Art Group. September 2016.

 

This month has been a continuation of portrait drawing. I have now drawn everyone who volunteered their photographs for me to practise from. So, thank you:
rosebutnottylerceciliasvenssonsapphicfaery and Mollie.

I have enjoyed getting back into portrait drawing and wish to continue. My only issue is that I need to use photographs to help me get the proportions correct. It is also best if the photo is well lit so that I can see the shadows clearly. The images above I have not drawn, I have shaded. I find ignoring the facial features and shading in the various shadows is as accurate and neater than say, for example, drawing a nose.

Hopefully next month I will be able to continue producing portraits, although I am aware that I should not stick to one style of drawing for too long. I tend to get stuck in a rut. One thing I would like to do differently is use charcoal instead of pencil. I have not used this medium to draw with before, and I have some charcoal pencils sitting in my cupboard crying out to be used. Now I need to be brave enough to give them a go…

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The National Gallery vs the Smartphone

Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting the National Gallery in London. It is impossible to study all of the paintings in the collection, but I was able to appreciate the Van Gogh’s, Canaletto’s, Monet’s, Constable’s amongst many others. The gallery is currently exhibiting works by a contemporary artist, George Shaw, and it was fascinating to learn about the artists who have influenced him throughout his career. It was interesting to compare and contrast the techniques used by Shaw with this of renowned painters from bygone eras.

However, it was not only the magnificent painting that took my interest – I was very aware of the other visitors around me. I found myself wondering what it was that compelled people to visit the gallery. For some it was easy to determine why they were there due to their uniforms. Numerous school parties were being shown around the gallery by knowledgeable guides – a great earwigging opportunity for those wanting to know more about individual paintings.

As well as those that appeared to be taking a great interest in the artworks, there were quite a few who were not. On benches in the centre of the rooms were many bored looking people, often playing on their phones. Perhaps they had been dragged there against their will by an art enthusiast? I also spotted one person fast asleep and another reading a book.

The most common thing I saw people doing, however, was photographing the paintings with their smartphones. I had to carefully manoeuvre around crowds in order to prevent getting in the way of the many amateur photographers. It did not surprise me all that much since these days people seem to photograph their entire life in order to document it on social media.

One thing I could not help wondering was what these smartphone users were getting out of their visit to the gallery. Granted they can boast to friends that they have seen famous works of art, but they were not even taking the time to appreciate them properly. By looking at a painting through a camera lens, or phone screen, the effect of the original art work gets lost. Gone is the ability to closely look at the uneven surface of the canvas evidencing the way the artist has built up the picture. The awe at the size of the pieces are diminished when reduced to an 8×5″ photograph. If all you plan to do is take photographs, then you may as well stay at home and look them up on the internet.

It would be a shame for galleries to close because people are spending most of their time looking at phone screens rather than what is displayed on the walls around them. Next time you are at a gallery make the effort to fully appreciate the art you have the privilege of viewing. Study them closely… and then take your photographs!

The Digital Dark Age

Have you ever wondered what we, the current Western world, will be remembered for in terms of art? There is evidence from all periods of history, showing the varying styles and their developments. We only need to step into an art gallery to see paintings from the Renaissance era, Dutch Golden Age, Rococo and Neoclassicism. Exhibitions are still popular for Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Impressionism, Post- Impressionism and so forth. Modern art galleries not only display contemporary art but also works from the movements of the 20th century: Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Bauhaus, De Stijl, Futurism, Surrealism, Typography… the list goes on.

Art works have been restored and protected so that modern generations can appreciate their beauty, skill and techniques. But what will happen to our contemporary contributions? Paintings, sculptures and the like will hopefully be maintained in the same way as their predecessors, however our most recent movement, Digital Art, possesses numerous complications.

Although many artists have continued using the tried and tested techniques of yesteryear, the 21st century has conformed to the new practice of digital art. This is the era in which graphic designers and illustrators have out shone the fine artists. Computer software enables the mass production of a single design or art work, perfect for posters, flyers, logos etc. The same software lets artists and illustrators edit their hand rendered images, or draw them from scratch directly on the computer screen. This advancement has greatly benefited the majority, providing an arguably easier method of creating a “masterpiece”.

The ease of reproducing – reprinting – a digital artwork numerous times creates a sense of security: Damage? No worries, print a new copy. But for how long will this last? Everyone has experienced the heart stopping horror of losing a vital digital file. Or perhaps a computer has crashed mid production resulting in the loss of latest developments – save your files at regular intervals, everyone! The thought of losing one piece of artwork is sickening; now imagine this: an entire network crashing. Perhaps a bug wipes out several computers, a digital terrorist attack. A natural disaster could play havoc with our electricity. Scientists have warned that solar flares could render our technology useless. We cannot guarantee that our contemporary inventions will last for ever, the same as we cannot predict an alien invasion – something else that could put an end to digital art. If any of these scenarios were to happen, what will future generations know of this most recent art movement? Welcome to the digital dark age.

Many artists, illustrators and graphic designers have online portfolios; a digital gallery, but how many of us keep printed versions of our artwork? Alas, how long will these physical copies last? Art galleries contain paintings from centuries ago. They are protected, cleaned, (occasionally) retouched and restored, prolonging their life. Unfortunately the same cannot be done for works printed on paper. Ever town has a poster on display that has been ruined by rainfall, bleached by the sun, vandalised etc. Except for replacing it with another copy, they cannot be saved.

Do not panic too much. Evidence suggests that under the right circumstances paper can last upwards of one hundred years, regrettably eventually showing signs of age. Regardless of what happens to our technologies, the next few generations will have access to artworks of the early 21st century. After that? Who knows. In the end it does not really matter. We will not be around to bemoan the loss of our hard work.

In order for evidence of digital art to remain for years to come, please be sensible. Save your work (on multiple devices of your can). Print multiple copies. Protect them from the elements. But, most importantly, keep creating art. On the other hand, you have got to admit the thought of a digital dark age sounds quite exciting. I wonder what inaccurate beliefs the future human race will have of our generation?

The Graffiti Issue

Writing and drawing on walls is nothing new; it dates back to prehistoric times when cavemen invented the first form of visual/written communication. Nowadays there is a completely different stance on this form of expression – graffiti.

“Graffiti” means writing, drawing or scratching on a wall or public area, a custom that has been forbidden by the government. One of the main purposes of this practice is to state “I was here” by tagging a personal symbol or phrase; somewhat similar to animals urinating on objects to state their territory. These days it is seen as an act of vandalism and it is not unusual to see industrial buildings covered in colourful spray paint. Graffiti artists tend to target dark, secluded areas, for instance alley ways and places that youths tend to congregate.

Presumed to be a young person thing, graffiti is used to intimidate the authorities attempting to control teenagers, causing them to rebel and express themselves in this forbidden manner. Although it is disrespectful to private properties, the artists/taggers are undeterred especially as they can remain completely anonymous.

The introduction of the hip-hop scene at the beginning of the 1970s influenced the rise in graffiti artists, thus causing this vandalism to be associated with loud, noisy music, protestations and youngsters causing trouble. Graffiti is essentially a crime, however in recent years it has become an element of cultural appropriation often used by artists and designers when targeting audiences of a particular age group, i.e. teenagers. It is here that the definition of graffiti begins to blur.

Some may argue that graffiti has become an art form, but is it still entitled to have that name if it is produced for a commercial purpose? After all it is no longer illegal if it is being used to advertise a company or decorate a nightclub or some such.

Most people will have heard of the English graffiti activist Banksy, who has yet to be identified. He paints images with a political and social message onto public walls and visible surfaces. Many of his creations have been removed or destroyed due to the illegal choice of canvas for his detailed stencil paintings. Those that have not been taken down by unimpressed communities have ended up being sold for tens of thousands of pounds.This surely legalises the “vandalism” turning it into street art and dismissing the term graffiti? There have also been exhibitions of Banksy’s works, which after being taken away from their original location defeats their initial purpose and turns them into a commodity rather than a political statement.

It would be possible to argue for hours over what is graffiti and what is not. Entire books could be written on the subject without forming a conclusion. What it comes down to is personal opinion. Depending on the generation people were bought up in, their backgrounds and culture, graffiti means something different to everyone.

Instead of trying to find an answer, let’s play a game. Look at the following photographs and decide what is graffiti and what is art. There are no right or wrong answers, so everyone is a winner!

Ready? Graffiti or art. Discuss.

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The Life of a Sketchbook

Sketchbook ˈskɛtʃbʊk/ noun a pad of drawing paper for sketching on.
I lost count the amount of times throughout school and college people asked if they could look through my sketchbook. I felt uncomfortable letting people flick through the pages for two reasons. 1. I did not believe I was any good at drawing. 2. I knew the contents of my sketchbooks were not what they were expecting to see. There seems to be a misunderstanding among non-artists that sketchbooks are full of perfect works of art, but this is not the case at all.
The purpose of a sketchbook, particularly when studying, is to document creative ideas. It is a private place for artists to record their thoughts and experiments before developing various versions of a particular concept. It is only after these stages have been completed that the final artwork is put together.
There is no right or wrong way to keep a sketchbook. Everyone works differently and find some methods more helpful than others. Some books may not contain any drawings at all but be filled with collage and inspiration from a number of resources, whereas others may be packed with rough illustrations and scribbled notes.
Steven Heller, an author of art and design books, has compiled together snapshots from professional artists’ and designers’ sketchbooks. It is interesting to see the methods they have taken to move their thoughts from brain to paper. Two books I particularly enjoyed looking through are Graphic and Typography Sketchbooks.
Inspired by these books I have taken photographs of a few of my own sketchbooks that I kept whilst studying for a degree in Graphic Design. As you can see below I did not stick to one method, instead I experimented with drawings, collage, paint, colour, rough thumbnail sketches etc.

Next time you ask to look at someone’s sketchbook remember you are not going to see perfect artwork. What you are really requesting is to take a peak into someone’s brain. So don’t be surprised if they hesitate to show you!