Off-piste–Reflections v Module Objectives

Cartworth Panorama, Winter 1

There was a suggestion, emerging from my Assignment Three tutorial, that one way to deal with my diversion from the main direction in Section Three would be to reflect on how what I actually did might relate to the course and assignment objectives.

In spending time producing my drawings of the old exercise book, I missed out some of the exercises and projects relating to ‘Sketchbook Walk & 360 degree’; ‘Perspective’; ‘Composition’ (foreground, mid-ground, background); and ‘Townscapes’. My Photography degree took me into some of this, naturally, such as perspective and composition; and I did explore perspective (albeit interiors) in Section Two. But I haven’t been out and about sketching the landscape. The Assignment Three brief asks that we demonstrate an understanding of aerial or linear perspective – a view with demonstrable depth – through an outdoor scene. I clearly didn’t satisfy that – though my assignment has been accepted. I do definitely think that there was some direct development from the tree drawings. The exploration of detailed drawing of shapes/tones informed the way I handled my book drawings – subtlety of tones in the surface of the pages and the representation of small marks on those pages, for example.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the issue of perspective in the book drawings has been in the back of my mind throughout – albeit not fully resolved. It impacts on the way one handles the edges and corners of the book – subtle and slight, but there is impact. These two drawings (below) from the series illustrate the point. Looking at the left edge and corners, there is no suggestion of perspectival depth in the first, whereas there is in the second. The first is, largely, drawn from a photograph, which has been taken with a focal length of 50mm i.e. at some distance (can’t recall) from the book surface and a degree of ‘zoom’ into the image via the camera lens – which tends to flatten the perspective. The second is drawn, largely, from ‘life’ – close up observation – in which one gets more of a sense that the back of the book (if it is in view) is further away from the viewer than the open pages. There is no right and wrong answer to this issue, of course, but my observation of the issue moved on as this little series of drawings developed. I moved away from drawing only from photographs (partly because of these sorts of concern) towards using a combination of sources of information to construct my own representation of what I see.

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Hooles Book-6

Considering what I have done in Section Three in relation to the overall course objectives. I have certainly developed my drawing skills. Concentrated, maybe, into the development of tonal representation with graphite, so not demonstrating a wide range of materials, but I am much more confident in the use of a pencil. Without getting ahead of myself, it’s worth mentioning that I attended my first life drawing class last week (to be blogged later) and, whilst I am in no way a natural and there’s a long way to go before I claim any expertise in the figurative, the pencil skills that I have developed through the tree drawings and the book drawings stood me in good stead. I do also feel confident that my journey ‘off-piste’ shows visual/artistic awareness and selective observation (another course objective). One of the positive pieces of tutorial feedback was that I have succeeded, in the book drawings, in identifying what parts of the detail are important. (And I think that also came through in the first life class.) And, finally, I am, hopefully, showing some self-reflective and critical skills within this and previous posts. An “area for development” in the tutorial feedback was linking my work to other relevant art practices. Certainly, I did not pick up on quite a number of the research points in that last section of the module, though I did link the work to a number of contemporary drawing works that I had seen or found through research – but maybe I need a little more of that.

So, in summary, there is much that I have not done in Section Three and in relation to Assignment Three – but there is much that I have; which is as we would expect in the circumstances. I will be paying at least some attention to the content of Section Four and continuing to reflect when I do and when I don’t. And I may yet dip back into some landscape drawing, who knows. I chose the photograph at the top of this piece, somewhat randomly, because it is a snow-scene. It occurs to me, though, that it is interesting in compositional and perspectival terms – simplicity of the former and quirkiness of the latter (where tones, lines and shadow combine to ‘suggest’ distance, but within a very simple and limited composition). It might, at some stage, be interesting to draw the scene – perhaps using mixed media – pastels for the background and ink, maybe, for those strong lines. Something to look forward to ! Smile

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Assignment Three–Tutor Report

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I now have my tutor report for Assignment Three. Inevitably, since I have taken my work off in a direction away from that of the module notes/exercises/assignment, the report doesn’t quite follow the standard pattern.

  • The report acknowledges that I never intended the studies to lead to a degree but that it’s “… a way of stretching yourself to think about making visual things in a new way”. Also that I have “… always intended that it should be a counterpoint/commentary on your extended photographic practice”.
  • It recognises that the work that I have submitted “… is very interesting, from an artistic viewpoint; demonstrates sophisticated enquiry into the process of drawing a representation of the subject; and has considerable potential for further exploration and development”.
  • The guidance from OCA HQ (after Bryan sought their view) is that “… it is fine to still provide feedback, just that he still needs to be looking at meeting the course and assignment overall aims and objectives and linking to the assignment in some way, even if he is taking it another direction”.

That all seems fair enough. There is potential uncertainty around whether the work will be ‘assessable’; but that doesn’t trouble me too much and, in any case, I take on board the need to reflect on the ways in which what I’m doing does/does not relate to the module. I have been doing that since my tutorial and I think I have a way forward. I will continue to pursue this body of work based on the old exercise book; and it is likely to be the core of my final assignment (which has a large degree of self-direction anyway). I will write a blog post reflecting back on Section Three. Then Section Four ‘The figure and the head’; I will engage with that to some extent, in parallel with the main body of work, and have already signed up for some life class drawing.

Other highlights from the tutor report:

  • The tree drawing that I did produce for Section Three included some good work with good tonal range that allowed me to show complex structure – though be careful to avoid ‘scribble’ (even loose marks need to have a purpose).
  • It’s often most effective to start with a mid-grey, allowing two directions for development – darkening on the one hand, but also using an eraser to lift out lighter tones and highlights. Bryan encourages me to try drawing the cover of the old book and, at the top of this post, is a quick sketchbook drawing to experiment with the mid-tone/darkening/erasing approach in that context.
  • A pointer towards the work of Penny McCarthy – a very useful reference point for the book work. Also, encouragement to further research ‘trompe l’oeil’ artists – whether or not I regard my work as having those characteristics – and to continue the exploration/reflection on the interplay between drawing and photography. Again, there is much scope there and I’ll certainly return to that.

There was more, detail, but that’s sufficient for this reflective post. I feel that I’m on a track again now – looking forward to the challenges of life drawing and enthused by the potential in my main project (and not just within the context of this module).

Assignment Three–extension

Hooles Book-8

(I’ll explain the above later in the post!)

I had a tutorial meeting earlier this week, which went well. But I’ll write up my reflections when I have the report. The purpose of this blog post is to cover some additional work I did after submitting the assignment, which was discussed with Bryan in our session.

Following the sketchbook experiment with additional contrast (mentioned at the end of the previous post), I did a quick drawing that took the principle into a representation of the book in full (see below). It is drawn entirely ‘from life’ – no photograph – using a strong light top right. As usual, we have issues with presenting it here, as a photographic image. I actually over-did the strong shadow at the bottom of the book, giving it a kind of cartoon-ish look; but that doesn’t show in this photographic image. However, lesson learned – don’t overdo it and use more gradation rather than hard shadow. A couple of positives emerged from this experiment. Firstly, I worked more quickly in laying down this basic ground – so my confidence and aptitude are developing. Secondly, the edges are better, the left edge particularly. Working with a strong, directional light has helped me to come up with a better method of differentiating the visible page edges below the open spread.

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I have also spent a bit of time ‘riffing’ (as Bryan put it!) on the basic principle of this body of work – looking at ways in which I might add additional layers of intervention beyond the basic drawing. Whether or not any of these would be further developed will wait, for now. Rather than ‘defacing’ the drawings themselves (heaven forbid!), I have printed them onto cartridge paper so that I can draw onto them. So, once again for clarity, what follows are digital photographic images of digital prints of digital photographic images of drawings – onto which I have made further marks!!!

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It’s probably not especially valuable to reflect on them individually at this stage. Sufficient to say that there is plenty of potential in the concept.

Then, returning to the image at the top of this post, I also have the potential to work digitally, combining (in this case) my own drawing of the ‘Turkey’ essay with Bill’s original writing, some Photoshop text, a screen-grab from the web, and my own photograph of a turkey …! I was particularly delighted to find that the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on ‘The Turkey’ is identical to the first sentence of Bill Hoole’s 1897 essay on the same topic! [This one could run and run!! Smile]

“Assignment Three”–perhaps!

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Bill Hoole’s Book 6

I’ve reached a point where I need to either take this forward for a tutorial or abandon it altogether – and the former seems like the best option. The background and context are documented through my previous three posts – but, summarising:

  • After an enforced break, I decided that I was no longer interested in pursuing the Drawing Skills module as mapped out. But I did pick up an interest in trying to draw pages/selections from an old, late 19th century, school exercise book.
  • Context, partly, included some work that I had seen at an exhibition at The Drawing Room in London, to an extent referencing ‘trompe l’oeil’, but also exploring ‘Drawing as Thinking through Material Encounter’ – the title of an essay in the exhibition catalogue.
  • Context also includes my previous thoughts/research around the unreliability of our ways of seeing – in the wider context of the ‘image’ in 21st century (digital and photographic) world.
  • And it might also include references back to previous work of my own, which was created through encounters with old books that might be seen to have outlived their purpose.

Having produced a series of drawings, the most recent of which is illustrated above, I have to admit that I find myself ‘unsatisfied’. The rest of the series is below, so that I can refer to them, if necessary, in my reflections. A word, too, about scale; the first two below are drawn at A4 size (though as enlarged details from the book, as is obvious); the following three below are drawn at A3 (with the book at exact size); and the one above is drawn A2 size (with the book dimensions at 1.33 times actual).

Hooles Book-1

Bill Hoole’s Book 1

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Bill Hoole’s Book 2

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Bill Hoole’s Book 3

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Bill Hoole’s Book 4

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Bill Hoole’s Book 5

Starting with that word – ‘unsatisfied’ – the primary source seems to be frustration with my own skill levels. I might be resisting a full commitment to the notion that ‘trompe l’oeil’ is my intention, but I am nonetheless frustrated by my inability to get near enough to it. I may be asking too much of myself, at this stage; but I am not sure I have the essential ability, time, patience or motivation to get there. This is, certainly, one of the areas where I need tutorial feedback.

That skills issue is (probably) also impacting on the ‘drawing as thinking through material encounter’ aspect. I have found this a very tense process. The drawings have each taken about 4-6 hours to produce, with an ongoing and increasing sense of precariousness as I build up the layers. If the outcomes leapt off the paper at me and excited me, then that tension would be a worthwhile investment – but they don’t. So I am left with a sense of frustration that this may all be taking me nowhere.

I did refer, in a previous post, to the importance of subject and intention; so it’s important to reflect on that aspect. There is more scope for interest and satisfaction there, perhaps. This book dates back around 120 years and belonged to my mother’s uncle. It is written out in beautiful script, using pen/ink, and contains some ‘fascinating’ essays, compositions, writing exercises, poetry and spelling work – fascinating in many contexts, but particularly social and educational history. In addition, and unsurprisingly, about 20 years after producing this writing, Bill went off to war. He did come back but, like so many others, he was not the same young man who went away. So the promise that was, perhaps, identified in the young teenage scholar of the mid-1890s was never truly fulfilled.

These personal/social contexts lay behind my choice not to draw the text in complete form – the versions where there is no text, for example; and the choices about which particular sentences to select for my drawings. I can’t quite make my mind up whether or not that works successfully – is it perhaps a bit ‘obvious’? I am inclined to think that it does have potential to prompt questions in the viewers’ mind – about the fact that I have been selective and why I made the choices that I did – which might lead to relevant reflections about subject, context and intention.

There is certainly enough material in the book to go on with these explorations and to produce a larger body of work. To continue with that process is not entirely without interest to me, but I need to feel more confident in my own ability to deliver something. Otherwise, this becomes a source of frustration, which I don’t need.

(One final addendum about this perennial issue of presenting what I’ve done in this blog. I keep repeating this point but I don’t think it can be ignored. The drawings look ‘better’, I believe, as digital photographic images on a backlit monitor than they do as physical ‘objects’. ‘Better’ is a highly subjective word – it probably refers to issues of contrast and sharpness of definition, in this case; which might increase the sense that the drawing works as a ‘trompe l’oeil’. It might also imply that my dissatisfaction with what I’m seeing in the physical outcomes is to do with my ability to produce the ‘contrast’ and ‘sharpness of definition’ in my drawings. That could well be so; and there may be questions about the pencils I’ve used – 4B and HB graphite in ‘clutch’ pencil form – and the paper – a couple of different types of drawing paper, including experimenting with a smoother paper, with no great improvement. I may,as I’ve said, simply be asking too much of myself.) [See later edit below.]

There is plenty of scope, at least, for some tutorial discussion and feedback.

Later edit – Immediately after writing up these reflections, I went to my sketchbook and experimented with ‘contrast’ … well, lighting actually and obviously! This is what I drew:

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What am I drawing?–the photographic complication!

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This is a (screen representation of a) photograph of 2 photographic scans and the edge of a book. Spot the differences!

My drawings from the old exercise book have continued – interrupted by two and half weeks of holiday – and I’m about to embark on another. After that, I may well initiate a tutorial on this little body of work. This blog post is just by way of a passing reflection that feels appropriate as I embark on the planning and preparations for this next piece. It’s not a bad idea to have a clear idea of what it is I’m about to draw!

The last three drawings in this series (not illustrated here) have been at ‘life-size’ on A3 paper. Sometimes I get close to the ‘trompe l’oeil’ and sometimes I’ve struggled – the edges of the book/pages being one area. It is definitely partly about technique – either I’m not good enough or I haven’t yet developed the skill … or a bit of both. But it’s also about the myriad ways of seeing! I keep on coming back to this. Within this trivial process of drawing some form of representative image that somehow relates to this old exercise book … once again, I find myself back at the questions about reality. I’ve taken photographs of the book pages (all of them, as it happens) in a fairly even light and with a relatively ‘neutral’ focal length – and that has been the starting point for each of the drawings, so far; with occasional reference back to the book itself. But, in many ways, the photograph just complicates matters – not least because it is so inconsistent, depending on the many variable (and familiar) decisions about light, focal length, aperture, position etc.

Then again, the eye isn’t any more consistent! Especially when it’s confused by the presence of photographs!

The next drawing is going the be ‘larger than life’ – around 140% – and I’m going to try and draw from a range of sources; observation, photographs, magnification. With any luck, the outcome will be something that is itself – not a drawing of a photograph. (Though all that will appear in this blog will be a photograph of a drawing!)

Some sense of direction

From Bill Hooles Book-1

This is where I left off in my last post; wondering about my inclination to produce this drawing and where it might be taking me. I have since had reassurance of tutor support in my ‘off-piste’ direction, and a pointer to the art/historical significance of the ‘trompe l’oeil’. I’m not entirely sure whether my direction is ‘trompe l’oeil’, but that is certainly one of the appropriate contextual pointers. I have done some more drawing and some further reading; so this post is by way of a developmental update.

I made reference before to an exhibition at Drawing Room, ‘A Slice through the World’. There is an essay in the exhibition catalogue, by Drawing Room Director, and co-curator, Kate Macfarlane, entitled ‘Drawing as Thinking through Material Encounter’, which has been helpful in forming my own thoughts about what I think I’m doing. The exhibition is representative of a ‘revival’ of drawing in contemporary art, and of the idea that it can be ‘radical’ to draw (rather than, say, the former notion that drawing and painting were dead! … or at least no longer relevant.); even a revival of images over the abstract. “… images are utilised as a means to address the existential question of what it means to be human”, she says – not only what we see but how we see it. ‘How we see’ was important to me when studying Photography and has lingered as a question within this drawing module – hence the interest in Hockneys musings in previous posts. It seems to me that ‘the image’ has an increasingly significant role in the 21C human perception – if only because we are confronted by many times more of them than we were … but also because of our instant and unconscious response to what they represent when we are presented with so many so frequently. Drawing, then, as a ‘basic’, labour-intensive and self-reflective process becomes something of a meditative encounter with the material, through which the ‘drawer’ might explore, question, understand better … or whatever … the image and what it represents. And, perhaps, the investment of labour, thought, craft, and so on, lends the outcome a new significance and credibility through which the viewer is invited to enter into the meditation.

Of course, the extent to which such process addresses the ‘existential question’ will potentially depend on subject and intent – perhaps on the artists’ skills, too. This is my photograph (excuse light reflections, please) of one of the pieces in the exhibition – Your Fluffer, 2017, by David Haines; pencil on paper and 205 x 184 cm [yes, that big!].

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The figure is taken from a live camera (webcam, I assume) and is presented with a matrix of dots. The lower section, comprising monitors, cables, paint cans etc looks like a still life composition and is drawn in a (hyper) photo-realist style, as can be seen in the detail below.

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Haines is interested, the supporting article tells us, in “… how online chat rooms change the way that humans relate to one another and his project explores the recuperative capacity of drawing to describe human emotion.” Haines, in another body of work, collects flyers and tickets for fringe events – folded, placed in pockets and ‘body-worn’ with sweat and scuffs – paper ephemera with ‘indexical’ marks of human use … which he draws in exact, ‘trompe l’oeil’ manner – evidence of actual contact between people in a social setting and between a person and drawn material.

I mentioned the work of David Musgrave in my previous post. This is Large Plane, 2006, graphite on paper 66.2 x 51 cm. (With a detail shown below it)

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Quoting, again, from the catalogue essay “Musgrave’s graphite drawings continue the long artistic tradition of self-consciously employing trompe l’oeil to render paper ephemera”. It is difficult to find direct evidence of his ‘marks’, so there is an illusion of ‘real’ at play; yet the works are clearly ‘drawn’, with a technique that involves the gradual, almost invisible, building of the graphite onto the paper. I reproduced a quote from Musgrave in my previous post, repeated here – “I’m not trying to represent things but embody them, be them.” This is the idea of “thinking through material encounter” – engaging with the object/subject through the deeply meditative process of leaving physical marks on a plane which create a sense that the object/subject is there.

There is rich scope, I think, for further research, thought and exploration here. I wondered, for instance, about photo-realism and the trompe l’oeil. A kind of ‘gut response’ to the latter might be ‘It’s as if it’s here’; a comparable response to photo-realism might be ‘You could have thought it was a photograph’. Now, the photograph is often read as evidence that something has been there – so there is a temporal issue going on here. In one case – it is here; in the other – it has been there. That also made me question, in my own mind, at least, whether a photograph can achieve trompe l’oeil. I’m not sure an answer matters – just that there is rich scope for thought and for the creation of tension and ambiguity in image-form.

Which brings me to the work I’ve produced myself. I have continued to work with the 120 year old school exercise book, sensing that I needed a series of drawings as part of my own exploration of the object. This was the second (first of the continuation after the original one above). Starting out with the intention of producing something similar to the first, I stopped at the following stage.

From Bill Hooles Book-4

There had been beautifully scripted writing on the actual page; so what does it mean when I draw the pages, used and ageing, but without the writing? That led to this one, drawn at exactly the size of the open book.

From Bill Hooles Book-2

And subsequently to this one.

From Bill Hooles Book-3

These are both drawn at approximately 35 x 24 cm, pencil on cartridge paper. My own skill deficiency and, possibly, the nature of the paper I’ve used, perhaps move these away from the trompe l’oeil idea. My graphite marks are clearly visible on close inspection. But I find the process interesting; and the outcomes, too. It is time-consuming, with each of these last two drawings taking me about 5 or 6 hours; but I’m interested in producing more, maybe experimenting with some smoother paper, and perhaps developing a small body of work that I can present as an ‘Assignment Three’.

Where now?

Morecambe Bay from Knott End

Matters relating to this course of study have been ‘on hold’ for the last few weeks – since I made this sketch on 2nd July, to be precise. It’s made from a photograph that I took a few years ago, looking across Morecambe Bay from Knott End; and it was just another attempt at representing clouds (Project 2 Exercise 1 – cloud formations and tone). It turned out to be the prelude to a series of events that have left me feeling quite differently about how I take things forward from here. The details don’t matter for this blog, but have involved the third bereavement of a ‘significant male’ in my life this year; some significant family changes; and the need to devote quite a bit of my time and energy to some important practical issues. The combination of being very busy, often tired, and certainly emotionally raw has meant that I have had no time for drawing or studies and no desire either. We all get these times and this reference is only intended to provide context for what feels to be a major shift in my attitude and intentions. I think it is very unlikely that I will return to the prescribed pathway for the module; indeed, there have been times when I wondered whether I would bother to pick up with anything creative, least of all battling with the development of my drawing skills. However, I have concluded that I do want to continue drawing – but maybe on something like my own terms.

I picked up a pencil again last week because I wanted to produce this drawing.

From Bill Hoole's Book 01

I’m not sure whether I can pin down exactly why – but at least I did want to do it, thus making it something ‘personal’. I am fully convinced by the meditative nature of the drawing process, and there is something of that in it. There’s a certain amount of ‘freeing up’, something therapeutic going on. It’s a ‘blown up’ detail from an old school exercise book dated around 1896 – relating to a great-uncle on my mother’s side of the family; so some sort of link there. I worked with an old book when producing the body of work for my BA Photography and have done another piece of ‘photographically-based’ creativity from another old book since then – so some sort of direct relationship to other aspects of my practice. I think that has something to do with the transformation of an item that has survived its own history, kind of outlived itself, into something that might have new meaning and significance in a new time and a new context. It’s as though its lack of current usefulness leaves space for that genuine transformation to take place but with some of the traces of its past remaining – resulting in a suspension, an ambiguity, a tension through which we get some new sense of meaning.

One other source of inspiration for the drawing is my visit to the Drawing Room gallery in London, a couple of weeks ago, to see A Slice Through the World. There was much to inspire and that included work by David Musgrave, such as Spirit plane no. 3, 2015 – a graphite on paper image that uses very delicate shading to create the sense of a piece of paper that has been folded/creased and then flattened out. It’s a sort of trompe l’oeil  – the sense of an object that we know isn’t there. Musgrave says, in the exhibition catalogue that he is not trying to represent things but to embody them, be them. Some further research has led me to find Paul Sietsema. His work has some similarity with Musgrave’s and he has worked with photographs as object/subject for his drawings – such as Ship Drawing, 2009. That is making me wonder about the scope for combining some of the questions in my mind about ways ways of looking, the relationship between drawing and photography, digital/analogue, the transformation of objects into something else with potentially new significance … and so on. I am clear in my mind that I have no desire to now, as would be prescribed in the module exercises and notes, go out and about with a sketchbook. My post title poses a question and I am not entirely sure of the answer, but it isn’t likely to be as prescribed.