Monday, 31 August 2015

Assignment Two

For this assignment I want to carry on exploring the possibilities of using the mallard skeleton. What is interesting to me is:
- the contrast between the idea of a duck that I have in my head vs. the actual complexity of a real duck.
- explore further how to use a darker background and lighter tones to bring out the structure of the object (and this difficulty I seem to have getting the whole range of tones into my drawings)
- I don't want it to be completely naturalistic - perhaps exploring the funny side of skeletons doing things?

But 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.

I had a go at drawing one of the more extreme versions of 'mental duck':

Rubber duckie in a more accurate range of colours

Rubber ducky in Sharpie
Clearly far too naive, glossy, and
yellow to be an actual duckling.

Photograph by Charles J Sharp (see earlier in blog for website link)
It has great composition - are those ducklings on the golden section? - and the warm feelings you get when you see a mother and children. The water looks as though I could manage something like it in a drawing.

I tried it out using crayon, which was too scrappy and low intensity.

Using watercolour was more effective. This was a bit too deep and green, so would need more white and less yellow.

The marks I did initially underneath the watercolour to show the movement of the water did not work as wel as the ones I did afterwards (with crayon). My attempts to scratch the surface were not so effective in this case.

So, by this time I was wondering if I could use ducklings and skeleton together in this composition to illuminate my point about mental images and reality?

Sketch of my idea for final piece
Various titles came to mind, but as the point is about the differences,
my preferred title is Generation Gap
I have decided on cream paper that can take watercolour and have a bit of texture but not too much. My intention at first was to use narrow masking tape round the outside to make it look like those Audobon type paintings, but on reflection that plan was in fact for one option of the previous exercise, and would not add to the meaning or appearance of this one.

I have already worked out which media I will to use - colour pencils for the skeleton; felt tip pens for the ducklings; watercolours and pencils for the water background.

The blue flash on the mallard would not be necessary as the water will be showing through between the bones.

My intention is that the yellow and red ducklings on the blue background are quite intense and attractive colour combination, and the skeleton bones and delicate tone detail only dawn on you later.

I haven't done anything with watercolour background like this before, but I'm hoping it will work OK.

First stage
It was helpful to have the phrase 'Spend time gradually building the drawing' to calm
my nerves at this point. I tried to emphasise the boniness of this, and the amount of empty
space, with the marks I used. I really like the way that, because it comes from a standing rather
than swimming duck, it seems to be craning forward a little in a slightly anxious way,
which will go well with the role of it as mother of rather too many little ones.
At this point I realised that where it touched the water would be different from in the photograph
I was adapting for this drawing. The colours and material I picked were intended to
give a feeling of age and dryness. You can just see where I lightly sketched in the ducklings
to make sure they would be in the right places.
Second Stage (sorry about the wire across the photo)
Drawing in the rubber ducklings. I tried to put the shadows where I thought they would be.
Doing this it seemed wrong to give them black felt pen eyes (they would stand out too much), so I went for brown instead. I tried to make some of them look in other directions so they would look more characterful. In retrospect I think having them all looking exactly the same might have been better. Anyway, After this I put in some of the reflection marks and looked at it as a whole in terms of composition. I found that I had put the ducklings too high up after all, so I would need to remove some of the bottom of the paper to compensate, and perhaps some from the sides too. 
Stage 3
It took me some practice to be able to make the right marks with the watercolour and brush (cobalt blue). This is ok but I'm sure it could be a lot better. And I made the heads of some of the ducklings green and/or different shapes where they overlapped. Anyway, it does give the impression of wavelets and the water going off into the distance, as I wanted. The shadows were a bit more difficult and I think not so effective, especially under the mother duck, and in the top righthand corner. I think, having looked at this photo, I will do a bit more work on them before sending my assignment to my tutor.
Assignment 2
Generation Gap
Coloured pencil, felt pen and watercolour

1. Development of technical and visual skills
Well, I don't think there can be any doubt that my skills in these areas have improved, but they're still in the adequate or limited boxes. Lots of work to be done, but I feel that I have made a good start on this.
I've just been reading lots of emails from other Drawing 1 students and there seems to be a groundswell of feeling that this assignment is a long and difficult one for many. I certainly found it a challenge at the beginning, but in retrospect I can see how much I have learned, and have perhaps an idea of some of the areas I could explore to learn more.
2. Quality of outcome
I think the quality of outcome varies a lot for me - partly due to ignorance of the effect of particular techniques before I do them, and partly because I'm still learning what is needed in preparation for a drawing (as opposed to a piece of textile work). I think I have presented the work for this part two quite coherently despite doing the exercises the wrong way round, and understand conceptual/ visual ideas ok.
3. Demonstration of Creativity
Well, I haven't always been so creative during this part of the course as I would normally expect myself to be. I find it much easier to be free and experiment visually when I am working out how to make a particular thing eg in my preparations for the assignment piece, for example, rather than in the exercise trying out different materials for its own sake (although of course that has been useful). As for a personal voice it seems a bit soon, considering how much I still have to learn and try out.
4.  Context
I guess I think I have done some research, some of which has informed what I have done myself. eg I found the research about animal drawings enlightening - that they are not always realistic (or even real animals), and often used metaphorically. Which freed me up to make a lighthearted but serious point with my duck skeleton.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Colour and darkness update

It has slowly dawned on me (in part through my largely ineffective efforts to reproduce the effect I am looking for) that it's not just the level of darkness that appeals to me, but the level of contrast. This, of course is what my tutor was suggesting at the very beginning!

Of course this is not always true, because it depends on what I am drawing, but a bit of focus on contrast could get me a long way with my drawing I suspect. Looking back, at the drawings I have done during this part of the course...

Dark -low contrast

Higher contrast
Low contrast
Higher contrast

Dark - low contrast
Higher contrast

The lighter spikes give it more shape
and add to the compositional interest
Perhaps this one is an exception to this idea -
the lower contrast gives it an atmosphere and make me wonder
what the story is behind the picture.

Noticing contrast around me more. For example, the dishwasher - how does it look in monochrome, compared with one contrasting item?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Project 5 Exercise 4 using source material

Build on a found image of animal anatomy to make something more personal.

Images of skeletons I found that appealed...

This one is cute and has some movement to it
To webpage with this image
This one has character
Frog skeleton by hEyJudeStock

 Mallard duck and Pigeon

Smithsonian libraries
Mallard skeleton drawn by A.B Meyer 1879-97
This one looks dead
This one's posture is characteristic.
I can see it looking at something alertly.

skeleton_of_a_pigeon_by_hontor-d37vkk2 deviantart
This one looks a bit scared
I am interested in the feet.
Not sure what I could do with them though!

In the end I went for the duck skeleton, mostly because the posture of it seemed most duck-like, but also because it wasn't as clear as the others and knowing myself I thought that would make it easier for me to be inventive rather than just copying it.

I did some sketches to explore what was important and what direction I might go in for the drawing.

First, I did copy it, using dark paper and chalky crayons (because of my ongoing ideas about darkness), thinking about the shape, what makes it duck-shaped.
I tried to use white for the lightest parts, blue for medium, and red or tan when they came into the picture in real life. The background looked too dark once I'd done that, so I filled it in, and to an extent the negative spaces in the torso, with tan to take down the contrast a bit. 

I had made a mess of the feet, and in fact think that
they need a more sticky look to them, so I used
children's wax crayon for this sketch.
This one is about the striking contrast between the brown feathers and blue/green iridescent feathers which mark it as  a mallard in life. I wondered if I could somehow use that contrast to make the skeleton both an object of curiosity (like in a cabinet of curiosities), and remind us of how beautiful it was as a live bird.
I like the way this is going - although the intensity of the brown will have to be deeper, and I'll have to think about what paper to do it on to get the echos of sepia natural history drawings. Exactly where the blue bits should go, and what colour they are, is something I will have to think about before I do the drawing itself.

Some ideas of how to compose the final drawing.
There is something amusing about a skeleton behaving as if it were alive.
The one on the right was trying to emphasise how very double-curved the duck shape is - oddly but characteristically so. But I don't think that will work with the colouring idea.

I collected some relevant images:

An example of natural history drawings from Edwardian era, and what they looked like.

This one from a website called Surrender Dorothy. The numbers relate to the list of latin names at the bottom of the page of illustrations.Surrender Dorothy etsy site

And another whole page of birds from F E Wright Edwardian birds 1914 Natural History lithograph copyright Petitpouaillier 2009 Source of image

The backgrounds of both are coloured on cream paper, surrounded by a border of dark blue ink.
This one, by Carl Friedrich Dieker 1875 (Dieker_lagdbare_Riere_1093218.jpg) shows something of the colouring of mallards, and a naturalistic background, but on the same cream paper. I had forgotten that the male has a green head. And the colours are separated from the brown by strong stripes of white and black.

The Audubon print below has more accurate colouring, again on cream background, with copperplate labelling.  Anas platyrhynchos.
Plate 221 of the Birds of America J J Audubon

And finally, a real one, photograph by Charles J Sharp
This background is a more interesting colour than grasses, that reflects the flash on her wing.
Could I do a drawing of skeleton with flash on a watery background?
The colour of the bones and the colour of the shadows of wavelets could blend into each other...

I loved this photo, but I wasn't sure how I could get the skeleton in there and make it work. So, after some thought, I decided that I would go for the sepia idea, using the 'cabinet of curiosities' sketch as a basis for the composition. Because I wanted a medium that would allow me to get a reasonable amount of darkness in there, and mellowed with age, but also the ability to get quite a lot of detail into the skeleton, I chose the chalky pastels.

For the paper I wanted to make it quite large (as my drawings go anyway) with a long tall rectangular shape, so I cut an A3 piece of paper in half and stuck the pieces end to end. I thought this was OK (see Jerwood prize 2013) and would in fact work to make it look a bit more ancient. I used white paper with a bit of bite to take the colour better, and because my intention was to cover the whole of the surface.

To go on the other shelves of the cabinet, I chose two images which are bird related but a bit odd in context, because a skeleton with a flash of blue is a bit odd too.

When I was drawing the skeleton I was thinking about the sweep and shape of it, and how to show that it wasn't flat (by using tone). I used yellow for the brightest parts, to make them 'glow in the dark'. That was interesting because it meant that the white paper was not in fact the brightest part of the drawing. When drawing the background it was more about a/ the triangular shape and b/ suggesting wood markings. The background was imaginary which made it a bit more difficult to work out where the shadows should go etc.

Initially I made the background too light in tone and the duck and its detail were lost. So I darkened it, and increased the contrast between the parts of the background to make it more obviously three dimensional. I had to touch up the darker parts of the duck to work with this.

Cabinet of curiosities
Pastels on white cartridge paper

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Colour and darkness

I have been exploring a range of colours that I am repeatedly drawn to - dark intense but comples colours - and the effect of combining them. Part of a general attraction I have for the darker (visually rather than metaphorically) images, or how colours are different in the dark. Exploring through pinterest, and my own photos. And some efforts in my sketchbook to reproduce the interesting ones.

Dark cars and reflections in them

Concrete, slate and oxidised metal etc

The shop window on the right isn't so dark, but has a lovely cool intensity to the colour.

Fashion (from Vogue Aug15)
A page from my fashion textiles sketchbook showing dark intense colour range

Foliage and flowers

How different backgrounds affect colour

Blackberries in red bowl
This photo shows the complexity of the shapes, but not of the colours. There are many more variations and tints in the blackberries in real life.

With a medium tone warmish background, the red is duller, and the berries darker looking.

The red parts of the berries also look duller.

With a pale grey background the red is less intense, and the berries look more interesting and detailed.

With a darker greenish greybackground with a bit of texture to it, the photo becomes all about that texture. The red is deeper and the berries more sunken into the dark. The red on the berries is more intense and detailed though.

With a graduated background, the red on the bright side is darker than on the dull side. The berries are again less interesting and the red parts of them are paler and duller.

I did some sketches to explore this a bit more...

This one started out with beige background as in the photo above, but looks much more harmonious and homely with grey.

The fig's cool moderately dark colours give it an atmosphere of mystery!

The conch shell in bright dark colours looks dramatic.

For all these sketches I felt the need to simplify the shapes more than usual, which was much better for showing their shapes. Perhaps I have been putting too much detail in too early.

Variations in exposure
Since I was exploring dark colours, thinking about how attractive I found images taken in the dark in theatre and restaurant - here are a few photos I took, stolen from my earlier learning blogs from OCA.

Also finding appealing some of the artists who use very dark backgrounds eg Odilon Redon and Seurat drawings. Why? Mystery, radiance, altered colours. The backgrounds are not black but more complex colours. (except possibly the bottom left picture)

Reminding me of

James McNeil Whistler 1865 Nocturne in black and gold
Museum of Art Wsshington
(copied from

I should do some studies of how particular colours change as there is less light. These photos all seem to be yellower...

I did this series of photos to explore this, and see which level of light works best in my eyes:

The answer is this last darkest one is most appealing to me. More drama and mystery. Makes you look at the detail more intensely too.

Try doing a sketch like the Seurat ones, but in softer colour than 'black' and 'white'?

This was my first attempt to do that. I picked the conch because I had found it so engaging when I drew it before, but I was rushing at it, using coloured pencils, which didn't turn out as dark as I had hoped. Also, as you can see I didn't concentrate enough on tone.

So for this one I tried using wax resist for the lightest areas, and brown pencil for the darker ones, which again didn't work!

I think I should have tried a wash of something like watercolour rather than pencil...

So for the last one I went for basic tones, in cool dark colours, as planned:

Both from the point of view of dark cool colours giving it a feel I like, and from the point of view of tone giving shape.