Monday, February 13, 2017

Leafing through the Archive 3 Finding the source of a technique



All techniques that involve drawing methods may be easily traced back to a source. This source is most often that of a Renaissance Master. The current use of such techniques will always offer an intriguing insight into how methods have been developed by contemporary practitioners to accommodate their ideas and their chosen subject matter. 

The use of charcoal over watercolour, more accurately known as chalk (or carbon) over wash is a case in point. The point being how heavy or light the underlying wash is and how the tone or colour of the wash affects the overlying charcoal when seen through this top layer. 

This technique came to be more colloquially known as mixed media in the modern age.

For those who like this idea and wonder how it is done, the answer is that there is really nothing much to teach, it is simply an ongoing experiment in layers. The wash comes first and is given time to dry, the dry media is then overlaid. Precisely how this is done is endemic to the artist. You may choose to put a wash over the whole of the background of the drawing or simply over a section of the image.

I am known to have developed the use of black backgrounds from 1975, well before it returned to being in vogue. To make a deep black, I use a layer of neutral tint according to my original recipe (brand names of Neutral Tint or Black watercolour are just as effective). This is followed by an over layer of charcoal or graphite to bring a velvety tone or develop a form, such as that of a mountain rock or the undulation of flower petals. 

The same principle works with colour: The colour wash is applied and the charcoal is used as a tone over this, giving form to the subject, such as a flower head. 

For those who have written to me and have asked to see the large mixed media painting of the orange Canna 'Wyoming' that was painted on a black background in 2001 ( this was displayed at the my book signings across the South of England and the West Country), I shall find this image from my data base and upload it here, when I return from my present travels. This picture that you remember so well, was related to the black and orange format of the book cover itself. 

I do see why the black and orange are such a wow factor, but it really is nothing new, and its not difficult to do. Anyone could work this out from observing my work. The essential issue is of having the idea of how you decide to use the technique, and when one person has an inspired idea it is usual that many will follow. 

So, if someone says they have a new technique, what they are perhaps really saying is that the technique is new to them. Please do look deeper to see the source, to see the truth of where it came from, as you will usually find it in the history of art. This will enable you to understand that all drawings are a part of our history and all are free to participate in the development of a technique.

The Room 90 in the British Museum is one of my most favoured galleries. It shows the museum's collection of drawings on a rotating basis, and in so doing it offers the opportunity to view revelations of how both techniques and method have been used over the centuries. Always engagingly curated, the Room 90 exhibitions give an interesting overview that shows clearly how it is not a case of what techniques are used in a drawing, as this is invariably a very simple process, but of precisely when and where a technique is used. 

If you had the pleasure of seeing the recent Master drawings from 18th Century French Portraiture, you would have observed how the kernel of the marks that came to be made by Cezanne could be found a hundred years earlier. And, if you are interested in drawing techniques, perhaps one of the things you could do to teach yourself how, is to look and compare ancient, modern, and contemporary drawings over and over again, absorb what you see and practice the methods in your own work. Then, just see what comes in your metamorphosis. You may be surprised by the outcome.

You can view selected mixed media work on my drawings website.