Yesterday I received an email with my tutor’s verdict on my work for Part 2 Observation in Nature. I was more than happy with her comments. My own comments are in square brackets and in italics:
Although you were clearly not keen on the subject matter [In my Preamble I described the module as Colouring in Cabbages. It has taken me over a year to complete it. ‘Not keen’? I hated it!] you have tackled these exercises well. Although you have had a go with a variety of mediums you have a definite preference for using pen, however do bear in mind that although it can be very effective, it is not particularly versatile or appropriate for every subject and can create too much of a reliance on line.
Keep experimenting with other mediums such as charcoal which can help to make your mark making a lot looser and more fluid, as you have a tendency to be rather hesitant. I would really recommend working on a much larger scale if possible, to encourage bolder and more fluid mark making. [I was a bit puzzled about this paragraph as I like working in charcoal and love bold, fluid marks. However the introduction to the unit talked about focussing on ‘fine observation’ and encouraging one ‘to look at detail’ which I find difficult in charcoal. Probably a misunderstanding on my part.]
You have experimented various mark making and blending techniques with different media, however I would have liked to see more variation in colour, particularly with blending greens which will become very important in the next section dealing with landscape.
Project: Detailed observation
Line drawing: Working purely in line like this can really help to practice observational skills by forcing us to evaluate the bare minimum that is needed to describe a form. You have done well on your cabbage, but keep practicing this exercise as it very useful.
Tone: You have chosen a complicated subject and have managed to capture the textural details, although I think it could have done with a darker shadow right underneath to give it solidity. You make an interesting point about cross hatching as opposed to shading with pencil – obviously cross hatching is a vital technique to learn for pen drawing, but there are no rules and it can be used with pencil as well, should you wish to. In this case I think more blended shading would have been better as the cross hatching competes with the textures a little, however every exercise is useful in gaining experience.
Stipples and dots: although you struggled to see the point of this you have actually managed it very well! Stippling is a useful technique and an alternative to crosshatching when using pen, and is widely used in printmaking a way of creating tone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stippling
What an interesting subject! Skulls can be great objects to draw, and make great tonal studies. However I think you have got distracted by the colours here and as such have not successfully built up the tones. It might have been an idea to experiment with a complementary colour such as purple or a dark blue for the darker tones, and practice building up tone by overlaying colours.
As you have discovered, pen can be quite difficult work with as it is a very unforgiving medium. Ordinarily I wouldn’t suggest it for a still life drawing but for these exercise I think you have coped reasonably well with the fine liner, however your cross hatching and mark making has a tendency to only go one way, giving it a ‘hairy’ look. I think pen and ink wash might be a more versatile medium than felt tips as it would solve the issue of coverage on larger areas.
The oil pastel version has some successful areas – the pear has been nicely built up and the directional mark making helps to give it form. Avoid using black as it is too harsh and deadens a picture – instead try building up darks chromatically using complementary colours. Shadows are usually cool so a dark blue will always work better than black. Don’t give up on oil pastels! Good ones are soft and can be blended with turps or scraped into (sgraffito) to give interesting textures. Try using them really thickly and overlaying colours.
Project: Drawing plants and flowers
Negative space: you have clearly understood the benefit of this exercise and the result works really well.
Coloured pencils:. I think you need more practice with this medium to avoid being too literal with it. Although you have described the shapes of the flowers fairly well, you really needed to think about blending and overlaying more colours to create a less flat image. It would have helped to have come in closer on the flowers as they are a little lost in this composition when they should be the focal point. Also, think about light and shadow – again the picture looks very flat as there is no indication of a light source.
Pastels: you mention that this medium is too crude for the subject, but I think that is partly the fault of the format – a much larger scale would have enabled you to work more boldly and really make the most of what pastels can do.
Pen and wash: as you noted, this is far more successful. I disagree about the leaves – I think the hapzardness of wet on wet works really well with the delicate lines, and is a technique you could explore further.
You have made a number of sketches of animals in different mediums. Of these, I think the pencil drawings of the dogs are the most successful, but then it does help if your subject is asleep! It’s a pity you didn’t try more charcoal on a larger scale, as this can be used to create a variety of textures and can encourage working more quickly and loosely, which is essential when trying to ‘grab the chance’.
Although you I know you prefer it, on the whole pen is not a great medium for sketching animals – it is unforgiving and harder to create texture with, being so reliant on line.
Fish on a plate: I was really interested to see how you’d interpreted this! The form of the fish is well observed and you have handled the pyrex dish quite successfully. I would have liked to see a few more colours used on the fish to suggest iridescence – fish can reflect all sorts of rainbow colours – but on the whole this drawing works very well.
You have successfully managed to convey a variety of textures in this drawing and your colouring is muted and delicate which suits the subject very well. Your mark making is sensitive, although in places a little too hesitant and broken around some of the edges.
Remember, it’s not always necessary to define everything by using line – tone can do the work for you as well: dark against light and vice versa is useful to remember when describing edges, for example the dark of a shadow can be what define the form of an object. I don’t think the cross hatching has worked well here however, it’s a bit ‘hairy’ – blended wet on wet shadows would have worked much better.
Your sketchbooks should include not only preparation and experimentation for the exercises you have done from the course, but ideally there will also be some evidence of a visual journey, what you are thinking about and are interested in, things you might have seen and collected, etc. that might be relevant to the course or which you found interesting or inspiring.
You should aim to make brief notes in there as well as in your Learning Log – this is important for each sketch, experiment or item you include and can help the examiner follow your thoughts about what has worked and what hasn’t.
[This was the part with which I had problems. I have several sketchbooks on the go at one time. I have an A5 book which I can carry around. Most of my contributions during February to the Facebook group 28 Drawings Later were drawn in it. My life drawings are in one A4 book, while I have another for Manchester Urban Sketching Group meets. I got the impression from the original course information that the tutors do not want ‘everything’ but only a selection. I have written to my tutor asking for clarification.]
Learning Logs or Blogs/Critical essays
You have done some research and reflected on your own practice and feelings about each exercise, good and bad! Remember that you need to approach everything you see analytically and relate it to what you are trying to achieve. Ideally the examiner will want to see that you can make connections not only between different artists (comparing outlook, subject matter and techniques etc) but also how you feel it relates to what you are doing.
Examine how other artists have treated the landscape, especially trees. How is it possible to suggest trees and other landscape features without drawing every detail?
Think about colour – how can you avoid using the same greens all the time? What colour are shadows? Take a look at some of the impressionists to see how they used colour for landscapes.
Have a look at how some contemporary artists have tackled landscape.
Pointers for the next assignment
Think about perspective and keep practicing with this. A good general book on drawing skills will almost certainly have a chapter devoted to this subject, or there are internet sites that might help, if you do a search. It can be tricky to get the hang of, but keep practicing. Use a viewfinder to choose a composition, and then holding up a transparent grid can help get the angles and distances right.
Keep practicing with greens – try mixing as many as you can, and remember artistic license is fine, there is no need to be literal about any element in the landscape – you can leave things out and move them if necessary. Also, think about the landscape in terms of fore- middle and background – how can you suggest depth and distance? Where will the focal point of the picture be?