Etiqueta: Margaret Davidson

Part 3 Expanse

Project 3 Composition

Exercise 1 Developing your studies

This was an interesting part of the course for me and I am not quite sure that I have achieved what is expected at this stage. After reading Contemporary Drawing by Margaret Davidson, and researching Julie Mehretu I thought that I had increased my range of tools and techniques – maybe I have…but not consistently. I am though more aware of my goals.

Firstly, I picked the ‘Abandoned field’ sketch from my sketchbook walk to develop further. I liked the repetition of the shape of the pylons in the wooden tree frames in the field. I also felt a connection with this space – I used to walk in open fields when I was about 9-12 years old – often with a sketchbook.  The pylons are a connection to my engineering training and an imposing manmade structure in a rural landscape – something that is not often seen in for instance an English landscape. Their were other connections like my interest in aliens and HG Wells’ War of the Worlds – the pylons as the alien invaders, and my weekend bike rides which pass this field.

When in the field sketching, I sat on a stool with a very low eye level – see sketch in Project 2. I later made a watercolour sketch but took up a standing position with easel. Additionally I took many photos to review compositional possibilities – all whilst standing!

It was interesting to note that the initial sketch shows the pylons touching the top of the page – towering over me, but in the watercolour, the pylons were not so imposing and my eyelevel was higher and looked over the field from the outside.


I made a pencil drawing in my sketchbook using as a guide the above watercolour and made notes of my feelings about the drawing:


There were several interesting notes: the use of a limited palette, the smaller pylons reminded me of angels, there was also a feeling of being in a graveyard, the noise of the cables – a crack-crackle/constant humming, and lastly something I may take forward the theme of the letter A upside down forced into the ground.

I decided to experiment with some new Duralar sketchpads bought in the USA. One was for dry media and the other wet media – this trial drawing was by memory – note that I painted the big pylon upside down!:


There were some interesting marks and I liked the indian ink washes that I made in both versions. I need to explore this combination of ink and gouache on Duralar again.

Then I decided to make a finished drawing using a 2B Pencil and coloured pencil on Duralar for dry media combining traced elements, erasing, drawing over erasures, working on the composition, including foreground, middleground and background, and finally including geometric shapes drawn with coloured pencil on the back of the support – using its transparent quality.

Original drawing without coloured elements
Drawing with geometric shapes drawn with coloured pencil on reverse side of Duralar Film

Relating this final piece to my recent research on Margaret Davisons book on Contemporary Drawing:

Have I shown the relationship between negative spaces and the forms?  The negative spaces in the sky and mountains balance the busy foreground/middlegound, and also there is a connection with this negative space and the forms by means of the connecting cables.

Have I shown a relationship between the surface and the mark? It was my aim with this drawing to work on the smooth Duralar surface and also an intention to use its transparency to trace elements and to use the interesting effects of pencil/coloured pencil on this dry media support. Prior to starting the drawing I made various trial marks on a sheet of the same surface.

Is it clear why I chose certain materials and a particular surface?  To me it was clear why I used the surface/materials – there is no relation between the subject and my choice.

Does the scale tell me or the viewer anything?  In this case no as it is a normal size.

Have I been clear in how space is depicted?  I believe that I have been clear in my use of and depiction of space. The pylons/wooden frames helped in depicting perspective increasing the sense of space, and the large open sky framed the large imposing pylon. The lightly coloured mountains also contributed to depicting distance and scale.

What is the eye level?  The eye level is approximately level with the horizon or even a little higher – looking into the field. My initial sketch was low down seated within the wild plants with the pylons as giants towering above.  This has not been depicted in the final version.

What is the message and is the message clear?  I have never been in agreement with the placing of pylons in the countryside, and I feel strongly that they are an impostion although I marvel at the engineering and the power transmitted by the grid. The repetion of the forms – the pylons with the wooden tree supports are clearly the subject – this has worked and is clear in the composition – I also included repetition in the blue lines.

What helps, or hurts, the clarity of the message?  The blue lines and the large detailed drawing of the pylons helped the message, the added colours may have distracted the viewer from the message and produced less clarity.

Intentionality:  Now this is an interesting issue – yes I did intent to use the materials/ support for this drawing and I believe it was a successful choice. If I am honest the eye level was not chosen it just happened – I need to be more careful with this point. The scale was chosen solely because it was the size of my new sketchpad, although I did have a larger sheet available. The message was intentional but may not have been as clear to the viewer as it was for me.

In conclusion this was an interesting exercise for me and one that I enjoyed.

Exercise 2 Foreground, middleground, background

For this exercise I chose one of my mountain scenes. I chose to draw the scene using 9B graphite in both pencil and block type with chalk on a Strathmore toned grey paper with a medium surface (118g/m2) – size aprox. 22x30cm.

The combination worked well and I drew two copies of the scene – both in terms of the exercise set were not successful:

First copy – landscape format

This photo of the drawing does not show the image well and there is greater contrast in the original however I did not structure the drawing the same as Poussin/Lorrain and Turner as asked for. There is more detail in the foreground and the middleground is shown by the houses although they have nearly the  same tone/level of detail as the foreground. The background mountains should be less clearly defined and shaded lighter to make them almost fade into the sky.

The second drawing in portrait format again had the same faults although this time I tried to incorporate more tonal contrast:

Second image – more tonal contrast but same errors as the first drawing

I then searched among my books to find a suitable example to use as a guide.

I liked some of the examples from JWM Turners watercolour sketches – delicate masterpieces with depth:

Turner Marseilles In the port 1828

JMW Turner The Blue Rigi Sunrise 1842

These two examples do not have much detail in the foreground but just enough to show greater definition in a darker tone, then examples of middleground touching the edge of the image and much lighter tones in the background.

I needed to create something similar:


In this version, I introduced a little green pastel. This was more successful in creating  depth – removing the excessive detail in the houses, leaving in the line of trees to the left  and keeping the mountains middle grey. I also lightened the sky to outline the mountains.

I need to improve and practice on this technique much more.

Reflecting on the last two exercises

On reflection, I was happy with my work in the first exercise but deeply lacked practice in the second.

I was able to select simple shapes in the second exercise but it was obvious that I relied again on line more than tone! In Turners watercolours there is almost a total absence of line and he creates depth entirely by using tone – adding a small amount of detail in the foreground.

In the first exercise I did create depth and was happy with my experimentation and final image. Again I was able to simplify the large landscape.

In the first image There was a sense of depth/distance but not form.  In the second I did manage to represent form but relied too much on line to help me.

In the first exercise I did not use the light at all! This was probably due to drawing and photography the scene on dull cloudy days and at a time when the sun was highest – no shadows.

In the second exercise I was more aware of the effect of the bright light on the scene and used it to create form – successfully? – no. Why? – because I relied on line.

Additionally I should make more smaller detailed sketches of the scene to record detail, shapes, tonal contrasts, and choose the correct time of day when the light shows off the form best. Many of Turners watercolours are of sunrise and sunset – beautiful colours and long contrasting shadows. Make more tonal studies of buildings, landscapes and natural features such as rocks and mountains.

As I was not happy with the second exercise I decided to redraw it again but this time in watercolour avoiding the use of line until the end:


This final drawing was much more in line with the brief and I achieved a much greater sense of depth using tone! Must practice and push myself more.


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.


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?