Assignment 2: Part 3 Reflection

The following are my reflective thoughts on my assignment piece following the assessment criteria laid out for the Visual Arts at OCA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

I found this assignment challenging and definitely has taken me out of any comfort zone I may have been sitting in prior to enrolling on Drawing 1. I have never tried to produce a piece of work like this before. I have used a variety of materials to create different marks, reflecting different textures exhibited by the ideas I am trying to portray. My mark making has definitely moved on from where I was after assignment 1, which was much more tonal in appearance. I have experimented in this exercise with using materials in ways that didn’t require me to smudge and lift out with an eraser,. In order to achieve my aim I have had to choose a different surface, a tinted one providing a mid-tone background. In my final drawing however, I did have to compromise on the ideal surface deduced from my preliminary drawings due to availability. I have used the entire piece of paper, hopefully showing awareness of compositional space and design. I had to plan carefully to get the ‘heavy’ wings in a position that would both fit on the page and not dominate overly. To do this, I found I had to balance out some of the dark tones with more in the tail, producing a triangle of areas of interest. I used my observational skills to find out how light reflects off bird feathers and how shadows would fall onto the surface from a raised pair of wings. One area that I feel I have improved on is that of experimenting and planning a piece before attempting the final drawing. I tried several techniques before hand to research the best materials and methods to use in this project.

Quality of Outcome

I am unsure as to the quality of the outcome of this assignment. However I do know that I have done it to the best of my abilities at this stage in the course. I would like to think that I have demonstrated an idea as well as the processes by which I have realised this idea.

Demonstration of Creativity

In this assignment I have taken a found image and made it into my own. It certainly was a risk to do this in an assignment especially as my objects of reference (birds wings) were not copied as a still-life, rather the idea of them was translated into an earlier version of rudimentary feathers. I would like to think I have been creative and inventive, but until I get the opinion of others have no way of knowing if this has been successful. I still don’t know what my personal voice is at this stage, it is too early on I feel, however it may be that this assignment does show something that may develop. I have moved away from the conventional still-life scenario and have linked into my interest in science and nature, I really enjoyed the expressive marks that I made for the rock face too.

Context

This is hard to judge without a dialogue with someone. I have reflected on every exercise that I have done, including the preliminary studies for this assignment and feel that as a process of self-development I am moving forward. However I do think (as mentioned above) I have taken a risk with the subject for this assignment. However I have demonstrated use of colour in the drawing, and spent some time working out the appropriate medium and support for the subject. My mark-making has developed, I have included a variety of marks, using different techniques such as applying graphite on its side contrasting with finer point marks. I have tried to accurately depict the form of the skeleton, something that is quite fine but solid, using different type of marks to that of the feathers, which I hope are more expressive and more loose. Finally the idea is definitely experimental and ambitious – wings lifting Archaeopteryx off the rock face. It may be that I haven’t pulled it off, but I certainly have tried and all these attributes are within the context of the coursework at this stage.

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Assignment 2: Part 3 Reflection

Assignment 2, Part 2: The Flight of Archaeopteryx

Materials

From my preliminary sketches and explorations (presented in part 1) I decided to use conte crayons and coloured pencil for the fine fossil bone structure, graphite and tinted charcoal for the feathers, graphite and conte crayon for the stonework. I had to compromise on the paper I wanted and ended up with a sheet of grey/green pastel paper, 75cm x 55 cm (in-between A2 and A1). I discounted using frottage to create stonework effects due to the machine-lines of the paper being too evident with this method. Instead I used a large block of graphite on its side to make gestural marks that I then accented with conté crayon.

Method

Flight of Archeopteryx 1
Flight of Archeopteryx 1

First I lightly plotted reference points of the skeleton and the surrounding rock in white conté crayon on my paper then gradually built up an image of the skeleton using three shades of orange conté crayon and coloured pencil. The coloured pencil was particularly good at defining some of the edges of the fine bones, The fossil is of course an imprint in the rock so I tried to keep my marks light. I used a black conté crayon to create found edges, especially around the joints where the rock was indented. I used white conte crayon on its side to highlight the area around the skeleton.

Flight of Archeopteryx 2
Flight of Archeopteryx 2

Next I used a black conté crayon on its side (long edge) to put in some gestural marks of the area of stone that encompassed the fossilised reptile This boundary was very important as it also defined the area in which the wings would be situated. I also started to layer in some dark grey conté crayon into the highlighted areas to give them texture. I had to be careful with the layering of colour. I didn’t want to smudge the colours together and loose the grain as this would take away from the rock-effect I was after.

The next stage was to add the feathers to the wings. I used broad sweeps of a large graphite block to put them in, and overlaid this on the distal part with dark green tinted charcoal. I then drew on the feather barbs using the corner of the graphite block in quick strokes. I wanted these barbs to be free-flowing rather than  joined together as you find on a modern day flying bird.  Finally I laid white conté crayon over the top to highlight areas of the feather shaft and the barbs. To off-set these highlights I added some shadows using a charcoal pencil to parts of each feather that were overlapped by its neighbour.

Flight of Archaeopteryx 3
Flight of Archaeopteryx 3

To the rest of the image I added an impression of tail feathers using the side of a white conté crayon then darkened the rock background using graphite and tinted graphite blocks. To make it appear that the wings were peeling the top half of the fossil off the rock face I added shadows under the wings, pectoral girdle and head in black conté crayon and charcoal pencil.

I left the drawing at this stage for a few days. Over that time I became aware that the shadow of the wings was overpowering the top half of the drawing, this area needed to be balanced with darker tones in the bottom third of the paper. I did this by developing the rock texture around the tail and legs using black conté crayon. I also worked some grey and orange tones into the impression of tail feathers to reduce the whiteness of this area. I finally tweaked the wing shadows, making them a little longer, and extending the shadow down the spine a little further. I also redefined the feather tips as I had ended up with one on the right hand side a little too long. These are supposed to be rudimentary feathers and rudimentary wings so I didn’t want neat, aerodynamic edges, but two wings of similar shape is to be expected.

The Final Result

The Flight of Archaeopteryx, mixed media
The Flight of Archaeopteryx, mixed media
Assignment 2, Part 2: The Flight of Archaeopteryx

Assignment 2 Part 1: Preliminary studies

The idea

The exercise I enjoyed the most in this part of the course was the animal study using a found image so I decided I wanted to base my assignment around such a project. In the original project I took an image (a horse) and adding a twist to it by dissecting flesh away to reveal muscle and springs, representing function under the form. I wanted to do something similar, mixing drawing, and my scientific interest in form and function. The idea of combining these concepts for this assignment grew from a chance finding of a pair of pigeon wings.

Pigeon wings, pectoral girdle and sternum
Pigeon wings, pectoral girdle and sternum

The pigeon had been attacked and presumable eaten by a sparrowhawk who left the wings fairly intact and attached to the whole pectoral girdle and sternum (albeit devoid of any muscle). I collected the wings and dried them originally thinking they would make an interesting still life. However, whilst explaining to my kids the general workings of bird wings the idea came to me to add these wings to something in a drawing with the idea of producing an image that was in the process of being raised up by them. The whole wing structure reminded me of school nativity play angel wings, but angels are not really my thing! However, biological specimens are and it was a short leap to the idea of drawing a fossil of a feathered animal being lifted up out of the stone on wings. I immediately chose to draw a specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica, the iconic fossilised feathered reptile and a possible pre-cursor to birds. This would require a found image of Archaeopteryx as I don’t live any where near one of the few near complete speicmens.

Archaeopteryx lithographica (Berlin specimen)
Archaeopteryx lithographica (Berlin specimen)

I chose an image of the Berlin specimen as it has its feathered arms splayed out in a similar way to my pigeon wings. This image is licensed under Creative Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AArchaeopteryx_lithographica_(Berlin_specimen).jpg) (accessed 1st September 2015)

My next task was to workout the best materials and support for the project as well as trying to work out how the feathers are going to be depicted on the drawing of the fossil.

Drawing fossils and feathers

The main issues that I had to deal with were as follows:

  1. What paper was best for me to be able to represent both stone and feathers on – two very different textures
  2. What medium should I draw the fine bones, enabling tonal gradations whilst remaining hard and stone like
  3. What medium should I draw the feathers in, allowing them to be depicted as soft structures and enabling the play of light observed in life to be depicted
  4. How should I add a shadow to the wings of my ‘flying fossil’ so that it looks as if the wings were lifting the fossil off the page

Using an A3 recycled sketchbook (tinted, very smooth paper) I made some preliminary sketches of the fossil and tried out various different materials to add feathers and shadows. These sketches are presented here in the order they occur in my sketchbook, but they were not completed in this order. Many of these sketches evolved over about a week, adding different ideas to base drawings, thus they can not be viewed as a sequential process.

In trying out different media in this way, I found that the fossil was best represented by conte crayon and coloured pencil. Both were hard enough to be able to draw the fine lines. Tonal variations were possible through using different shades. The feathers were hard. I like the reflective light shown in sketch 2. However, these feathers were drawn with conte crayon which was too hard to depict the soft downy effect I was after. The pigeon feathers are quite sleek as shown in sketch 2, however is it not thought that Archaeopteryx was able to do much in the way of powered flight as a modern day pigeon does. The feather structure of the fossil reptile is very rudimentary and it is unlikely that its ‘wings’ were stiff enough to form areofoils. Thus I wanted something softer than the conte crayon to depicted them with. Sketches 6 and 7 show experiments with drawing softer feathers with various tinted graphites and charcoal. On the smooth paper, I could blend these materials to create a softness to the feathers. I did struggle to adds highlights in, something to be aware of in the final drawing!

By hanging my real-life pigeon wings up under a lamp I did some experimental positioning of shadows on the above sketches. These ranged from the wings just starting to lift of the page (sketches 2 and 3) to the whole bird appearing to be in flight (sketch 5). I realised that I must keep the whole composition of the final image in mind, and a long shadow (such as sketch 4) was going to be dominateing. I decided that I just wanted the wings to be beginning to peel the fossil of the rock.

The actual support used for my final drawing was going to play a very important part in the representation of rock as well as the feathers, so I did some swatches of using different media on various papers. I also played around with using frottage as a technique for making paper look like rock (by rubbing over a piece of limestone)

The handmade paper produced lovely raised patterns with frottage using pastel. However when I tried to draw on this paper with conte crayon and coloured pencil, the surface of the paper became damaged very quickly, making it impossible to use for this task. The pastel paper (Ingres) was also quite good to use for frottage with pastel, although the machined-lines of the paper tended to show, which wasn’t ideal. However, it was acceptable provided it wasn’t overdone. Frottage on heavy cartidge paper was not successful, the paper was too thick. However I quite liked the effect of pastel used on its side to produce rock-like textures without frottage. I had an experiment with using tracing paper too, flirting briefly with the idea of having the wings on an overlay. I wasn’t sure how I was going to bring the feathers and fossil together with this idea so dismissed it, but not before I had had a go at drawing feathers with graphite. I liked the smoothness of the tracing paper, but it was too hard to get tonal values on it, and white charcoal or pastel pencil didn’t draw over the top of the graphite for highlights. Loose graphite pencils were much more successful on the cartridge paper, which also had the smoothness of the paper in my sketch book. I wanted this smoothness and use pastel or charcoal block on its side to create rock marks. However I really didn’t want white / off white cartridge paper. Even with the grey pastel rock effect as a background the paper was too bright taking emphasis away from the fine fossil bones. Unable to get my tinted sketchbook paper in any size greater than A3 and unable to source any kind of large sheets of  tinted cartridge paper I realised that I was going to have to compromise and choose something a little less smooth – see part 2.

Assignment 2 Part 1: Preliminary studies