Friday, 22 April 2016

William Kentridge in Rome

For those of you who are interested in how drawing can be the focus of a spectacular performance, last night saw the opening of William Kentridge's Triumph and Lament in Rome.

Perhaps the most interesting issue is that of how to work on a large scale in public and yet still remain sensitive to the surfaces you work on. In this case Kentridge uses stencils and washes away existing dirt to make his images.

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William Kentridge

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The distorted or questioned grid

Take any patterned material and it will have an underlying grid structure, however as soon as the material is folded, worn or simply thrown over something the pattern is forced into new fragmented forms. This can be a very interesting way to stimulate ideas. It helps create spaces, gives existing forms a new dynamism and opens out an artist's work to diverse other readings. 

Bridget Riley 1962

Usually associated with Bridget Riley and Op Art the distorted grid can also be used by figurative artists. 

Yun-Kyung Jeong’s studio

The artist Yun-Kyung Jeong’s work is densely layered, often using patterns to build larger forms, or using small images accumulated into repeating shapes. The grid is sometimes preserved as an underlying technical drawing and at other times broken, but you always feel that it is there somewhere holding together a type of image making that without this underlying structure could become too 'fay' or too 'fantastical'. Many of the patterns she uses—composed in black paint on unprimed canvas—resemble the stylised brushwork of East Asian ink-and-wash paintings. Patterns are built up using a range of close tonal values, often using sepia with ochre or blue accents, these images are much closer to drawing than painting, the fact that she works on unprimed canvas perhaps being part of this reading. She also includes geometric forms, both in small-scale building blocks, and in the larger patterns to which they contribute; parallel bands of a Z-like shape sometimes occur slanting from upper left to bottom right. 

Yun-Kyung Jeong also works on silk; and describes the marks she makes as being “like controlled exhalations filling a space.” She also plays with perspective and exploits empty space to create complex, vaguely architectural environments, and intimates biological processes and is able to use technical drawing systems such as axonometric projection to create convincing three-dimensional worlds of overlapping planes. Compare her use of axonometric space with Paul Noble's.
Paul Noble

Compare both Paul Noble's and Yun-Kyung Jeong's work to Garth Weiser’s paintings, all rely on grids to hold their work together. 

Like Jeong, I would argue that Weiser is as much a drawer as a painter, he sometimes begins by making a three dimensional model of an abstracted form as a ‘sketch’ or model from which to paint. (This is a really useful tactic; when stuck just make a model and draw from it, I often do this and it always helps) Coating his canvases with thick impasto grids or relief outlines of his composition, Weiser creates a textured foundation which enhances illusionary elements of scale and perspective and suggests architectural space. Using this blueprint of spatial order as a departure point for painterly invention, Weiser then disrupts the spaces arriving, sometimes following the dictates of the underlying pattern, and sometimes not. Incorporating flat geometric shapes, irregularly angled lines, and organic motifs, Weiser confuses reality and illusion, an inheritor of Bridget Riley's optical fascination with bent grids, he forces an optical confrontation between the picture plane and our expectations of mark made surface interaction and illusions created by grids. 

The press release promoting Garth Weiser's work is an interesting exercise in rhetoric, if you were thinking of some artist's blurb and wanted to practice writing a bit of 'arty bollocks' it wouldn't be a bad place to start. 

Find an axonometric graph paper generator here. Get some large sheets of tracing paper and work over an axonometric grid, whether working figuratively or using abstract forms, you will find that the graph paper helps you control the space in a particular way. Compare this to work done using a perspective graph paper. 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Garry Barker Exhibition

I have a exhibition opening tomorrow in the college gallery, Thursday the 14th of April at 5pm.

Garry Barker


When the past overhauls the present,

you will forget that you can't remember

15 April - 01 July 2016

Find an interactive 360 degree view of the exhibition here:

Monday, 11 April 2016

Languages of Paper and Cardboard

'The drawing is already partly there - it's in the paper; and the paper is talking before you do' Richard Artschwager

If the paper is talking before you do, what is it saying? As with most questions the answer is context specific. For instance, what paper means in prison is very different to what paper means in an office or in an art studio. However as an artist you have to become aware of all these possible reads, because you will need at some point to control how audiences begin their engagement with your practice.
In jail, the everyday things we take for granted have their values changed. Paper, in the form of books, magazines, letters, toilet paper or simply rubbish becomes valued not only for what it is, but for what it can become.
A kite* adhered to the bottom of a table by labels from a stick of deodorant.

Read this article on paper in prison to get an idea of how important paper is to prison inmates and then reflect on how your own experience has changed how you value paper and how you might possibly be able to communicate alternative values surrounding paper in the work you do.
Look around you now and see how many uses of paper you can identify in your immediate surroundings. An initial list of things made from paper is fascinating and can take us out into a wide range of occupations and interests.

Government of Paper: The Materiality of Bureaucracy in Urban Pakistan by Matthew Hull is a book, again more paper, that explores how paper is essential to the construction of a city.

In the planned city of Islamabad, order and disorder are produced through the ceaseless inscription and circulation of millions of paper artifacts among bureaucrats, politicians, property owners, villagers, imams (prayer leaders), businessmen, and builders. The implications of such a thorough paper mediation of relationships among people, things, places, and purposes is that the ‘people of the book’ are not only shaped by religion but by a bureaucracy that is itself shaped by other people of the book, the Christian colonists  of the past basing their own bureaucracy on the Biblical need to list and document. Government of Paper explores these issues in the routine yet unpredictable realm of the Pakistani urban bureaucracy, showing how the material forms of postcolonial bureaucratic documentation produce a distinctive political economy of paper that shapes how the city is constructed, regulated, and inhabited. Files, maps, petitions, and visiting cards constitute the enduring material infrastructure of more ephemeral classifications, laws, and institutional organizations.
Sacks, seed packets, animal bedding, wallpaper, damp-proof courses, roofing materials, flooring, flame resistant papers, plasterboard, decorative laminates for  furniture, bill receipts, circulars, catalogues, filing systems, sales and service manuals, brochures, office stationary, fascia boards, door and roof liners, books, driving licences, writing pads, envelopes, newspapers, tissues, paper plates, paper cups, toilet paper, kitchen towels, table napkins, lampshades, clothes, wall charts, flip charts, report cards, insulating boards, electrolytic condenser paper, wrapping and identification for electrical cables, printed circuits, and battery separators, menu cards, paper hats, crackers, fireworks, wrapping paper, paper bags, cardboard boxes, programmes, playing cards, board games, kites, model aircraft, filters for water, air, coffee, tea bags, medicine, beer, oil, impregnated papers for polishing, waxing, and cleaning etc.etc.etc........... Look around your environment and add to this list.
All of the items above can be used as paper surfaces to draw on and each one brings to the table a different possibility in terms of both materials play and conceptual issue.  Office stationary in particular is a rich field to explore; any of you who have worked in offices will probably have been bored at some point and have begun to doodle on whatever is at hand.

Alan Brookes 'Fill (11) 183 x 183cm

Alan Brookes (an ex student from LCA) has this to say about 'Fill (II)'. 'It started as a found scribble on a discarded post-it note. I was attracted to its bored, absent-minded spontaneity, its author filling in time as well as the physical space of the piece of paper. I enjoyed its structure and its disciplined use of the square. By remaking the image, enlarging and magnifying its surface detail, my intention was to harness the attitude of the original and add to it a perverse, fragile peculiarity. The process and the image act as a container for managing an insane desire to make gestural marks'. The post-it has of course many other possible responses.

Marc Johns
Marc Johns draws on his post it notes, the paper is ideal for one liners and suggests an informal, throw away series of ideas. However he uses a conventional notebook to work his ideas out first. He is one of those artists that work in between illustration and fine art, but as all the images are his ideas, I would suggest he ought to be seen as a fine artist who uses popular graphic conventions. 

Mary Suzuki is an illustrator who draws on coffee cups, and the Leeds based fine artist Phil Hopkins often reuses old cardboard as a support for his work. But they are very different in effect; Suzuki reflects the world of leisure associated with going for a coffee on the surfaces of her cups, whilst Hopkins' use of discarded cardboard suggests a much more problematic relationship with paper based materials, one that suggests that in a society of the 'throw away' both materials and people are wasted. 

Phil Hopkins

There is of course a big issue around recycling in relation to this and as students you are no doubt already very aware of how expensive art papers are. Collage has always been a wonderful way to recycle paper and of course it allows you to generate new imagery by a process of image deconstruction and reconstruction. 
Hannah Hoch

Perhaps the most under used aspect of recycling is making your own paper out of papers that have been already used. However there is a certain taboo in relation to this because of the predominance of 'craft' looking recycled papers. The important issue as always is taking the technology onto a further level and making whatever is done conceptually rigorous.
A case in point is David Hockney's 'Paper Pools'.

David Hockney

Hockney's paper pools are made from compressed paper. Basically the paper is dyed when in a pulp state, then the drawing is done by carefully putting the dyed pulp into place and then before the whole thing dries flattening the image down in a press. I have done this in the past by 'painting' with coloured pulp on top of a felt sheet and when done pressing the whole lot flat using a solid flat wooden board, which I first of all stood on and then left with weights on overnight. I used an old felt blanket to ensure the top layer did not stick to the board. You can use cut out plastic stencils as guides for more complex shapes, like the shape of the diving board above. As you can see with Hockney's images, he makes them out of sections, so you too could work large without having to have a huge studio space. The conceptual issue here is of course the relationship between making a series of images about pools of water using a process that begins by floating tiny pieces of paper filament in pools of water. It's also important to remember that when in this state paper can be molded or shaped and of course can be drawn back into.
However if you try and search online for techniques in relation to these processes you will find it hard to not be inundated by hundreds of low quality craft sites, all trying to show you how to work with paper molding techniques. This is why I suspect most people steer away from this sort of work. But when an artist begins to refine the techniques some beautifully controlled surfaces can be made. Gill Wilson is someone worth looking at just to see how carefully she controls the process of working with paper.

Gill Wilson.

Once again this post just dips a toe into the waters of paper and possible meanings. The main point being that there is so much more to paper than simply buying the standard readymade artist's papers.
See also earlier blog posts on paper and this.

*A kite is an illegal written note passed between prisoners.

See also:

Sunday, 10 April 2016

The Drawing Paper

For those of you not already aware it there is a Liverpool based publication dedicated to showcasing the best of contemporary drawing. Drawing Paper is a not for profit newspaper based publication concerned solely with drawing. It is curated, designed and published by Mike Carney and Jon Barraclough.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Drawing and printmaking

Drawing and printmaking have always been very closely related. Besides the fact that printmaking techniques were usually developed because they allowed the reproduction of several copies, the main interest for image makers has always been that printmaking brought into the field of drawing new ways of making images, and because of the issue of reproduction these new methods were often much more direct, often leading therefore to a simplification of images. Compare the woodcut below by Nolde with a drawing done at a similar time.
Nolde: The Prophet 1912

Nolde: Head 1913

In both images Nolde is searching for some sort of primitive simplicity, however the woodcut allows him to be so much more direct and the qualities of the wood itself become part of the image, the frame/edge of the wood directly impacting on the power of the image.

Several contemporary artists have turned to printmaking when they have needed to refresh their approaches to image making, some such as Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns I have highlighted before, but there are many more artists to explore, historical heavyweights such as Rembrandt and Goya as well as those closer to our own time.

Ken Kiff is an artist I have already introduced as someone who 'drew in colour'. He often turned to printmaking as a way of combating artist's block. In the late 1980s Kiff made woodcuts, monotypes, lithographs and etchings. Each set of techniques gave him new materials to work with, in the case of the images below, wood grain, these techniques extended his visual thinking and forced him to make decisions more quickly.

Ken Kiff: woodcut

The other area to look at in relation to Kiff is his collaboration with master printmakers, such as Dorothea Wight, Mark Balakjian, Erik Hollgersson and Garner Tullis. This is also of great importance when considering the work of Johns and Rauschenberg who used the master printers Ken Tyler and Bill Goldston. When I first worked in Leeds because of my background in printmaking, (print was my DipAD craft option), I was employed as an editioner by the Spike Print workshop, at one time working to edition Terry Frost etchings, as well as working alongside him to develop the plates. It was a symbiotic relationship, he would know what he wanted and we would be expected to allow him to achieve the effects needed. I went on to set up the printmaking area at the College of Art, and spent many years working alongside students in the familiar capacity of mentor, trying to empathise with the student needs and not direct or censor an approach, attributes all learnt as a printer working with established artists.

Picasso: From the Vollard Suite

The one modern artist above all who demonstrated how printmaking could be used as a powerful and independent medium in its own right was Picasso. As a fellow Spaniard he was very aware of Goya's use of print, and is perhaps best known for the Vollard Suite of etchings (above). He creates a wide range of images including the Battle of Love, The Sculptor’s Studio, Rembrandt, the Minotaur, the Blind Minotaur and of course, portraits of Vollard, the man who commissioned him. The images show Picasso exploring a full range of etching techniques; sugar lift, dry point, soft and hard ground, aquatint, burnishing as well as variations in plate wiping techniques designed to make full use of the ink quality when printing. As well as etching he also took to the humble lino cut and produced some very powerful images.
Picasso: Lino cut

If you want to look at the full power of formal invention that Picasso has, the best place to look at this is by exploring his sketchbooks. He had already developed a drawing language before he took to print, this meant that he could concentrate on the possibilities each medium offered, without having to worry about 'what to do'.

Sketchbooks is yet another area I have yet to cover in this rambling blog but I will get there at some point.

I have used printmaking as an extension of drawing myself at various times, using silkscreen, lithography, monoprint, collographs and wood engraving, but probably my most successful ventures have been in etching. I have always found that the aquatint process in particular has helped me deal with tonal values. You have to be very clear and direct about the range and depth of values you need before putting plates in the acid, you can’t fiddle and mess around, which I like so many people have a tendency to do. Here's one I did a few years ago.

Etching with aquatint

So if you are feeling stuck, or simply want to open out your range of approaches to image making why not go into print? We have two print workshop areas, the one in Vernon Street is always under used and they have fantastic etching and silkscreen facilities there, together with very user friendly technicians.

Find a guide to traditional printmaking techniques here.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

More drawing devices

I have looked at drawing devices before but have recently come across or remembered others that might be of interest. In particular this area might be of interest to those of you trying to work with ideas that question the 'authenticity' of the hand drawn mark or want to work in that space between photographic representation and drawing from perception. The constrained ball by Giha Woo is a product with lots of design flaws, however as an idea it is fascinating as it suggests that like a ruler you could use this device to draw straight lines. Thinking about it though, it probably wouldn't help that much, but it would be interesting to see what drawings would look like if you made a series of holders like the one illustrated to 'help' you draw. You could convert toy cars or similar objects with small wheels by taping pens, charcoal sticks, pencils etc. to them and seeing how they affected the types of marks you could make. 

The Constrained Ball designed by Giha Woo

David Hockney has used a camera lucida to draw portraits with. If you look at the examples below you can see how the camera lucida changes the way you look. They are actually very hard to use and you need to be already aware of the main issues that face someone trying to do a measured drawing if you are trying to use one. The main problem is keeping a steady and fixed eye point. You need to work looking through one eye and you also need to keep your head very still. The image you will see is also very faint because you are not working in a dark box, but when you get used to using one, you can use it to plot essential points, such as corners of the mouth in relation to width of nose, and in this way you can get a very good likeness. The concentration needed means that you will probably only use it for essential measuring points, therefore other elements of the drawing will probably be sketched in. Look at how the focus on the faces of Hockney's drawings below are much more intense than on the rest of the figure. He would also have had to ask the sitters to keep very still when using the device and they do feel rather 'stiff' in response to the situation. 
David Hockney

David Hockney

You can see how to use a camera lucida in the drawing below. You 'see' the image on the paper and in effect trace around it. Any small change in the head's position would mean however that any accuracy would disappear. 

Camera Lucidas

You can still buy camera lucidas, see but they are quite expensive, however for those of you interested in that grey area between camera made images and drawings they can be fascinating devices to experiment with. 

Artist's proportional measuring dividers

Proportional measuring dividers are another tool used to help measure relationships and once measured they can be used to transfer the measurements to a drawing that is either proportionally smaller or bigger than the original. There are short videos here and here that show you how to use them. Again using a device like this changes the way you draw. The measuring points themselves become part of the drawing and as you take the measurements the choices made as to where to take these from further affect what the drawing will look like. Typically you might begin to break a face down into areas of measurement like the image below. You don't of course have to measure in this way, and finding unusual or unexpected points to begin to measure from can reveal unexpected and novel relationships. For instance you can use these dividers whilst blindfold, feeling for the form and plotting the relationships on paper by pricking holes in the surface. 

Devices that were built to help artists with complex perspective could be become very complicated. Looking at the drawing below, we have a situation that could be developed as a collaborative performance concept. 

A pair of Perspective Compasses. In: Adams, George: Geometrical and Graphical Essays, Containing a General Description of the Mathematical Instruments Used in Geometry, Civil and Military Surveying, Levelling and Perspective, with many new Practical Problems. London 1803

The image above of a perspective drawing device from 1803 suggests many other possible drawing machine inventions and could become a starting point for any of you wishing to revisit these ideas. Perhaps of most interest though is the fact that the drawings done to illustrate the devices are really good drawings in their own right. 

Finally, I have found a Japanese alternative to the chalk line. To see how it works see

See also: Drawing devices

Drawing with light