Since I returned from vacation, I have been mainly using my little gobbets of free time to participate in the #drawthisinyourstyle challenge on Instagram. I have been sharing my results there and on my other blog. Yesterday, however, I managed to find enough time to open the pages of my art journal. I chose to illustrate Ligeia, the eponymous character of the Edgar Allan Poe story. I am a Poe fan and have been visiting his houses but I have not really tried illustrating the stories since I was in High School. ‘Ligeia’ is a story involving death, duality, resurrection, possession – and an unreliable narrator. My Ligeia is probably a bit too vampy to be the emaciated, sickly, wasting Ligeia. She is probably a bit more Morticia Addams to be honest. I enjoyed working on this illustration, however, and that is the important thing.
This Sunday the 89th Academy Awards Ceremony will be held in Hollywood. As a movie nerd, the Oscars are a big deal to me. I rarely manage to catch any of the other movie awards ceremonies but I do my level best to watch the Oscars each year and now my movie nerd kids are old enough to stay up for at least part of the ceremony too. Of course, by virtue of having kids and only making it to the cinema once or twice a year without them, these days I have rarely seen any of the movies in contention prior to awards season but I still enjoy the whole thing nevertheless.
A few weeks ago I had a lot of fun with an art journal page filled with illustrations of vintage mug shots. I was keen to repeat that experiment and thought the Oscars posed the perfect opportunity to try out the not-quite-blind-contour approach once more. Obviously once I had the basic outline and interior shapes mapped out in pencil through sideways glances, I refined and modified the sketches but only a little because I wanted to retain the looseness of my initital mark making. The results were entirely mixed when the outcome is considered – and the likenesses are actually woeful – but I had a whole lot of fun drawing these and that is actually what is more important. These were also relaxing to draw because I could work on them, using pencil and fountain pens, while tucked up on the sofa watching a movie.
Initially I was intending to work through all the nominees in all the major awards categories. However, I realised I was over-extending myself so I limited myself to the four acting categories only. The text accompanying each portrait indicates who the portraits depict – or who they are supposed to depict since the likenesses are not exactly accurate. Some are better than others, of course, but some bear no resemblance whatsoever to the actual person. I don’t think Natalie Portman or Denzel Washington are about to sue me for insulting their faces and I am not a portraitist so that’s OK .
This year I wanted to try working in an art journal dedicated to one theme. I have worked in themes before, of course, as with my Greek Mythology drawings and my altered book that was full of monsters. Even my first time participating in Inktober became thematic. The difference with those, however, was that I was utilising the same techniques and deploying the same media over and over. What I wanted to do was practice using a wide variety of media, combine them to revisit and practice the mixed media techniques I have been learning over the past few years, and challenge myself to create a coherent journal full of connected pages. I decided to work on a really loose theme which was colour. Easy peasy. I bought a new journal (I like the spiral bound Cansons for their flexibility) and worked out how I would divide it between all the colours of the rainbow plus a few additional colours and black and white. I do not have a timetable for working on this journal or a deadline for its completion. No pressure. I will work in it as and when time allows, maybe adding bits here and there while working on other projects as a good way to use up excess paint or bits of collage paper. I will share each page as it is completed.
I am starting with black. My first page was pretty simple because I grabbed the journal and worked on it while watching a movie with my kids one afternoon. I just tucked up on the sofa with my fountain pen and drew the figure and didn’t worry about perfect proportions or angles. It is an art journal so it is just for fun. I added the wash of ink later that evening just to eradicate more of the white paper. Simple. And relaxing because it was simple. Maybe this particular art journal will become a useful tool for decompression for me this year.
I was very happy when I read that this week’s Art Journal Adventure prompt was “Mug Shots”. I am into the history of photography and am also a family historian so I instantly thought of all those characterful vintage mug shots of criminals and workhouse inmates. I decided, therefore, to use those as my inspiration but almost as soon as I started pootling around on google images I decided to use some of the images not just as vague inspiration, a jumping off point, but as direct inspiration, scaffolding for a group of portrait sketches. Now, I am not a portraitist. I do not possess the degree of accuracy required plus I am actually not that interested in verisimilitude. I, therefore, had no intention of even attempting to create faithful likenesses to the individuals captured in the vintage mug shots. I just wanted to capture some essence of them, some details, and go from there.
Deciding to challenge myself a little, I undertook to draw these in an “almost blind contour” approach. I did not completely cover the page or my drawing hand, which would have made it properly blind contour, but I kept my art journal and hand off to one side and tried not to look very often while I focused on observing the details on the computer screen. That approach meant the drawings did not go completely wonky but the proportions did go skew-wiff enough to add some interest and character in my drawings. I initially drew in pencil – just in case – but then tried my best to stay true to the original line work when going over it with my trusty fountain pen (a Lamy Al Star with a Fine nib and filled with Noodler’s Bulletproof). I added a few more details and some shading using another pen filled with Lexington Grey ink. I used that same grey ink in a wash for some areas of the drawings.
In the top left is my depiction of Walter Smith. According to a blog entry, Smith was a burglar in New South Wales sentenced to 6 months hard labour in 1924. I chose his photo as I liked the defeated slouch. Top right is Dorothy Mort who, in 1920, shot dead the chap who she was having an affair with. I chose her photo because of her interesting profile and her sad sack stance. Bottom right is a mugger named Charles Money. There was something about his calmly defiant facial expression and relaxed pose that appealed to me. Finally, in the bottom left, is my drawing of one Lamar Warter whose mug shot came courtesy of a drink driving rap. When I saw that image, I knew I had to draw that profile with that really prominent adam’s apple.
Last week’s Let’s Face It tutorial was a mini-lesson with Petra Stein. The thrust of the lesson was to not get tied up in outcomes but just to practice through play and not worry about getting things right and just accept imperfections. I decided to use that prompt as another opportunity to practice being more loose and uninhibited with ink and watercolour – the media with which I am most comfortable.
I adapated the approach I take when illustrating my 100 Faces – ink work using a pen and brush followed by watercolour and/or more ink. However, with that series I tend to work very tightly with clearly defined lines, shapes and blocks of colour. What I wanted to do was practice being loose and more intuitive again, allowing some loss of control, letting the imperfections, blemishes and mistakes happen. In this regard, it was a bit of a repeat of last week’s Life Book lesson and actually the finished painting ended up looking quite similar to that one. I was slower with the ink drawing and a bit more controlled so my mark-making was more precise and I also used more muted hues but the use of very liquid paint applied with a large brush resulted in a similar look. The face is a little bland and expressionless but that’s OK. Defects are OK. My focus after all was not on constructing the face but on loosening up. Besides, it is all grist to the mill of development.
This week’s Let’s Face It lesson moved from 3/4 portraits to profile portraits. Ack! My nemesis. I had mixed feelings about moving onto this section of the course: trepidation because I find drawing profiles so challenging and excitement because the lessons might actually help me overcome my difficulties with profiles. The first lesson was a gentle introduction with a suggestion of a couple of techniques to assist in drawing accurate profile shapes. For reasons too dull to explain, I did not use either technique and instead just freehand drew the profile. What’s more, to make it extra challenging, I decided to draw in India ink. What was I thinking? The concentrated black ink on the left covers up a multitude of attempts at getting the profile right. I also regret not using better quality paper as the way the diluted ink saturated into the paper has left it all looking blotchy and patchy. I also let the whole drawing become way to dark. Oh dear. Hopefully the only way is up with profiles.
The objective of this week’s Life Book lesson was to create a depiction of a figure called the “Lady of Self-Compassion”. The tutor was Shiloh Sophia whose approach to creativity is reminiscent of art therapy. I can see why that appeals to lots of people but the sort of introspection involved, the personalisation of the art project, is not really my sort of thing. I, therefore, had to decide how to take some of the elements of the lesson and make them work for me. I took the idea of a female face surrounded by fluid lines and bold use of colour all painted intuitively. I also aimed for a serene, calm face that could suggest compassion but I totally failed on that front. I think that was too ambitious for an ink drawing with no pencil guidelines. I used India ink for all the line work and then added some colour by using Dylusions inks as if they were watercolour or bottle inks, an idea inspired by Carrie Lynn Cordero. It is not a very successful piece and I think in part that was because I just wasn’t “feeling” this lesson. However, I skipped last week’s Life Book lesson for the same reason and did not want to skip another one. The upside is that this female face is much softer and doesn’t have the heavy jawline that has been a feature of my female faces for a while.
The theme of last week’s Colour Me Positive project was Eyes. The idea was about seeing things through new eyes, shifting perspective. The quotation provided was actually pretty inspirational. It was from Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. I had lots of ideas germinating in my head inspired by that quotation. However, by the time I finally got around to working in my art journal, I had lost interest in all of them. That was when I came up with an idea that was somewhat divergent from the expected: an Aye Aye. It has big eyes and its name is a phoneme for “eye”. To the best of my recollection, I have never drawn an Aye Aye before so that was fun. I drew the Aye Aye using an ink wash and then stamped “I spy with my Little Aye Aye” onto the illustration.
Concluding the theme of depicting people in art journal pages, the prompt for the Documented Life Project this week was self-portraiture. Eegads! I am not beyond drawing myself. It is useful practice when no other human subject is around or willing to sit still but my own fizzog does not really inspire me. Ugh.
I decided to challenge myself to produce a self-portrait in no more than five minutes. Partly this was because I had five minutes of free time while something was cooking on the hob, partly it was so I would not have the opportunity to over-think what I was doing, and partly it was because I could then blame any inadequacies on the pressure of time. I switched on my iPhone camera in selfie mode and held it in one hand while quickly drawing with Inktense pencils in the other. In the final minute, I then brushed water over the marks I had laid down to turn the pencil into ink and splattered some pigment across the page for the merry heck of it. The results at the conclusion of that five minutes of frenetic activity were …. not good. Not good at all. The drawing looked nothing like me and was truly mediocre as a drawing. At best it was bland and boring … and lopsided. I almost decided not to share it on the blog but “red in tooth and claw” here it is.
So I obviously had to have another stab at it. I again gave myself five minutes but this time I used India Ink over a substrate of paint smeared underpaper. The underpaper immediately provided visual interest and helped me overcome the mental block of the blank page. I am pretty comfortable working with ink and wash so I just drew directly on to the paper in ink with no pencil marks as scaffolding. This time I also worked from a photo on my camera rather than holding the phone up. Much better idea. It’s still not a great self-portrait but goodness it is so much better than my first attempt. I have used underpaper as a collage element before but never drawn onto it before. I like the effect and it is interesting to see that some of the paint marks repelled the ink which makes for more interesting layering. That I will definitely try again. Self-portraits can go back to being for desperate measures practice.
The August theme for the Documented Life Project prompts is to be “faces, the human form and characters” which very much appeals to me. The first prompts were expressive faces and “what I see clearly now” which suggested to me a focus on the eyes.
I had a page in my art journal where I had doodled triangles using watercolour. I had no intention for the page so I decided to use it as the background for my response to this week’s DLP prompt. The fact that the triangles were all towards the left hand side of the page made me want to balance out the composition by having the face on the right hand side. That thought led to the decision to only draw half the face. In order that the focus be on the eye – as per my interpretation of the prompt – I drew the face in ink and only coloured in the eye, using the same watercolours that I had used for the triangles.
I am pretty happy with how this art journal page turned out except that – had I actually planned this page – I would have completed the ink drawing first, since the ink is waterproof, and then would have added the watercolour triangles. Constructing the page in that order would have avoided the watercolour bleeding into the ink drawing. That’s what I get for being spontaneous.