Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

January 10, 2016

The Educated Eye

Modern classical music does not generate large sales or indeed in the grander scheme of things many listeners. That said musicians often find it interesting and challenging to play. Why is this? The question was brought to mind by some very beautiful pen drawings I saw recently, (I won’t post them as I would not wish to offend the artist) the drawings in question were fantastically detailed and beautifully drawn. I admired the way various parts had been rendered with very fine strokes. I then leafed through a few more which were much the same all of which showed a staggering degree of concentration. However after the marvelling at the application and patience I quite quickly ran out of things to admire. Every part was complete and defined, there were no bits unresolved.

The next thought to strike me was to remember how when younger I used to enjoy doing much the same sort of thing. I used to do fine stipple work and hatched drawings for magazine illustrations, not as manically detailed as the drawings referred to above but still a lot of very fine work. I can well remember working on them. Stipple is built up in many layers of dots, thousands upon thousands of them in one drawing. Areas were conquered centimetre by centimetre, hour by hour. The activity is quite straightforward and almost meditative, I well remember being actually quite thrilled at the idea of taking on something really laborious.

The two thoughts are connected I think. We all admire something that has an obviously huge amount of labour. Both Musicians and Artists like the idea of taking on a technical challenge. I have noticed over the years that painters like pictures for quite different reasons to most casual viewers. Painters will admire brushwork, drawing or a particularly nifty composition. They will often ignore subject. I’m sure that trained musicians hear fascinating technical complexities in a Birtwhistle composition rather then the tuneless random sounds that I hear.

This brings me to the main thought of this post. Experts and collectors in any field will develop an ever more sophisticated appreciation of their subject. So wine experts will gurgle and spit and mutter unlikely metaphors for what they are experiencing. However I have read that blind tasting has shown that a substantial part of their refined appreciation is in their imagination rather in the taste of the plonk. It is I suspect the same with art experts, their reactions to any piece are a complex mix of previous experience, historical perspective, desire to be seen to be liking the right stuff etc. The actual visual experience is I think way down the pecking order as the source of the reactions provoked. In a way their experience has become jaded. This happens all the time in life, of the first 200 books you read in your life many will blow you away, but once you reading tally becomes nearer to 10,000 then you are harder to please.

So how to deal with this as a painter? Do I want to paint for my peers and connoisseurs? Well yes I would like to please them, but not I feel at the expense of excluding people with less refined (or maybe less jaded) sensibilities. Also you need to try and see your work without the refined appreciation of technique that having learnt to carry out the tricky business of painting has inevitably developed. The technical stuff, both conceptual and practical, should be there but never overwhelm.

Over the years of having people visit me I have noticed that there are “picture people” who look at every picture in the room and others to whom they are apparently invisible. There is no guessing who will be interested, some artists seem to not notice pictures at all yet my window cleaner, a man with little or no education, used to examine each one carefully. I asked him if he often went to galleries to look at pictures, but he said no he didn’t feel comfortable going in he didn’t feel they were of him. I wondered how many others feel the same. Junk shops are welcoming but picture galleries are somehow unwelcoming. I even feel it myself and the aloof staff of many galleries make you feel you should not linger unless you are going to buy.

A mixed rag bag of work this time, I have been very busy with all the seasonal diversions that my posting has got behind!

I have decided to learn how to do Lino cuts… I didn’t fancy all the acid and so forth for etching and really pen drawing fills that creative slot for me. It is the limitations of the medium that attracts.

Hambledon, Dorset, lino cut, print

So here is my first attempt. The top one is as it comes out and the lower hand tinted. I was pleasantly surprised at how quick the process was. This is Hambledon Hill yet again.

 

Lino cut, print, figure, nude

For my second attempt I went for something different. I have yet to develop a set of patterns to suggest various forms, here I am experimenting with a vertical flow. The previous one I did in old fashion lino. This one I did in Easycut. I have to say that the “easy” is a misnomer, it is actually I found more difficult. Being very rubbery lines close together tend to waver and each little curl of the offcuts has to be picked off. The softness also makes over cutting and getting width variations in one stroke distinctly harder. Ink wise the first one is in water based ink which has disadvantages also. It dries on the glass rolling out plate so you have to work fairly quickly. Also it is not really waterproof when dry which makes washing with colour afterwards a delicate business. The figure is done in oil based which I found much nicer. Easier to burnish to get solid blacks and properly waterproof. The advantage of water based they say is cleaning up, but I actually found the oil based easier to clean as well. The lesson seems to be that if anyone advertises a product as easy then take the claim with a pinch of salt!

Fontmell Down, drawing, Dorset

Here is my plan for the next print of Fontmell Down Dorset. I will be using 2 plates so planning is important! Not sure if this is quite there yet.

 

Romsey, Abbey, church, drawing, hampshire, pen and ink

A bit of three point perspective of the wonderful Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. I got very into drawing this out! Acute views like this are all about compromises, I should probably do a studio version as some bits are a little awry.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, landscape, drawing

This is the path to Hambledon hill fort. I am experimenting with colour mixed with the pen and ink. One great advantage of dull light is that you have plenty of time  to work on site so I got most of this done bar the foreground. With pen and wash I try to do most of the washes first otherwise the pen work softens too much. Where I want the pen work softer I can of course add another layer of washes on top, which is what happened here. The misty distance has a glaze of white over to give atmosphere.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink

Bit of a strange one. A very grey day on Hambledon Hill. I had been stuck indoors due to the monsoon and was desperate to do something but the light was terribly dull and I couldn’t settle. In the end I did this but probably shouldn’t have bothered! The lady on a white horse looked great though and I could not resist trying to put her in.

 

Shepherd Market, London, brass Monkeys, drawing

A visit to London, this is Shepherd Market. I love the rain in London and the way it brings the light down into the street. I intended to add pen but it didn’t need it in the end.

 

Curzon St, London, pen and ink, drawing

I had to have two goes at this as the first session got rained off. This is Curzon St. I love picking apart these city scenes. When you first look it all seems too much but once you are started the really important bits soon take over.

 

Piccadilly, London, drawing, street, urban

I nearly didn’t do this one of Piccadilly but having taken a snap on my phone I thought it looked interesting. It is easy to get put off by a busy scene like this, it can seem a bit overwhelming. Actually this was quite quick to do as it is just 3 washes with detail picked out on top. So after drawing the dark righthand side and the street went in in one wash. Next came the lighter lefthand buildings and finally the pavement tone. After that I drew in the darks and dark detail in with a brush. Then just the highlights and touches of colour to finish. People often ask me how I get the cars to look right, well there is no secret, just practice them draw them over and over until the basic shapes are in your memory. Once you have the ability to draw a generic car without one being present then customising them for an individual scene is much easier. Also lighting can be picked off any car as it goes by. If you wait another will be along in a second! That said the white car I partially cribbed from a snap on my phone as it was key to the whole picture. I was done in about 40min.

 

A3, Wandsworth, Pen and ink, drawing

Wonderful light and rain as I was driving home to Dorset. This is Holy Trinity West Hill Wandsworth. No I didn’t sit in the road drawing! I took a snap when stuck in traffic not really thinking of doing anything from it, but when I looked at my photos it rather took my fancy. A lot of imagination here as the phone snap was very blurry through the windscreen!

November 29, 2015

The Importance of Drawing

Filed under: Drawing,Life Drawing,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , — Rob Adams @ 3:21 pm

Looking back over past posts I have not really dealt with drawing. Not techniques more the whys and wherefores. In some ways I write this blog to sort out my own opinions on things. All too often once your words look back at you from the screen you think, “I’m not sure that I really agree with myself!” Indeed reading back there are more than a few of my own posts I would not entirely agree with. Not that I will change them I would not like to develop a reputation for intellectual consistency.

So, drawing, what exactly do I think about it? Firstly I suppose I need to ask: What is drawing? Making a mark on a surface that can be interpreted by others is a fairly catch all definition. This implies an actual transfer via the medium of information from one individual to another. So abstract squiggles and random mark making are out I’m afraid. They may be beautiful but not in my view drawing. So writing is drawing. Not the information contained in the writing but the information that identifies the character. So the individual letters are drawn. Plans and schematics are drawings. Indeed we perhaps need to arrange the types of drawing by what cargo of information they carry.

So a drawing can carry abstract information as letter shapes do. Symbols perform a similar function.

A drawing can carry information about a three dimensional object such as building or a planet as in a map.

Drawings can plan a two dimensional image such as a painting or a poster.

Here of course as with all art subjects we run into boggy ground. Drawing is both a noun and a verb. Is a finished painting a drawing? Certainly drawing is used in its creation. Is that drawing somehow different to the drawing that was used in the same painting’s planning? Are cave paintings drawings? Can finished things be drawings or only the preparatory work?

Perhaps we might say that only preparatory drawings should be given the noun a “drawing”. Does that mean my pen and inks aren’t drawings? There is no doubt in my mind that the meaning for the noun is muddy indeed and I haven’t even mentioned sketches!

So perhaps the verb will be more helpful. Making a mark to convey information. Once that mark is made then it is something else. A painting, a drawing, letter, a plan, all these things can be made by the act. This line of reasoning makes me also feel that the act means making marks that can in general be consistently interpreted by others. So if you were to show the item to a panel of viewers you would get a fair degree of congruency in the replies.

From there it is a small step to grade our results in the success of transferring information with our mark making. So if we draw a girl and our panel only replies that it is a girl we plainly haven’t been as capable as if the panel reports that it was a sad young girl. If we got the report back that it was a sad young girl by using a thousand marks it plainly would not be as efficient as if we got the same result by only using ten. Of course some moods might be conveyed by using many marks in groups, what we call shading or hatching, but perhaps they might be considered as a composite rather than individual marks.

Now to move on to what might make a good drawing. I tentatively might say brevity of means. I think this is best illustrated by the sort of atelier drawing where every nuance of shade is noted down. They are an attempt to convey the full visual experience of seeing a body in tone. However they fail miserably to convey any information about moving or breathing let alone sadness or joy. Despite the claims of the Atelier system of roots back to the past none of the so called old masters draw in such a constipated manner. The 18th 19th century history painters are the ones really to blame.

So how do we learn to draw as best we may? The secret, if such there is, is in training the brain to do most of the work in the background. If we are struggling in placing things, controlling our medium etc then the battle is lost before it has begun. We might manage a creditable drawing of a building or still life, but drawing a person would be a step past that and likely not a success. Many artists I talk to scorn accuracy, to my mind this just means they cannot be bothered with the sometimes frustrating business of learning. The art establishment’s unfounded ideas that such skills are irrelevant don’t help either.

Whether you like it or not the first steps will be tight and more of a graph than a drawing. That is necessary however to train the brain to do all the measuring unconsciously. Inexperienced artists see an experienced draughts person knocking in a figure whilst seeming not to measure, but that is because they have spent so many years measuring that the process has become internalised. The same is true for the assessment of tone etc.

This is why life drawing is so important. It is the mixture of long and short poses that forces us to quickly select the key elements in a pose. At first it seems impossible, but as we practice more and more of the process is taken over by the unconscious. Once that happens then the whole thing becomes more manageable. So the message is predictable I’m afraid, practice, practice, practice!

So a few life drawings to show that I’ve got a long way to go too. However good you get, a good life session will cut you down to size and deflate the ego!

life drawing

15min here I drew deliberately slowly, trying not to make a mark unless I had a purpose for it. It is very easy with life drawing to scribble and hope. Get into the rhythm of, observe, assess, make a mark, observe assess, make a mark etc. You so often see people only occasionally lifting their heads to observe. You should spend longer observing than drawing.

life drawing

In comparison a 3 minute effort. Again I will be pausing between each mark or set of marks.

 

life drawing

More very quick ones. I am using 2 ingredients only here. The flat of the conte for tonal blocks and the end for delineation. You can vary these ingredients but easier to just stick to one or two. Just doing the while thing in tonal blocks without line is a very good exercise.

life drawing

Here all the tonal areas were drawn first and the few key lines added only in the last minute or two of the 15min we had.

 

life drawing

I regularly change medium. Here I have just used tonal areas with no line at all. 20min

life drawing

Here is a 5 min one done the same way. There are only two layers, a dilute first shape then a darker to reinforce and correct.

life drawing

A whole half hour!! I try to start a longer pose in exactly the same way as a shorter one. I then lay repeated layers of observations down on top of each other, each one getting more defined. Whenever you stop a drawing it should look finished. To help with that it is a good idea to do sets of poses where the model just changes pose randomly. Whenever the model changed however long or short the pose was your drawing should look finished.

life drawing

Two 2 minute ones. At first it will seem impossible to get anything worthwhile down in that sort of time. Mostly it won’t be of course and many efforts will go in the bin. What you lose in accuracy you gain in vivacity. These brief splashes say more in my opinion about a living breathing being than any atelier drawing laboured over for a week.

life drawing

Here is one that is perhaps unfinished, I was miles away and not following how the 15 min was passing. I literally jumped when the timer went off! Now though it is incomplete it is not to my mind unfinished.

life drawing

Here is one where I stopped before the end of the pose. It would have been a better drawing if I had stopped earlier! You should always keep an eye out for when a drawing is complete, that will only rarely be when time is called. I often spend the last 5 min doing a lot of looking and very little mark making.

life drawing

Last one, have started to introduce pen. Adding an ingredient like an extra medium always raises new problems.

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