Monday, 31 October 2011

Portrait progress!

Had a much better session with James Lloyd. I asked for help! A bit of a shock to both of us. He was supportive and got me to realize the tyranny of the line in portrait drawing: there are people who can use line with real impact, but those are people who can draw. James made it clear that it was my detail and line that was holding my drawings back. What I needed to do was to concentrate on form and the best way to do that was to concentrate on light and shade. So a couple of much more convincing efforts (still looking a bit embarrassing on the wall for the crit at the end). Both heads have some body and depth. Only I will know the degree to which I had captured a likeness: truth is not much, but there are aspects that match and the over all impression is so much more convincing. Still got a mountain to climb, but in the foothills at least:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Jerwood Drawing prize. Liz Bailey's bonzai tree

Went to the Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition. On my own as away in Bangkok for the course trip. Plenty to talk about not least the incredible range of what passes for 'drawing'. Most showed a wonderful command of the medium, but others seem to be challenging the whole notion of a drawing. The winners were, strangely given the range, very traditional drawings on a grand scale. Both displayed incredible skill and a similar degree of whimsy in the subject matter.

One drawing had special resonance as I had visited the artist, Liz Bailey's studio while she was int he middle of the drawing.In the exhibition you saw a gloriously detailed drawing of a tree some two metres in height. What is not clear is that she has scaled this up from a dead bonsai tree approximately 6" high. An inspiring feat of close observation drawing and very beautiful as well.

Here is the tree and the drawing. the tree was suspended with nylon fishing line.

 Here is the tree:
An here are the pencil sharpenings that she carefully collected by the drawing!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Portrait pain!

Completed the first three weeks of Drawing the Head with James Lloyd at the Princes' Drawing School. I knew this was going to be challenging and was braced to have my technical skills cruelly exposed. I was on the other hand hoping for some guidance and even some real teaching. But, so far, that is not the way it is. For a start it is essentially a group of people all of whom seem to have had a lot of experience and seem to be regular attenders. There is a knowing air about the place, no room for my clumsy uncertainty. James is pleasant but he clearly takes a pride in not being an interventionist. He devotes much of his time to those who are clearly on top of the task: it is a discourse that both he and they sound comfortable with and feels a long way from where I am.
My first efforts were crude and lacking in any signs of control or interpretation. Just a desperate attempt to achieve approximate proportion and a strive for the endless number of nuances that make up a distinctive head.

It has to be said that one of the disadvantages of not being an old hand was that I got there too late to get a decent angle on the model. The harsh profile did not help me. But then the worst part was the crit at the end where we were asked to put up our drawings on the wall. I was pretty unhappy with my efforts by my own criteria, but the humiliation of having it sticking out like a septic thumb amongst a variety of delicate and stylish efforts was more than I could bear. Worst was watching James moving across the collection and doing a brief intake of breath followed by delicate shimmy to get past mine without comment!

The next week was not a lot better but at least I had a better angle to work with. What I also discovered was that doing one drawing for two hours was actually making things worse. Here is the study after just half an hour:
 The third week continued to be a battle. I was determined to loosen up, to use charcoal in a more expressive way and not get bogged down in details (mouths. . ugh!). The end result was, I think and hope better although it seems to me to lack character: too much close observation (not very accurate) and not enough interpretation.
A week off while I go to Bangkok. Then back to it in the hope that there will be a little more teaching on offer, but I suspect in the context of this group, I am beyond the easy discourse of the competent.

At the start: deciding on a way forward

Like most of the group, I have been somewhat uncertain as to how to start off on what will be a ten month journey culminating in our show next July. It is hard to plan a journey when you really have little idea where the first stop might be, leave alone the end destination. My skull development, described in the last post, is clearly a place to start, but after a tutorial with Chris and discussions with others, it all suddenly seems a little predictable and even aimless.

But it was clear I could easily think my way into stasis and after an encouraging chat with my good friend and art mentor Pete Sanders I felt encouraged just to loosen up and try a few things: in particular, some collage. So first session, spent the morning putting together a collage with torn up pieces of cardboard, and one of my first lino cuts. It was satisfying and indeed suggested one way forward. It had a feel of those English abstract landscapes that I admire and aspire to:
As well as the collage I worked in some detail in pen and colour with oil pastels.

The other direction I have been pursuing has been the very traditional type of research which is merely to do a lot of closely observes pencil and pen drawings of skulls of various kinds. Started at the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of surgeons, where I spent time on a tiger skull:
 Then took one of the teeth formations and used pastels to develop the landscape idea:
Later in the week to the Science Museum and Pitt Rivers where I worked on a baby elephant's skull in charcoal and pencil:
And then the feet structure:

The close observation is always good and also finding the appropriate mark making to render the detail is also valuable. I am trying to focus my attention on fragments, looking for the shapes and the formation that lie below them. In one sense forcing myself to explore the abstract potential.
Back in class I took some of those sketches and went in another stage. Here is a close up study of a filigree segment of the skull:
Then an attempt to use light and shade in charcoal to isolate another set of shapes.
 I am still not sure where it is leading, but there has been some development around the collage and the detailed observation so I shall continue for a week or two to see how it builds up. In a couple of weeks I am going for a week in Wales, where I am going to follow this work up with a series of colour sketches in oils and pastels.