Research for Assingment 4: Pointers from my tutor on life drawing

Doris gave me a few pointers… I’ll list the ones I’ve used here and update it as I go along.

(1) Tate Gallery masterclass recordings on life drawing

16/08/17 These were a series of four or five short 3-4 minute videos of famous artist from different disciplines taking a life drawing class with art students.

Interesting for an overview – there was no instruction as such but seeing the different approaches was fascinating and much more helpful than I thought as it gives you a wider perspective.

(2)

Measuring: Have a look at Vetruvian Man

20/08/17 – I followed the link and printed this out – transferring the article to pages so all the images displayed properly. I’ll read it and leave a brief comment later.

Part 4: Project 2: Exercise 1 – Quick studies

Okay… so I managed to find a local life drawing group in King’s College Cambridge called Cambridge Sketchers. They hire a room and a professional model and have timed poses. But no teacher and no sharing or comment so this is all my own work.

However, I have no control over the length of poses so had to go with what’s on offer which was: 1 x 5 minute pose; 4 x 1 minute poses; 4 x 5 minute; 2 x 15 minute; 25 minute; 20 minute.

1 @ 5 minutes pencil on A4 in sketchbook on my knee

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I tried to use my idea of shapes starting with the hips as a sphere and building outward.  Plus using a line to roughly connect the head with the heels and then relate everything to that.

There are lots of things wrong with it (as with all of these… so I’ll just pick out a few things for each – and then try to find something that works… ish!!).

The curve of the shoulders is too great… though roughly divided into arms, legs, torso and head there’s no real definition of limbs… the model had more weight… the head’s a tiny bit small.

But the overall shape doesn’t make me gasp. It’s roughly human and in proportion.

1st of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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Barely had time to look (I like looking before I draw) and no time to block off the body. Just had to be bold and go for it!

The legs are much too short for the body and the stomach is much bigger.

But… there are things I like about this more than the other one.

The quality of marks on the torso and head are much looser. And the arm crossing the head captures the feel well… in fact the shoulders up is the best bit!!! They work aesthetically and capture something of the model.

2nd of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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This time I decided to spend some of my sixty seconds looking and then try to draw the model in a few lines getting the proportion right.

The good thing is it looks like a person and the shape (for a human) is just about right.

But… it’s not the model!!!!!

What I’ve drawn is some ideal that must be in my head?!

3rd of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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I liked the idea of looking, and I thought fewer lines worked but this time I thought I’d better try to draw the model in front of us… and still try to get the proportions and shape right.

I didn’t have time to do the head or legs…

Again, I think fewer lines works better and it’s nearer the model. The breasts and foot are the simplest lines and most effective. And the proportions look about right.

The bit I worked on (if it can be called that in 15 seconds) using shape – a sphere for the bottom – starts to work but is dead and wooden.

4th of 4 x 1 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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I started with shape (rectangle for the torso) on this one determined to fit the whole body in but lost both the head and feet.

There’s nothing I like about this… maybe her right knee?

The legs and bottom half of the torso are in proportion but nothing like the model.

1st of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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I went back to trying to use shapes to construct the form and then add detail on top of that.

My main criticism – there are lots of things to criticise! – is that it feels heavy and overworked. The lines laboured.

The legs are too small (again!) and the attempt at detail doesn’t add anything.

Her left foot is beginning to work.

2nd of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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The same fault with the legs (too small) and the back leg is in some weird position… splayed back and sideways!

Three things I like about this: the elbow foreshortens towards the viewer and is beginning to work; the hand falls nicely on the body; and the right foot is roughly in the right position.

I have attempted a face – even if I’ve managed to lose most of her bunched hair!

And again it’s very wooden and heavy.

3rd of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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This is all relative… but I really struggled to get the left knee bent and the foot on its toes… and didn’t succeed. The shape of the thigh is all wrong, but I’m not sure how to mend it.

Again I used light geometric shapes and then added human detail… I don’t think it’s very effective… the legs are still too short (a little better), she carried a lot more fat, her left arm looks disabled below the elbow!.. and the marks are heavy.

However, the right hand wrapped around the body looks accurate.

4th of 4 x 5 minute poses, pencil in A4 sketchbook on my knee

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It’s strange but 5 minutes I found harder than one – it was time to think but not time to do anything!!! With one minute at least you had to be intuitive… look and draw. And the marks were looser.

Apart from the legs still being too small I like this the best of the 5 minute drawings. It has a tiny, tiny bit of looseness even though the lines are heavy. And has captured the feel of the model much better.

Ignoring the proportion to the rest of the body the left leg is starting to work. It’s got a curve on the back of the thigh and the foot, though lost, is in the right position. And even the squiggle for the knee suggests the folded skin well.

I like the hand too.

Fewer better marks would be my note to myself!

 1st of 2 x 15 minute poses, pencil sketch on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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When I got this home and looked at it it was a shock… it is grotesque. Like some German Expressionist painting of the 1930’s…

Only I was trying to be real!!!

I had enough time to draw and focus on some detail, and enjoyed it. I moved from one point of view to another and wasn’t aware of the distortions of the whole body till I finished, and even then it just looked poor… not laughable.

At home it was a fresh look.

However, having got over the shock and a little laugh at how ridiculous it looked I thought I’d have another look and try to learn something.

So… there are three drawings here… the head, the torso and the legs. Which matched my three points of view/field of vision. I could see the head, I could see the body… and I could see the legs. But only one at once… not all three at once.

Individually, I think they’re quite interesting with the face/head the weakest.

I like the shape of the body – it captures something of her. No internal details but the folds of flesh and hanging breasts look real, in terms of shape. And the crossed legs bend away into space nicely.

So, for my next sketch I decided I would try to match the body up… and if I was going to complete this exercise I’d better use some different media. It also occurred to me that different media have different voices (like instruments) so might change my style of drawing. Maybe there was something about the pencil work that was restricting me – I still felt this was fairly tight.

I decided to try charcoal. Specifically a new stick of compressed charcoal that I’d found the night before as I liked the creamy blackness it left on my fingers. And the only ‘hard’ black I’d used before was conte – I thought this might fall between conte and soft wood charcoal.

 2nd of 2 x 15 minute poses, compressed charcoal sketch on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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Wow… I like this much better… and I can smudge. The paper has quite a fearsome bite so it won’t go far, but it’s an extra tool and very freeing.

I loved working with the charcoal. A gorgeous black line that could draw, smudge and spot… made lovely flowing lines.

I’m just going to say nice things about the body… I think it’s in proportion, the foreshortening on the leading leg works well (I particularly like the flap of skin under the thigh), the bottom is nicely dimpled, the arm and knee look right and the head’s about the right size.

There’s not much internal detail and the model was bigger than this. But this is the first sketch that as a beginner I’d say… yes, that gives me something to work on.

My thought now was I hadn’t got any background and the textbook said to sketch background so in the last few seconds I invented the skirting board!

 1 x 25 minute pose, fine grey art pen on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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It’s come out black on the photograph – but is grayer in real life.

I really, really like the guy on my right by the door… and the woman sketching on my left. It may just be me, as I’ve shown friends and I think by their polite nods they just see a messy squiggle!!!!

But for me – it’s captured the quality of him drawing and some of his focus. So, till I get professional objective feedback I’m going to give myself a mini star. Not for the physical accuracy (there is none) but for the looseness and how it’s captured (for me) something of his attention. I’ve never really captured anything other than ‘visual reality’ before so that’s quite exciting!!!

Of course, as it’s so objective I could be horribly wrong!!!!!!!

I thought this would be hard to use – but it’s like talking to a bubbly but incisive and flowing friend. It’s lovely to use, gentle and accurate at the same time.

What I’m beginning to realise is how different the personalities of the different media are!

Anyway… I like the background… her leg’s a bit wrong and her hand is too small even though it’s furthest away… her bottom’s wrong.

But I’ve attempted some detail in the body which adds a lot to it being a person.

And I like the fact she’s in focus and the sketchers (who are actually very focussed) are out of focus. I know we’re not making preparatory sketches here, and it wasn’t planned, it just made me smile.

  1 x 20 minute pose, fine black art pen on A2 drawing paper standing at an easel

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Different from grey… sharper… more acidic!

And it’s produced a different sort of sketch.

The neck is too long but the body’s beginning to work and the flesh, though not wobbling, has finally got some weight. The flappy skin under the forearm, the leg turned out and even the size and position of the foot all feel right.

The face is a tad too small and I could spend a whole 25 minutes on the face. So it’s weak – but it’s recognizably a face.

It’s strongest feature is that the model has a presence and the drawing a slight spookiness.

So even given all its failings technically it’s beginning to capture something else which I like.

I also like the girl in the background who I moved from another part of the room and put in. It’s starting to dawn on me, emotionally inside, that I don’t have to copy reality. I can compose the picture…

Obviously, the main learning, is drawing people so I’m always going to try to draw them as accurately as I can. But they are so much more than a physical shape and I’d like to put humanity into them. To make them alive.

Conclusion

I think what I’ve learned most is that life drawing is a different way of looking. You can stare at a tree but staring at a person is qualitatively different. Even though a stranger… drinking somebody in for two hours is a weird process.

I’m going to call it artistic looking.

It will greatly help all my drawing – especially people – as I think it will help me draw the whole person not just copy the mask they’re wearing.

Allowing it could take years to find the technical skill to match the aspiration!!!!

Talking of which – I’m going to try to go to this group on a regular basis as even though there’s not a tutor I think I can move a long way just by practising. And two hours a week would be a good start.

 

Part 4: Project 1: Research point: contextual research into nude drawing

Reflect and analyse how the depiction of male and female nude has changed over the centuries.

The OCA recommends John Burger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, a 1972 BBC series, as a good starting point.

I’ll watch each programme in the series, there are four episodes, and write a reaction.

When I’ve finished the series I’ll write a conclusion and also try to read one or two of the other recommended books.

So… although I’ll post this now I will return to it over the duration of this course.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube with subtitles: Tue. 15/08/2017)

Oh… that was great!

Firstly, he’s talking about traditional European art from its birth around 1400 to its death in 1900. I’m taking this as significant because, for instance, only European art used a single pint of view… he uses the image of a reverse lighthouse with everything focusing back on the single viewer.

That would not apply to traditional African art.

Also, when he talks about paintings only existing in one place that wouldn’t cover japanese or Chinese woodcut prints for a mass market.

There was nothing about nude in the first programme but it’s a great introduction to viewing European art and well worth commentating on.

I took four pages of notes so this is a much simplified version!

In a nutshell he says art has been divorced from having a single unique meaning. Before photography it was a unique surface, in a unique place [context] with the viewer physically present. With photography it has become multi present in multiple forms, in multiple contexts and with multiple meanings.

And as such it has become like words to be arranged and manipulated.

Before photography you had to go and see the painting as it was intended. It’s context in a church or castle, was part of its meaning. You saw the whole picture which was still and silent. Either the artist or the commissioner (or both) gave it a meaning. You stood before it and absorbed that meaning – you connected with the painting, and the building it was housed in, on its own terms.

Now it’s meaning is malleable and can be manipulated by whoever controls the means of production. Be that in a book or a television programme.

In an art book for example there is false mystification with erudite explanations giving ownership and control to the expert, in an advert the meaning is subverted (by music, video, editing – such as picking out a single part of the canvas – and the words around it) to sell us something. What both have in common is that the meaning is controlled by the user to their benefit. And has nothing to do with the original meaning of the painting or how it naturally connects with and enhances our lives.

He argues that we should be sceptical and aware of art as a language used to manipulate us for the benefit of the producer.

The original painting was viewed as a whole picture in silence, and how a painting does not need unravelling in time unlike a film or music. Music affects our emotional response and close up radically change the meaning. How we stand in silence before a painting and enter the tunnel that connects us through time to the moment of its creation, and even questions the meaning of time itself.

Money has replaced religiosity. People journey to see a religious icon… and that they don’t even need to see it to know that god is behind it – and close their eyes in reverence as the que shuffles past. And how today we will journey to a Leonardo painting behind bullet proof glass in a stream of people because it is worth 10 million.

This all goes back to my definition of art (I’m open to changing but this is where I am at the moment): that true art connects with us as humans – otherwise it’s decoration or manipulation – and touches something inside our shared humanity… whether it’s recognising a political system, entering into beauty, or seeing the world through another persons eyes so we are no longer alone.

Which isn’t to say we can’t do what the advertisers and experts do and use art as a language to support/promote our own points of views to ourselves or others.  For instance pinning Goya’s painting of the execution next to a newspaper article of modern-day executions of totalitarian regimes.

But, I would say, using a painting as a language is different to enjoying a painting as art.

So, it will be very interesting to see how he deals with male and female nudity in traditional art – not about its creation but about its usage and meaning today, and whether we should still create it.

At the moment I can’t feel there is any other reason for nudity than to satisfy the male or female gaze. Whether that’s acceptable out of a learning situation (part of learning to draw is learning how to draw figures) is a matter of degree and personal social/political value judgements.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 2 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 18/08/2017)

This episode is about the nude in European art from about 1400 to 1900.

My main reaction to this episode was anger. I may have subconsciously known that the nude exploited women, but I’d not really thought about it. When it’s pointed out to you you can’t ‘un-see’ it… and it’s both shocking and glaringly obvious.

He had a great definition for being painted without clothes:

Naked: to be completely oneself.

Nude: to be seen naked by others but not recognised for oneself.

There was a lot of history in the episode so I’m going to try to boil it down to my interpretation of his argument and my ‘modern’ day spin.

The paintings of nudes during this period represents the position of women in the social elite. They were objects to be used by men. The women had no action in the world and their value, status and power was derived from the men they were attached to. The prize for being beautiful to the male gaze was to be attached to a man.

The level of hypocrisy is breathtaking: painting a naked woman because they enjoyed looking at her and then putting a mirror in her hand and calling it vanity – when she was forced to make herself ‘beautiful’ to satisfy male desire. And in doing so echoing the church’s blaming Eve for original sin when god sentenced her to a life of subjugation to man… God said that Eve’s punishment for biting the apple (original sin was the womans fault!) was that man was now her god. A whole ideology that ruled church and state for 100’s of years based on the subjugation of women.

Placing the moral blame on women for making themselves look ‘beautiful’ for men is also a way of diminishing and controlling women.

If a woman’s very survival (let alone her physical comfort and status) depends on being attractive to a man it is logical that she would focus a lot of attention on that.

He starts the programme by saying that men dream of women and women dream of being dreamt of… of being attractive… of winning the beauty competition. We infer (or hope) that that was then not now.

In the paintings the women are passive and available for the viewer. They rarely look at male lovers even if they are in the painting, but look out at their real master (the owner of the painting – the viewer) or away from their ‘lover’. The only competition is cupid who perversely as the giver of sexual attraction and conquest is a toddler presenting no sexual competition to the adult male viewer.

Women are shown lying down, languid, lips often apart, wide-eyed responding with charm to the male viewer they know is looking even though they don’t know them. They have no pubic hair as that is a symbol of sexuality and their sexual passion needs to be minimised. The bodies are not real but idealised objects of desire… like the woman winning the competition in the many paintings of The Judgement of Paris.

They are not shown active… dancing… or initiating sex for their own pleasure… just as available and acquiescent to the demands of the man. They are there to feed an appetite not have any of their own.

In other cultures (with a different audience) women are shown as equal in a celebration of nakedness. In Karma Sutra painting in India nudity is depicted equally, both women and men are active and consumed by sexual love.

One is not there to feed the sexual appetite of the other.

Male lovers were painted but these tended not to be for public display… and were generally pornographic.

The height of this practice was in the public academic art of the 19th century. Huge canvases filled with nude women ready to feed the most ravenous male appetite or wildest fantasy hung in important public buildings. Yet at the time it was not seen as ludicrous but acceptable, condoned and hung proudly with the blessing of the art world and the men with social and political power… in retrospect revealing the unquestioned control by men over women in ‘polite’ society.

The questions that arise from this are: Why? How? Did it matter? Does it matter now? And how does it affect our art practice today?

Why?

Because they could. Men had absolute power over women and wanted (they couldn’t under the Christian mores have had pornographic paintings on public display) to titillate themselves by looking at nude women, so they did.

How?

Rich men and important groups of men… initially the church, in medieval times, and then more secular were the only ones who could afford to pay for art. And artists satisfied their market. It was possibly so acceptable that neither the artist nor the buyers knew what they were doing… or maybe they did and chose to ignore it?

It would need a social historian to answer that one!

There wasn’t a mass market for art… and the elite controlled the flow of ideas and images. That they didn’t challenge it themselves is interesting. The challenge to nudity in society and on public display (like girly magazines having plain covers) didn’t come from enlightenment within the ruling classes. The change came as women gradually became more active in the world and gained economic and political power.

It was also challenged when photography was invented, along with the mass distribution of images, as artists and thinkers started questioning the role of art. Artists such as Edouard Manet who painted ‘Le dejeuner sur l’herbe’ in 1863 exposing nudity in art for what it was.

But my feeling is that real change was driven more by the increasing power of women in society – the right to own land – to vote – to work – to have economic and social power.

Did it matter?

HUGELY!!!!!! Painting nudes normalised abuse. It normalised the view that the role of women in society was to satisfy men . It mattered that the artists were painting these pictures and it mattered hugely that they were glorified by being hung in public places and the corridors of power.

Does it matter now?

Less so… art is not the dominant social force it once was… that has passed to TV/film/magazines… and the mass distribution of images. And art can be manipulated by anybody with a computer, so the artist and owner have little or no control over its usage.

And the ideas, rights and needs of women are part of modern society… in some groups more than others. Paintings of nudes, like girly magazines, are no longer acceptable on public display and would be challenged.

Though it’s ironic that alongside this public shift in attitude there is now freely available porn in private on the internet. As though the ideas and usage have not gone away but just gone underground, hidden. Maybe a bit like Victorian mistresses? The wife for public appearances, home keeping and child-bearing and the mistress and prostitute for sex and fantasy.

That said, it does matter… there is less economic need to paint nudes for artists. Though artists always had a choice as there were portraits of men and women and lots of other subjects… it just seems like nudity sold.

And still does!

So, if an artist chooses to make financial gain by feeding the male gaze and lending support to an exploitative view of women as objects (or as John Berger puts it – as ‘sights’ to be viewed not as individuals recognised for themselves) he is making a choice.

A choice that affects him, his model and society at large.

There is an argument that the model enters into the contract freely and gets paid. But I would counter that most women don’t strip naked for a living if they have economic choices and that the implications are bigger than the contract between artist and model. Nudes lend support to the owner/viewer (and wider society) that women are there to feed male desires.

How does it affect our art practice today?

Now nudes have been exposed an artist has to make a decision whether he will profit by serving the male gaze or paint something else.

It affects him, the owner/viewer, the model and societal attitudes to women. It is a significant social and political act.

Artists cannot control how their work is used however much they try to control copyright. Once a picture is painted and sold it’s almost impossible to stop it being copied and distributed online or foresee how it will be used. It can be changed by the addition of music, movement, cropping… and used to support arguments and for the benefit of others in the way the artist never intended.

But there is a world of difference between having a work of art subverted without permission and painting a nude.

I think it’s fine to paint naked men and women but personally I would not paint a nude.

A final point… John Berger said that during this period there were tens of thousands of nudes painted and only 20-30 exceptions. He mentioned paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and George De La Tour which were more like personal love poems, character pieces where the woman is seen as herself.

It would be nice if in the future we looked back and those numbers were reversed. (Though we probably don’t need tens of thousands of naked paintings – a few exquisite ones would probably do!!!)

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 3 (1972)  30 minutes. (Watched on You Tube: Tue. 18/08/2017)

Okay… I just watched that all the way through without taking pages of notes… so this won’t be as detailed. I might watch it again but I think I got the gist.

This should be a lot shorter.

Oil painting (from 1500 to 1900) was all about ownership.

(Not withstanding the few notable exceptions which break the rule! He cites three pictures. One by Rubens which celebrated the land and château near where he lived… but the owner is away and the land is full of plenty… the hunting is free. It shows a world of plenty contradicting ownership and the entire history of private property. A second by Vermeer of a woman weighing gold or pearls that is really about a moment in time (held between her fingers) and weighing the nature of existence; and the third the older self-portrait by Rembrandt showing him bereft of property and wealth,alone with the question of existence.

But, John Berger emphasises that out of hundreds of thousands of oil paintings these were a handful. And however much the art experts try to hold these up as examples they do not represent traditional oil painting in this period.

Of the 99.99% of paintings we see only a tiny proportion in our galleries, but they hung everywhere there was money, status, wealth, ownership and power.

He starts by saying that the style was to paint objects as if they were real. Be that goblets, lutes, exotic food, tapestry, pedigree livestock or country estates. Real things which are buyable. So the purpose of the painting was to advertise the owners good fortune prestige and wealth.

It is ironic that the paintings themselves, that displayed these objects, were also objects that could be bought and sold. They were in some respects the most valuable objects of all.

Many paintings were about classical mythology in classical literature and seem remote to us, but to them it was very important, a secret world entered only by those initiated with specialist knowledge, the privileged few.  It put them apart.

They could imaginatively put themselves into these paintings. The painting gave them props, setting, characters and a situation… they could play out the protagonist as they wished.  They could be the god displaying all the classical virtues and making all the classical gestures. It gave them a mythology and reinforced their vision of themselves.

It was part of the mentality that let them start the slave trade, conquering far away lands, destroying the native culture (and gods) and replacing it with ours, with Christianity. Otherwise the natives would not be difficult to control. We siphoned off the wealth of the world for our benefit, it’s that wealth that made the grand living possible, and the rich justified it by telling themselves they were the most advanced civilisation in the world. The natives were savages and barely human so they could do with them as they pleased. They were noble gods with the world as their playground.

Another point he makes about paintings is that you can’t hang music or poetry on the walls – but you can hang paintings. And in those paintings you can see your wealth displayed. Mr and Mrs Andrews, for instance, would take great pleasure in Gainsborough’s painting showing them as owners of their land.

Land that was not to be shared… in those days you could be whipped for stealing a potato and deported for poaching.

Even today paintings represent wealth and galleries (where that wealth is housed) are guarded like banks.

So, painting served material wealth – not spiritual as in the early religious paintings or in symbolic paintings from around the world. It was the first time in human history paintings had realistically represented objects (possessions) as if they were actually there. That could be expensive goods from silver trays, to goblets to pineapples; livestock with a pedigree as proof of value (not in nature but like an object emphasising the social pedigree and wealth of the owner; and buildings, not idealised beauty, but as seats of power and privilege.

The rich (the only people who could afford art) also bought portraits to celebrate, not things, the ‘confidence to whom ownership brought confidence’. Generations of human bloodstock showing the continuity of  power and worthiness – 100’s of thousands all over the country, but representing only a tiny proportion of the population. The portraits painted their patrons like a mixture of livestock, furniture and tailors dummies. The paintings said, I had power – I existed.

Women were often painted in seas of expensive materials emphasising wealth.

There were also paintings of Mary Magdalene, but they were sexually hypocritical. The title was framed in sacred love – but the painting was about profane love. They were painted as pretty, well dressed available young women not as religious icons. No different to portraits of young women for their betrothed, the women were objects that could be bought and owned.

The poor of this period do not have any portraits or annals.

So, it seems to me that you could argue the painters of this period were craftsmen not artists. They were employed like architects or builders to make something useful for the owners, not to reveal a human truth. The value was not to humanity (like Shakespeare’s plays) or society at large… their use and value was solely for the benefit of the owner. A painting was like a car – it did something very practical for the owner – it didn’t get him around – it displayed his wealth – his right to ownership – his confidence – reinforced his self-image as being like a God and gave him an imaginary stage to play out his mythological fantasies.

In short it was a great skill in grubby servitude to money – but around 1900 it was freed by photography and suddenly had to find a soul. It had an existential crisis which resulted in 50 years of isms while art found an identity and purpose.

A final, personal point, is that art is still used by the rich for the same purpose… portraits of the wealthy are still commissioned to hang in stately halls and castles. And only the rich can afford to buy high art.

But now all the might, beauty and undeniable power of the painted image can serve mankind as a whole.

Part 4: Project 1: Exercise 2 Emphasising form with cloth

(1) Charcoal sketch with model: A4 in sketchbook. In sitting room… window light from the left of the picture. Sketchbook on the table.

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This was weird.

As it was a friend I was aware they were doing me a favour and didn’t want them to have to sit too long/worried about their comfort.  So, though I tried not to rush I was aware our conflicting needs and that the benefit was all mine. I got a body to draw while they had to sit unnaturally still and be stared at!

It was totally different from the time pressure of drawing people in the street (they’re constantly moving and it’s not costing them anything) or a professional paid model (where there’s no pressure about how they’re feeling.)

The sketch is patched together from three viewpoints: head and shoulders, torso, body and legs.

As a whole picture it doesn’t work – I tried to draw the outline but had to constantly change it to fit the whole body in. And the end result looks like the model has been squashed onto the paper!!!

However, it does capture something of the person I know. Which is the weird bit. Technically it’s very flawed but ‘humanly’ (at least for me) I can see Janet.

Which is pleasing!

I decided to draw a pencil sketch of the photograph next.

Two reasons… firstly my tutor encouraged me to take control over my studies and not feel I could only/had to do exactly what was in the exercise… to widen my work and extend my work and experiment… to work in series and secondly, so that I could use the camera (single viewpoint) to get the shape of the sitter right.

I could then go back and try to redo the charcoal sketch on a bigger bit of paper on an easel. So I had the physical freedom to stand up and use my body. And I’d have enough room to fit the whole figure in.

My hope was that the final piece would be technically better and still capture an essence of my model.

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(2) Pencil sketch on A4 in sketchbook. In day by the window from photograph of model taken at the time. Light from the left… sitting at a table.

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Again… this was very interesting.

I started with the outline but quickly realised that was going to cause me problems again,  so had the idea of using geometric shapes. Simplifying the body to two hinged cuboids, cones for the legs and a tilted egg shape for the head.

As it was a photograph I only had a single viewpoint.

And I wasn’t worried about the sitter! But neither was I connected or thinking about the person I knew. This was a technical exercise.

The idea of getting two hinged cuboids and adding the head and legs worked well. I could then start adding detail and getting the relationship of different points… knee to elbow to next etc. This led to a much better shape and much less re-drawing. I had started with the head which I had to move.

When I’d done this (I’d intended to use different pencils but stuck with the HB) and was happy with the shape I started adding shadows and highlights for the creases of material, hanging or stretched on the body.

Close up the folds looked funny – and were difficult to see on the photograph. But when I’d finished, and without a sense of how it would look from a distance, I sat back and it worked. The highlights and shadows gave me a feel for how the material hung off the body.

Finally, I added a 6B for the darkest shadows and chair legs. This gave the drawing contrasts and really brought it into 3D focus.

I was pleased with this (especially the hands) and it taught me to think of the body in a different way… as volume.

On the downside it doesn’t capture anything of Janet and is ’empty’… in terms of ‘meaning’ or connection.

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(3) Charcoal and putty rubber sketch on A2 (separate sheet of paper) on easel with photograph pinned at the side and charcoal sketch open on chair nearby. At night, light from daylight bulb on floor to right of drawing.

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Working at an easel was great.

I loved it as I could stand up and was not pouring over a table. It was very freeing and easy to stand back from the sketch. Technically it was difficult keeping a steady hand without resting on the table and being charcoal the marks didn’t always go where I wanted them!

Using the same idea of ‘volume’ for the figure there was even less re-drawing and wrong marks on this.

I drew it all first – then smudged and used the putty rubber as the final stage. This worked a bit, but you only got one chance at a clean highlight as if you re-smudged and used the putty rubber again you got grey not white.

Again it was very hard to see where the actual highlights and shadows fell (maybe I could blow up bits of the photograph?) and the gradations (light to dark) were very important as were the absolute values of the shadows.

Maybe if I’m using a putty rubber a paper with less bite (shiny???) might work – then I could move the charcoal around and it might lift off more easily?

It’s nice how just a suggestion of the environment (the chair) works really well. You don’t need much context.

On the whole I’m quite pleased with it and it’s beginning to do what I wanted… it’s captured a little of Janet and is technically more accurate.

How does the fabric help evoke the essence of a living being beneath the surface?

How the cloth falls depends almost entirely on the body beneath it. We automatically adjust for ‘flowing’ or ‘stiff’ material.

Imagine a heaped pile of clothes on the floor… no living people. No living being underneath the clothes.

Then dress different friend in the same clothes in sizes they choose (ignore their faces and hands). Everybody would look different and carry an essence of themselves both physically and psychologically… the clothes would ‘hang’ completely differently… both because of the different body shapes underneath, and whether they chose to wear the clothes tightly or loosely, but also because everybody holds their body differently, has different postures.

In my exercise my first sketch captures the essence of the person beneath the clothes, the second captures the physical form (but could be a mannequin) and the third begins to marry the two.

So, fabric (even without pattern and colour) really does evoke the living being underneath it. And that’s what we’re used to reading. In real life there are very few occasions we see totally naked people… even fewer that we would stare unchallenged!

This exercise has changed how I ‘see’ clothes.

I start naked in the morning and put on clothes… I had always seen them as separate from me. Other people were themselves… and put clothes on top. But now it feels like clothes are an extra layer of flesh… or feathers on a bird… they are part of us not separate!!!

What difficulty did you encounter when approaching the cloth/figure as a whole?

As mentioned, drawing the outline first was a very bad idea.

Looking at a figure from close to you have three or four points of view, so when you sketch the ‘outline’ your three points of view don’t match and you’re constantly changing one bit of the outline to try to fit with another!

The two solutions I found are (1) A photograph of the whole person is a technical way of getting a single viewpoint – I think this might be useful to learn how to draw whole bodies and how everything relates. (2) Constructing the person from the centre out by using geometric blocks of volume in space. Then relate points like elbow to chin to knee. And then once you have your shape using your ‘eye’ to fill in the detail.

 

 

Part 3: Tutor feedback: video session

It’s late and I’m tired but want to jot some notes while this is still (relatively fresh)… so, I’m going to use bullet points to add things not in my written report.

Then go through the report and respond when I’m fresh.

  1. Trees branches don’t get thinner unless they branch off.
  2. Draw twigs, parts of tress, then go back to whole tree.
  3. I asked for an overview of my practice and possible degree pathways… Doris said there were some painterly elements to my work and approach (so, if I wanted to go down the painting route that would be possible), but my loose drawings were very interesting and had I thought of a Drawing degree? I said no, I’d just wanted to paint and hadn’t considered it but I quite liked the idea.
  4. Many of todays drawings (by professionals) are very tight and she liked my looseness which gave the drawings life and unity.
  5. She suggested I choose Understanding painting media as my next level 1 course (She thought Practice of painting would cover too much of the same ground and be boring for me – also I’d done three-quarters od this course a few years ago). The course was fun and experimental and would challenge me, introduce me to new materials and techniques, and by the end of it I’d know if I wanted to go down the painting or drawing route.
  6. If I want to do a drawing degree I would have to choose Exploring drawing media as my third level 1 course.
  7. The OCA was one of the few institutions to offer drawing degrees.
  8. She thought I would get lost in the academic side of a Fine Arts degree and lose out on the practice which was the side I’m most interested in.
  9. We chatted about a life drawing course and she said if I couldn’t find one locally I should try to go to an intensive one or two-day course. It was better that I was shown the proportions face to face.
  10. I could draw models with clothes on and I said my girlfriend would help if she could read a book while I sketched.
  11. The course though very good was very prescriptive and Doris thought I should stretch it a bit and go beyond the set exercises and experiment, and draw in series.
  12. I don’t have to submit Assessment pieces as my final material and I should start working outside my sketch book and think about submitting some of those as quite a few of my sketches are very nearly finished pieces.
  13. I should start sketching outside the course for fun.
  14. She thought I would do well at/was suited to printmaking and suggested I take a short course. It’s a physical medium with chemicals and procedures and the OCA course wasn’t the best way to approach it.
  15. I said, “Sketching is like having a conversation with the paper”, which she liked.

Part 4: Project 1: Exercise 1 Drawing fabric using line and tone

fullsizeoutput_53c20 minute line drawing using fine art pen. Barbour jacket on back of chair… eveining. Inside by french window, light dimming.

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15 minute charcoal drawing with 5 minute putty rubber. Barbour jacket on back of chair… afternoon. Light cloud. Inside by french window with door open.

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How easy did you find it to create volume in the folds of fabric?

Not easy!!!

I think what I learnt by the end (and there was a progression through the drawings as I failed and tried to understand why and try something new) is that there is both a pattern of shapes to folds… and a tonal structure.

Patterns of folds

You can suggest a single fold by a highlight, shadow and tonal gradation between the two. Sometimes even a dark line next to a light one will suggest a fold.

It’s easier from a distance, as in the 20 minute tonal charcoal drawing of the jacket. Here the context of the jacket helps you ‘read’ it (pocket, arm, flaps) and light or dark areas that run down the material. The more complicated shadows like the pocket that have a tonal change that give it reality so the smaller creases (a highlight against a uniform grey area) read like a crease.

The line drawing gave me some lovely patterns but not volume, though interestingly the area with least work (but the shapes are right) is the nearest to working.

However, in the ‘close ups’ you don’t have any help, it has to read as a section of folded cloth.

By square 7 the folds are beginning to work but it’s not until they are organised properly (speak to each other as folds in material)… in 8… that it looks like a piece of cloth.

In short, there’s a sort of ‘language of folds and creases’ and how they fit together, and you need to get that pattern right for it to work.

Tone of folds

This is easier in that where you have a shadow or a sharp turn, such as the pocket or the crease around the arm, the tonal change is big. But where there is a gentle turning there is a more gradual change in tone.

The technique seems to be to get the changes in tone right… to a glance there’s a line of highlight next to the turned away material which is darker, but in reality there’s almost always some form of gradation. If it’s too abrupt it looks like a hole, or just unreal – as in 2 and 6 which are poor.

If it’s right it starts to look like real folds as in 8.

Conclusion

To show volume in folds of fabric you’ve got to get both the shape and pattern of the folds and the tonal changes right.

This is harder when you have material in close up with no clues as to how the material is lying and nothing to keep your eye moving.

Footnote:

I unintentionally made this harder as apart from the natural light and dark caused by the folds, the jacket has light and dark areas caused by wear. Which add a second layer of difficulty as they are working in a totally different way to the folds of material.

Also, I think having an olive-green jacket (tonally a mid dark grey) made the tonal changes harder to see and draw. The material absorbed the light – and I was also, in effect, drawing the tone of the material as well as the light and dark caused by the folds.

A lighter material would have shown volume differently – more clearly – and I think it would have been much easier if I’d used a piece of white material.

 

 

Part 4: Research point

This is an ongoing research point through the whole of Part 4 comparing contemporary and historical figure drawings, so I’m going to write an introduction now and look at two painters and then add two more painters before each project.

Introduction:

We read people everyday and are great at postures and faces. Even if we are wrong we have ‘first impressions’, sit in cafes and create narratives for strangers and make decisions about how we speak and act based on how we ‘read’ people.

So, it’s no surprise that people and faces is the most common subject throughout art.

This brings me to my first question… a snap of a stranger’s mum is boring… we don’t care… yet ‘Arrangement in Gray and Black no 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871 by James Abbott McNeill Whistler is iconic, and a work of art.

Even if we equalised the size by blowing up the snap to 144 x 162 cm it would not be interesting.

However, even an amateur snap of a famous person would garner interest.

My answer is simply that there has to be something useful for the viewer, whether that’s intrinsic in the subject (a famous person) or added by the artist.

So, what does the artist add?

Everybody has a persona… mostly we’re in our own mental boxes (especially with eyes fixed on phones!)… but people, even glanced across a tube, have an emotional impact. And that’s magnified a hundred times when we’re introduced to somebody and really look and connect with them.

An artist can introduce us to another human with persona… we can gaze and read them and their life as we would meeting an interesting new stranger.

What else… they can comment on society – whether in French realism (Honore Daumier, The Washerwoman) or William Hogarth’s satire; illustrate the human condition like loneliness of living in Hopper; they can market (we all put on a smile for selfies and edit our Facebook profiles to manipulate our public presence) – before photography and photoshopping it was down to famous portrait painters like Dosso Dossi. The rich and powerful general in Alfonso l d’Este, 1528 is a public statement meant to impress and secure his public status; sell an ideology like medieval Virgin Mary paintings and Russian State approved portraits of the 1940’s; they can be a visual ‘interview’ capturing the ‘real’ famous person; allow the male gaze to linger on female flesh in the name of ‘art’; capture an intimate emotion like the love of a mother for her newborn baby held in a glance; or like Whistler’s portrait of his mum be an aesthetically pleasing composition.

These are external, but we can also see ourselves in paintings… or in the space between the painting and ourselves.

That old man is like I’ll be… my arms will be wizened like that one day; that plump middle-aged guy is like me now; we can see ourselves (in looking at others) as we might be seen. In life we usually only see ourselves from the front… and this is often edited by adding a smile, a pose or a thought.  We construct our view of ourselves, create a self-image, such that when we accidentally catch ourselves in a mirror it’s a shock. Can that really be us?!!!

But by looking at others in paintings they hint at how we might be seen by people in ‘real’ life.

Face and figure before Project 1:

For my first two paintings (before Project 1) I’m going to take Hopper as a contemporary painter and Giovani Bellini as a historic one.

Chair Car, 1965 (oil on canvas)

This could be on the tube today… an isolated person and somebody looking. Technology has changed, and we’d be crammed in like sardines… but the feeling is exactly the same.

I have been that person on the train… reading the book or looking.

I can sympathise and recognise myself. Maybe even muse on the nature of existence in the modern world?!

 

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Young Woman at her Toilet, Giovanni Bellini, 1515

From reality to fantasy.

This is, if not openly pornographic, then certainly voyeuristic. Nobody has a face like that (only professional models with top photographers, a personal makeup artist and photoshopping). The face and countryside are idealised and romanticized… this is not a real woman it is an object to be viewed.

At the time (I surmise!!!!) it was accepted by men as standard – who knows what the women thought?!

Now, it raises all sorts of questions about the male view and nudity in art.

However, sex and fantasy are as old as man and it satisfies my first criteria… it has a value for the viewer!

Face and figure before Project 2:

If you think of nude painting Lucian Freud is probably the most famous contemporary artist. The nude is a tricky area to navigate and I’m just about to start a life drawing group so this seems appropriate.

And my tutor said some of my sketches were like his early work.

Small Figure, 1983-4 (oil on canvas)

Small Figure, 1983-4 (oil on canvas), Freud, Lucian (1922-2011) / Private Collection / Photo © Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images

Thinking about John Burger’s excellent programmes on Ways of Seeing, is this a naked women… or is it a nude?

Is it a ‘sight’ to be looked at or ‘the woman herself’.

To my eye it looks like a bit of both.

Nude: She’s prone, passive… we can be a voyeur on a private moment. And I can’t imagine anybody lying like this on the sofa… her flesh is exposed to view. And something about it looks studied.  So, it’s a constructed picture. I don’t get a sense of the soul of the woman.

Naked: It’s not obviously titillating, she’s not aware of the viewer, she’s not offering herself in any way… her flesh isn’t a model of ideal beauty and we get an idea of the individual on the couch.

It’s nothing like the classic European nude but something about it still makes me uneasy. Maybe I’m invited to stare… and not for all the right reasons. It’s not a love poem… I don’t get any feeling or connection or understanding of the subject.

And, I can’t see how her being without clothes adds to the painting. Had she been clothed in the same position it would have been an equally interesting painting.

So, I feel the nakedness is not entirely innocent. It’s not a blatant nude but I’d still say it was more nude than naked!

 

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CreditPortrait of a Hanseatic Merchant, 1538 (oil on panel), Holbein the Younger, Hans (1497/8-1543) / Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, USA / Bridgeman Images

Hans Holbein is renowned for being one of the best portrait painters of his time. He painted the rich and famous… I can’t see any of them posing naked?!!!!

So, he seems like a good comparison in being so different.

I know hers is side on but this guys face reminds me of Lucien Freud’s painting. Both absent from the painting thinking about something else. Skill wise this is a masterpiece -it could be a photograph.

But me this is imposing – there’s no humanity, no warmth and no personality. Both the clothes, posture and face are empty – the only thing this says to me is power. It may be a wonderful physical likeness – but this is primarily doing a job for the buyer. It will be hung in a prestigious place. It is announcing his status in the world.

I don’t think this would be very popular today. Modern portraits of famous people try to bring them closer to ordinary people by humanizing them, this does the opposite.

However, the link with historic paintings is that paintings for famous people are commissioned to do a job for the buyer… not the viewer.

The woman, in contrast, is anonymous… the painting is for a market. A market that would not tolerate ‘nudes’ from a serious artist. That (I think) Freud’s painting is still a nude but has moved much closer to being a painting of a naked woman is an indication of the art market today… and what is culturally acceptable.

Face and figure before Project 3 (I’ll try to find some drawings – rather than paintings for this one)