Open College of the Arts - Learning Log

I am beginning art school through the Open College of the Arts, a distance learning school. I will be taking seven classes in all, each lasting from twelve to fifteen months. In each class I am required to keep a learning log of my insights, progress and writing assignments. I intend to use this blog to accomplish this task, and have a bit of fun along the way.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Detailed Nature Drawing

I have moved into the second section of my course called, "Observation in Nature". I am very much looking forward to this section as I enjoy being out in nature, and feel more drawn to natural forms and their organic, comfortable quality compared to the stiff formality of most human-made objects.

The first Research Point is to compare two artists who create/created detailed drawings - one contemporary and one 19th Century or earlier.

Robert B. Brandegee lived from 1849 to 1922. Here is his botanical drawing entitled, Anemones, 15th April 1867". It is graphite on paper, 10.8 X 16.8 inches. His interests in botany and ornithology was reflected in his work. His aunt taught him to make detailed drawings when he was young. Later, he went on to work under Thomas Farrar and John Hill to learn to create detailed watercolor botanical paintings.

© The Bridgeman Art Library - London, New York, Paris

I like the detail of this drawing of wildflowers in the grass. The dried leaf to the left, the lightness of the flowers and the grass blades combine in an carefully delineated drawing. There are no major highlights or intense dark areas, but, rather a blending of grays, creating a softly lit scene. I love how the scene is entirely filled with gentle graphite marks. The detail is complete without being sharp or harsh. It blends all of the elements together giving a representation of the way in which wildflowers blend into their surrounding.

The other artist I chose is Jonathan Delafield Cook (b. 1966). He started his career by making architectural drawings, but has since turned to natural forms. According to Pippy Houldsworth, "Jonathan Delafield Cook is amongst a new generation of artists who are rediscovering draughtsmanship. Rather than employing charcoal and pencil simply in preliminary studies he has examined what the process might yield as a medium with an end in itself." In another statement, Houldsworth said about Cook's drawings of flowers, "Despite the photographic quality of the work this is not photorealism, but rather an eroticisation of the flower on the paper.

Here are three detailed, charcoal drawings by Cook, all titled, "Bird's Nest, 1998", each 50 X 53 inches.

© The Bridgeman Art Library - London, New York, Paris

In each the texture is exquisitely detailed to present a feeling for the materials of the nest. The very fine, rounded grasses of the first contrasts with the broad, flat, smooth material of the second and the soft, cushion-like, mossy construction of the third. The feather details are beautiful. The use of charcoal to achieve such detailed depictions of texture is amazing. The large size of the drawings enables the detail, especially for the fineness of the forms in the first drawing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Still Life Number 2

For my second still life I am required to draw natural objects. Since it is fall, I set up some squash and onions for a initial sketch.

I used Conte Crayon since it seemed to suit the subject. I was pleased with the shapes of the vegetables and the relationships, as well as the shadows. The one squash on the upper right is not exactly the right shape and doesn't seem to sit right in the sketch. I felt that the still life was too busy, so for my final drawing I pared it down and added some fall leaves.

This time I used Derwent Pastel Pencils. I wanted to play with the oranges, browns and greens of the squash. I am fairly happy with this drawing. I chose to make the leaves less detailed on purpose, since I wanted to focus attention on the squash. I wanted to the leaves to be a light decoration framing the squash. The shapes and forms of the squash are generally good. I like the detail in the squash in the middle. The greens play well with the yellow and orange. I had trouble with the one on the right (butternut). The squash is quite plain and I struggled with the details of shadowing and feel that it doesn't work as well as I would like. The one on the left is a bright orange, and more textured than I depicted. I like my treatment of the oak leaves, which adds a lightness to the picture. I think it would have been distracting to make them more detailed. I worked on my line variation in that area and feel is works well against the heavy, smooth, shapes of the squash.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Space Between

Research Point: Find out more about Patrick Caulfield and how he uses positive and negative space.

When I first started really seeing negative space (thanks ti Betty Edward and her ground breaking book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain"), I finally was able to understand the relationships between elements in a drawing. This was about 20 years ago, but I still have a way to go in being able to use negative space as a composition in itself in the ways that Patrick Caulfield does. He is an English painter (1936-2005) known for his "Pop Art" depictions.

© The Bridgeman Art Library - London, New York, Paris

In "Signature Pots" a 1975 screenprint on paper, Caulfield draws the detail in the negative space. The reflections of light on the pots are done in a graphic red, but the rest of the pot surface is blank. The background depicting line drawings of trees and branches fills up the negative space. The result is an abstract drawing where the eye is continually drawn into the space between, rather than the object. As it places an emphasis on the negative space, the figurative, solidly colored objects have less importance in the composition.

© The Bridgeman Art Library - London, New York, Paris

"Reserved Table",an acrylic on canvas from 2000, plays with the positive spaces. The table cloth and part of the background are done in pure white. The only detail is in the lobster and it's reflection. There are some textural details in the background, drawing the eye through the doorway. The main colors, black, white, and blue are nicely contrasted with the red and red-orange of the lobster. The abstract nature of the painting invites the viewer to make out enough detail to place the objects in context, yet prompting such questions as: Is that stairs to the left? Why is the lobster on a shelf below a mirror? The title suggests a restaurant, but where are the chairs and people? Why is the table in a doorway, or is it a window? It leaves much to the imagination of the viewer, but provides an atmosphere in which to create a dining scenario of one's own.

Here is my experiment with negative space:

This is a quick charcoal sketch. I tried to look primarily at the negative space. The only detail of the objects is on the one in the foreground. I believe, that especially when making quick sketches to get at relationships between objects, focusing on the negative space, the spaces in between, can be incredibly helpful.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Success at Last

I have been struggling for weeks with the still life assignments. I have particularly been having trouble with the human-made objects (as opposed to natural shapes). I admit that, while I did make many sketches, I also was procrastinating. Last weekend, I made myself sit down and draw a slow, carefully detailed drawing. It took me 7 hours, but I am pleased with the results.

This is a still life using my Kitchenaide, bags of flour and sugar, and a measuring cup. I had been trying to stay away from what I considered 'difficult' shapes: smooth, shiny, surfaces; straight lines; lettering. So, I made myself get over it - and am I glad I did! I am very happy with this pencil drawing. I feel that the objects and the relationships between the objects are accurate. It is not perfect (the knob on the right end of the Kitchenaide is not at the appropriate angle, the bowl is not perfectly shaped, and neither is the measuring cup). I still seem to have trouble with the top edge of round objects. Getting that perspective is difficult.

I did several sketches of various still life set-ups before I did this final drawing.
The first was of a jewelry box and perfume bottles. It was too tight and forced. The shapes and relationships were off, and perspective was skewed. I was frustrated, so I tried the same still life in charcoal, to try to draw more fluidly and freely. I like it better, but it still has issues.

I then tried to draw some other still life set-ups. Here are three relatively quick sketches where I was just trying to get shape, form and relationship: Spindles; Salt and Pepper; Ink Bottles and Pins.

The ink bottles is the best of the three. I think the shapes and relationships between the bottles is successful, but it still didn't have the qualities I wanted in my final drawing.

I think that the final drawing of the Kitchenaide still life is successful for two reasons. First, because of the layout of the still life - using different shapes and textures and angles. Second, because of the slow process I used to work up the pencil tones. I began with a very light sketch which took some time to refine until I was happy with the shapes and relationships. Then, I spent several days going back to the drawing adding more tone until I was finally happy with the light and dark shapes in the objects themselves and in the shadows, and in the textures that were depicted.

Now, on to the natural object still life............

Drawings by Odilon Redon

Research Point: Find out about the nineteenth-century French artist Odilon Redon and his work.

He lived from 1840 to 1916. At the end of the 1800's he was working almost exclusively in charcoal and lithography and called his work "Les Noir". After 1900 he turned to pastels.

His "Les Noir" drawings are dark and represent his own inner visions and nightmares. "there were charcoal sketches which delved even deeper into the terrors of fever-ridden dreams." 1 In Redon's own words: "My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined."2

Here is "The Trees" © The Bridgeman Art Library - London, New York, Paris

This drawing is simple in content, but lush in detail. It reveals a dark, brooding quality due to the relatively consistent tone throughout the drawing, blending the trees from the foreground into the background. One tree leans away from the other as if trying to move away. There is an implied threat, anger.

Other images are more spooky and creepy (appropriate for today, Halloween).

Here is The Crying Spider and The Spirit of the Forest (images are both from Wikipedia)

The Crying Spider was apparently influenced by Gustave Moreau's The Cycle of Orphee. 3

Another influence on his work was Edgar Allan Poe.

These pictures did not fit into the drawings or art of the time. They were Redon's own personal nightmares and delusions. They are quite spectacular drawings. There is much darkness surrounding each subject. The spider, though, is even darker, details of the face being lost in the blackness, except for the single tear. I love the delicate little hairs on the spider's legs.

In the Spirit of the Forest, the spirit is lighter than the background and finely detailed, bringing it forward in the picture, as it stands on a slender tree branch with more branches appearing to grow from it's head. The drawing of the skeleton body, with shadows, makes it look so delicate and fragile.

Charcoal appears to be the perfect medium for these dark, macabre, drawings.

1. Huysmans, Joris-Karl (1998). Against Nature. Translated by Margaret Mauldon, Oxford University Press. pp. 52–53. ISBN 0140440860.

2. Goldwater, Robert; Marco Treves, Marco (1945). Artists on Art. Pantheon. pp. 360. ISBN 0394709004.


Friday, October 29, 2010

van Gogh Mark Making

In each section of this drawing course, there are assignments to research information about various well-known artists and how they use certain techniques.

Assignment: Find a vanGogh pen and ink drawing, preferably of an outdoor, natural scene. Look at the variety of mark-making used and the expressive way in which these marks are made.

This drawing is titled "Garden of Flowers" (© The Bridgeman Art Library - London, New York, Paris).

This is a stunning example of different types of mark making. Each object has it's own marks. Pale dots cover the sky whereas the gravel has more sharply detailed dots. The fences have either vertical (right, back) or horizontal (center, back), softly colored, parallel lines. The taller plants to the left have darker lines in front and softer, rounder lines in the back to look like the fronds are blowing in the breeze. The garden in the foreground is a jumble of light and dark circular shapes and straight, short lines. There is some order, but not complete order to the marks, as if the garden was carefully laid out when it was planted, but has since grown beyond it's bounds. There is strong movement at the lower left of the drawing which keeps pulling the eye back into the picture. I love the use of shape to suggest tiles on the roof. The drawing is so dynamic and busy, yet organized -- it keeps moving the eye of the viewer around the entire piece. Lovely.

I found a nice landscape drawing by New Zealander Frances Hodgkins, Landscape in the South of France done in black chalk. It has wonderful markings and looks to me like a landscape similar to Cezanne. Hodgkins' marks are varied in both tone, shape and size. The clear edges of each area of the landscape makes it look almost like puzzle pieces. The darker patches draw the eye into the landscape. It is interesting that there is just as much detail in the distance as there is close to the viewer - just as in the van Gogh drawing. I know traditionally, detail is in the foreground and more abstract in the background, but, both of these drawings work so well. The perspective is clear, even though there is detail in the mark-making in both foreground and background.

Each of these works inspires me to try making different types of marks in my drawings, in order to experiment with line, shape, texture and tone.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I have been doing a lot of sketching the last few weeks, but with poor results. I know that this Learning Log is the place to evaluate my own work, but it is difficult for me to do so. This is new to me and will require some adjustments on my part - no more procrastinating - here goes.

The outline drawings of the Boxes and Books and the Jugs and Jars have some perspective issues. The books look like they are tilting to the right and about to fall. Whereas I have trouble making objects, such as bottles, symmetrical.

The flower image was an attempt to use a new material in a different way. I used oil pastels with a Q-tip. I enjoyed freeing up my hand motion after trying to do such tightly controlled line drawings.

Creating reflections on glass and stainless steel is quite difficult. I use charcoal and worked to get a sense of the dimensionality of the glass and bowl. I feel I have been partially successful, but the bowl is a little lopsided, and there is a sameness to the drawing. I did like the effect of using an eraser to create more highlights.

The teapot and teacup are also in charcoal. I like some of the shading of the teapot, particularly around the lid and the spout, but my mark making is too similar throughout the drawing, and the the shape of the teacup is off.

The Supermarket Shopping sketch also has some perspective issues: the lines on the tea box are not parallel and the vinegar bottle and bean can are wonky. Sigh....

I tried some pen work with the tonal studies, using a Bic Marker (blue) Pitt Artist Pen (black), a dip pen with brown ink (light brown) as well as pencil. The drawing of the mangoes and the cup are with the Pitt pen. I do not like the transitions between the varying shades of tones. They are very abrupt.

This pencil sketch of eggs and bananas I like very much. The tones are soft and define the shape well. I like the detail on the blemishes of the banana. I feel more comfortable with natural materials. I like organic shapes rather than such straight and symmetrical shapes of human made objects.

With my recent procrastination, I am about two weeks behind my schedule for completing this first section on Still Life, but I will keep moving forward. It is hard not receiving any feedback until I do my first two major still life drawings. Still, I do feel like I am progressing and learning.