Drawing inspired by the Elements

Access Art have recently offered a new course.  After participating in their online sketchbook course in July, I decided to take part in their recent “Drawing Inspired by the Elements” course, too.  There were four tasks offering more opportunities to expand mark-making vocabulary.  Not all of the images below were uploaded for the workshop.

Task 1: Exploring charcoal: this involved working with our hands and using our hands as stencils in charcoal dust.  We were encouraged to extend our range of mark-making. It was difficult to get real darks with the charcoal dust.  I applied a stringy glue, and then sprinkled charcoal dust into it to create a “constellation” effect in places (detail in an image below).  This was a random process – difficult to control – but also only resulted in small areas of dense charcoal. I tried smearing the glue / charcoal mixture but only made a mess in the central area and collaged over it with a roughly torn hand stencil out of newspaper.  I worked into the charcoal dust with a putty eraser to bring out highlights.  Finally, to add more dense darker areas, I sprayed the paper with hairspray and immediately dropped charcoal into it.  This worked but the charcoal lumps on the page are fragile and won’t last long…


Rotation of the image and cropping produced the image below:

230920121388  Version 2

Another cropping shows detail of the charcoal / glue trails that were made across some of the handprints.  At this magnification, the marks made in the charcoal surface appear as tide marks left behind in sand.


Task 2:  Movement in water.  This exercise was intriguing but also frustrating. I chose to run water into a washbasin quite fast, in order to cause a mass of bubbles. I tried this a few times to observe before starting to draw. Large areas of light and shade were discernible but I was surprised by how much the running water and bubbles obliterated the plughole and also how difficult it was to judge light on the bubbles which changed constantly. I was able to judge that the size of the bubbles became larger with distance from the water’s flow and also that the water landed in a U-shape. There was also a shadow on the water just where it emerged from the tap. This exercise was using quite a lot of water so decided to record it and watch the video, stopping it a few times to get a better sense of light around the bubbles, which are visible because they are ringed by light – my drawing doesn’t capture this. In the first drawing, the tap doesn’t look quite right but the bubbles were great fun to draw! I used water-soluble graphite crayons and a wash in the first one, building up in layers. I tried to bring out more white highlights at the end but this doesn’t work as well with graphite as with charcoal.


In the second drawing, I used blue and green inks, applied with brushes, a home-made brush made with stiff string, and a bamboo pen in order to get a better sense of the mass of bubbles which break up the surface of the water and are present in a mound where they first form, spreading out as if rolling down a hillside from that point. It was not a great success. I left the tap out of the photo because I wanted to focus on the water but mainly because the tap in this drawing reminds me of a penguin! The water appears to be a disembodied waterfall.

230920121395  Version 2

Bubbles were created using a home-made string brush in undiluted ink along with a bamboo pen and a conventional watercolour brush.  Splodges of diluted ink were used to create shadows in the water.

230920121395  Version 3

Task 3: Build and draw structures of sticks.  

This turned out very differently from expected. I used a bunch of twigs sitting on my desk which have been collected for drawing with ink. I also included a bamboo pen for a straighter edge among the more bendy twigs. The outline of the first drawing was drawn as a blind contour with a black fineliner and details were added afterwards. I traced the outline for future reference but it is now mislaid in one of the piles that fringe my desk and so I cannot scan it in just now. The outline alone, before the twigs were defined, resembled a fairy tale animal.  Even after adding some detail (see image below), the sense of a mythical creature remained.  

I cropped the image to give a long horizontal format in order to increase the sense of a fast-moving creature.


The image appealed and so I repeated the process using a water-soluble blue fineliner. Background was added randomly shading in coloured pencil (more orange in the original than shows up in the scanned image) and the whole image was made a bit more cohesive and complex using a dark blue pencil for cast shadows on and beneath the twigs. The viewpoint differs slightly, and both were more or less blind contour drawings so variation is to be expected. The slight differences as well as the more solid appearance has turned the little creature back into a pile of twigs!   The drawing was made fairly close to the right hand edge but not quite as close as in the scanned image!



Marks used for twig detail:


Screen Shot 2012 10 16 at 15 24 38



Task 4: Try to capture the movement and energy in fire.  I am not sure how my neighbours upstairs would feel about this one, even though the weather has turned colder, so I am sticking to candles.  Difficult to see how to take an imaginative approach.  A bonfire would be nice…

This was by far the hardest task of the four and not only because of the continuous movement.  Part of the difficulty was interference in the drawing process by pre-conceived ideas about what fire looks like.  I began with a floating candle, which provided some cheer against the wet and miserable autumn day outside and spent some time just looking into the flame, which is mesmerising.  The centre of the flame is lavender blue but not uniform in depth, due to the variable and cooler temperatures within. The flame also cast a shadow on the candle and the bowl.   The flames around the glass bowl were just my imagination – added to increase background light and avoid a blank page.  The glass bowl is more regular in shape than drawn.  I have not dealt very effectively with the refraction of light by the glass and water but there is a hint of the candle beneath the surface. There are glass pebbles in the bottom of the bowl.  I have forgotten to add a context so it is all a bit ethereal… Inktense pencils in an A4 sketchbook.  


I did not feel very inspired by this image, although it is brighter than the weather.  I then drew an imagined bonfire using coloured chalks (a “bargain” purchase from Boesner some months ago which I wish that I had resisted because they are so fragile – however, lovely colours and the wooden box they came in will be useful!).  I didn’t know when to stop with the bonfire and the layers became rather dense and one-dimensional.  In the image below, the “half-way” stage is on the left; this was photographed and has blue undertones. I have tried to reduce these but any more interference will have an impact on the flames, too.  The “final”, scanned image that I could not leave alone is on the right.  In retrospect, I prefer the half-way stage for its more subtle appearance and wider range of marks, which “crackle” in the hot air, to the the ball of fire on the right.

Screen Shot 2012 10 16 at 14 02 15

Here is a cropped image from the first flames. They do have some room to move…

DSC00038  Version 2

Following this, I attempted another candle flame, this time trying to evoke some of the essential qualities – translucence, transience, energy – of the flame without recourse to colour. On reflection, these qualities would be enhanced by using a darker background.  The drawing below was made with charcoal and a sepia lead.

Candle flame

In the final drawing, I brought together the charcoal  / sepia flames and a background of fire: a forest of candles.



Fire was definitely the greatest challenge and I think that I need to spend more time with this but all of the tasks were enjoyable and required pushing at boundaries in different ways.  

Access Art has now started a new online tutorial group.  Group members offer each other feedback on uploaded work.  To join, you need to become a subscriber to Access Art (I am a satisfied customer and no way connected with them other than as a subscriber!). 





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