Research point: historic and contemporary artists whose work involves the underlying structure of the body.

Before answering this question I need to define what I understand by ‘work’… I take work to be the finished artifact that was put up for sale at the time of painting.

So, I’m not going to include Leonardo Da Vinci. I think he (quite literally) took the human to pieces in order to build it up again. He wanted to understand the underlying structures in order to perfect his portrayal of the outer structure.

As a great artists his anatomical studies are always more than anatomical diagrams but if we compare one of his studies:

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… annotated in a very scientific and precise way…. to one of his finished paintings:

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… we can see a great difference.

One is part of his finished body of works the other part of his process of learning.

I couldn’t find any of his finished works that used the underlying structure as part of the painting.

E.H.Gombrich ‘ART & ILLUSION’ supports this in part 2. He writes about the different functions of art (story [the ‘How’ of imaginative interpretation and fiction] telling) in Greek art versus the ‘Reality’ of conceptually based Egyptian art. And then goes on to discuss schemata. The Platonic art that sought the Godly geometric patterns of harmonious perfection – aesthetics [so art had no business portraying the particular, the flawed copies made of base materials] and the neo-platonic where artists were allowed as they were the gifted, who sort the true patterns of the Gods by improving the base examples in the real world… by constantly searching for the universal and perfect.

He then expands saying that art is looking and noticing. And that you can’t notice without schemata. So, for example, once you have a schemata for a head (the egg split by lines) you can draw a head in any position without the need for a real head to copy. The ‘head’ is now a geometric pattern or relationship. And that all artists learn schemata.

In this context Leonardo was dissecting bodies to reveal the underlying structures not to draw the underlying structures per se. But to better improve his schemata of the human body. In the same way he studied trees or Constable copied the cloud patterns of Cozens.

Just as an aside Gombrich then notes that great artists (like Leonardo) have always used the schemata as a starting point – a template to notice then adapt to the particular. Whereas the hack imposes the schemata on the particular making the minimum alterations to indicate king or general.

He says the schemata as slavishly followed templates broke down in the late 18th and 19th centuries. So, it is from 1850 that I will look for artists whose work involves the underlying structure… rather than artists who studied it as part of their mastery of human schemata.

In my internet searches I couldn’t find any historic artists who used underlying structure.

However… there are several contemporary artists that do.

There were some who paint a normal body and show its inner structure… like an anatomical painting but with a fully painted body. But these seemed hybrids of poor figure painting and weak anatomical painting uncomfortably stuck together. More a gimmick than art.

One example is Fernando Vicentes born in Spain in 1963:

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For me the face is poorly painted, more poster than fine art, and the anatomical illustration – though it looks accurate to a non trained eye… is for the general public and doesn’t have to stand the test of medical scrutiny.

So,  I had to look again – and found two examples.

(1) Laura Ferguson (I couldn’t find any biographical details in terms of age, nationality, training… just that she worked with medical institutions and taught anatomical drawing – ‘How to Draw a Human Heart’… which would take us back to schemata!!!)

So, I’ve found one of her paintings and will say why I think this is a work involving the bodies underlying structure.

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To me, this is a beautiful drawing in its own right… organic and whole. Where the underlying structure is incorporated into  the meaning and ‘used’ in the work.

The sandy broken down background and naked body make me think of prehistoric man… of evolution. And the beauty of the human body. The backbone pulling out of the body not only gives movement to the whole but makes me think of it as a separate structure within us… like a living thing.

Of how we’d be a sack of flesh without it. Of its materiality and purpose.

For me this drawing is both poetic and philosophical.

I also found Adfa Dobrzelka who painted a series of paintings called ‘On the Shape and Likeness’. (Again I struggled to find any biographical information… this is where having a good library and a tutor wandering round your university would be useful!).

Here’s an image:

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This is superficially very attractive and for some strange reason reminded me of pop art?!!!

Whatever, it certainly uses the underlying structure as part of the whole work… and is impactful and shocking.

The eyes humanize it and hold the viewer… this is a person… the nose and skin round the eyes is also ‘external’. In this painting it’s almost like a person has put on a skull mask. Yet we can also block out the person and see the skull. A bit like one of those trick paintings where it switches between duck and rabbit but you can’t see both together.

However, the skull is not dead bleached bone but bathed in colour. Alive. Like a different being.

For me it almost, but not quite, works. In that I see the living bone… but am then pulled away to the fleshy person. The two never meld. It’s beginning to do some very interesting things and is definitely using the underlying structure. But ultimately is more shocking than effective.

Finally, as a postscript, while doing this it made me think of Francis Bacon. I don’t think he uses the underlying structure as such in terms of backbone and skull. But he paints the underlying psychological structure that degrades and debases the outer image. And also reminds me of the underlying bones.

Perhaps his art (even without anatomical accuracy) is the most potent in using the underlying structure. For it makes me think… what is really a man. And what this fleshy mask???

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Musee d’Orsay – Sat 7th October 2017

It’s about a year since I went to the Musee d’Orsay… at that time I bought the guide-book and read it cover to cover.

So everything, this time, had meaning!

We just viewed the Impressionists and what was really interesting having read the guide-book and progressed through this course… the thing that struck me really forcibly (unlike last time when I thought they were more real than real!) was how visually unreal they are. And how much detail they miss out.

They truly seemed an ‘impression’.

But not an impression in the sense of what we ‘see’… but an impression in the sense of actually being on the spot… as if in a waking dream – giving you just enough visual information to allow to drift away. So you see the scene with your whole body, not just your eyes, and the painting becomes a doorway rather than the room itself.

So, psychologically and emotionally, it’s more real than any photograph or realist painting. They visually mimic the detail of reality. However, because you know they aren’t real you stand outside, isolate your eyes, and look in to ‘read’ the image. For me a photograph is ‘reportage’ not ‘art’.

Two other things struck me this time.

How they were made by specific people at a specific moment in time. Knowing the stories of the artists and just how revolutionary they were and what a struggle it was to get gallery space and patronage. And the whole social sub structure and stories that surround the paintings. The interaction of history and art… with changing artistic conventions… how markets affect production… how there is a struggle for hegemony between the old and new art. All gave a new me a deeper connection with the paintings.

Not wondrous (though they are!) multi million pound artefacts to ‘awe’ at, but real canvases painted by real artists with real bills to pay! The knowledge humanised them and made them real. It allowed me to value them not in the eyes of others and by repute but as if they’d just been painted.

And finally how, once you reach a certain level like Degas or Monet, not only do the paintings lift you to that moment but they also have a personality and a voice. This is much more than stylistic variations. It’s like being with another person. It’s a bit weird to try to explain…

It’s as if, in some strange way you, are not only entering the moment but also the artist themselves. It’s a kind of emotional link… a presence apart from the image.

A lovely museum and a lovely city and one I could happily spend a whole week visiting!!!!

 

 

Part 4: Project 4: Exercise 1: Structure

This Project is on close drawing of the human figure… which I’ve split into five parts:

(1) Toes, feet and ankles.

(2) Calves , knees and thighs.

(3) Hips and torso.

(4) Shoulders, arms and elbows.

(5) Hands.

I used ‘Anatomy for Artists – A Complete Guide to Drawing the Human Body’ by Barrington Barbour and ‘Life Drawing’ by Eddie Armer.

I’ll post the sections as I complete them.

(1) Toes, feet and ankles.

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The shape is very important… or more precisely, drawing what is actually there rather than what you know!!!

It struck me that feet are like the rest of the body… cones, cylinders… and lots of curves which makes shading difficult. The main thing is not to panic!! Get the shape right… relate everything to everything else… then painstakingly relate everything inside the foot to each other… see the negative and positive shapes… use ‘points’ then use your eye… keep switching between the close and the overview.

And be confident!

Finally, feet are very individual. As much so as faces. You wouldn’t draw a generic face and the same is true of feet. The individual details give the feet life and vitality.

(2) Calves, knees and thighs.

 

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A couple of things about this… firstly the photographs alter the original!

Plus, now that I’m reading ‘Art & Illusion’ by E.H.Gombrich I realise how representative art is a translation within conventions – not a copy of ‘life’… and how it’s the overall relationships of tone rather than local tone/colour that determines what a paintings effect on the viewer… (and lots more!!!)… including how a photograph is not a copy but transposed… altered for brightness/contrast etc.

So… I’ve suddenly become aware of the lunging gap between the work in my sketchbook and these photographs!!!!!

But, I digress.

What struck me with these drawings is that when you get them right it really does (for me) suddenly look like a person in motion. Even though it’s only the legs!

My ‘judgement’ is not photographic… or realism… but emotional… do they ‘feel’ alive!!!!!

Secondly, I became aware of the patterns within the shapes and (for the first time) the difference between shape and shading really made sense. And how everything within the figure (negative space, positive shapes) all relate to each other.

After finding the shape and  I find myself drawing ‘relationships’ rather than ‘things’ – and swapping between a close up view (you see the patterns and ‘feel’ the flow of muscles) to a distant view where everything comes together and starts to work as a whole.

(3) Hips and torso.

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Torso’s are very difficult!!!!

You’ve got large flat areas with an underlying structure (bones, muscles and tendons) which bend the surface (the skin) and therefore the light . So you get lots of complicated tonal areas that are all interrelated.

And that we are very good at reading!!!!!!

I found the shape was really important. Once you had the shape you can fit the ‘patterns’ of light and shade inside it.  And the best way to find the shape was to draw an estimation, by eye, then correct and amend it as I added the internal shapes… relating them to each other and to the shape.

What occurred to me is that, in real life, I’m unlikely to be drawing naked people… just hands, head and feet. But that fat (these are all young toned people – so, very untypical!!!!) and clothes are like another layer on top of an underlying structure. The big difference is that skin bends and stretches as it is flexible, whereas clothes tend to crease.

However, all VERY good drawing practice.

And, as I’m learning (and enjoying immensely) from my Art and Illusion by Gombrich what I’m doing is creating a flexible template… developing a visual language that I can use to help me with drawing people, but is fluid enough to allow amendments to draw individuals.

In as far as this exercise is to draw a true representation not having been trained is a benefit as I don’t have a developed visual language which is going to make me ignore aspects of ‘reality’. And to create a representation that, in any way, resembles the one before me is a real challenge.

However, I would say the book I’m using (Anatomy for Artists by Barrington Barber) has serious drawbacks as many of the illustrations, look plain wrong. Not like any people I’ve ever seen. They look like stock people. And some of the hands and hands and feet look plain bizarre!!!!

I think, perhaps, there was a lot of template using in his book?!

(4) Shoulders, arms and elbows.

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Arms are a surprise… much longer, slenderer and more beautiful than I thought. With the possibility of all sorts of expressive gestures. Which is probably why they’s so widely used in dance.

They are very likely to be foreshortened, and seeing the structure in space (as well as what I actually see!) is key to getting it right. Sometimes it’s just the angle of the tiniest line that pops them into focus.

As well as shapes shading the turn of the muscles is a very useful exercise.

My favourite is the arm that ’emerges’ from the background. It ‘feels’ more human. This made me think about the different mediums… seeing shapes in line or in masses. And different ways of using the same drawing tool.

The more I do this the more body makes sense – but it could be applied to any 3D structure.

Another thing is the tonal relationships are very important. The difference between pattern, grotesque and suddenly breathing life is VERY subtle. And, I’m very likely to have to draw arms in real life.

Finally, these are all, big muscley specimens… useful for underlying muscle structure… but there’s an argument to have the arms of ‘real’ people!!!

5) Hands.

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Hands are great… what I particularly like about them is the way they show weight and character.

Weight in that if you get the hand right you can emotionally see the rest of the body. And how it’s placed in space.

It’s weird!!!!

In fact all of these hands feel like they’re attached to bodies. It’s almost like you’re drawing the whole body when you draw the hands. Although all these hands are ‘chopped off’ that’s not how I ‘feel’ or see them.

Hands can also expressively show emotion.

On a technical level it seems to be about getting all the bits properly related to each other. We’re so used to seeing hands that even one line off will throw the whole hand out. It also helps to understand how the hand is working geometrically and where all the pieces are in space… and there’s lots of foreshortening!

In conclusion:

I’ve spent a long time on this section because I love people and emotions. As an actor I try to inhabit people… and when I see people I make up characters and narratives.

So, I think I might like to draw people… or at least moments between people.

And if I want to do that I need to understand how bodies work!

 

 

Reflection: concepts of modern art – From Fauvism to Postmodernism. Edited by Nikos Stangos: Third edition 1994

This book has transformed the way I think about art.

That said, even though I have a BA in Hermeneutics I only understood about a third to half of it. The language was very dense. However, I ploughed through as I was getting a great backdrop and context for understanding art… even if I couldn’t answer many questions on the details of the different ‘isms’!

There seems to be three kinds of ‘art’.

In art it seems to me you either make (1) a high value commodity (traditional oil painting); (2) a political/social argument (modernism and postmodernism); or (3) a mixture of the two… most of the ‘isms’ from 1900 to the 1950’s.

But art criticism seems to change rapidly (even over ten years) which makes the criticism itself an historical record… primary evidence of contemporary views about art. But even so I think you can make some big distinctions.

Commodity art: 

Is high value property owned by a single person (and can be bought and sold)… it is unique (unlike craft items which may have an equal degree of skill but are mass produced)… involves a high degree of skill… is high value… produced by a known individual… and traditionally in Western culture is owned by the white, heterosexual male who are economically and educationally privileged.

Even today, a bottom end professional oil painting would start at around £2000, which would preclude most people having one in the living room!

Success is judged in financial terms.

Postmodernism:

Is art as polemic – which at times can seem little different from graphic design used to further an argument.

It can deconstruct (modernism) the present system by exposing stereotyping and the power structure… art used to challenge meaning and the conventions of meaning… or it can deconstruct and build (as in postmodernism) by forming notions of sexuality, nationality, environmental, ethnic and/or gender.

It is not owned as such and is not property (it is an idea)… it can be mass-produced in videos, on the internet, and in magazines… created collectively… and if it is ‘owned’ [maybe by being consumed?] it is owned by everybody… it is a mass product.

It doesn’t have to involve any traditional art skill – such as a copper rod sunk into the ground or my thoughts at a certain time of day. The ‘art’ is the idea and its value is its effectiveness. As such art is opened up to non artists.

It has no monetary value as a unique object.

It exposes conventions which have been internalized and are taken as real, and by making them explicit challenges the status quo and seeks to replace it.

Success is judged in how effective the idea is.

Modern art (or the art of ‘isms’)

Here – in simple terms – it seems art (hacked from its job as visual recorder by the invention of photography) was finding new ways of investing itself with value and purpose. And it did so by attaching theories, of art and life, to painting. The modern world in Futurism… or the true nature of seeing in Impressionism.

These were often supported by a dense manifesto and pushed by powerful artists with groups around them… but the groupings weren’t stable and broke up. The ‘ism’ fading and the next one taking its place.

Conclusion:

So, it seems to me we have two extremes.

Art as unique object judged financially in a cash market… like a footballer or an opera singer – highly skilled and in very short supply; and art as a mass ‘object’ judged by its political/social effectiveness in raising awareness, like a political idea.

But a lot of art strides both camps… early religious paintings promote Christianity and are full of symbolism but they are also valuable objects. Perhaps because the means of production meant they were produced as unique objects, and the skill of the artist made them into valuable items in spite of the ideological restrictions.

How many multi million pound church paintings are produced now?

As an artist this raises the question of what do you want to do in your art practice? How ideologically driven are you going to be? How financially driven? Are you going to work for a ’cause’… or work for the market? Or a bit of both?

Art cannot be neutral… choices have to be made.

It might come down to a definition of terms but I don’t think art is the idea. I think art is the unique object (produced with skill by an individual) and mass produced images supporting an idea are political.

 

 

 

 

 

Part 4: Project 4: Skeleton

The introduction for this project asks me to look and draw images of skeletons… so I thought I’d start by copying the human skeleton for ‘Anatomy for Artists – A complete guide to the human body’ by Barrington Barber.

Front, back and side…

The first one’s not very good and looks like a copy of a skeleton from a book, but a weird and wonderful thing happened with the back and side.

They look like people!!!!!

I know they are skeletons but when I look at them I don’t see bones I ‘see’ a living person.

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This was a good exercise as it made me realise just how much flesh we are… how big the hands and feet… and how small the rib cage and head… how long the neck.

After my first skeleton it all made intuitive sense… I wasn’t thinking just copying.

I’ve been doing two pages a day of the Barrington book for months and have nearly finished – I read the page and then sketch the drawings on top with pencil.

Before I did this exercise I knew logically that the skeleton and the body (flesh/skin/muscles) we see are connected but it didn’t mean anything.

Now, I can feel it.

I know that’s an odd way to talk about an anatomical exercise but this isn’t an academic, I could write it an exam kind of  understanding, it’s an emotional understanding.

This course is seriously changing the way I look at art and the world around me… it’s also now changing the way I think and understand things!!!

Part 4: Project 3: Ex 4: Energy

This was a great exercise… nice to work on A3… and great to use bold ‘flowing’ drawing medium.

And lovely to work quickly, focussing on capturing movement rather than ‘shape’.

A different concept which I can carry back to all my drawing, as unless somebody is still (sitting, sleeping etc) they are in motion. Even if apparently ‘still’ they have a tension in their body which makes a photograph (apart from it being 2D from a single point of view) look frozen as against looking at a real person in the flesh.

What I wanted to do was play the video feeling the movement… then when I froze the frame draw the ‘movement/energy’ rather than the ‘body. So I was drawing something totally different to a life drawing still life.

Setting this up was a challenge.

As I wanted to draw from movement, not a photograph with no context, I decided to find videos of dancing. This way I could watch the movement till I froze the frame and then keep that movement in my head.

This, however caused a few problems:

(1) Dancers on ‘shows’ weren’t connected… when you looked they were dancing side by side – not together. Although the movements were choreographed to work as a single unit the people had no connection.

I wanted to draw a dance where people were connected, as in real life. The dancers on the variety type shows were basically moving poses. And ballet was too far removed from natural movement.

(2) I tried to find amateur videos of couples, or groups of people, dancing – clubs, bars, streets… I found some but they were so badly lit and framed they were unusable.

(3) I then stumbled across some dances in films – here the characters WERE connected, and properly lit and framed… but most were head and head and shoulder shots… after having a good luck round I found Pulp Fiction.

This was a proper dance with great connection – and at least half the clip was as a full two body shot.

Next I had to choose drawing medium:

I picked five:

Compressed charcoal, wood charcoal, Artists pen, diluted black acrylic and ink and brush.

Compressed charcoal – A3 – 5 minutes

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I’m really pleased with this it captures the movement. I didn’t think while I was doing this, or measure… I just opened myself up and drew.

It wanted to dance on the page in line… almost like a trumpet… then sound out a note which is the hard black shading.

I finished in about two minutes!!!!

Then had to spend the other three minutes ‘improving’ it.

Compressed charcoal – A3 – 5 minutes

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This is possibly my favourite.

They’re having fun… they’re connected… you can see them moving.

Wood charcoal – A3 – 5 minutes

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Funny how different this was to compressed charcoal – and the lines grayer.

It’s more fluid.

And it wanted me to work in tone… but I started to get distracted by shape when I was drawing her. However, I managed to escape back into the movement and I’m really pleased with him.

He looks like he’s moving

Wood charcoal – A3 – 5 minutes

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Better – I like this too.

Not the best drawing but I have a sense of them dancing together… her swinging her arm… him doing his thing!

Art pen – thick brush – A3 – 5 minutes

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I was a bit scared of this as I’ve never used it.

Again, this works well. Though he’s more connected to her than she is to him.

I tried some extra lines to suggest movement which I thought might look silly but make it look more like he’s moving.

Art pen – thick brush – A3 – 5 minutes

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FUN!!!!

It looks a bit something from a comic book.

I got her shape all wrong and had to black her out but it still works.

They are dancing together and it’s full of energy and movement.

Art pen – thick brush – A3 – 5 minutes

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Again, this works…

I can see the arms moving in.

It’s different as it’s mainly the arms and I did play about with the frame I froze to find a good composition.

Diluted black acrylic – watercolour brush size 8 – A3 – 5 minutes

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Ooops!!!!

Another new experience for me.

Just on the level of skill using the drawing medium I need to practice this.

It’s really interesting as it’s quite grey and you can build up darkness with washes.

I think it’s got lots of potential as a drawing medium… though building up washes might be more of a painting technique.

In fairness not a total failure… but I’ll put it down to experience!

Diluted black acrylic – watercolour brush size 8 – A3 – 5 minutes

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Having learnt a little from my first go I knew I had to work on this in washes.

Surprisingly, it’s starting to work.

No movement but this has lots of energy. And a sort of power I don’t really understand.

I like it….

(When I was doing it I was feeling quite bad about it – that it wasn’t working… it’s only on reflection seeing what I’ve got that it’s worked despite what I thought. Maybe a lesson there?!)

Black ink – watercolour brush size 2 – A3 – 5 minutes

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This is fun.

And works, I like the way they’re relating – and the hinted movement.

This was quite similar to the diluted acrylic to use in how it went on the paper, though I’d tried a smaller brush.

But totally different in that it went on hard black. No washes here!!

You’ve got to get it right first time.

It’s funny how the black focusses the energy.

Just in compositional terms I like that his head is white and hers black

Conclusion

People aren’t vases… life drawing is wonderful in honing your skills (or putting them in from nothing!) in drawing what you see.

But I think I’m finding I like character and movement – connections and thoughts – and am looking forward to when I have some basic skills and can start drawing real people.

I don’t mean copying a photograph… I mean constructed like a film… or a Hopper painting…

Brilliant exercise!!!!!!

 

 

Part 4: Project 3: Exercise 3: Stance

These are all in A4 with the same supporting medium (my sketch book: heavy weight… 170 gsm- for pencil, pen and ink, and water-colour) but with different drawing medium.

From Croquis Cafe: a dancer who was frozen in 12 poses.

A few things spring to mind…

(1) The technique’s of relating all the different parts to each other and using negative spaces really helped with these as there was a lot of foreshortening.

(2) The centre of gravity was not the same as the lines of energy from the last exercise – which was very interesting. Eye lines can be energy, as can energy held in part of the body like an arm or finger, or a limb reaching out from the body… the centre of gravity is what takes the weight.

It’s a sort of deadening pulling force quite at odds with the energy of the person.

(3) There was only one pose where the dancer took his weight equally on both legs… most of the time one of the legs took most of the weight which funnelled the line of gravity down through the spine, across the pelvis and into the leading leg.

(4) Different mediums make you draw (and even see!) in different ways. You find you’re drawing a different kind of picture when you change the drawing medium.

(5) The dynamics between stance and energy are very interesting.

My favourite is five (with the red conte crayon) as it looks like he’s just arrived in this pose and and is already moving into the next pose… it doesn’t look ‘frozen’.

Generally the more ‘line’ the more frozen it looks… though I loved the dip pen and think this has lots of potential. Though it is unforgiving as you’ve basically got to get the shape right first time. I was surprised at how effective the hatching was.

I wonder how effective mixing say ink pen and pastel would be???? A sort of hybrid between shape and tone/movement.

Anyway, here we go:

4B pencil

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Fine artist’s pen

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Willow charcoal

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Compressed charcoal

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Refd conte

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Children’s wax crayon with fine art pen correction

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Art pen

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Graphite stick with fine art pen correction

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Pastel

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Metallic colouring pencil

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Dip pen, black ink, fine nib

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Highlighter

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