Category Archives: Exhibitions & Books

Reflection on Books: ‘Experimental Drawing’ by Robert Kaupelis; ‘The Art Book’ by Phiadon new edition first published 1994; Vitamin D2 New Perspectives in Drawing; ‘Anatomy for Artists’ by Barrington Barber.

Have just finished ‘Experimental Drawing’ by Robert Kaupelis at two pages a day… I know we’re not supposed to read a book cover to cover but I find doing a little a day I can afford the time… it lives in my mind… and informs my practice.

On the day’s I can’t draw it keeps my mind in the ‘Art Box’ and allows me to change the way I look at art and the world around me. I’ve also been doing two pages a day from ‘The Art Book’ by Phiadon new edition first published 19894 reprinted 2011. Small prints but interesting as you can see the overall design and colour and it covers a wide variety of practices.

As drawing is as much about looking and understanding as it is about mark making (I say that as if it’s fact but it’s just my opinion.) I’ve found maintaining this connection invaluable when my time has been otherwise very limited.

Having finished ‘Experimental Drawing’ I looked around for another book and picked up the book I’d been putting off as intellectual and academic… rather like one fears a cold shower!!!

Vitamin D2 New Perspectives in Drawing: IT’S BRILLIANT. So, the course must be doing something.

So far I’ve only read the introduction ‘DRAWING TODAY’ by Christian Rattemeyer which puts ‘Drawing’ into a historical perspective. It’s like suddenly having the shutters lifted from your eyes. Suddenly ‘drawing’ is a living thing, which changes and evolves with history and people… has it’s own momentum. Artists, in one sense, are merely the vessels that contain it in any given generation. It is not fixed. My worries about the last few chapters in ‘Experimental Drawing’ suddenly heave into focus.

I can probably only take in 10% of what’s on the page but that’s fine I’m in my first year. It’s enough to excite me, I can take what I need and understand, and as I go through the book more will become accessible. It’s like learning a new language. At first you just have a few words but already it gives you access to untold wonders… more will follow.

Finally, I’ve started, ‘Anatomy for Artists’ by Barrington Barber. So far, just on the introductiuon but it’s looking like it will be a good introduction to figure drawing. I went to life drawing classes for a couple of years when I was younger knowing nothing about the human body – now I’m older and have less time!! And less money!!!!! this will have to do… at least I can try and throw my mind back to real bodies as I work through it and try copying some sketches.

My only caveat so far is that he states he deals mainly (exclusively?!) with well toned muscled bodies. That’s not the real world in which most aren’t toned and are often draped in fat. Maybe I need to study how material folds as fat is just semi liqid in a skin sack???

However, it will give me a basic understanding of structure, muscles and faces and hands.

Oh to have the luxury of being a full time student!

 

 

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Art is Composition

It’s just dawned on me that Art is all about composition…

Yes, it’s how an artist sees, yes it’s about fulfilling a commercial prerogative and yes it can be about verity… but really it’s all about composition

This has come to me reading Musee d’Orsay… I know we’re not supposed to read art books cover to cover but I just love it.

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This is the page it hit me!

The phrase from Whistler was that the portrait of his mother must have ‘value in its quality of construction’ not because it was his mum. Of course… who wants to see a ‘picture’ of his mum apart from her son?

It’s like looking at other people’s holiday/family photographs. Of no interest.

Then it all came cascading in… art is like music or literature.

If I randomly hit notes on a piano people would politely tell me to stop. But a professionally played sonata can move an audience to tears or control the emotions of a film audience. I can write a letter but it’s doubtful if anybody would pay to buy a novel I just made up.

So too, art is a fully developed language we just don’t normally think of it in those terms. We know music and novels have structures but don’t artists just paint what’s in front of them?

Art as taught at school or even night school is all about copying reality… can you draw this pear, apple, still life. You might even learn some of the basic building blocks such as reflected light, highlight, mid tone, dark tone, linear perspective, colour perspective, line, shape and tone.

To compose music or a novel you need to learn the language and apply it. And so too in art.

(I should add here that to consume music or literature you don’t have to be able to create it… but because we all contruct text and are aware of musical scores we have more awareness of their construction.)

In the Whistler painting it’s all about the aesthetics: strong verttical and horizontal lines, white bonnet against grey wall, black dress… which creates something wonderfully contemplative. That doesn’t have to be how it actually looks!!!!

Just as an author can use different bits of people and places to create story so an artists can mix many visual elements and change those in front of him/her. Like a film script it is a completey unreal creation that looks real.

Art, as I see it, lies midway between novels and music. It affects us emotionally like music by it’s visual power – aesthetically – but also psychologically like novels (empathy, story, meanings etc).

What I’d taken to be two people sitting in a cafe by Degas turns out to be far more complicated. It manages to be a deeply moving painting which is aesthetically pleasing and comments on the existential nature of man in modern society.

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None of this is explicit… (well, only to the trained eye!) but as fellow humans we’re captivated by the painting. It communicates on a non verbal level complex verbal states which we process without a thought. Though, of course, if we discuss the painting these might become verbalised.

The composition goes someway to answering the question why does this painting work but not that one.

It is because of what the artist is trying to convey – and I don’t think this has to be conscious otherwise the art can become merely illustrative propoganda like ‘improving’ stories. What she is trying to convey drives the composition. So if the artist (however skillfull) is copying a style, or is not otherwise driven from the inside they will create ’empty art’ without immediacy or soul.

Here’s another example from Degas where he fills a picture with immediacy, life and tension:

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There seems to be some simple categories for what art is trying to convey in the paintings I’ve been looking at in this period (mid nineteenth century):

Aesthetic – visually pleasing – a harmonious construction that takes you to a special place.

Human – this could be a moment such as a mother looking at her baby or a young girl nervously staring into space or the human dynamics of a social situation like Degas’ ballet dancers running up the stairs… or about the nature of existence in the modern world.

Visual – capturing a visual moment like sunshine on a petal or a crowded cafe. This was mainly the impressionists.

That said paintings can mix all these up in different amounts.

What I would imagine happens is that as the artist begins their training they slowly learn to see (colours, line, shape, patterns etc) and develop skills to capture that such as weighting a pencil line or including reflected light. And gradually they learn the language of art and begin composing.

And finally a few make it through to become great artists with a passion that drives them to compose wonderful paintings.

 

 

 

Tri-ality of Creation

Here I’m thinking primarily about drawing real objects… where there is something to be seen in the outer world, rather than dreams, emotions or concepts.

I’d just got my head round the duality of creation… an outside stimulus (the tree) being modulated by the inner interpretation (the psychology of the artist). And how the artist draws what he/she ‘sees’ in their head, not what is and can never be known, in the outside world.

Now, reading Musee d’Orsay it has struck as comprehensively naive and that I’d missed one of the most important drivers of creation. Which I’ll loosely term as ‘the market’ as it can be anything from the person who buys the art to the drive of the artist to push an ideological position. If they serve a cash rich market they’ll most likely be rich and successful with a high status (or at least not starving)… if their ‘market’ is an ideal like social criticism they may end up being critically acclaimed and forcing social change but most likely will be starving in a garrett.

Most usually it seems to be a mixture of the two, with the predilection (and natural skill) of the artist finding the nearest commercial market.

Either way it is a conscious manipulation of the drawing to serve an outside force – be that a cash buyer or an ideology.

Two examples from ‘Musee d’Orsay Art and Architecture’ spring to mind.

Firstly Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) started life as a socio critical painter with images like “What is known as Vagrancy” in 1855 when he was 32.

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 c Public domain.
This caused a political change when Napoleon III was so horrified he ordered his soldiers to (in future) transport vagrants to prison in closed carriages. One can imagine that however socially powerful it did not have many buyers in elegant society. But by the end of his career age 65 he had achieved great success in high society with paintings such as this:
The Gale, 1891 (oil on canvas)

CH987330 The Gale, 1891 (oil on canvas) by Stevens, Alfred Emile (1823-1906); 196×120 cm; Private Collection; (add.info.: The Gale; La Coup de Vent. Alfred Stevens (1823-1906). Oil on canvas. Painted in 1891. 196 x 120cm.); Photo © Christie’s Images; Belgian, out of copyright

Although retaining some emotion power (one of his psychological drivers – a sort of Romanticism) the socio political message has been shorn from his works. It would hang in an elegant salon to the joy of its owner. These paintings brought him wealth and status – and he distanced himself from his earlier works (the ideology of which) would not be accepted in ‘polite’ society. Even today there is a prejudice against being a socialist in upper class circles.

So he was very much serving a commercial market.

A final example which really struck home was Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) “Woman Knitting”… 1860 (when he was 46 and working in the Barbizon School)

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Here he painted a rural idyll of labourers in a timeless landscape in tune with nature far away from any ties with the modern world or technology.

However the anecdote in Musee d’Orsay tells that the shepherds were wearing modern military coats rather than the traditional capes. So he had a traditional cape sent from Normandy.

In the sense of altering an image for ideological purposes this is very modern (it happens all the time with the manipulation of images (photographs) personally on social media, by organisations for advertising purposes, recently politically in the Brexit campaign where images were used out of context and by government dictatorships – Russia photoshopping out disgraced politicians.)

But it’s somewhat startling that Millet was able to lie to create an image which (accepted at face value) was all about truth, the natural world and religious devotion.

However, in terms of this argument it shows that apart from the object (the woman), Millet’s inner interpretation of that stimulus we also have another external force… the market. The ideology he was pushing.

So wherever the artist seeks an audience (whether for financial or ideological gain, or a mixture of the two) outside of himself that ‘market’ has a powerful effect on his/her artistic creation.

 

 

Museum Visits

Following advice from my tutor in my first ‘Formative feedback’ here are photographs of my latest Museum visits from my log book.

In chronological order:

(1) 18/02/2016 (RA: Royal Academy of Arts: London. “Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse”).

Overpriced, flooded with people, packed out with sub standard paintings and second rate Monet’s… more a concept to make money than a serious exhibition.

There were a couple of paintings which stood out for me… the Pissaro featuring a cabbage patch which and a wistful Bethe Morisot – I’d not seen any of her work and this was my favourite painting of the exhibition.

Sadly I didn’t take any notes and can’t remember the which of hers it was – but it had an artistic soul that was lacking in 95% of the other paintings, which were technically good but ’empty’ art.

Very disappointing!

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(2) 21/03/2016 (LACMA: Los Angeles County Art Museum).

Ten day visit to LA with my son. He popped in the gym with my voice coach so I took the opportunity to nip into LACMA for the morning. Great museum with nice cafe outside. Not busy… space and time to study the exhibits… particularly remember the German Expressionists.

And native Pacific and American Indian Art which I didn’t get time to see.

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(3) 23/03/2016 (The Getty Centre: Los Angeles).

This is a stunning museum West of LA in the hills. We got an Uber for about £25 as public transport is fairly useless… beware the lack of signal at the Uber pick up/drop off point, you have to order it at the top then jump on the tram quick. Otherwise you can get stranded.

It’s like the villains mansion on a James Bond film – big chunks of stone without concrete like a medieval castle. The garden a work of art in its own right… the plants perfect with not a slug bite or insect nibble in sight. And strangely silent.

Space inside to see all the exhibits – the shop is great and not too expensive – the cafes serve delicious food. The special exhibition was photography as fine art with luscious stills from Maplethorpe… the talk of LA when we were there.

A must and you could probably visit for a week to see all it has to offer.

We just did a day!

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(4) 23/04/2016 (RA: Royal Academy of Arts: London. “In the Age of Giorgione”.)

Very expensive unless you’re a member and the food is massively overpriced. The exhibitions vary so I would always read a review as if you’re watching the pennies this might not be a good investment.

However, the Giorgione exhibition was excellently curated. The text and paintings were very instructional and you really got a feel for a moment in time.

It always seems very packed though and is probably worth trying to find a quieter time as you feel rushed and the stress of throngs of people do take away from the contemplation of the art.

There always seem to be lots of Art Twitchers here too. They go along a wall of paintings photographing them without looking at the painting – flash, flash, flash. And students taking photographs, which is less annoying… there was also a guided tour which stopped at paintings for ages and gave talks which made it hard to focus if you weren’t in the tour, a TV expert talking to a friend with a throng of people pretending not to listen but hanging on every word and the normal RA cram of people.

So, not a ‘socially’ pleasant experience.

But the art was excellent!

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(5) 13/05/2016 (Manchester Art Gallery – Mosley Street)

My son’s First Year final show at Manchester Met Film School… we had planned to go to the The Whitworth on our free day but were passing here and popped in and spent half a day here.

A surprisingly good range of paintings – lots of pre-raphaelites which were fascinating to see in the flesh… but I still can’t connect. Lots of cold beauty and precision – no passion.

The staff were lovely and very helpful.

I’d certainly recommend it as an ‘undiscovered gem’.

 

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Manchester Art Gallery: 13/05/2016

(6) 11/06/2016 (Musee d’Orsay: Paris).

I was lucky enough to have a weekend in Paris, after the floods and during the Euros.

What a beautiful city and the street cafes and friendliness so different to anything I’d experienced in England. We watched the opening match of the Euro’s in a tiny bar serving food, coffees and beer full of French young and old, men couples, families… and an old German man.

It’s amazing how you can’t get a real feel of a place from books. The smell… the character… the architecture… the food.

This is relevant as seeing the expressionists in their host city had a profound effect on how I looked at the art. It connected me in a way to the place and time (the impressionist paintings we saw were displayed as collections of rich patrons.)

It’s difficult to explain but they moved from disconnected works of beauty hanging in a temple to art (bottled beauty almost hermetically sealed from their origin) to real paintings made by real artists at a specific moment in time and place. Almost like you could reach back through time and touch them.

And the Musee d’Orsay being in the old train station all added to the effect.

I found found it deeply moving.

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…such as Picasso – SO HE IS PART OF ARTISTIC BRIDGE OLD AND MODERN – not isolated!

 

Contour, Gesture and Modelling

Experimental Drawing by Robert Kaupelis

Can’t recommend this book enough…

Chapter one Contour, Gesture and modelling shows you three ways of mark making. All of which you use intuitively, but it’s great to have this clarity.

The illustrations and notes are fantastic – I’ve heavily annotated my book but can’t add it on an open blog. It helps me understand it and spend more time with the illustrations so I can study them and mentally make the marks on the page.

This then goes into my subconscious and hopefully? comes out in my drawing.

You can mix all three in one drawing and working on a project.

CONTOUR

This is all to do with line.

It can be internal as well as external and include hatching and hatchuring (hatching following the contours)… and can be quick or slow. Generally it seems to have a lot to do with filtering and careful application of line.

Of course unless it’s a patterned dress with lines on the lines aren’t ‘real’ – a line to close a shape is a convention… in reality it’s a boundary where one object ends and another begins which may or may not be clearly defined.

Hatching starts to shade and therefore model/give 3D qualities to your drawing.

GESTURE

Is all about speed and not filtering the line but capturing the essence of movement/posture/weight/presence in a few lines/smudges/shading.

And from the start it goes inside, down, through and all around the subject and is tonal – rather than just line.

It can be used from life such as a street full of people or in the initial stages of a composition.

MODELLING

This is a ‘shading’ technique which has nothing to do with where the light falls on the model.

It’s almost like sculpting… the areas nearest to you are lightest… as they curve away you increase pressure… and when they angle away from you the shading is heaviest. This makes them look 3D.

I find the examples interesting but ‘abstract’ – in that they are the object in space but lack the spark of life. It’s almost like having a perfect Frankenstein but it’s not got the spark of life. Even a styrofoam cup has ‘life’… it may be weak but you have a feeling about it… it is connected to you in some way.

It’s not that they are academic displays without artistic merit – but that for me (though they speak and have a power) they lack ‘annimation’.

I can’t explain it any more than that.

So a very interesting overview of basic mark making that is both an invaluable psychological insight into the artists craft but also a great practical.

The Artist’s Handbook of Materials & Techniques by Ralph Meyer

I read a random page of this because I bought all the course books and wanted to at least dip into them to see what they’re about.

Fifth edition: I lighted on page 142 – ‘PROPERTIES OF PIGMENTS’

Surprisingly this was very useful!

Questions:

I started using raw colours (straight from the tube) in my hobby abstract painting – student oil colours and acrylics – but still couldn’t get the intensity of colour I wanted. Initially I had mixed colours but these seemed even ‘weaker’. Why?

Another thing I’d noticed when attempting a naturalistic acrylic painting was that when I mixed colours they were dull but when I got a pre-mixed colour they were much brighter. This meant I couldn’t mix self mixed and premixed colours on the same canvas as the difference in the clarity of colours jarred – the brighter ones seemed closer – even if the colours matched.

If colour matching my own colours was impossible how much more so the colours of nature… add in to the mix that colours in nature are usually lit by sunlight whereas inside it’s artificial light or shadow rather than direct sunlight. Luckily I’m not trying to match nature’s colours but capture the emotion and colour that I see in my head.

On matching colours I found it almost impossible to mix the same colour to touch up a painting – and in this course have found different mediums all have different reds, blues, greens – and different ways of mixing on the page or palette.

The final curiosity was that my watercolours (which are a student grade had wonderful bright colours – as did my chalk pastels) compared to the dull oils and acrylics. And some of the oil pastels seemed to have no colour at all! The sticks looked good but they didn’t cover the paper and were dull as dishwater.

Answers:

My tutor had mentioned that student oils and particularly acrylics were full of fillers but that watercolours had pure pigments even at student grade. I’d heard this but not really registered it. Using watercolour and chalk pastel has shown me in reality and reading Artists Materials has explained why.

  1. All pigments have different chemical and physical structures which dictate their optical properties. The carriers would then be an added element. So even colours that looked to the eye to be identical could be made from different pigments which would have different optical qualities. There’s no way of knowing if my wax crayon has the same pigment as my conte crayon. And if the pigment is different then its hue, tone, cold/warmness and saturation will all be different. It will react differently to light, carriers and surface.
  2. Cheap colours especially oils (and oil pastels) and acrylics have bulking agents added. These modify the colour and adulterate it making it duller. No wonder I couldn’t get the brilliance I wanted from the student acrylics.
  3. Most oils are for the mass amateur market and have adulterants added which smooth out the difference in tinting strength to increase the ‘inter-mixability’ of their paints but also making them muddier and weaker. A bit like a camera having pre-sets for portraits and landscape – they make it a lot easier to take an acceptable photograph but remove the control needed by the professional photographer.
  4. Two types of ingredients are added: adulterants and modifying ingredients. Adulterants diminish the pigment while modifying ingredients enhance specific qualities such as improving their structural stability.
  5. Mixing two colours makes them duller and a third colour increases this. Premixed colours from a single pigment will be clearer.
  6. Not covered by this section but implicit is that everything that is true for the pigment will be true for the surface it’s applied to.

What I take from this is that I like the pure pigments in watercolours and pastels and the freedom this gives me to experiment. Especially with mixing as being brighter to start with they retain more clarity and are less muddy.

Understanding that mixing colours reduces their clarity and that pre-mixed colours are always brighter is useful if you want the colour but with less saturation and hue.

The book then goes into chemical formula and qualities which is great for the paint manufacturer and established artist in control of his materials but for a beginner a step too far. For the moment I will concentrate on experimenting and using the materials to hand.

 

Experimental Drawing – Robert Kaupelis

Trying to read a page or two every day.

It is in itself a drawing course so I haven’t time to do the exercises as drawing 1 is more than enough to fill my time – but it enlightens and deepens my understanding of the drawing process. And the sketches (a balance of student work – encouraging… and old masters – awe inspiring) is  a revelation.

Chapter one is ‘A Few Words’ which introduces the scope of the book and sets the context in learning to draw.

  • All the masters’ drawings are with different mediums. Charcoal… pen… dry brush… crayon… and chalk on different surfaces… which are not always categorised but include telephone directory and various papers – which I doubt were the brilliant white of a sketch book! So it reinforces the idea in the course of experimenting with lots of media for both the mark making and the surface.
  • The drawings he’s chosen are great to study – just to look at for 10 or 15 minutes – and illustrate exactly what he’s trying to teach. They’re also great to copy.
  • He introduces the idea of really getting to know a drawing you really like as if it were a new lover and living with it… getting your friend’s opinion. I adapted this slightly and am working my way through Art by Andrew Graham-Dixon. Trying to read the notes and look at a painting every day.
  • Finally he mentions ‘Divergent Behaviour’  which is not to be scared of finding new answers to old problems. That every few generations somebody is a mould breaker… Masaccio, Giotto, Cezanne, Pollack and Calder and launches a new artistic genre. The inference is that although we are steeped in teaching and our (subconscious) understanding of Western Art. That we are stuck in a historical, personal and cultural ‘rut’ – we should not be scared of answering questions in the best artistic way possible. Not trying to please tutors – not blindly follow convention but be confident to experiment, fail, succeed and learn.

Chapter two ‘Some Basics’ introduces Contour, Gesture, and Modeled Drawing.

So far I’ve just read about Contour drawing.

Line indicates form. As different from gesture and 3D modelling. Though I suspect a lot of drawings mix all three.

Contour drawing is a line following the ‘outside’ of objects – and ‘lines’ within it – with little shading  or hatching. So a sleeve may have many lines but a face (which is tonal) will be shown by a few lines as in Albrecht Durer’s exquisite ‘Portrait of Agnes’ c1494

I like his idea of ‘touching the object with your eyes… blind drawing (you don’t look at your paper) but study the object intensely. I’ve touched on it in Life Drawing… where you only look at the object rather than your translation of it onto the page.

He has a whole page of exercises for blind drawing and simplifying your line. Which make complete sense when you look at Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches.

Another point he makes is varying quick contour sketches with long detailed observed ones. The quick sketches seem more fitted for gestural work. Or composition… or capturing an overall ‘picture’.

He also touches on ‘Cross Contour’ drawing which looks a bit like an old OS map!

This has really ‘opened’ my eyes to line and how it works in sketches. There seems to be a strong connection with his blind drawing (which focuses intently on looking at a surface) and the exercise I’m doing on the course for ‘Texture’.

I’m looking forward to Gesture and Modelling and how they work together.