There is yet another use for your pencil that I haven’t mentioned yet; measuring. That’s the OTHER thing that artists are doing when they hold a pencil out and squint past it. It’s yet another useful and simple skill that makes all the difference to your drawings and also helps to override your left brain.......
Find two identical things – cups perhaps. Put them on a table in front of you with one about 20 cms further away from you than the other. It’s easier if they are directly on your eyeline, so maybe sit down to do this exercise. Hold up your pencil at arm’s length in front of you and close one eye. Hold the top of the pencil so that, in space, it is in line with the top of the nearest cup. Slide your thumb so that it is in line with the bottom of the cup. You now have a measurement of the cup. Move your pencil and compare this with the second cup. It is probably half the size!
This is quite a revelation to your left brain, which knows that the cups are the same size, and will refuse to ‘see’ that one now appears smaller. Unless you prove it wrong, you will tend to draw the cups the same size.
You can either stick to the exact same size, making marks on your paper and joining them dot-to-dot, ( called ‘sight-size’) or you can reduce or increase the first mark you make on your paper and then keep everything to the same ratio. So a cup may be half as wide as its height, no matter how big or small you draw it.
The more you practise measuring the less you actually have to do it; in time you will begin to make accurate calculations, and your left brain will leave you alone to go and do what it does best - writing lists and planning what to have for dinner!
The differences between ‘drawing’ and ‘painting’ are not always clear cut. Drawings are generally personal, intimate things, often made quickly to capture a fleeting moment in time. Paintings often take more time to create, and are more social in that they are usually hung on walls to be seen. There are as many permutations of this as there are artists though. Many great artists, such as Degas, drew with colour, using pastels, which are sticks of pure pigment.
Generally though, drawings are monochrome lines, made with graphite, ink or charcoal. It is very easy to find artist’s sketches and drawings on the internet, and you can actually see where a pen was pushed harder, a pencil used sensitively or boldly, a stick of chalk dragged sideways. Looking at an artist’s sketches can give an insight into their personality and private thoughts which are not so obvious in their finished paintings.
Without the colour of a painting, a jumble of lines is all we have to make sense of a drawn image. We have to work a little harder to do this, and therefore a drawing can often be more engaging than a painting. We can see a direct connection to the artist and how he moved his hand to produce each line, how he represented texture, light, perspective, time, mass and even his feelings. If you are lucky enough to flick through the pages of an artist’s sketchbook, it’s like a direct insight into their soul. What caught their eye? What was worth the drawing time? Where were they? What mood were they in?
Sketchbooks are like visual diaries and I have one with me at all times, a habit instilled in me at college years ago. I can look back over almost 40 years of sketches and I know instantly where I was and what was going on in my life at the time. The drawings vary in quality and in method – some were done as visual notes, some are intense studies and in others I have used whatever came to hand to draw with. I rarely use my sketches as the basis for other works, although many people do. I draw to keep myself connected - to the world around me, to my hand/eye coordination and to the ideas and inspirations which might otherwise be forgotten. I see them as a separate activity to painting really, although of course the two feed into each other. Best of all is that these diaries are completely private; nobody else can really know or feel as much as I do about each drawing.
I would encourage everyone to keep a sketchbook. All you need is a book of plain paper which will fit into your bag or pocket, even if you think you can’t draw ‘well enough’...... and simply doodle, scribble, sketch, copy; USE it as often as possible. Keep notes of your ideas and thoughts in it too. You don’t need to show it to anyone and so it need never be judged. Keep it to get your lines flowing and your eyes seeing.
Many (many!) moons ago, when I was doing an art foundation course at Hull Art College, I fell in love with life drawing. I had always drawn quite obsessively, hence the decision to follow my (he)art and improve my skills.
The opportunity to draw someone who would happily hold a pose for an hour or more without any embarrassment was a revelation to me. Our usual model was a no-nonsense young woman who would cycle to college through the busy city with just her dress on, rush in late, fling her clothes into a corner, and model for us all morning. We were a mixed bunch of 17/18 year olds, and the various reactions to this were hilarious. I loved it – and I still have some of the drawings I did back then somewhere. I’ll have a look and see if I can find one for you.....
On a foundation course the aim is to give students a taste of all the different disciplines and avenues that they can follow in art. Usually this is broken into a few weeks concentrating on each subject, and we tried our hands at graphic design, photography, three-dimensional work and ‘Fine Art’ (there were probably other subjects, but as I said, this was a long time ago!). I had really been looking forward to Fine Art – that’s what I dreamed of doing; being An Artist and painting proper Paintings.
What a shock though. This was the 70’s, and the thinking at the time was to encourage ‘self-expression’ rather than teach traditional skills and techniques. I was presented with a big white canvas, oil paints and brushes, given a rudimentary explanation and then left to it. No instruction, no model, no still life, nothing. I painted an imaginary scene in shades of sticky mud and hated everything about it. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of my ‘Fine Art segment – I think that I just went back to drawing the model.
Later, when it came to choosing an art college to graduate to, I searched the UK for a course that would actually teach me traditional skills. None of the Fine Art courses appealed to me, as they all seemed to be following the same ‘self-expression’ abstract approach, and I decided to study Illustration at Harrow. What a happy choice! I didn’t particularly want to be an Illustrator but I knew that the college was famous for the standard of pure drawing its students achieved.
The experience on my foundation course taught me that we all need to have a good solid knowledge of our chosen path before we can start to express ourselves with any confidence or personal style. No one would expect to write a novel without starting with the alphabet, rules of grammar, language etc, no one would think they could compose an symphony without knowledge of music or the instruments involved. Why should we expect to draw or paint any better than we did as children without learning the basics?
Here is a quote from Tom Robb
“The essential element of learning to draw is the ability to see, but seeing is not that easy. By developing observational skills the artist has the opportunity to develop intellectual awareness and knowledge not only of the visual world around them, but greater awareness of themselves, their skills, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Drawing, though for the most part being based on things seen, is an abstract learning activity involving sophisticated mechanical and intellectual skills”
‘The Artist’ magazine, October 2013 (Which I highly recommend, by the way)
Pop up and see me if you can, or make an appointment for a convenient time....
Meanwhile, Hoppy Easter!!
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The Way of Wisdom.
I have been REALLY busy lately getting my two new websites up and running.... They still have a lot more to go into them but at least they are off the ground now and I can 'play' with them. The first one is The Wisestones of Malta and it shows all (or it will do, anyway) the work I have done in the prehistoric Temples of Malta.They have fascinated me ever since I first came to live in Malta, and I have had several exhibitions on the subject. I find them endlessly inspiring - for me, they echo with the memories of ancient wisdom. They date back to a time before the pyramids, when a matriarchal society lived in peace with the environment and each other. No weaponry was found among the ruins, and also very little evidence of habitation, so the mystery remains; why is tiny Malta littered with so many Temples? Painting always helps me to slip into an altered state, and I think that connection channels into the work I do there.
I have been feeling the need to reconnect with the subject in a new way for some time now, adding new experiences and inspirations.....
charcoal on velour, 40 x 30 cms
...... and in the meantime, a bit of fun! I find that when I am working on things like landscapes (which I have been doing for a while now in preparation for my exhibition in May) I have to stop myself from getting too 'picky'. A good antidote is to stop and do something completely different, and as I have many, many sketches from live models in the studio, I have been working them up in as loose a fashion as possible.
Getting away from the full-colour landscapes, I have worked in monochrome - ink, charcoal, paint... and then I thought that if I could do fifty it would make a great collection!
So the new website
Fifty Shades of Grey Nudes is charting my progress - I have just put the 20th painting on there!
Check them out and let me know what you think!!
... so here I am, all fattened up after spending Christmas and New Year in the UK with my family. It's been great, doing nothing much but being with the Ones I Love.
I did spend a day wandering around London seeing as many exhibitions and galleries as I possibly could, trying to take mental snapshots and store all the images for future reference. I find that's better than taking actual photos sometimes (I had forgotten to pack my camera anyway!) - memories are often better to paint from, and you can't be accused of copying! Having said that, I am reading a brilliant little book called "Steal Like An Artist" which says that we should all be 'stealing' (i.e. keeping a record of) everything that appeals to us, so that we can feed it into our own work later. We should keep a 'Swipe File' in a scrapbook or on our pc's to refer to whenever we need a bit of inspiration.This isn't about copying images, but the ideas and thoughts behind them, so our own images are original creations based on whatever we have experienced along the way. I'll be bringing this idea to my students in future!
Which reminds me of all the things I have to do when I get home to Malta tomorrow - start organising my next First Friday Gallery (Feb 1st), advertise the Japanese Drawing workshop in my studio (Feb 3rd), think about having a Birthday Party (hoorah!), set up some new painting and drawing courses, confirm the dates of my landscape exhibition, which has been postponed because of the election in March, chase somebody that owes me some money :-), cuddle my cats until they squeak (yes I'll do that first!) and then see how my studio has fared without me..... oh, and try to lose some of this weight!
So tomorrow it will be farewell to the grey skies of London and HELLO!! to the blue skies of Malta.
From home to home.....
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
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