Research point 2 – Negative and Positive spaces in 21st Century Art
Positive space is the space we see occupied by a person, place or thing. The space surrounding these people, places or things is considered negative space. It is the manipulation of these spaces that can create very interesting art and suggest things to the viewer or observer. In some art a pattern can be applied to cause a trick to occur with the combination of pattern and spaces interacting.
Negative space can be used to great effect in a painting and image. The Japanese have a word, Ma, which refers to negative space as a moment to pause. In Chinese it is Wu Wei, the art of non action and non doing which we often are exposed to via Taoism. This translates in illustrations and paintings as allowing the space to exist to allow human imagination to fill in the gaps effortlessly.
In comics we see the use of negative and positive spaces quite often. Black and white printing is cheaper than colour and so many would opt for that. However, Frank Miller makes best use of negative space to suggest action and atmosphere in his graphic novel Sin City.
Soey Milk is a contemporary illustrator and artist, and often uses negative spaces in her work to allow for room to breathe. In this image she allows the negative space to show us the flow of her figures hair while the rest of the image can be clearly viewed.
On a simpler note images can be created by simply leaving out some of the objects or people and allowing the negative space to direct your attention to the key points or places.
Used in posters and advertising it is particularly effective in stirring up the imagination and making the leap to fill in the space. It is very effective and with the simplest of spaces chosen, the key message is conveyed.
Here Iron Man is clearly outlined in the shadow but the negative space allows for a minimum use of detail to suggest this.
This image by Sedki Alimam is fantastic in how it uses the skull and the silhouette of the smoke and buildings to bring the image to life.
Tattoos are a great form of negative space and the designs such as this maximise the use of it.
In the image below, the artist Lauren Blackburn has allowed the image to deteriorate and the negative space to move forward to bring her image to life. Her focus was on exploring the destabilisation in a fixed image and the associated memory. Her portrait is made all the more haunting by the fact that she allows the dripping to dissolve the fixed image.
Research point 1 – a history of still life : From the 16th Century to the 19th Century
A brief history
Still life began in the 16th century although its origins were from the Middle Ages and Greco-Roman Art. Religious forms and artifacts featured in many paintings before the 1700s but the later part depicted a range of objects, quite often game and flowers.
Popular forms of still life were food and flowers, with still life of game and fish often depicted in realism forms. The earliest forms of still life were found on walls and in mosaic designs from the Grecco-Roman period and Egyptian period, but the form of painting became more popular in the early 1600s.
Although the motifs were found commonly in books and manuscripts prior to this date, they were often related to religious symbolism. The later forms depicted many symbols but were not purely religious in their message. The term ‘still life’ is derived from the Dutch word ‘stilleven’. Much of the work that is attributed as being part of the Golden Age of still life was done between the 1500 and 1600s as Netherlandish art.
Willem Kalf was a Dutch painter that studied light reflections, colour, texture, harmony and contrast. He’d put odd objects together to create an interesting image but the focus was still on making the painting as real as possible.
The main reason for its rising popularity in the early 1600s, particularly in The Netherlands area, was down to the suburbanization of the Dutch and Flemish society, which in turn gave rise to an increase in value on material objects. Things were valued and as such, objects were represented in paintings. Nature was also represented, particularly rare flowers and herbs, along with the symbolism associated with these plants there was the acknowledgement of botanical studies and appreciation of the sciences.
These objects were often held in high value so to have them painted demonstrated the clients wealth. The mid 1600s is the best representation of this as items imported were often depicted in still life displays such as Chinese porcelain and imported flowers.
Hunting trophies became a popular thing to include in a still life. Again it related to the prestige and wealth associated with having a full table and the luxury of good hunting.
The traditional form of still life was based on realism and being true to nature and what you were observing. Towards the mid to late 1800s and the early 1900s, this changed as artists began to explore the texture and form of the objects rather than focusing just on the realism of them.
Paul Cezanne(1879-1882) broke with tradition and created still life paintings that had sloped tables and colour in patch work. The perspective is skewed in some images and realism is avoided as he pushes for colour, shapes and tones. A depth was created and correctness was sacrificed in order to keep the painting vibrant. He deliberately broke the rules.
Vincent van Gogh went one step further and broke the tradition of representation by going with what he felt. He focused on colour and form rather than accuracy and reality. He didn’t sell his work and most of it was produced in the last ten years of his life, but he is well known for his work and it has a high value attached to it now.
Both him and Cezanne didn’t want to overthrow traditions but did want to distort it to achieve their goal. A Spanish painter, Juan Gris, was influenced by cubism and his still life focuses on symbolism as well as literal image of the objects. There is a dual message in his painting but it is far from the realism of the Dutch painters from the 1500 and 1600s.
It seems that the form of traditional art was rebelled against and experimentation of colour, texture, form and feeling took precedence. Artists had access to a range of new colours too, so that influenced their approach as well as a deliberate break with tradition. Cubism rejected the single viewpoint and experimented with different perspectives and views.
Later a return to traditional forms occurred and artists rejected fashionable movements in favour of a return to the art form of the Golden Age in a bid to perfect their craft. Art was originally for the wealthy and aristocracy, but as this notion of art was questioned and forms experimented with, art became more accessible for the masses and thus changed its form to suit that.
Pieter Claesz Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill 1628 oil on wood
There is a small candle holder, a feather quill and skull sitting on a book and papers with a goblet on its left side. The wood is filled with the shapes of the objects and there is very little background filling up the space.
The medium is oil and so there isn’t much in the way of lines produced by a sketch visible. There are lines that are created by the objects however, and they serve to guide your eye around the image.
Most of the shapes are circular with a suggestion of rectangle from the book and paper. The quill offers a tapered elliptical shape at one end and a sharp triangle at the other. It sits on a rectangle base.
The tones are quite muddy and the main contrast is from reflective surfaces of the glass, skull and candle holder. It feels like everything in the image is old and well worn. The quill is weathered looking from use and the books pages yellow from aging while the cover for the paper is creased and well worn. There appears to even be a layer of dust on the table surface. The skull is even missing teeth.
The colour scheme looks like it was from a blue and orange complimentary scale but the weathered theme brought them into tired looking hues rather than bright versions of the colours. The glass is a dark finish and echoes a black from the item under the quill, while the white of the quill brings your attention to the centre of the image and leads your eye to the skull.
There doesn’t appear to be any pattern from etching or a fabric design but the reflections of the window in the glass suggest a pattern of pairs. Two eye sockets, the windows of the soul, two window reflections and two white lines from the quill and exposed paper along with the circles under the quill. The candle stick has a pattern of two surfaces. Symmetry appears important.
The main texture is from the skull and quill. Hard versus soft. Then the glass and candle stick are hard so the book and paper balance that out as they’re softer materials.
Process and technique
He used oil on wood but there doesn’t appear to be any wood grain coming through the image. The soft diffused light on the skull and the strong reflections on the glass are a beautiful way to render those objects.
There appears to be a light from the left and front while the shadow is also on the left and then a shadow is cast behind the skull which is then highlighted by some soft light to set it off.
Interpretation and context
My interpretation is that the candle represented burning the midnight oil, possibly working a lot. The skull represents death and the end of something, as it is sitting on papers and a book I think it suggests that the work related to writing. The glass is empty, so it would suggest that this work and dedication to it yielded no wine perhaps.
Frans Snyders Still Life Banquet Piece 1620s oil on canvas Flemish artist
This is a full painting and fully lives up to the name of banquet. It has a range of food and flowers along with drink and even a live animal at the centre. The squirrel may not be for eating but the lobster most definitely is. The centre of the banquet seems to be the fruit bowl which is brimming with an assortment of things. In fact there is so much abundance on the table that things are piled on top of one another. The flowers that are dipping into the frame on the left may not be a central feature but they are still important so contribute to the decadence presented to us.
Lines and Shapes
Again there are no obvious lines produced from a sketch as it is has been painted over, so I will focus on the lines guiding the viewer in the image instead. The cutlery is not presented in an orderly fashion, instead it is strewn around the table but it still acts as a guiding line to where the eye should be. It acts to contain the important objects within that sector. It appears to me that the image is broken into 3 sections.
The first section from the left has a vertical focus but the flowers are taller and soften the height by the roundness of the buds. The round vessels in the middle also slow down the eye and we have a similar shape in the tail of the squirrel to the jug. The glass at the back of this jug helps your eye move up again and into the centre of the fruit bowl in the middle section. Here it is a festival of fruit and difficult to know what to focus on as the shapes are oval, circular and very round.
We depend on the vines to drop us off at the lobster in the third section and the lines created in the segments of its tail are echoed in the lemon and the melon. To ensure your eye enjoys this section the knife is perpendicular to the tail of the lobster to cut off a return to the left. It is a remarkably busy piece and as such you rely on the artist to guide your eye through it or be left to wander and not enjoy it as much.
The background is dark and the table top is neutral and light but without reflection. It has a light from the front and so we see everything clearly and no sharp shadows are present except for the squirrels tail and plate.
The dominant colours are red, orange and yellow and the accent is green. The brownish orange hue of the squirrel balances out the hot red of the lobster and keeps the colour balance in the centre of the image. Without it the red of the glass next to the pink of the rose would sever the image almost in half. The colours are rich and express the freshness of the banquet, but the abundance of food and it’s piling up suggest it could go off quickly. In fact the presence of a squirrel suggests that the person holding the banquet isn’t aware of their own abundance.
Patterns and Textures
These are present in the glassware and metal containers on the left which are softened by the rose petals. The centre is well balanced by having reflective surfaces on either side of matt finish fruit and the lobsters glowing shell has a lovely reflective quality that gets stopped by the coarse melon skin. The bird on the top echoes the same colours as the containers on the left and again it shows us that the animals are stepping in to feast on it as there was more food than was needed.
Process and technique
He is constantly wrestling the colours on the canvas and the amount of light bouncing off surfaces. He has a glass receeding into the background because he wanted the height and transparency only, not the high reflection. Meanwhile the strong colours of the red grapes and fruit coupled with the lobster have to be kept in a cooler form by keeping the brightness of it through the peachy tones to the left and right.
Interpretation and context
My interpretation of it is that the owner of the banquet has no idea of their own wealth and they don’t care either. They’re happy to avail of the food and abundance they have but there is a gluttony attached to it too. The fact that it was a bird and a squirrel was interesting so it must hold some meaning. In that situation a mouse or a rat would have been a more accurate rodent to pick for it.
It’s a Baroque painting so this period would have been extremely lavish in its form of interior decoration and so this painting represents that extreme decorative format well in the food department.
Juan Fernandez – A still life with citrons a knife and a Peapods on a Stone Ledge oil on canvas mid 1630s Spanish artist
This is very focused and unlike the other images discussed, it is one fruit only for the still life. This is very different from the others as we focus in on just the one item and the variation comes from the ways in which the segments are displayed.
Lines and Shapes
The main lines for the image are formed from the knife, leaves from the stalks and branches and the peapods. It all gets used to focus your attention into the centre to where the main feature is. The citrons are sitting in the centre of the ledge and the roundness of the fruit is offset with the triangular segments and then the half segment. Within these segments of the fruit we have more triangular shapes to echo the leaves again. The peas are the only other round shapes present to echo the fruit yet their pods are triangular. The symmetry is echoed in two citrons and two unopened pods their right. The sections exposed of the pods echo the segments of the fruit cut. Even the knife handle has angles on it.
Tones and Colours
The contrast between light and dark helps the colours to pop from the canvas. The centre light on the fruit helps us to see the beautiful yellow but as the skin is uneven there is no reflective quality from it. The sections of fruit help the light to be reflected and serve to help us see how juicy the fruit is. This also helps to cool down the tone of the skin of the fruit. It’s quite bumpy and has a slightly warm yellowy orange tone to it so the clean white of the lemon brings it back to citron colours.
The peapods are very subdued here as are the leaves. They have an almost dry quality to them as if they were burning in the sun or something. The background is also interesting as it has this orange hue in it and a hint of red through it. This is captured in some of the shadows although there is a lot of grey here under the knife. So I feel like the greens were played down to help allow the yellow to shine and the show in the background was played up as a burnt orange tone to help the yellow stand out further. To make sure the green still held some hold in the painting I think the aubergine element was added behind the largest citron in the form of an artichoke.
Patterns and Textures
The citron has a wealth of texture in it and the leaves are crispy almost. The patterns appear in the segments and the peas in the pod, along with the almost hidden artichoke in the background.
Interpretation and context
He was heavily influenced by the work of Caravaggio and how the painter had a flair for dramatic lighting. This is evident in his attention to realism in the textures and how the light seems to show the centre part of the image and shroud the rest in shadow. However, it is the influence of the Flemish painters that gives him his passion for attention to detail.
My own interpretation is that the focus here is on the natural beauty of the object itself and not in any other form of message. There is a celebration of all parts of the fruit while the peas play a happy part to support that. I do love how he used every part of the canvas to direct your attention to the fruit. It isn’t in the middle either, it appears to lean off to the right more and the bunch of leaves on the left emerge out of the shadows to push your attention to the centre. There is no place to go but to the centre, as all corners have something to push you towards it and where the main feature lies.
So far all three paintings express a traditional approach to honouring what they see. They focus on realism and putting the form of what they see onto the canvas in a dedicated fashion. The final result is a thing of beauty and the attention to detail astonishing. They appear to leap out of the frame and can almost be touched. This level of attention to detail along with a strong dramatic shadow and light effect was soon to be deconstructed.
Jan Weenix – Game piece : the garden of a Chateau 1690s oil on canvas Dutch painter
This has a phenomenal amount going on in it. There is now a range of animals in it, relating to game. There are fruits half eaten and a basket full of fresh fruit. There is a scene in the background that suggests a house or estate where the person lives or the client lives. The focus is on the hare, cock and fruit with the extra information behind them adding to the abundance of the hunting trophies. This is shouting wealth.
Lines and shapes
There is the branch or stick that starts at the top of the painting and directs us to the hare straight away. It is a carcass hanging from it and to its left is a hefty sized bird. The wings and the feathers shape into a rounded form which echoes the fruit below it. The front legs point in this direction two while the back leg free rests on the bird. The half eaten pomegranate has it’s skin point towards the fruit and the basket and this leads our eyes to the right hand side of the painting. The shadow on the extreme right pushes our view towards the centre slightly and past the hare to the right where further examples of kills are present. This then presents us with a glimpse of a huge estate from which these gains were made.
Tones and Colours
There is shadow along all the edges and the dramatic skies lead us into pale blue calm to suggest that the estate in the distance has an almost heavenly quality to it. The forefront shows us all the kills gained from a good hunt. There is no blood present but the limp bodies are plump and suggest they’ve been well fed before hunted.
The colours are soft and fluffy for the feathers and fur and the clouds in the back almost echo this. The colours are quite muted and soft except for the sharp plum tones and peachy bright hues at the bottom of the painting. They are balancing the reddish purple tones from the birds head feathers and the grapes.
The blue is the sky in the distance is balanced with softer browns of the fur and ground. There isn’t a strong green in this and the flowers at the top are to cool the reds perhaps. Overall there is a feeling of decadence from the colours as they’re quite rich and bright in parts.
Patterns and Textures
The main textures noted are that of the bird and hare, the feathers and fur. There is a fuzzy peach in the basket and the petals of the rose would suggest softness too while everything else gives a sense of softness in the fruit and the way in which they’ve been arranged. There is a deliberate celebration of the hunt.
Interpretation and context
This image does celebrate the hunt but not in the way I thought it was doing. My interpretation was quite direct and I thought it was celebrating the wealth of the person who commissioned the painting. The size of the estate they owned could be seen in the distance and the abundance in the foreground.
However this is a painting to which Weetix aspired to. It represented the type of wealth he wished he had and what the middle class aspired to have and be like. This is not real but it is out of the imagination of the artist. Hunting was restricted to the aristocracy only and so although he painted in a realistic style, he was aspiring to something rather than being true to what he saw in a literal sense.
A brief study of colour on two still life paintings:
I created a still life of objects that were important to me, placed them at eye level and then lit them from above from a single light source. I used A2 newsprint and sketched the still life using a charcoal for one image and a polychromos pencil for the other.
I also tried to apply an effect that I had been trying out via extra work done during the weekend, to see if this would provide me with anything good or different or interesting.
How did I feel or think about it?
It was interesting to have to collect objects that were important to me and it was difficult to pick the ones that would best suit the still life. I wanted to pick things that were relevant and important, so I chose the things that help me through my studies and other areas.
Glasses – without these I can’t see a thing so they’re extremely important to me.
Rescue Remedy – study and work brings on a lot of stress for me so this is a gem of a thing to have to hand.
Half a lemon – this is a life saver for indigestion and since taking it in water for the last number of months I have found my digestion normal again. A combo of age and inactivity are to blame for the problem in the first place.
Ear muffs – they help prevent ear infections by keeping my ear warm during the cold months and although a hat is good, it doesn’t target the important bits that cause me trouble.
Anti wrinkle night cream – a miracle and it helps me feel like I can face the day.
Irish breakfast tea – the best tea out there for starting the day with, it just sets me up nicely. I’m not sure what I would do with that. Earl Grey and Lady Grey are fantastic but not at 6.30am.
How well did it go?
The charcoal was great because I could block in the items quickly and use the pressure to assess the tone of the shadow to work with. It got very messy so there wasn’t a lot of key detail in it, but for capturing the placement of objects and providing a rough idea on an image it was good.
It wasn’t something I wanted to go into detail with though and so tried the pencil to assess whether this would work better.
It did not.
I did achieve more detail with it but the colour of the paper coupled with the polychromos pencil just didn’t pop off the page. It really wasn’t what I was after. Having used different paper earlier in the week I thought that might be the problem, but the paper I was using as a backdrop was giving me some great shadows and none of the coloured paper I had would have complimented the set up. A lavender perhaps or even a dark grey, but the colours I had were too garish.
The pencil was finished off with an ink pen and then it was given some colour with other pencils. I had been avoiding using colour as I wanted to explore the shadow and light aspect of the still life. However in this instance, in order to bring it to life as such, I needed to inject something.
What did I learn?
Pencil is fine for smaller work – or so I keep telling myself. However I still need to draw bigger. An A2 is best and I need to loosen up and go with the size of the page. I’m still finding myself going to the corner of the page or trying to contain it but it needs a blast of going out the edges and beyond. I can see that and I just need to retrain myself to do that.
The charcoal is great but the willow charcoal might be better for mapping it out on a coloured page. More A2 and A1 sheets in colours I like – definitely a must. I did enjoy exploring charcoal and this has put me on the road to a happy place.
The hatching and line making for shadows wasn’t fully explored in the charcoal drawing but I did employ it in the pencil one. It worked but somewhere along the line I felt that it made it look too cartoon like. Then I went and outlined it in ink to make it pop again.
The final images were the ‘glitching’ effect I kept trying out. The frottage aspect for me was employed in the ear muffs that had a knitted effect and the reflection of the glasses and glass bottle employed the lessons from the earlier exercises. The lid of the moisturiser was also highly reflective.
As the light was strong the shadows were strong so this is shown in the pencil exercise.
I achieved a good tonal range in the pencil drawing but not in the charcoal. The glitching was applied to give an effect that I see in painting, but it could be interpreted as a ‘rubbing’ or ‘smudging’ to distract from the image. I’m not sure if it added to it or is simply a distraction or misdirection.
How can this help me in future exercises?
More muted palette for the paper
Try to pick out objects that frottage could be used for
Be more experimental with the hatching for shadow – soft lines even
Odilion Redon; born April 20, 1840, Bordeaux, France—died July 6, 1916, Paris(1)
“I have often, as an exercise and as a sustenance, painted an object down to the smallest accidents of its visual appearance; but the day left me sad and with an unsatiated thirst. The next day I let the other source run, that of imagination, through the recollection of the forms and I was then reassured and appeased.” (2)
A brief history on Redon:
He worked in charcoal and lithograph for a large section of his career, particularly in the first half of it.
He focused on noir and the depths of black first and then went on to explore the depths of colour.
His work is laced with symbolism –(symbolism is a rejection of naturalistic art and an emphasis on the reality of imagination(6))
His most famous work relates to monsters from his imagination
Looking at the vast amount of work created by Redon, and reading his quote at the top of the website, gave me a lovely sense of calm about working in charcoal. The beautiful manner in which he explores the depth of black and how he manages through charcoal to make the images to appear diffused and soft yet creepy and quite dark is inspiring.
It captures the realm of charcoal in a way I hadn’t experienced before and the light lines coupled with the black hole depth of parts of his work, is astonishing. The layers that must have been applied to get to that depth are amazing and the contrasts are clear still. There is no muddy quality to the whites and paler sections. Instead they serve to provide a balance to the image.
This smiling spider(3) is particularly fantastic. The spider completely dominates the top left of the image and hangs precariously from it. The dark corner in which it hides has a great quality of shadow that appears to be a series of lines and marks simply softened lightly. The edges of the page are hugged by the legs of the spider as if they were the edges of the corner in which he hides.
But the spider isn’t passive in this image. He sits, and waits and the smile that is emerging from his face is quite humanlike and suggests something menacing.
She knows something that we don’t and can see something we can’t. Are we in the web? Are we observing or participating? Do we really know what is going on here?
The opposites in light and dark from left to right corners are amazing. The eye is drawn straight into the centre but the framing of the piece by the legs forces you to go down and observe the empty space that seems to be waiting for something to appear in it.
I love the weight of the spider in the image, the manner in which it completely occupies the space, the thin sharp spindly legs contrast against the soft fuzzy body of the smiling assassin.
It holds together so much and represents a lot more than a spider. This image is from a lithograph he created having done a charcoal sketch. It mentioned on the website that the tiled floor gives the real world placement and 3D form so we are anchored in a place familiar to us. I feel like it represents more than that, as the proportions seem a little off and we’ve been invited into an extreme close up. As mentioned you have to question if the smiling spider is the last thing you see before you’re eaten.
Redon suffered from epilepsy and was drawn to the shadows and murky side during his childhood. He originally went to study as an architect but failed his entrance exam and so went into the world of art. He had agreed to study architect to please his family but his interests lay in art.
His early work is distinctly dark and full of odd imagery and symbolism and what he called ‘monsters’. However, he starts to move towards lighter colours in the later part of his career He was interested in science and during his studies in art, his friend, Armand Clavaud (a botanist) introduced him to the writings of Charles Darwin. The mutated forms in his charcoal drawings and noir body of work are influenced by the publishing of Darwin’s ‘Origins of life’. He also developed an interest in spiritualism around the same time. The concept of mutated forms is also expressed through eyeballs and floating heads with winged parts.
The emergence of Astrophysics as a field of study in the 1860s also gave rise to new inspiration in the field of art(5). The discovery of stars is well expressed in the lithograph of ‘Germination’, giving the impression that we are all made of stars and the seeds of our future in are in them.
His career in art was put on hold while he was in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the effects left him with post traumatic stress(4). Through his art it would appear that he worked out his dark thoughts and visions as a means of healing the trauma as the return from the war led him to begin work on his ‘noirs’, monochromatic charcoal drawings. He was introduced to the transfer method by lithography by Henri Fantin-Latour in 1872 and used it to reproduce large quantities of his work as a way to make money.
It wasn’t until the 1890s that Redon began to work in colour. Various experts attribute it to a religious awakening, but perhaps it was art acting as his therapist and his life was providing him with a pleasure and happiness he hadn’t experienced before. The use of colour would reflect his feelings.
What is evident is that his passion never faltered and he was the eternal student in being willing to explore new ways of art and new styles. He moved into portraits and developed styles in Japonism. He created a huge body of work in his lifetime and was awarded a Legion of Honour by his country in 1903. He died in 1916 and some say his anxiety for his son serving in WW1 was a factor in his death.
All images of Odilon Redons works were sourced via Google libraries
I used two objects with a contrasting colour and a highly reflective surface; a clear jar and a beer bottle. This time I moved the objects to a higher position so that they were at eyelevel and I stood at my easel to see if that worked better.
Due to the tone of the lights there was a warm vibe to the still life with objects so I chose to use red paper so that the warmth would come through a bit. I also wanted to use the red paper to allow the one solid bit of colour to come through.
I then used black and white charcoal and blocked out the shapes then allowed some of the paper to come through while using the white to highlight the reflective bits and the black charcoal mixed with it to soften the bits for shadow.
How did I feel or think about it?
I felt quite happy with the outcome. I feel like I captured the reflective quality of the glass. Perhaps I could have worked it more but in the past I’ve overworked things so I was trying to avoid doing that. My choice of paper was good as I had a range of colours and really wanted to see what would work and happily red did. I knew from the other exercises that drawing on a white background would wash everything out and the white charcoal would be rendered useless unless I had a ton of charcoal on the paper. Even then, from previous studies, I have found that the white doesn’t come across as clean when placed over black.
The first drawing was done in portrait form and although A3 I felt happy with this size of paper. Bigger would have probably overwhelmed me a bit and in this instance it felt comfortable. However, a larger page of red may have produced a better quality of line…I’m not sure. Plus I didn’t try out a conte or artbar for it so maybe a newspaper print with red conte could have worked. I’ll try it out later but for now it worked well to use the charcoal on red.
The number ‘3’ was well off and the bottle outline is a little weird, as is the jar top. The background is good and the soft fade out works. In this I like the shadows and feel that they’re good but a little strong.
The landscape version didn’t feel as successful but the jar was definitely better. It was harder to manage and although I did my best to not overwork it I felt that the piece was a little heavy handed. The shadows looks like they’re bouncing off a highly reflective surface and they’re not. It was done to see if drawing bigger would have a better finish, but in this instance I feel like I lost some of the quality. The portrait was more in tune with the still life. The structures of the objects appears to be better but the rendering of the beer bottle is off.
What did I learn?
I learned to trust my instincts!
Sketching first with charcoal on newspaper print would eliminate that rigidness that is appearing in the drawings. I had done warm-ups for the day and done some portraits for dark to light studies in charcoals which was good but I still could have done with warm-ups for this exercise to loosen me up more.
Using red helped me achieve the tone of the bottle nicely and part of that tonal quality was reflected in the jar. The combination of that with the diffused lighting meant I could heat up the colour by leaving the red page exposed and when I wanted to cool it down I could simply wash it with white charcoal.
I liked trying out the options of portrait and landscape. I felt that the portrait was better suited as it gave me a chance to include the angle of the base which gave a nice interesting dimension to the drawing.
Charcoal has surprised me a lot the last while. I had used it in lifedrawing classes many years ago but hadn’t really taken to it. For this exercise and from some experiments completed, I’m finding myself really enjoying the process of experimenting with it.It has a depth of colour that I just can’t achieve with paint or pencil. That blackness really works for me.
How can this help me in future exercises?
Experiment with coloured paper by observing the tones in the objects being used. Either use a tone similar to it or a tone that is the opposite of that one to make it pop.
Play more with lines and marks in the image. Try to complete some of the images without smudging the charcoal – just allow the hatching or lines to do the job of creating the shadows.
Exercise 3 – Creating shadow using lines and marks
What did I do?
I experimented with lines and marks to see what effect a charcoal pencil and sketching pencil had on using this technique for shadows.
How did I feel about it?
I enjoyed using the pencil for sketchbook work but found it too small for anything over A4. I enjoyed the charcoal pencil because I knew I could replace this with a larger piece and achieve the same results on a larger page. Working bigger feels better, the sketchbook is a little small now. Firstly I sketched out the lines and marks that I wanted to make and then I created an image and tried to use the lines and marks for shadow.
While watching Portrait Artist of the Year, one of the artists was working in charcoal. I liked the way he prepared the canvas and the reason he gave for it. He also gave pointers on how to work with the charcoal for light and shadow. That was interesting, and although I applied it briefly in the sketchbook I reckon larger paper would be better for that.
The charcoal in a pounce bag was also new to me and that was really interesting how much it helped the artist to block out the shape of the portrait.
This was a guy I sketched while watching Millers Crossing. The character had a strong face which I liked so I quickly tried to capture his look and then bring some drama in with the shadow. The cross hatching was okay here but because I did it so strong again (exercise 2 I had done the same thing) it kinda overpowers and doesn’t act like a background effect enough. If it was white or paler it would not stand out so much.
How well did it go?
The charcoal pencil was lovely to work with in a sketchbook. It had a soft quality to it but the control was still in the pencil shape. Using these lines to create shadow was lovely as I could smudge it too for extra effect.
The pencil could create some lovely lines and marks too but it didn’t have the same capacity for smudging that the charcoal had. When filling in shadows and backgrounds the charcoal was better. I could see the pencil being useful in smaller pieces of work but for larger than A4 then the charcoal
wins for coverage. The pencil is just too much effort to cover the expanse of area. I like the sweep of the charcoal while the pencil is more deliberate and definite. I then drew a round object to see if shorter strokes would work or sweeping strokes or messy lines for shadows.
The lines and marks definitely add a layer to the image that just doesn’t happen if you have a smooth finish. Charcoal is great to provide a dramatic shock of dark and shadow, but the lighter strokes add a lovely texture to that shadow. For a forest and maybe somewhere that needs to evoke a feeling or some interest, the lines and marks created for shadows feels best.
I went back to a sketchbook I had been working in last year and put in an image of shadow studies I had done for a comparison. This was using pencil only, and there is definitely more definition in the shadows here but I don’t fancy using pencil on a huge page that way. I don’t know that I’d achieve the same thing.
In these studies I was focused on short pencil strokes and it worked on the paper and the smaller boxes within that page. I was also studying the tonal value of the pencil and trying to control how much pressure was needed for a particular tonal value.
This activity was interesting for the different forms of reflection that occur. I still need to go back and review this more. The studies done here were with the intention of using them in life drawings, but I would like to see how to apply them to objects.
What did I learn?
For smaller shadow studies in A5 or A4 sketchbooks a pencil would be great, but the charcoal would give a fairer representation from the thumbnail and sketches in A5 and A4 books to larger pieces.
Different line marks can give a texture to the shadow, causing it to be strong and very dark and sharp or creating a soft, diffused and hazy shadow without a strong line to it.
Using lines and marks for background shadow is good but don’t let it overpower too much.
Created blocks of shadow on A2 newsprint to represent the objects grouped together. Compressed charcoal was used to block out the shapes and try to build up the tone of the objects and then the tone of the shadow cast by the light.
How did I feel or think about it?
I enjoyed using the charcoal for a sweep of colour across the page and as a way to place the shape of the object on the paper quickly. It was easier to look at a shape rather than think about the object.
The lighting for the first was just the centre light in the room. It didn’t cast any strong shadows so there was no drama in it. The shadows that were present were okay and strong enough but a combo of the colour of the paper and the lack of dramatic lighting left it flat and so I feel it lacked any energy.
The banana in the group of objects was put there for contrast as it was the only non reflective surface.
For the second experiment I covered the page in charcoal first and then blocked in the objects. This gave more weight to the image somehow and so I continued to block in the objects. The light source was a flashlight from my phone placed above the lamp base so that the light was more dramatic.
This worked much better. I got two shadows. A strong shadow cast in a 2pm direction and a diffuse shadow cast in an 8pm position. It felt more interesting. The banana acted as a nice rest between the reflective object and had a texture to it. I think this was put in okay but further work would have rendered it better.
I used a rubber to lift off any excess charcoal and to lift off enough to give a reflective white on the pot and lamp base. No reflections on the surface of the banana or the top of the cabinet. The cloth was deliberate so that I would have a block of dark rather than pure white.
How well did it go?
It was more successful when I did a quick page fill of charcoal. It gave it more depth and I felt less scared to mark the paper with a big block of colour. Working on A2 is much better than A3 or smaller. I hadn’t the space or table size to go bigger than A2, but I’d like to try it out in the future.
I also tried some lines and marks to give the background some texture and shadow. It was a bit strong and not really needed. I had done a swirling motion on the charcoal and that gave a texture for the background that would have been enough. The texture isn’t awful but it turns it into more of a sketchy piece or something. Maybe a lighter touch would have been better.
What did I learn?
Covering the page in charcoal works as the colour of the page is too dull. Dramatic lighting is much more interesting and lends to a better range of shadows to play with. Using the rubber to lift off charcoal is better for giving light reflections, unless the paper is blue or another colour.
How can this help me in future exercises?
Check the lighting and aim for something more dramatic
Check the paper, maybe try out colours and different grades of paper
Throw the charcoal over the page to start as it helps you get over worrying about object placement