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.

Exercise 2 Observing shadow using blocks of tone


I picked two simple objects for this exercise: a rectangular cardboard box and a cylindrical ceramic. I had natural light from the left and the ceramic was slightly reflective, though not overly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My first attempt using graphite blocks and a rather smooth paper.


A second attempt. This time with charcoal on Ingrespaper.

Project 2, Exercise 1: Groups of objects

Made three sketches…


The first Sketch (bottom right) is a pure pencil sketch. It feels to me overly constructional and  still struggle with getting the perspective right…

The second one (left) is charcoal, which feels to me much more pleasing in its sensitivity to pressure. I like the way I can get really black lines and vary my stroke if I take a nice soft piece of charcoal.

The third sketch (top right) is made with brush and ink (home-made using tea). The boldness of the brush lines is pleasing, even if I do not like the “fuzzy”, insipid quality of the ink-lines. This may due to the quality of the paper, soaking up the ink to quick.  The ink seems to look better when used delicately. Could try draw with broad nibbed stick like a very broad pen.

Should be much more experimental with the media employed. So far used pencil and charcoal. Could use pen & ink with various writing implements, traditional nib either of steel or reed or … feather, or use other implements to transfer the ink to the paper? What about the stick mentioned?

What about pastels and oil sticks? I also want to experiment with silver point but need a ground first.


Project 1, Exercise 2: & Texture

After warm up the first exercise was to look for surfaces – objects with an interesting surface and try to create a representation of it.

My primary aim was to create a kind of translation of my perception of the surface and not so much an attempt at overly correct “mimicry”. The aim was to arrive at an interesting surface myself, to recreate the kind of structural elements which struck me as interesting in the found surface.


I started out taking a piece of toffee wrapping, which I had carefully unwrapped. I tried to follow roughly the dark lines created by the creases in the foil (top right above). I also used – not in that order – an interesting stone, a piece from a wall, a piece of wood with chainsaw marks, a photo of reeds …


Also interesting was to simply experiment e.g. with water and ink droped onto the wet paper (below are also examples of what might happen on the other side of the paper), or with mock writing using a broad nib.P3230415All these experiments were great fun …