Project: Drawing Fruits and Vegetables in Colour

Exercise: Using Hatching to Create Tone (1.)

In the initial few sketches, I attempted to focus closely on the planes of each object and the shapes that made up the outlines, selecting fruits and vegetables with strong compository shapes and quirky, original figures.  Bananas, fresh ginger and oranges provided some structural interest, with a sliced sweet potato (in oil pastel) displaying some wonderfully vibrant tonal contrasts between the internal flesh and the external skin, but it was the juxtaposition between bulbous, rounded forms and long, elegant straight lines either in internal pattern or form that made up the squash family that really intrigued me.  Butternut and Coquina squash were my initial two vegetables for selection, then, further considering tonal values provided by the influence of shape on shadows and highlights cast, I moved on to seek out more varieties of squash with a mind for tonal contrast.  Green Acorn squash and Kabocha squash skins provided wonderful graduations of tone within a singular form, and by utilising a view finder  on my initial sketches I was able to compose an arrangement of several squash, along with potatoes and carrots to provide a similar external contrast of pointed and round shapes that could be found within each squash themselves.

The negative space featured in my compositional ideas, from squash alone to the squash/carrot/potato combination is designed to operate like a ‘seeing-eye’ image, reflecting the shapes within the compositional elements.  I used a mixture of coloured pencils, marker and conté crayons while conducting these experiments, utilising the latter for softer forms owing to its blendability and pliability, the pen/felt tip for a more ‘solid’ effect when analysing form and the former for the mixed vegetable composition due to the complexity and mixture of forms on display: coloured pencil could capture the wide variety of tones and forms available.

The next stage will be to enlarge the smaller, sketched arrangement to A4 scale, using hatching to compare the relationship of picture plane and objects.

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Exercise ~ Still Life Group in Tone

In this still life group, I opted to use only flowers and the vase they were assembled in.  This was due to the exercise being primarily about rendering tone, and I felt that the commonality of forms between the flowers would enhance the sense of tonal depth,  while not detracting from the tonal range by containing too many variations in colour.  Working from dark to light in layers, I built up areas of tone using chalk pastel as opposed to colour pencil, as I am far less familiar with the latter and felt that in order to progress I needed to branch out from safer, more restrained and controlled media.

Using pastels allowed me to work quickly to keep the drawing reasonably spontaneous and energetic.  The layering effect added depth, in addition to the layering present in the assemblage of flowers and foliage.  I attempted to vary the types and pressures of marks made and build up tone, shadow and contrast.  However, as many of the roses were in shadow I feel I have failed in the last respect, and additionally I encountered problems of the medium creating muddy tones as it blended.  Further work on technique is definitely required when smudging chalk pastel, as the lack of tonal variation has resulted in rather a flat and uninspired image.

Overall, I was far more comfortable working in line as opposed to tone, simply because line offers a more structured framework in terms of compositional elements.  When shading, particularly in colour, is added to the exercise, I become overwhelmed and crave the organisation of line and monochrome: the sheer variation achievable in colour seems chaotic to me and I will need to work diligently to improve in this area, in addition to expanding my use of media and achieving tonal accuracy.

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Exercise ~ Still Life Group Using Line

Medium: Fineliner

In this exercise I selected a variety of natural objects, which I felt naturally connected together in terms of both aesthetics and practical purpose.  By selecting an arrangement of fruits and vegetables, I was able to focus on describing the relationship between their forms, and I chose objects that had a mixture of curved and straight, spiked lines to achieve a greater level of visual diversity and interest.  I also attempted to create contrast in terms of texture, to ensure that each object was easily discernible, to define them clearly and to create a sense of depth.  The latter was also enhanced by making some lines bolder than others, and by increasing the density of marks in darker areas.  Although the drawing primarily focuses on line, I have tried to indicate tone in some places to overcome the difficulties in illustrating arrangement and perspective created by the restrictions of using line only, namely that the objects can appear rather flat, even when placed at specific angles intended to create a sense of depth in the composition.

Referring to pattern, texture and shape, I attempted to use a variety of marks and density of marks to capture not only tone and shading but also to indicate generalities of colour.  The blank wall and chairs I selected for the background enhance the natural curves of the pineapple, cabbage, mushrooms and Physalis, and describe vaguely natural shapes via an object created by man, yet fashioned from nature in the form of wood.

I believe my use of the medium to have been reasonably successful, but I believe more extensive use of perspective could have been employed to indicate the layering of the objects, and due to this failing I used shading too readily rather than sticking to the brief of using line exclusively.

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Research Point ~ Tight and Rigorous vs. Sketchy and Expressive Drawing

It took careful consideration to select the most appropriate artists to illustrate the comparative point between tight, restrained drawing and bold, expressive work.  After debating whether to include artists such as Kath Kollwitz, Franz Marc, Van Gogh and Goya, I chose to set the work of George Stubbs alongside that of Edvard Munch.

The reasoning behind this choice is that Stubbs and Munch both have a strong foundation in drawing, and their work carries a predominant style that prevails throughout their oeuvre.  It was taxing to find artists that did not diversify into both styles of drawing at one point or another during their careers: Kollwitz’ work, for example, continually evolved so that one piece might be almost photorealistic, while the majority were indeed highly expressive.  Munch and Stubbs are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to their mark-making techniques, and possibly approach to drawing, as emphasised by the work below:

The Anatomy of The Horse

Skeleton of a Horse (from The Anatomy of A Horse)
(engraving, 1766)

Biography from

Born the son of a Liverpool currier, as a child Stubbs helped his father to prepare horse hides for the local tannery. In 1756 he moved with Mary Spencer, his lifelong partner and assistant, to a remote farmhouse in Lincolnshire to begin work on ‘The Anatomy of The Horse’. This was a book of engravings that illustrated the horse in layers from its skin down to its skeleton. With a ready supply of cadavers from a nearby tannery, he suspended horses on hooks from the roof, positioning the animals in the poses he required. He then carefully ‘peeled’ the creatures, removing their layers of skin, then muscles until only their skeletons remained. At each stage he meticulously recorded his dissections from a range of different angles. It took Stubbs eighteen months to finish his drawings and notes but, on completion he could not find a publisher. With typical determination he took on the task of engraving the illustrations himself, and after eight years work ‘The Anatomy of The Horse’ was finally published in 1766 – and it is still in print today.

George Stubbs.The anatomy of the horse. London,  [1823].

Stubbs captures every aspect of his subject in minute detail, from his anatomical drawings that form the foundation of his paintings (and therefore necessarily suggest a scientific or photorealistic approach) to images that stand alone as stunningly intricate works with delicate shading, a mix of delineated and softer marks and a tight focus on both anatomical detail and organic texture:

George Stubbs’ 1788 drawing “A Sleeping Cheetah (A Tyger)”

The marks and overall impression of the work are delicate and precise, with a close focus on every minute aspect of the drawing.  Stubbs’ work captures the mystique and beauty of his subject matter while retaining an objective and pragmatic eye, one perhaps less attuned to wild flights of expression due to the tight, restrained marks and rigorous attention to detail.

Stubbs’ work seems almost antithetical to that of Munch:

Without veering into abstraction, Munch’s drawings are sketchy, expressive and capture movement through mark-making in addition to the positioning and pose of the subject matter.  His marks seem more fluid, more spontaneous and less contrived as a result.  The images are not realistic in a photographic sense, yet capture an essence of emotion that may somehow be just as ‘true:’

The Dance of Life, 1899, indian ink (pen, wash), crayon

Drawing is clearly influential in Munch’s painting, just as it is Stubbs’, yet Munch does not appear to have exerted any kind of selfcensorship. His emotions filter through his loose, flowing marks, capturing epic sweeps of both movement and feeling.  Though diverse in technique and execution, most of the drawings have one thing in common, they are informal, impulsive, relaxed.

Christiania Bohemians II, 1895, watercolour, pencil, indian ink (brush)

Here, the swirling miasma of marks around the figure mimics the emotional energy invested, a contrast to Stubbs’ realistic or absent backgrounds.  Munch’s drawings utilise mark-making to capture the recognisable elements of a figure but also to channel the expressive impulses driving the urge to draw, or to create, from the outset.

In addition, his drawings function as preliminary work for his paintings and more famous pieces:

Preliminary study for The Kiss

Whether working in fine detail, in the manner of Stubbs, or with bold, expressive strokes after Munch, drawings can capture the essence of their subject matter efficiently and provide a strong foundation for later work.  Both Munch and Stubbs display a mastery of drawing, which has clearly influenced the mark making and style of their painted pieces.

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Stipples, Dots, Feathers and Stones

Having terminated my official ties to OCA after some extensive issues with tutors, this blog will now be more of a generic art format as I work through the exercises in the first unit.  I don’t want my time to have been for nothing, and hopefully completing the exercise will extend my portfolio should I ever be able to afford a more Kosher art course run by a ‘real’ university or college as opposed to distance learning.

Exercise: Stipples and Dots

In these two images, featuring Pheasant’s feathers and stones found on the beach, I experimented with mark making techniques with reference to earlier work in the first unit.  I used stipple effects, dots, hatching and cross-hatching to maximise the potential of the media in terms of depth, tone and shading.  I focused on pattern, line and shape, aided by the lack of colour in the work.

Stipples and dots were most effective for rendering smooth, shiny surfaces but less suited to objects with texture, such as the feathers, because they convey a sense of texture in themselves that detracts from the line and form of the organic object.  Hatching created dense layers of tone and depth, so was most appropriate for areas of intense shadow, texture or tonal darkness within the object.  My earlier work with line drawing helped me to utilise space and construct a composition more effectively: experimenting with angles in the second piece with the stones allowed me to convey depth that was lacking in the flatter arrangement of the feathers in the first image.  Scaling down from  A3 with the feathers to A4 with the stones also played to my love of fine detail and smaller marks.  Big broad brush sketches intimidate me to an extent, often due to the sheer scale of area to be covered resulting in inconsistency of marks and difficulty achieving effects such as dense shading.

I could still improve my compositions further by being more daring with angle and viewpoint, perhaps layering the objects further to create depth and three-dimensionality and, in the case of single objects, experimenting with close-up views rather than trying to fit most of the object into the image.

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Learning Log ~ 31/01/2011

Exercise ~ Getting Tone and Depth in Detail

In these two images, I experimented with building up dark, medium and light tones principally using pencils and hatching, combined with cross hatching and other marks appropriate to the texture of the objects I selected.  I specifically chose a Barn Owl feather and a collection of small pieces of driftwood tied together with twine to demonstrate the effect of different grades of pencil.  Using a variety of soft pencils in the second image (3B-8B), I was able to create a sense of solidity and opacity as opposed to the ephemeral, fragile translucency of the feathers (2B-6B).

I focused on close hatching to render the driftwood and looser, spaced apart marks for the feather, combining soft and medium grade pencils and varying the strength and direction of marks.  I focused closely on pattern and texture, attempting to introduce strong lights and darks and using a putty rubber to create highlights.  The use of continuous and broken lines in combination was extremely effective in rendering the translucency of the feather, and also the cracks in the texture of the wood.

I attempted to compose the pieces in a visually engaging manner: the feather itself filled the paper in a billowing, free, fluid composition without any need for altering angle or perspective: to me that gave a sense of ‘floating’ appropriate to the lightness of the object, able to be captured on the lightest of breezes.

With the wooden  shards, I attempted to capture only the most interesting textures and shapes, emphasising the jagged nature of the textural marks in the wood itself by adding in contrived jagged edges via not including the closed-off ends of the wood closest to the viewer.

In terms of improvement, some background interest is required to prevent the composition from seeming pedestrian and stale, but for the purposes of this exercise I was happiest to focus on the individual objects and the marks within them.  Although time-consuming, hatching and cross hatching provide real depth within a composition and light strokes in curved positions, spaced apart, seemed to work well for rendering the texture of the feathers.  However, the feather still seemed a little too ‘solid’ to be truly accurate, so this is something I hope to improve on via investigating more mark-making techniques in future exercises.

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Learning Log Entry ~ 23/01/2011

Exercise ~ Line Drawing Detail

Brussels Sprout Slices

Drawing these cross-sections of Brussels Sprouts allowed me to select some objects with intriguing forms and interesting detail, and the focus on these objects allowed me to concentrate on this detail without the distraction of shading or tone.  I considered patterning, texture, shape, line thickness and composition to create a swirling, vortex-like effect.  My primary concern was a visually stimulating result and I believe I have partially achieved this through the layering of the sprouts and the contrasting shapes and textures of the interior and exterior slices, which also helped to create a sense of solidity and perspective.  Using continuous line drawing with a brush-tip marker, I was able to arrange the sprout slices on the page so that they fitted well and created a reasonable balance between positive and negative space, unlike my previous attempts that have always been close-ups with parts of the composition extending beyond the edges of the paper, whether intentionally or otherwise.

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