Part 5: task remit, artist statement, supporting images – first thoughts

The brief is to build on a project from an earlier part of the course while being guided by my own interests and inclinations in finding a subject.

The process needs to include an objective and highly critical approach and to make good use of sketchbooks for experimentation, especially if using an unfamiliar medium.

The practical work should be accompanied by an artist statement of ~500 words which is, in effect, the proposal or plan. In other words, it guides the practical work, it is not a post hoc justification of it.

I have chosen a seascape, building on the earlier landscape exercises that focused on distances from near ground to horizon. My eventual submission was quite industrial and also in portrait format, but some of my sketches were far more loose, suggestive of movement, and full of horizontals. These feel closer to my sense of balance.

Working title: Exploring representations of seas in motion from stylised woodblock prints through tonal blending to large scale colour blocking.

Following a number of digital and other sketches, I turned to my exemplars for the clarity of representation and made quick (10-15 minutes) copies using drawing media entirely different from the originals but with similar behaviours. I credit working through the Aristides ‘Beginning Drawing Atelier’ for giving me the confidence to try this.

The first is Hokusai’s The Great Wave (~1829). Originally a woodblock print, precise and stylised, I used pencil for the definition and inktense blocks (dry) for the intensity of colour on a pre-prepped black gesso surface. Precision is not my strong point and neither the pencils nor the blocks gave me tight points to work with, but I enjoyed making claws of the grasping wavelets and for me the black background brought a different feel to the image, as if the same wave stayed frozen there into the night.

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The next, very ambitious, sketch is of Turner’s Fishermen upon a Lee-Shore in Squally Weather (1802). Instead of the oils of the original, I used soft pastel to make the shapes and to blend into impressions of crashing waters and heavy seas. Unsurprisingly, this was very difficult. Very surprisingly, I am quite pleased with the result.

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The last of my three exemplars is one of Maggi Hambling’s Bold Breaking Waves series (~2012), an isolated wave seen from a position of jeopardy as it is overhead and coming down onto the viewer. I had intended to use inks, wet in wet and allowed to spread but this did not really give the image any substance or volume so I added inktense block marks to the damp surface which helped a little. At this point it became clear that replication of Hambling’s paintings was going to be less important than reflecting the energy, and to do this I needed to make more broad sweeps and sharp marks in white and some selected bright colours. I chose soft pastels again because these defy precision and militate against any attempt to make lines. I think I’ll take another run at this now I have a better idea of what works.

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In defining my three exemplars, I had forgotten about Klee’s 1925 Golden Fish, which I usually attribute to Kandinsky, possibly because of its jewel-like quality and simplicity/naivety of style. I made this in soft pastels and coloured conte on black gesso. I think the problem with apparent simplicity is that you have to be really very good to pull it off. That’s because it’s apparent and not actual. Mine looks like a chalk drawing on a school blackboard.

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These are so very different, even the stylised paintings begin with their own unique premise – Hokusai’s disciplined and static, Klee’s naive and somehow less frozen in place. The Turner and the Hambling also come from very different places; one a figurative, representational, but impressionistic ‘living photograph’ of a wild scene, the other an energetic expression of a single wave standing at great height above the observer.

I am drawn to Hambling’s style but what a challenge it would be to make a Turner-esque drawing using pastels. Do I need to be more experimental? Collage? Oil pastels? A more textured support? I know I want to upscale; I like A1 far more than I ever imagined.

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