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Milena's First Assignment

For this blog I wanted to share with you the first assignment I received recently from my student Milena Blaziak. On opening the folder my first impression was that Milena had been working with enthusiasm, energy and focus. Her initial exploratory drawings were done on newsprint which reminded me of the incredibly intense experience of a Foundation course. Newsprint discolours over time so is no use for drawings you want to keep but is liberating for the same reason when your goal is just to explore and learn as much as you can. I’ve included some videos to scan across her work so that you can see the marks in detail. There is no sound track on the video so no speakers are needed!
Milena’s work is also a good illustration of something I wanted to talk about in this blog – edges.
Lots of interesting things can be done with using outlines. They can be very expressive and can be used to create a dialogue or tension between the flat surface of the picture and the illusion of depth created. On the other hand I find many students have an over reliance on outline when they are constructing a drawing when they were aiming for something different and the result is flatter than they were hoping. What we call an outline is in reality the moment where two objects abut, or more often overlap. It is the moment where one thing is no longer visible and another is revealed behind.

Imagine for a moment that for the natural forms drawing project in level 1 you decide to draw 3 apples speared though their core by a knitting needle – like a fruity snowman. The silhouette of the three apple shape is actually made up of lots of points on the apples at which they disappear from view and these points are at different distances away from you. By joining them up into an outline it is easy to end up flattening the form.

Another good illustration of this is the small films made by Channel 4 using their 4 logo. The films show buildings or objects in space and then the viewpoint changes and the objects align to form the number 4. As soon as they are in position we read the outline as a flat 4.

If your goal is to create a sense of space and depth with objects full of weight and volume, then the key will be to look closely at the tonal differences where two surfaces meet (instances of occlusion) and be careful not to deny that information by creating an outline barrier. Take care as quite often as things turn away from you they catch the light or are shielded from it and have a total tonal turn around at the last minute!

Milena seems to understand this and I hope you agree that her objects nestle together very nicely.

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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8 thoughts on “Milena's First Assignment

  • Hi Emma,
    This is a very useful blog because it gets to the heart of an issue i am struggling with, as you may remember. Milena’s work is very impressive and has a freedom about it which I love. However I set off with idea that in my case I needed to ‘finish’ drawings so that they demonstrate to me that my actual drawing and observational skills are improving. In previous years I have done quick sketches and life drawings which I have been very pleased with, but I was not accurate enough to achieve quality family portraits, which is my ambition. What I have drawn from this blog and your comments on my work is that I need to focus less on ‘finishing’ and more on expression. I wonder if anyone else feels similarly?
    best wishes

  • That is such a complicated question Paul with a lot of issues packed into it. To go through your comments in order; If you enjoy Milena’s freedom then you are right to reflect on the fact that you enjoy looking at it so that you can decide how relevant that might be for your own work. The ‘Finish’ of a drawing is when you have achieved what you set out to do or come to a decision during the process that this is a good place to leave this drawing. Looser drawings aren’t ‘unfinished’ (not that I am suggesting that you are saying that). Sometimes a breathtakingly detailed drawing of a face can be just what is called for, other times a drawing where the use of line or colour captures a interesting quality of the sitter might be more effective. I really hope that I am not too prescriptive in my reports about your own goals for your work. My aim is to enable you to work out for yourself what your work is about. The idea that you would like to make portraits is a good one. As a student I would expect you then to reflect on the nature of portraiture, look around you at portraits you like etc etc. I’m not so sure about your goal to make drawings to prove to yourself that your skills are improving. There is a slight tautology to that, but I do recognise that it is nice to see yourself improving and a good motivator. There are certainly lots of artists working today who are making work about skill and dexterity. My point about edges is actually more relevant to the kind of work that I think you are aimimg for. A brief look at the work on the various atelier style websites will show you that they always have super smooth transitions and edges with absolutely no outlines.
    I have a student just now making pin sharp work in pen and ink who has an unerring eye for detail and proportion and he has married this to a very interesting set of portraits of angry looking men. The precision and stark contrast of black and white suits the subject and he has accentuated the feeling of menace and pent up energy by composing the portraits in odd ways and using stark lighting. I’d be a loon if I told him to loosen up!
    I hope this helps; you are just starting out so have plenty of time to think about all this and write up your thoughts in your log. On the whole, the job is to have confidence in yourself as an artist, you are the key player and a lot of the answers will be found in you over time as long as you are making work at a reasonable pace.

  • Very interesting to read these comments which show it is fine to have an individual style, I love the work and have learned somthing from it, thank you

  • Thank you Emma for a very full reply, which makes complete sense to me and gives me food for thought as to what I am really aiming for, which I will develop in my log.
    Going back to Milena’s work I do like the absence of outlines, her drawings do give a very good sense of form and tone. I am rather reliant on outlines but having seen this work I will experiment.
    Thank you.

  • I feel I should do something about my rather weak reference to ‘lots of artists’ making work about skill. I was thinking about people like Richard Wright who purposefully make labour intensive works using technical skill, but as you have expressed an interest in portraiture then Glenn Brown and Chuck Close and of course Richter all use the idea of extreme skill or intricate labour in their work. For drawing, I can recommend the book Vitamin D. You will not like all the work in there but it is a great overview of drawing practice. I notice the Tracey website has a project on hyperdrawing which may be worth looking at although don’t be put off by scary art writing – it’s okay to just look at the pictures!

  • Excellent work by Milena – lovely depiction of form using values and edges. Thank you.
    A sincere thank you also to Emma – I listened intently to the interview of Michael Borremans and was particularly taken with his description of making a suggestion whether he be using paint, a small drawing or film. Fascinating and certainly lots of food for thought.
    Really enjoyed this – thank you.

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