Monday, May 31, 2010

A breakthrough

A drawing book, probably from late 1976 or 1977, shows real progress. Suddenly I am discovering the joy of drawing, which till this point had basically been a burden.

I was actually very pleasantly surprised to discover a vast improvement in my approach on this, the first page of life drawings in the layout pad. (By the way, I wonder if you can still buy these fine-paper drawing books, whose name I've finally recalled.) Although, due to scanner constraints, I've had to lop off a bit of the bottom drawing and the legs of the figure on the right, there is enough here to show where I am finally going right. A key element is that the pencil is searching for the form and there is no obsession with shading for its own sake. Also, there is a greater freedom to redraw.

Jack Lugg was a master at getting the model to strike up an interesting pose. Here he would have stressed that we capture the twist in the torso, with all its attendant stresses through the body. I think that is quite nicely achieved, as the line explores in particular the abdominal area.

Ah, and there is even some fairly adroit shading here. A key realisation is that the shading lines follow the surface direction. I also like the way both hands have been redrawn, no doubt as they moved.

This drawing, from the same sketch pad, is evidence that I was starting to enjoy myself, combining several face studies, and even a bit of colour, in the work.

And this, surely, is a eureka moment. Suddenly I am playing with shading, allowing the lines to speak with purpose, delineating form. Note, for instance, the way the muscles in the neck and shoulders stand out prominently. Oh, and the hand isn't just an afterthought. It has real form. This is possibly my best drawing thus far.

But I was still struggling, as this work, one of two on the page, shows. I clearly tried an angular approach, even repeating the drawing of the head.

The long pose had so often been my downfall, but here I seem no longer to be afraid of the task. Instead, I am happy to draw and redraw, hence the "many" feet and hips. But instead of detracting, these lines actually boost the picture, in my view. And again, the hands are strong and properly seen.

The short pose so often provided scope for good drawing, and here I think we finally see evidence of it. Again, Jack Lugg set the poses with a view to the creation of interesting drawings. I like the fact that only the face of the one on the left is worked to anything like a finish, while the decision to get the model to hold a handbag on her head made for wonderful flowing lines through the figure. And the fact that I redrew those hips and thighs several times only serves to enhance the work, with the shading being applied to the "view" that best balances the whole.

Another Lugg-inspired effort. Here, I suspect, he asked the model to do a little dance, and got us to try to capture that movement in say five minutes. I really enjoy the result achieved here.

On this occasion, Jack Lugg got hold of a large bamboo pole, which forms a useful prop for the model. This drawing, and the two below, are all on the same page, and again I believe show real progress. I enjoy the almost painterly quality being achieved with the shading.

Yet, despite all my self-praise, which of course is no recommendation, I can sense that there was still much to do. I must add that a study of the drawings of the great masters, including Michelangelo, Leonardo and Rembrandt, formed an integral part in what progress had been achieved thus far.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Making progress

The following sketches are all from the same drawing book, probably from my second year at art school, 1976. I can notice a definite improvement in my technique, although I have not included some real horrors, riddled with cross-hatching. This normally occurred once Jack Lugg had set us a long pose - say half an hour - after having got us "warmed up" with shorter poses. It is among these quicker sketches that I think I may have started to make some progress, as you'll see.

She may seem a trifle off balance. Her feet aren't properly defined either. The shading is still nowhere, just a series of lines in a hit-or-miss attempt at modelling form. But I do think the character of the pose is almost achieved, and I like the lines of the upper torso, which seem to be searching for the shape.

One of Jack Lugg's key lessons had still not registered. Always, he said, draw the surfaces on which the weight is applied - be it the floor, a chair, whatever. Nonetheless, while this model's foot seems to be suspended in space, I do think there is some progress here, too. While foreshortening fails - the elbow of the right arm does not seem nearer the eye than say, the head - I do think the pose has been quite well captured, and some of the shading, especially on the right leg, almost works.

Foreshortening, or the lack of it, is a major drawback of this study, in which I seem to be attempting to use construction lines. It is a common sight in drawing studios to see people with plumb lines, trying to ascertain exactly where the right foot is in relation to the thigh, head, chest, and so on. In the end, as we'll see, I don't think these lines are all that helpful.

There is something about this sketch I quite like. Jack Lugg took great pains in posing his models, always using some or other "prop". Here it was all about the distribution of weight and energy as he sits on the edge of the stool, the weight on that right buttock and arm. I think the chest, arms and shoulders are quite well seen. In this drawing, too, I seem to be understanding that the only reason you put down lines is to model form. Less is definitely more in drawing. The more you are able to say with as few lines as possible, the better.

This is a case in point. Probably the best life drawing I had done thus far, most people would say, but it doesn't even have anatomical accuracy. And, horrors, there is no shading at all. One of Jack Lugg's best ever lessons entailed the super-quick pose in which you literally don't look down at your paper. You simply let your pencil flow in accordance with what you see as you try to follow the lines "given off" by the figure. The wonderful exaggerations and distortions seen here, not to mention the superb line quality, are the end result. I was to discover, gradually, over many years, that a combination of this effect, and meaningful shading lines, was my objective.

There was some cause for satisfaction here, though at the time I wouldn't have known it. What I like about this drawing is that there is a groping for the right line; a constant redrawing, as I grappled to get the figure balanced, or possibly even followed it as she moved, ever so slightly, with her head maybe starting to droop. It is this that brings a drawing to life. Of course the shading remains dodgy, but those flowing lines - a product of the "don't look down" lessons - are a big leap forward.

The shading is again pretty much nowhere - look at that foot, a meaningless array of cross-hatches - but there are nonetheless some fairly successful areas here. The weight does seem to bear down on that poor right arm, and the hand even looks a bit like a hand. Aluta continua!

Getting out and about

A key part of my very practical National Diploma in Art and Design course at the EL Technical College under Jack Lugg entailed getting out into the world and drawing people and places encountered. Of course it was always great to get onto the bus and head out, but the serious side was we had to try and make art.

The following two drawings are among several I have unearthed from these early outings, and were done, if I recall correctly, in North End, a part of East London that was racially mixed but, like District Six in Cape Town and South End in Port Elizabeth, saw the people of colour living there being forced out in the 1960s and 1970s under the pernicious Group Areas Act.

When we visited, though, the place still seemed to have a lot of character.

This is the right-hand three-fifths of a large drawing I did in North End. I was unable to merge it with the less impressive part on the left, but I think this is not a bad effort for 1975, aged 19. I quite enjoy the corrugated iron-looking building, as well as the figure walking up the road.

These two women, drawn waiting possibly at a bus stop, are also typical of the sort of images I would do for the rest of my life, trying to capture people simply going about their daily lives. There are obvious flaws, like the poor drawing of the arms of the woman on the left. But the important thing at this stage, and I never realised it at the time, was to keep drawing.

Another side of drawing

Can I do this? As the months passed during my first year learning to draw, I must have despaired of ever getting to grips with this demanding discipline. These two drawings, done from the imagination, seem to address underlying psychological issues I was grappling with in 1975, at the tender age of 18 going on 19.

This drawing, and the next one, almost filled one of those A2 sketch-pad pages, so I had to resort to photographing them, hence the grey quality. Anyway, this is one of the first of many quirky drawings, seemingly originating somewhere in my subconscious, that have become an integral part of my output. Ironically, in this early work I seem to come far closer to the sort of line quality I needed in life drawing than I was actually achieving while drawing from the model. There is a nice spontaneity of line here, and I enjoy the shading technique used on the sprawling tent in the background. As to the subject itself, it seems to speak of a would-be artist not at all sure of where he is going.

Spot the mouse. Somehow this popped out of my subconscious about the same time. Interestingly, the artist here resembles my father, who had died in 1974, the year I wrote matric. He was an architectural draughtsman. Several of the houses he designed are still to be seen around East London.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The struggle begins in earnest

The following works are from my first sketch pad at the East London Tech art school in 1975. I know these large format pads, with fine paper, had a special name, but I can't recall it. Anyway, these drawings I believe show some progress, but I'll also point out the glaring problem areas.

Life drawing and painting were a key part of our course. Every Monday evening we had extra drawing lessons, which were also open to non-permanent students. Despite apartheid, art school head Jack Lugg believed in using African models. I'm not sure what they were paid. Anyway, in this early attempt to come to terms with drawing the human figure, I seem to have tried a bold approach. Noticeable is a lot of cross-hatching in my attempt at shading, as well as severe anatomical anomalies. Due to having only an A4 scanner, the picture is cut off, but in reality includes the whole figure. Hands and feet, such a key part of the human figure, are also weak.

This drawing, a bit further on in the book, shows a different approach. I seem to have gone to the other extreme, eschewing bold outlines for a more fluid following of the form. This, had I known it, was probably a great leap forward. Yet, obviously, there are still major problem areas. The hands have no structure and shading is again hardly even attempted. On the positive side, I believe the character of the pose has been captured. Again, this work had to be cut off due to scanner constraints.

There is an Ingres quality to this study in so far as solid, bold outlines are used. Again, there is a grappling with a new technique, not to mention anatomy! The shading is still nowhere. But again I quite enjoy the overall effect.

Clearly influenced by those Sixties illustrators, here I tried a minimalist approach. Sometimes, as here, Jack Lugg got students to pose and we'd draw each other. But look at that hand! It's a tiny mess of a thing, with the shading a weak cluster of squiggly lines. I think the face is a redeeming feature and again I enjoy the overall character of the work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How not to draw

This, really, is a fine example of an unschooled drawing. I did it probably in 1975, during my first year at the EL Tech art school.

Notable are the many areas of cross-hatching. The subject matter is, however, interesting. Apartheid, and the plight of the oppressed black community, were close to my heart from very early in my life.

Schoolboy art

I was born in East London in 1956 and started drawing while in primary school, copying the drawings of Edmund Caldwell and Stuart Tresilian in the South African classic, Jock of the Bushveld by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books respectively.

Sadly, none of my early efforts at drawing were kept.

The comics we had delivered by the Beacon Supply Stores to our home in Bonza Bay once a week – rolled up and dropped off by a black man on a bicycle – were also a key early influence. Lion and Tiger, as I recall, were the British comics which captured our youthful attention. So I also grew up relishing the draughtsmanship to be found in Roy of the Rovers, Olac the Gladiator and many others.

As I entered high school, and the full impact of the psychedelic art of the 1960s and 1970s was felt, I started exploring what I thought was real art, while at the same time learning more and more about the actual history of art from an elder brother, who did an art matric and went on – as I would do, too – to study for a fine art diploma at the East London Technical College art school under Jack Lugg.

Anyway, from my somewhat disconnected high school days, only one piece of art survives, and it’s not a gem. This, done when I was about 16, is it.

Do I detect some understanding of shading technique?

I would battle for years to come to master this aspect of the art.