I did promise that one of this week’s posts would feature a clothed model. By co-incidence on Tuesday our local art group met in the village hall and Denise Holborn who very kindly runs it, volunteered to pose for us wearing her “exotic clothing that I had bought in Wales”.
Funnily enough, although otherwise without merit, it actually looks quite like her but as several people remarked, they couldn’t quite work out why. Once again this was done using a very limited palette in oils on canvas. While it could possibly be worked up to get a bit better, at this stage it has to go through the process of drying before any more can be added.
That’s the end of this week’s posts so now over to Jane.
Ordovas in Savile Row recently put on an exhibition around Lucien Freud’s “Portrait of Rose”, posed by one of his many daughters, the author Rose Boyt in 1977/78 when she was 18 and a student at the Central School of Art and Design. She chose the pose herself and it safe to say it is probably one most English models would not be keen to take up. Apart from anything else it was apparently very tiring on the muscles to hold for any period of time and the studio lights were hot and blinding, hence the position of her right arm and hand to shield her eyes.
All I was able to do was a very quick oil sketch using a limited palette. Beyond the pose, it captures next to nothing of the original and certainly isn’t intended to be a copy, simply an exercise. Even then I had the huge benefit that someone else, and someone else very competent, had done the very hard work of getting a difficult subject onto canvas.
The left hand figure was once again based on a book illustration with a nude simplified and gone a bit Deco. The right hand figure was drawn from life in a quick pose, I think 5 minutes. I used a fine line ink pen for both. Neither are particularly successful and neither are as bad as some of the stash of drawings I rifled through and rejected.
Funnily enough, the longer I take on these things, the worse they seem to get. Fiddling gets one nowhere, too much ink gets onto the paper and the work seems to lose proportion, tonal balance and worst of all energy. I’ve been life drawing for a year now and think a short course, perhaps a week, under supervision, might well help.
The left hand figure was copied from a book while the right hand one was taken from life during a fifteen minute pose.
Both were done using black ink and a fine line pen, but the left hand one had some wash added. Both are rather Curate’s Eggy. The right hand figure suffers from an unsuccessful left foot and inconsistent shading while the left hand one has problems (strangely absent in the original) with the arm and elbow.
I console myself with the thought that while they are not very good, I couldn’t have done them at all a year ago when I started. As ever, process not product.
This is a worked up drawing in pen and wash, with a head that’s somehow not quite, or indeed at all, right. Nonetheless, here it is. The underlying problem was forgetting what the unfortunate model was resting her head and back against – cushions and a chair I think. So when it came to reworking the drawing things looked very odd; like one of those dolls that had been broken and mended with superglue but not so as to quite look like they were before. For some reason I seem to remember the phrase “quantum mutatis ab illo” from the ennui of Virgil. Our nice model originally had such a very pretty head.
This time here’s a drawing done with a brush using black ink and wash. This was worked up after a life class from a very scrawly 30 minute session – so much ink on the original it looked almost as if the ink had been spilt and mopped up again. The main challenge, at which I didn’t really succeed, was to get the placing of the model’s left leg and foot satisfactory. Ink wash always looks slightly convincing at first glance because of the impression of light and shadow it creates; however this doesn’t always model the actual form and on close examination it’s a bit disappointing!
I decided this week’s focus would be on figure drawing and, occasionally, painting.
Most of my experience of this has been gained from local life drawing classes run over the past year by the excellent Livvy Stainer, a successful Petersfield portrait painter. Accordingly nearly all the subjects are wearing what my grandmother would have once referred to as “not enough clothes”, in fact usually none. I will however put up one oil sketch of a clothed model.
In some cases there will be drawings made very quickly during a class, in others they will have been worked up and yet others will be based on other artists’ work or illustrations in books. Working from life is, as anyone who has ever done it knows, infinitely harder, particularly when the poses are very short. It is also, however lacking the results may be in finish and execution, the best way to improve. One has to think, VERY HARD, that it’s about process not product.
Today’s image, made with charcoal and smudging out, was taken from life as the result of three consecutive 60 second poses by one of our regular models, Cathryn. She took considerable amusement in removing her clothes at one frame a minute while we scrawled away trying to keep up. There wasn’t time to get much more than a basic outline and some sense of energy and the fall of light.
It was such a beautiful day that I decided I’d paint the papier mâché boats in the garden. The entire enterprise ended up as a very sharp learning curve in so many ways but, that said, I haven’t had so much fun for ages. This is what I learnt:
Firstly, my idea that painting in the garden would be quick and easy to set up could not have been more wrong. Several journeys up and down stairs and I thought I had everything I could possibly need. A few more journeys once I’d started and I did have everything, but nowhere to put it.
Chocolate boxes are perfect for transporting paints and an empty urn doubles up as a useful plinth for paints.
‘Fine’ paint brushes are not the same as ‘paint brushes which have become fine because they have lost so many hairs’. I have four of the former, far too many of the latter.
For my purposes cheap watercolours in palettes are just as good as fancy ones in tubes for most things. They just need additional extra shades now and then.
There is a reason why artists favour north-facing studios. Although my garden is very small I have two sets of tables and chairs; at any time one is usually in the sun, the other in the shade. It’s only April, I reasoned; how bright can the sun possibly be? Very soon half the table was plunged in deep shade, the other half in sunlight so bright I could barely see what I was doing.
Decorating papier mâché is very different to decorating clay. For years I worked as a potter and I assumed that watercolours and acrylics would behave in a similar way to underglazes and glazes. NO. After a certain amount of trial and error I found that watercolours are best for details, while acrylics can be used for interesting base colouring.
Eventually the five boats got their basic colours. They still need details, masts and flags but I’ve learnt a lot and now feel better prepared for the remaining ninety-five.
The perfect combination for an Easter Sunday: coffee, chocolate, a good book (The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim) and a little gentle sewing. This was the first time I’d set the blocks of squares out in order and I was pleased to see they went together reasonably well with only two more to complete.
The Enchanted April is the perfect book to read at this time of year; four women, all slightly disillusioned with life, rent a castle in Italy for a month. The castle, its surroundings and its owner are all charming and the book is proof that happy endings are possible. I have deliberately not included an online link; please buy it from your local bookshop or borrow it from your library. Visiting either will allow unexpected discoveries; books you didn’t know you wanted to read until you accidently chanced upon them in way that cannot happen on a screen. Also, you would probably miss both more than you realise if they vanished.
In amongst the boat-making I have been carrying on with the patchwork for the garden bench. It’s now reached the stage where I need to think about joining the squares together. Fairly predictably I didn’t have sufficient quantities of anything suitable so I had to make a trip to one of my favourite fabric shops. As it was a sunny day I combined the outing with a trip to the seaside, well the Thames Estuary, and went to Belle Fabrics in Leigh-on-Sea.
Equally predictably I was seduced by other fabrics: the stripey fabric is for future boat sails and the brown and dark turquoise for a patchwork I have had in mind for some time based on the tiles at the cathedral in, I think, Urbino, Italy. I saw them in a picture in a book some time ago but I still need to find the picture and plan the quilt so that is some way off. The blue is the fabric I needed.