick to a single colour and these sticks can be used very effectively on their edge for strong curvy lines of differing weight. Texture can also be developed with water, which was useful for the anthers. I have worked with soft and hard marks, removing graphite with a rubber and using a wet brush to harden and soften lines and planes. I have tried to make the pistil really big (redrawing it bigger several times) whilst including enough petal to give it context but also to give it something to dominate. I think that I should have made it even larger in the composition, but I have successfully created monumentality, although my handling of subtle tone is weak.

This is one of the first drawings where I have had to wear reading specs, taking them on and off as I drew. I have extreme sympathy with O’Keeffe and her failing eyesight towards the end of her life. Working on a subject so small and close is seriously wearing on the eyes.

close up (8 of 12)

Coloured charcoal, 50cm x 50cm

I have decided to do a series of drawings, all the same size, exploring different objects at this extreme scale. I want to use different approaches for each dictated by the subject.

For the weathered, broken shell with its soft curves and little surface detail, I decided to use powdered charcoal rubbed over my support and removed with a cloth or putty rubber. The cloth was just the one I had wiped my hands on after spreading the charcoal and a bit of it was damp. No realising, I used the damp area to remove charcoal and it made lovely fluid marks very appropriate to the subject. Unfortunately, I subsequently found that I could not work into the areas further, so in places, my ability to manipulate the tone was completely compromised.

The area at the top of the shell is dreadful – I couldn’t manipulate the charcoal and I have been reduced to using white acrylic ink to regain highlights. I find this crude and would much preferred not to have had to use it.

Charcoal, acrylic ink, 50cm x 50cm

Charcoal, acrylic ink, 50cm x 50cm

Unlike the tulip, the shape of the shell means that I have had to consider what to do with the background. If I had cropped in enough to eliminate any background, I thought I would lose much of the interest in the object. I have placed the shell within a suggested landscape to create a false sense of scale. The shell feels enormous and sculptural, like some huge totem on a seashore. However, whilst the addition of water has created some interesting marks, I really don’t like the acrylic ink used to regain highlights. Working back into charcoal has produced some lovely velvety marks like a mezzotint print. The drawing reminds me of this sculpture by Henry Moore.

The smooth nature of this broken shell would lend itself well to a monoprint where the texture and shapes are drawn into a dark field using various implements. I rolled a flat plastic plate with black ink and worked into it with kitchen paper, cotton bods and a bamboo pen. Not mark can be removed (though it can to some extend be reworked) and it can be difficult to see your progress. I wnated to crop in even closer. My accuracy of drawing has gone way off here; it is difficult to make initial, decisive marks accurately so I must practice more. Fear and hesitation is fatal.

drawing prints (5 of 5)

Dark field monoprint, approximately A4

This method of monoprinting is capable of producing very subtle marks and contrast in tone. Although the spiral asymmetry of the shell has been fatally exaggerated, I do think that this approach, both in the medium and the composition, creates a sense of monumentality successfully.

Returning to the inspiration of O’Keeffe, I found a large, fat bud of rheum emerging by the pond, like a monstrous triffid. It is only about 4 inches high but about to become a sky-rocket. I want to try and extend my experience of working in colour, so I have attempted a pastel painting/drawing (never sure which is correct). I prepared my paper by painting with gesso to provide tooth and making a free underpainting of washes before developing the shapes in hard and then soft pastel. This was done partly from a photograph taken at ant level and partly from observation.

bud (1 of 1)

Pastel over wash, 50cm x 50cm

I don’t think that this is a very successful composition. I was so concentrating on scale and solidity that I did not consider carefully enough the balance of the darker shapes. The composition is very heavy towards the left, which was observationally true, but could have been portrayed better. I think the wash is successful as a background. I am mindful of the lessons of the previous project about considering the background and how to make it interesting.  I was concerned that it would be too assertive but I think it adds a lot to the drawing and successfully gives the feeling of the dappled sun through the overhead trees.

I wanted to do some quick pieces to explore if monoprinting could be successfully used with other drawing media. I damped some Japanese paper by enfolding it in a damped newpaper. This is very thin, delicate paper which is extremely sensitive to marks on a plate and can be hand printed using a baren. I drew using  artbars (a kind of soluble wax crayon) onto a slightly textured plastic sheet which was necessary to take and material off the stick. It was impossible to make marks of any subtlety and difficult to layer the colours or make them stick.

drawing prints (3 of 5)

Derwent artbar applied dry to textured plate.

Marks need to be very simple and direct. Less is better than more. Little bits of crayon have scattered over the plate but this can add interest. I need to explore if it is possible to wipe away again and refine a line or tone. Because of the difficulty applying the wax, I lightly sprayed a plate with water and then applied the artbar. Now the colour turns to a creamy liqud. This can be laid down easier but the colour is as easily wiped away by the crayon as applied. Mark making is more difficult. Colour selection is also hard because the colours become much more vivid in action with water.

drawing prints (4 of 5)

Derwent artbar applied to damp textured plate.

The experiment was repeated using Derwent water soluble XL charcoals. These are really chunky sticks which are very soft and very ‘broad brush’. This was extremely difficult to create any detail with but has created a lovely texture and the charcoal is imbedded in the paper completely fixed by the water. This might lend itself well to creating a subtle background or Chinese style simple representations. I must try this with ordinary charcoal.

drawing prints (1 of 5)

XL charcoal

My final experiment was drawing on a smooth plate using felt tip pens in a range of tones of grey and a water soluble Japanese brush pen for more calligraphic marks.

drawing prints (2 of 5)

Felt tip pen and ink monoprint

The damp soft paper has picked up the ink well but the brush pen ink has bled loosing the crispness and accuracy of the line. The felt tips are surprisingly subtle. The following images show details of the contrasting textures of each medium.

drawing prints details (1 of 5) drawing prints details (2 of 5) drawing prints details (3 of 5) drawing prints details (4 of 5)

Each of these mediums have their own characteristic when monoprinted and this is often quite different to when they are applied directly to paper. In addition, printing creates a level of abstraction by being an extra remove from the original mark. This exercise shows that these marks have to describe the subject with great simplicity and accuracy to be successful. Whilst this was a bit of an indulgence in technique, I think it has created useful data for the future.

Analysis

My final large scale. drawings are not as heavily cropped-in as my thumbnail sketches and I have slipped back out to a more conventional view. If I was mounting or framing these, I would crop the drawings. I think the drawing of the tulip centre is the most successful in terms of manipulating the scale but the charcoal drawing of the shell has more power due to the tonal qualities of the black charcoal. All three of the large drawings have an impact through size of support and scale of subject which is not evident in a small photograph on the screen.

This project has, yet again, been a revelation. I have always loved looking at objects closely via macro photography and using my microscope. However, this project has given this a new focus by concentrating on how the composition can alter or confuse the viewer’s perception of what is being observed. This is subject matter which I have always considered and drawn but this has given me a new compositional tool.

 

1.2 Using Space

The aim for this project is to experiment ‘with colour, composition and detail’ to create a composition which considers the space around the subject, using the whole support. The background should be as carefully considered as the subject. The project begins by looking at the still life works of Elizabeth Blackadder. There is a video interview in her studio and another at the Glasgow Print Studio, both giving insights into her working process.

The video in her studio discusses her collecting instinct, love of decorative objects and the influence of Japan on her work. Surveying her still life works available via the internet, Bridgeman Library etc, they contrast with her botanical drawings and paintings. In the latter, she follows in the traditions of botanical drawing with close attention to detail. The examples of her works highlighted for her retrospective at the Scottish Galleries a couple of years ago, demonstrates the contrast. The plants are displayed on a plain white background with the specimens laid out, with suitable spacing to display their structure. It is a forensic examination. The still life paintings are much more free in their representation of the objects but still have that separation of the objects. However, the space around them is now richly populated with colour applied in layers. To some extent, I think that is is a result of the use of different mediums. The botanical drawings are largely watercolour whilst the the still lifes are oil paintings. Oil paint (I understand,  I have never used it) lends itself to controlled glazes of colour whereas watercolour does not.

spoons (6 of 10)

Thinking about how she presents her decorative items in the oil paintings, several things stand out. She flattens the objects, generally (but not always) ignoring shadow across an item which would describe form, and also ignores cast shadows, so that the items are not grounded but appear to float in space. Often she seems to develop the background around her painted objects by glazing up with successive darker layers but leaving a small margin around her objects. This gives them a slight, light halo which makes them appear to glow. Why does she choose to show us her collection in this way? Does it just follow on from that forensic study? Artists composing a still life will usually group objects so that they overlap to create a larger, more interesting and complex shape, or place them close together to create an interesting negative shape between them, so that the objects have a conversation or interaction. Blackadder’s subjects are seemly scattered randomly across a rich, complex surface (of course, it is not at all random). I think that she is like a jeweller displaying gems against a velvet cloth. To pile them up would be for one to distract from another. Her velvety backgrounds exhibit the gems laid upon them beautifully and whilst we don’t have every detail described (which again would distract) we are given the joy of decorative design, colour and light. She is showing us what she loves about these objects.

Armed with these ideas, I made the suggested set up of coloured fabric with colourful items set against it. I was quick to discard a number of the objects, editing the items down to contrasts in shape, texture and scale. Since I do not have a background in painting, thumbnail sketches in colour are a challenge.

spoons (5 of 10)

I tried out a number of colour mediums in my sketchbook thumbnails; felt tips, watercolour/Inktense and coloured pencil. Working with colour at that scale is pretty crude but the Inktense washes were the most successful at building up background depth. Inktense has the advantage over watercolour that, once dry, the pigment is permanent, and therefore there is a better possibility of layering up. To further explore composition, I worked just in pencil and also used photography to cut out shapes and move them around on a background.

spoons (7 of 10)

The concept of layering up to create depth and richness is very familiar to me as a printmaker and I decided that one approach to this project would be to monoprint my composition in successive layers of transparent ink. The technique chosen was to draw outlines of my composition on to white paper, place a piece of clear plastic sheet over the design and copy it on to the plastic with a permanent pen. This gives a reversed image on the back of the plastic (I write an R backwards in the image so that I can see clearly which is the right side when working). I photocopied the composition several times and marked up each copy with a colour in felt tip as a guide for each layer. The basic colours were yellow, red and blue, but, to produce a rich background, I proposed to use at least two different blues, French Blue and cyan with Viridian (blue green) and possibly Paynes Grey (blue black). Working in printing ink is more restrictive than watercolour as I only have about 8 colours to work with and must mix anything else. Working with transparent ink, the layers should give additional colours through optical mixing. In order to pick up thin, transparent layers, I used pre-damped paper which had been interleaved inside damp newspaper overnight.

spoons (1 of 10)

Plastic plate with simple guide drawing

spoons (2 of 10)

Photocopy of plate with inking plan for Viridian layer

The monoprint was produced by rolling my plastic plate with a colour of ink and drawing into this with a various implements; cotton buds, brush, bamboo pen and kitchen paper. The layers were applied working light to dark, allowing each layer a day to dry before re-damping for the next layer, a laborious process but to me a very exciting one. It is rather like working in a darkroom, gradually seeing an image emerge. By the nature of working negatively to remove sticky ink, objects are more suggested than described in detail, and I think this fits very well with the objectives of the project. I started out with five pieces of paper (knowing I would make printing errors such as printing one layer upside down), several light cartridge paper, some very light Japanese paper.

The layers were beige, yellow, red, viridian, french blue, paynes grey. The cyan layer was abandoned because my cyan is a Caligo water-washable ink (though oil based) and it lost all definition on damp paper. The other colours are Hawthorne inks and much more robust on damp paper.

spoons (3 of 10)

Intermediate print with several layers to go

Since the monoprinting was drawn out over days, I worked on another piece in parallel I experimented first on w/c paper using inktense washes, drawn into with pastel and felt tips.

blackadder (2 of 3) (2)

I felt that a watercolour underpainting with pastel drawn on top would create a rich background, but the pastel over the watercolour was opaque and heavy. However, I persevered, on the basis that I needed to reacquaint myself with these media.

The result is pretty dreadful in many ways. The composition is contrived; all the objects are dead vertical. This arises from my inclusion of the shelf on which the tins and spatula are sitting, as a linear element. The colours have ended up heavy and muddy. I have tried not to over describe the items but they have just ended up crude. The soft pastel sits on the watercolour paper NOT texture in lumps.

very final spoons (1 of 2)

By contrast, I think the final monoprint was a success. Out of five prints started, two made it through to the final layers.

final spoons (1 of 2)

31cm x 24cm

blackadder (1 of 3) (2)

The upper print is on delicate Japanese paper and some layers are ghosts of the heavier print. On the print on heavier paper, I added a little hand colouring for some of the linear marks I had not been able to make in ink, such as the flower stalks on the spatulas.

This composition is more successful with the T-shirt moving out of the frame. Here the implements are the major subjects and their hard curves contrast with the tin and with the soft folds of the fabric and the fluffy ball of wool. The dark background has made the other colours sing and given the objects a luminosity. The tin is too parallel to the edge of the support and would have been better at a slight angle. The objects are naive but I don’t find them crude, unlike the pastel version. I think I have managed to carry the interest right to the edge of the support in the textures, colours and variety of the background.

Considering the different approaches of Matisse and Blackadder, they both demonstrate a joy in celebrating decoration but whereas Blackadder is restrained and almost meditative in her approach to the context in which she places objects, Matisse glories in the complexities of decoration in his subjects and also in the environment in which he has placed them. The decorative qualities of the background are as important, almost more so, as the still life subjects.

This example, ‘Spanish Still Life’ (c1910) shows some fruit, jugs and a pot plant on a table. The fruits are almost lost in the riot of design of the table cloth and the upholstery fabrics have been given just as strong a treatment. Like Blackadder, he has flattened the forms and played with the perspective. However, his approach to drawing the decoration is more muscular and his use of colour less restrained. His shapes are more generous, more sinuously curvy. The whole composition writhes with life. In contrast, Blackadder’s still lifes are almost a zen-like contemplation. She pushes her objects away and creates distance; Matisse thrusts his subject towards us.

Wanting to make a drawing in Matisse’s style, I perched a small garden ornament on the arm of a curved armed seat and placed it against some patterned curtains. I tried to draw very quickly with continuous, strong curves. This is in my sketchbook, hence the notes.

blackadder (3 of 3) (2)

I have tried to make the shape of the chair generous and flowing across the whole composition. The bird has been pushed right to the side and only stands out due to the tones. The curtain and tassel have become an important part of the composition rather than just a background, but, if I was to develop this as a ‘finished’ piece, I would crop off the top of the drawing , focused in on the chair. Normally, I would have understated the pattern on the fabric to push the curtain back in the composition but here I have pulled it forward and, if I had used colour rather than just line, it would move forward even more.

Analysis

This has been a fascinating exercise looking at space and the description of background in a composition and I feel I have taken on some really useful ideas. In spite of the difficulties I experienced getting to grips with colour media, I feel that Elizabeth Blackadder’s treatment of still life will resonate into my own practice as a printmaker. Matisse, however, speaks to me of a fluid, less controlled approach to drawing and line. When I was trying to think like Matisse, I felt a freedom and lack of fear which allowed me to produce strong, simple continuous lines, especially in the chair.