Assignment 3

These are the preparatory sketches leading up the final piece of assigment three.

The task was to draw a piece which shows a landscape, an outdoor scene, incorporating both natural and linear (man-made) features. The aim was to be to create a drawing demonstrating a sense of space by appropriate techniques of perspective.

I settled on a view across our local lake, which I had sketched from various viewpoints before. For one the lake presents an expanse of water, for another to the west there is an opening between the mountains (the valley in which the lake lies runs east to west)

The prep work done served to answer a couple of specific questions:

a) what precise view to choose

b) how to deal with the immense flat expanse of water, so that its depth becomes obvious (how to use aireal perspective on water …)

c) what features to include (dealing with foreground, middle and background)

In addition to the prep sketches, some of which were done from memory, I took a number of photographs of my chosen scene from various points, including detailshots. My aim was to get pictures surrounding my intended drawing and not a photographic image for me to copy.

To ballpen thumbnails of the lake surface


Sketchbook page in preparation of Assignment 3



Prep Sketches


Collage done when doing final piece


Final piece


Some remarks on assessment criteria and further things …

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

I employed a range of materials and techniques: in the top half mainly dry media, i.e. conte-crayons, pastels (for the colour) and charcoal. In the bottom half “wet” media dominated: a foundation with a bluish wash, drawing in with ink and pen and water-soluble graphite (with the exception of the pencil hatchings). The approach to composition was quite “traditional” in sofar I tried to be conscious about the fore-, middle and background. In the background the sky is all important as it is reflected also on the waterplane.

Quality of outcome:

In choosing to use different techniques for the two halves of the picture I am treading dangerous waters. It has been one criticism for the Assigmnent one that using different approaches for different parts of the drawing was creating a collage-like effect. The danger being in my view that the drawing appears disjointed, which might be the exact opposite of what I actually intend. In the present assignment I hope to have avoided such counterproductive disjointedness.

Context reflection:

Here comes one big todo … (which I can only hope to work on in the long run). I chose a view which is often firmly in the realm of kitsch: a sunset behind a lake. A view which is also a very popular motif for our local amateur photographers and tourists alike. The immediate question is why? Why is it interesting to add a further image of the scene? What do I try to achieve, apart from drawing an assigment piece because it has been asked from me?

Of course, as I live in alp-region of Germany, mountain-scapes are already very popular motifs for all sorts of painters and it feels overwhelming when trying to look at the landscape yourself.

What helps, I find, is being clear about my own agenda, about the nature of my own perception. Am I trying to find some mystical significance in nature, perhaps like the romantics (e.g. Caspar David Friedrich), or should I try to rid myself of all such thoughts and aim at a “neutral” look (which I might never achieve)?


Assignment I – Still life using texture & gesture & tone

We were bidden to collect a couple of things with which we are able to connect emotionally, then arrange them to create interesting forms and lines and draw them bearing in mind using our experiments in gesture / texture.

I picked a couple of objects one by one: first a log – as a gesture of protest against all these small things – besides wood and timber means a lot to me: working wood is a way to connect to myself and at the same time to many people which mean a lot to me. The log is a object waiting be worked on.

Next a piece (of wood) I made some time ago representing sand ripples on a beach which makes me think of happy times as a child abandoning myself amongst the rocks and things at the shore.

The third item I chose was a money-plant in a flowerpot, as I thought I needed something round (and big). The irony being that I do not particularly like that kind of plant – rather on the contrary.

I picked a fourth object as I felt I had to complement these three items to form a coherent whole – the set up seemed to be still too empty. I experimented with a variety of objects, e.g. a chainsaw (even accompanied by an axe): the result struck me as too “woody”, more suited as an illustration for a manual for woodcutters. Next thought was to complement the “big” round object (the money-plant) with a smallish, roundish thing: either a small, semi-abstract sculpture I have, or a segment of an iron-wood tree. I finally picked a plaster cast of the face of a young woman: the face despite its closed eyes seemed to me to give an immediate interest to the drawing.


The task now was to find a good composition of the chosen elements. I started with the idea of an opposition with between my two roundish things and to use the other objects to provide interesting, guiding lines. The two opponents were to be drawn in contrasting styles, the face rather delicate and fine to convey the feeling of perhaps calm melancholy, and the plant in contrast more violent, perhaps even aggressive. I hoped to get thereby ample opportunity to use tone in modeling my three-dimensional object and to employ a variety of tools and media.


Initial sketches confirmed my suspicion of the role of the face, in that it provides a powerful attractor of attention, with the eyes setting up an important line or direction even though they are closed. The fact that the eyes of the face are closed added for even to its interest. However the initial set up seemed to me too boring, somewhat too symmetric perhaps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I changed the setup again and made another initial sketch.

My reaction was as follows:

  • the top left seemed to me too empty, leading to an unbalanced composition
  • I felt unsure of the success of combining ink/brush with charcoal: the two elements seemed to fall apart.
  • the use of dots to indicate shading e.g. on the nose of the face looked ugly
  • the shadows looked unconvincing

What I liked was the drawing of the face using a small, inked, bristle brush and also the modeling of form of the panel on the right side.

I decided to add in background material, being aware of the danger of loosing good negative space when adding to much. I drew some of things I could see with charcoal lines and smudged them with my palm to reduce their visual presence.

P3230390A last comment: the working habit on this drawing differed from my normally “fast” sketches in that I worked on it over a couple of days. Each intermission served a kind of reflective period during which I tried to adjust perceived “mistakes”.

Short Reflection on Assessment Criteria

Technical and visual skills

On the technical side I believe my strong points to be in the line drawing and, perhaps, in a relative freedom in my mark making using various media. I am less sure in modelling of form using tone values. The composition only “kind” of works, the block in the middle is maybe more a visual “stumbling block” than a compositionally indispensable object.

Quality of outcome

The quality of outcome is maybe reasonable, but can surely be improved. I thought about the content and tried to develop it using a sketchbook, modifying and clarifying my initial idea up to a certain point. I am not quite sure how far to carry this process before embarking on the final piece of work. It seems to me not necessarily a good thing to overdevelop.

Demonstration of creativity

While I employed some experimental ideas in the drawing, the aspect of experimentation could be developed further. I certainly seems easier to me to experiment in the sketchbook … that is in work not meant from the start for public viewing. Thus I am also not so sure about my personal voice: at the moment perhaps seen most in the line parts. But hopefully can be extended through more and free application of a greater variety of techniques.

Context reflection

I tried to reflect my progress constantly through my learning blog, which I keep both in writing into a physical notepad and in this online blog. At the moment I stick to English, which is my second language. Writing in my second language (apart from my linguistic mistakes) has the curious effect of creating a greater distance to the things I describe and I am thinking of using both languages, German and English, for personal reflections (the German parts would then be translated afterwards).


Project 2, Exercise 4: Shadows and reflected light


I choose to use a collection of measurement cups from the kitchen which are made of polished stainless steel and have thererfore a highly relective surface. The reflections and the pattern of light an dark interested me here and also the composition of the drawing. I wanted to avoid being intimidated by the boundary of the paper and to “extend” the drawing beyond its confines. I used a small viewfinder with an adjustable square opening to find a interesting “cut-out” from the whole view. P3230394As one can see, there are still some issues with the drawing … for one the perspective is not right. The left and largest cup is too round, that is the bottom of the cup should have been much more elliptical. Below right is much better. The effect of the reflections could maybe have been strengthened by paying more attention to the the various tone values as seen in the photo above.

Researchpoint “Odilon Redon – Tonal values & atmosphere”

cactusBetween about 1870 to 1890 Odilon Redon produced a number of drawings mainly in charcoal which displayed a very particular “atmosphere”. These drawings are distinct in his overall output, and this period of his work is known as his noir period.

womanThere exist earlier drawings, for example in a sketchbook with pencil sketches of rural landscapes. But these are much lighter in tone an appear much more conventional and it is interesting to compare them to the “noirs”. Later works include pastels (some with additional use of charcoal). The use of colour seems to me to be the most marked difference to the noirs. And again it is interesting to compare the “atmosphere” of these drawings with that of the noirs.

The charcoal drawings of the noir period have a very particular “atmosphere” quite different to both the earlier and the later ones. I am interested here for one how this effect is created which seems to me to be the result of mainly two means or methods. As a corallary I see the use of “atmosphere” rather as an artistic means than and end in itself.

A quick comparison of for example the “noir” drawing “the two trees” with one of the early pencil drawings shows the extensive use of tonal blocks in addition to linear details. But lets have a closer look at the “noir” drawings.

roomWe can see a very light patch in the centre and bottom right of the drawing surrounded by dark areas. There are some details visible: just indicated architectural structures. In the left bottom corner there is a finely drawn element: a fount with heads in it. It forms a kind of opposition to the rest of the drawing in its detailedness, still heightened by the weiredness/unnaturalness of the drawn content. The focus of my attention shifts while looking at it. I am first attracted to the strong light/dark contrast of the room with the window. Only slowly I begin to decipher the details of the fount.

tree1A similar effect can be detected in other drawings of his, even if not always quite as strong.

In the drawing the tree there are some very light parts where the sun shines on the trunkand dark areas with the grass in the foreground and the foliage of the tree. The tone of the sky is somewhere in between, not quite as dark as the grass and foliage but quite a bit darker than the sunny parts of the trunk. After some time (as if after the eyes have adjusted to the light …) the actually quite finely worked detail in the grass and foliage become apparent.

It seems to me a Redons atmosphere is created by:

(1) the extensive use of tonal “dynamics”, the use of both very light and very dark areas and of course many areas in between. In addition if one looks at the distribution of the lights and the darks there is an emphasis on the darks with the highlights more used as spots. (The use of similar effects is not unique to Redon … compare this to Rembrand drawings)

(2) Detail. Neither the darks – nor the lights – are completely featureless. There are on the contrary a lot of distinct details which are possibly only perceived after looking a while at the drawing. We can see all sorts of things, but maybe not in broad daylight, more light the things seen at night. Hence the slightly dreamlike character of many of the “noirs”.

As a result the drawing is both clear (because of the detail drawn) and obscure (as the perception of the detail takes its time)

These means can be used in a variety of contexts and with many media. The use of charcoal appears to me particularly suitable as it permits to draw very deep darks and is very sensitive/responsive to the whole range of tones. Furthermore it is easy to manipulate the traces made on the paper by smudging, scratching etc.

I think that the charcoal drawings show this potential to create “atmosphere” using tonal means to quite an extreme, but I wonder if the drawings could be still strenghthened by reducing the means used, especially by eliminating the overtly symbolic elements. This apparent symbolism seems to me to detract by inducing to obvious thoughts in the spectator.