Assignment 1: Warm-Ups, New Media and Forgetting Perfection

Logbook - Assignment One

In 2016 I decided to start an art foundation course. It's what I wanted to do after school, but long story short, the circumstances didn't allow for it back then. As it turned out, the circumstances weren't quite right when I started this course either. Mental illness is a funny, funny thing. Sometimes it makes you literally believe you can fly, and sometimes it makes you feel like opening the front door will cause the universe to pour in and crush you, like tidal waves of constellations. But, for now, things seem to be well. And while they are, I'm getting stuck right in.

The first part of the course is focussed on warm ups and getting to grips with different drawing implements, shapes, tones and body movements. Having taken some time off from drawing much more than the odd doodle, it felt incredibly freeing to make different lines and marks of different sizes and really play around and experiment rather than obsessing too much on making something "artistically worthy". Being able to put my focus on cause and effect - if I use this part of my wrist it looks like this, this pressure with this tool makes this happen - was a really useful way to get back into the swing of drawing after a very long break.

I've always been more drawn (pun intended) to using implements that make even, definite lines. When drawing for fun, I always prefer using Parker Vector ink pens, or even biros, and drawing quite stylised, stark line drawings. Using smudgy, brittle and variable media like charcoal, willow sticks and crumbly soft pencils was out of my comfort zone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm also more comfortable working in black and white, rather than shades of grey. This will come up later...

When the tasks moved from abstract marks and experiments to drawing tangible objects, the previous exercises really did help, though being confronted with creating continuous line drawings was more in my wheelhouse. A few years ago I took a short fashion design course at Central St Martin's and one of the days was all about fashion illustration and involved a life-drawing session which included similar exercises to this, which I enjoyed immensely back then, and I enjoyed it just as much this time. 

And, finally, I reached the last task of assignment one: a self-portrait. I will be totally honest, this was a very, very daunting task for me. While the wording of the section explicitly says not to worry about looking "pretty" I have to be honest, I felt a lot of pressure. Not only is submitting a first assignment a little bit scary, but having a funny relationship with my appearance and a certain level of anxiety about my work combined into something of a large roadblock for me. That's before you even take into account the actual skills required in pulling off an even remotely passable pencil study of a human face. I've got to be honest, I was intimidated. As a result, I went about my first attempt all wrong and the result was... well, it was bad. It looked like a terrible, flat, cartoonish nightmare. Just trust me, it was dreadful, so the next attempt I gave myself a stern talking-to, and agreed to just draw what I saw, not what I thought I saw or what I wanted to see, and didn't bother putting on makeup or faffing with my hair. I just sat down and got on with it, and this time I was actually surprisingly pleased.

Dodgy attempt one on the left, improved attempt two on the right

Dodgy attempt one on the left, improved attempt two on the right

While the face and jaw shape are the same in each one, it's actually quite shocking how different each one looks. The one on the left is, frankly, creepy. I think if I met a real human with a face like that I'd be distinctly unnerved. It kind of reminds me of Sophia the robot. Needless to say, it looks nothing like a real person, let alone me. The one on the right isn't symmetrical, because my face isn't symmetrical. Rather than an assortment of facial features in a space, it looks like an actual face. 

I spent the suggested hour on both drawings, but I'm really quite pleased how marked the difference is between the two. Is the better of the two a photorealistic, totally accurate, flawless drawing? No. But it is a pretty good starting point, and indicative of something of a mental shift, which I'm rather proud of.

Sketchbook and snippets - January/February 2018

Reach for the stars

First things first, I will make marks on anything even vaguely flat. Notebooks, receipts, pages of poetry books... if I can draw on it I probably will. So in these sections you're just as likely to see doodles and drawings on lined, printed or wrinkled paper as you are in an actual sketchbook. Now, with that out of that way...

I enjoy drawing irregularly tessellated shapes, usually triangles, when I'm doodling absent-mindedly. It's a useful little exercise, because it helps me concentrate on spacing and control of my implement. Over the last couple of months I've moved to a slightly more complicated shape - a five-pointed star. This presents a greater challenge in a number of ways, largely because it's harder to draw moderately symmetrical stars than it is to draw scalene triangles. So, here's some of the pages I've filled.

Listen carefully

As much as the prospect of the self-portrait for assignment one was a little unnerving, there was one thing I was disappointed not to have included in mine: ears. Odd as it sounds (and don't tell my boss) I have recently found myself absent-mindedly sketching other people's ears when I'm in meetings a work. Here are a handful of ears. Yes, I'm aware that sounds bizarre.

Other work I've seen and loved

I got my hands on Tallulah Pomeroy's "A Girl's Guide to Personal Hygiene" - a book all about the gross aspects of womanhood, with charming illustrations to match. The line-and-block-colour approach really appeals to me. I've also felt really inspired by art journals I've seen on Instagram, particularly Kelly Hughes's. Kelly is a mixed media and digital artist whose work I've always liked (in fact Kelly made the banner for this website), and her art journals are dreamy, combining collage, hand-inking and acrylic paints. Art journaling is definitely something I'd like to make time for alongside my studies and sketching. And, finally, Hannah White's embroidery has really caught my eye. As far as I'm concerned, embroidery is just drawing with thread, and Hannah's pieces are particularly good. I've made succulent plants out of polymer clay before, and I think I'm going to have to turn a hand to doing more drawings of plants. 

Thoughts and reflections

Assignment one has taken me over a year thanks to poor mental health, weird life events and letting myself get overwhelmed, but completing it has made me feel a combination of pride, happiness and, if I'm completely honest, relief. I felt freed up in my movements and use of materials thanks to the exercises, and I'm genuinely pleased and surprised by the effect it's had on my use of tone. Roll on assignment two!