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).

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