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.
By the time the last boat has its first layer of paper the first one is dry enough for the second layer. I use brown paper for the first layer and then newspaper. After that I apply a couple of coats of cheap household acrylic primer. I love this paint; I’ve used it as floor paint and on shelves that I can’t be bothered to gloss. On occasion I even use it for its proper purpose – undercoat. It’s a joy to use, provides good coverage and, because it is water-based, the brushes wash easily. At some stage I’m going to see how well it mixes with the more expensive tubes of artist’s acrylic paint.
I have also found the perfect ‘washing line’ on which to hang the boats while they dry. In the summer this candelabra lives on the garden table but, come winter, it never really has a home; now it does.
Four or five boats at a time seem to be the optimum amount. Apart from anything else the newly-glued edges need to be held in place and this uses up most of my clothes pegs, which make perfect clamps, firm but not so tight that they squash the cardboard.
I have discovered it is easier to make the boats in little groups or flotillas rather than individually. Each stage requires its own set of kit and, although I have a room I grandly refer to as The Studio, it also houses my sewing machine, all my fabrics, the printer and a lot of the research for my latest book so I can’t leave too much out.
Each boat consists of two layers of thick cardboard with the string fixed in-between. These ones just have the string held in place with a bit of tape and pva glue which I fear may slip with time. I’ll add a securing knot to the next batch. The hulls are bulked out with two more layers of cardboard.
So far the Project is going well, as both in terms of making and putting up posts. Doing it jointly with Chris makes all the difference; I’m not sure I would be so successful on my own!
The boats take much longer than I had expected. I had assumed that small and relatively simple would equate with quick. In reality they are very fiddly to papier mâché (I’m not sure whether this is a verb or I have just invented it) because they have so many corners. Each one has seven, plus four angles where the mast joins the hull to the sail. So far I am enjoying doing it but it is very time-consuming to ensure that the layers of paper are nicely flat on each side. In a way this is a good thing as it means I won’t just stop the Hundred Day Project on Day 100; the boats will continue long into the summer. Here is the first one, still waiting for its proper paint, mast and flag.
This is the final day of my first week of making. One painting, below, that I’ve been working on all week, could be called “done for now”. That is to say it needs the paint to dry and be set aside for a longish break before I come back to it. The other version of the trees has had a first coat of paint over the under-drawing and will also re-appear on these pages when I’ve had time to think where it should go next. When it’s my turn again, we’ll start off with something completely different: the results of last Tuesday’s life drawing session, worked up to appear at least vaguely human.
While it’s been harder work than I anticipated, and the results have been far from satisfactory (sometimes they really do look better than this, honest!) it’s also been very worthwhile. In the long run it will pay off in terms of increased application and concentration.
Meantime, over to Jane for tomorrow.