Sunday, 31 January 2010

Portraiture

I did a four hour life drawing session yesterday; I’d forgotten how tiring that can be. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected as the model is a local burlesque artist and had one of her show outfits on most of the time (fishnet stockings aren’t the easiest thing to draw, so I didn’t try!). It was a useful exercise though, in that it made me sit down and draw what was in front of me for a concentrated period of time.


I’ve been asked by a local art society to lead a session on portraiture, specifically drawn portraits, which has made me think much more about what I do - and about the nature of portraiture. As the session will be fairly short, we’ll be concentrating on the traditional concept of a portrait, the head and face, but it can be so much more than that; the full figure, the things the subject has around him or her and the spaces he or she occupies. These can enrich the work by giving the viewer greater insight into the subject’s character and life. Maybe it’s not even necessary to have the person in the image at all. A few years ago I made a series of prints based on characters from Dickens’s Bleak House. One of these was entitled ‘Mr Jellyby’ and is in fact a ‘portrait’ of him. The man himself is absent from the image however.

‘"And how is your mama, Caddy?" said I.

"Why, I hear of her, Esther," replied Caddy, "through Pa, but I see very little of her. We are good friends, I am glad to say, but Ma thinks there is something absurd in my having married a dancing-master, and she is rather afraid of its extending to her."

It struck me that if Mrs. Jellyby had discharged her own natural duties and obligations before she swept the horizon with a telescope in search of others, she would have taken the best precautions against becoming absurd, but I need scarcely observe that I kept this to myself.

"And your papa, Caddy?"

"He comes here every evening," returned Caddy, "and is so fond of sitting in the corner there that it's a treat to see him."

Looking at the corner, I plainly perceived the mark of Mr. Jellyby's head against the wall. It was consolatory to know that he had found such a resting-place for it.’

This brings up an interesting question around figures in illustrative and narrative work. My niece posed for me as Ginger Nut, a character from a short story by Herman Mellville - Barleby the Scrivener. Is the result print therefore a portrait of Ginger Nut (a boy) or my niece? Or both? Where does the sitter end and the character begin?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Life class

2010 hasn’t started terribly well. January has been hijacked somewhat by inclement weather (sub-zero temperatures in the studio) and parental ill-health so I don’t feel as though the year is really underway yet. Creatively, I’ve been drifting somewhat – Woodwose was a bit of an aside, a detour from the main business of… what? I have many ideas in my head but can’t seem to get any of them to form coherently.


A friend of mine did a life drawing class recently which reminded me of how much I used to enjoy figure drawing (I’ve been concentrating more on portraiture of late). I dug out some of my old sketch books and spent an enjoyable hour looking through them, remembering various life classes and models (piercings in the most uncomfortable places!) and decided that I need to do some more. Most of my work tends to contain figures in one form or another so I think it would be useful to revisit life drawing and remind myself how the human form fits together. One of my art teachers at college used to say that in order for us to understand how clothes fitted over the human body and to be able to draw or paint them convincingly, we ought to study the human figure unclothed. So, I’ve booked myself on a session in a couple of weeks at local establishment The Art House; can’t wait!


Sunday, 3 January 2010

Woodwose

After the hectic run up to and pleasant Christmas Day (I can recommend Moroccan spiced pie as a vegetarian alternative to turkey), it’s been good to be able to spend a few quiet afternoons in the studio, skypeing with Arizona Jim whilst working on my woodwose aquatint.


Often appearing in medieval European literature, artwork and architectural decoration, a woodwose, or wild man, is an oddly hirsute character sometimes shown brandishing a club. The idea is that he somehow bridges the gap between human beings and the less civilised woodland creatures such as elves and spirits. You may come across him in conjunction with the Green Man, another mythical character who has foliage sprouting from various parts of his face. This print was a bit of an aside really, sort of a bridge between projects.


Studio time has been scarce over the last couple of months so my first resolution of 2010 is to set aside Sunday afternoons at least as designated studio time. That doesn’t mean I’m a Sunday printmaker however… more on projects for 2010 next time.