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.
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.
I want to create an installation in a public place. Ideally, I want to make it large, or at least occupy a large space significantly. It must be temporary and leave no trace. It must be non-littering, not interfere with ordinary site use and not require permission. This last is not because I am not prepared to apply for permission, submit plans, risk assessments etc, it is a practical consideration based on timescales.
Ideally, I would like to create a piece of graffiti driven by the sketchbook and screenprinting work that was generated by the ‘found drawings’ project. I have considered drawing with an instantly removable medium such as clay or chalk but even these might need a power-washer in the current dry weather. I could draw using a natural substance, leaves say (but its spring) or grass. I could walk on dewy grass to leave a drawing, but this might be very difficult to photograph (referencing Richard Long). I had lots of ideas but none that I felt would be practical to execute in a public space.
Adjacent to the amenity area I used in the last project, is a bus shelter and I thought that it would make an interesting project to bring the bus shelter and its users closer to the wilder environment. I can’t fill the space with sticks etc but could I draw a landscape the same size as an advertising panel, tape it to the glass, and then extend it in some way into the space to draw in the people? Can I make a bus shelter more interesting?
Just at the moment, the apple blossom is lovely, and the pavements and grass are covered in a confetti of petals. It is a beautiful, ephemeral moment in the seasons. I thought that it would be fun to share this with folk using the bus stop and using petals to extend a drawing into the environment. I don’t think petals can be construed as litter, although a drawing on paper might be. It would have to go up one night and be removed the next, without trace.
Initial preparation involved collecting apple blossom from under a tree (each petal collected by hand from the ground!) and storing it in the fridge for later use once I had a drawing. The other step was to measure and photograph the bus stop so that a drawing the right size and scale could be made and its position planned.
I drew over the images to assess scale.
It is tempting to use the advertising frame and stick a drawing over the existing poster, but I think TFL might be justifiably irritated. This size looks a bit insignificant. There is also the problem of how I might stick petals to the glass as if cascading out of the drawing.
I think the larger drawing would work better but there would be a problem that it could no longer be flat but would have to travel over the raised, grey bar in the glass. It would also be harder to fix. I would have to use paper roll which has a memory of curling, so plenty of double sided tape would be needed which might come off the paper rather more easily than the glass. I am keen not to make a mess.
Maybe the tree should be a bonsai?
I quite like the idea of the drawing being discrete, having to be noticed by the observant, rather like Slinkashu’s ‘little people’ installations, but I am not sure that it serves the purpose of creating a dialogue.
It occurs to me that this whole idea is less about a dialogue between the drawing and the place, as trying to provoke a dialogue between this deeply urban structure and its environment.
I have decided to commit to drawing a large tree which will occupy all the space the left back of the buss stop. I did consider taking it right around the corner but this would have obscured the view of busses arriving for anyone occupying the seat. The panel is 7 feet high, 4 feet wide.
I found a local small crab apple tree with interesting body language and sketched it.
I then considered where it should be placed in the frame, how it should be depicted and on what sort of background. A charcoal drawing was out because of peoples clothes and because the surface needs to be robust. The pale backgrounds in my ipad sketches are too much like an ordinary poster so I experimented with dark backgrounds against which apple blossom should show up. A naturalistic background was rejected because I do want an element of startling the observer with something out of place.
A lot of this project was revolving around practicalities. To produce a drawing of this size, I need giant paper. Two 7 foot long sheets of heavy duty lining paper were joined to create a sheet 7′ by 4′. Whilst the glue was drying and the paper flattening under weights, I considered how to create a dark background on that scale and decided that the most dramatic and practical way would be to use drawing ink. Various experiments were done to test how the ink took on the paper to create a large scale wash. I used water washable ink which is cheap in volume and which can be manipulated with water to good effect.
Testing things at a small scale was only so useful when it came to work on the actual paper.
The basic design was painted with various densities of ink.
Just using water and ink was quite effective at creating bark and blossom but I did want to include a blush of pink to link the drawing of the tree with the real petals, so tinted gesso was added.
I wanted to get the feeling of curdled masses of petals ready to drift down. Water was dripped into the ink and wiped off to create an impression of petals in the air, although the drips were rather more linear than I wanted.
Double sided tape was generously attached to the back and the drawing installed. Once in situ, real petals were glued on using Prit but, unfortunately, having been collected of the floor and stored in the fridge in plastic, they were damp and wouldn’t stick reliably. The remaining petals were distributed over the seat and pavement.
In order to photograph the bus stop, I had to cross the road to the opposite bus stop at which people were waiting (why I chose the other). They were intrigued and grinning broadly. They said they particularly liked the petals.
This project has brought together the small interventions I made in the landscape with natural material with trying to grab someone’s attention and involve them in their environment. In this case, that isn’t just this piece of urban street furniture but the wider environment around it and also the moment in time.
To capture the eye of the people using the place, I have introduced the unexpected with a shower of petals, seemingly falling from a tree within the space. For the idea to be fully realised, I could have done with a much greater volume of petals and with being able to add more real petals to the drawing.
The scale of the drawing it appropriate for the idea but could perhaps have been even wider to completely fill the glass on the left, and perhaps have reached right down to the ground. The drawing itself is a bit crude with the delicacy of the trunk and branches lost in the process of scaling up. The size meant working flat which made it difficult to stand back and assess the drawing.
The drawing was installed in the morning and taken down in the evening. I do not know how many people saw it, but I hope that it altered the mundane experience of a bus shelter. Perhaps, every spring, all bus shelters should be dressed in petals, like well dressings.
I try and give a lot of thought to what media I take to life drawing and how I might use it. I love charcoal and completely see why it is most peoples ‘go to’ medium for life drawing but I find that I get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing all the time without making progress, if I don’t challenge myself with different media and specific objectives; trying to work differently.
For life drawing last week, I decided to use only graphite but combining different sorts; pencil, graphite stick, soft graphite block, liquid graphite with, of course, eraser. I practised marks on scrap paper before I left home so that I new what to reach for in the initial quick poses. When I arrived at the studio, I found that I had left all my media at home. All I had in the bottom of my art bag was a single pen and a water brush. Folk offered me other media to try. This is an initial quick sketch made with home made vine charcoal. I found this very hard and scratchy compared with willow.
I reverted to my one pen, a Kuretake, water soluble pen, used with the water brush for a bit of tone.
I had lost my initial spontaneous line with the pen and was getting bogged down in complexity. For the longer poses, I added charcoal to the pen for mass and tone.
Our model was Jennifer, an ample lady of great grace. I find it quite difficult to get her proportions right as her feet and hands are so small and delicate, but not as small as I have drawn them here.
Drawing large with just a pen was an interesting challenge. I think the initial pen drawings are the most successful, but inevitably they are all about outline. I don’t think that the addition of charcoal is successful, but it was poor, scratchy stuff.
For the last six months, I have had problems with the thumb on my dominant hand. At first, this was diagnosed as tendonitis, then inflamation of the tendon sheaf, and now an x-ray has confirmed arthritis. I hoped that it would resolve but I now know that I have to work around it. Drawing with a pen is particularly difficult and, looking at these drawings, it’s clear that my fine motor control has gone. It’s wobbly lines all the way from now on.
Objectives for next session:
- take the graphite and use it!
- try to remember to select details
- try not to work with outline
- remember ‘lost and found’.