I have always had a vague feeling of guilt because I do not maintain a proper sketchbook ( therefore I can’t be a real artist). Many have a favourite book of carefully chosen paper and shape that they carry around to record those fleeting thoughts and fragments of life that will prove to be so inspiring later on. Having seen Osi’s sketchbooks in his Llansteffan gallery, I dream of being able to fill a book with so much beauty.
Sadly, my mind doesn’t work that way. Instead, I realise now that everything I do is a sketchbook. The pile on the floor represents some of my work over the last 9 months: collage, prints, drawings in ink, charcoal, pencil, maquettes for books – on different substrates, different sizes, no real unifying factors, but all containing the possibility of development. It’s hard to critically evaluate them when they’re in a heap on the floor so the next stage is to record them in my journal and think where to go with them. So my sketchbook will continue to be whatever scraps of paper are lying around, and whatever implement is to hand and, if beauty arrives, it will sneak in through the back door.
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Over several weeks I experimented with drawing self portraits in various media – charcoal, ink and stick, pencils. My reference point was a series of exercises in The Drawing Book ( Maslen & Southern ed ) which invite artists to ‘loosen up’ by employing non traditional means of working, e.g. drawing blind from touch, drawing without looking at the page, and my favourite – drawing with multiple pencils in each hand, so you never know what marks are going to be made. Also drawing on a range of surfaces – here I have used scrap paper with under-drawings or marks, and cracked hand-made gesso.
The aim is to avoid the cliched mark, which my hand always wants to make when confronted with nice clean paper and a pencil. Charcoal can be erased and reworked, ink and a stiff nigella twig make marks that are scratchy and cannot easily be controlled. These processes interfere with the search for resemblance in a portrait, although the double chins always seem to win through.
A major inspiration here is Claude Heath, a contributor to the book, whose blind drawings of heads from a plaster cast, using multiple coloured pens, create the sensation of a 3d image moving and floating in space. The idea is to learn through touch and trust what the touch tells you, without interference from what we think we might know. I’m still struggling towards this, as the urge is always to produce a recognisable image, whereas the value is in the doing, not the finished product.
A ‘portrait’ of my father, done from memory, with the aid of a very small black and white photo taken in 1960, when he would have been 67. I used gesso, graphite and ink. Odd things happened – I couldn’t remember his eyes very well but could remember his mouth and his facial expression. I wanted to capture a hazy, incomplete memory of a very quiet, gentle man. This is the result of many layers of drawing and erasure.
Just thought I would share one of my favourite portraits. This one is King Charles ii and hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. What I love is how he looks like a used car salesman, with a sideline in fake Rolex watches. Despite the dignified posture, the frilly clothes, and the painterly skill of the artist, something of his true character inadvertently escapes, and he looks as dodgy as a three bob note. Is that treason?
On 5th April Carmarthen School of Art BA2 Show opened at Volcano Theatre in Swansea. As a group of 11 students we organised every aspect of the show, sourcing the venue, fundraising, publicity, curation, with the support of our tutor Amanda Blake. The opening night was lively and very well attended, and I am looking forward to seeing the feedback in the visitor’s book.
A few reflections:
– how different work looks when properly hung, with ‘breathing space’ in a gallery, as opposed to stuck to the studio wall with blu-tak.
– how scary to open one’s own work to public viewing, especially when the subject matter is very personal. ( I experienced a bit of a melt-down about this the day before the opening).
– how some works are eye catching and dominate the space, and others are quiet and recede, and how this gives an interesting dynamic to the exhibition.
Well after all the stress of organising and hanging the show I think I need to lie down in a darkened room for a while. Oh no, there’s still an essay to write………..
Experimenting with monoprint on gelli plate to capture remembered images of my father. Surprisingly they turned out looking like something from a 1940s film noir – but maybe not so surprising, as the memories are shadowy, much of his life was a mystery, and he always wore a hat like Humphrey Bogart!
Gelli plate printing is great for table top printing without a press. Good for monoprint but you cannot scratch onto the plate in case you damage it. The kitchen is now a scene of devastation, but I have 30 + prints relating to memories of my father.