Aim of the exercise: To draw a variety of statues which the exercise suggested are great for honing drawing skills. Decide what you find most interesting about the statue e.g. silhouette, tone, negative shapes, textures, play of light, and draw that, or draw the statue and its context – what’s beside, behind or in front.
What I experienced: Completed 21/08/13. This has turned out to be a very enjoyable, even if challenging exercise. Mid-way through I found that I had something of a eureka moment, which made a big difference on how I approached drawing statues after that point.
On 08/08/13 I was early for an appointment so, as I knew this exercise would be coming up, I took the opportunity to try drawing Lamb by Kenny Hunter, A5 sketchbook 2, page 61. I found the lamb surprisingly hard to draw, it is not a large statue or a very complicated shape but I found myself drawing really hesitantly and I had trouble giving it any sense of volume. I was pleased that I had tried it and it gave me the goal of attempting to try and improve on showing volume for the next time. It was only afterwards that I realised that I hadn’t tried to see if there was a more interesting view from another angle so that was something to try and remember for another occasion.
On 18/08/13 I visited a local museum and attempted Dr Hewlett Johnson, ‘The Red Dean’ 1942, a bronze sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). A4 sketchbook 2, page 37. This was a very striking sculpture and I was attracted by the textural quality the artist had used. For the statues in this exercise I had decided that I wanted to try drawing each statue in different materials, so for this one I tried using a mid and a dark blue inktense pencil combined with a waterbrush. (Unfortunately I didn’t have any other colours with me. Using reds for the ‘Red Dean’ might have made more sense!) I drew the basics in an HB graphite pencil and I really struggled to capture the face, particularly the eyes and mouth. I tried multiple times and each time ended up with something that looked nothing like the statue. After an hour and a half of failing miserably I could feel myself starting to get frustrated so I took a break and went and admired some of the other exhibits. Coming back I tried again and though it is not a great likeness it is closer and I enjoyed trying to show the textures in the bronze. The museum was getting very busy by now and I was beginning to feel far too self conscious so I finished drawing the statue but will return when I can to try and show it in its setting.
I headed down the road to one of the churches and tried drawing the Baroque monument of the Whitfield family which dates from about 1680 and is of flemish influence and apparently is typical of the style of Arnold Quellin and Grinling Gibbons. A4 sketchbook 2, p.38. There were 4 cherubs surrounding the pillar but from where I was sitting I could only see two of them. I tried drawing this with a Rotring Artpen and a waterbrush. I marked rough positions in pencil first and then drew direct with the pen. I think that the right hand cherub has worked a little better than the left hand one. I found it a very complicated statue to try and draw and used the negative and positive shapes to help me. Using the waterbrush with the ink helped to show volume, and to indicate the smoothness of the marble, but the drawing would have benefited from a wider range of tones, particularly more darks.
Moving down to the park I tried drawing the figure on the South Africa Memorial using Onyx pencils. A4 sketchbook 2, page 39. I was expecting these to give me a nice rich dark tone but they turned out not to be as dark as I was expecting them to be. Unfortunately a rain shower moved through half way through the drawing which meant moving under cover for a while. I thought I had dried the page off but when I opened the sketchbook to carry on I found ink from the previous drawing had marked the page, having dissolved in the rain drops. Luckily it stayed dry after that and I was able to get the drawing finished. I found the figure hard to capture but enjoyed trying. I must admit that I was just too tired by this time to draw the monument as well so just indicated it. Again, greater tonal contrast would have helped with the figure.
On 19/08/13 I passed St James Church, Sheldwich and saw an angel on a tombstone. I stopped, on the way back from my appointment, to try and draw it. A5 sketchbook 2, page 76. I drew in pencil first and then used a Zig Millennium 005 pen. I added tone with a waterbrush using ink from a Rotring Art Pen. The angel had a much gentler face than I have managed to draw and I do not think that I have drawn the proportions of the body right.
Assessing the drawings, done to date, that evening I could see that all of them showed hesitant mark making and on the whole were pretty small. Though I had tried to use different materials I wanted to see if for the next drawings I could try and be a bit more adventurous. With this in mind I tried sticking some self adhesive cork sheet to an A4 sketchbook page and a torn brown paper bag stained with tea and coffee to another page. I haven’t tried sticking different drawing surfaces into my sketchbooks and both of these materials would be a first for me to use.
20/08/13 found me sat again before a statue, this time Bertha, Queen of Kent, 2004, by S.R.Melton, A4 sketchbook 2, page 39. I decided to use a pastel pencil on the cork sheet. Again, for over an hour and a half I tried to draw the statue. Whatever I tried I could not get the face right and I also was making a right mess of getting the correct proportions. I tried everything, pastel pencil, graphite pencil and pen, I could not manage to get it even close to looking correct. Sitting back I realised I was also drawing very small and fiddly (not a good combination with a pastel pencil). It was time for a complete rethink. My tutor had suggested a book to read Art & Fear: Observation on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland which I have been working my way through and have found very helpful. It was time to try and use some of the ah ha moments I had had while reading that and change tack, to stop being so afraid of ‘getting it wrong’.
I took a break and over lunch had a good think. I couldn’t see the point of trying sticking different surfaces into the sketchbook and then just continuing to draw on them in the same hesitant and small way. I realised that I had already proved I could do that so there was no point in continuing drawing statues the same way! I wasn’t going to learn anything that way. I needed a new approach. So I moved myself to a new position and drew right over the top of my previous drawing, deciding to play with the pastel pencils and add in hard conte pastels, working with a limited palette, and drawing bigger and bolder and just having fun with experimenting. This drawing turned into a eureka moment. I have never produced anything like this and it is completely different to my usual style. It was exciting and fun to do, and it came about because learning became more important to me than producing a good drawing. I gave myself permission to play with the materials, play with the surface I was working on, play with ways of showing mood and feeling in the drawing, see what worked, what didn’t, even if this meant that the final end result might turn out not what I hoped. I tried to let go of thinking about the end result and just concentrate on what I could learn and discover in this drawing right now. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The strange thing is that giving myself permission to do badly has resulted in a more lively drawing than I had been managing up until then. Traces of the old drawing can still be seen underneath this one and it really was pretty dire. This drawing has much more life to it.
Having tackled Bertha I moved on to her husband, Ethelbert King of Kent, 2005, by S.R. Melton. A4 sketchbook 2, page 41. I decided to use charcoal this time, drawing rough guidelines first in pencil. Once again, I tried to approach this drawing with the same mindset that I had for drawing Bertha and I thoroughly enjoyed drawing it. I did find with his hand that it was very hard to drew the fingers correctly, and it did take me quite a while to get closer to how they looked, but this time instead of getting frustrated I just managed to enjoy the process of working through a lot of ways that did not look right, and gradually learning to capture more accurately what I was seeing. It was another really enjoyable drawing and I felt that, for me, I had taken a step forward in letting go, giving permission to experiment, play, learn and discover new ways of approaching things.
Back home, I reviewed the drawings and realised that working on the different surfaces had appeared to help me be more open to experimentation, so I thought that I would try another couple for the next day and stuck some torn black paper into my A4 sketchbook, and also, on another page, painted an Ultramarine watercolour wash over which I put cling film and allowed the page to dry. I also tore some pastel paper in a mid tone and stuck that to a page.
On 21/08/13 I went along to Margate and tried drawing the statue in memory of the crew of the Margate Surf Boat, Friend to all Nations which capsized in 1897 with the loss of all of the crew, 1899 by Fred Callcott. A4 sketchbook 2, page 42. It is a haunting statue full of strength and determination. I decided to use white ink with the black paper. Again, I sketched in positions in pencil first and then drew direct with a dip pen and white india ink. I began to get a little fiddly with the pen so I used a white cryola pencil to roughly mark where I wanted tone to appear and then used a waterbrush with the ink to show areas of tone. I enjoyed the drawing and it was interesting to try. I was pleased that I managed to keep to the forefront everything that I worked on yesterday, and that I managed to catch myself when I started to become much tighter and fiddly.
I then went along to the Turner Contemporary to see Conversation piece 111, 2001 by Juan Muñoz (1953-2001). These turned out to be fascinating bronze sculptures. I asked permission to draw and tucked myself in a corner and concentrated on a grouping of 3 of the figures. A4 sketchbook 2, page 43. I used the sheet with the watercolour wash with the pattern left by the cling film. The pattern reflected well the textures in the figures. I wanted to try and capture the relationship between three of the figures while once again experimenting to see what worked. I used pastel pencils in a restricted palette, this time layering them. The blue of the watercolour wash probably turned out to be a little too strong and I toned it down a little in places with a pastel pencil. I enjoyed attempting this and enjoyed trying ideas out. I ended up drawing for longer than I had planned but it was fun to try. Working on speed will be something to tackle next.
What I feel went well: I feel that (for me) I have taken a step forward over the last couple of days and hopefully that is reflected in the later drawings. Each of these drawings, in this section, took a long time to complete averaging about 3 hours apeice (which includes thinking and observing time). So I am still very slow at drawing but I feel that I spent the time more constructively in the latter part of the exercise than with the initial drawings. This exercise has built on what I have been repeatedly returning to for this section of the course, that to be able to draw better I have to be able to allow myself to risk drawing badly and falling flat on my face with a drawing. By being prepared to do this it has allowed me to experiment. I think that I chose mediums that were quite well suited to the statues I was trying to show. I think that the later drawings have captured character better than the initial ones and I think that the later ones show signs of progression. Experimenting with the surface that I drew on certainly helped me to explore approaches as well.
What I feel did not go well: I am still finding it difficult to draw at larger than sight size. To draw larger basically I have to sit closer to keep things in proportion while drawing larger, otherwise I tend to get two sizes in the same drawing, the enlarged version I start with, then at some point I revert back to sight size and end up with everything out of proportion. I find figures very difficult to draw, and even harder to draw quickly. The next section of the course will be figure drawing so hopefully by the time I have done that a lot of these problems will begin to resolve themselves. I was far too hesitant and fiddly with the first drawings for this exercise.
What I would like to take with me following this exercise: To continue to concentrate less on how good or bad the end result will be and more on experimenting, testing, playing, discovering and enjoying learning. And to appreciate that I will regularly find doing this hard if I allow myself to become frustrated and hypercritical at perceived shortcomings. I need to work on getting a better balance so that I can look at my work with a constructive critical eye, rather than looking at it in a hypercritical, destructive way that stifles any kind of creativity or experimentation, and I feel that I have made a good start with that in this exercise and can hopefully take that forward into future drawings.