Seaweed impressions – drypoint prints

While in Wexford, Ireland in October I photographed some patterns in the sand that looked as if they were made by the action of the tide pulling seaweed back into the sea. They were a very special ready-made drawing and I was delighted to find them. I’d never seen anything quite like them before.

I’ve made a couple of drypoint prints from my photographs. As prints they become quite ambiguous. They could be seaweed, or hanging fronds of a tree or plant, or tresses of hair. I wonder what you see?

As a first attempt at reproducing drawings in the sand  I’m reasonably pleased with these prints but they don’t have the depth or beauty of the actual sand drawings. I’ll keep working with them…

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Project 4: The human form – final drawing

Stephen – 30 x 24 cm (pastel, pencil, charcoal)

The aim of this exercise was to create a journey which leads the eye of the viewer into the overlapping twists and turns of the limbs.

What works?

  • I’m fairly pleased with this. I feel I’ve learnt something about composition through the various exercises and it shows in this drawing. It’s a tight composition in which all the parts work and there is energy throughout, including at the edges. The negative shapes / space are good and definitely contribute.
  • The limbs themselves seem to lead he eye of the viewer. The pose is slightly ambiguous which is a good thing as it’s not necessary for everything to be immediately obvious.
  • This wasn’t an easy pose to draw because of the foreshortening. It’s not perfect but to my eyes there aren’t glaring errors in the proportions.  I did what I could to pull out muscles (there were only so many reference points) but I feel the figure has weight and stucture and, importantly,  looks alive which has not been the case with some of my life drawing in the past.

Before cropping

  • I cropped my drawing very slightly on the right to bring it back to my earlier crop  in the preparation exercises. I’d added a part of the arm thinking that it might make more sense of the pose and then I decided this was unnecessary and detracting  from the dynamism of the drawing.

 

 

The Family (Squatting Couple) – Egon Schiele, 1918 (the year before his death).

What could be improved?

  • I had a flick through a book of Egon Schiele drawings looking at his masterly use of line and tone. In response to this I strengthened some of the lines but they could still be bolder.
  • I also noted how Schiele often puts his figures against dark backgrounds which makes them stand out and gives emphasis to muscle and tone.
  • My lines could be looser and more expressive. I lost some spontaneity in scaling up my drawing. It’s often the case  that my sketchbook work, which is done quickly, is more expressive than my final drawings. I need to work on this.

I decided not to make further changes to my drawing for fear of spoiling what is a reasonably successful picture. But I’ve made a note to study Schiele’s work more closely next time we do figure drawing.

Project 4: The Human form – preparation

Making a drawing of two combined body parts… Look at the curves and the rhythms set up by those curves. Look at the muscles and bones under the skin and the tension and energy they give…

It’s a while since I’ve done any figure drawing and I feel out of practice so I did some preparation in my sketch book using the Croquis Cafe online life drawing resource (onairvideo.com). Then I looked at how I might crop my drawings to make a tighter composition that both fills the picture plane and uses the negative space.

I have had a reminder of how difficult feet are to draw, especially when they are fore-shortened.

My plan is to do a final drawing when I’ve done some thinking about which composition works best.

Initial drawings

Exploring composition by cropping

 

 

A second piece in response to Matisse’s more sophisticated use of space and pattern

Incidentally, I don’t think I would describe Matisse’s use of space and pattern as ‘more sophisticated’ than Blackadder’s. They are simply different and Blackadder has chosen to create a quiet ambiguity with her work. I would describe Matisse as making a more ‘exuberant’ use of space and pattern.

Anyway, my opinion cannot mask the fact that I am no Matisse or Blackadder. The two drawings above, created with watercolour pencils in my sketchbook, show how difficult it is to create a Matisse-style still life with joyous use of colour, spatial ambiguity and exuberant use of repeated motifs. I did not think either of these merited the time and effort to scale them up as drawings but. However, the black and white or colour adjusted version of Still Life with Chair and Flowers might translate into a lino print (see below).

Reflection

I have learnt many things  through this project including how

  • space and spatial ambiguity can used to great effect in still life composition
  • repeated motifs can be drawn from textiles or artifacts and woven into a composition helping to pull together a cohesive whole (as in Blackadder’s Flowers on a Indian Cloth and Matisse’s Harmony in Red).
  • empty space can be used to guide a viewer into a drawing (as in Matisse’s Red Studio).
  • empty space surrounding objects isolates and draws attention to them.
  • well-used negative space can make as much impact as the still life objects themselves.
  • Surrounding blocks of colour can pull a disparate composition together and change the mood.

I will remember these points and try to apply them appropriately in my own practice. I have a tendency to create busy, cluttered compositions so these lessons about using space rather than simply filling space are important to me.

Still Life with Flowers and Chair

 

This is reasonably successful as a lino print although the quality of my home printing is variable. But I do wish I had not added a line to represent the table. What was I thinking of? The whole point was to create spatial ambiguity. I’ll try another version with the background blue cut away when I get time.

Update 15/11/17 I ran off a couple of prints of this at my printmaking class today and without any prompting my tutor said it looked like a Matisse!

Research point: Matisse & Blackadder

Look at the work of Henri Matisse and Elizabeth Blackadder and write some notes in your log about the two artists. What are the similarities and differences between them.  Which artist do you feel more affinity with?

I have written a little about  both in the past as part of my level 1 OCA studies so rereading these was a useful refresher.

Initially I was uncertain where to start and finish. I decided to pull together brief biographies and consider what and who has influenced the two artists and look closely at some of their still life paintings. This should then enable me to draw some conclusions about similarities and differences.

Henri Matisse (French 1869-1954)
Matisse is widely regarded as the greatest colourist of the twentieth century and, alongside  Pablo Picasso, was highly influential in the development of visual arts in the early 20th Century.  He was primarily a painter and also a sculptor and printmaker. He emerged as a Post-Impressionist and first achieved prominence as the leader of the French  Fauvism (wild beasts) movement. Although interested in Cubism, he rejected it, and sought to use color as the foundation for expressive, decorative, and often monumental paintings.

Still life and the nude remained favorite subjects throughout his career. His sculptures are also highly regarded. Towards the end of his life, he made an important contribution to collage with his cut-out shapes of color. One of his last works was the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence (1948–51), for which he designed decorations, Stations of the Cross, furniture, stained-glass windows and the vestments and altar cloths.

Matisse’s many influences included:

  • Van Gogh and Australian Impressionist John Peter Russell
  • Colour theory and the works of many artists including Cezanne, Gaugin and Manet
  • Painting in St Tropez with neo impresionists Signac and Henri Emmond Cross using bright expressive colours without feeling the need to reproduce actual colours
  • Japanese, North African and Moorish Art
  • Matisse surrounded himself with the things that created inspiration for his paintings; flowers and plants, caged birds, goldfish, decorative tiles, pottery, African carvings, Tahitian bark paintings and Congolese weavings.
  • He collected lengths of cloth on his travels and these appear in his paintings – draping models, arranged over furniture and as backgrounds.

Elizabeth Blackadder (Scotland 1931-)
Elizabeth Blackadder studied at the  Edinburgh College of Art from 1949 until 1954; travelling scholarships took her to southern Europe and Italy. In 1956 she married artist and fellow Scottish Gallery exhibitor John Houston and began teaching at the Edinburgh College of Art.

One of Scotland’s greatest artists, she is best known for her detailed watercolours of flowers, ‘table-top’ compositions using oriental objects and her beloved cats. She is also an accomplished painter of landscapes and figures.

The influence of trips to Japan and Venice can be seen in landscape and townscape pieces as well as in an an important still life series using decorated tins and boxes arranged with exotic fish, fruit and vegetables.

From the 1960s still life featured regularly in her work. Her compositions are full of spatial ambiguity. Objects are chosen for their colour and shape as well as for personal meaning. Her ‘deconstructed’ still life compositions show a strong Japanese influence  and a masterly use of negative space. The  space surrounding her still life objects is as essential as the objects themselves.

Blackadder’s many influences include:

  • A love of the detail of flowers which started  when, as a child, she collected and pressed them.
  • An extensive and ongoing collection of objects of interest from around the world, including items she has gathered herself and gifts.
  • Travels in France, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Japan and of course her homeland of Scotland.
  • Her travels in Japan starting in 1985 led to an interest in  kimonos and other oriental  objects. The Zen gardens in Kyoto. and the Zen idea of empty space appealed to her.
  • She is fascinated by exotic plants and fruits and especially pomegranates ‘which as well as being visually exciting with their jewel-like seeds always seemed to me to be particularly poetic with mythic connections.’
  • During travels in France she became more and more aware of the work of Matisse and this led to a lightening of her colour palette.
  • In the 50s she was influenced by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. I can see the Rothko influence in her still life backgrounds and bold use of fields of colour.
  • I would also add to this list her husband John Houston, a successful and accomplished painter of colourful landscapes in an impressionistic style. She sought advice from him about her work.

A CLOSE LOOK AT TWO OF MATISSE’S WORKS

The Red Studio, Issy-les-Moulineaux, fall 1911

Matisse’s use of a blanket of red as a background with objects only lightly delineated in white plays some spatial tricks on us. It takes a moment to realise that it is actually a room and not a random collection of painted objects against a plain background.There is perspective and depth in the painting but most of the objects (excluding the table and chair) are flat(2D) and have no shadows. The square forms of the paintings are offset by the rounded and organic shapes of the glass, bottle, plant, plate and statues The red dominates and, in many instances, isolates the individual objects. The composition fills the picture plane; the one empty area just off centre seems  designed to lead the viewer into what we can now see is a room.

The Dessert: Harmony in Red, 1908

dessert-harmony-in-red

In this painting Matisse has removed the edges of the table so that the red of background and table cloth merge as though they were a fabric draping down  forward across the table. The decorative motifs of flower baskets and branches appear both as background and foreground.

Objects (fruit, bowls, flask etc) are flat with no shadows and appear floating rather than grounded.  The soft curves of the figure contrast with the harsh square lines of the window frame. Colours conform to colour theory. Red with its colour wheel opposite of green and blue with yellow.

A CLOSE LOOK AT TWO OF BLACKADDER’S WORKS

Flowers on an Indian Cloth, Oil Crayon 1965

Blackadder takes inspiration from a textile in her collection as the background to a vase of flowers painted loosely and expressively (in contrast to the more botanical flower images against a white background which she became known for later in her career). The swirling background motif is repeated in the background and foreground. Spatially this is ambiguous. Is the background, a table cloth or wall hanging? There is light and shadow but it doesn’t conform to any rules.

I draw a parallel with Matisse’s The Dessert: Harmony in Red image above in which the objects and the background motifs are interwoven. The whole image is vibrant and alive – quite different to Blackadder’s later more botanical flower paintings against a relatively plain coloured or white background.

Chinese Still Life with Arum Lilies, 1982

In this still life a seemingly random selection of objects (possibly toys)  feature horses, cockerels, a duck, rabbit, tiny wrapped box etc. In the foreground is a vase of Arum lilies on a window sill. Are we  looking out of a window or at a view or is this a  tabletop arrangement.? It is for the viewer to decide. Except for the vase, the objects all float. They are flat, two dimensional without shadow and isolated by the block of yellow which surrounds them. There is a balance to this orderly composition.

We may be seeing the influence of Rothko’s fields of colour and the spatial arrangements in Japanese Zen gardens. The objects are a carefully selected variety of shapes, rectangles, circles and less geometric shapes. The one larger red rectangle with the horses seizes attention first. While the objects themselves are highly coloured, the overall feeling is calm and soothing because of the large expanse of muted yellow background and the cool blue surrounding. There is a balance to this orderly composition but rather than being boring, it is quietly enigmatic.

Looking at the work of the two artists side by side

Interestingly, these paintings would not be out of place hung in a gallery together. There are very strong similarities in the colour palette (Blackadder being influenced by Matisse of course). I reflect on further differences and similarities below.

SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES 

Similarities

  • Both artists kept an extensive collection of objects, including textiles, which provided inspiration for and featured in their paintings.
  • Both artists were influenced by their travels, Japan in particular.
  • Both often create a spatial ambiguity in their still life arrangements. Objects seem to float and are often 2D without shadows. They both play with perspective.
  • They are both masterly in their use of space; they fill the picture plane. Negative space is as important as the objects themselves. They may both have been influenced by Japanese Zen Gardens in which isolated objects are surrounded by gravel which is raked every day into changing but discrete patterns that connect the rocks.
  • Influenced by Matisse, Blackadder adjusted her colour palette and similarities can be clearly seen in the works side by side shown above.
  • Both make very effective use of subtle and strong colours in their backgrounds.

Differences

Matisse’s works are full of  vitality with lots of flowing organic lines which pull the objects together into a playful, exuberant whole.

Blackadder’s still lifes are, on the whole, much more orderly. Shapes are often geometric and isolated by a Rothko-like block of solid colour. Despite the frequent use of vibrant colour, her paintings are much quieter in nature because of this generous use of space.

Matisse’s choice of objects sit side by side  in a natural way. They are they things that we might find together in a sitting room or parlour.

Blackadder’s objects do not necessarily have connections with each other, they may appear randomly selected to the outside eye but they are carefully chosen by the artist for their shape and colour and personal meaning.

Which artist do you feel more affinity with?

It feels impossible to put Blackadder ahead of Matisse because he is acknowledged to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century but I have a high regard for and have learnt a lot from both. There were many more similarities in  their work than I had anticipated at the start of this research project and it was fascinating to discover these. In terms of my own taste and my own practice, I am more drawn to the exuberant work of Matisse with its organic lines but I enjoy and admire the work of both.

References

 

 

Project 3: Changing scale (2) Tomato stalks and stone

 

My subject matter; a stone with interesting contour lines and ripple like patterns and a vine tomato stalks.

I enjoyed the changing scale exercise so much that I had another go.  I selected a stone with pleasing contour lines and marks, and some vine tomato stalks. Using a dipping pen and ink I drew the stalks and then the contours of the stone. The markings on the stone resembled ripples of water so I wondered if the stalks could become underwater plants. When I stepped back I wasn’t happy; I’d created an over complicated drawing with no particular focus. I chucked it to one side.

 

Initial ink drawing which I discarded

A few days later I came back to my drawing (right) and, with nothing to lose, I painted on a very dilute bleach solution which broke up the solid colour. I then reinstated the stalks and  drew over areas with a white chalk pen (a useful thing to have) to create areas of reflected, diffused light. I still had a messy over complicated drawing but it had started to resemble  rippling water (see below).

 

The ink drawing I photographed in close up. Ink (Quink), Brusho ink, drawing pen, chalk pen.

I got my camera out  and started to play with zooming into particular areas. My drawing started to look much more interesting.  I tilted the camera and positioned it at the same level as my drawing; this had the effect of elongating the foreground and scrunching up the background. Now my drawing was becoming exciting and looking like the surface of an icy, glacial stream.

Reflection
This outcome truly surprised me; there is no way I could have predicted where this was going. An unpromising initial drawing went through a metamorphosis to become something  striking that actually did follow through my initial thoughts about patterns on water. This certainly reinforces for me the OCA message that experiment and an open mind are vital for personal development.   I’ve also had a reminder that it’s worth reviewing work that initially feels unpromising with a fresh eye and renewed energy.

I’ve taken my drawing and photographed it in an experimental way to create images that have, I believe, some depth and intrigue about them. My next challenge has to be to take some of these photos and recreate them as drawings… This has the potential to be the subject of my first assignment.

Project 3: Changing scale (1) Dolls, oyster shells etc

I so enjoyed this exercise. I started with two small broken dolls, some oyster shells , a bit of mesh ribbon and a honey dipper. I’ve ended up with giant, rather wicked looking twins in an alien landscape and a great god-like hand striking the earth with a stake (very William Blake).

Reflection

A very valuable exercise. It tells me to look widely for subjects to draw and experiment with scale and to not be afraid to let the imagination run riot. I started to feel some kind of story was unfolding with this drawing. I did not set up the objects as a still life, instead I held them in my hand so I could see the detail and drew with the other and made up the composition as I went along.

The  oyster shells with all their layers and contours make great rocks and mountains. The mesh ribbon forms very interesting marks and I could incorporate these into many things as background or objects in their own right. When I drew the honey dipper I thought it might become a tower but  it gained a hand at the top and took on a life of its own. I’m sure I’ll be drawing the broken dolls again; they might be a good visual metaphor for the cruelty of war and the loss of innocent lives. The one doll’s fixed eyes looking the other way are odd but they contribute to the narrative as they say something else is happening that we cannot see.

I ended up with a more powerful drawings after cropping; the drama is more focused; the edges are more interesting and the colour better balanced.