Downtown Los Angeles from Bronson Canyon Park

I spent four days in Hollywood, in sight of the famous sign on a hill, learning the latest science about melanoma.

I had part of a day to spare.  I walked east.  The transient glitz and commercial bustle of Hollywood Boulevard rapidly becomes run down before changing to well-to-do neighbourhoods on the ascent above the city.  I ate a fat perfectly ripe avocado sandwich at the Trails Cafe, among mothers closing deals on their laptops as their toddlers played.

There was birdsong all around but I had chosen to walk light so no scope or binoculars, nor watercolours, only charcoal and a pocket sized sketchbook.  Rounding a bend on a high path with the Griffin Park Observatory above me, I suddenly glimpsed the city laid out below between a gap in the hills.   The city glowed, framed by the the silhouetted hills.  The white walls of the observatory gleamed against a darkening sky.

I did this painting tonight, back in the UK, from my charcoal sketch on site and from photos on my phone.

This was my first attempt at painting this scene.

I still think that I need to return to this painting and try again.  In brief … there is too much paint on the paper.   I want to pare this image down to the essentials.

Marsh Lane

I was cycling to the nature reserve where I observe and paint.  This time I stopped on the fifteenth century packhorse bridge and looked across at the newer arches carrying the railway across the River Blythe.  This quick sketch was done in charcoal.

This second sketch was, i think, done another day.  It is a view of the same bridge but from the other side.  I was in a hide in the reserve.  This was in pen and constitutes notes for a painting not yet executed.

I have just found another sketch in my folders.  View from the same hide I think but in the evening light.

fast sketches of common birds

I had an hour to sketch before the light faded.  A male mute swan seemed to be avidly defending his territory.  I think he was driving away the erstwhile cygnets.  I tried to capture this first in charcoal then in black watercolour, aiming for fast gestures to capture just the movement and postures.  Here too are earlier drawings in charcoal from the end of June: the same male in calmer mood preening,  interspersed are other charcoal sketches of lapwing, common tern, barnacle geese and black headed gulls.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Playing

At the end of each school year, home comes a big folder of of all the lovely paintings my kids have done, week by week. We do a bit of slapping paint around at home too.   Some go on the wall.  Quietly, quite a lot go in the paper recycling.  When in the experimental drawing workshops, I often wonder what distinguishes us from small children playing with paint.  I sort of think, not a lot.

We seem to have been playing with monoprints: layering pigment on metal plates and pressing paper on this by hand.  The output from the group is very varied.  My own approach was at first to use quite dilute gouache, and some ground charcoal and chalk pastels.

I wondered what then to do.  I had made nine monoprints in rapid succession.  I could look at the pretty patterns and say – “finished”.  But a few purposeless patterns are not art any more than just looking at mountains or rivers or the appearence of stained tissue on a microscope slide are art.   Eventually, this is the stuff of the recycling bin.  Unless I use it.  Somehow.

  

I started to go over these first patterns first in charcoal (not sure about that) and then I explored printing again, using thickly brushed acrylic.  This is still experimentation.  but I begin to have an idea.  I am thinking of printing more sparingly over these patterns, building layers with rose and viridan to re–create an image of a heron on look out that I have previously attempted in watercolour (with very limited success).  A version I’ve not posted before is below and I’ve linked to the previous attempts also.

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/not-so-much-a-painting/

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/woodland/

Powder and glue

Foam board – two sheets of shiny plastic sandwiching a layer of expanded polythene.   I bought half a dozen pieces but then puzzled about how to use them.  I experimented with an off-cut.

It doesn’t take charcoal.  This makes pale marks and pressing harder just scores the surface.  OK, why not fix that layer and then draw into it?  The sprayed fixative sat on the surface layer in a puddle.  I crushed some charcoal onto this and started making textures with my finger.  This seemed pleasing but I was inhaling the fumes of the slowly evaporating solvent.   Start again – the only other glue in the house was my children’s PVA stuff.  That must be safe.  The nozzle was blocked so I took this off and squeezed.  Out came great globs.  I ground down all those charcoal stubs that accumulated from sketching and threw it in and switched from fingers to shaping it with a palette knife.

At the moment I have in mind a distant city, monumentally big, with river and suspended tramlines weaving their way toward the foreground.

Except this is not that image, it is still just charcoal suspended in glue. Perhaps some colour was needed.   Cheap chalk pastels – small pieces ground down with the handle of a hammer seemed to go a long way.  Some white and paynes grey acrylic ink into the mix to create more contrast and definition.  This all seemed pretty viscous.  I propped it up to look and left it there overnight.  It slowly slid down the board as it dried.

I have found a use for foam board.  I’ll stick paper to it.

Garuda

Throwing graphite dust at paper and burnishing the surface with charcoal and a soft rubber resulted in a shiny surface broken by lines of powder that I attempted to fix in place. I was thinking about the novel Perdido Street Station (China Meilville) as I drew this. This is classic steam punk fantasy with soaring descriptions of a twisted urban setting for a crew of hybrid warped and strangely sympathetic characters.

Experimental drawing class has begun again. A big class this time – about ten of us. Twenty or so imaginary sketches in charcoal and graphite made by strangers will, I think, be melded into a larger image and reshaped. Sounds like fun.

These workshops have changed the way I work, making me more open to mixed media and experimentation. I gained the confidence to submit work for exhibition for the first time. This is the piece:

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/drone-iii-we-must-leave-these-people-no-place-to-hide/

And the exhibition is at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

http://www.rbsa.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/friends-exhibition/

Just to add – thanks to Kevin Ryan for the experimental drawing workshops at the Midlands Arts Centre.

Aberlady: storm clouds

Distant lightning flicked under low clouds and the delayed thunder rolled inland across the estuary.

 

The eiders had been roosting on the far sand bank.  As the tide seeped in, they shuffled into action, one by one launching themselves to swim up river.

  

When I was writing this post, I wondered why I had drawn with the charcoal tip and not with the side.  I then remembered that these drawings were done early on that last day of the course.  I was warming up.  Later, I also migrated along the coast.  The drawings of gull chicks posted previously had actually been done later that day.  They were bigger, freeer, more expressive.  Drawing is a process and it was taking time to get my eye, hand and brain into gear.

https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/what-else-is-watching-the-kittiwakes/

Curlews

The last day of the Seabird Drawing Course in June was spent in at Aberlady, a rocky coastal strip cut by a river emptying between sandbanks into the Firth of Forth.  I made rapid sketches in charcoal of curlews probing the sand.

  •  

Pickings seemed lean when suddenly, one found a crab.  His whole demeanour changed as he set off up the bank with another in hot pursuit.  I had only left myself a tiny bit of empty paper for this avian drama.

  

Although using the scope, I was practising watching, closing my eyes to fix the image and then drawing without a second look, rather than trying to copy moving birds directly.I don’t capture much detail but I am trying to get a better sense of movement.  Charcoal is such an expressive (if clumsy) medium for this.

On the far bank, under storm clouds, were a line of dozing eiders.  I took watercolour notes for a later painting.

 

 

Experimental drawing: shards

The chosen reference for our experimental drawing workshops  is the work of Anselm Kiefer.

His work is carried out on a large scale, constructed thickly with paint, clay, ash, straw, metal, glass and the written word.  The images constitute a dialogue, perhaps more an argument with recent history, art and culture.

Responding to his art challenged me.  Paint combines with solid materials stuck to the surface.  Is this collage or mosaic or painting or a display of found objects?  Are the components iconic or, like individual pigment granules, devoid of individual symbolism?  Other than scale, what distinguishes this art from a child’s picture of glued autumn leaves?

In my first layer, I blocked in a silhouette of my home town in acrylic rose and phthalo green.

Weeks then elapsed.   I returned with toolbox, a hammer, glue, white porcelain plates,  bark, feathers from a predated corpse and tarmac gathered from a surface disrupted by a root.

I suspended the shards and granules in a sea of glue and swept into shapes using a plastic blade.  In my mind, there was a direct link back to this earlier work in charcoal (https://kestrelart.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/swarm/).

Two more weeks have passed since.  Paint and glue has dried.  This week, I spent some time drinking coffee, just looking and thinking.  Then I tried to recreate and expand the obscured cityscape, painting into and over this surface.  I will post that next layer sometime soon.

I have only seen Anselm Kiefer’s paintings as photographs.  I cannot find an example displayed in the UK although the Tate and the National Gallery of Scotland seem to have archived a number of pieces.  I did not know of him earlier in the year when work was exhibited at the White Cube.  My knowledge of him to date is largely gleaned from the internet, including http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anselm_Kiefer

Fine artist Chris Wood comments below and introduced me to the work of Julian Schnabel.  I post the link here so anyone else interested in this theme can follow it.  http://www.julianschnabel.com/category/paintings/plate-paintings