2. Project: Detailed observation (Check and log)


Which drawing media did you find most effective to use, for which effects?

  • most effective in terms of fast tonal capturing of the object to me is my hate/love charcoal.
  • effective in terms of vibrant luminosity are watercolours/inks, they feel very different – much more pigmented – than watercolour pencils
  • in terms of a sense of a real physical body I like the matte gouaches/poster colours
  • for soft effects and a bit of fuzzy atmosphere pastel pencils should work well as do pastels in general
  • effective for carrying in my pocket everywhere together with my tiny sketchbook are pencils

What sort of marks work well to create tone, pattern and texture? Make notes beside some sample marks.

tone, pattern, texture marks (I/II)

tone, pattern, texture marks (II/II)


ballpoint in a light sweeping movement with very tight hatching can create a tone almost like a pencil, just more solid

stipples/dots for the lightest shades within light areas; Staedler Duo pen – the other side maked very large stipples but even (I, 3rd from above)

a dry mop brush with dryish poster colour creates a cloudy tone (see II, lower left)

straight water colours or poster paints (wet) (could also be good as an underdrawing under oil pastels or pastels)


think of pattern like van Gogh’s ink drawing of fields, almost like a pattern on a piece of cloth (probably not what he saw, but what he felt would work well)

it could be even something weird like the oval pattern created by holding a brush at 90 degree with dryish poster paint (see II, lower right)

graphic duo pen (Staedler) accentuated with wet brush (see I, 2nd from above) is quite striking and vivid, because the line thickness varies with each stroke


a bit spongelike: stipples with end of brush (90 degrees) (see II, middle right)

hair, probably fur or anything with lots of parallels: (II, upper right) medium dry brush with poster paint

Did you enjoy capturing details or are you more at home creating big broad brush sketches?

Not sure. Probably detail? Because I tend to struggle with the big spaces (like background). But I do enjoy sweeping brushstrokes when I see it in a picture.

Look at the composition of the drawings you have done in this project. Make some sketches and notes about how you could improve your composition.

Composition alternatives and improvements

Left spread: I quite liked the awkward cut of my composition which was somewhat random. After trying a close up of the peonies which could look quite good – like a Chinese watercolour – I added some background detail into the line drawing of peonies. It takes away a bit from the focus of the foreground but it gives the whole thing some sense of space and completeness. I will consider.

Below I changed another line drawing of a peony with tulips and an iris and added my mum into the armchair behind. I think this could be a great understate way of making a portrait through a flower bouquet – especially with someone like my mum, who loves her garden so much. The best one, I found was the one directly below the printout of the original (lower left corner). The head there is smaller than the peony but it’s as if she sits in the flowers. The right side can be cropped as the couch is really not important.

Right spread: The flower vase could profit from some background unless the background is plain but varied, like in Chagall’s Creation of Man.

Below the rose in the little vase with the shell. Urgh. Simply awful. A forlorn spaceship rose – lost in space though. Tried the conventional portrait cropping instead of landscape. I think I don’t like the entire thing. Why a shell with a rose anyway? When I cropped it differently and focused on the shell, with the rose being a side note, I started to like it better. A portrait of a shell.

Lower right: I think a wee bit more of the metal lamp base on the right might be nice, but not as much as I put in in the composition right below the original mini-printout. The whole chopping board from the original almost centre has something. Quite like it actually. But I just did it today. Probably tomorrow I can see it better. Or there could be a focus on the apples with a cropped board.

Did doing a line drawing get you to look at space more effectively?

I started looking at details of the subject matter but then realised that I only had a limited number of tries – a line in ink cannot be undone. So then I started to look at the overall thing I wanted to draw – how big is it going to be, where do I have to place the individual parts on the paper. For the last drawing in ink dip pen I had to make a pencil sketch underneath as I was sure I would get lost in line detail and would lose sight of the overall shape/size.

I am all for a slight pencil sketch underneath things these days. I made one for the apples on the board. Earlier I would have just picked up the permanent ballpoint pen and started away – often wasting several sheets of paper in the process. Picasso did underdrawings in pencil because it makes sense – why oh why didn’t I before?

2. Project: Detailed observation (Stipples and dots)

Exercise: Pick another textured object and on A4 cartridge paper draw the object with a ballpoint or drawing pen using various techniques, including stipples and dots. Look at the pattern, line, shape, but also at shadows and tones. Refer back with to previous mark making and coloured media explorations to use the medium to full potential. (At least 1h)

Exercise: Stipples and dots. Black ballpoint pen on A4 cartridge paper.

Ballpoint pens allow you to make a range of marks. What I didn’t realise before was that with a very light touch you can create a superfine tight hatching and thus create a relatively even darker tone without the hatching being too obvious. I made several layers of this superlight, fine hatching for the chopping board on which the apple halves rest.

I tried to do stipples in the chopping board for the wood grain and dots to create the slightest of all tones on the cut surface of the apples. I varied the hatching for the rest but also put in some contrasting regular hatching to unify especially the table/background. Not quite content with the apple peel/the outside. It’s a bit “same same” as they say in Singapore and not quite different enough. (“Same, same – but different” is probably one of my favourite Singlish expressions.) I literally just finished this drawing, so I am probably a bit blind to it anyway, so it’s hard to discuss it. But I’d like to add some ink wash to it at this point, but then, let’s just stick to the ballpoint pens this time, ey?

Since my still lives so far typically appeared to be floating in space and looked somewhat forlorn, I tried to include a bit of the surrounding – so a wee bit of the lamp base on my desk shows up on the right.

I quite like that the distorted, upwards-bend wood of the chopping board still comes out a bit. I think backgrounds are one of my weakest points. I really have to get over thinking that it’s just some sort of void that has to be plastered over with some random filler. So the negative space exercises reverberated in me in a good way. I started to learn how to see.

2. Research point: Artists who work in contrasting ways – tight/rigorous vs sketchy/expressive

Albrecht Dürer: Winged lute player

I thought of Albrecht Dürer when searching for a very tight, detailed and controlled style. His pencil and water colours (see below) are so minute, this is definitely not free-style/expressive/conveying an emotion. It’s coldly and accurately observed. But somehow strangely appealing in the fragmentary bird’s wing, which he might have used for angels like the Lute Player above.

Albrecht Dürer: Wing of a roller

Albrecht Dürer: Mother of the artist (1514) charcoal, 42.3 × 30.5 cm; Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, Germany

But of course Albrecht Dürer could also draw “expressively” – if the subject permitted and maybe if he really felt something. In this case he made a charcoal drawing of his mother age 63 in March 1514. Two months later he added in the upper right corner, that she had passed away. You can still see some detail like the eyes and the neck but he didn’t bother with unnecessary detail in the clothing for example.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528): Adam and Eve, 1504 (Engraving, 25.1 x 20 cm)

I added this engraving by Dürer largely as a contrast to the same topic and medium below by Rembrandt, done about 130 years later. There is a nice description by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which the symbolic nature of the elements in Dürer’s etchings is explained. I get the sense from leafing through the Dürer book I had from the library that he seems most beautiful when he does life studies. As soon as he translates his life studies into the highly composed assemblages like his Adam and Eve above, his work becomes more static and a bit more posed/lifeless. That’s interesting as I have been trying to arrange some subjects from various studies into one. You could see it was assembled, not real. The same feeling I get in his immaculate Adam and Eve. It is not moving.

Rembrandt: Adam and Eve (1638) etching

Rembrandt on the other hand is at home when it comes to expressive drawing/painting. Rembrandt’s etching above feels as if there is some breath and liveliness in it. It could be your neighbors arguing over something – the etching is not a pretext for rendering some nice nudes, as it often feels like. Adam and Eve are shown here like some real people being slightly annoyed over their divergence of opinions about the famous fruit from the tree of knowledge. They could be your bickering neighbors.

Dürer was increasingly convinced there was something like the perfect proportion of human form, and he tried tocapture this ideal man/woman in his works. But Rembrandt is not one for unnecessary beauty. He employs a much coarser and quite varied hatching with very dark contrasts in the bodies, creating good solid shapes.

Craig Jefferson: Still Life with Mouse Trap. Graphite. (source: the artist's Saatchi portfolio)

Since we had to choose a modern artist: I recently came across the Scottish artist Craig Jefferson, whose work very much reminded me of Morandi‘s but I wasn’t sure how so. And then going to his website, there was a Morandi-quote on it. He’s a Morandi lover too… though an accomplished and individualistic one. I thought his Still Life With Mouse Trap was wonderfully expressive. There is a partial softness in the bottles/objects as if wiped vs the moved and irregularly hatched “harder” background. Also the wiry mousetrap sling detail in contrast to the other bigger and more voluminous and broadly captured shapes is delightful with it’s shadow detail. Compared to Morandi Jefferson’s work feels more gritty, less serenely calm and above all early things. The order is there but the whole thing moves.

What came out of the Lehmbruck bust exercise: Shattered and bruised, but not defeated

My work: Terracotta bust I (ca 30 cm high) - terracotta slip on stoneware clay, slightly burnished in parts, Remnant of stoneware clay bust II after firing

Some time ago I had started a little side project of making a copy of the bust of the kneeling woman by Wilhelm Lehmbruck (see earlier logbook entry). Here is the outcome. I made 2 pieces, and only the smaller one survived the kiln firing since the girl No 1 exploded into a gazillion pieces during the firing strangely leaving her head intact. Thank God the other pieces in the kiln (not mine) weren’t really damaged. Girl No 2 got some scratches in the red terracotta slip surface as you can see on her chest, revealing the light coloured clay underneath.

I must have not wedged the clay properly for the body part of Girl No 1 (the explosive one) or included air bubbles later when I built the clay. That’s the first time I had an explosion of a ceramic piece of mine ever. And what a spectacular one that must have been.

I had noted earlier that one big crack and a lot of small ones had developed on the inside of Girl No 1 by the time she was bone dry, indicating that aside from the small air bubbles in the clay that expanded during the firing exploding the piece, I also didn’t compress the clay properly. I remembered that I indeed had only compressed it from the outside, but not from the inside as it was filled with paper initially to hold the clay up. The head came from a different batch of clay and I had made it separately, squeezing it from the inside out, explaining why that one wasn’t blown to pieces.

My red bust after 2 layers of slip - showing the underglaze colour that went under the next layers of terracotta slip

Girl No 2 (the red terracotta one) was smaller, I pricked the entire inside with lots of small holes in case I had included any air by accident. I had about 4 slip layers, and half way through I also used underglaze paint in red and black and white to emphasize the crevices etc. Then I burnished her nose, cheeks etc – all the high points. It looked way too shiny in pre-firing but it turns much more matte with the firing.

The slip layers behave a bit like oil colours, so they are semi-transparent. I guess the underglaze colours shine through slightly, probably adding a bit of depth.

However compared to Lehmbruck’s bust, my pieces are not simplified enough and lack expressiveness. Given that I started out trying to make a copy of Lehmbruck’s bust I readily admit that mine look nothing like his. Lehmbruck’s girls have incredibly long necks that are arched in a beautiful and impossible curve.

I think his faces show less realistic detail but more of an abstract “general impression” of a face, rather than mine, which look somewhat more specific, although I didn’t have a model other than pictures of Lehmbruck’s bust.

Using slip has the distinct disadvantage that the layer of colour is not that thick, so if it gets chipped or damaged it is then quite noticeable.

I guess I should go back to the OCA assignments, which I have been procrastinating for quite a while now.

%d bloggers like this: