Saturday, 5 December 2015

Trying out composition on my sketch walk

The instructions for exercise 1 do not actually tell me what I am expected to do! They imply, though that I should go back to the place I did the Project 2 drawings, and rework them adventurously.

Anyway, for this exercise I returned the park where I had done my original drawings of clouds and landscape scenes. My idea was to go back to the one with the path crossroads, but when I got there I could see that I could pick a vista which was more amenable to the composition ideas explored in my last entry. Reasons for this were that the detail in the foreground would have to be of the path (not very exciting), and the distant vagueness and blueness would end up being in the tunnel between trees (a bit of a cliche). So I looked for a view with trees in the foreground (which have interesting textured bark), something in the middleground, and an interesting distant object or two. 
I did my sketches with B charcoal pencil for the foreground, HB for middle-ground, and H for the most distant objects.

Landscape format
This was my first attempt - the trees were interesting in themselves and I could imagine having fun with their texture and the details round their bases. In the middle ground were some other trees, and a bar of houses with some white painted windows and other detail (which I have sketched in here as boxes within the bar). In the distance is a fairyland group of skyscrapers in the City of London. I didn't manage with this pencil to show the shapes or the grey-blue colour of this distant object. It was definitely separate from the rest in real life, with finer lines and bluer colour. Re the composition, I thought that the focal point of this arrangement is actually a relatively empty space in the middle point of the rectangle! Not what I was aiming for at all. Even if I could get the city buildings to obviously be in the distance, they would be in the wrong place in this composition to be the focal point. 

Portrait format
My next try was portrait, just to see what happened to the image.
This of course led to there being only part of the trees visible in the foreground,
and the detail being in the form of twigs and leaves rather than bark texture.
The middle ground detail is more rudimentary, and I felt the need to give it
a bit more depth with the charcoal. The distant towers look almost alien
floating on the horizon, as the blueness is too much.
Again the focus of the picture is the clump of trees below the city
rather than the city itself. This may be because the whole picture space
is divided in the wrong place, leaving the city dead centre rather than just off centre.
And because the portrait format flattens the depth.

This is the same sketched, cropped to put the city on the golden section line vertically.
This has the side effect of making the rectangle less narrow in relation to its height.
It seems to have the effect of making it more the focus, at the same time as making the
twig detail at the top more accessible to the eye movements, and the city looks more at
eye level than it did before. While it's better, I'm not sure its what I was after in fact,
because I want to feel I'm looking up at the magical city.

This is the same sketch, cropped the other way, so as to put the city at the
golden section the other way round. I think it works much better than the
previous ones, with a feeling of it being infinitely far away and unattainable,
like a fairy tale castle (which is what it felt like in real life). The
foreground looks more foreshortened too, emphasising the depth and distance.
Unfortunately the blue still isn't working as it's not grey enough.

Square Format
Using a square format, I felt the need to frame it in the foreground. I thought it would be interesting to use the drooping branches in the composition to 'point' towards the city, which would mean that it didn't have to emphasise itself in the same way to become the focal point. I dropped the blue altogether for this one, and the middle ground needs work too, but the idea, with the city as the target of the branch vectors has potential. There is lots there for the eyes to move around with, and the contrast can easily be adjusted in places to draw the eye around.
Last composition sketch on this walk. I put the middle ground and foreground tree at 5/8 positions, and the city just above the horizon. As I noticed in the duck sketch above, the close-up tree on a landscape format actually makes the eye look past it to experience the full space and depth of the image, ie the focus becomes the city rather than the tree. I added some directionality in the trees on the left and contrast in the middleground (especially on the right), to keep the eyes moving round the image. The tree, and the ground to the right of it, need more detail.

Composition Research

I started learning about composition for this topic by reading the section in 'Contemporary Drawing: Key concepts and techniques' by Margaret Davidson (2011, Watson-Gupthill Publications NY), and in my sketchbook thinking about how each idea related to my reworking of my assignment 2 piece.

Universal Fundamentals of Composition
Using a flat rectangle automatically suggests to the viewer a deep and wide image with depth to it.
Hence the feeling that if there is a lot of water around the duckings, that the intention is to emphasise the size of that.
I hadn't actually thought of it in this way before - that there is a message in the shape itself. Duh!

Even if you try to bring the viewer focus to the object itself by making the object enormous, all it does is make you look past it to the depth and breadth of the image again, just because of the landscape format!

Using a rectangle in this orientation automatically conveys a feeling of
an enclosed, more intimate space, with less depth to it, with the focus
more on the object itself.
This relative flatness and focus on the object rather than the
space holds true even when the object is relatively small, if the
format is vertical.

Other formats, according to this book, are imbued with this kind of meaning to the extent that they refer to the oblong shapes above. I thought I would visually think about this in reference to clothing eg a hoody being nearly but not quite portrait format would suggest relative flatness. Unless you make it into a landscape rectangle deliberately.

Oh so flat- looking - decorative rather than representational
Even referring to the actual three dimensions of the body doesn't make it
stop looking flat.

But magically, putting in a horizontal format creates the illusion of space where
you know there isn't any.


The landscape format still makes you see space.
Looking down on it makes the viewer feel powerful, and the object look small, contained, restricted, powerless
These ducks are obviously on a pond, rather than free, simply because I am looking at them from above.
This makes the image more personal and familiar
Perhaps this duck even has a name. I found myself sketching in a domestic scene, with depth suggested by the landscape format, the intimacy prompted by the eye level.

This makes the image more imposing/ huge/ possibly dangerous
Am I going to get kicked/ eaten?!
After these revelations, I tried looking at portrait format from above, level and below to see whether the effect was altered with the format.

FROM ABOVE - Portrait
The words that come to mind are squashed,
inferior, rejected, dejected, cramped
disrespected, dismissed, forgotten
EYE LEVEL - portrait
This gives a very straightforward what you see is the plain truth
rather flat image with little in the way of subtlety or nuance.
Like a childrens' book or a scientific illustration - factual.
FROM BELOW - portrait
On a pedestal, looking down it's nose at me,
puffed up, grand, out of my reach,
The Duck God

Thinking about balance in a drawing, and the path the eye takes across and within the picture, it helps to think about the things we are naturally drawn to:
1. Faces
2. Vectors (arrows, pointing things, or directional marks)
3. High contrast points
4. Power centers (either side of the middle of a horizontal rectangle, or just above the middle of a vertical one)
5. Focal points created by the artist for the viewer to return to repeatedly (or deliberately have no focal point)
This list was condensed directly from Margaret Davidson's book.

I did some sketches thinking about how to make a composition for my duck drawing that would draw the eye round the picture to come back to the eye of the mother duck.

First, the format is landscape as I want to give a feeling of space.
The images are larger than in my original assignment drawing so that the space is the one between the duck and her duckling. I think the power centre of the image is the part of the skeleton duck wing which has the markings on it (because of the parallel lines perhaps?) But the viewer most likely enters the picture through the eye/head of the mother duck, just to the right of the centre (1). This would lead either to the vector of the beak, or down to the power point. Following the vector (2) the eye reaches the high contrast duckling (3), and from there through the other beak/ vector back to the power centre. There may be some movement along the ducks back, which would give some balance to the image, but I think there may be room for some use of background contrast or vectors to balance it vertically a bit more.

Attractive but static
Re: meaning, there is a formality to this that brings its own meaning
that trumps anything else you might want to say, unless you use it deliberately.
Eg to contrast something wild (or out of the pattern) against the formal arrangement.
I could I suppose have one skeleton in a formal balanced arrangement of rubber ducks.
This is the elaboration of the image of the mother and baby ducks above,
but using detail and contrast in the background to keep the viewer looking.
More complex, subtle and engaging - I think this is something that
would make me continue to look at an image after I'd had it for a while.
Not so much about meaning, but about viewer satisfaction!

The Golden Section or Golden ratio - proportion of 5 to 8 which is thought to be
a frequent ratio in nature and therefore intrinsically satisfying for human brains to look at.
Has been used by classical and contemporary artists, architects etc to guide composition.
There is also a rule of thirds which is that it looks interesting
to have images on the lines between thirds of the paper.
I didn't explore these ideas today.
Deliberately creating an image with no focal point or eye pathway, giving a different kind of unity and balance. This can either be by having a uniform texture over a symmetrical format (eg a square), or a different format with marks with equal emphasis so the eye moves across the surface evenly with the same level of interest in everything there.

Skin close up
An example of overall composition (well, almost, as the difference in focus in some areas does produce a slight focal point)
Thinking about what ideas this brings into the mind of the viewer, I'd say it makes us more aware of the detail, and lose some of our perspective on skin as a familiar useful thing that doesn't need our attention.
Could I make the great patterns and colour variations of the bones of the duck skeleton 'become' the overall composition
 in a way that would not produce vectors and focal points? I don't know, but I could try!

Reworking Assignment 2

I was advised to rework the assignment - trying out a larger range of compositions
- thinking about the effect of the relative size of the image within the background
- trying out different ways of drawing water

What was I thinking the drawing should be about?
'what I kept coming back to was the lovely photo of a duck with her ducklings on a , and the difference between what a duck looks like and the strange distortion that I see in my mind's eye.'

How could changing the composition make this contrast clearer?


than this one with a person receding in to the background.
And a bit more of the train tracks behind.
How different the effect of this photo........
Putney Bridge, boat race day 2015
- straightforward vanishing point on the horizon

Photo taken Summer 2014
Dramatic river valley in South Africa,
with references in the foreground to show scale.
Reminds me of Japanese prints
The same valley without foreground references shows how
the distances and sizes are much less obvious

Blue pipes shrinking into the distance. Foreground wires
and tiny curving buildings give another reference
to the positioning of the viewer.
Photo taken for first textile art module

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Landscape Research Point continued...

Some landscapes from early 20th Century which explore very different ways of painting landscape.

Paul Klee Landscape with sunset 1923

Flat, shapes and colours

Klee Station L112

What would happen if I tried simplifying all into shapes and colours like this?

Georgia O'Keefe Lake George - Autumn 1922
Vilcek collection

The trees are very strongly rounded - sensual.
Try overdoing it like this

Greyed colours show the low light

Oscar Bluemner No. 6 Valley 
Simplified shapes again, this time curved.
Oscar Bluemner No.3 Port beacon from Vilcek collection

Oscar Bluemner Port Amboy West (Tottenville)

Emphasis on the geometric, with the tones and colours secondary. Try it!

Stanley Spencer Landscape in North Wales

Detail definitely secondary to 3D shapes provided by tone contrasts.

Stanley Spencer Cookham Flowers in a Window

Detail is important but hasn't overcome the shapes of the roofs and hedges.

Landscape in contemporary textile art

Looking at how some textile artists work with landscape. With help from

Heather Collins
Forest floor
Heather Collins
handmade fabric, free machine embroidery

Detail of leaves from Forest Floor
Both images from
This sculpture gave me a wow moment when I saw it. I really enjoy the intricacy of the detail and the realism. From her website it is obvious that she is inspired by the textures and details, like me. I need to work on seeing the bigger picture as well.

Fiona Robertson is good at this. Her embroidered pictures of the Hampshire countryside show the whole view seen by a walker (rather than just a small part of the forest floor!) It's also interesting to see how her sketches translate into final pieces.
Looking at these landscapes with 'range of tone' specs on, I can see that the ones with the widest range from dark to light are the most successful in showing depth (eg the red and orange leaves one she used for the header of the page, and the dark path through the yellow flowers are much more direct and atmospheric than 'first signs' or 'autumn view' - although they both use colour beautifully.

Looking at this I think I should have a try doing a single sketch in different degrees of tonal contrast, to see what happens to it.

Carol Naylor's landscapes are more expressive than realistic, and use colour in interesting ways.
She also deliberately uses the distorting effect of the machine embroidery on duck canvas.

Carol Naylor Diamonds and Rust
from a Spanish landscape

Sea of Lavender
Carol Naylor
That image, of a field full of lavender flowers, is one which you never forget.
I notice that she has not put in the flower stalk detail in the foreground, and in fact that would distract from the movement towards the ridge of pale yellow in the middleground.
I could do that sketch in different combinations of colours too, to find out what that does to the image. 

Heather Dubreuil makes art quilts out of fabric she has dyed and then fused and stitched. They seem to be mainly of urban landscapes. They are of a size to be displayed on the wall like a painting. Here are a few examples:

Rooftop terrasse
abstract in some ways
makes you think

Santa Cruz de Tenerife
reminiscent of Klee
partly because of the flatness I think
and the limited range of colours

Villagio Toscano
The texture and colour intensity
contrast between the foreground and
background are very effective.

These are much more blocky than the other landscapes which reflects what urban landscapes are like. It is more difficult to see a metaphorical or other meaning in these.

Caroline Dunn
Through this link, 'A walk around the block' a piece created from a sketchbook walk much like the one we've been doing in the course. She has left the sky, except in the places where the birds are flying.

Winter Landscape in the Dales
Caroline Dunn
This has a very strong sky threatening the landscape with the darkest and lightest tones, and the freest marks.
I could try using different degrees of freedom /control in drawing style to contrast natural and man-made.

Laura Breitman
Another detail person, but this time with an eye on the whole image.
These have a very accomplished feel to them. Attention to detail, composition, colour and tone. Very impressive and beautiful too. There is no need for meaning when it is so well done.

Laura Breitman Looking up
Collage in fabric

Detail of 'looking up' showing that
it is made of fabric collage
Laura Breitman Sunset

Laura Breitman Under the EI

Note to self - all those composition sketches and emphasis on range of tone etc are worth it!

Thinking about the ideas in Contemporary Drawing, what does the use of textiles as medium bring to these pieces? 

Heather Collins' forest floor - it focusses my mind on the impressive feat of producing something like that out of textiles. IE it stops being about the wonderful colours and textures of nature and becomes about the skill of the artist in duplicating it. More so than a painter? Perhaps. Because we are less used to seeing this kind of technical skill in this medium, maybe?

Laura Breitman's pieces, though, I had that awed feeling, but it was much less important than the experience of looking at something beautiful and evocative. I suppose that the use of the printed fabrics (some printed herself for the purpose) in collage add to the depth and resonance of the image.

Fiona Robertsons farm landscapes - I think that using textiles makes one aware of the stillness of them - the contemplative pace of both the sewing and the walking through the landscape. The colours are very intense in places - is that easier to do with dyed fabric and yarns than with paints?

Carol Naylors machine embroideries - definitely brings a distortion to the ground that drawing would not necessarily bring (or bring in a different way with the water effect on paper). The stitches distort the canvas in a way that makes you aware that the plants change the shape of the ground they grow in. Also machine stitching is intrinsically linear, reflecting the lines made by linear ploughing and planting of the lavender.

Heather Dubreil's art quilts - Not sure what it brings - would the same images made of coloured paper or painted in oil have less impact or interest? I don't think so necessarily, which suggests that the use of textiles is not adding any particularity to this piece of work. (But I could well be missing something).

Caroline Dunn's landscapes feel more personal, the walk round her home, and are made in traditional quotidian manner by sewing. To me this adds warmth and homeliness to her images.