Assignment 1 Still life

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1st November 2018.

I have innumerable dragons and other beasts in my house. This Alien sculpture is made of bolts and fuses and other bits of scrap metal. Each one is unique. This one seems to have too many limbs but who’s going to argue with it! The book is full of Giger’s extraordinary illustrations for the film, Alien; all of them architectural, Gothic and sculptural and full of menace. No wonder the film’s sets were so evocative of ancient echoes and hostile life. The cat survived. Everyone I know, including me, was less concerned about Sigourney Weaver than that cat. It’s here to represent cats who, as a species, will probably out live us.  The tiny dragon hatchling represents the ridiculous – it’s a cartoonish creature with a silly face and it’s utterly harmless. It says there are no dragons and there are no aliens but I’m not sure I believe it, I mean – Drake’s Equation? I’ll probably move them around a bit.

First quick sketch. It’s supposed to be Still, but I’m quite interested in the idea of movement in the Alien sculpture. In the film, it appeared from nowhere and we saw only glimpses of it, little shots of jaws and drool; I’d like to give it that kind of life in this drawing. The cat is facing it down, it knows it’s the winner. I’m not sure where the hatchling is going yet though. I want to experiment a bit more with the charcoal I’ve become rather used to, and to maybe fade out the broader movements and add detail with fineliner or something else pointed and stark. Not sure what to do with the book yet  apart from get the angle of the lettering in proper perspective!

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2nd November

I’ve been looking at drawings by da Vinci, Degas, and Henry Moore’s sheep. They all do small studies with even smaller detailed areas within them. This surely prepares them for the larger works, and not just by getting to understand the structures they’re drawing but also, maybe, getting inside those structures – ‘knowing’ the subject matter at a less superficial level, a bit like penetrating microscopy. I imagine it also helps develop the hand-eye coordination and conceptual elements of drawing, making the strokes and gestures less consciously intentional; that difference between monitoring every tiny adjustment and having it so ingrained as to be reproducible as one movement. Like learning to drive; at the start you have to pay so much attention to the gears or where the pedals are, you can’t be said to be driving so much as operating the discrete elements of moving a vehicle in isolation from the whole strategically social activity of ‘driving’. There’s probably something here about cognitive load*, conscious and unconscious attention, and the ways in which skills are built up. Also the extraction of principles from detail that requires close attention to detail in the first place before it can be subsumed into the broader picture.

So – today will be detail day. It seems to me that representing 3D objects in 2D requires at least some observation of those objects, if not direct manipulation. Being able to see how something holds itself in space must allow for better appreciation of what happens behind and around it. I’m guessing we’re equipped neurologically to make sense of 3D only when we’ve experienced it (there’s some evidence for that in a classic experiment called the visual cliff) and I think I recall astronauts finding  judgment of distance on the moon difficult because of perspective being skewed by the closeness of the horizon.

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This thing is fiendish! Not only are all the parts unexpected in their contexts so it’s impossible to rely a little bit on a viewer’s expectations of shape filling in the blanks, but it has nooks and crannies that aren’t completely logical. This ‘creature’ doesn’t have to move so, while it looks as though it could be functional, it’s more like an Escher when you start to translate it into 2D. Correction – when I try to do it.

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Ceramic cat has both shine and white patches which are difficult to differentiate. And again I haven’t left enough clear space for highlights in the glassy eyes. I quite like the one on the right which is more indicative of ‘cat’ than a realistic representation, but it obviously doesn’t describe the fact that it’s ceramic. Bottom right – another go at the eyes. It really does have a kind of cataract in one of them with not much of a pupil beyond a few scratches.

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Little dragon. I thought this would be quite easy but oh no – the first attempt (in the middle) is more dog than fantastical beast. I think a looser style with a softer pencil works better (for me) but I’m aware that there’s an element of fudging going on there. The third one looks a little more like the rather hesitant little hatchling of the original.

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I’ll do some more of this tomorrow. While I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong, there’s definitely a satisfaction criterion. Posting now, update as and when things materialise.

3rd November.

I have a new composition – one in which all the ‘participants’ are looking anywhere but each other and, significantly, the cat is looking straight at me with a face that says, ‘Whatever you’re going to do about this, you’d better get on with it.’

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The orb is a lamp that charges via usb and it winds down quite quickly when it’s on full, hence the photo so I know where everything was when I take it away to charge. My first sketch gave me an idea of what I want to do but, since that only became apparent halfway in, it’s not been possible to execute.

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Alien was a creature no one really saw, at least not for long, so in the drawing I want to pull it out of the darkness of the background rather than draw it into the paper. Charcoal may not be best suited to that, it’s like drawing a negative and charcoal isn’t very forgiving if you want to make an area light again. The only definition I want for that component is that arm stretched out over the moon. Unintentionally, and slightly alarmingly in the latter case, evocative of both ET and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. I also want to give more prominence to the image of the alien on the book cover to make the link between what might end up being quite an indistinct image and the context of the whole. The little dragon has become facehugger alias but it’s juvenile and still a bit baffled. It needs more prominence than both Alien and the book. The cat though, albeit a cartoonish ceramic, is the main figure. It wants assistance and it’s simultaneously  pleading and affronted  in that incongruous way only cats seem capable of.

I find photos help by putting a distance between me and the image; like taking a step back but without treading on any tails. Tomorrow, I’ll have a look at what I can do to achieve the required positive negativity.

4th November

Experimenting with conte crayon today, and a few more studies of that wicked, counter intuitive piece of sculpted metal. Conte is a little easier to erase but not much. And that lizard frill Alien has for a head is just as difficult as ever.

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I think the drawing on the left is a little more accurate in terms of angle and perspective and getting that tenuous grip on the shape gave me an idea for lifting it out of the background. It wasn’t successful as regards shape and form but the idea may have mileage. Below are some details.

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Final experiment for today – a piece of black sugar paper with white charcoal marks. I’d be more taken with this if it had the texture of the Daler pad but still.

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I like that form is reduced to minimal marks; I don’t like that alien’s tail looks like a balloon. [The texture you can see is the PVA glue I used to stick the black sheet onto the sketchbook page and although I like the shape it gives to surface marks, there must be a way to make these more consistent with the surface image.]

5th November

This is interesting. I used a tangle teezer brush to pull the pva glue into lines down the white page before applying the black paper. It’s brought the charcoal sweeps into regimental formation and somehow resulted in the best representation of this sculpture I’ve managed so far.

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There’s something about the strobe effect of the stripes that feels right for that creature. I wonder if this constitutes drawing though? Am I fudging? I have drawn this beast before in the more traditional way. Not perfect but certainly detailed and also very ‘still’ – there’s no life in it at all. But it was a triumph at the time, at the beginning of my re-visiting of art practice earlier this year. Probably it’s why I’m here now.

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I do like this. I like the form and the movement in it. In fact, could this be my still life submission please? Thought not.

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Next step, I think, is to glue four sheets of black, and maybe dark blue/green paper into the sketchbook and see if I can grow that tableau into a full A2 (Not So) Still Life.

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6th November

Having some ideas about strobes and fragmentation. Might work, might not.

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I think what I want to do now is bring the cat and the hatchling forward and send Alien a little further back. I’ve drawn in some fragmentation marks in pencil, now I need to figure out what to do with them.

Materials here are coloured sugar paper glued to a Daler A2 sketchpad sheet; white charcoal, and black conte. I want to do some quite detailed fine work now but I’m not sure how that will work with media that are so subject to smudging.

 

Woo, ok! White Derwent watercolour pencil stroked over the paper in different directions within the fragments – also outlined in pencil. More conte and charcoal added to lift and define, plus some fineliner to detail the book cover and the parts of Alien resting on it.

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I think there’s more of an architectural feel to the shapes now, and I’ve used the underlying glue to provide incidental texture. The cat and the hatchling seem more prominent now, and the alien on the cover is emerging too. I find seeing the image as a photograph really helpful in terms of showing me shapes I don’t see when I’m drawing. Whatever did artists do before the casual facility of smart phones? It’s evening now and the light will be different in the morning; less blue probably. It will be interesting to see what effect that has on how I feel about it.

7th November

‘Are we nearly drawing yet?’ After a discussion on the Facebook group yesterday on the purpose of this part of the course, my doubts about whether this route might be a little too abstract were heightened. I’d intended to come back to it today anyway but now there’s more focus. Tight focus, actually, and a need for the close-up glasses, maybe even the magnifier.

Quite a lot of reflection on this image; I use my conservatory as a studio and so light comes from above as well as the sides, and for some reason what started out matte has suddenly become reflective. The paper is also rather curly!

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I’m fond of this cat. Somehow it seems to me to have become both ceramic and real.

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Every time I look at this thing, it seems to have altered its construction! I’ve done some dark-lighting and highlighting with black conte and white charcoal. The paper has dried so application is easier and the media behave differently. I’m quite a fan of detailing although usually I’m working with something on a much smaller scale so I have it right under my nose not leaning at an angle on an easel. A new technique that’s going to need practise.

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This is Alien’s hip joint. it’s made of what look like small spanners welded to a cap that has drips of something that might be solder on it. Those drips are featured on the head arrangement and other smooth surfaces where they catch the light from various directions.

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Hatchling: perhaps a bit hedgehog-ish but way less dog, I think.

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The next thing to do is the book cover.

 

10th November

Or maybe not. I have a determination to fix this metal shapeshifter on the page with a bit more accuracy so, armed with an A1 sheet, some 6B and 8B pencils, an array of erasers, and two pairs of glasses, I’m having another go.

First off, positional accuracy and detail. I remember someone advising working all over the page rather than focusing on just one part; it makes you step back and look again at the whole, and it prevents a kind of obsessional attention to what might not be necessary in the final picture.

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Same position in the room but how the light has changed! I don’t use filters on any of these so they’re essentially as ‘true’ as it’s possible to be, given the vagaries of colour perception and what cameras do unasked to any image. The cat needs pulling out but on the whole, the composition is beginning to look about right. Soft B pencils are not very robust though, and mine keep breaking.

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Later in the day and the blue is creeping back. Cat’s feet were too big and Alien has more limbs than it has even in its own reality. My ‘working in the margins’ is going to be a bit obvious, I think! Progress though. [Cat’s feet are still too big].

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11th November

A sombre day today with memories and the recent realisation that, had a German soldier not been shot by my dad’s commanding officer, I would not be here. I doubt he wanted to be at war any more than my dad did but he didn’t have the chance to go home. Perhaps he had children already but, each November 11th, I become the unknown daughter to that unknown soldier.

And in the world so many died for, I am free to draw an alien and endlessly grateful for that. This is the latest iteration.

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November 14th

Letting rip with some charcoal as pencil – even 9B – looks a bit insipid to me and really rather tame. I like the rough and stuttering nature of the substance and having the much more controlled pencil work sitting underneath provides detail these lumps can’t really replicate (or at least I can’t make them do so). The background needs more attention I think, now, and I need to pull some highlights out of some of these elements. The cat is beginning to develop a life of its own.

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I’m trying to find the artist who makes those graded shaded blocks of grey in their work and so far drawing a blank. I have come across Chagall though – magical realism in art, who knew! There’s a similar category in literature and, once you get past the idea that it’s about unicorns, some marvellous material is opened up. [Try Moss Witch by Sara Maitland. I’m brooding that one with a view to a future painting].

 

17th November

I’m feeling it’s time to stop now. I’ve a feeling it will never be finished, but then is it supposed to be at this stage? Isn’t it an exercise on a bigger scale? I’ve darkened the background to pull the Alien further into it. I’m not sure it works but it’s charcoal so it’s rather immutable; there’s not a lot I can do about it. Were it a painting, popping along outside of this course, I’d have scraped and layered and washed and picked at it till it felt a bit more presentable. But it is what it is [and I might still do that once it’s served its primary purpose] so maybe it’s a finished as it needs to be for now. So voila – Cat, Alien, Hatchling, and Globe.

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*The wikipedia page provides quite a good summary of cognitive load. The particular aspect of relevance here might be the intrinsic element the novel nature of the object being drawn and the level of skill already in the artist’s repertoire.

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