Posts Tagged ‘Life Drawing’

Blackpaint 699 – Lifeys and Detox at Tate Britain

February 23, 2022

Phil – one minute

My correspondent Laurie sent an interesting comment about life drawing on my last blog post, so I’m going to try to answer it here. It also gives me the opportunity to post a load of my “lifeys” which, given the variable quality, might otherwise be seen as self – indulgence (which it is, of course).

Laurie was particularly concerned at the tendency, on “Portrait Artist of the Year”, for example – a British TV programme – for many competitors to draw or paint from an image on screen or tablet, rather than from the model. He feels this is a “corrupting way of condensing the long look into a frozen snapshot”, and asks for my views.

Phil – portrait on old cardboard

As can be seen from the above effort, portraiture is not a forte of mine. It was done from a live model, however, so any corruption is my responsibility. I made a cursory and wholly unsuccessful stab at getting a good likeness, but that really wasn’t what I was after. What was I trying for? An arresting, colourful, interesting image that would hold the interest for more than a few seconds and which a viewer might return to and make new discoveries.

In other words, a good picture. That pretty much covers any effort of mine, representational, abstract, portrait, landscape, combination of any of these. “Corruption” is exactly the right word, I think, for what I do to the human body in my pictures, sometimes by intention, often by accident.

Phil one minute

I see what Laurie is driving at – you can get a greater sense of immediacy by attempting to capture a living, breathing pose than from a “frozen” one in a photo; but that is also to do with the imposition of a short time limit. It gives you a freedom of expression. The longer you’ve got, the more of that freedom drains away. Plus, of course, the more opportunity you’ve got to screw it up.

Phil with a bit of shading

Laurie was writing about portraiture though – if your intention, or main intention, is to produce a good likeness, I can see, perhaps, why a photograph might help; you can switch your gaze from one to the other, check your accuracy – what if you’ve got an inexperienced model who moves too much? You’re working against the clock, maybe?

There is another consideration with portraiture, which I think Francis Bacon once touched on – he was talking about his own pictures, but it could apply to others. He worked from photographs rather than models because (he said) he didn’t like them to see what he was doing to them.

Isabel Rawsthorne, Francis Bacon

Yes, it is recognisable as Rawsthorne. Yes, Bacon is an extreme example, but there is a pressure exerted by the presence of a model. I find extreme beauty in a model of either sex is a problem because you want to reproduce the beauty (whatever “beauty ” is – but the reader will know what I mean). If you read this Phil, or Francoise, I did say “extreme” beauty.

Phil, bending, cropped

Something I’ve done frequently is odd cropping. It seems to be highly regarded in many circles, since I’m sometimes complimented on it. The reason is simple – I can’t draw “small”, or not well, anyway. Whatever the size of paper I use, there’s never enough to get the whole image in. This image is not cropped – well, not more than a couple of centimetres – I just ran out of paper at the edges. Bad planning, really.

Francoise, bending down

Look how long those legs are! That’s a distortion of reality, of course, but I think it makes for a better picture. I’m not sure, of course – plotters, like Coldstream and Uglow wouldn’t agree; then again, I’ve seen some pretty long legs on Uglow paintings….

I’ve just realised how this reads – I’m not remotely comparing my poor effort to either of these distinguished painters; it’s the principle I’m writing about. I love the sheer solidity in Uglow’s work (a solidity that is illusory, but all the more admirable for that); but with the solidity goes a certain stasis.

Phil two minutes

“Toxic” Hogarth and Contemporaries

I’m not sure if the Hogarth is still on at Tate Britain, but I wanted to add a few pictures to those i posted a few weeks ago when I blogged on the show. I remarked that the captions were mostly concerned with the depiction of a racist, misogynistic, imperialist society and were somewhat ambivalent – not always clear whether it was the artist at fault or the society depicted – or both. Below is an example of the sort of caption I’m writing about:

So there we are – we are safe to look at these paintings, because possible wrong interpretations have been “detoxified” by the “Museum Detox Interpretation Group”. I’m interested to know whose idea this was and if it will become a regular feature of future exhibitions of “toxic” art – and maybe a condition of such art being shown at all.

Pietro Longhi, the Venetian master, I believe. I love those masked figures; wish I knew what was going on. Should have read what the Detox Group had to say….

Beautiful little painting (the woman is demeaning herself, unfortunately) – but isn’t that leg wrong? It’s coming from the wrong place, surely…

I meant to do Bacon at the RA today, but too much to show and say, so I’ll finish with my last painting (the last one I’ve done, not – I hope – my last ever):

Light in a Black Sea


Feb 23rd 2022

Blackpaint 324 – Willem Working for the WPA; a New Deal for Bankers

February 11, 2012

De Kooning again

In the DK retrospective (Thames and Hudson 2011), that obsession with flat surface comes up again inevitably in the first essay, an overview of DK’s career by John Elderfield.  He points out that DK boasted of painting “on top” of the surface, going one better than the other AbExes to create a sort of 3D effect, I suppose.  You can see this quite clearly in the photo of Willem and Elaine standing in front of one of the “Woman” series; the painting looks like a sort of meringue, spilling out and over the edges of the painting.

Also fascinating to learn (for me, anyway) is that his late, post 1983 paintings, the ones that look like toy snakes writhing about on a clean white background, were not painted like that; when x-rayed, they show his usual tangled and overdrawn charcoal and paint strokes.  The difference is that he has painted over them in thick white, hiding the pentimenti, as I am told they are called, and giving that empty effect.  However they were produced, I still find them deeply depressing to look at, after the richness of the earlier work.

Richter and Oehlen

Similarities between these two painters, presumably the result of coincidence or the influence of the former over the latter:  the depth and layering effect of their abstracts, as if they were made of layers of glass with different marks, and space between each layer.  As Camille Morineau explains in the “Panorama” book on Richter, R often has cylindrical columns, originally from his “Candles” drawings; flat, geometric shapes of colour, green triangles for example; and the famous squeegee sweeps, which she describes as producing the effect of a brush sweep, blown up to big proportions.

Oehlen does his layers too – typically, computer generated images blown up, controlled paint “explosions” and often, a collaged element, the whole giving a hybrid effect of airbrush, painterly and collaged layers.


Returning to de Kooning for a moment, I was surprised to read that WPA artists had to produce a painting every six weeks and were paid the same as a construction worker on the East River Drive project – $23.86 a week!

Sounds good to me – pity there’s no enthusiasm for New Deal policies now.  What about training up a cohort of idealistic students and activists to run Lloyds and RBS for the taxpayer, for a good salary with no or minimal bonuses?  They could be like the FBI or the Untouchables. only trained in “ethical” banking practices (or at least, not screwing the customer) so that the shower we have now can take their expertise to Hong Kong or wherever, like they’re always promising to.

Martin Rowson

Best Rowson cartoon for a long while in the Guardian, Friday – caption “Eeeeeeeesing!”, Mervyn King pissing against a wall in Threadneedle Street, while a Fat Cat laps it up from the gutter, Osborne leaning against his fat flank.  But with Rowson, you have to be really well informed to get it all – what’s the tumbleweed, Martin?

I see that today’s compulsive grammatical tic is the use of inverted commas – will try to avoid in future.


Geoff Dyer has a new book, “Zona”, about the above’s film, “Stalker”; it was reviewed in Sunday’s Observer and I was pleased that the reviewer coupled Tarkovsky and my other favourite Bela Tarr, as the two most difficult and patience-trying directors.  I have to agree, I suppose; couldn’t really get through most of their films more than once in the cinema – but on DVD, no problem.  Tarkovsky or Bela for half an hour, stop DVD to watch Neighbours or Holby, back to Stalker or Satantango.

Life Drawing

I was told the shoulders were good in this one, but the body was “crap”  (not doing well with the inverted commas).

And here’s the proper painting – still in progress, it’s a big canvas for me, 60*40″.



Blackpaint 323 – Dinosaurs, Members and Moustaches

February 4, 2012

 Z  Costa -Gavras

Brilliant sequence at the end of the film, where a succession of senior Greek army officers, charged with the murder of a leftist politician, leave the magistrate’s office and attempt to exit, desperately, by the same locked door, shaking and rattling it,  before their lawyers find the right way out.  In the book, they use dinosaurs as pseudonyms – “Mastodontodon”, I remember… but aren’t we all?  Dinosaurs I mean, not pseudonyms…


Exhibition at the Tate Britain, which “explores how migration into this country has shaped the course of art in Britain over the last 500 years”, to quote the handout – which is a disappointing map of the rooms with blurb by some luminaries about what they think of the pics.   At the Whitechapel, you get a booklet with miniatures of all the paintings in the exhibition – and that’s for a free show; you have to pay for this one.

So – there are Dutch landscapists and portraitists, Canaletto (Horseguards Parade), Americans like Singer Sargent, and paintings by artists from migrant communities, Jewish, Afro-Caribbean and Asian.  The Singers are stupendous, of course; lovely, lively women in silks looking straight out at us (even if one appears to have a moustache and the hand of Betty Wertheimer seems to be in the wrong place on Ena’s waist – makes her arm too long).

A number of the works are familiar from the Tate’s permanent collection; the Bombergs, of course, “Mudbath” and the other one, Keith Piper’s series “Go West Young Man”. with  images of lynching and slavery, Mirza’s Crucifixion, with Christ like a giant holly leaf.  for my money, the Schwitters collage “picture of Spatial Growth; Picture of Two Dogs” was the best thing on show – from an angle and a distance, the surface evens out and it looks like an ochre and white painting.  Close to, it’s got a hank of black hair like a moustache (again!) in the middle.  Dates: 1920 – 1939!! Did he stick one bit on a year?

Other paintings I liked were Frank Bowling’s rough, yellow red and green take on Barnett Newman and Donald Rodney’s “How the West Was Won”, with that radioactive blue and child-like draughtsmanship – not the proper Coldstream, at all.

Life Drawing

As an English abstract painter, I suffer from that sneaking suspicion (on the part of myself, as well as others) that I do abstracts because I can’t do figurative, i.e.” proper”, painting.  Abstraction is a way of making pictures that can’t be properly tested; you can’t compare them to nature.  This mindset is very common amongst people in England who  consider themselves knowledgeable about art.  I’ve recounted in previous blogs how I heard a woman in the Tate Modern pointing out to her friend how Picasso’s early pre-cubism paintings were really good, “before he went all funny”.  Or watching visitors to Tate Britain recoiling with baffled shrugs from Turner’s more experimental paintings like  “Sea Monsters”.  And the Picassos and Turners are ,after all, figurative.  Real abstraction, Pollock or Stella, say, is blobs and squiggles or meaningless stripes and pretty colours.  Stella is better than Pollock because a child or an elephant with a brush held in its trunk can’t do a Stella – the lines are too straight.  I know I’m exaggerating a little, but not much.  The funny thing is that abstract paintings are old hat, retro, old fashioned – figurative painting is much more the vogue nowadays.

So, because of all this, but also because I enjoy it, I go to life drawing and painting classes.  Trouble is, the others in my class are too good and you come away each week thinking how rubbish you are – I know, it’s not a competition –  but it is, really.  Anyway, I thought I could use some of my life drawings to illustrate errors, as I’ve done in previous blogs.

Some pitfalls illustrated below:

1.  Don’t do the face and then rub it out.  In fact, don’t do the face at all – it usually looks crap.  On the other hand, it can divert the viewer’s attention from all the other little errors – like the left arm in second drawing.

2.  In a 5 minute drawing. don’t think you’ve finished with 10 seconds to go, and then discover you’ve left out the left arm completely (see second pic below).

3.  What about the package?  Do you render it faithfully, in which case it becomes the focal point – or do you suggest it in a sketchy, somehow more tasteful manner?  As can be seen, I’ve adopted the middle way by leaving the end off.  Hope I situated it correctly; looks a bit high up to me now.

And here’s a proper one that I did earlier:

“Baffled Shrug”



Blackpaint 307

November 21, 2011

Life Drawing

You see the same poses over and over in Old Masters; Titian, for example – saw that bald Joseph from “The Flight into Egypt” at the NG  in another Titian in Venice – at the Frari, a Virgin and Child with St.Peter.

Frari (Venice)

National Gallery

Well, OK, they’re facing different ways and St.Peter’s older…. nice pictures anyway.

Same thing with Tintorettos at the Brotherhood of San Rocce, which is stuffed with Tints; the figure from Milky Way crops up, another from that one of Perseus turning his attackers to stone – Reni, is it? – and Veronese-ish horse on the left of the massive Crucifixion.  Maybe they used the same models, who had their own stock of poses, like today.

This is just an excuse to flag up some life drawings, since I can’t make it to Leonardo this week and have nothing to say else to say.

OK, that’s enough for today; back to words and abstraction tomorrow.



Blackpaint 46

January 22, 2010

Life Drawing

My class today, and as usual quick poses – 1 minute, 2 minute and so on up to 6.  Then small sketches of pose and a long drawing – 90 mins.  As usual, I reached a point where I started to mess up, so stopped and started a new one.  Ended up with two reasonable, but not spectacular drawings that stayed at the school for future critiquing, and I brought the quick poses home (see below).

I started life drawing because, if I’m honest, I think it’s “proper”, in some way.  It’s craft.  If you can do life drawing, you’re somehow entitled to do abstract stuff.  Total bollocks of course, but it echoes Robert Hughes’ assertions about Basquiat and Schnabel in particular, and US art schools in the 80s in general, that they had turned out a generation at least who couldn’t draw properly – and that, somehow, that meant they couldn’t do “proper” abstract art.  This notion has recently popped up in William Boyd’s article on Rothko in the Guardian (see Blackpaint 13); he extends it to Rothko, Pollock and Kline. 

Anyway, having started it, it has become a pleasure in itself, sort of separate from the stuff I paint and exhibit – but it has probably rubbed off, maybe in the use of charcoal or the sort of forms which emerge (that word again) in my canvases – although, to be sure, not the latest ones.

Listening to Mahler’s 5th, the “Death in Venice” bit, where Aschenbach has found an excuse not to leave Venice and is heading joyfully back to his hotel in a gondola.