Studies at LARA finished for the Easter holidays a few weeks ago. After a few days R&R, I got down to some 'holiday homework'. A wickeder invention to bedevil children could hardly be imagined; the harbinger of drudgery and adventures postponed. Paradoxically, on returning from holidays you were expected to write at length about all the jolly capers you got up to. Presumably this was intended as an exercise in fiction, since most of the time was spent learning sodding French verbs. Anyway, for what it's worth, here's what I did during my holidays.
My first project was to take out my whizzy new Soltek plein air easel for a spin. I decided to go all Gray's Elegy and do a landscape featuring a country churchyard. Sadly, the two days I spent on this didn't result in anything very pleasing - so I've put that one down to experience and will try again when the weather and light are more reliable and do some preparatory drawings first. It turns out that painting gothic tracery is really rather difficult.
Second on my to-do list, was to take the figure drawings from Charles Bargue's Cours de Dessin and produce flayed drawings showing the bones and musculature on tracing paper. I found this a very useful exercise in terms of understanding why the Bargue figure drawings manage to be so simple but effective. The few angle breaks in the contour and the small well chosen landmarks within the figure relate to key anatomical features - and that's what makes them 'work'. To supplement this, I also did life-sized drawings of the skeleton in front and profile views, using Struttura Uomo and done on a roll of wallpaper lining.
Possibly less useful and certainly more time-consuming were some colour study exercises that I carried out. The jury's out on whether they'll be put to use, but my plan was to take a relatively full palette of colours and mix each one with each of the others in a ten-step sequence. I plumped for Cremnitz White, Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Light Red, Cobalt Blue, Naples Yellow, Cadmiums Yellow and Red plus Alizarin Crimson. In retrospect, ten divisions was more than I really needed - resulting in having to make 450 separate mixes (and taking the best part of a week). My plan is to bind them into a booklet and keep it in my studio as a reference. Will it gather dust or be my next indispensable studio aid?
Needing a break and a dose of inspiration, I took a trip to the V&A to draw from their sculptures. I did a few fairly passable drawings, including the figure shown above. For some reason, though, I find my drawing begins to fall apart when I start adding the values. I suspect it's because I begin hurrying at that point, when I ought to be slowing down. However, it was worthwhile visit and I've got in mind going on a regular basis.
Now I look at it, I'm pretty pleased with what I've got done over the break. Next on my to-do list are some portrait drawings and some alla prima still life paintings. That may have to wait for the summer because it's almost time to get back to class. Here's hoping the my efforts weren't in vain and they'll pay off next term.
Ben Laughton Smith
Contemporary works of art in the classical tradition.