Thursday, September 05, 2013

No more drawing practice

Well, thank goodness that's over.

I finally came to my senses and realised I'm not Kurt Jackson. Nor am I David Hockney. Or Graham Sutherland or Euan Uglow. Or any of the other artists I've been admiring and copying lately.

I don't go walking across the moors, sketching and painting (and generally being rugged). Neither do I go out in all seasons, in all weathers, to paint the landscape as it changes through the year. (In fact, I'm a bit if a wimp. Nowadays,  I only go out sketching when the weather is 'mild'.) I don't spend years on a single picture, carefully measuring and marking. (I prefer to scribble quickly and hope it looks OK.)

It's been an interesting year of learning by copying but you know what? I'm BORED! It has made me so DULL! All I've been doing is drawing other people's stuff every day. And I'm not much better now than when I started!

But not any more. I'm over it.

And I feel happier already.

I actually quit about two weeks ago and since then I've done more drawing than I have for ages! Mainly, I think, because I'm enjoying it.

The problem with copying the work of other artists was that I lost my own sense of style. I was neglecting my own work. Another thing was that I was comparing myself with other, better, more experienced artists. In the process I had been forensically examining my own weaknesses, which was quite depressing.

This comment, in a book about the artist Zsuzsi Roboz, finally clinched it for me :
"My very good friend Carel Weight once told me whilst we were discussing the work of Peter Blake, 'There is no such thing as good or bad drawing - only expressive drawing.' "
I agree with that, so that's what I'm going to focus on now.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Drawing inspiration

I've spent so much time teaching myself how to draw. I've written quite a bit about it. I've got files and folders full of exercises and studies I've done.

And you know what?

I still can't draw.

I can't draw people; I can't draw animals; I can't even draw buildings. I can draw grass but I guess anyone could do that.

And I absolutely cannot draw from memory or imagination. I really can't.

I'm sure I used to be able to draw better than I can now.

What wrong with me?

I think the problem is this.

I don't care.

I don't care about drawing people, animals or buildings. The idea of being able to depict accurately something I can see in front of me strikes me as being clever but a bit pointless. I've got a camera for that sort of thing.

For me, the pleasure of drawing is in the expression. It's the joy of the gesture, the scribble, the mark.

Last week I went to the coast and I drew rocks. I did a number of detailed studies as I'd learned to do. They weren't very good. And they weren't at all inspiring. I fact, the more I drew the more depressed I got. Then I turned to a clean page and just started to draw - like I do.

The starting point was a big rock but soon incorporated bits of other rocks as they caught my eye. I worked quickly and vigourously. I drew, smudged, erased, drew some more. It was fun and at the end I was more satisfied than I'd been with any of the other sketches. It didn't look anything like a rock and it's of no value or interest to anyone but me. But I look at it now and I think,
"Yes, that's what I want to do. That's how I want to draw."

You know what else? My grass drawings are pretty damn good.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Studying Drawing : Part 2

As I worked my way through "The Primacy of Drawing", I made notes of things that particularly interested or inspired me. I jotted them down in my Journal and then added some brief notes of my own about how I could apply what I was reading.

These are some of the quotes and notes I jotted down.  They may be of interest to some of you.  They also give a glimpse into what makes me tick.

"... the uncontrollable urge of the artist to jot down sketches on scraps of paper or any convenient surface."

"Drawing strategies ... are easily sparked by the ready coincidence of materials, intentions, function and mood required for the simple act of drawing."

"Daily drawing practice is not only a matter of keeping the hand in practice but also a defining activity of artistic life."

"Students should keep notebooks and sketch books as a witness to their daily activities and strivings."

* Make sure I always have scraps of paper and pens stashed everywhere so I can write or sketch.
* Use scraps of paper - don't throw anything away.
* Draw something every day.
* Photocopy less, sketch more.
* Get into the habit of dating and annotating sketches etc.

(In University I had a large cardboard box by my bed that acted as a bedside table. Over time this would get covered with notes and drawings. Now I have scraps of paper and many sketch books. But I still have to be 'in the mood')

"... an insistence on learning about materials, processes and techniques is probably what demarcates amateur artists from professionals."

* Keep experimenting and learning
* Use different scraps of paper and different pens, pencils etc.
* Try backs of envelopes, till receipts ... recycle, reuse, save money.

(I'm searching for the perfect sketch book.  I've used various sizes, papers etc ... but it gets expensive and it's not really what I'm about.  I like to use "found materials". Sketch books are handy though.)

"Samuel Palmer ... combined water or body colours or sepia ink with gum arabic, varnish and oil, sponging in his richly textural drawing techniques."

* Use various media and techniques
* Make interesting drawings, not just representations.
* Work it more.

(I can be quite vigorous in my painting, using abstract expressionist techniques, but I tend to a bit tame when I sketch.  I'm still too concerned about capturing a physical likeness.  It's also a consequence of practicing drawing by copying.  Maybe time to let go a little.)

"Durer's ... drawings on intense coloured papers."

* Use more interesting / experimental materials.
* Use coloured papers

(I used to draw and paint on slate, ceramics, scraps of wood etc.What happened to all that?)

There are lots more quotes and notes but I'll post those separately as I group them together.

The more I read books like this, and the sheer number of activities that can arise as a result, makes me realise more and more that being an artist really is a full-time job.

I should give it a go sometime.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Studying Drawing

It's been a long time since I've painted anything. I haven't been anywhere near a tube or pot of paint. That's because for some time (12 months, maybe? I've lost track) I've been teaching myself to draw better. That's pretty much all I've been doing - drawing.

During the cold winter months I've spent many happy hours standing in front of pictures in the Museum or hidden in a quiet corner of the Library going through art books - copying the work of other artists as a way of learning different styles, techniques and work practices.

Recently, I've worked my way through a massive text book titled "The Primacy of Drawing" by Deanna Petheridge, formerly Professor of Drawing at the Royal College of Art, London.
Let me tell you this about the book: it's MASSIVE. And I thoroughly enjoyed it ... most of it  ... OK, I skipped some parts. But it was interesting and surprisingly readable for an academic book.
I like academic books because they remind me of my time in University when I would spend hours reading, researching, making notes and sketching  ... sometimes even on the topic I was supposed to be working on. A big difference this time around is that I actually read the book. In University I had a notorious practice of reading the back cover and the inside flap of a book and thereby being able to give the impression of having read it.
This book places drawing at the heart of all art and visual thinking. It investigates the role of sketching and visualising as a key process - particularly in the early, exploratory stages of disciplines such architecture, design and engineering. This interested me because as well as copying other artists, I've also been copying drawings, plans and studies by fashion designers, architects and illustrators. (Look at the initial drawings of the architect Frank Gehry)
For me, the most interesting and relevant sections of the book, given what I am trying to achieve, included:
* the origins of drawing and the primacy of line
* the persistent cult of the sketch
* finished, autonomous and presentation drawings
and, my favourite,
* drawing as learning.

(I skipped over the section headed "the affective semiotics of design and composition". Obviously.)

Drawing has been important throughout history and this book contends that it remains important in an era of found objects, readymades, installations, video, digital and performance art.
For me, the combination of theory and practice together with commentary from artists themselves made this a very worthwhile read.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Patient Discipline

Recently, I read a quote by the artist Sandra Blow that referred to "the patient disciplines of the studio".

That struck a chord with me because that's how I've been working.

I've set myself a list of six things to do every day. These ensure I keep moving slowly and steadily towards the work I want to produce. Every day I tick off what I've done. If I don't manage to tick off each item, it's OK; I turn up again the next day and keep going. It's "always the beginning" and I'm still in the game.

The result is, of course, that as the days, weeks and months have gone by, I've accumulated folders and boxes full of photos, sketches, studies, models, words, articles, cuttings and so on. Now I have to think what to make of them all.

Rainer Maria Rilke said that the poet should enjoy what would appear to outsiders to be the dull, repetitive chores of writing poems. The sorting, the editing, the rewriting, the polishing; in short, the doing of it all.

This slow, methodical process has suited my somewhat reclusive mood over the winter months. It's also laid down in me a little more discipline and resilience. Of course, I still have days when I simply can't be arsed and I bunk off into the hills or down to the coast. But it doesn't happen very often and once it's out of my system I sit down, shut up and get back to work.

One more quote. The artist Chuck Close says "You start off with a blank canvas, and day by day, week by week, you add a brushstroke here, a brushstroke there, and something comes to life in front of your eyes. What could be more magical than that?"

I'm finding more pleasure in my work than I have for a long time. It's not very exciting, but I don't want it to be. I want it to be magical.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Low Tech

Earlier this year my daughter bought tickets to take me to the David Hockney exhibition - "A Bigger Picture" - at the Royal Academy in London.

It was brilliant - one of the best shows I've seen.
Hockney has become known in recent years for the pictures he has produced on his iPad. There was a good selection of these on display and they really are remarkable.
Recently I've bought a new smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy Note) so naturally I downloaded a drawing app and made like Hockney.
I wish.

It's handy always having something with me that I can use to sketch and make notes. But I don't like it. I don't like drawing with a plastic stylus on a piece of glass.

I like the feel of a soft pencil on thick paper; of a black pen on smooth white paper.

I read about one artist who did a similar experiment with an iPad. But he went back to oil paints because "he missed the smell".

Also the way I'm sketching lately involves drawing with pencil, ink, graphite and a smudger. Then I'm adding colour references using petals, pollen, sap and earth. I'm trying to capture a sense of 'place'.

I don't think I should try that with my Galaxy Note.

I'm staying resolutely low-tech.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Turner Exhibition

Six months or so ago I went to a “Behind The Scenes” tour and chat with the art conservators at Cardiff Museum. It was interesting to see inside their studio and to learn how they worked. On an easel, being restored, was a painting by J.M.W. Turner. It was quite small and didn’t have a security tag. It would have fitted under my coat and I’m a fast runner.* It was tempting.

The conservator giving the tour explained that part of the work they had been doing was examining the painting to prove its authenticity, as there had been some debate over it and it had been pronounced a fake. Now that it had been verified they were restoring it ready for exhibition.

This came back to me when an episode of a BBC series entitled “Fake or Fortune” was screened earlier this week. Cardiff Museum have seven paintings by Turner and a few of them in particular had been written off as fakes. However, the investigation proved they were all authentic. You can watch the episode on BBC iPlayer here until 7th October (though possibly only in the UK).

The Museum has now arranged a small exhibition of all seven oil paintings and a small number of watercolours. Also on display is some of the correspondence regarding the original doubts over the authenticity of the paintings. More information is here.

It’s well worth a visit if you have the opportunity, if only to see a small collection of rather beautiful works by J.M.W. Turner.

* Actually, I haven't run since I was twelve.

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