Sunday, 29 May 2016

Drawing course and drawing day

Part of the FDAD (Foundation Diploma in Art and Design) course is the understanding that we will do at least three drawing courses. The College also offer drawing days for FDAD students and they can be very good. This post will cover the drawing course I did recently and a drawing day that followed on very soon after that.

The drawing day I did was run by a tutor whose work has a surrealist and humouristic bent. It was aimed at intermediate to advanced drawing levels, so I guess I probably was not quite there in terms of the expected level of drawing, however I did get something out of it and so it was still useful.

The first day and a half there were a number of exercises to look at different ways of working with drawing. This included different levels of looking at a still life, self portraits and mark making based on sensory memory.

Here are some of the drawings I did based on some of these exercises:

These practices were OK - there was much to absorb and consider, but the key thing that was useful for me, was the fact that you can make your own drawing books/sketchbooks, and an exercise where a detail was drawn and then greater levels of context were added from that foundation study in second and third drawings.

On the last day we were then asked to create our own project based on the ideas of 'collections'. This concept can mean many things, but I kept it simple and chose 'winged creatures' from objects or paintings that can be found around the house, using the three step increasing context studies. Henece this was meant to be a series of images of winged beasts - there are plenty of puttis, eagles, a buttlerfly and stuffed birds to choose from.

I chose to first draw a putti from a tapestry (the lower set of drawings):

Here I was trying to capture the weave of the tapestry, then the putti's wing, and further then the wing attached to the putti. I used watersoluble pencil. The tutor suggested I should vary the marks more, ensure there was more space for the eye to rest and to create more block coloured areas. 

I agree that my drawings often only use a particular level of line, and that is probably due to the untrained nature of my skill level, but I did not feel comfortable with the idea of using ink or some other strong colour to create a block of colour in the background. I need to think about how this would work in practice, with different types of motif, for example in a still life where there may be a more natural way to place the central concern in a flat background. To me the tapestry was already quite flat and uniform - it is a faded thing with little colour variation as the contrasts have reduced over the centuries, and the woven texture of the weaving also plays its part in creating a generalised sameness across the surface. I guess what the tutor was getting at was to create a stronger focus by blocking out blandness in some areas and leaving the central motif as a stronger concern, and I think that I need to train this if I need to in the future. It depends on the topic and purpose of the image.

The next drawing was of a putti in gold on a rococo clock:

This is a stronger drawing, the putti is reasonably complete - in fact I think I have captured the twist in its body fairly reasonably, so maybe the life drawing classes I am doing are teaching me something(!) Anyway, I spent so much time on the putti I was running out of time in the morning before coffee, and this led to speedier drawings of the clock itself and the clock shown on the wall. You can just about see some legs and a skirt of a pastoral scene of a woman and a man on the top of the clock, but in any case I tried to capture the rocaille swirls that were going on around the clock overall.

I think together as a series the three drawings work well - they use the same colours and the twists and swirls of the clock's ornament are present in all three drawings making the story of three a fairly cohesive thing.

Finally, after morning coffee I was tired and was a bit bored with drawing whole figures, as it is a large effort and time was limited. I had borrowed a book on Anselm Kiefer's work which reminded me of his winged sculptures and drawings, and as I had already been working on wings the evening before it felt natural to also continue with studies of wings from a painting of a swan. 

These are the wing drawings I did in the evening - I tend towards making things painterly, but the bolder wings on the top line are more open and loose and were just about playing with the idea of wings:

 And these are the wings based on a painting of a swan's wing:

The ink blots at the top were quickly developed the evening before as there was a fair bit of ink left from the day's work which would otherwise have gone down the drain. I tried to control it a bit and then drew over them to make them into 'wings'.

Here's a detail of the wing, the first drawing of the four of the swan's wing: 

I was quite satisfied with the outcomes of the course, I liked some of the exercises and will take them with me to things I will do in the future. I still think I need to practice a lot and will need to build more drawing work into my everyday work.

The drawing days

The idea behind the drawing day is to provide FDAD students with an opportunit to use the College, its grounds and the exercises or themes provided by the tutor at the start of the day, with finishing show and tells at the end of the day. The first drawing day I attended was OK, but nothing great to report on, and I have already written about the tutorial I had on the day which was very good.

Recently though, I attended a second drawing day and that was very good. We started with a mindfulness exercise, a nature study and then set out to do our work work. I first wandered outside to do some drawing at the back of the house looking at flowers and trees - which really is an obvious thing to do at West Dean when you walk about the garden:

Top: the nature study using glue to paste bits from nature onto the page before drawing onto it looking at details  - here grasses and weedy flowers.

Bottom: some of the studies of buttercups and other weeds, on the left a tree trunk drawn using the coloured jouices from plants:

Then during the day I made a series of small books mainly using 'mark making' - stamping, painting, scribbling using watercolour, graphite, ink pen - this felt good, I didn't think much about it, but it had a similar feel to the book I made on Cas Homes' course, and some of them came out quite successfully as whole, complete singular things in themselves, not bad for books made by other people's waste paper pulled out of the bin:

The top one was really a collection of small natural stuff glued in a painted over, using the weed/plant itself as a paintbrush and a frottage of a couple of grass types, the middle one is a practice in placements of different types of material in a collagey type set-up and the bottom one was a quick and dirty practice, trying to work more simply by limiting the colour used to two - blue and red.

Here a detail of these books:
I made another small study in containing colour use: I tend to always use a lot of colour, and am not good at simplifying things, so with the paper already slightly marked with charcoal smudges and marks, I used only red, a tiny little bit of blue, and an organge strip of tissue paper. I stuck on fallen petals from flowers in the dining room:

The book at the bottom is another study of texture, which is a bit of ripped piece of a woven materials bag and glued-on petals from potted plants in the quadrangle. This was to contrast the organic and the man made, the soft whites on coffee-stained paper, with the hard black of the plastic weave, that had been softened in its ripped state. I am pretty satisfied with this piece and may try to use it for a textile piece in some way.

Here's a detail of the 'pink' book showing how brush marks are themselves enough to fill space - at least I feel I can do simplicity, but I always do wonder what the purpose is - should this be to create beauty or to indicate something else?

Monday, 16 May 2016

Some exhibitions attended in May

Over the bank holiday weekend we went into London to go visit a couple of things - firstly the Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Serpentine and secondly re-visiting some select galleries at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

The reason I wanted to see the Hilma af Klint exhition was that curators frequently claim that she was at the forefront of abstraction, and having bought a catalogue of an exhibition that was shown in Hamburg in 2013, I throught it would be good to see the work in the flesh - to see the works in full scale to see how she had applied the pint and worked out her compositions.

There is an excellent documentary about Hilma af Klint on Youtube. In it the curator claims af Klint as an abstract artist working before and at the same time as Kandinsky and Malevich. There is a suggestion that she was somehow written out of the modern art cannon because she was a woman. However I have some reservations about this reading of her art. The curatorial discourse does not hide af Klint's deep interest in spiritualism and Theosophy and it is from these spiritual roots that her work arises first. The catalogue I have shows work by an American spiritual artist, Georgiana Houghton, who also worked with abstract scrolling and wavy loops in her work, using many different colours and some representational elements. She worked in the 1860s, so even earlier than af Klint. Basically both were committed spiritualists and their work was channeled by them as mediums.

And I think that is what makes their work different from the 'grand masters' of Modernism. As far as I understand it, Modernism was about seeing things in radically different ways , challenging historicism and trying to find a new language for art, where non-representation and elemental forms were crucial. And this was often accompanied by a political stance to society. If, as af Klint, you are making art works that speak about a spiritual life of esoteric spirit, and add text to create a view of spiritual and religious life then this is something different. I didn't see any hints of any way that af Klint was working out abstraction in these terms. Her work was definitely 'abstract', but this was in the context of her belief system. In a small annex to the main gallery there were some small drawings of circular designs. In Swedish (af Klint's native language) each drawing was described according to various religion's relationships to certain concepts such as 'image of God' and so on. And nowhere had a curator attenpted to describe this or interpret what might be going on.

This left me with a distinct feeling that reclaiming af Klint's abstraction as a missing 'link' somehow in the history of Modernist abstraction is a bit of an art historical contrivance. I enjoyed af klints doodle-like large paintings. There was much to reflect on in relation to how this work was informed by a (possibly) particular woman's sensitivity, but I think this work should be seen as part of that line of work - through spiritualism and Theosophy - and perhap think about Mondrian in that connection (rather than Kandinsky).

After this we went to the Victoria & Albert Museum. This is a great museum and on this occassion I went to the jewelry and the tapestry galleries. The Devonshire Hunting Tapestries are always worth a visit, the colours fine, the stories interesting, and this time there was a Morris & Co tapestry with some designs by Phillip Webb drawings hanging near by showing the designs for the weaving. Very good and always inspiring - and of course the jewelry was equally fine - some great pieces of interesting designs.

A textile exhibition

I also managed to sqeeze in a visit to the World Ikat Textiles...ties that bind exhibition at SOAS, University College London. This was an excellent exhibition, showing ikat weaves from many different nations and continents including Japan, China, India, Thailand, Africa and other countries of the Far East and South America. There were shawls and garments - both old and contemporary. The European examples were mainly 18th century used in dresses and accessories, these were not as strong in their designs as some of the finer ones from Africa or Japan for example, which were some of my favourites. The breadth of the items on show showed different uses of dye, whether printed or dipped warps and wefts, single ikat and double ikat weaves. The recent weaves included works made in Thailand designed by young designers in an effort to keep the traditional craft alive. They were long beautiful runs of large bold circles and other elemental shapes in pure colours and others in finely graded muted colours. There was also a film showing ikat preparation and weaving in progress, as well as weavers from India weaving on a large loom in the gallery, and people could stop and discuss the work as it progresses.

The exhibition runs until the 25th June and is well worth a visit if you enjoy textiles. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

First tutorial on the FDAD at West Dean

I thought I would share a couple of things that was said during my first tutorial. On the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at West Dean you get two tutorials. I had planned to have done four courses before my frst tutorial but having swapped a course I have only done three and a drawing day, which coincided with the tutorial day. In the end I decided that it might be good to have a tutorial at the start and maybe have the other at the end, and if need be I could pay a bit and get a third somewhere in the middle of the course.

You get one hour with one of the art tutors and are asked to bring some work for discussion. I saw a tutor who is a print maker. He is interested in a variety of things and was keen to discuss anything that I showed him. I brought my computer to show him the things I had done at West Dean so far, and I brought a couple of sketchbooks from OCA to discuss approaches. This included the box of bits that I had done as part of the sketchbook which I had been quite satified with, but which my OCA tutor had not commented on. So, in short, a variety of things that might trigger conversation.

Anyway, I found the tutor positive and interested, and he had several suggestions for my continuing work and artists to study. 

His first impressions were interesting:

Although purposefully placing herself within the sphere of constructed textiles, Lorna is    operating akin to a sculptor that has a painters’ feel too. This is very healthy and can only benefit her approach to making in general. She has very eclectic research material and is open to possibilities offered by materials, techniques and outside influences. This, again, is an excellent creative habit to continue with and I suggest keeping this intensity of research/sketchbook going.

Michael Brennand-Wood had said I used 'gestural marks', and here was a perspective that suggested some of my work is sculptural. This is encouraging as I have been thinking about free-hanging and voluminous making, and it also fits in well with my process approach. I asked him about 'voice' and he said I had this already.

On my sketchbook box of different elements he said:

You display a great sensitivity to materials; some of your ‘samples’ (although I see them as finished pieces) use minimal colours and texture to great effect - many textile artists fall into the habit of overworking pieces so that the viewer becomes overwhelmed by a mass of conflicting information.

Consider working in a vein similar to the sequences made for your OCA course - A4 pieces (hundreds of them!) that can have small gestures applied in small yet significant moments. Over time these will build into a concrete body of work. Whilst working towards an open studio next year is a positive goal, don't pre-empt what it is you could be showing. Consider hanging different/ important work (made on Cas Holmes’ course) in studio to show how differently you can work when pushed.

This last bit refers to a goal I have for this year to make some works that can be shown at next year's Open Studions in my area. Overall there were useful pointers as to how I could build up some coherent works in a smaller format - and it might be useful to just keep making and then decide whether to show things in series.

He concluded by saying

We discussed 'design' which you felt to be difficult - however making small thumbnail sketches to adjust positioning/placement of elements will hone and improve this skill.

You are visually astute, embedding different media well; continue to question, make and enjoy.

I had showed him my themebook, which he looked through and suggested I continue making books like this as they are concentrated ways of working.

So, overall a good session with plenty to think about. I have a couple of studio days coming up so will carry on working on felting and weaving, and will try to work out how this will sit with these suggestions. Definitely a worthwhile exercise to get a bit of feedback occasionally.