Life drawing class – weeks 4 & 5

Week 4
A new model this week – a voluptuous lady called Sharon. I now realise how much advantage you have when you have drawn the same person for several weeks… your mind starts to remember the body and proportions.  No wonder artists through the ages have drawn their favourite muses time and time again.

Today we had the extra challenge of drawing some poses on black paper using white chalk. The Space, depth and volume exercise had prepared me for this. I’ve continued to work mostly in charcoal and I finally beginning to appreciate the flexibility and forgiving nature of the medium.

I am making progress. When I look back at the life drawing classes I did a year ago, I feel my recent drawings have more personality. I would like to simplify my use of line and capture the simple essence of a pose. This happens more naturally in the short poses… sometimes!

Week 5

Two new models this week, Alice and Robert. I was very tired for some reason and did not achieve as much as usual but I was reasonably happy with the charcoal drawing of Alice.


Project 2: Mark making materials (Part 2)

Experiment 7 – Aluminium foil with acrylic paint over

I scrunched up some foil to make crinkly patterns and then glued it to a board and covered it with a coat of green acrylic paint. Scratching into when wet wasn’t an option because the foil tore easily and I didn’t think it would be any better if the foil dried. So I decided to take a print from it… I liked the result and took several more and ended up with an interesting series.


I can think of several ways in which this technique could be useful:

  • As an underprint for a drawing – the colour could  of course be much more subtle – creating a background and layered effect.
  • To draw into, developing what the eye might see in the prints which are a bit Rorschach in their nature.
  • As drawings in their own right. In this case I feel these work in a simple and elemental way as a set.

Experiment 8 – kitchen lino with two coats of acrylic and some scribbled wax crayon in various between

I went back to my simple drawing of a basil shoot from Part 1, Project 1 and scratched into the acrylic using a drypoint etching tool. The blue wax crayon seeped through the acrylic creating green. The orange wax showed up very slightly. I was able to create all kinds of different weights of line. This enabled me to create ‘ghost’ leaves under the main outline. I had a lot of control with this technique. It certainly has potential and I have quite a bit of spare lino!


Experiment 9 – wax and acrylic on our dog’s buster collar

Getting wacky now… following a recent visit to the vet Milo had to wear a buster collar for a few days to stop him scratching a wound. It was made of clear plastic, ridged on one side and smooth on the other. In the lantern shaped piece I drew with wax over the ridged side and then painted yellow acrylic over. In the section, I reversed this. The results look quite dramatic in bright light.


It was interesting to work on something 3D with both an inside and an outside which of course gives additional dimensions to explore. These pieces look dull until the light hits them and then they come to life. I don’t think the technique can be dismissed.  I wonder if I could create glistening water with seaweed under? Seaweed is a theme I’m interested in developing; I am interested in the way it gets pulled from the beach into the sea with the tides, how it moves with the ebb and flow.

Experiment 10 – acrylic paint and wax on tin tray

I put drew wax on a tin ready meal tray and then coated it in acrylic and let it dry. I tried scratching into it and sandpapering it but the acrylic kept peeling away. I gave up on creating a picture but perhaps bits of this peeled paintwork could be incorporated into a painting… or am I being over optimistic?!



I could keep going as I’m enjoying the process and I felt I became more open minded about my experiments as I went on. My conclusion is that there are no discoveries from my ten experiments that might not be used in someway. Either to create pictures in their own right or as elements of collage.  This has opened my mind right up about how I might draw and the surfaces that I might use.

Also see Project 2 – Part 1


Life drawing class – Week 3

This is the last time Catherine will be sitting for us which is a shame as she has been an excellent model. Life drawing certainly does sap energy and I didn’t start with very much today as I have a lot of things on my mind. I feel my drawings were better last week, apart perhaps from the experimental pencil drawing.

Life drawing class – Week 2

Very busy class this week with lots of energy flowing. I started badly (so badly I have not included the poses) but improved and did my best drawing at the end of the 2-hour session (first one in the gallery).

We did a lot more drawings than last week because we did not have to sit through safeguarding videos. Catherine is a very good model and a delight to draw. On the whole I am reasonably happy with the proportions. Drawing with charcoal on large paper (A2) stops me fbeing too finicky but I would like to see looser more expressive lines as I progress.

Research point: Angela Eames, Michael Borremans and Jim Shaw

The artists below all make work which both creates and denies three dimensions at the same time. Take a look at their websites and then make notes about these artists, your response to their work and how their work relates to what you’ve been learning in this project. 


Angela Eames states in Drawing  Now (TRACEY 2007) that she considers drawing to be a visual thought process and uses it to explore potential, and the implications  this has for technology. She is interested in rethinking the position of the viewer and the viewed.

All Eames’s drawings are created using technology. The objects she depicts do not exist. They are  a result of investigation into and reinterpretation of photographic evidence she gathers. I found the following quote taken from the Bath Academy of Art website, one of the places where she studied,  a helpful insight into her working methods and motives.

My drawings whether in time, space, sound or silence have a single factor in common. They are constructed (i.e. drawn) within the computing environment. They might end up on paper – they might not. They might end up as imagery viewed on video or as printout but they did not at any time and do not now exist in reality. They are simulacra or copies of things that have no original. In the current drawings I am using recorded photographic evidence of human form, close-up photographs of parts of the body, images that are unrecognisable to the uninquisitive eye. Current drawings explore potential and present the visual outcomes of stratagems carried out within the complex and arguably infinite computing environment. They are extensions of my physically orientated visual thoughts and notions.”

On her website Eames says that her use of computers can be seen as defiance as she sways between fear and contempt of the possibilities of technology and downright practical analysis. ‘My priority is drawing… We’ll all suffer if technology is allowed to develop devoid of association with human thinking and needs.’

Making it up charcoal / ink, graphite, biro, charcoal (inkjet prints on canvas on stretcher 2004)

I first came across this work in Drawing Now which is on the OCA reading list and it caught my attention because it features what look like perfume bottles and I make perfume. I didn’t really understand what Eames was aiming to achieve until I did the research above. Of course none of the four inkjet prints on canvas were originally drawn with the materials described above, they were all created digitally but capture some of the essence of the different drawing materials in a computerised and very precise sort of way. This I think is one of the things Eames is trying to say – the too perfect world of computers does not capture and may not be compatible with the way human beings work and think and the way material objects such as drawing tools behave when they are in our physical hands.

The words inscribed on the top of the perfume bottle caps seem to  support this – “As you go along making it up” and “Divergent thinking” . Human beings unlike computers are not preprogramed, we make things up as we go along and we go off on unplanned tangents.

Each of the four images in the set depicts a perfume bottle shown from a different perspective: top down, a slightly impossible looking top to side view, bottom up and bottom to side. Eames is telling us that technology sees things differently, sometimes in ways that we cannot..  The background to each of the images is made up of the marks made by the drawing material (ink, graphite, etc) and these are reflected in the glass of the bottle. They are the very controlled, neat marks of preprogramed technology… a world apart from the  expressive marks of Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

I had very little emotional reaction to these drawings when I first saw them but now that I’ve begun to understand them I feel differently. It makes me think that this whole OCA module Investigating Drawing has a parallel with this work of art. Unlike computers we students are able to go off at tangents and follow trails that may not have been planned and make all kinds of discoveries that we could not predict – unlike computers which do exactly what we tell them to do. It’s the point of what we are doing now… opening up to allow ourselves to see in new ways and make unexpected discoveries.

How the work relates to what we have been attempting in this project

Eames’s work is certainly three dimensional but she takes her objects on journeys to explore different ways of seeing. Sometimes, as in Making it up the three dimensions don’t seem quite possible and our sense of an object in front of a background is challenged because the object and the background are covered with the same marks.

In Barrier / Palisade – Eames creates an increasing sense of depth in her series of images by overlaying hedges, trees and fences and then she pulls it back to near but not quite two dimensions by converting the objects to knitted textures. The overall image becomes flat and two dimensional but the knitted texture is three dimensional.  It’s intriguing.

It interested me reading about how Eames uses scraps of photographic evidence (such as the photos in Planet and has started a train of thought about how with my parallel project I could use scraps of documentary evidence to illustrate the impact of the Irish famine (census documents, parish records, passenger tickets for the migratory voyages). There are also traces left on the land – the furrows where potatoes used to be planted, the ruined remains of stone hovels and no doubt much more.

Born 1963 Belgium

My initial reaction to Borremans’ work is that it makes me feel uneasy and it disturbs me. It feels cold, detached, controlling and manipulative. And also puzzling in its intent and motivation. The biographical statement on the Zeno-X website did little to enlighten me:

“The films, paintings, and drawings by Belgian artist Michaël Borremans overwhelm the viewer through the use of deceleration, precision and vortex. His seductive works contain timeless images of inner drive and external force, of the latent pressure involved in being human.”

I often find the artist’s own words are much more informative than this kind of ‘gallery speak’ and I found a short write up of Borremans in a book, Drawing People by Robert Malbert, which opened the door for me. “Borremans describes his experience of the world in ominous terms. ‘It’s a cold and strange place. I don’t know, I find it in everything; in contact with other people; in politics; in economics. I feel we’re living on a time bomb. I’m always surprised nothing worse happens, as I’m anticipating it, and eventually it will happen… That’s why I’m into drawing… I’ve been drawing all my life. I can’t live without drawing. It’s my way of dealing with reality. It’s a kind of escape: when I feel uncomfortable in certain situations, I create my own reality.’”

And in so doing Borremans transfers his discomfort on to the viewer. In his paintings and drawings there is a sense of disaster that may have already happened, is in the process of happening or is very soon to happen.

Borremans has a huge body of work so it can be quite difficult to find a way in.  His mostly figure paintings echo old masters such as Velazquez and van Dyke in their precision but there is usually something going on that subverts the image. The portrait may be painted from unusual perspectives such as the back or in a prone position and he may exaggerate a particular feature, e.g. The Ear 2011 and The Beak 2010.

In The Pendant 2009, a woman is painted from the back and her tresses of dark hair are pulled up above her head… suggesting perhaps a hangman’s noose.  She wears mourning black.

For me the most accessible way to explore the website was through the exhibitions where works are grouped together under a theme. So I took a closer look at his 2008 Painted Fruit exhibition.

The images all share an artificial gloss as if to say that what we see is not reality, some unpleasant blemishes or scars or decay may be hidden. This could be a metaphor for our age in which products do always match up to the packaging and politicians put a gloss on unpleasant truths through spin.  And perhaps also social media selfies where heavily manipulated selfies may cover anxiety and insecurity.  This exhibition seems to be about getting beneath the surface of what we see.

  • In Mombakkes, 2007-2008 a male visage is covered by a plastic mask painted with Pierrot like rosy cheeks, dark eyes and bright lips. What is hidden behind?
  • The Glaze, 2007, a painting of a shiny porcelain figure, seems to tell us that without the glaze this might be just a piece of rough cast pottery.
  • In Colombine, 2008 the sitter has a passive, unmoving, unemotional expression that looks fixed in place by a plastic mask (one eye is slightly obscured by a dab of paint. Her dress appears splashed with blood. I wondered if this was a reference to the Columbine massacre in 1999 but I don’t think so. Another painting – Terror identified, love unlimited, Columbine, was produced in 1998 a year before the massacre although the title could tempt one to make a connection.
  • In Untitled, 2008, a figure lies on her back, she looks lifeless, her face is covered with a transparent plastic mask on which round red, doll like cheeks are painted to hide her pallor.

How the work relates to what we have been attempting in this project

Borreman’s paintings are technically very skilled and he’s an expert at depicting three dimensions. He sometimes adopts unusual viewpoints by painting the back of his figures or placing them in a prone position and occasionally he creates an illusion of the lower half of the body being missing or submerged.

However, I believe that he aims to impose another dimension, an emotional rather than physical one, that makes us question what we are seeing and look beyond the glossy painted surface to a different, unvarnished reality behind. We see this in the painted masks in his Painted Fruit exhibition and in The Pendant where the hair pulled upwards makes us think of hangman’s noose. It’s why I feel unsettled and disturbed by his paintings.


Jim Shaw (b. 1952, American)  finds inspiration for his artworks in comic books, pulp novels, rock albums, protest posters, thrift store paintings and advertisements. His collection of found artworks has been the subject of exhibitions too. He also uses his own life and  his unconscious, as a source of artistic creativity. Shaw’s paintings and installations sometimes feature friends, world events and alternate realities and often unfold in long narrative cycles with cross-references and repetitions. His ongoing narrative project Oism is an attempt to create his own religion with a history and associated iconography.

On the whole Shaw’s work leaves me luke warm although I did perk up  when I read  that he had been into the 1970s band Yes as I was too. I was also interested to read that his work has some parallels with album art  in that it complements the music without trying to illustrate it. In a video interview with Laurence Sellers, Chief Curator of the Baltic Centre,  Shaw describes his Rinse Cycle exhibition as a prog rock opera in four parts inspired by Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans and The Ring Cycle (presumably Wagner’s)… weird!

I’m find it hard to get a grip on Shaw’s work no doubt in part because I don’t get many of the  American pop culture references. However, I do appreciate that he cleverly weaves together reality, myth, fiction, pop culture and found objects (including old theatre sets) with his  imagination to create a very personal way of seeing that is multi-layered and complex and stuffed full of bursting energy. It’s just firing on too many cylinders at once for me and leaves me overwhelmed and maybe underwhelmed too.

I may not be alone. I found a Guardian article that  discussed Shaw’s  2012, Rinse Cycle exhibition at the Baltic Centre. It and opens by saying:  “From a giant eyeball to a venomous version of the stars and stripes, Shaw’s first UK retrospective is eye-popping in its scope – but just a bit childish, finds Adrian Searle.”

The “venomous version of the stars and stripes” is a reference to Shaw’s mixed media picture Left Behind 2010. It’s made up of multiple layers (a mix of paint and collage?) including a street scene with trees and buildings, faces of past US presidents (creating the stars), a large pale yellow plastic sun (?). All this is overlaid by the horizontal red stripes of several enormous hissing snakes.  I guess it’s a none too subtle dig at American politics but I can’t go any further than that in attempting to interpret it.

How the work relates to what we have been attempting in this project

Shaw’s work can sometimes be dramatically three dimensional with that exaggerated comic book look and at other times flat with a strong reliance on line and outline… often different styles are mixed together reflecting the way he gathers diverse source materials together. Shaw uses layers to create dimensions within his paintings. A recent work Untitled 2017 layers several two-dimensional drawings on top of each other differentiating each layer with colour. This is effective and I could learn from this.

In his installations he takes layering a step further and pieces are typically made of a backdrop painting surrounded by other ‘layers’, perhaps cutouts or three-dimensional objects or additional canvases. XXXL Painting, 2013 is an example of this approach.

Although I don’t feel much rapport with Shaw’s work, I do think there is something to be learnt from his use of layering and I should experiment with this in my parallel project – it ties in with my thoughts about using scraps of documentary evidence to illustrate the Irish Famine.




Reflection: Analysing marks

Pay special attention to the variety of marks made next time you’re in a gallery. Start by doing this with the pictures below.

Two Thatched Cottages with Figures at a Window – Rembrandt about 1640

There’s more variety than one might think including:

  • Scribbled, squiggly lines for the foliage
  • Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines in a great variety of different weights
  • Sharp and blunt ended lines
  • Cross hatched lines
  • Fast sketchy sweeping lines as well as  more controlled lines (in the figures for example)
  • Solid fill to create shadows under the eaves
  • Some white (chalk maybe?) over the brown lines on the rooftop to suggest sunlight

The Raising of Lazarus, Caravaggio, 16th Century 

  • Very different lines to those above – less sweeping, more controlled on the whole.
  • Short strokes – of white chalk – vertical, diagonal and curved to describe reflected light
  • Frail, ghost like ink marks in a zig-zagging patterns describe foliage.
  • Solid areas of white chalk
  • Both dense and softer areas of  black chalk help to describe form.
  • Most of the lines feel very soft and organic – there don’t appear to be any true vertical or horizontal lines.


Project 2: Mark making materials

button-polish-wax-acrylicThe aim of this exercise is to explore ways of drawing without a pencil by scratching into a variety of different surfaces.

Method: Build up a variety of surfaces using whatever comes to hand that has two differently coloured layers. Make several drawings by scratching through into the second layer…


Experiment 1 – Button polish and acrylic 

Two layers of button polish (used as a coating on collograph plates) created a strong parchment yellow base,  then a layer of blue-black acrylic. I drew using a drypoint etching tool and the edge of some lino cutting tools. This enabled me to make fine and heavier marks. I used my lino print of a section of hedgerow as the subject. This proved to be a clean and effective technique. The underlying cartridge paper did not tear, the lines were were created easily and quickly.  This technique works. I would use it again.


Experiment 2 – Button polish, wax crayon and acrylic

This technique also worked and easy because the middle layer of wax enabled the mark making to flow readily. I used a drypoint tool and lino cutting tools as above but also found that I could use the end. side and tips of a palette knives to make more complex marks that create a bit more sense of wave-like movement.  I used a lino print of some branches to draw from and improvised. This is definitely a successful technique and created interesting marks with a multi-layered feel to them.

Experiment 3 – Enamel paint and two layers of acrylic

For this experiment I painted two layers of white enamel paint on paper, then a layer of yellowish acrylic and then a layer of black. Enamel paint is expensive but it creates a very durable surface once dry so I thought it could form a good base to scratch into or sand back to without damaging the paper. I based my drawing on a charcoal sketch of a figure I did last week. I used different weights of sandpaper to achieve different effects. If I rubbed lightly a little of the underlying yellow showed though. If I kept going the white was revealed and I could use this to create highlights. This was quite a physical technique and I like the relationship with the work that this creates. I would definitely use this technique again.

There is no need to work black to white of course. I have a whole range of enamel paints which I use for sign-writing so I’ll be able to try out some variations on this theme. I like the fact that it is impossible to do a fussy drawing using this technique… you have to work with the patterns and marks that emerge with only a certain amount of control over them.

Experiment 4 – Enamel paint with two layers of acrylic

This time I used a pale orange and dark brown acrylic. Using the pot of parsley drawing I made in Part 1, I scratched the outline using lino cutters and then sanded. The orange shows through in a subtle way. I’ll use stronger colour next time perhaps. My favourite part of this drawing is the three fingers prints that appeared when I touched the paint to see if it was dry. A few more of these would have suited this drawing. Maybe I could draw all or part of a picture with my fingers while the acrylic is wet?

While of course my drawing could be improved, with a more uplifting variety of colours for a start, I am reasonably happy with it. I was hard to scratch curves into the acrylic and my lines are quite angular but they still have something of the character of flat leaf parsley. After all, it doesn’t need to be too obvious.

Experiment 5 – acrylic on a varnished plywood board

This was a very physical exercise – it took some elbow grease. I prepared a plywood board with a layer of clear varnish and then a layer of black acrylic paint. It was almost impossible to make any marks into the board with my drypoint tool or lino cutters so I decided to do all the mark making using sandpaper. I really enjoyed creating a drawing in this way. As inspiration I used a photo of some billboards that had been stripped of their posters – it was very wet and all kinds of patterns had emerged.

After sanding, I thought my ‘drawing’ looked a bit dull so I added some pastel to try to bring out a figure of a cat that was trying to emerge. I thought I’d over done that so I rubbed it back a bit… and then I washed it all off so that just the traces of the pastel remain. Now what do I do with it? Perhaps I will draw or paint on and incorporate my sanded patterns in some way.

Experiment 6 – colourful acrylic on paper with dark green acrylic on top

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t overwork something. I took one of my seaweed drawing photos as inspiration and started scraping with a drypoint pen. I could not help but scrape away quite a bit of the paper too but I didn’t mind as this broke up the line. I also sanded some of the plainer green areas to reveal the orange and turquoise below. This created a fabric like effect which was interesting but I did note that sanding had the effect of dulling the colour below. Finally I drew some fine lines in with a silver Signo Uniball pen … and overcooked my drawing. Had I primed the paper with Gesso before painting the colour I might have avoided the tearing.

I would like to do further experiments using plastic and metal surfaces when I come across the right materials. Also it would be interesting to draw into the surface before the top layer has dried… Definitely not finished yet. Also potential to explore different tools and types of mark…

Also see further experiments in Part 2