Book reading

Contemporary Drawing – Key concepts and techniques by Margaret Davidson

During my business trip last week I found time to read the entire book on Contemporary Drawing by Margaret Davidson. The book was was readable and easy to follow and extremely inspiring.  The book was published in 2011 so is reasonably up to date.

As a lead in to Part 3, Project 3 Developing your studies, it was perfect and an excuse to reflect on my work so far and considerations that I would be wise to reflect upon during the final phases of Part 3 Expanse, and beyond.

I have tried not to copy out large chunks of the book and place them here, as I believe it will be more useful for me to provide myself with a kind of checklist/action plan to follow.

The book is broken up into interesting sections that I will use as the guide for my checklist:

SURFACE  Investigate surface textures and in particular the relationship between mark/tone and surface texture, and incorporate this experience into choice of paper/support /medium/s for my drawings.

The relationship between surface and mark is fundamental to contemporary drawing, and every kind of drawing artist today makes this decision deliberately

Options available are smooth paper, slightly textured paper, intensely textured paper, toned paper, transluscent paper, graph paper, book paper, phonebook, textbook, glass, wood and leaves, cloth among others!

Note to me: Smooth papers are quiet and textured papers are more assertive and chaotic.

MARK  It is important for me to appreciate that there are three ways to use marks:

  • The mark as a means to the end (the mark is secondary to the subject)
  • It can be the end itself (the mark/s is the subject), or
  • Both these things at the same time

Note to me: In contemporary drawing, all drawing is abstract.

Techniques available to me include: Line (outline, contour line etc), tone, other marks such as stippling, dots splashes etc etc, .

Note to me: Explore even more and regularly all types of mark making and tone including mixing line and tone!

Other techniques: Artist induced mark, nature induced mark, gravity, propulsion, surface tension, fire, culture induced mark (text based marks, machine generated marks, self governed but unforeseeable mark….)

Note to me: Additional considerations in relation to my mark making include:

  • Relation to surface (what response de I have to the surface when making the mark and what do I wish to express to the viewer)
  • Relation to space (around every mark there will be space – use this to advantage/effect)
  • Relation to composition
  • Relation to scale (Scale can change the entire nature of mark making – small and conscious to large and physical)

In contemporary drawing, intentionality has to do with personalizing the image, and arriving at a personal truth……contemporary drawing artists continue to work at finding new ways of arriving at it.

SPACE  A drawing is, most basically, some sort of surface that includes areas of marks and, usually but not always, areas of no marks. There are four main types of space:

  • Depicting illusion of 3 dimensional space
  • Promoting the truth of the flatness of the picture plane
  • A combination of the above
  • Making actual 3 dimensional drawings

Note to me: To depict the illusion of 3 dimensional space I need to explore the following: Overlap, size difference, value or contrast change, reflection.

Agnes Martin’s work is an example of an artist that fully explored and used the flatness of the surface in her drawings/paintings.

To focus on the mark and its relationship to the surface and to the space is something akin to meditation and focusing on one’s own breathing.

In Part 3 of the course I want to explore the combination of the flatness of the surface with 3 dimensional space using a translucent material – working on both sides and using collage if necessary – borrowing ideas/style from Julie Mehretu.

Contemporary drawing artists especially know that space in drawing is a touchable substance, one that must be worked with consciously, and deliberately moulded.

Note to me: Research Russell Crotty’s actual 3 dimensional drawings and try out some personal work in an actual 3 dimensional space.

COMPOSITION 

Balance creates a unity within the structure, and makes possible a relationship between the drawing and the viewer.

Note to me: Universal fundamentals of composition are a connection with the format and the significant use of eye level. Look for opportunities to use these fundamentals to best effect in my work.

Note to me: Eye level is an intriguing subject and needs to be carefully considered. Consider the ‘Why’ when choosing a particular eye level. Examples include:

  • Straight on position
  • Lower position
  • Higher position

Other considerations in composition include:

  • Balance – Symmetrical and asymmetrical, balance of cubical space where one uses the x,y and z axis
  • Eye pathways – Faces, vectors, high contrast points, power centres, focal points
  • The golden section/the golden rectangle
  • Overallness – overall evenness of mark making or tone…arriving at unity and balance
  • The grid

Agnes Martin writes about her grids:

My formats are square, but the grids never are absolutely square; they are rectangles, a little bit off the square, making a sort of contradiction, a dissonance, though I didn’t set out to do it that way. When I cover the square surface with rectangles, lightens the weight of the square, destroys its power.

SCALE Predominantly there are three sizes of drawing – large scale (big papers, rolls, canvases, large panels, walls, sidewalks etc), normal size (some thing that can be held in two hands and looked at easily) or small scale.

In big drawings I need to consider if that means working on a large roll, sheet or panel, or a series of panels/sheets. Other considerations for big drawings:

Relationship to me as the artist: Composition and spacial implications, in a series of tiled pieces – the space in between/joining is important, mark making and body movements, work alone or collaboratively.

Relationship to the mark: The size of the mark in relation to the whole drawing is a critically important decision. There is potential for a greater range of mark size than in  a smaller drawing, or the mark can be kept at a normal size but add more marks/layers of marks – this can create more depth.

Note to me: Large marks are taken in quickly, while smaller marks take more time to see.

Relationship to the viewer: Big drawings are imposing, and require the viewer to step back from them, but also look up close to view the details, they require ample space for viewing.

Small drawings for mean working close and tight, microscopically – something for that would be uncomfortable, unnatural even. Having said that I wish to experiment with small drawings exactly because they will be out of my comfort zone!

Contemporary drawing that is small also has that sense of preciousness, a quality that some artists like to work with, and some like to work against.

Relationship to the artist: These drawings require a tolerance for sitting and a patience for working closely with small movements/marks – sometimes magnification.

Relationship to the mark: There is restriction/limitation to the size of marks available.

Relationship to the viewer: The size means that only one person can view at a time, there is an intimacy (a connection with the intimacy of the artist), the work is usually framed in a much larger size frame inviting the viewer in and increasing the sense of preciousness.

INTENTIONALITY Every drawing artist MUST decide on what surface to use, with what materials, at what scale, involving what compositional structure, indicating what kind of space, and exhibiting what kind of marks – in other words intentionally making decisions to achieve the final drawing.

Checklist for making and looking at contemporary drawings:

  • Have I or the artist shown the relationship between the negative spaces and the forms?
  • Have I or the artist shown a relationship between the surface and the mark?
  • Is it clear why I or the artist has chosen certain materials and a particular surface?
  • Does the scale tell me or the viewer anything?
  • Have I or the artist been clear in how space is depicted?
  • What is the eye level?
  • What is the message, and is the message clear?
  • What helps, or hurts, the clarity of the message?

 

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Part 3 Expanse

Project 2 Landscape

Exercise 1 Cloud formations and tone

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Early morning clouds, Santiago CHILE

After watching the videos and studying the work of Vija Celmins, I was intrigued by the way with certain of her works they were executed over a long period of time. The piece of work would evolve and grow over time, and the artist’s mind and thought process might also change over the same period. A process similar to oil painting which also evolves over a relatively long period of time – waiting for paint to dry etc. Whilst the paintings appear still they have a sense of depth and also one of infinity – time that does not stop. Stars appear and disappear, they grow brighter/duller, they move very fast but appear slow – there is so much to capture in just a simple (or seemingly so) subject matter. The universe is constantly moving like her waves another subject with a surface that defies capture, defies taming and suprises nature itself with its power that has a range from tranquillity to a force so destructive it can change our maps forever.

Clouds are constantly moving, forming, dissolving into space – they have a smell and form a damp humid atmostphere – for instance walking or driving on a mountain road in cloud you can experience the sense of capturing or living in the cloud.

This exercise was both frustrating and in a way thrilling – a chance to experiment and to really see if one understands the use of tone or line to represent a three dimensional object even as fleeting as a cloud!

Small sketchbook studies using line…

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Cloud mark-making using a twig with indian ink/water…

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Experimenting with mixed media/brush using tone…

These studies using a brush were quick but frustratingly unsuccessful.

Thinking about a bigger study and using John Virtue’s London paintings as a guide, I made a cloud study experimenting with a different support…gessoed brown wrapping paper which I had to stretch as it got wetter. This paper is extremely delicate when wet! I then made the cloud study using compressed charcoal:

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Evening cloud study. Compressed charcoal on gessoed brown paper (100 x 80 cm)

In this drawing I have captured movement, perspective and form whilst achieving a full tonal range (although this was a little dampened by the application of fixative after taking this photo).

The support is fragile and brittle – and I am now frightened of removing it from the board – it cannot be rolled up and will have to be mounted on card.

Exercise 2 Sketchbook Walk

This for me was a actually a bike ride not a walk. I used a small sketchbook and a fineline biro.

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This Polo Club is source of inspiration for me and I look forward to seeing/sketching the horses/riders in action soon. I sketched reasonably quickly trying to incorporate as much detail as possible but trying to create an atmosphere as well – the club house is a restaurant and is actually dwarfed by the mountains and polo fields – although this is not captured in my sketch.

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The horse paddocks with mountains in the background has great potential with horses in the foreground, stable blocks and trees in the middleground with mountains and clouds in the background.

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I was actually going to make a completely different sketch at this spot but liked the dead tree trunk to use as a frame for the fields, far off buildings and mountains.

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I have ridden past this spot many times and was interested in the wooden fruit tree supports that have been left to rot in this abandoned field. The pattern of the supports is repeated in the very large imposing pylons that cross the field. Not sure what the yellow plant is that has invaded this field – perhaps rape seed – it will not be there for long as the hot summer sun will destroy it until next year. This has a potential to develop further and with an architectural feel to the pylons is an opportunity for me to explore the style and methods of Julie Mehretu? Perhaps on Mylar if I can get some.

In the meantime I took lots of photos of the field from many angles and made a watercolour sketch (on a very overcast cold day):

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Exercise 3 360deg studies

It was difficult to find time to go out and draw in an expansive landscape but finally I found a location about 30 mins away looking towards the Andes mountains.

It was also difficult to find a safe location to park the car and set up my easel/gear to draw uninterrupted. The day was sunny, hot and cloudless but gave a clear view of the mountains and surrounding countryside.

My drawings were made in my new landscape size 6″ x 12″ 130lb sketchbook in pencil and ink markers:

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Looking east towards the mountains
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Looking south
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Looking west
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Looking north

Some of my direction notes on the drawings were actually incorrect.

The first two sketches captured large chunks of the landscape and the last two homed in on smaller areas. It was as anticipated difficult to capture everything and editing/simplifying was essential, especially in 15 min sketches.

Research Point

Upon researching historic and contemporary artists who work in series with the landscape, I was deeply impressed with the work of John Virtue who I wish to go back to in the next section on Townscapes/Cityscapes. The scale of his works and the way he works up quick small sketches into large scale works is an inspiration.  My recent work in indian ink is showing more confidence and I feel ready to go bolder – ever darker with a greater range of tonal contrast. Nicholas Herbert’s work on the Chiltern Hills is too poetic for me although I appreciated his influences from Turners work. Hockney is a favorite and I may use his influence to build an image of my road in the townscape section of this part of the course. In particular his road pictures where he makes a picture about his journeys: Mullholland Drive: The road to the studio, 1980  and The road to Malibu, 1988.

I have been researching the work of Julie Mehetru – an artist that, whilst she is not a landscape artist, she has used architectural drawings and urban spaces in her works on both modest and gigantic scales! Whilst I cannot move to her scale at present, I want to explore working on Mylar and creating similar spaces to her works such as the Untitled. 2000 works found in Drawing Now. Eight Propositions by Laura Hoptmann, 2002 – where she uses coloured pencil, ink and cut paper on Mylar. This will be a challenge for me also because it may mean more controlled use of line and a methodic form of working – well outside of my comfort zone and I could go to A2 maybe. In particular I want to explore her use of what she calls the 3rd space – a space outside of the picture plane swirling, deconstructing and exploding – a space that is also truly three dimensional.

 

Part 3 Expanse

Project 2 Landscape

Research Point – Artists who use landscape as their main subject

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was not on my list of artists that I recognise as a landscape painter- so as one of the earliest to use landscapes in his work I researched a little into his studies in watercolour and ink: His ‘View of Trento, Watercolour and gouache on paper (1494) was a lovely study where he has simplified the trees and mountains – which maybe useful for me drawing the Andes mountains near where I live. He has a very clear Foreground, middleground and background.

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The other work I picked out was his ‘View of Innsbruck’ Watercolour on paper (1495)

I liked this watercolour because of its simplified clouds, and reflections in the water – very cleverly and delicately painted!

My HERO of landscape painting has always been John Constable ((1776-1837) evr since I saw his ‘The Hay Wain’ at the National Gallery at the age of 14. I loved the immense detail of his paintings, the small details such as shepherds and people going about their rural business. Small touches of red in perhaps a coat or a cart, birds flying in the sky, wonderful cloud detail, wind rain and storm also starred in his awesome landscapes. John Virtue in his tour of the National Gallery was also impressed by Constable’s bold courageous brushstrokes.

Constable made several studies of this view of ‘Dedham from Langham’. In both versions above there are very clear Foreground, Middleground and Background elements. I believe that he was a master of simplification of the landscapein what were landscapes ahead of their time…such as ‘Summer, Afternoon after a shower’ Oil on Canvas (1828) and ‘A rain storm over the sea’ Oil on canvas (1834).

Jean Camille Baptiste Corot (1796-1875) is another landscape artist that I deeply admire.  Some of his delicate drawings of trees are a joy and I love the details of people and animals strategically placed within his landscapes.  Examples are ‘Lanscape with three figures’ Oil on canvas (1850-60) and ‘Pastures in the Marais’ Oil on canvas (1865-70.

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I made a couple of small copies in pencil of these paintings:

About 7-8 years ago I was lucky to be able to visit the Lowry Centre in Manchester. From this visit I obtained a book which I subsequently read on the life and works of Lowry by Shelley Rhohde. LS Lowry (1887-1976) like George Shaw painted and sketched the life and scenes around him – but unlike Shaw, Lowry formed his own style of painting (not realistic) – at the time not recognised as a serious painter he did not achieve success from his work until the latter part of his life. He painted the monotonous life of the worker going to and from the factories – ‘Our town’ Oil on Canvas (1943) and the daily life of for instance ‘An arrest’ Oil on canvas (1927):

Among his more emotional paintings, I really admired his ‘The Lake’ Oil on Canvas (1937) part of his black series – painted after the death of his father. The image below does not do justice to the real painting:

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A painting about death…human death in the graveyard (foreground detail), the dark and polluted lake (middleground) and the death creating factories in the backgound belching out black smoke. This image is very similar to that on P62 of the course – Drawing by James Lloyd.

In my sketchbook studies to follow, I want to have in mind the studies of Corot and Constable and look for little details in the landscape that could bring life and realism to my drawings.

 

Rainy Day!

Rainy Day!

After weeks without rain, I planned a day of sketching outside for Part 3 for today…..BUT  it began to rain in the morning and is still raining!

After checking social media and other trivia, I sketched the window and doodled for a while…

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Then I watched some very interesting videos on YouTube of the artist/sculptor Kiki Smith from the USA. She is a compulsive artist who follows the path of her work and lets it flow without really setting any objectives first. I say compulsive because watching and listening to her she works from home – her living space is also where she finds inspiration, a peaceful space to work and be creative.  She works in whatever medium suits her work – sculpture, photography, drawing, printing, fabrics, glass among many other mediums.

Checkout Tate Shots on Kiki Smith:

and Kiki Smith – Path:

This is an incredible example of letting your imagination and work leading you down a particular creative path.  Her exhibition Path made me realise that there are no boundaries between drawing, textiles, sculpture, printing etc – the limit is you if you let it!

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Then I read ‘The value of dreaming’ blog by Neal Musson on the OCA Student Blog and I felt that they were related in that he makes up a word – a creative space …. “dreamspace; The return to fabric and the things I haven’t made’.…… ‘To allow the creative mind to wander ambitiously without boundaries’….”

Not a bad morning exploring, drawing, listening and thinking whilst the rain continues to fall outside.