In conclusion

 

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So I’ve come to the end of the Foundations Drawing course, rather stumbling over the finishing line. That said, I fully appreciate why the final projects are the way they are and if nothing else it showed up where the boundaries of my comfort zone are with a big fat fluorescent marker.

What this course gave me:

  • permission to take the time to really investigate the artists I already enjoy and to discover those I wasn’t aware of before
  • a kind of structure to some of the thoughts that were swilling around my head about various things to do with family, time passing, what art means to me
  • the shove I needed to dare something other than a doodle with a biro

What I need to persevere with in my drawing:

  • investigation, experimentation, making time, and perseverance itself

And yes, I absolutely want to carry on.

PS. My current learning logs are zimbolina & the terrapin (for OCA Drawing Skills) and zimbolina & the narwhal (for OCA Understanding Visual Culture)

 

 

 

 

Project 5.3 Drawing and Photomontage (from Option 2: Narrative)

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This is an awkwardly personal thing, inspired by a trip to Hamburg to see my mother’s oldest friend, when I found out about the grandparents I’ve only known through a handful of photographs. In this photomontage I’ve placed them in a photograph I took at Hamburg’s ‘miniature world’. (Though I use it to represent Hamburg, it’s a scene from Berlin: rubble, burnt houses, soldiers).

These miniature worlds seem to reach us in a way that a photographs can’t. Perhaps it touches an inner child and releases that ability to imagine that we lose along the way to adulthood. Maybe it’s simply the three-dimensions – we can peer into houses, hover above, crouch down to street level. It’s voyeuristic in a way a photo can’t be.

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Photograph from Hamburg’s Miniatur Wunderland

Over just a few days in 1943 allied bombing virtually destroyed Hamburg, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000. Incendiary bombs created a 1,500-foot-high tornado of fire that swept through the city, the temperature reached 800c. In the morning the streets were piled high with corpses.

When my grandparents’ apartment block caught fire in that bombing raid, my grandmother took her children in her arms and prepared to jump in to the canal from the window but the canal water was on fire. She ran to the front of the block and found the street was melting.  When my grandfather heard of the raid, he deserted his post and returned to Hamburg to find his family.

When I had the idea to place my figures in a miniature land, I planned to use a Hamburg street scene with a Tiltshift treatment to get the same effect. But the photos of Hamburg after the allied bombing are so shocking I couldn’t do it. The surreal nature of this miniature world with its plastic figures and toy cars keeps reality at a safe distance – and somehow that ties in well with Germany’s post-war silence.

In the photomontage the mounted German soldier is outside the display box of this miniature world, behind perspex. He can be seen as helplessly standing by, or as a figure of authority, impassive and emotionally removed. The mother and children are faceless – their story could be told tens of thousands of times over by other German families. The family photo I used was taken a few years before the war – a few years before Hitler changed what it meant to be German for generations to come. I kept the sketches light and pale – I want them to have a ghostly quality – the ghosts in the cupboard.

What makes this story so interesting to me is the conflict of emotion it provokes. Can we sympathise with a mother facing this horror alone, two small children clinging to her? What about the father away at war who hears that his home has been set ablaze? Can we find that sympathy when they are German? Is it OK to feel sympathy for her but not for the man in uniform? (All men aged 15-60 were conscripted in to the German army). What about the young boy forced to join Hitler’s youth movement? Can we feel rage that the allied forces used such horrific incendiary devices on a civilian population?

Even in writing the short paragraph that describes what happened to my family during the bombing, I feel uncomfortable using any kind of words that might demand sympathy. I can only report it in black and white. Two generations on the collective guilt is still in my DNA.

 

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Eis und Blut, 1971, Anselm Kiefer

When I was putting this together I thought a great deal about Anselm Kiefer. I had seen his exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2014, and more recently Bohemia lies by the Sea (see Reviews). As a consequence of that I listened to the Royal Academy’s podcasts on him – especially the panel discussion about his book Heroic Symbols and the performance art project ‘Occupations’. Also on Tate’s website is Lara Day’s ‘Inhabiting Collective Guilt and the Inability to Mourn’.

The German language has a word for ‘those born after’ – Nachgeborenen – which only serves to underline the monumental burden of being born German to the generation whose fathers made up the German army. Kiefer tackles it head on, which depending on your own interaction with his art may be seen as brave, attention-seeking, worrying…Though it’s interesting to ask that if he had chosen to ignore what was all around him – what would that have said about him? The very fact that he is German gives an ambiguity to his work that forces us to question ourselves.

Lara Day puts it very succinctly in the RA panel discussion. In his works Keifer is asking “am I a Nazi because I’m a German? am I a Nazi because of where I was born? Am I a Nazi because I am making this gesture? If the answer is yes, then are we not just continuing the (Nazi) idea that blood and soil ties identity and behaviour to where we are born?”

While my mother (7 years older than Kiefer) left Germany at her earliest opportunity to marry an Englishman, maintaining her role as one of the silent generation, Keifer isn’t hiding. He is tackling history head on, grappling with what it means to be German, and demanding that we question our own position alongside him.

Option 1: Print

Exercise 2 : Transfer Method

 

A whole lot more satisfying than the ‘Found Objects’ exercise,  though it really felt like drawing blind. I used the end of a paintbrush for the lines, a stiff brush and roller for shadow.

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I like the simplicity of this. From repeated errors I realised that rolling was the best way to get the depth of shadow – though it’s a shame the line is so clear here. Despite that I like it – the face has expression.

IMG_0683This is one of the last prints I did. I wondered what would happen if I didn’t work blind  – so I traced around the drawing using tracing paper, laid this onto my sheet and traced the line in to the ink. The result seems devoid of everything that I’ve gained in the above. It reminds me very much of the tracing drawings by Warhol that I saw in Oxford – they also didn’t impress me much – bland and sterile, though I’m guessing that is quite possibly what Warhol was after. Despite the tracing I’ve managed to forget part of the scalp! As I write this I wonder if there is an in-between – using a pencil to draw so at least I can see where I have already been – though perhaps the temptation would be to try to correct and overdraw? What I’m happier with is getting the deeper pattern of shade behind the face – cleaner areas of light and dark.

 

IMG_0681This was my first print – I got such a shock when I turned the paper over. Not sure what I expected but it wasn’t this. Nevertheless it gave me a way in into how I wanted to take the image on. I took from this what I liked, using less ink, slimmer lines and being really careful to leave some areas blank of ink.

 

 

 

 

Exercise 3 : Drawing directly onto the plate

Ashamed that I’ve given up on this, in sulky teenage mode. I’ve looked through the OCA video tutorials on mono prints,  the technique is briefly discussed for an abstract print, but I’ve had real difficulty removing the paint cleanly. I couldn’t find oil-based paint as specified, I have something called ‘Encre Linogravure a L’eau’ (linogravure water-based ink), maybe this is part of the problem? I tried scraping, rubbing with cloth, brushes, using water, using white spirit – with a messy result every time. I think this is one of those techniques where in the absence of endless clear days stretching out in front of me in which to experiment, I could really do with some hands-on practical advice. Here they are, in all their glory.

Option 3: Collage and Text

Project 5.4 Found Text

I knew fairly early on that this was turning into something of a primary school project. Regrettably I was out of time for this assignment and out of love for it too. I’ve looked at collages online and found none to inspire me. I’m closed to the idea of collage and I know that’s not a good thing. As (bad) luck would have it the L’Atelier Indigo where I take a weekly art class has got us all doing a collage and I can’t wait for it to be over!

Collage feels like drawing with mittens on. I imagine that I should be using my cut out pieces of paper just as I would a pencil, letting them find the way, but instead I seem to be trying to create a picture with them, like a puzzle for which I’ve lost the picture.

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My ‘stupid collage’ as it’s become known at home is born out of a long-held fascination for cargo ships – a recent boat trip around Hamburg port only intensifying that.

As I started to cut out my shapes the project began to get a little political. It wasn’t my intention, but container ships are a pretty potent symbol – used to ship luxury goods from poor to rich, trashing the sea, becoming fashionable designer sheds and forced homes for refugees.

So my container squares have been cut from magazines that sell crocodile-skin bags and marble inlay swimming pools, prime Paris real estate and hand-dyed silk bedlinen. For the eagle-eyed there are two windows among the containers, washing hanging out to dry. The container ship I got up close to in Hamburg port was called Ever Lucky – I can’t really imagine a more appropriate (or inappropriate) name. Ever lucky we are to be receiving these goods, and not in the sweatshop that produced them. Ever lucky we are not to be working these ships. Ever lucky we are to have a designer container as our funky office space. Ever lucky we are not to be living in a space 8ft wide and 8ft tall.

The above left was my first ‘final’ collage, but so unhappy was I with it that I cut it up to produce the final final above. Cutting it up seemed like the right thing to do. I ended up with strips like straws -the idea of drawing the short straw linking in with Ever Lucky.

There are websites that let me trace Ever Lucky as it sails is triangular trade route from Yangshang, China to Manzanillo, Mexico and on to Europe. A shipping container is 20 x 8 ft and the Ever Lucky can carry 8,508 of them. I thought of printing its name on the collage, cargo-style, but I wanted something more careless, a scrawl – it hasn’t really come off. In the final version I did use elements of a more cargo-style font, cut out in glitter gold paper.

I’m not sure what triggered me to draw in plankton on the newsprint, I think partly the need to just draw something, and something delicate. They fill the seas that float these ships. And again, it’s another contrast – this simple but vital life form and the complex world we’ve become.

Overall I’m embarrassed by my output for this project, by its primary school project feel and by its clumsy messages. The good thing that came out of it was an opportunity to engage my kids’ minds a little!

 

Part Five: Option 1: Print

Found Objects and Materials

Exercise 1: Balance

I approached this with huge enthusiasm, collecting seed pods and grasses on walks, rummaging through toy boxes for meccano. I even cut the lace from a bra. Bits of broken circuit board and flat rubber washers added to the excitement. My haul of Found Objects and Materials was growing.

However, when I came to make prints these intriguing shapes became unidentifiable, indistinguishable blobs. No matter how hard I pressed around their edges, with a roller, with fingers – every time I peeled back the paper there was a general splodge. I resorted to YouTube instruction videos, but in every video on printing with objects, a huge rolling machine was in use. No one was doing this by hand.

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My notes of frustration: splodges left by lace, meccano, gauze, computer board, elastic bands, washers.

 

 

 

 

What I did notice was that my ‘found objects’ left an impression in the ink, and if I re-inked the plate before applying the paper and rolling, I got my shapes and a certain amount of texture. I then experimented with cut paper for more solid shapes, sometime peeling it off, sometimes leaving it on. I inked over the gauze, I peeled it back. Once I had decided that this was the way forward, I began to think about theme of ‘Balance’

Just back from my first trip to New York in 20 years and my head was full of the city – and especially of the extraordinary geometric shapes made by building and sky. It’s such a beautiful city, somehow managing to strike a balance between space and occupation, sky and concrete. Down near Battery Park where space is at a premium, buildings bounce the sunlight into dark corners, creating an eerie eclipse-like gloom. The city is a precarious balance of teetering buildings on a tiny island, but somehow it works. Everyone gets their piece of sky, their ray of sunlight.

This project was so much harder than I expected – it seems impossible to produce something that doesn’t look like it’s been done by a child in kindergarten. I’m not very happy with the outcome of these, though I really enjoyed the process. More than ever this demonstrates to me how it is the messing about and the letting go that gets results. And of course, making time to do that!

The OCA handbook suggests oil-based printing ink, Japanese and Indian papers – I couldn’t get hold of any of these, so used water-based ink and a roll of IKEA kids’ drawing paper.

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Above – I like the inserted postcard with its own mini-landscape. Also the thread – ‘hanging by a thread’ that has unravelled from the gauze.

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This does seem like a clumsy interpretation of balance – it wasn’t meant! I was just moving pieces about and thinking of sculptures balanced on plinths outside those fancy New York office blocks. I like the way the cubes seem backlit. I wish the shard of light on the right was a cleaner, sharper shape.

Version 2

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Above: a bit flat, but it feels more deliberate than the others – like I knew what I was doing!

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Even though the balance of sky and concrete was very much in my mind while doing these, I don’t feel they really convey that. The final prints feel more about the crowded precariousness of buildings with occasional shards of sunlight breaking through – that fine balance between light and dark.

 

Project 4.2 Enlarging an image

This sounded like a useful skill to learn, and an interesting project – I was looking forward to making marks independent of the whole – really investigating those marks and then finding out if they held together as well as the original. Not even a quarter of the way in and I was losing the will to live.

 

 

I made a tiny square to work within so I could focus on the marks – going from A4 to A3 meant moving up from a square of 3cm to 4cm. My original charcoal pencil had worn down and I couldn’t find anything that seemed to make the same marks.

Looking at the result now, and even without the problem of the pencil, I can see the effect of my fast waning patience as I moved from left to right, working through each square, though funnily enough I quite like the last pear to the right.

It’s obviously a copy but I can see that if I had taken a little more care, the method may have improved the original – taking every mark and every highlight and magnifying them. The whole image has loosened up – which is something I am always trying to do myself.

I think if I was to do this exercise again: a) I wouldn’t do it with pears – I really need a break from pears right now and b) I would probably make the squares larger to see if I could get more fluidity in the marks.

Part Four: Negative and Positive Space

Project 4.3 Hands and Feet

Exercise: Drawing your own hands and feet

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Hands One

My first go at watercolour. I was totally phased at the art shop so ended up just buying one tube – in black. After the first hand (on left), which just came out looking like muddy water, I watched a free tutorial and began to understand that the most important aspect of watercolour is translucency. I’m much happier with the way the paint has worked on the other two hands.

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Hand Two

I like this angle – I put my forearm up on a shoebox in front of a mirror and focused on the angles of the knuckles before drawing in each finger – I’ve discovered that it’s important to box in the whole shape first rather than doing one finger at a time – otherwise things can go horribly wrong before I realise what’s happened.

Hand Threes and Four

I only saw at the end that something had gone wrong with the fingers in Hand Three – too thin, too short – fixed in number four. This exercise is to focus on the negative spaces around the fingers, and I did find that this was really very helpful. I drew the shapes and angles instead of trying to draw a thumb and a forefinger.

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Hands Five

Looking back at the exercise in my folder I wanted to go back and think solely about negative space, which I’ve done here. It’s frustrating only having one hand to draw – I think two would give much more interesting negative space – no way I can get my kids to pose for me. Keeping hands still is quite a commitment.

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Hands Five

Hands are fascinating if infuriating to draw. A hand alone says one thing, a hand holding on to something is a different beast entirely. Palm up offers, hand closed can seem secretive or even aggressive, but also lonely. I am always grappling with the lengths and widths of thumb and fingers. Once the fingers begin to fold at the joints it’s as if all proportion flies out of the window. I made many mistakes in these sketches, and though I know I’ll continue to make them, at least next time I’ll be looking out for them.

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Feet One

These are toes more than feet – I struggled so much with the whole foot. I have spooky long toes so if I draw my own feet straight out it looks like an anatomical gaff. From here on the feet are those of my eldest boy:

Feet Two and Three

I hope I’m not the first to have drawn a foot with six toes. Having already observed that it’s really important to block the whole in before going in toe by toe, I totally forgot  and only when I sat back did I realise I’d given my boy six toes  – hastily corrected.

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Feet Four

While the negative space around the right foot has really helped the drawing, I’ve lost confidence where the foot disappears in to the jean and it’s not clear what’s going on.

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Feet Five

I got worried that I hadn’t created enough background around these feet, filled in hurriedly, realised it looked a mess and roughy rubbed and smudged out the background (as I saw Giacometti likes to do!). The result is more interesting, though the foreshortening on  the right foot is a bit weird – the leg disappears in to jean and as the jean has been erased it doesn’t quite work – same problem as Feet Four.

 

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Feet Six, ink (drawn from photograph)

Typically this is not at all what I set out to do. Wanting to break out from my safe haven of pencil sketches, and inspired by Hockney’s beautiful line drawings, I thought I would do a ‘beautiful line drawing’ of feet. But somehow my lines became clunky and heavy , so I added a little shading and it still didn’t look right. So I continued, trying to rescue something that was neither here nor there. It’s ended up so far from where I started.

I am beginning to see how negative space can affect the final outcome – how it’s important to consider the negative space in a composition – it can help give the final drawing rhythm. I’ve ended up with interesting space on the left, but the top is confused as is the area in between the big toes. The bottom left corner is also a bit stilted.

In the end I don’t mind the result. These feet look like they have been sculpted from boulders on a hillside on a stormy night. It is a bit weird, but I’ve learned something. I’ve also learned that doing a ‘beautiful line drawing a la Hockney’ may be a tad ambitious.

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Feet Seven, charcoal pencil (drawn from photograph)

I enjoy the position of these feet and wanted to have a go with charcoal pencil. I didn’t have much time, and I don’t think the result is very interesting, but it was easy and quick which makes me think I must be learning something!

I know that from here I need to push myself to experiment more than I currently am while getting to know these new media at the same time.

On experimenting: Whenever I start to draw I have a sense of wanting to try something new, and I’m truly not frightened of it going wrong, but once I get that pencil in my hand I seem utterly compelled to try and ‘get it right’. Not sure what the answer is but I am looking.