Sunday, 31 October 2010

Fifth and final drawing session with Tony Hull

We were asked to bring in a favourite object. After much thought, I opted for my original Leatherman in its leather case. Bought in 1993 in Portland Oregon, the home of Leathermen and very remarkably not lost in the interim, so a favourite of some standing. Also something that I quite liked the idea of drawing. There was a pleasing variety of other objects, but Phillip stole the show with a bottle of Teachers whiskey!

Tony asked us to scatter the objects across the floor. Then started with a blank sheet of paper and asked us each to place one of the three core shapes: triangle, circle square on the sheet where it felt right. After about ten of us had done it, the sheet looked like this:
The point was to think about how natural composition worked. Certain shapes in one area seemed to require a shape of certain size in another. Then we started to look at how vertical and horizontal lines were defined. We talked about the power of the thirds and the golden mean. Composition is about so much more: not just shape, scale and position: it is about how your eye gets drawn across and through the picture. I feel that I may intuit natural composition and my photography has taught me a lot especially about light and shade in composition, but I still do not feel confident graphically as the rest of the session proved.

Then we set about building up our own drawing by choosing some of the objects and placing them on the page. Initially thinking only about the composition, not the representation. My first efforts were predictably bland.
The Leatherman and its case featured, as well as the whiskey bottle, a corkscrew and a human dummy shape. It was peculiarly unpleasing as a composition at this stage. However, in true Tony style he encouraged us to push everything round. We consulted with each other. (the group is getting more and more supportive and engaged with each other). Eventually I managed to get things looking a little more 'composed' and with a little more tension. But as ever I was discouraged by my failure to take risks: these were still a bunch of drawings (not so small we were working on A1) laid out across the page. Others had achieved more contrast and more flow.

Once we had achieved a composition we were happy with, then we started trying to draw more accurately using the careful observation that Tony has been instilling in us. In the end I was happier with my rendering of many of my objects, but still felt dissatisfied with the overall composition. There is a little tension in the negative space between the dummy and the bottle and corkscrew is doing something. The odd abstract shape in the top right could have been more powerful and it is there that I would have liked to have done something that challenged the whole cosy set up. These objects need to interact far more dynamically and even the shadows of previous efforts fail to give it that interaction.
Despite my almost relentless sense of disappointment, I do feel that I have learnt a lot from these sessions with Tony. Drawing is hard! But it is about so much more than just making things look 'right'. The layers of a drawing, the pushing and pulling each line and each shape until it means something, that's what I will take away from this. I very much hope that I can take some these drawings into the next stage, because it was indeed the revelation that drawing can be just like painting in this regard that was the key moment for me.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Fourth Drawing Session with Tony Hull

This was a tough session. Another six hours of hard drawing only this time Tony started us off by placing a piece of paper on the floor and asking us to draw it! It was a significant agony! My sheer inability to 'see' the angles the lines, the perspective or anything was humiliating. (Reassuringly, I was not alone).

Turns out drawing a sheet of paper is indeed very testing. Tony helped by showing how to create a rectangular guide around your drawing and then to measure angels and proportions against the rectangle. Despite this and despite some basic explanation of perspective. (The sides are not parallel as I would have expected, but in fact converge towards the vanishing point), this exercise and its development into more sheets and more shapes, cruelly exposed my basic weaknesses both in seeing and then representing what I have seen. As more sheets and shapes were added my drawing became more chaotic and less accurate. By three o'clock ( a long time to be drawing sheets of paper!) I was weakening. Of course I realized that this is exactly the rigour that I need and that I need to keep challenging myself to see more analytically. To block out what I think I see and establish what is actually there.
Then just at the point when I would have chucked in the towel, Tony asked us to look at what we had and try to make a drawing out of it: something completely different. Follow your nose wherever these messy shapes suggested. So here is where I started:
And here is where I got to an hour later:
I found myself with a sort of Roy Lichtenstein pastiche:losing almost all of my original shapes (which was a pity . The real challenge of this was to adapt what you had in the first place, not remove it). I had succeeded in establishing a strong sense of direction, but nothing much else. I was disappointed in my efforts, but could see the benefit of transforming what feels like a mess into something vaguely visually interesting.
This whole session chimed with what I had been reading in Art and Fear.
Dean Melbourne mentioned this book in his blog. It is a reassuring little book which deals with just how tough it is to make decent art. Here's how it starts:

Making art is difficult. We leave drawings unfinished. We do work that does not feel like our own. We repeat ourselves. We stop before we have mastered our materials or continue on long after their potential is exhausted.

Then a few pages on:

The fear that you are only pretending to do art is the (readily predictable) consequence of doubting your own artistic credentials. . .It's easy to imagine that real artists and that they (unlike you) re entitled to feel good about themselves and their art. Fear that you are not a real artist causes you to undervalue your work.

Actually it is a reassuring book which I shall continue to dip into.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Colour Mixing with Chris Hough

I am going to miss this session when I am away in San Francisco and so Chris kindly let me sit in on the Saturday group's. Despite the fact that I have had several sessions with several teachers on colour mixing, I suppose you can never have enough. Chris certainly brought a different approach and I found it very helpful So a few pointers that made sense. First the palette. Mine have always been pretty chaotic and Chris is quite clearly NOT chaotic: possible a bit anal for me, but order must help at the outset at least. So here's how he suggested you lay out your palette:
Keeping colours in a line and in the right association across the spectrum. Then he made one other suggestion that really made sense: give yourself four separate piles of white. That way you can keep it clean for each separate colour mix.
He gave us a severe lecture on the importance of priming: preferably two layers of white acrylic (Chris does 8!!). I suggested that you can give yourself a ground colour at this stage as I have done with grey which I have liked.
He then introduced two alternative approaches to colour mixing Recipe v Senses. The recipe approach is traditional in origin: "mix these colours in these proportions to get skin tone" where a more modern and potentially much more satisfying approach is  based on a subjective judgement of what colours look and feel like and is based on a more experimental mixing approach: does this look/feel right? He linked the 'sense' approach to Bauhaus and the influence of psycho analysis movement in the 20's.
Then we started mixing, working in pairs which was very reassuring. Chris gave us some objects and told us to try and match them. So here are a couple of examples of our efforts:

Not totally inspiring but closer than I might have got before trying to do more by eye. One piece of advice was to leave the white until last.
Unfortunately I had to leave the session before we got into mixing much more subtle ( and challenging)colours: the grey of the wall, the brown of the floor etc. However, Chris did explain the approach which is to go with what you think are the colours that exist in these ambiguous shades and use them as your starter. I could see how it might work but I have a real problem seeing colour (a bit of a set back for a wannabe painter!). So when someone says 'what colours do you see in that drab grey?' I have great trouble. When I am with someone who can 'see and describe' colour, I realize how hopeless I am. However, that will not stop me taking a much more 'sensual' approach to colour mixing when we get onto painting.

Theory Session Contd

A couple more artists mentioned by Ed Jeavons. The first was Ian McKeever. Ed described his work as 'subdued'. From what I can see his work is largely large abstract which one of the biog's describes as 'essentially abstract but also anchored in experiences of the landscape and interiors'. An example suggests strong but limited and sometimes subdued palette, but well worth pursuing to fuel my abstract landscape aspirations:
And then he spoke about Luc Tuymans whom I have already come across. Not surprisingly I am drawn to his work since he took time out as an artist to work as a filmmaker and then brought back to his art all the language of film: close-ups, cropping and sequencing. However, a not of caution in that Ed reckons most art colleges have banned their students from pursuing Tuymans related work presumably because it causes rather predictably referential work.
 He also talked about Peter Doig. Again someone who's work I have come across and find very powerful if a little too mystical for my liking.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Session Three: Theory

This was led by Ed Jeavons and started with a presentation that took us through a list of different types of painting and in so doing introduced an interesting range of artists work: many I had not heard of.
'Ambitious New Plans' Jules de Balincourt
 First off was 'Political' and he used a painting by Jules de Balincourt.

Then he suggested 'Race' and we looked at the rather wonderful work of Mark Bradford: "map-like, multifaceted paper collages point not only to the organization of streets and buildings in downtown Los Angeles, but also provide striking imagery of crowds, ranging from civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to present-day protests concerning immigration issues." I very much like his mixing and mashing and then sanding the down and adding more. Multi layers and rich texture of real things. A nice collection here
 Then we got onto Gender (can't control the italics: this post has a typographical life of its own!) the example here was Cecily Brown. A lot of here work is abstract impressionism and when she does go more figurative I would say she is less concerned with gender as a political statement, and more  with feminine eroticism. But I like her abstracts: although this was what we looked at:
Cecily Brown: Teenage Wildlife
 The next category was 'Painting Tradition'. This seemed rather odd as a category but Ed showed us a range of painters making the case that they were deliberately located themselves within the tradition usually to subvert it. Although his first example was the 2006 Turner Prize winner Tomma Abts with what I would call respectful abstracts in the graphic style. An example here.
Then Frank Auerbach with  the emphasis on 'truth' and honesty his heavy use of paint  springs from the classical tradition, but is repurposed in a visceral manner. "Each brush stroke searching for truth" I particularly like this mono tonal portrait I found later:
Frank Auerbach: Head of E.O.W. IV   
And finally in this section we looked at Glenn Brown who Ed described as mocking Auerbach  and talks about 'these paintings are habits of the hand'. Good example here.

There are another five categories to go, but I will stop here. maybe to return.

Session Three: drawing

Only half a day on drawing, the afternoon was to be on theory. I have to say my heart sank rather when Tony once again put out a still life on the floor with a very similar set of objects which we were to draw using charcoal in much the same way as we had in the first two sessions. This is not a still life than inspires and the way the objects were set out today left acres of empty space so finding a decent composition was particularly challenging:
There was the usual struggle placing the objects in the drawing. Once again the rubbing away, left traces of where I had been. Not quite as stimulating the third time and I was worried that this would be a rather unproductive session. but two things emerged. The first was Tony's admonishment to explore the empty space in the composition: but if we were going to do that, we needed to make sure it was a deliberate decision, put more space into the drawing, make a feature of it. In this case we were helped with the white sheets. So that helped me find a composition that was over half empty space.

The second thing that happened was he encouraged us to look at and make suggestions and Steve came up to mine and was forthright in feeling that the drawing could be re-framed: get closer fill the sheet even more. Below shows where we got too. Again rubbing out the bit we didn't want. and then re drawing it to fill the whole sheet.
There would have been a time when I could not have countenanced starting the drawing again to make it fill the whole sheet, but these sessions have, as i have said before, encouraged me to feel happy to re arrange and transform a picture at late stage. This is good lesson: I have often get stuck with a drawing that clearly wasn't working but that didn't stop me from battling on and living with its problems. I am learning to feel the same way with my oil painting. I suspect this is a big lesson.
 So here is the finished drawing. Not a huge development from the finished drawings from week one and two, but I am interested in the way they have become more abstract and I do think they have given me a vocabulary that I can develop later in the course with other media:

Sunday, 3 October 2010

What's it all for?

I have started to list blogs that I would like to follow. I have already mentioned Dean Melbourne's blog 'From Perfume to Birdsong more lyrical title than my own. . can you change the name of your blog??). However, Dean's blog was really what got me going and in particular his reasons for his own blog. These are:

  • help me to clarify my ideas. On that score I feel more certain than ever that I now have clarity about what makes me tick, the kinds of things that I want to express and the themes I want to explore. This will of course change and grow but it is not a problem that needs solving anymore.
  • Build confidence in showing my work and sharing my ideas. It has been great to get comments and feedback and get used to showing what I do. Even the things that might never have been seen. I have done this in a very visual way but I feel that I have opted out of really sharing my ideas in writing. This is a bigger challenge for me and something that the blog could be about from now on.
  • Give a behind the scenes view of my practise. This lately has taken the form of lots of progress shots. I have felt great about that (partly because i am justifying to myself that I am productive) But I am not sure these always make good posts and I hope to be showing the work in the flesh more often and am starting to feel that I would like to retain some “magic” for seeing them in the flesh. I certainly don't want to close the doors as the sense of people being around is essential to me personally. But perhaps the focus may shift from the physical to the philosophical (a bit).
Virtually all of this makes sense to me. the only difference is that Dean is clearly an accomplished and trained artist and I am most emphatically not.

Will be looking out for more artists' blogs to follow.

More examples of diary drawing or pintimento

First I found this video of an animated series of very simple drawings of a hand  that demonstrates the way the previous drawings can remain there and enhance the story of the sketches. 

And here's a charcoal life sketch by a Canadian artist Julia Trops that makes me particularly sad to be missing the life drawing session on my course. What is also lovely about this drawing are the hints of colour.

 And then here's a drawing by Giacometti which shows exactly, in the hands of a master , the process of searching for the line and form can in itself be such a powerful image.

Friday, 1 October 2010


A pentimento (plural pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word derives from the Italian pentirsi, meaning to repent. 

Where I have been using the word palimpsest, it looks as if this is the more painterly term.

Found this in an excellent artists blog I am following by Dean Melbourne
Dean Melbourne's blog

Day Two: City Lit Fine Art with Tony Hull

This was another great session. Challenging and very tiring but ultimately satisfying. This was a proper lesson over five hours, starting this time with an established complete still life: again with a range of infuriatingly difficult shapes that I am starting to get familiar with. It began with twenty minutes to get down the first best guess. No direct measuring, just by eye. As before a lot of distortion and in my case, no sense that my eye was any more practiced than it had been. Painful, but Tony is very clear that this is just a ranging shot: getting something down. It will not last long. After 20 minutes we all went round and looked at each others and marked on the drawings  what we thought was the most interesting space on the drawing. We returned to find a series of crosses on our own, in my case clustered around a central conjunction of shapes.
 We were then asked to find a considerably smaller frame that took in the area that had attracted the most attention. Once we had found that we then rubbed down the rest of the drawing leaving a ghost of our first efforts. This was very satisfying, to essentially dim out the rest of the drawing leaving just the bit you were interested in.
 The idea was to still leave the residue of the original effort but in my case the effect was a bit muted. In some of the others, this dimming effect worked really well and almost created another idea for a drawing.

  Then the task was to expand the new cropped version into the full page. However, we were also going to return to the still life and really get this new composition to be accurate: measuring, negative space, proportion and perspective. Laying in guidelines as before gave an extra linear element to the drawing which i would like to have retained.The trouble was that this then changed the composition yet again as items slipped off the edge and others came in. Notice the bowl, which in my first sketch and frame is almost out: when properly positioned it ends up being well into the bottom half of the picture. At this stage I also had retained some of the marks relating to first efforts. There is no doubt that these are interesting and I regretted losing them as the drawing progressed.

The next stage was to approach shading. Tony suggested that we start by identifying anything that was in the bottom third of the grey scale and to draw any shape in this range solid black: regardless of whether it necessarily 'made sense'.  I found this a really valuable exercise as I have always had trouble hitting the hard blacks, which has meant that a lot of my drawings lack strong black tones. With these blacks the drawing took on an abstract look, which was quite pleasing in itself.
For the last stage (after over four hours on this drawing), it was about modifying the hard blacks where appropriate with a some mid tones. This was also a time to start working with the rubber to find and accentuate the highlights.Leaving a good strong drawing, but as ever, slightly over worked and because of the work with the rubber, missing enough of the  drawing history to add that extra ingredient that has been such a feature of these two days' work.