Proj 2, Ex. 4: Shadows and Reflected Light

For this exercise I choose a stainless steel expresso coffee pot and a ceramic expresso coffee cup and saucer.  I used compressed charcoal as the medium which I must admit is not my preferred choice as I find it messy and somewhat difficult to use but I thought I would give it a go.


As well as the cup and saucer casting reflected images and shadows on the pot, the surrounding room and myself were reflected onto the stainless steel surface creating some interesting patterns.

Looking at the image the shape of the coffee pot is not quite right, particularly the domed top, the sprout and the sides.  I also found it difficult to get back to the white paper using a putty rubber so tried a white pencil to create some of the highlights but this gave a different texture to the surface which is quite noticeable in the actual drawing.

Drawing Now: Between the Lines of Contemporary Art

A Selection of Works

Nayland Blake, Untitled, Charcoal on paper, (2000).

 At first glance this looked like a rabbits head to me, then I saw the dark black foreground is a torso with the arms raised; in the lighter background image I could just make out a face.  There are three white ‘holes’ on the torso, what do these mean?  Are they bullet holes in a black anonymous man, are they portholes into the inner man, are they flaws we all have?; are the arms raised in protest or surrender?

This seemingly simple drawing raises a lot of questions for the me and the more I look, the more I think about what it means and the ideas behind the drawing.

Julie Brixey-Williams, Locationotation Series, Graphite Powder on watercolour paper, (2001).

I really like the simplicity of the images in this series against the complexity of the process.  There are eight drawings depicted in the book from a series of 52 pirouette drawings performed simultaneously by 52 dancers at 11.30 am on Saturday 9th June 2001 at various locations.  The process of getting 52 dancers to perform all at the same time and then bring all the images back together is clearly an important part of this artwork.  The resultant images whilst they are similar are all individual as well, reflected the the nature of the dancer themselves, part of a dance company but all individual dancers.  The organic nature of the images, coupled with the tightness or looser nature of the pirouette image and the texture of the surface, make these interesting images in themselves.

Brian Fay, Woman Meditating after Corot, Digital drawing on paper, (2005)

There is a slow emergence of the figure from the seemingly disjointed marks which at first do not define the form.  This drawing shows how line does not have to follow the outline of the form to create a recognisable image.  Is the drawing a comment on the current position of women in society – in the background slowing trying to emerge, marginalised, undervalued?

Maryclare Foa, Manhattan Trace, 31st December 2003, 16 miles approx. (18.65 kilometres), Raw Hertfordshire chalk on New York pavement, (2003)

This temporary drawing of pulling a piece of chalk on a string (lead) on a walk around New York is an interesting idea and an interesting process.  It brings to mind the temporary nature of our impact on a place we visit and the interactions we have on the way.  I like the process in this piece of art and the question it raises about what is the art – the process of the drawing by dragging the chalk, the marks themselves or is it the photographs of the process?  I find it interesting that Foa has specifically cited the origin of the chalk as if she is bringing the country to the city.

Dean Hughes, A paper bag with some stickers stuck inside it, Brown paper bag, adhesive stickers, (2006)

This is another piece which questions the nature of drawing – is this drawing, a sculpture, an art installation – does it matter?  Not sure what the artist was saying but I felt the bag represents us and the stickers the things we pick up during life which become part of us and help us become more whole.  I also liked the fact that the an ordinary brown paper bag and some coloured stickers could become a work of art and that it is the idea the art generates in the viewer that is important not the art materials themselves.

David Shrigley, Untitled, Ink on paper, (2005)

The drawing of someone at a computer screen with the message, You have no fucking emails,  made me laugh as it reminded me of work where some people continually check their emails and feel their status is defined by the number of emails they receive – the more emails the more important you must be.  I like the comic graphic art nature of the drawing.


This is a book which I will continually return to throughout the course.  Whilst I am just at the beginning of the course, it has already made me think more both about my process and the idea behind my art.  It has also really brought to the fore the fact that a drawing does not need to be of an object (its visual appearance) or technically highly accomplished in order covey a message to the viewer.

Research: Ernst Experiment 1

After reading about the various techniques Ernst tried in creating his automatic paintings I decided to experiment with a couple of the techniques myself.  This first experiment uses ‘decalcomania’, where you sandwich ink between two layers of paper and then peel the top layer off, revealing a printed reverse image (see Ernst post below).

I visited Chicago a little while ago and took a boat trip around the river ways which have skyscrapers lining the banks.  One of the things I noticed when taking this trip was that the glass walls of the skyscrapers reflected the vivid blue sky and the surrounding buildings reflected as broken abstract images on the glass, with gridlines provided by the window frames.  I thought this would work well using the ‘decalcomania’ technique.  Of course, I realise Ernst would have first used decalcomania and then looked at the resultant image to spark his imagination for the final image and in effect I have reversed the process as I already have an idea for the final image.

I first drew the gridlines and then used masking fluid to keep the ink off these lines.  I painted the vivid blue of the sky using acrylic ink and then, using printing ink on a separate piece of paper, drew a rough, loose shape of a building adding dots of other colours for the windows, ledges, etc.  I inverted this piece of paper and then placed it over the window sky grid, pressing it down to transfer the image.  Once dry I removed the masking fluid and drew the window frames in black ink.

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One of the things this experiment has taught me is the detailed planning Ernst must have undertaken for various stages of his compositions before arriving at the final image.  For example, I thought is would be easy to peel off the masking fluid once all the media was dry revealing clean lines; this was not the case as the dried ink had created a film across the lines and it peeled off with the masking fluid.  I therefore had to go over the lines with a knife to break the seal before peeling off the fluid.

The experiment itself worked as the resultant image does remind me of the abstract shapes I remember  on the skyscrapers and I lost a degree of control on how the reflected skyscraper would turn out.  However, as an image I do not think it works.  The black grid lines are too heavy and the scale of the piece is all wrong.  It would have been better on a much larger scale with the reflected skyscraper being smaller in relation to the overall size.  Also putting the glass wall in context of the overall building would have been better.  However, I did enjoy the process and it is a technique I would think about using in the future.

Max Ernst

After investigating Ernst and frottage I decided to look at the work of Max Ernst in a bit more depth.  He was deeply interested in the link between the unconscious and conscious mind.  This came from his early reading of Freud and his observations of images created by mentally-ill patients.  Throughout this life Ernst explored this link, particularly the use of automatism in painting, where chance and the unconscious mind plays a part in producing the image.  What made Ernst’s use of this imagery interesting for me was how he developed the ‘automatic’ image using his conscious mind.  Over his life he developed and explored a huge variety of techniques, often revisiting or combining them at various points in his artistic career.

He was associated with the Dada movement using collage to question both traditional art values and the accepted general cultural values of the time.  He arranged photographs and engravings prompted by illustrations in scientific catalogues and added line, areas of colour or a landscape not associated with the original objects.  In May 1921 he exhibited a series of collages entitled ‘Beyond Painting’ at the Au Sans Pareil Gallery in Paris; the mechanistic nature of the collages show Ernst being influenced by de Chico, Duchamp and Picabia (Turpin 1979, 1993: 8).  Even the titles of the collages were dubbed ‘verbal collages’ as they reflected the distortion of reality present in the images themselves.

Hydrometric Demonstration, 1920. Oil on canvas, 24x117cm. Paris, Galerie Jacques Tronche

Ernst went onto produce Picture Poems in which the words not only relate to the image but are also part of the structure of the composition.

Who is this Tall, Sick Man …, 1923-4. Oil on Canvas, 65.4×50 cm. Switzerland, Private Collection.

In 1922 Ernst became associated with the Surrealist movement and it is here he used automatism to discover frottage and went on to adapt the technique to oil painting, calling it grattage (see previous post).

Two Sisters, 1926. Oil and frontage with black lead on canvas, 100×73 cm. Private Collection.

Ernst then produced his Forest series in which he explored childhood memories and the work of earlier German painters; a series based around birds particularly Loplop, The Superior of Birds; the Horde series which used twine to create coils on the surface from which an image emerges; and, the Whole Cities series.

In the 1930s Ernst produced the collage novel which used 19th century book illustrations cut-up and rearranged to change the original meaning of the illustrations.  These rearranged novels lack a cohesive story with no clear beginning, middle or end and were rather, a loosely connected series of depicted events.  The first novel was called The Hundred Headed Women where the women is both headless and many headed at the same time.

In the late 1930s Ernst experimented with fellow Surrealist Hans Bellmer with an automatic painting technique called decalcomania.  In this technique ink is sandwiched between layers of paper to produce the initial image; Ernst adapted this technique to oil painting taking the initial image and adding layers to create a contrast between the areas of chance and more conscious painting.

Napoleon in the Wilderness, 1941. Oil on canvas, 46.3×38.1 cm. New York, Museum of Modern Art.

Ernst then developed his oscillations painting where paint is dripped onto the canvas from a swinging can with a hole in the bottom.  The resultant image then acts as a stimulus to develop the conscious image.

Young Man Intrigued by the Flight of a Non-Euclidean Fly, 1942-7. Oil and varnish on canvas, 82×66 cm. Switzerland, Private Collection.

Reading about Ernst has certainly made me more aware of the need to experiment and also let chance play a part in my image making.  I do not fully buy into the unconscious mind aspect as I believe that as evolved beings you are ‘consciously being unconscious’.  However chance and randomness is something I think has exciting potential.  I know I can be quite controlling in the way I draw and I need to move away from the simple depiction of the visual image.

Turpin, R. (1979,1993) Ernst. London: Phaidon Press

Oxford Art Online (2013) Ernst, Max Biography [online] At: (Accessed on 15 November 2016)

Proj 2, Ex. 3: Creating shadows

I choose a simple cylinder shape for my initial practice sketches using (clockwise from top left) drawing pen, ball point pen, pen and ink and pencil.


I set-up a small still-life group and using a drawing pen made a fairly quick drawing making my marks quite free and gestural without going into too much detail.  I tried to ensure the hatching and marks brought out the 3D nature of the objects.




Proj 2, Ex. 2: Observing Shadow using Blocks of Tone

My first set-up for this drawing consisted of a glass shaving jar and ceramic liquid soap dispenser.  After completing a couple of initial sketches in Conte and pencil, I realised this still-life was not working for me.  The glass jar was not giving a sufficient range of tones and the whole thing was just not inspiring so I decided to abandon this drawing and think about other objects to draw.



I thought of using a vase and lidded decorative pot but again did not feel this reflected me. I was then watching a BBC programme called Artists in their Own Words and noticed a painting of some everyday kitchen items including the edge of a microwave oven.  This got me thinking of drawing a still-life of things which reflect my contemporary lifestyle.  Music has always been another passion of mine so I decided to draw items connected with this interest.  I choose my iPod dock and Sonos speaker as I liked the fact that the drawing as well as giving me a range of tones necessary for this exercise also, shown together, indicate how quickly technology is moving.  Only a few years ago my iPod was the latest thing, now music streaming via wireless speakers have taken over.

I initially made a line drawing in light pencil to get the perspective and proportions correct.


I then decided on the medium to use to indicate the tones.  Whilst the exercise indicated the use of Conte crayon for the drawing I did not feel this was the right medium for these objects.  I therefore choose to use a range of soft pencils from 2B to 6B.  This gave me the required finish and a cleaner finish.  The light source was from the right hand side (I choose this side to give a different feel and break from the convention of a left-hand light source seen in many still life pictures).  I first blocked in the darkest tones and noted the areas of lightest tones.  I then filled in the mid-tones and looked at the shadows – whole, interlocking and reflected).


The drawing is quite successful and I especially like the reflection the iPod makes on the Sonos speaker.  The shapes work well together although they are a bit too much in the centre of the page and I will need to think more about composition in later drawings.  I also need to think more about the background in drawings as I have left this plain in this drawing.

Proj 2, Ex. 1: Group of Objects (extension)

In light of reading about Max Ernst and his use of collage, I decided to have a go at using this technique in an extension of this exercise.  I returned to my food cupboards and thought about how collage could be used to depict the objects; I settled on using some of the actual packaging of the food items within the image.

I first made a line drawing of the objects and then used these outlines to define the shapes of the pieces of collage.  For the shape of the Kilner jar I used the packaging from the bag of flour which was used to fill the jar.  Once the pieces of collage were stuck down I re-drew the outlines of the images.  On looking at the image I wanted to change the white background to provide a darker contrast to the initial drawing.  I first tried an ink wash but this did not work as it did not provide the clean background and looked rough against the clean lines of the collage pieces.  I finally decided to insert a piece of black paper as the background to rescue the drawing, cutting around the shapes and glueing it in place; this was much more difficult than anticipated and in places I had to use a felt tired pen to fill in the gaps.  The black background gave a much better effect and provide high contrast which I liked.  I drew the outlines of the other objects and filled in some detail including using black and white ink pens and made a collage 3/4 frame representing the cupboard edges using white corrugated paper.


Overall I am fairly pleased with the outcome of this experiment, I think the colour of the collage packaging works, the black and white ink is quite interesting and the high contrast works quite well.  This exercise has certainly highlighted for me the difficulties in using collage and the need to plan right from the beginning what the final outcome you are hoping to achieve as once the collage pieces have been applied changing anything is really difficult.

I will try using collage again in a future drawing, perhaps in a freer, looser manner.