Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Paul Klee's Notebooks now online

Paul Klee's notebooks are now available online.  This is a wonderful resource and if you have not yet read his Pedagogical Sketchbook, can I also remind you that it is mandatory reading for anyone who is serious about drawing practice. 

The notebooks of Paul Klee 

The Thinking Eye pdf 

The Pedagogical Sketchbook pdf

Bauhaus texts

The Thinking Eye and the Pedagogical Sketchbook are seminal texts for anyone thinking about drawing, especially the nature of line and it's attributes. Artist's notebooks and sketchbooks are always of interest, because they are where you can observe the thinking process that lies behind the work. Compare Paul Klee's with Richard Diebenkorn's. 

See also:

David Zwirner Gallery where you can find more work by Paul Klee 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Studio as both a physical and mental space.

It's nearly time to return to college. This week is Fresher's week and 2nd and 3rd years come in and get studio spaces next week.
One thing you will have to do reasonably quickly is to establish a point of view. You will need to think about what drives your practice forward, and where your focus will be for the next term. In particular 3rd years will need to be writing their Context of Practice (COP3) statements and rationales, so will need to have thought through a position statement, which is effectively an outline of their point of view.

However, no matter what year you are in, the first few weeks of any Fine Art program are as much about setting yourself up in the studio, as about deciding what sort of work you will be doing. In fact the two things are closely connected.

For some people the studio is initially for a space for ordering and collecting, but it may at an appropriate moment have to then be converted into a technical drawing studio or small scale assembly area.

Nathan Shedroff proposed that there were seven ways to organise anything: alphabet, location, time, continuum, number, category and randomness. You may or may not agree with him but organisation and selection of materials are key ways for an artist to reflect on how a point of view can shape practice. You might for instance organise everything in terms of size, or colour or use value. You will have to select out of the infinite possibilities available to you, if not you won’t be able to do anything, you might select things I have touched this morning or films I have watched whilst drunk, selection can be idiosyncratic and very personal, it doesn’t always have to be logical.

Nathan Coley at one time was looking at places of worship, he found as many as he could on a map of Edinburgh and had models built of each one. So how would his studio space look? Initially it would be like an office. It would consist of maps pinned to the wall, photographs of buildings found and then the office would be converted into a drawing studio. Plans of building would be drawn up, isometrics made to visualise each building, side elevations added to plans, until there was enough information to begin making models from the drawings. At this point it depends how the models are made. If cardboard models are needed, a cutting board and sharp cutting knives are required, but if wooden models are to be made he would need access to a wood workshop. Finally as models were made he would need a space to see how they would look as a collective, perhaps getting access to a school hall or similar space, big enough to get an idea of how to organise them. As you can see from Coley’s example, space needs change as an idea evolves, you may start off needing an office and then need a workshop and then an exhibition space.

Nathan Coley: The Lamp of Sacrifice, 286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh

Drawing as process would require a very different studio setup. For instance if the work is done in sequence, you need to be able to work from one piece to another. This may mean having a stack of ready cut papers ready to use, a surface pre-prepared to work on, a space to put up each image as it is worked on, so that you can see the results of this unfolding process. Ignacio Uriarte’s investigations into how many things you can do with a white piece of paper need a good clean space and a place to put each variation made. His workspace becomes a cross between a factory and an office. A stack of paper is placed on one side of a work table, he then gradually works his way through the stack, developing a new, ever growing pile of ‘variations’ on the other side of the table.
Cutting into A4 paper

Ignacio Uriarte, Diagonal Triangles (from the series Monochromes without ink), 2014, Empty pen on cotton paper.

Uriarte working in his Berlin studio.

Read an article about Uriarte’s studio here.

Drawing as observation may mean that you have to construct a situation to work from, or make a travelling drawing studio if you are working from a particular location or site. For instant Uglow’s studio has a whole network of marks and taped crosses so that he can place his subject within his matrix of measurements, while Paula Rego builds situations more like mini film scenarios to work from. A Birmingham landscape artist I know has converted an old van, so he just parks up where he wants to draw from and works on the side of the van.
Robert Perry and his van.
Some artists such as John Virtue, have had to work small because they didn’t have a studio, but produced large scale observational work by fitting sections together, if this is the case, wall space becomes a place to fit things together rather than a space to create imagery.
John Virtue

Drawing using animation would require a place to work either with a fixed camera or other device that would let you see how one frame works in relation to the next. William Kentridge works in animation but uses traditional drawing techniques such as charcoal on paper; his studio has no windows, because he needs to light his images artificially but he also needs room to build small sets, because he sometimes moves from drawing into making.

William Kentridge's studio

Of course once a space is set up to use artificial light it can be used to construct ideas based on the control of lighting sources, therefore shadow play or immersive light environments could be added to the possibilities that the studio offers. For example look at how Tim Shaw brings together the emotive possibilities of blue light with the concept of the out of focus shadows from Plato’s cave.   

Every artist adapts the space that they have to best fit in terms of how they are set up. Space will always be a hard thing to manage for an artist because it is very expensive, but if you get used to using it profitably you will waste less time and become more focused on the central concerns that you have, (point of view) and less distracted by working in an environment that doesn’t support your working process.

As always if nothing is working try reverse thinking.

Artists sometimes become fixated by the studio idea. Not having their ideal studio stops them functioning, and they spend more time worrying about how not having the perfect space is impacting on their work than just getting on with it. This is how one artist saw the problem.


If you have to do something you will always find a way to do it. In my experience inventive thinking to get around restrictions often makes for far more interesting work, because you are forced to work in the gap between art and life. If for instance the only space available to you to make art was underneath the kitchen table, I’m sure the work done would be shaped and changed by the very nature of an under the table space, and as very few artists are working out of spaces of that sort, there would be  a fair chance that if the artist was sensitive enough to this tiny studio environment, the work done would be unique.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Drawing from the old masters

Artists have always drawn from other artists. In doing so artists are both able to assimilate what the masters have to teach us, and are able to see how their own concerns are still capable of surviving the confrontation.  Glen Brown has stated that, “I want to feel like my ego is being disassembled & joined with a whole load of other artists”. There is a difference in 'drawing from' and copying and in Brown's case the images selected are transformed by a shifting language of surface marks. The image made 'after Rubens' emphasises the swirling twisting language that Rubens uses to orchestrate his large canvases, Brown reducing the 'atomistic' language to black and white swirls on grey, so that the image is on the point of melting into its own background.

Glenn Brown: After Rubens
Glenn Brown: Layered Portrait (after Urs Graf) 1, 2008

The layered portrait after Urs Graf is an etching and relies of the ability of etching to build layers of tone by creating masses of lines. In this case the technique is used to begin to erode away the original and replace it by some sort of ghost image of the former. 

George Condo has a very close relationship with the art of the past. As well as confronting masters of the Classical tradition Condo has also created images directly responding to Picasso's cubist language. 
George Condo: Society's Child

It was interesting to see that when Condo was faced with his own 'demons' after having to confront cancer recently, he returns to the fragmented language of cubism to hold onto his own pain. 
George Condo 2015

As in Brown's work, this is not copying but 'working from' or 'referring to', Condo's own visual language still of course comes through, he has a way of image making that for me also refers to a language I remember well from the satyrical magazine 'Mad', in particular the cartoons of Don Martin. 
Don Martin

The fact that Condo can refer to both classical artists and cartoonists is I feel indicative of a society whereby images are so freely circulated and available. This it is often argued, is part of the Post-Modern condition. 

Frank Auerbach: From Titian's 'Bacchus and Ariadne'

The visual dynamics of Titian's work are what interest Auerbach rather than the particular subject matter.  Again this is 'working from' rather than copying. I have like so many artists before me spent hours working from selected images in the National Gallery. Sometimes it has been because I was trying to think about composition or how an artist has invented ways to visually join two or more figures together. At other times it has been because I wanted to focus on some aspect of an idea and how this was realised by another artist, this often required working from details rather than drawing the overall image. 
Above all working from old masters reminds us that we are part of an ancient tradition. Artists have always referred back to other artists, there is a common acceptance amongst artists that this is what lies at the emotional core of their profession, and why artists sometimes refer to picking up the art baton, carrying it forwards and in turn passing it on. 
Perhaps the most important thing about drawing from other art is that you are really forced to look at it. It means that you can 'picture' the work much more accurately in your mind, and that you have had more 'real time' contact with the work. The more you think about something the more you begin to see the connections between related forms and ideas and eventually how connections may be made with the work you are doing yourself. 

Sketchbook drawings from details in the National Gallery

The drawings immediately above were done when I was making images of books and their relationship with bodily perception. By having a point of view, I was able to walk through the various galleries and select out details that helped me think my ideas through. In this case touch, sight and taste were in my mind being conglomerated with books as found in various religious paintings. There is no right way to respond to the old masters, this post is just a reminder that working in this way can be a rewarding and profitable experience, and that even well known contemporary artists have been able to make work directly out of this type of experience. 

Of course contemporary drawing techniques include those embedded within computer software programs, Bosch has always been someone that artists of different generations have looked at for inspiration, this is just a recent attempt. 

See also:

George Condo and Glen Brown
Cecily Brown

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Notes from a Drawing Conference

A drawing by Karen Wallis, done of myself when giving the conference after dinner speech 

I’ve been away from Leeds for a few days in order to attend an academic conference on drawing in Loughborough. These things tend to go on behind the scenes and rarely do students get a chance to attend. It would be good if you could, but that’s another issue.

These are a few notebook derived thoughts on a conference that covered many aspects of drawing, from illustration, via 3D design, to visualising policy making, to reflections on fine art practices. I have edited out my notes on other areas, not because they were uninteresting, but simply because this blog is designed to help undergraduates think about fine art drawing practice and is not about how you could theorise drawing for design.

In the first presentation Howard Riley reminded us that for research to be undertaken you need to identify a problem, give a history of the problem in order to outline both its importance and to communicate why earlier approaches have unexplored issues and certain weaknesses. Finally you need to set out a hypothesis as to how the problem could possibly be solved.  All good advice if you are setting out to undertake higher levels of academic research, however his bête noire, is Barnett Newman, who in 1952 stated that, ‘Aesthetics is for painting as Ornithology is for the birds’, and I always liked Barnett’s position. I never thought it was a cry to leave the artist’s to their ‘dumb’ art making, I saw it as a critique of inappropriate approaches as to how to engage with practice.  The nature of an artist’s engagement in practice can be from a highly informed and intellectually complex position, but it can be a mistake to presume that what an artist is doing is seeking some sort of meaning or answer to an identified problem. The artist may see him or herself as a conduit between raw experience and its reception by others, may feel that what they are doing is providing a space within which others can meditate on the human condition, and of course there are many other positions that an artist could take that are not subject to logical analysis or an academic understanding driven by theory.

However professor Riley threw out some very interesting concepts and suggestions for further reading. Any of you thinking about your COP3 writing and still unsure as to which theoretical position to take could look at Wolfgang Iser’s ‘How to do Theory’, whereby he lists a range of theoretical approaches to problems and more importantly suggests why each one might be chosen and how it works as a lens to highlight certain issues, but of course in doing so you miss things too; theories by their very nature tend towards shaping the world towards their own ends. This is perhaps my main worry about theory, it’s a wonderful way of unpicking things and unearthing an understanding of something, but with my own work I have to read theory and then let it almost fade into the background before it can become useful. It’s the threads between things that fascinate me, and how that gap in between theory and life can generate ideas, as if from nowhere. I am however not a good academic, so don’t think of what I do as a model for academic behavior, I’m a bit of a barfly when it comes to knowledge, I flit in and out of things rather than sustaining an interest.  
Karl Ruhrberg’s ‘Artistic issues at the turn of the Millenium’ which is an essay taken from the end of the book ‘Art of the 20th Century, Part 1’ which is available in the college library, was introduced by Riley as a key text.  The rest of the book is a very general historical introduction to 20th century art and at the end of the book Ruhrberg tries to highlight and clarify what he sees as the key issues facing artists now. I would suggest a couple of additions to his issues; that art’s use value is contested and that mobile technology is eroding many of our old suppositions about the way we think about exhibition space, suggesting a more democratic approach to making, but who really knows?

Riley suggests exploring Wolfgang Iser’s ‘How to do Theory’ as a way to determine which theory might support an understanding of practice and foregrounds James Gibson’s ‘Ecological Approach to Visual Perception’ as a useful tool with which to develop an understanding of the uses we can put to visual thinking. Theories of visual perception are about how we see: Gibson highlights the environment around us and where we are in that environment in relation to what we are seeing; whether or not we are moving and, if we are, where we are going; what things are good for; how to do things, and why things look as they do.

The basic assumption is that vision depends on the eye/brain connection. Gibson suggests that natural vision depends on the eyes being in the head on a body supported by the ground, the brain being only the central organ of a complete visual system.
People look around, walk up to something interesting and move around it so as to see it from all sides, and go from one viewpoint to another. (I responded to this very positively as I try to build these types of experiences into my large drawings) A reciprocal relationship, it is argued, exists between an individual and their environment: The environment provides resources and opportunities for the person, and the person gets information from and acts on the environment. The concept of affordance is central to this idea; the person acts on what the environment affords, as it is appropriate. I still have some problems with this as it is another theory which suggests that we have a degree of control over the world and I’m not sure about this, I think we have a certain delusion of power and that if we could only step outside of the human centric view, we would realise that we are as powerful or acquiescent as a frog or a leaf when making decisions.

Riley abstracts ideas about how to think about drawing from Michael Halliday’s seven functions of language. It’s interesting to see how these theories come and go, looking at art as a language that operates in a similar way to verbal and written languages was very prevalent in the late 1960s and early 70s when I was at art school. The key concepts back then being the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis, whereby the structure of a language greatly influences the modes of thought and behavioral characteristic of the culture within which it is spoken. Wittgenstein’s ‘use value’, i.e. if you want to determine what an aspect of language means, look at how it is used, helped us to think about how our work could possibly go out into the world, how it could be used. Austin’s ‘How to do things with words’, whereby you saw language as a type of performance, was used to highlight the way each decision we made about what we were doing was in someway an ‘acting out’ of a role, and Strawson’s analysis of meaning in relation to truth conditions made us aware that there was no such thing as ‘truth’ in language and that it was always ambiguous. Quine was set up in opposition to this, whereby he proposed that higher order logic and set theory could always be used to get a grip on the deeper structure of things. Chomsky was often referred to because of his argument that all languages have a fundamental set of common principles, this proposition was used to support the wider argument that you could take ideas and theories from linguistics and apply them to all other forms of communication. I.e. if you regarded art as a language you could then apply language theory to art. The reason I have opened this out a little is that if you did decide to use Halliday’s principles to support your position in writing an academic paper, you would also need to explain the wider context within which Halliday’s idea sits.
However back to Halliday; these are his 7 functional principles adapted slightly so that they can be applied to an understanding of drawing:
Instrumental: Communicating need: How would you use a drawing to let someone else know you need something? For instance could you use a drawing to get help?
Regulatory: Telling others what to do: You could look at road signs as examples of this.
Interactional: Using drawing to make contact with others. In art therapy for instance there are drawing games used to communicate people’s feelings to each other. I have posted about the use of Indian ‘doorstep chalk drawings’.  Women draw designs every morning on their doorsteps, using rice powder or crushed limestone. If interested look up rangoli, aripona, alpona and kolam drawings.
Personal: Individual feelings, what you think about and how to express these thoughts. Expressionist art could be regarded in this way.
Heuristic: Used to gain knowledge about the environment, perhaps testing out how things are in order to understand them. Using string to find your way back through a maze, or setting up a simple walking and angle measuring device to determine how high a building is. Artists that work directly in the landscape often work in this way.
Imaginative: The creation of an imaginary environment, often to tell a story.
Representational: The use of drawing to convey facts and information.

Adapted from: Halliday, M.A.K. (1975) Learning How to Mean. London: Edward Arnold

Riley also reminded us of how important rhetoric is to the development of language in use. I have touched on it before but have yet to post anything that looks at how drawing in particular could be understood in terms of rhetoric. For Roman Jakobson, metaphor and metonymy are the two fundamental modes of communicating meaning and according to Lakoff and Johnson, the people who you should read if you are interested in how we build language out of our deep awareness of our own bodies, are the basis for much of our understanding as we develop as human beings. 

Many of these theories come under what was at the time called ‘the linguistic turn’ which focused on the relationship between disciplines such as art and philosophy with language.

Read one of Professor Riley’s key articles here: Pedagogical imperativesfor a 21st century world 

Dr. Janette Matthews gave a talk on the mathematics of knot theory, which I was very interested in as it helped open out ideas related to several of my other posts and cements my assertion that in order for an artist to have a fully rounded understanding of the world they should have at least a basic idea of how mathematics works to understand what we experience. Dr. Matthews opened out the use of Venn diagrams to help us think about how to predict events and reminded us of how important topology is to how we can think about 3 dimensional surfaces. However the best way for you to get an idea of what she is thinking about is to read this article:

Corneel Cannearts introduced us to what he called allographic machines. He was adopting a Nelson Goodman term, ‘allographic drawing’ which is another theoretical approach to an understanding of contemporary art production. Goodman stated that all contemporary artworks are allographic forms, therefore all contemporary art is drawing, in the sense that these art works are examples of the type of drawing that includes diagrams and graphic notation. In ‘Languages of Art’ Goodman suggests that much of current practice is concerned with representation and notation and introduces the term to distinguish between autographic – being peculiar to an individual – and allographic meaning any other form of notation that is not autographic.
Allographic representations are graphic records carried out by other means than conventional drawing. In essence, allographic representation, allows for the widest possible set of variations of a form, and includes an unlimited selection of media. Such an understanding therefore necessitates the expansion of the notion of drawing to include three-dimensional representations and whether a drawing is two- or three- dimensional no longer carries any significance.
Canneart’s presentation was actually about how to rethink the way a 3D printer can be used, and he was hacking into the existing computer code, so that he could redirect how the 3D printer would respond to messages received. He was arguing that by working directly with the computer code he was able to give his drawings full allographic status.  He was reflecting more on the way his interventions did not bear his ‘hand trace’ but I might argue that coding itself is a language and that his ‘autograph’ is imprinted within the new code he wrote for the machine. However the concept of encoded matter has stayed with me and I think is a way of thinking that will become more and more important.

Corneel Cannearts:
Examples of forms made by 3D printers in response to editing computer code

Canneart opened his presentation with a reminder of the myth of the first drawing. This is central to his idea of allographic drawing. Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s, ‘Origin of Painting’, 1830, shows one version of the origin myth that explains that drawing originated in the tracing of lines round the human shadow. Pliny the Elder recounts the myth of Butades of Corinth. “It was through his daughter that he made the discovery; who, being deeply in love with a young man about to depart on a long journey, traced the profile of his face, as thrown upon the wall by the light of the lamp.”
At its very inception therefore drawing is associated with a method that in many ways circumvents autographic representation, personal feelings are excluded because the shadow is in effect an orthogonal projection and all the artist is doing is tracing around its edge. In order to fully capture this representation Butades then went on to make a ceramic version from the tracing, thus echoing how Canneart was thinking about his relationship with the 3D printer.

Instead of using Karl Friedrich Schinkel's painting Canneart could have used this photographic image above by Karen Knorr, ‘The Pencil of Nature’, 1994. The term ‘pencil of nature’ is taken from Henry Fox Talbot's account of his invention of photography. (Drawing with light.) The machine, the camera, records the tracing of the shadow, another cruder earlier technology that the camera has supplanted, just as contemporary art has replaced the art of the past, represented by the Classical nude figure of a man. At the same time women are now taking centre stage, they replace the usually unclothed women that we find in Classical paintings and are engaged in rediscovering the origins of image making. 

Catherine Anyango gave a fascinating presentation on how she was using drawing to respond to ‘Last Seen’ images. By this she meant responding to images such as video clips, which were the last known sighting of someone before they had been killed or had disappeared. She was interested in how the physical quality of a drawing could relate to the trauma of the situation and when she passed around the original drawings you began to get an idea of how the drawing process of working up surface texture by rubbing in layers of graphite pencil and sharply delineating the edges of light and dark in reverse tonality, which was then followed by using a less reflective black chalk, could eventually both create a surface of distress, and at the same time be able to hold an image.
Anyango’s work was a lesson in how to process a photographic image through drawing, she was not copying; she was re-creating. At the centre of her presentation two questions emerged, ‘how do images create a space to think about concepts?’ and ‘how can concepts generate ideas for the creation of images?’
Her work is underpinned theoretically by notions of ‘the other’, and Kristeva's concept of abjection. Moving from working with Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ onto other representations of those that have been excluded from ‘normal’ representation, Anyango was now making animations and exploring both abstract and figurative approaches to these issues.   
Catherine Anyango

A presentation by Sian Hindle on body limits and the skin as a boundary was centred on jewellery design but could have been just as applicable to a fine art context. For instance she pointed out that the wedding ring could be looked at as a metonym, you in effect carry your spouse with you. All jewellery or body adornment sits on the body’s boundaries and therefore is central to our ‘embodied’ identities; we both have and are bodies.  Read Bryan S Turner’s ‘The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory’ to get a much richer idea of these theories.
Jewellery is about establishing our boundaries and what is beyond our borders is often ‘horrific’ or ‘abject’ to return to Kristeva’s concept. Jewellery can be seen to also activate this boundary and it is a boundary that is constantly changing. For instance in Victorian times human hair was often used in mourning jewellery, but this would now be regarded as horrific by many sections of society.
Jewellery has sometimes been described as ‘body drawing’ but in this case the presentation was at a drawing conference because Hindle was using drawing to explore the emotional and associative resonances around the way jewellery could affect personality.

There were also two presentations by artists undertaking forms of repetitive mark making. Martin Lewis was investigating how to evidence the experiential, i.e. how could he communicate to others what he was doing? Moving from a practice centred on repetitive mark making on paper, for instance drawing a line and then copying it exactly, right down to any accidental glitch and doing this over and over again, to a practice that was more performance based. He kept asking questions. How did he feel about repeating an action over and over again? He had himself filmed sitting at a desk whist tapping his fingers. What was he thinking of? How does the everyday creep into any situation of this sort? How do you make an accurate transcription of an experiential event? He was also using text on paper, a historical lineage going back through Robert Smithson’s ‘Heap of Language’ from 1966, via Robert Morris’s ‘’Memory Drawings’, Joseph Kosuth’s text pieces and Fiona Banner’s ‘Life Drawings’. I reminded myself that Fiona Banner had a piece in ‘Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing’ and that perhaps simply putting in a link to that was enough.

It was interesting to compare Lewis’s approach to Joe Graham’s who was more concerned with how to illustrate a concept. He had been thinking about freedom; voluntary and involuntary reactions. He was using what he termed ‘autonomic’ drawing to explore a post-phenomenological methodology. Post-phenomenology is the inquiry into the ways in which technologies get embodied. Ours is a "lived body" that is immersed in technologically designed environments. It is as if Jonson and Lakoff’s ideas of an embodied mind and the way we create metaphor based on living in our bodies, was implanted into extended bodies that use technology so much that they have forgotten that it is ‘other’ or different, it is now simply an extension of our very selves.
Graham had given himself a set of rules to work to. He was responding to different metronomic beats and building drawings by filling in sheets of graph paper that recorded him making the same marks over and over again to the tick of the metronome. Fast speeds meant shorter marks. Marks were locked into grids that represented moments of time. His work was a catalogue of bodily reactions to imposed limits of movement. I found an analogy with time and motion studies that used to be the bane of anyone who used to work in a factory. Repetitive actions were examined by experts and they then devised ways in which they could be done quicker and quicker, the worker being exploited and pushed to the edges of their capability, as owners looked for more and more products from their production lines in relation to less and less payment for the producers. I realise that Graham’s work was not intended metaphorically but my mind works that way and all artwork when it reaches an audience is open to interpretation.
There were many other presentations and sometimes my notes were quite cursory, like most people I tend to cherry pick my information, we also had practical workshops where we actually drew and this is my drawing of a sink in the corner of a room.

It’s good to be reminded of what it must be like to be a student, everyone in these conferences dreads the workshops because you have to expose yourself and make something that will be visible to all and you will probably be unable to do what you normally do, so you will be working outside of your comfort zone. However it's also great just to have an excuse to draw and not to have to worry about whether or not it is going to be any good. 

Notes from an earlier drawing conference