Monthly Archives: December 2009

Chris Moock drawing

Carving space with grey blocks

Chris, also our tutor, led the last week of term drawing with tonal shapes.  Rejecting line drawing, or drawing with a sense of tracing or stroking the subject.  The approach is based on creating a pattern of ‘flat’ tonal marks, where equal importance and touch is given to the every part of the image.  In fact this stays true to reality, ie a picture is simply a series of marks on a 2 dimensional surface.  Keeping the marks mutually supportive and similar in nature creates an interesting image, from which the subject emerges.

The focus is on the image, not the object, a searching out of the truth of the image.  An internal exploration rather than a statement about the sitter.  To this end, lines are too definite, too knowing of the object.  Drawing by placing similar marks, say vertical 1 cm squares of different tones, helps give equal importance to each part of the image.  Not knowing anything about the subject, helped by carving it out from negative space, rather than drawing it.

In this approach, the edge of the canvas matters because the process is all about the exploration of the canvas.  Vertical and horizontal marks fit better than diagonals, are supported by the edges and make for strong images.

Using tone to carve out the subject makes for much clearer and better drawn subjects than drawing the subject. It also increases the across the picture experience because of the weight given to the ‘background’.  In fact there is no background, it is all one image. Evidence of this mental approach is to be seen in many great painters work, even if the ultimate picture is more detailed.

…..   ‘the only thing that is ‘required’ in a picture is the formal part of it, the abstract shapes, in relation to the frame…..

This was a difficult project for me because my work tends to be a lot about statement.  Despite its frustration I can see that my work will benefit from increasing this part of picture making.  In attitude it means stepping back from the intensity of engagement to a more meditative stance, marrying to two in one.

One benefit of this approach is its objectivity, at least its lack of subjectivity.

Objectivity has been an increasingly valued characteristic over the last 60 years of human history, part of modernism.  I find it almost all pervasive, from object oriented programming, to process driven organisations.  The law is replacing justice and statistics is replacing judgement.  Perhaps we should be kicking back the other way, especially in the world of art?

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Tony’s Sessions

Getting beneath the surface

Tony Mott led a week of portraiture drawing focusing on what is beneath the surface, combined with an expression outside the comfort zone.  The intention is to get to the depth of the person, noticing what is profoundly present, without getting hung up on precision.

First, we drew the muscles of the face from a live model (with the aid of an anatomy book).  Unlike other parts of the body the facial muscles are attached to the skin, hence our facial expression (before plastic surgery!)

Once completed in conte, we moved on the draw the exterior of the face in pencil, on top of the muscles beneath.  The trick is to allow both to co-exist in the final picture so that viewer is drawn to both and sees both simultaneously. ( see the drawing top right)

The next exercise was to draw the head on four sheets of A1.  Working on only one sheet at a time and using 3 pencils taped together.  Once finished the pages are put together to give a 4 ft X 5 ft image (bottom right) .  Working this way makes it impossible to obsess about the fineness and precision of the drawing.  Partly because you cannot see it all and partly because the mark is inherently imprecise.  This results in a more energetic picture style, with a deep focus and representation of the true form rather than a pretty picture(certainly this is true).

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Atul’s Painting Sessions

Colour matching in painting

Atul Vohora ran a 3 week project focused on colour relationships in portraiture painting.  The key point is colour looks as it does because of its relationship to the colours around it rather than in an absolute way.  If the surrounding colours are essentially contrasting ( in hue, tone or intensity) then the particular colour will look exaggerated in that dimension.  For example surround red by green and the red will seem more intense.  Shockingly, surround grey by green and the grey will look red.

This is both a problem and an opportunity.  The problem is that when closely examining a subject, a particular colour may seem more intense than it is and so we are tempted to over mix the colour and it will look wrong on the canvas.  Alternatively, especially in darks, a dark surround by similar darks will lose it true colour and so needs to be looked at very carefully to understand its proper colour, value and intensity.  If this is not understood, people tend to paint darks in a dull and uninteresting way.

The opportunity, is to make colours that you want to stand out do so by putting contrasting colour near them, even if the contrasting colour is so dulled down that it hardly registers in the painting.  This is a route to paintings that sing, without using or mixing high intensity colours.  Especially useful in skin tones.

In this particular portrait there is a strong contrast between the relative warmth of the skin and clothing, when compared to the very cool background.  However, the colour of the back cloth also comes into the skin as it reflects onto it, creating strong contrasts in the skin tones.

I particularly enjoy the angular tilt of the head, the sense of slight displacement, a statement of existence. It says  …. I am here and strong in my self even if uncomfortable with people looking at me…..

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Atul’s Life Class

Picture making in drawing

Atul Vohora’s life classes went far beyond recording what you see.  One of the key questions to think about and perhaps the most difficult to assess is that of picture making.  What is it that you want to get a picture to convey and how do you make it interesting?  DIfferent people have vastly different views on this and it often conflicts with issues of accuracy and ‘getting a likeness’.  I subscribe to view that above all a picture has to work in its own terms as an abstract construction of marks, a challenging task in the life and portraiture world.

I fall into one way of drawing, one type of mark and one process, reflecting my comfort zone at that time.  Yet it may be that different images and senses suggest very different approaches to the mark making because of the energy we want the piece to have.  Compare the two line drawings on the right hand side, the subject was very similar, but the difference in the mark suggests very different things about the subject.  At the bottom the clarity and flow of the mark suggests a grounded, reflective and present sitter.  While the searching and almost jittery mark in the image above it almost suggests an anxiety a lack of certainty.

The two line drawings are very different from the tonal ones.  The tonal pictures emphasize the thrust and physical form of the bodies, the flow of light running over them.  In an abstract sense the rythm and juxtaposition of dark and light areas and the experience of how the eye moves through them.  Whereas the line drawings are about the separation of space and lines which interrogate, where the ‘touch’ is a key part of the sense.  The touch being both the pencil on paper and sense of flowing around the model.

The top picture illustrates the impact of marks that reinforce each other, the verticles above and below the table, sliced across by the table and in all contrasting with the flow and curves of the model.   The rythms, the musical notes are clear and perhaps too ‘ordinary’.  Whereas the top right star shape has energy driving from the center, increased by extending right to the edges of the paper, a consistent and essentially simpler image.  In both of these the flow of the light over the body is key, how it draws the eye through the image.  The difference in feel of the light, more flowing/feminine on the left and angular/masculine on the right.

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Atul’s Life Class

Creating space and form in drawing

Atul Vohora led the life drawing classes for this term.  One of the key parts of discussion was the creation of space in the image, the illusion of 3 dimensions and space around a subject.  This is more challenging in line drawings where space is to be represented by just a few lines.  There are many ways of seeking to achieve this that can be extremely effective used with subtlety.

Creating horizons where one object is seen to be in front of another, by blocking its view provides a clear impression depth and structure.  While this in central to classical landscape painting it is also extremely effective in life drawing.  There are many parts of the body where the edge that you see is obscured by the edge of something else that is closer.  Drawing the change from one part to the next, with a clear break underpins that shape and understanding.  Alternatively, if you wish a line drawing to be a flat image then simply draw continuously around the shape, which will bring all points forward to the same level.

Simple illusions also work, thicker/darker lines appear to be closer, while narrower ones, with less pressure appear to be further away.  So regulating the touch can bring parts of the body forward and push other parts back.  Similarly, more detail brings objects forward.  Using a pose that has foreshortening also helps create space as the mind understands the implications of the otherwise distorted shapes.

The continuous process of searching, of questioning marks in and around the figure automatically create an impression of space.  The space you feel as the artist is inevitably put into the work, as if my magic!  The strange shapes that you see and record all speak to true form of what you are experiencing.

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