Project 1: Charcoal drawings, masking off, extending

4 charcoal drawings in 4 tones

Ok, this is the start of the OCA Painting I course for me.
For the first project I combined a few vessels and 3 apples. Having seen so many of Cezanne’s still lifes with apples I started to think they are just the perfect fruit shape.

After the 1st sketch I removed the glass bottle as it looked too messy. Also the glass bottle and vase on the right look too similar. If that was supposed to be a reminiscence of the orderly Morandi-still lifes, it certainly did not work here.

As a whole I think the last drawing (showing the window behind the still life, lower left) works best for me.

In a painting I would probably add some of the window details, as I only quickly sketched that part in when I realised the shade and light on the dark bottle only appeared because the window frame shone through.

Then I started masking off. In that context the glass bottle picture looked ok again (see 6).

(1) Masking off drawing 4

(2) Masking off drawing 4

… looks ok

(3) Masking off drawing 1

… remove vase on right and bowl on right – that would probably clean up the picture

(4) Masking off drawing 3

(5) Masking off drawing 3

I … quite like this cropping (this is from the 3rd drawing I did), because the bowl on the left is still recogniseable and the vase on the right turned into a very abstract (and calm) sphere, so the eye doesn’t necessarily wonder what on earth that thing is. But – the arrangement of the apples in front of the bowl is not very harmonious. It looks better if the apples are not overlapping the bowl, I feel.

(6) Masking off drawing 4

Stage 5: Extending the drawing

drawing extension

drawing extension 2

I think both extensions work better than the original as they give more of a sense of space, although I still prefer the close ups with less items on the picture.

Research Point: Mastery of detailed drawing

When I researched masters of detailed drawing Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci sprang to mind. Thinking that would be too obvious a choice I started from there and drew some research circles.

Andrea del Verrocchio: Study of an Ideal Female Head, Black chalk, white heightening, outlines pricked, 408 x 327 mm

This is how I found Leonardo’s teacher – the Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio (c. 1435–1488). I should say “refound”, because last year I made a sculpture bust of a woman that was inspired by one of his sculptures (seen below) without registering the artist’s name for longer than 2 minutes. I blame it on my appalling name memory.

Andrea del Verrocchio: Portrait bust of a lady with flowers

Not only was Verrocchio a great sculptor, you can also see how his drawing style exerted a strong influence on his pupil Leonardo.

Since he ran a successful and large workshop it is largely guesswork which of the drawings/paintings/sculptures were actually made by Verrocchio himself as he did not sign his work.

But leaving the debate around that aside – let’s focus on the actual drawings attributed to him.

Andrea del Verrocchio: Head of an angel, outlines pricked

The head drawings shown here all feature a very smooth treatment of the face (potentially rubbing the chalk to achieve this – I cannot really tell as my pictures are not accurate enough), while the hair is carried out in elaborate line drawing. He used 2 colours on a medium-coloured paper. One dark, one light or sepia in the case of his angel’s head.

Andrea del Verrocchio: Portrait of Isabella d'Este

This portrait shows and interesting shift of the hair treatment of the light and the shaded side of the head, being carried out in white chalk and then switching to black chalk on the right hand side.

My study (watercolour pencil - dry and wet)

The shapes (round eyelids, the lips in particular, chin, cheeks etc) seem quite softly executed but rather exaggerated (compared to the shapes I saw yesterday, when I drew my sleeping son, see right… ps how to draw a child without being cheesy?) to give the illusion of solidity of form. They almost “swell” and feel very sculptural.

My sketch is pretty flat and crude by comparison and the shapes don’t “pop” out.

I slowly get the idea that I cannot just draw from life, I have to exaggerate the shapes to make a 2-D image appear 3-D. Otherwise it is just going to be flat.

Andrea del Verrocchio: Head of a Woman

Verrocchio’s Head of a woman reminds me of Botticelli. A lot. The big eyelids, the dramatic hair. There are a few nice blacks and light areas without using highlight chalk (as far as I can see).  Again the face/skin is softly shaded while the hair is much more “firm” with definite lines.

Interesting how on the left side the light cheek is largely modeled by the negative space of the darker hair surrounding it. I would have never noticed this before doing the negative space exercises.

Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres: The Flutist, drawing. Montauban: Musée Ingres.

For the 19th century (or later) artist and master of the detailed drawing I came across Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).

Can you tell by now that I am really looking forward to the people drawing section?

A lot of the paintings by Ingres are way too florid for my taste. But what is too much in a painting (in colour) actually still works for me with the restraint that a drawing has by its nature.

I find the economy of line enviable. Ingres used these drawings as a real visual experiment – where to position the hands for example – the flutist has 3 hands.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: Study for Louise de Broglie

Again, a beautiful economy of lines and a slightly bemused expression of the model.

Face and hair are treated like solid geometric shapes using dark and white conte or chalk. The style and the hatching are much more free and broad than that of Verrocchio. But the shapes also “pop”.

ASSIGNMENT ONE: Still life with made objects

Assignment 1: Still life with made objects (final sepia + black ink mix drawing, A2)

This time I didn’t want to “force the subject” by me looking for objects to arrange but rather build upon something existing at home. I also wanted to fill the space better – more like the Morandi drawing did… That fills the space entirely without looking overdone.

Giorgio Morandi: Still Life, sketch

Our flat has really big windows, so I chose the kitchen window with the big metal water filter on the window sill above the sink. I made quite a number of compositional sketches and decided to eliminate the cooker hob, which actually sits on the right of the sink. I focused on all objects that had something to do with water … the metal water filter, a pitcher, a pin thermometer, soap in a soap dish on the window sill as well as a sink, 2 more water jugs and a bowl with a spoon waiting to be washed in he lower half.

I also wanted to make the sink slightly smaller to fit the tab into the picture in the lower left and shift the entire lower half of the picture to the right.

Assignment 1: Still life with made objects (composition sketches)

Assignment 1: Still life with made objects (composition sketch)

… the composition is almost finished here, but the lower half is still too far left…

Assignment 1: Still life with made objects (final composition sketch with grading grid)

… this is the final composition with the grid drawn onto it so I could easily enlarge it to A2. I drew it in earthy coloured pastels in A2 and thought the composition kind of lost something with the softness of the pastels. The strong grid theme from both the window grill and the tiles somehow didn’t pop out – I thought it needed a more accurate medium.
So eventually I drew the final piece entirely with brushes and a mix of sepia and black drawing ink, with tonal washes.

Assignment 1: Still life with made objects (pastel drawing)

ASSIGNMENT ONE (PART II) – Check and log

Do your large drawings give an accurate interpretation of the still life groups? If not what went wrong?

The sink looks a bit off in both large drawings – I think I didn’t quite manage to make it smaller without distorting it – so do the 2 glass water jugs and the metal water filter. I struggled with some of the objects since my chosen composition was appallingly lit – only from the window behind. That means the jugs near the wall underneath the window are pretty much in the dark. Having no clear shadow (or light for that matter) made it difficult to create some sense of 3D, I felt. I guess I could have “invented” another light source or switch on one of our unfortunately rather dim kitchen lamps.

In general I find metal objects pretty difficult since they have all these distorted lines in different tones that you have to get right to make it look 3D. Not easy at all.

Did you make a good selection of objects or did you try to include too much?

I think my selection based around water was good, since I stripped the composition down a lot. It still looks reasonably unchaotic. I could have left out the soap dish and the pin thermometer on the window sill, but I liked especially the pin as added variety in terms of object size and shape.

Would you change the arrangements of objects if you were to start again?

I’m quite happy with the arrangement – it’s the execution that’s the problem here. 🙂

Do your drawings fit well on the paper or could they be improved by working on a larger sheet of paper?

Since all of my previous drawings were too small on their A2 paper, I made a grid to enlarge the picture to make 100% sure I will work big and fill at least A2. I think A2 seems as large as I can handle at the moment. This is probably the biggest drawing I ever made.

Did you have problems with drawing or find hatching too difficult?

I barely hatched in Part II of Assignment One, actually – a bit in the pastel drawing, but in the final picture I used more or less diluted ink washes rather than hatching or stippling.

I think my natural forms drawing in pencil earlier turned out better than the made objects one. Having a good light source works wonders – how on earth do people draw pictures of the night?

ASSIGNMENT ONE: Still life with natural forms

Assignment One (natural forms): Final drawing, pencils (A2, slightly cropped)

Range of surface textures chosen:

  • knobbly and smooth/fatty: salami
  • knobbly: pickles
  • smooth: tomatoes
  • smooth and coarse/dry and broken surface: cut bread
  • dry/scratched: wooden board
  • soft woven: kitchen towel
  • smooth: kitchen knife

Assignment One (natural forms): First sketches to find composition

Did you do enough preliminary work before starting work on your final pieces?

I started making drawings in my sketchbook and decided on either #1 or #3, as they seemed more at eye level and therefore felt more close/immediate to the subject, #2 had an eagle eye perspective and felt a bit detached. But I wanted to create a warm/domestic feeling.

Then I tried out different coloured media like poster paint, sepia ink and dip pen, pastels – because I loved the colours of the objects. I also made a colour sketch in A2 in which I checked if I should add more white space around the objects but with a sense of space… so I added the table top. … it wasn’t adding anything to the scene.

The textures got a bit lost among all the colour. So I stripped it back and tried to make it very simple and clean – it was here I decided on a pencil drawing as opposed to charcoal to allow for the subtle texture of the bread and pickles to be more cleanly sketched.

But since I am still slightly at war with charcoal I thought I shouldn’t be cheating and give charcoal a chance. Another A2 drawing, which I think worked very well for the salami, bringing out the fatty form, but not for the rest of the still life, which felt “too loud” for the quietness of the subject with the darkness of the charcoal.

Assignment One (natural forms): finding a good medium

Assignment One (natural forms): Colour sketch (A2)

Assignment One (natural forms): Charcoal drawing (A2)

Do your large drawings give an accurate interpretation of the still life groups? If not what went wrong?

I think so, although I increased the size of the bread loaf intentionally because in reality it was a smallish loaf (also see the initial sketches #2 and 3 in my sketchbook, which show the size more accurately) and it somehow looked too similar to the size of the salami.

Did you make a good selection of objects or did you try to include too much?

I really thought about this as I tend to create a mess of objects… so I really stripped it down from the beginning (I found adding a pear very tempting as I played around with the composition – but I resisted).

Would you change the arrangements of objects if you were to start again? I could find another perspective and also try to add some sense of space – but in a better way than attempted in the colour drawing. But as a focused drawing of these objects I quite liked the composition, as it doesn’t feel forced to me.

Do your drawings fit well on the paper or could they be improved by working on a larger sheet of paper?

I have the opposite problem… I made the drawings on A2 – but all of them are really too small, I didn’t use the space well enough. Even bearing in mind the slightly squarish shape compared to normal A2 I could have made the objects larger… I’ll bear that in mind for the still life of made objects.

Did you have problems with drawing or find hatching too difficult?

I found both the tomatoes (the tones and detail) and the pickles quite tricky. The latter looked very flat for a long time in the final drawing – nothing of the knobbly surface came out well enough. So I reworked them a couple of time adding just a few of the little bumps sufficed already to make it more cucumber/pickle-like. I loved hatching the bread crust and the shadows.

%d bloggers like this: