Perspective drawing and a crowd pleaser

A year ago I posted about a reverse perspective project that I had done with the twelve year olds that I teach. It is fair to say that the results of the three dimensional drawing assignment (based on the work of the British artist Patrick Hughes) seemed to trigger considerable interest, and I continue to experiment with other ideas in a conmparable direction.

I have always been interested in the geometric in art and the tensions between two dimensions and three dimensions, illusionism and perspective. These interests have regularly found their way into my own artistic practice.

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The reverse perspective project of last year certainly played into this area, and other recent art projects have done so as well. The two examples here are certainly not approaches that are unique. One relies on a form of perspective correction that is often used in street art drawings, and the other has some small scale similarities that makes use of how we view photographic images.

The larger ‘hole in the ground’ work that I made together with one of the class of 14 and 15 year olds that I teach. I used it last week at our school open day to draw people into an exhibition space of other artworks made by the pupils.

I hadn’t anticipated the success of the idea, and had people queuing out the door, waiting to be able to come in and take their turn at being photographed on the edge of the artwork. A PR success for the school and hopefully the art department too.

Fashion, Digitalization and geometry

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about wanting to tempt my pupils to think outside of the box a little when working on their fashion design project during the forthcoming weeks (click here for post).

I mentioned the work of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. I’m familiar with her work from films and interviews, but had never seen any examples first-hand.

Last week I visited the Textile museum in Tilburg (in the southern Netherlands) for the first time. There was an exhibition of designs that made use of lace and related them to the history of lace in the fashion industry.

For me it was an Iris van Herpen design that stole the show, and if we are to be picky, it didn’t even make use of traditional lace. But it did make use of a digital, geometric latticework made on a laser cutter, using extremely thin skin plywood to create an amazing result.

As someone who has always liked a bit of geometry in their art and has an interest in digitalization in creative areas, there really was nothing not to like! Added to this was the way natural materials had been used in such a delicate combinations.

I left with a few ideas that potentially may one day find their way into my own drawings and paintings. I’ve been working a lot with web like masses of lines recently, van Herpen’s work has some interesting parallels to draw on.

 

 

New year – the same old resolution

P1020218The first of January, and a first drawing for a new year. Most years I start the year with the intention of drawing more. A kind of unofficial resolution to myself. Some years it is more successful than others. This year I can post the first drawing of the year on the first day…although to be honest it was started earlier and just finished today. However, a second variation is well underway.

It’s quite a somber image, quite fitting for the grey, misty chill outside this particular 1 January. Although it also has to be said that the bush fires that are burning in Australia at the moment and filling the news the silhouette tree motif that I have been using for a while now seems to be taking on an increasingly environmental charge.

What goes around comes around

I remember looking at Rob van Koningsbruggen’s work when I was an art student around 1990.  He was held up as an example of a type of abstract painter who was much admired by teaching staff at the college where I was studying. He had taken on board in his work the lessons of American abstraction of the mid twentieth century without losing his European roots. Better still, he belonged to the Dutch lineage of abstraction.

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Rob van Koningsbruggen, Untitled, 1985

I have regularly come across examples of his work in Dutch galleries and museums, but today, when visiting the Kunstmuseum (formerly known as the Gemeentemuseum) in The Hague I have seen a full-scale museum show of his paintings for the first time.

They were a succulent collection of canvases from the past decade of the now 71 year old painter. The paint and colour does quite literally on occasions ooze from the surface.

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Peter Roseman, Composition on Drape, 1990

It was strange to walk around the rooms; I hadn’t expected it to feel quite such a visual reminder of the paintings I remember from the college studio spaces back in 1990. I just wish I had more photos from our work place back then. A very likeable exhibition, but at the same time strangely familiar.

 

 

A film of our times – with a Dickensian echo

As the titles moved up the screen, a silence held the cinema, nobody moved.

The film we had just watched was Ken Loach’s Sorry we missed you.  Loach is well known for films with a social charge. His previous film I, Daniel Blake followed the struggles of and unemployed carpenter and a single mother through the UK’s social security system.  In Sorry we missed you we follow the life of a delivery van driver, his wife who is a care worker and their family.

The film is captivating, but anything but an easy watch. There are small glimmers of hope to be found here and there. The resilience of family bonds even in the most demanding of circumstances for example. But overall, it is a grim and punishing indictment of the world we live in of zero-hours contracts, scant employment rights and impossible demands thrown down on employees who are left with few choices or opportunities to build a career or even a stable existence.

Loach offers an insight into what goes on behind our online orders, it is not a pretty sight. As it is presented in the film it is no understatement to say that it is an abusive system.

As my wife and I discussed the film on the way home, we both felt like the film had put us through a emotional mangle, where social compassion and responsibility had been all but squeezed out. We were struck by how Dickensian it all felt.  This is a free market economy at its extreme where the workers at the end of the chain have few rights and protections.

It is a very British film, set in a clearly very British context. The EU does have its faults and difficulties, but it does take issues such as employment rights relatively seriously.  Is a post Brexit UK is unlikely to see improvements in this area?

A film for school?

Whenever I watch a movie, be it at home or in the cinema, always at the back of my mind is whether the film could be one that finds its way into the film study course I do with the 15 year olds that teach. Sorry we missed you is no exception.  And yes, part of me really wants to give my pupils a look at this one.

It would be a massive step outside of their normal film consumption of super-hero movies and rom-coms. But given the right framing up in the lesson material leading up to it I think it could be incredibly interesting.

The crucial question is always whether the film would engage them and capture the attention?  Well, it portrays a world that would be recognizable in the sense that it is a family unit with teenage children, and does it using a narrative than progresses with considerable twists and turns.The social injustices of this particular strand of the working world would certainly be an interesting discussion to have. There is a lot on offer here, and we haven’t yet started to consider the aspects of filmmaking beyond the narrative and, in this case, the social points being made.

 

Dare to think beyond the familiar – fashion design with teenagers

When teaching in the art room it is often surprising how hard you have to push pupils to get them to think creatively and challenge them to get them to go a step further than the familiar or their initial idea.  There are of course various issues that contribute to their cautious approach.  The pupils’ age, peer group pressure, the comfort and security provided by a familiar approach all play a part.  The whole general structure of an educational system that encourages pupils to think that there is often only a single way to be ‘right’ and an ‘interesting failure’ isn’t valued in many other areas other than in the art room.

All these sorts of thoughts occur to me often enough when working with the children that I teach who are all aged between the ages of 12 and 16.  But perhaps there is one assignment that I hand out once a year to the oldest groups that I teach that underlines the conservative artistic approaches more than most.  It is a fashion design assignment.  I should stress at the start that it is a ‘design’ assignment and not a ‘make’ assignment.  We have neither the time or the facilities to actually attempt to make the outfits that the pupils dream up.  In some ways this is a shame, but it does mean that the final assignment is only ever result in a drawing. This in turn means that the pupils can let their imagination run wild, their design is not ever going to be limited by their (or mine) abilities with a sewing machine!

I’ll be setting this assignment in motion again this week and I’ll be leaning heavily on the work of two designers who don’t necessarily let the practicalities of wearing of their creations be a limiting factor. Most of the pupils are aware, at least to a degree, of the catwalk shows from the various fashion week shows around the world.  They may, from time to time, have seen images of one or two ‘over the top’ designs.  However, asking them to push their imagination into these areas of creativity is very much the challenge.

The assignment that a colleague reworked last year to draw on the work of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen fits very much into these sorts of intentions and we will be making use of here creative process again.  Added to this will be photographs that I have made this week whilst visiting the Kunsthal in Rotterdam to see the exhibition by Thierry Mugler.   It was a very theatrical experience to visit the show.  Video projections met you as you entered the space and each separate room was referred to as an ‘Act’.  Some designs were stylish and elegant evening wear, but others were extraordinary for their exuberance strangely retro qualities. Bodices modelled on classic American automobile styling, sometimes complete with wing mirrors.  A series of ‘fembot’ cladding with their roots seemingly in the sci-fi cinema of the 1920s and 30s.  And finally, one outfit that was constructed with an array of exhaust pipes with clear motorcycle references.

I’m left with two thoughts.  Are these the designs to tempt my teenage designers to push the creative boat out, and are Mugler and van Herpen’s designs the ones to tempt the boys away from choosing the parallel running architect design assignment instead?

I don’t use much green…….

I’m busy working on a commission for a painting. It is a larger version of the circular ring formed paintings that I have been working on for a while now. For me it is also a fairly large-scale work, measuring 120cm across and that hole in the middle being about 62cm.

The most recent smaller versions have often been essentially the bringing together of two colours, built up in numerous layers to gain an intensity of colour that causes the optical effects of the composition to work best. The initial layers being put on with acrylic paint and the later ones being oil for a better surface finish and greater depth to the colour.

For this larger work I decided to continue with the dark blues that I have been experimenting with and rely on Windsor Blue being layered on top of Cerulean Blue and just a touch of Phthalo Green. The green part though has been something of a new area for me. I’ve been working this area up with a mixture of Permanent Green Light and Cadmium Yellow.

So far so good, but then comes those final layers of glazed oil paint to bring the surface quality to where I want it to be. This has sent be deep into the bottom of box of oil paints looking for the appropriate shade of green. Like I said at the beginning, I don’t often use green. A fact that was confirmed by the discovery of the 37ml tube of Cadmium Green made by Windsor and Newton that I plan to use. The paper covering of the tube has yellowed with time, it took a while to get the cap off the tube, but inside the colour was fine. I’ve bought many tubes of paint over the years, most of which I can’t remember where and when I got them. But this one is an exception, it is a last remaining tube (along with a tube of violet, what I also rarely use) that remain from a set I was given when I started my Fine Art degree at Wimbledon School of Art in 1987.

Thirty-two years on this Cadmium Green is finally to see the light of day and edge my painting towards its own finishing line in 2019.

 

Sprezzatura – Italian painting 1860-1910

I’m reading Fingersmith by Sarah Waters at the moment. It is set in Britain during the Victorian era. It’s an atmospheric and descriptive read that conjures images in the mind of the reader of life in the back streets of London, life in a country house and at points also a lunatic asylum. Waters’ writing is excellent at pulling you into these worlds, the people, the struggles of life and in the case of Fingersmith, the deceptions that could play out in these places.

I travelled to The Drendtsmuseum in the northern Dutch town of Assen to catch the last day of the Sprezzatura – fifty years of Italian painting 1860-1910 exhibition, wondering whether my insights from Waters’ book may be relevant in the way I viewed the exhibition. The seventy or so paintings from various Italian museums cover very much the Victorian period. In the end though, I have to conclude that I found only limited parallels and overlaps. Britain in the second half of the of the nineteenth century was of course a very different place in comparison to the newly established and unified country of Italy. Equally, northern Europe and southern Europe were in terms of landscape, traditions and politics also very different places.

 

The exhibition pitches in on trying to catch the diversity of artistic focuses in this period, but ultimately seems to get a little stranded in the middle ground between thematic approaches that artists took in their choice of content in the their work and technical and painterly innovations and developments.

We move from history painting to travel paintings, from gritty realism to luscious handling in idealized figure painting and from innovative painterly technical experiments to gushing symbolism. There is also space for sentimentality and tragedy. All in all, although I really quite enjoyed looking at the displayed work, it left me feeling a little confused by the switch from one sub-group of paintings to the next.

Italy must have been a country searching for an identity in this turbulent period, and in this sense the curating of the exhibition may well be an appropriate and fitting approach. But in terms of a clear direction or theme that helps the viewer work their way through an exhibition it was a difficult path to find.

In the train on the way home I’ll be returning to my book. Fingersmith certainly has an easier narrative to follow.

iPads in the art room

I might be jumping the gun a little bit in this post. But the school where I teach is considering a change in our digital device of choice. For about six years all the pupils at our school have worked with an iPad alongside their regular schoolbooks or in many cases in place of their regular schoolbooks. As a school we are on the cusp of implementing considerable changes in the way we teach our pupils and, as a result, it’s a good moment to be reflecting on the educational tools that we use. This is the reason why our choice for the iPad is up for evaluation. It could well be that in the end we choose to stay with the iPad, although I feel maybe the balance of opinion within the teaching staff is shifting. Might the future device we choose be a laptop or a Chromebook perhaps?

Within the art Department we are also reflecting and thinking about what we prefer. If I’m honest and look back to the start of our iPad experiment, in the beginning I wasn’t sure exactly how it would come to gain a place in my lessons. I too was new to the iPad and the possibilities the digital tablet may offer the creative wing of our school. Through a process of learning and experimentation the digital possibilities on offer found their way into all sorts of areas of my lessons.

I love having Internet access at every desk for researching and linking art history to practical assignments. I also love having every pupil ready with a stills or video camera to record their activities and document their work. It has offered graphics and page layout design possibilities in the classroom without having to relocate to computer classrooms to access desktops. I’ve done animation projects and photo collage assignments having simply first asked the pupils to download the appropriate app.

Possibly though, the area that I’ve grown to enjoy most, and in a way, has surprised me most, are simply the drawing and painting opportunities that the touch screen offers my pupils. Teenagers are often very cautious when it comes to putting pen or pencil to paper. Most are teachers have any number of tricks to try and loosen them up and tempt them into more expressive mark making. The instantaneous nature of a digital paper that the iPad offers brings different possibilities to this area. Yes, perhaps it is at times a bit overly disposable, but that’s exactly what helps. When I look at the decorative letter designs my 12-year-old pupils recently produced, and the freedom of mark making that they display, it is a considerable step from where I can get them to using pencils and paper. Also, when I consider the abstract designs that my slightly older 14-year-old pupils have produced using a different app. This work shows a speed of creative possibilities are so much faster than the comparable approach on paper would allow. It is not a replacement; it is simply something creatively different that allows them to cut loose and be considerably more experimental and ultimately more expressive in their work. In both cases these benefits can subsequently be drawn on and used in pieces that rely on more traditional media.

The art department enthusiasm for the iPad isn’t entirely shared by other areas within the school. Some colleagues lament the lack of a proper keyboard. Others would like to have a bigger screen. And many would like to lose the instant accessibility of the games put the pupils are so determined to play outside (and inside) their lessons.

I would certainly be interested to hear from any other art teachers and art departments that have been confronted with similar digital choices.

Using technology to make use of an analogue trick

The idea of making a panorama photograph using a modern camera, even the one on your phone, is simple. Select the panorama setting press the button and sweep round the 180 or 360 degrees that you want to capture. The teenagers I teach are only too familiar with this possibility. So when I suggest that we are going to have a go at creating composite panoramic photographic compositions using maybe up to fifty photographs, there is a certain amount of ‘unlearning’ to be done.

Talking our way through a number of David Hockney’s ‘joiner’ collages of multiple Polaroid photographs certainly helps open the teenage imagination to the possibilities on offer. Preparing the pupils to head out to take their series of photographs is an important point in the process. Young people are not to used to the idea of stopping to consider their photographic subjects too much, the instant and endlessly free nature of the digital image has changed that. Yet for this assignment finding an interesting, complex and maybe above all, spatial subject is crucial.

Once the photographs have been made, what Hockney would have done, puzzling through all the hard copies of his images spread across a large table is easily done digitally and without expensive or time consuming printing. Although, having said that, I am regularly surprised at the difficulties experienced by my digital natives in getting images off their phone and onto a desktop computer! Once that is achieved though, the photographs can be dumped into a single PowerPoint slide or MS Publisher document and resized to an appropriate format. After that the enjoyable part to putting the photographic puzzle together again can begin, experimenting with the layering and overlapping as they go. At this point I can normally sit back and wait for the final pdf documents to be made and handed in.

This year was the second time I’ve tried this assignment with the 15 year olds that I teach. Maybe I’d learnt a few things from last year, spotted and alerted pupils to potential problem areas when explaining the process perhaps, maybe they are just more creative pupils than last year’s group…..who knows! Either way, the results are, generally more ambitious and successfully worked out than the first time around.