I felt a bit uncomfortable about revisiting my finished work. It’s finished – why develop it further? Why not work on something new and exciting instead?
However, my doubts faded away once I started working on the exercise. Going back provides an opportunity to work on what you really like – a mark, a form or an idea that has truly your touch and not someone else’s.
At least in my case, many of the marks and ideas that turn out well on paper are rather a coincidence than a conscious choice. It just happens like that, out of the blue. So, by going back, I hope to capture those random but successful choices and turn them into more conscious artistic decisions. Going back and forward again, back and forward, as if following a spiral path is an interesting and not at all a boring way to go.
I went for two almost radically different drawings. The first one – a sketch of an old tree with a house in the background; the other one, which I call ‘a smudgy sunset’ – the oil pastels drawing of the sunset sky.
I wanted to redo the drawing of the stereotypical rural landscape – a tree plus a house, because I wanted to put the tree in the foreground and maybe challenge a bit a preconception of how a typical landscape composition should look like. It’s not only about the point of view and focus but also about the subjective importance. People are drawn to the status and comfort of a beautiful country-side house but is it really that important?
The re-worked ‘smudgy sunset’ came out as a drawing of a veggie field. This small piece of land is a community garden, where people from the area grow their own vegetables. I wanted to make it colourful and energetic, the vertical arrangement of raised veggie beds guiding the eye upwards and towards the sky (which, however, is not visible on this drawing :-).
Response to an exercise about developing one’s work.
Living in an urban densely populated environment is fun but it’s not the best setting for landscape drawing. I usually go to my local park when I need to get some landscape drawing done. You don’t get to see sloping hills and the expanse of green valleys there, however, it’s the best representation of my local landscape I can find.
I often struggle with drawing thick bushes, trees and the abundance of vegetation in general. It can be abstract, but it also has to be representative of reality. Finding the right balance between the level of abstraction and realism in drawing landscapes never comes easy to me.
When working on these 360° studies, I used thumbnail sketches to quickly work out the composition. It helped a lot but, at the same time, when realising a sketch into a drawing, I wasn’t always successful in sticking to the composition and proportions I originally envisioned.
As to mark-making, I tried to experiment a bit and depict the texture of tree bark, the smooth surface of solid stone, and so on using different techniques. For instance, holding the pencil almost horizontal on paper gives a very soft and distributed mark. I enjoy being responsive to the texture of the object I’m drawing, it’s as if I’m touching the object with my fingers.
In this drawing by Hugh Gillan, the negative space is more than just a filler. It appears more physical than melting into the background buildings and trees. It’s as if Hugh Gillan made a portrait of the air with the rest of the drawing being secondary.
The time of the day is difficult to discern. Looks gloomy enough to be an early rainy afternoon. A few windows are already lit and tree branches in the foreground reflect light (is it because they are wet?). It could be an artificial light from a street lamp or cars passing by. I like how the artist uses white highlights on the otherwise almost uniformly coloured drawing to create volume and reference light.
The landscape elements created by French-South African artist Dale Berning seem to exist inside each other, as one living organism. Fictional beings, lakes. trees and bridges live in symbiosis, unimaginable without each other. They define gravity, perspective and logic and I love it!
What’s fascinating for me is that in her practice the artist combines music-making with drawing and performance arts. As I’ve been trying to study music myself (along with drawing and writing), I admire Dale Berning for her ability to unite her passions in meaningful works of art.
What draws me into Jeannette Barnes’ urban landscapes, is the evidence of struggle in her work. Multiple lines that appear chaotic, on second glace, come together in perfect harmony. The drawing presents evidence of a resolved conflict (with urban environment or maybe with self?).
If I’m not mistaken, the artist uses putty rubber a lot in her drawing practice to create directional light and single out shapes from the messy urban environment.
Barnes portrays people as a human mass, not as individuals with their own distinctive paths in this world. It all looks a bit industrial – people moving in crowds to work and then, in sync, back home. The crowds drawn by Jeannette Barnes could speak about the perpetual hurrying through one’s life.
I did the ‘sketchbook walk’ on different days, so it didn’t have a story-telling aspect to it. It was more like a series of disjointed city explorations, held together by my sketchbook. The resulting drawings vary in style, the materials that I used and the atmosphere that I tried to portray.
Drawing close to water
The notes I made on the day:
Warm and peaceful weather, when not windy. The shadows underneath the tree are in constant motion. The canal is out of view on the sketch but just imagine water lapping at the brick wall of the canal. Murmuring sound of cars passing by on the other side.
Drawing close to a suburban supermarket
I don’t really feel emotionally engaged with what I’m drawing. Is it because of the subject I chose, my technique or the pastels I’m drawing with? My husband (who accompanies me on my sketchbook walk) is talking about Kierkegaard and the abhorrent state of our society.
Annoying three dimensions.
Regardless of what I wrote on that day, I feel proud of that sketch. It took me some time, but I managed to portray the structures of the bridge more or less correctly.
The water plant
I didn’t make any notes about the sketch, but I do remember enjoying the drawing. The infrastructure of the plant was immense and I had a good overview of the premises from up the hill I was sitting on. I was mesmerised by a jarring contrast between the nature of the sloping hills and the brutality and precision of the industrial complex I was drawing. I quite liked it. Every detail of the plant was well thought through and placed there on purpose. The hills right across the plant were covered in weeds and all kinds of nice plants that fill in the space when people do not ‘work the land’.
Clouds that day were subtle but also intense in the way they were rushing across the colourless sky. They had one clear direction on their way around the Earth, disappearing as they went over the horizon.
The sky was ‘embedded’ in a rather bare landscape, or at least it appeared that way at first. Sand was moving with the wind; the patchwork of heather down below in the valley; the glassy rippled surface of the lake.
However, after several minutes into drawing the clouds and the landscape, I changed the way I thought about it. It was warm in the sun and everything around seemed to welcome me at that moment of time. Maybe it was that special quality of light – a weird mixture of yellow and blue reflected from the sand and the water. Or perhaps it were the birds chirping in the bushes.
Response to Exercise 1 in Project 2: Cloud formation and tone.
After yet another failed attempt to thin some parts of my oil pastel drawing with white spirit, I had a go at the putty rubber instead. It produced interesting smudges and maybe even an illusion of fast movement on the darkening sky.
Probably, I shouldn’t have used bold primary colours together in one drawing; it was a bit of an exaggeration after all – the clouds were not that bright at all. They were mostly dark blue and grey with contained outbursts of light pink here and there. Very interesting light effects all over the sky – I wish I studied physics a bit harder at school.
Looking at the fast-moving clouds, I realised that the speed with which one draws is probably a very important factor. The way the hand moves across the paper, the hasty marks it produces – it all can create a very dynamic and compelling drawing.
Is it implied that fast-moving clouds should be drawn in a rush? Otherwise, the spirit of the drawing would not be the same? But maybe sometimes it’s better to go against the impulse to move your hand in sync with the clouds and draw them deliberately slow, from memory, if needed. It might be difficult to retain a memory of a cloud though as its form is never fixed, is ephemeral.
The drawing below was done in Indian ink and colour pencils.
I like the streaks of ink in combination with yellow patches that hint at the presence of the evening sun. But as I think about it now, probably, the streaks should have been yellow and the backdrop blue, so the other way around. I drew a negative of the sunset then.
The eye connects to the drawing hand. If the eye is too lazy to look, the hand will be trying to find shortcuts and generalise the drawing. That’s what happens to me lately, probably because I’m resuming drawing after more than a one-month break.
I drew a row of houses from the opposite bank of the lake that separates residential area from a small park. I intended to focus more on the lake but the row of houses immediately drew my attention. Every house had one or two unique features but in my imagination they all blurred into one row. I even covered some façades fully with crosshatching as it didn’t seem important to me how they looked.
The housing market in the Netherlands is heated up at the moment with prices for one family house going through the roof. That’s why I wrote ‘for sale’ and ‘sold’ on some houses as if the drawing is a page from a real estate brochure.
What I’d like to do differently the next time I’m drawing a similar landscape is to make these row houses look wonkier and more playful. In my mind, I’m still trying to make those houses more unique than they really are.