College Art Jounal

News / 20 September 2018

Visual Studies – Exploring how we approach drawing

Today I was timetabled a day of “Visual Studies.” I was a bit unsure what to expect from this, as it does sound quite ambiguous. I knew we would be drawing, but I did not know exactly how we would be approaching it. It was a given that we would be drawing from life, which I didn’t feel particularly confident about.

The Morning - Still life

In the morning, we were faced with a large, sprawling group of objects in the centre of the room (which included our bottle sculpture from our induction week), and tasked with drawing it on large newsprint paper using charcoal. We were asked to set up an easel at a spot where what we could see was visually interesting, and given 40 minutes. The only stipulations were that we needed to include the entire mass of objects in the composition, as opposed to just focusing on one area, and that we should not include shading, but instead concentrate on getting the lines accurate.

I do not tend to work with purely with charcoal, and in the past have normally just used it for dark shadows. I also avoid making lines, and instead draw in a subtractive way. My usual approach is to make a fine, even coating of graphite and then erase in highlighted areas before adding in deeper shadows, so I really found working with lines a challenge. However, I relaxed and embraced the activity, and found the results very pleasing.

I really like the loose, unrefined feel of the piece. It isn’t loaded with realism, but it is expressive.

Next, we had 7 minutes to do a continuous line drawing of the same viewpoint. Again, this isn’t something I usually indulge in, but the freedom it offered had a lot of value.

Lastly, we moved to another viewpoint and had an hour to draw what we could see on A0 paper, focusing on getting angles correct. I had never worked this large before, so it was a little daunting to look at the space I needed to fill.

I really think the continuous line activity helped me to make more confident marks with the charcoal. I am really happy with this piece, and I think that I learned a lot from just the one morning of activities. I feel that it will take consistent practice in the techniques used today to stop me falling back into old methods and to keep the confidence I gained today. Although parts aren’t fabulously accurate, the wider picture looks expressive, and you can tell that the marks were made with conviction.

The Afternoon - Anatomy

The afternoon was comprised of drawing a skeleton from different angles. For the first drawing, we were given 20 minutes and were allowed to draw with any materials we liked, and we also did not have to fit the entire skeleton on the paper. I fell back on my usual subtractive style of drawing, and used graphite powder applied with a brush to create shadows that I then erased into. Afterwards I reinforced the edges with charcoal. I was originally quite pleased with this, but in retrospect I feel it looks a little bland.

We then moved perspective and were given one minute to draw. Then another with 20 seconds. This was a fun exercise, and whilst the results were obviously not anything to write home about, the activity focused on the importance of how to convey information, and what to prioritise to get the forms on the paper.

For our next exercise, we were given different objects and instructed to tape our charcoal to the ends of them. We were to draw on a piece of A4 paper using these objects with our arms outstretched, so we were quite far away from the easel. Some people got very long sticks, some people had bin lids, someone had a hose. I was given a floppy draught excluder. I thought this was a bit ridiculous, and my arm started to ache pretty quickly, but it was definitely fun.

I was also really pleased with how my drawing turned out. I felt like it would turn out as a mess of lines, but instead the lack of control has made the drawing full of unpredictable strokes. I actually prefer this to my initial drawing where I was allowed all of my usual artist creature comforts, go figure. The only really frustrating thing that I experienced here was that the draught excluder kept rubbing out parts of the charcoal.

Our last task was to tape together two A1 pieces of paper longways and draw the skeleton life-sized, but only using our left hand. The first 15 minutes were rough, and my hand was cramping up a lot. I felt my lines were ham-fisted, and it was a definite ordeal for me. However, as time went on, this dissipated. I became engrossed in my drawing, and as I did, my left hand seemed to become far more compliant. My lines were still hard to control, but it felt like they at least seemed to flow out onto the paper more fluidly. I really like the end result, and would like to do this more often

However, I did not complete the main objective we were given. I drew the skeleton too big, so it was not life-size. Balancing scale when drawing from life seems extremely difficult, and I have no idea how to approach drawing something life-sized. Despite this, I find my left-handed piece to be the best of all the drawings I completed today, and it stands testament to the fact that bold, confident strokes that are imperfect can be far more effective than tentative sketches aiming for realism.