Project: Drawing animals – larger drawing

Duck. Watercolour and gouache on rice paper. 43 x 32cm.

Last night I was so pleased about the progress in Drawing I (largely because I decided I have to do one thing for Drawing/Painting the course a day, even if it is just for 30 minutes) I thought I might as well finish the animal drawing exercise which required to do one larger scale drawing. I chose a duck we’ve been introduced to in New Zealand last year largely as it was very keen on our sandwiches. And what a pretty thing that duck was, apparently they are a New Zealand specific duck called Paradise shelduck (mine is a male one). Back then I instantly thought of the OCA animal drawing section and took a couple of pictures in lieu of a sketch.

So this picture has a nice composition with the diagonals of the deck and the little wooden round pegs that hold them together. The result is good I feel, as I tried to think of contrasts like light-dark, big-tiny brushstrokes, saturated-unsaturated colours.

But it was strange to paint with water colours and gouache (poster colours) on this super thin rice paper. It is almost see through and soaks up the water from each brushstroke before you can say “gulp” so I ended up using a lot of water which of course soaked the entire paper and made it rather wavy and prone to tearing. I dried it over night between weighted down newspapers.

But the outcome is really quite nice. But again not very free – it is rather realistic like in the photo I took. Might be another case of narrow-mindedness if I cannot leave the original? I’ll get there.

Project: Drawing animals (sketches from life and from photos)

Sketchbook drawing: Deer, bird (from magazine pictures)

I wrote this post as a draft over months, adding drawings whenever I drew an animal, which is a great way of introducing a bit more variety into the lesson plan. Drawing animals and people I could get a break from all the fruit and vegetables which I found a bit grinding at times.

Sketchbook drawing: Sheep (from life)

After rereading my first Drawing I Tutor Assessment I realized I need to draw more and talk less. So I started drawing everywhere – waiting on the bus, on the metro, in bed before sleeping… – sometimes from pictures I had stored in my iphone gallery. The iphone admittedly has quite a small screen but you can zoom in a bit to make out the details and somehow the small screen fits my small square sketchbook I usually carry with me. This is also the reason why most pictures are pencil drawings with the odd biro in between… limited choice in my bag. I needed to find the time to do more work, and this is just a matter of little choices. And what a great thing, modern technology.

Sketchbook drawing: Horse (from life)

Sketchbook drawing: Dogs, cat (from life)

However drawing from life seems to result in much more animated pictures. No time to focus on details. I like my rough sheep drawings above, although they are probably the least detailed.

Sketchbook drawing: Cat (from pictures I took)

Sketchbook drawing: Rhino (from a picture taken at the zoo last year)

I wondered why Dürer’s rhino, which I saw here in HK in the exhibition Fantastic creatures, looked so different to mine. That’s a) because he’s never seen one in person and therefore worked based on sketches and descriptions of others but more importantly b) it depicts an Indian rhino, which does have these funny sections that look like an amour. My rhinoceros was a different kind!

Dove (from picture I took at the zoo), pencil and biro

What a great shape a dove has: all very chunky with the subtlest bulges here and there, and beautifully smooth, tightly layered feathers.

Pigs (from picture I took at the zoo), pencils

Pigs – I think getting the darkest areas right is really essential to convey the shape well. I really like my pig family. There is some good sense of movement and pushing and shoving from the little piglets.

By the way, in this post I tried to order the pictures by date and I think I can see a little progress and am relieved. I am so impatient I hardly ever stop and notice some improvement that satisfies me. But I did now, seeing the line up of sketches done over half a year or so.

Research Point: Drawing animals

Expressive/fluid animal drawings

The horse drawing below is by Picasso, at least his former electrician Pierre Le Guennec, who stashed it away for a couple of decades, claimed that in 2010. Regardless of whether it is or not, I find it very expressive with its head bent into this unlikely position. It also has a lot of contrast in the Itten sense: thin-thick, dark-light, fluid/organic-straight (see the lines in the horse vs the background’s black diagonal hatching). Note that nature has been taken into account for this drawing but Picasso (or whoever made it) also took quite some freedom to let the horse be a bit more than a horse. An expression of movement, illness, sadness?

 Attributed to Picasso. Drawing of a horse. Source: Daily Mail

I was just thinking that “contemporary” artists like Rauschenberg in the 60s just wanted red to be just red (not a sign of passion or love or anything else), … or the composer John Cage – who insisted a sound should not try to masquerade as something else – a waterfall or a nutcracker – but just be what it is, a sound. And beautifully so.

But then I just cannot help to be more touched by artwork that rings a bell, that resonates, reminds me of something, gets my brain going, evokes a feeling. I am not really interested like John Cage in random sounds, they are mostly noise for me.

Renaissance masters drawing animals

Pen and ink drawing of the rhinoceros, by Albrecht Dürer, 1515, now in the British Museum. 5218.161.

Dürer’s woodcut of the rhinoceros is more well-known, but let’s focus on the drawing in ink above that precedes the woodcut. Super tight and tidy marks, I believe at least 2 shades of brown ink, the darker one for the shaded side, both hatching of the finest kind and pattern. But somehow quite static – potentially also due to the relatively uniform line quality?

Leonardo Da Vinci. Study of horses. c1490

I am fascinated by the varied line quality and Da Vinci’s drawings of horses and crabs. Especially the crab one. His hatching in the horse is very fine and uniformly drawn from upper left to lower right. Did he contain the hatching by rubbing out the highlights later? This fine 45 degree hatching and the visible searching for the right outer lines seems to make the horse move. No idea how he managed to capture a moving horse from nature like this. I even had difficulties drawing one that was relatively stationary munching grass. Really have to get faster in sketching.

Leonardo Da Vinci: Two crabs. (ink?)

This looks like an ink drawing, less fine in hatching compared to the horses. Rather like a freely drawn etching. Mind you it’s from life. Unless it was dead that is.

Lucas Cranach the Elder. A Dead Hind, with a Study of its Head. Pen and Brush, dark brown and grey ink, water and body colours, heightened with white, over traces of preliminary drawing in black chalk or charcoal, on laid paper, false Dürer Monogram in the lower right corner. Source and description from Temptation in Eden: Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve.

I have a bit of a weakness for Lucas Cranach (1472-1553) ever since we’ve see one of his many Adam and Eves (the most beautiful one of them all, I find) in the Uffici Gallery in Florence . As he ran a highly successful workshop he probably didn’t paint many of the later pictures attributed to him, as was the custom of the day.

His (or his workshop’s) drawing of the hind above uses a variety of coloured media incl inks and body colours. It looks more controlled, and a bit gothic (maybe due to the elongated head?) compared to his drawing of the partridges below. He may have drawn a rough outline, then probably applied a colour wash before adding the fine detail with ink. The hair is only indicated in patches, the eye fills in the blanks.

Look at the varied shadow of the partridges – anything but uniform.

Lucas Cranach the Elder. Two Dead Partridges. c. 1530-35. Brush and water and body colours, heightened with white, on laid paper. 41.2 x 24.5 cm. Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett. Source and description from Temptation in Eden: Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve. Ed. Caroline Campbell.


Temptation in Eden: Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve. Ed. Caroline Campbell; Contributions by Stephanie Buck … [et al.]. London: Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery in association with Paul Holberton Publishing, 2007.

Misery and delight from Art HK 12

Yesterday night we went to the opening of Art HK 12. There was a lot of traffic and also a lot of crap on display if I may say so – with especially disturbing pieces in the sculpture department (think a big plastic realistic Rhino that would have been okay on a children’s playground or in a nature museum – but why should that be art? or a sculpture of a 100 year old little woman – life size) in a chair – naked of course and every wrinkle up to her private parts was rendered. Why, oh why? Just because you CAN do it it doesn’t mean you HAVE to do it.).

The best mildly irritated quote of the evening I overheard walking past a man in suit talking to a woman standing in front of one of Damien Hirst’s totally pointless (sic!) dot paintings: “Yeah, but what’s the fucking point?” (double sic!) Indeed, sir – my point entirely.

But instead of looking at the hilarious or dull stuff, let’s focus on the things that blew me away.

Mao Yan (from Art HK 12) … unfortunately the title wasn’t displayed + apologies for the picture quality – but you can still see the sheer beauty of this piece – watercolour or Chinese ink maybe?

The first one was Mao Yan, a Chinese artist in his 40s living and teaching in Nanjing, of whom 2 very broodingly grey pictures with a very light touch were displayed. Here you can find another article about Mao Yan that touches the importance of friendship, Nanjing – one of the nicer Chinese megacities from my memory – and realistic vs expressive painting. The article says: “In Mao’s eyes, part of art must go beyond realistic meanings to achieve the goal of art expression; it would be hard to escape narrow-mindedness if one’s too close to reality.” The article mentions a “scaled greyness” that Mao achieved, that feels very elegant and I would say touchingly quiet. And this is what I distinctly remember standing in front of this piece… they were rendered in the tiniest nuance differences of grey, without looking dirty mind you. What a skill.

Mao Yan (from Art HK 12) … i think the title is “Richard No.2” 2011

So I researched a bit on the internet and found a picture he had done during a residency in a distillery in Scotland (nice one), where he painted a lot of portraits of the workers. The one below of Callum Campbell stood out for me: it looked so vulnerable and closed up.

Mao Yan. The portrait of Callum Campbell. Photo- Courtesyof ShanghART H-Space. Source

And then my heart made a leap as I spotted a Morandi from about 70 meters distance.

Giorgio Mornadi. Natura morta (still life). 1950. 35 x 45cm. From booth of Galleria d’Arte Maggiore. Apparently the price for this sweet little piece was EUR 600k plus if I overheard the conversation of my neighbour correctly.

And here’s what I thought, friends of the creamy stillness – Morandi’s colours are much more powdery than I ever imagined them to be from looking at some internet  pictures. What do people do with the colours when they post a Morandi picture? Do they run it through Photoshop autocorrect, which obviously thinks  “hmm… creamy – let’s up the contrast and colour saturation to give it some real zing…”?

I tried to leave it as uncontrasty as I saw it, and it is divine, sandy, muted. The opposite of all those screaming contemporary pieces seen at the fair that actually have nothing to say apart from “me, me, me – hey you, look at me”.

After I tried to draw a still life inspired by Cezanne the other day – and Morandi in his own way is in the same camp for me – I realised how difficult it is (for me at least) to leave the narrow-mindedness (as Mao Yan put it) of realism. I still try to be very realistic at the moment. But then I have to say I am not far enough to leave realism for expression. I think that should come at a later stage of skill and experience.

Morandi captures the objects in a very personal vision – distorted in many ways. Imagine how a bottle looks in real life – Morandi’s  bottles can’t be called realistic. They have a connection to reality and a refreshing personal addition to it too.

I also noticed how short Morandi kept his brushstrokes but with no attempt to smooth them out. Given that in the previous Drawing I exercises we dealt a lot with negative space – I also noticed that Morandi reduced negative space between the objects to a minimum and kept it to the outside of his object blocks. His pieces seem to huddle together to withstand whatever may come their way in quiet unity.

The same gallery that exhibited the piece above showed some etchings by Morandi which stood out for me as they seemed to mathematically and evenly explore how far apart the strokes can be for a hatched pane to still convey the shape of the object. Pretty far it seems …

Project: Drawing fruit and veg in colour – Check and log

Exercise: Fruit and vegetables – using hatching to create tone

Excercise: Using markers/dip pens

Exercise: Drawing with oil pastel

Your composition should occupy most of the paper’s surface. How much negative space do you have left?

I still have a fair bit of negative space. None of the compositions feels crammed. Looking at the 3 pictures side by side I prefer the first 2 to the oil pastel picture done yesterday. The upside down celery is somewhat unsettling. Not bad but strange.

What have you learned from drawing the details of fruit and vegetables?

Texture is so important – to make a strawberry look like a strawberry. And the texture comes about with the tiniest reflections and shadows in the recesses. I don’t have to put in all of them, just a couple and the eye fills in the rest. Variation of colour and tone within an area that looks broadly like one colour also differentiates an interesting picture from a dull one. The white area of the tea towel in the last exercise for example had so many colours in – white, light, grey, blue. And I could see it developing from a flat object to something quite varied.

What did you find the most challenging about this part of the course?

Hatching… I realised I am not great at it and other than in etchings, where you often have to use hatching, I often felt I was doing it for the sake of it, when for example pulling a chalk sideways could have created an even tone much faster. I kind of cheated in the first exercise doing just that and then added hatching on top. I have to say I really liked the outcome (the one with the 2 apples and a pear): the combination of both tonal drawing and hatching.

Then of course oil pastels as a medium. I cannot believe how much difference the choice of paper made. Do not use cheap white paper for oil pastels unless you really want to smudge it all in, which I found a bit ugly as a technique. Had I known this before I wouldn’t have postponed this exercise for such a long time!

Research Point: Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson. 1943-45 (St Ives, Cornwall) 1943-5 Oil and pencil on canvasboard
support: 406 x 502 mm. Purchased 1945 © The Estate of Ben Nicholson. All Rights Reserved. Source: Tate

Given my lack of access to libraries with books about Nicholson here in Hong Kong and my general impression that Carol, Fran, Melany Jane and other OCA students had done a great job already finding arguments why Nicholson “simplified still life forms and negative space and superimposed them on the Cornish landscape”, as the OCA course material put it, I didn’t want to replicate these efforts and repeat their findings.

Maybe there is one link to add that occurred to me when I read the name of the town St Ives… which sounded so familiar because I did pottery for such a long time, throwing and pulling pots and vases from the wheel… St Ives is the town Bernard Leach set up his pottery in 1920. Leach was the man who revived studio pottery in the UK, potentially in the entire Western world. He was heavily influenced by Japanese folk pottery traditions (think Hamada) and how noble Japanese pottery appears.

Bernard Leach – ‘Cutsided Bowl’. Stoneware. C.1950. Coll. Keatley trust. Photography commissioned by the Keatley Trust. Photograph by Peter Mennim.

Nicholson moved to the artists’ colony in St Ives with his wife Barbara Hepworth, the sculptor, in 1939. I was wondering if pottery – as in Nicholson’s still lives that sit on window sills exposing a bit of landscape in the background – became more prominent in his work with the presence of a group of great studio potters in the same town. Maybe Nicholson shared the feeling of solace I often find in beautiful domestic objects, given World War II was the reason he moved to St Ives.

Nicholson’s compositions also reminded me of Renaissance portraits of Madonnas like van Eyck’s below, with a stylized landscape seen through a window in the back, reflecting the virtues of the person portrayed or allusions to their story.

So Nicholson could have framed the local landscape with domestic pottery connected with St Ives… revealing the link between object and landscape. However I couldn’t find any support for my speculation, other than it’s hard to believe the 2 artists DIDN’T know each other in a small town of 11,000 people, where both were prominent artists.

Jan van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. c. 1435. Oil on panel. 66 cm × 62 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris

Project: Drawing fruit and vegetables in colour (II/II)

Drawing I, Part 2:

Exercise: Drawing using oil pastel

Task: use textured, coloured A3 paper and oil pastels and set up a colourful group of fruit and vegetables (think of contrasts of colour, texture, shape); select a number of pastels incl. light and dark tones to work with.

Celery, strawberries and lemon. Oil pastel on textured greybrown paper. A3.

Why this task seemed so insurmountably difficult that it completely threw me out of my relatively good work progress in my Drawing I course I struggle to comprehend. But it has something to do with the oil pastels. So far I hadn’t been very successful with oil pastels on their own, although I used them in mixed media things and liked it. Maybe I just had enough of vegetables for the moment? I really long for the people drawing section and this fruit and veg chapter seems to drag on forever. Which is why in the meantime I jumped a lot forward and backward in the course material doing any exercise that appealed to me to get my motivation going again – landscape, clouds, cityscapes.

But then I decided I had to do it. And it wasn’t even half as bad as I suspected – as is customary with all my procrastination episodes of which there are many. In fact I was positively surprised. The paper made all the difference though. I had used relatively smooth cheap white paper before and it was a mess with ugly white spots showing through everywhere. But this grey paper with a texture like watercolour paper, but much thinner is beautiful. I needed about 20 minutes to stop resisting the pastels and then started to enjoy drawing with them.

The composition is slightly awkward, I admit, but somehow I really liked the idea of the kitchen towel as a frame and the celery smiling at its company of strawberries and a lemon. The celery functions a bit like a frame, and is not very detailed. I like the composition, but then I just finished drawing… so it’s hard to tell without inner distance.

The textures of strawberries and lemons are slightly similar with their dimply surface, while the celery has a smooth surface, juicy but matte. The strawberries and celery are complementary colours and in theory that should provide a good contrast, while the lemon yellow and the pink of the towel soothes the contrast a little.

All in all I am going to bed now – satisfied that I overcame my totally unnecessary procrastination spell that lasted for probably more than a month now! I wonder if my fellow students have such problems… Anyway – if you happen to be stuck with a difficult looking part of the course – I just say this: If I can do it…

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