I attended two exhibitions whilst thinking about my progress on my Personal Project. Both exhibitions changed the nature of my final drawings.
The first exhibition was America’s Cool Modernism – O’Keeffe to Hopper at the Ashmolean Museum and the second was the Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017 at the Sidney Cooper Gallery. At the former, two images in particular caught my attention – Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Abstraction, 1927, which depicts her memory of losing consciousness whilst going under anaesthesia (link to image here); and, Paul Strand, White Fence, Port Kent, New York, 1916 which interested me for the tonal value and sense of narrative (link to image here).
The Jerwood Prize 2017 exhibition really made me think about the definition of drawing. Three works caught my eye and I put images of these in my sketchbook. Caroline Holt-Wilson, Traces, 2017; Tahira Handarino, Portrait of Father Sitting, 2017; and, Lucinda Burgress, Borderlines, 2017.
A full review of the exhibitions are under Research.
Seeing these exhibitions confirmed in my mind that I had not pushed the drawings far enough so I began to think about how I could develop my final images. I still wanted to go with the idea of landscapes as a metaphor for events in my childhood which have shaped me as a reluctant exhibitor of my art but perhaps to make them more abstract and conceptual. I wanted the viewer to have to think about the image and try to perceive what it means either for me or them.
I first re-looked at the night sky image which was about my middle name being left off my birth certificate (Searching for Simon) and I thought about myself laying on the ground on my back looking up at the stars, trying to find the constellations pointed out by the park ranger. There was a sense of vastness, and of something being both full and empty at the same time. I therefore drew two sketches, one looking down at the ground and me; the other one of me looking up.
I preferred the latter. The white empty small dot represents me as a child (a signifier which appears in the first four final drawings; on the fourth drawing of the series it is linked to my actual image), the night sky looked circular to me and I added the Aries constellation. I developed this image further as I remember some light cloud cover partially obscuring the stars when we were looking up, which would add some further tonal values to the drawing. I did not want the clouds to dominate as they were very light so try a couple of experiments laying graphite over charcoal powder and vis a versa.
Graphite over charcoal worked best so I reflected on the image and composition using a photograph on A4 paper.
The corners needed to be higher in tonal contrast, bolder marks were needed on the ‘clouds’ and some areas needed to be darker overall. The eye did travel round the image and whether intentional or not the cloud marks also came to represent the feel of my body on the ground as I looked up. I decided to add in the Aries constellation.
The square format suited this drawing and gave it a contemporary, almost photographic, feel and I decided to keep this format throughout the whole series of five drawings to help link the series.
The next drawing was the over-shadowed (Eight of Eight) drawing which now became a woodland setting. This drawing is about me being the youngest of eight children and always feeling a bit over-shadowed by my older siblings.
This was sketched using graphite and charcoal powders, charcoal and PVA glue. Again, after the initial sketch I did a reflection page.
I did work this up into what I thought was a final image. First, masking off the white dot, adding a base layer of graphite powder and then developing the tree trunks using charcoal and charcoal powder. I rubbed in the powders using cotton wool balls and defined shapes with cotton ear buds, using clean bits of both when I needed to rub back an area.
I sprinkled graphite powder and then fixed it with fixative to give the background some texture.
I finally added the overhanging branches using charcoal bits with PVA glue.
Whilst I think this image was successful it was still too representative for me so during the making of the final image I re-worked it (see Final Images post).
My third image concerning unfinished sentences (Unfinished Referral) was still going to be an unfinished bridge. This drawing is about my slow development of language, being unable to construct complete sentences at age 6 and my referral to an Educational Psychologist.
I struggled with this image as I wanted to introduce words into the picture without making it too literal or have the words dominate the image with the viewer reading the words as text rather than as part of an overall image. When reading about Ben Nicholson (Ben Nicholson, Tate, 2008) I came across a technique he used based on palimpsest – a document that has been repeatedly inscribed and erased. This immediately gave me an idea to use this as a subtle background within this image. I wrote text describing my early life and the factors which have made me a reluctant exhibitor and kept erasing them on the area was full.
I also did some quick thumbnail sketches to look at the composition of the unfinished bridge.
My fourth image was about me being the youngest of eight children (six surviving) but because of the age differences often being alone and pursuing my own interests (….But One). These interests often made me a bit of an outsider as I grew up as I liked classical music, learn the french horn and played in the orchestra, sang in the school choir and liked watching wildlife.
As a family one photograph of me is known by all my brothers and sisters – me and my brother being photographed with two monkeys at Maidstone market (not something I would condone today as I do not believe any animal should be used in this manner). I thought long and hard how I could use this image as I wanted to integrate it into my final drawing.
I attended an OCA workshop on sketchbooks run by Karen stamper in Ipswich and she introduce a technique of using Brasso cleaner to remove parts of a photograph. This seemed the solution to me.
I scanned and printed the photograph on glossy paper and then used the brass to remove parts of the image. Both tries did not work out as, in the first, I got a good and surprising negative photographic image for the background figures (I only wanted me to remains a positive image) but a red tint; in the second, I got less red but a more positive image in the background characters. I need me to be a positive photographic image and the rest negative, to give that idea that I grew up in a large family surrounded by people but was often alone.
As this experiment did not work out I asked an OCA Photographic Level 3 student, Michael Colvin, to help me use Photoshop to create a negative and positive image in one photograph. He helped me use a pen stylus to define the outlines, invert the images and take out the background.
I did a quick sketch of figures around one of the photographs to see if my idea would work.
My final image of the series would be the emerging ‘fish’ which I did not want to change (Reveal). This is about my slow emergence as an artist, who is willing to share their drawings with others. I therefore moved on to making my final images, content to make any adjustments as I drew them.