Seated model in an upright chair
Revision into line mark-making
I started with a review of various line mark-making from images that I have collected in my research file. To me it appears that line drawings fall somewhere on a spectrum of methods ranging from one end of pure form lines, to pure tonal lines at the other, with a myriad of styles in-between. At the former end of the spectrum line(s) describe the form being drawn in the way of a contour line. That line may be continuous or consist of many lines, but each is concerned with the form of the object. Tonal areas are produced by the lines going over one another in some manner, either closer together or just greater in density. This adds to the sense of form. These drawings are very gestural in nature. An example of a pure continuous line drawing is ‘Cowboy’ by Christopher Mudgett. Here there is no tonal value provided by the line itself. To create tonal regions, the lines can be placed over one another creating areas of darker tones that add to the sense of form, for instance ‘Jake’ by Frank Auerbach. At the other end of the ‘line spectrum are drawings where lines have been used to describe shadow areas or large tonal contrasts, and it is the building up of these areas that create form. For instance, hatching can be used to depict tonal variation and form that is distinct from lines creating the form outlines. An extreme example of this is by Mikhail Vrubel below.
Here the artist has used lines to create a large tonal ranges in a self-portrait. Those lines are not really describing the form itself, the tonal value is. In this drawing there is very little ‘pure’ form line. The effect is a stunning tonal drawing but it is made up of line mark making.
Of course many drawings fall somewhere between these two extremes and have of both styles in them, for instance form lines with hatching to produce shading.
I ended up making a continuum of ‘pure line’ to ‘line as tone’ and placing a few selected drawings onto it. As I was doing this I realised of course that you can add a tonal axis to the idea, from using line as tone through to using pure tone in drawing. I will consider tonal variation more in the next post but below is a photo of my resulting cartesian line – tone system!
Drawings are not confined to the linear space these continuums provide, they can be placed anywhere in the 2D cartesian space created by the two axis. I have stuck to monochrome examples as the use of colour adds another continuum the use of colour for line and the use of colour for tone. This would have to be positioned in another dimension and my sketchbook was not really set up for 3D work! It would be an interesting project, but possibly a little off track of this assignment.
I am quite drawn to drawings of seated figures by Jenny Saville. For instance her Reproduction Drawing III (After the Leonardo Cartoon), 2009-2010 depicts layers of charcoal drawings on top of one another, leaving impressions of other poses. The effect is quite dynamic. I also like the view of many of her images – at a level to the eye of the model as if you were sitting in the same room as them. Saville mixes form lines with tonal values, through which she often rubs out and reapplies her marks. The effect is to add atmosphere and movement into her work. In the above drawing you get a real sense of the young child jiggling and moving around on the models knee. Her view point also engages you as a viewer. It is straight on with the viewer at the same height as the model. In the context of this drawing it feels as if you are in the same room also sitting down possibly having a conversation with the subjects.
I recreated a similar view point for my preliminary sketches – I was positioned at a similar height to that of the model sitting on a chair and asked the model to sit in a variety of ways whilst I did a short series of preliminary studies in pastel pencil (we also swapped the chair for a stool so the model didn’t slump so much!!!)
My initial idea was to have the model seated at a height similar to that of the viewer as if in conversation however initially I was drawn to the middle pose in which the model was staring pensively into the distance. I was quite taken with the negative spaces that this pose afforded too so I decided to work with that pose for some quick drawings. I was doing this quite late at night so the model was lit by overhead lights only
Firstly I did a warm up study using my lovely Rudstone on A2 cartridge paper. This rudstone doesn’t erase so it is good for quick loose work.
Here you can see clearly that I haven’t got the weight of the pose at all, the models right leg is too high in relation to the left. The angle of the stool is also not quite right. I think this was mainly due to me kneeling at a very low easel and my drawing plane not being parallel to that of the model. Being so low down in a confined space I could not move back a lot to take the long view, and I know this has caused me problems before. I readjusted this as best as I could for the next drawing. This drawing was on cartridge paper (A1) using a lump of graphite. This is quite heavy to hold which encourages you to be quick and also as you are not working with a fine point, prevents you from worrying too much about detail.
The plain of my easel was definitely better for this pose. I think that the weight through the seat is believable. The model however stopped looking pensively into the distance, closed his eyes and started to sink into his hand. The overall effect is different to that which I had envisaged but still works I think. I know longer (as a viewer that is) what to know what it is that the model can see in the distance, rather what is it that is making him a bit grumpy! The model is however far to far over to the left. I think losing the hand is ok in some circumstances, but not here. Too much unbalanced space on the right. I hadn’t intended to do this and should have started further over to allow for it.
Next I tried an ink and a bamboo drawing reed. Again this is on A1 cartridge paper.
Here I have simplified the stool a lot. It was quite a complicated structure to draw and for quick studies (even at this size) it was a bit fiddly. I quite like the impression that is left. I tried to centre the model better on the page but still failed to capture the whole of the right hand. I have noticed that I tend to draw bigger and bigger as I go along and find it hard to bring size back down again. I will have to work on that! I am pleased with how the weight of the pose passes believably through the stool. I am not sure that it shows in the photograph but I used the negative spaces under the right arm and between the two legs as reference points and found that very helpful.
In order to explore the negative spaces more my next drawing was using oil pastel, which I am not naturally drawn too. They do however make a bold mark and are hard to erase. In order to try to bring my scale back down again I drew this time on A2 cartridge paper.
This didn’t work quite as I had hoped (although it was the models favourite drawing in the end!). What I should have done was to block in the 7 areas of negative space first and then built my drawing up around it. What I in-fact did was start with the oil pastel, block in the shapes with soft pastel and then re-work with the oil pastel. Even though I placed the model in a better way on the paper I still have lost that hand – a combination of drawing too big and also messing up the model’s right shoulder so that it is not sitting in the correct plane for the pose. As the model was now very nearly asleep I called it a day after having taken a couple of reference photographs. If time permits I would like to revisit this drawing and try to rectify the shoulder. I am aware that I still have to do a more finished piece so will leave it for now.
As I was packing up I got to thinking what it means to draw in just line. It is fairly obvious in my link drawing or my rudstone drawing that we are dealing with a discernible ‘this’ mark. However when you use more diffuse mediums such as pastel or charcoal that line can become diffuse very easily just through smudging. Also how thick does a line have to be before it becomes a filled in area: does something that is 6 inches wide, such as would be produced by a wallpaper brush dipped in ink, count as a line if it is made in one stroke? This brought my thoughts back to my drawing continuum and where some of my drawings would fit on that continuum. The ink, rudstone and graphite drawings above are no doubt line drawings as lines is all you can see, however my preliminary sketches in pastel pencils and my oil-pastel/soft pastel drawing have areas that are tonal. How far can you get from a pure-line drawing before it becomes a line and tone drawing.
In response to these thought and using the reference photo that I took of the pose, I did one final pure-line drawing of the model’s head in my sketchbook with a permanent marker pen. I aimed for one continuous line to position it on the far left extreme of my pure-line – line as tone spectrum. It took less that 30 seconds to do.
I am very pleased with the outcome. I didn’t quite manage one continuous line, I ended up using 5 lines, but the hand and the skull and face are all one continuous line. I then added the hairline, the eye and the two shoulders. Line drawings don’t come much simpler than this style, however I don’t think I could have achieved this without having gone through the process of all the quick drawings that preceded it, even if I was using a photo for reference.
A Longer Drawing
Still aware that I hadn’t done a more considered piece for this part of the assignment I revisited this whole exercise the next day. Looking at my preliminary sketches again I was struck by how much I liked the light falling on the legs of the model in the first pose (with the model gazing up at the ceiling). The foreshortening of the knees is also quite interesting. I only had a limited time with the model, so we recreated the pose and I mapped out the basic shapes using a chunky charcoal stick (1.5cm diameter) on A1 cartridge paper. I then took a reference photo to finish off the drawing when the model had to go. I worked up the following image making marks with the charcoal and also with a putty rubber, drawing back into areas that have become tonal, in a way that Saville does (my original inspiration) .
Yes my drawing is headless and no, for once I didn’t run off the paper! I drew this without the head although I am not entirely sure why, it was a visceral response. I looked up from my work at some point and discovered I hadn’t included it. If you look closely at the ghost images you will see that I have had to alter the position of the torso and the limbs, but that there was never a head! I can’t say I have been enjoying the portrait part of this course and it is entirely possible that this was a subconscious avoidance of drawing the head.
Failure to draw your models head may be seen as unsuccessful but there are several parts of this drawing that I think are quite successful and do show development in my drawing practice. I like the loose format of the image, with the ghost marks still visible. Although this is a static pose, that looseness and the smudge marks add a certain vitality to the drawing. I certainly wouldn’t have been so free with my marks at the start of the course. I really enjoyed drawing with the putty rubber too, carving out form with directional strokes. The sense of foreshortened knees comes across too and I am pleased with the way I have managed to get the light to fall on the thighs. So apart from the missing head I am pleased with this attempt. I hope that I haven’t used too much tone and removed it from the category of a line drawing. I definitely kept the smudging to a minimum and tried to use directional strokes of the charcoal and the putty rubber to suggest form.
I did think that I could make a statement out of the headless thing, and change the neck to be a flat cut off in the way that you sometimes see with classical marble torso statues such as this one.
I was too scared to alter the actual drawing to do this, however I did trace the neck outline on tracing paper and make a definite ‘sever’ point (sorry that is not supposed to be gruesome, I am imaging white marble here). I then overlaid the tracing paper to create a collage. I now have a rather interesting juxtaposition of ideas: a Classical Greek God marble statue clothed in 21st Century clothes. I hope this redeems my efforts somewhat.