Sunday, 26 July 2015

Pets and Animals Exercise 2 Tonal study of bones and shells

Well, my interesting skull is currently at my daughter's school art department, so I had a look at some shells. The instructions were rather perfunctory, I assume because by now we are supposed to know how to pick a subject.

I found two shells which appealed to me, with lots of shape for the tone to work on. Both had holes in the shell. I guess there's something about that that makes them seem more meaningful to me. And it gives me something extra to work on that isn't just a plain shell. I tried them out several different ways around, sitting on a table made of wooden slats for a simple background.

I did some sketches of the different arrangements. I have been mulling over the idea (from Contemporary Drawing Key concepts and techniques by Margaret Davidson, 2011 Watson-Guptill NY) that 'The most important overarching concept of contemporary drawing is intentionality.' This idea is growing on me, and this sketching process is making a lot more sense in this context. That it allows the intention to become concrete and therefore be amenable to more intentional things.

My first few compositions were of the large conch shell on its own on the table.

This one emphasised the ripples on the back of the shell, and the table perspective is important.

It seemed a bit boring and pointless.

Just copying this sketch to the blog is showing me how much I need another exercise in tone - the background was a much darker tone than most of the shell, but I didn't show that at all in my sketch.

I think this one works better, is more interesting to look at, and is a bit of a challenge to get the tones right for all those spikes.

You can see that the next one was more interesting to me in the sense that the texture drew me in and I felt I had to have a go at it, at least in rough. I noted that it and the shape reminded me of  the skin on old wrists. It also has a bit of the hole and rope, but the position of the shell in the space wasn't quite right.

One of the glories of the conch shell is the pink and orange colouring around the lips. So I tried a more conventional position for a conch standing it up on one end with the lips showing.

This gives me more opportunity for tone within the shell, as well as a bit of the same textural interest. And it looks more like a conch, but it's rather an unnatural position and not so interesting as a whole.

So I tried with both shells next to each other.

My first try pushed the interesting shapes of both shells out of the frame. And at the same time the conch spikes you can see at the top detract from the detail of the smaller shell at the bottom.

My second try at this combination was better, with the detailed smaller shell in the foreground, and the depth inside the pink and orange conch in the background.

I am finding it difficult to decide between this one, and the texture one of the conch on its own. Because I was really drawn to that texture...

The question is, which one will be better for working on tone?

I think I will have another look at the shells in the morning.


On reflection, I decided that I like the texture of the conch shell so much that I want to concentrate on that, and that this will make it interesting enough on its own. I went for the 'skin of old wrists' arrangement, but with the shell the other way round so I could have the hole and rope as well.

Thinking about intentionality, I chose to restrict myself to monotones for this one as it is all about tone, adn chose an A1 sheet of paper with a little texture, B, 5B and black conte pencil. I decided on white paper to use the white for highlights, thinking that I would leave the background empty for this one so that the whole emphasis is on the detail of the shell as 3D object.

Tonal study of shell
Pencil and conte pencil on white paper

What I learned from doing this tonal study:

1. Challenges teach me things - When I started drawing today, I quickly realised what a challenge I had set myself by picking this shell with all its complex shapes, and was kicking myself for not making it easier. But after a while I got into the zone and every time I went over it with a different tone it got clearer to me what was important, and how amazing this shell is.

2. Having to go over something several times is not a sign of failure. I saw more each time. And the drawing got better each time. Effective things I did in particular were the part where I made the darkest bits darker, and when I rubbed out the smudges at the very end to show where the brightest tones were. Each time I saw more how the light made the shapes. In fact, I think I might try drawing this one again so that I can keep seeing more..

3.  Serendipity helps. Before this, I didn't realise that my new conte pencil would not draw on top of pencil graphite, so when I started doing the darkest bits, I saw that, and was worried that I was going to have to start again. But it turns out that the little thin dark marks it makes on top of pencil are just what was needed to highlight the hard shapes of the horns of this shell.

4. This drawing has reminded me that I was advised by my tutor to try out different ways of drawing textures in my sketchbook. For example, the rope texture is a combination of tone changes along the length, with black diagonal marks in the places I saw them, but nowhere else. The texture lines on the shell are there in real life, and in some places this looks right, and in others it doesn't quite work. There are some parts of the shell which have been eroded in tiny holes, and I tried to represent this using dots but it doesn't look much like it... Something to work on.

5. The sun moves round, even in the middle of the day!

6. Looking at this drawing again I can see I still have a way to go to confine myself to tones, and it would be worth trying it again just to do it again very extremely just in tones.

What I did next:

I have been reading in 'Contemporary Drawing' about Seurat's choice of highly textured paper for drawing with conte crayon, giving his drawings a profound tonal quality. That he chose this deliberately although it reduces the opportunity for detail a lot. The valleys in the paper give the white parts of the tones. I thought I would try drawing the shell like this to see how it works.

Sketch of conch shell using very rough paper and conte crayon

I found, as the author did, that the detail didn't come through, and that it was a constant effort not to let the whole thing get too dark. I was also aware of the need to somehow graduate the background, which in practice meant making the foreground a little paler than the back. It took work to get the black bits really black, because the valleys in the paper were not easily coloured - I had to go over them a lot, and when it comes down to it I don't think I did got the shape to show the way I did with the pencil drawing. Worth trying again I think, focussing on the main areas of tone a lot more.

While doing this I was also thinking about how it would be an interesting exercise to try this kind of 'pointillist' tone sketch using rug hooking (because each loop would be a point of colour, and I could use just black and white to see if it could be done).

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Home - Exercise 4 LIne and wash and 5 Mixed media

Exeercise 4

I used charcoal, 4B pencil, fine nib drawing pen, brush pen, and oil pastel for this exercise, and I drew what I could see in the kitchen from the table I was sitting at. I used a MUCH bigger piece of paper than is usual for me, after repeated encouragement to do so from the course instruction file. And, guess what, it had exactly the predicted effect of making my drawing freer and more expressive. Silly me for taking so long.

I particularly liked the freedom of the two things that you have less control over ie charcoal and brush pen. On the bottom left of this page is my drawing of an electric fan using brush and indian ink. When I was drawing it I thought what, this is rubbish, no one will be able to see what this is. But now I can see that it's lovely and free and evocative. More of that please.

For the wash part of this exercise I used red drawing ink in two intensities (one diluted with water), and indian ink for the darkest parts. I got a bit lost with the plates at the top, and it rubbed off some of the charcoal, making it greyed in the wrong places.

Adding the wash and ink turned my scrappy strings of onions hanging against tiles into a proper drawing, through adding tone and therefore volume.

For the bowl of fruit I tried out wax resist with a white wax crayon for a few highlights, but unfortunately it picked up the soft pencil and turned grey! Doing a wash over the whole thing lost the pencil shapes so it's a bit of a mess.

The most successful media I used here were the pen and wash onions, and the brushpen fan.

Just noticing how much better I am at this sketching thing now than I was at the beginning. Better in the sense of more accurate and more free.

Exercise 5 
I picked a sketch which was of an area of clutter behind the back door. This had elements of darkness and complexity which appealed to me. And it also had a feeling of domestic reality that I liked (as opposed to the perfect houses you see in magazines and on tv).
Behind the back door

This is the first sketch I made of this corner of the house, as part of the earlier survey of all the corners.

It doesn't convey the darkness but it does show the clutter.

You can see that some things have moved since then, and that it was done from a lower angle than the photo to give more of an enclosed and crammed feeling. I used the sketch to do the following studies.

First, using black paper and pastels to outline the tone variations.

Then black conte crayon on white paper (below). I was more aware by now of the composition with diagonal lines joining the two brighter areas.

My next study was a monochromatic one. For once I remembered to take a photo in the middle of drawing it - in this case once I had filled in the darkest areas with acrylic paint.

The one on the right is the same study with all the tones filled in, again with some emphasis on the brighter areas and the way they are joined together. I have emphasised the contrast in this one.
The jar has somehow turned into a jug!

After all this tone work, I wanted to get some detail into the next one, but in this case to try to use it to show both tone and texture. I used dip pen and indian ink for this, which was something I hadn't tried to any extent before.        The squiggles did nicely represent that fuzziness you get when you try to see detail in the dark. I found that due to the very fine line the pen made, it took an extremely long time to do the darker areas! Doing some in squiggles and some in cross-hatching showed me the difference that makes in terms of texture. I added some graphite pencil to add to the contrast (smooth), and when that wasn't dark enough, some conte sketching pencil, which gave an additional texture of its own (bottom right especially). 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

At Home Exercise 2 composition - an interior

The task was to pick a view in the house and try out several slightly different views, using mainly tone.

I picked the complex view of the entrance hall with pillars and interesting wooden floor.

The view I started with was from the stairs, looking down, so that the walls made a W shape in the picture.

This is the first sketch. There was light coming from the window in the door to the right, and from behind the pillar. I had to do a lot of rubbing out and ended up with the light areas being in all the wrong places.

I didn't quite believe that the walls leaned out as much as they did and I felt the need to draw in the corner although in real life it was only visible by the change in tone from one wall to the other.

Looking at this again it's amazing how I disregarded the much deeper tone of the floor. I didn't concentrate so much on the tone for this one and it shows in the whole thing looking a bit bare and flat. There's something 1950s about it too, which isn't really how it feels to be there. What do I mean? Something about it being constructed rather than felt. No atmosphere. (Nothing against 1950s styles just the way I think of this in my head).

This one's from below, me practically lying on the floor. A bit of a difficult position to draw from. It ended up being mostly about the objects rather than the architecture. I don't know if that's wrong, exactly, but it seemed to me that it would be more useful from the point of view of learning to draw, for me to do one with more angles and light variations to it.

It is a nice composition though, with the focus on the objects but lots of interest elsewhere too, and the unusual perspective makes it more interesting.

This is my next attempt to draw the view from the stairs. I took a slightly different angle on it to reduce the detail behind the pillar, and I tried with a landscape piece of paper to see the effect. I agree that its more intimate this way, which is suitable for the feeling of this hall, without losing the interesting shapes. I got the variety of tone a bit better in this one, but there's much more tone detail needed on the pillar etc. And I had to rub out some smudges on the window in the door on the right, which was not very effective.

Finally, I tried a more straight-on view, which meant that I couldn't get as much distance from it, and therefore ended up with a smaller area in the picture again.

Of these four sketches, I picked the first one to repeat for the tonal study, but using the paper in landscape to emphasise the W and focus a bit more on the lovely dark wood floor.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Project 6 At Home Exercise 1

OK, so I'm doing this one out of order. That's because I'm on holiday and don't have access to most of my drawing stuff. But I didn't want to take a holiday from the course too. And project 6 seemed like one I could do (ironically) in the house I'm staying in for the hols.

Exercise 1:
First job was to go round the house drawing every corner. I used a soft pencil and white paper as I wanted the sketches to be quick and loose.

This first drawing with the jars is relatively strong. The tongue and groove at the back puts it in a frame and gives the objects their correct size. As with all these sketches, there couldbe more variation in tone as I used only one or two kinds of pencil for each.

A corner where the ceiling slopes
You can see the bottom of the banisters and the hall rug
in the background
A corner of the porch with jars
and a collection of plastic bags.

This sloping ceiling worked well for me, but there's something not quite right about the angles of the tongue and groove.

The washing machine, and rather disconcertingly
my mother's head looking detached from her body!
Well overdue some help drawing faces!

I'm not even sure which way up this one goes.
I think that's mainly because I went all wrong
with the perspective.

There's something interesting in the contrast between the machine's shapes and the shapes of the dirty laundry, but this isn't the set up to explore this.
Under a kitchen cabinet. The cabinet door worked well
The rest doesn't have much to show what's there.

A rather boring corner.
The angles are better on this one, though

A chair in front of a pile of laundry.
These views seem to work best when there's something soft
as well as the straight lines. I think the shadows on the
chair back work well. I was thinking about tone for this one.

This is a different angle on the same view as above, without the person in the way. It does go well when there is something soft and some straight lines. I was using a much softer pencil for the darker parts of this one and that helped to define the shapes better.

Compared to the lamp by the window below, for example. The shadows on the right of the lamp are so indistinct as to show no form, so needed to be darker, I think.

A fancy radio and a hat hung on the back door
This one has more interesting things to look at that some.
The back door isn't quite at the right angle.
A lamp in a corner by a window.

The sketch below is of a rather daunting part of the entrance hall with lots of angles and unexpected architectural features. Again I didn't pay attention to the tone at all and the result is a flat sketch. I wanted to have another try at this one as there were lots of interesting bits to it, and it has a comfortableness to it which it would be good if I could capture it.

This was my first attempt at this complicated part of the
entrance hall.

This is the second attempt, with  a bit more tone, which gives it much more atmosphere. 

This one made me think this corner would be a good one to try for the next exercise.

I did some other sketches of the house, some of them before I really read the instructions properly, so I'm including them, but not as part of this exercise...

As a textiles person I wanted to try to capture the attractive folds of the home-made blinds. I wasn't entirely successful, and the whole drawing doesn't have enough tonal variation.

The bottom of the stairs was a bit of a nightmare because of the perspective on the not entirely even stairs. I rubbed them out a few times. Also it's just a line drawing. I'm quite pleased that I got as close as I did, though!

The yellow leather chair using sharpies.
The sun was reflecting off the leather and making it bright white in places,
which showed up the wrinkles where someone had sat on it.
The proportions of the chair went wrong so the arms are way too short, but otherwise,
I'm quite pleased with the way this one went with the different textures and tones.

 This corner was easier and more satisfying to draw. I particularly like the way the things on t he desk have different textures. You can see that I did it softly first then filled in some more of the depth of tone. The background I left pale and it gives an idea of the depth of the alcove, and that the desk is the focus.

I didn't think that this view would be so interesting if I did it again from different angles, although it was a close-run second to the hall stand view I chose in the end.
This one was not done as part of the exercise at all, but inspired by those sketches I did this
one of my daughter playing on the Nintendo, in pastels to try to capture the colours I could see.
I put some details in with a pencil, on the hand and the pattern of the pink quilt, but didn't want to overdo it after the detailed lines of the previous drawings.
I like the way pastels work when you use them loosely. I think it worked pretty well,
and reminds me of what it was like to be there peacefully in the room together.