Detailed Observations of natural objects #2- “The Hornet Chronicles- Studies in Monochrome”

As part of the detailed observations of natural objects, I decided that I wanted to examine dead animals. Of these I found that the ones I was drawn to were mackerel and other sea life, and hornets.

In this blog post I will be writing about The Hornet Chronicles- studies in monochrome.

My aunt found a Hornet on the patio one morning and immediately knew that this was something that would interest me enormously!

I immediately wanted to draw this beautiful, dead creature. I have no desire to be around living hornets, but dead, though a little freaky, I felt that it took on a delicate yet somewhat sinister beauty. I must admit that handling the creature- even though dead- was somewhat scary! I had an irrational fear that it would somehow spring to life and get me on the finger or worse, face! but obviously it didn’t….

My initial study of it was in regular hornet colours. which is here:

Yellow Hornet
Yellow hornet, Colouring pencils on brown paper

I was really pleased with this although it was very tricky to draw, they seem huge when they are flying round my head threatening to kill me, but when I came to draw him, all of a sudden the detail seemed minute and intricate. I purchased a magnifying glass. This helped.

This drawing really, really piqued my interest. There was something morbid, curious and beautiful about this creature. They are so scary when they are alive, they are ruthless and horrifying. Dead though, it was amazing to see that the whole creature is covered in hairs, tiny little fine hairs, and the markings are terrifyingly beautiful.

Moving on from this I started to draw the hornet in blues. I drew him first just in solitude as a hornet on a page:

playing with colour, blue hornet
blue hornet: Monochrome studies

I mixed the media that I used with pencil, colouring pencil and biro and think that this is a very successful study, I am really happy with it. Again, I really enjoyed drawing this. I am realising that my loves for drawing are largely organic items, animals, faces, the human form, living and dead creatures, wood, leaves, life.

I decided to draw the hornet in a matchbox to give it some context and intimacy, given the title of the module. This is here:

blue hornet in a matchbox
blue hornet in a matchbox

I drew the hornet literally just nestled in the corner of the box. I just wanted to ground it rather than have it suspended in space. As it happens I was not as happy with this depiction of the hornet, it just wasn’t as successful as the first blue hornet.

I decided to explore the idea of having another object or subject in the drawing and as I had struggled so much with holding the dead hornet, I decided to draw myself holding it. Holding the hornet, though it was dead, was actually really scary. Like I said, I was somehow afraid that it would spring to life and sting me, even though this was irrational. I wanted, therefore, to portray me holding the hornet in the most uncomfortable way possible. There was a real push pull to the way that I was having to hold the creature. I needed to have it close enough to be able to see the detail on the hand and the hornet, but my instinct was to hold it as far away form me as possible. So I had to contort my hand in a very weird and uncomfortable way to make both of these things possible.

This actually works really well as it happens, I think, because it allows the whole picture to LOOK as uncomfortable as it felt. The push pull I think comes from the pulling the hornet close to me, then pushing it further away in the same movement. The picture really shows this weird relationship.

hand holding hornet study
hand holding hornet study in blues

I was really happy with the way that this turned out. It is really effective. I think that the detail and the tone on the hand is really well portrayed.

Having now established that I wanted to put both my hand and the hornet together, I needed to place it in some kind of background.

I wanted to have a wash or some kind of ethereal looking background that would contrast with the jarring image of the contorted hand and the dead beast, somehow making the conflict even more obvious, the background I wanted to be serene and calm, whilst the blue hand is stiff and contorted and the beast, though dead was once dangerous. I set about trying out different colour combinations for backgrounds using an ink wash. To add to the ethereal nature of the ink wash I splattered tiny dots of masking fluid onto the paper before putting the wash on it, so that it looked almost other worldly.

potential backgrounds for hand hornet
potential backgrounds for hand hornet

Out of these colour combinations I decided that the ones that worked best were the yellow/blue/green combination. I felt that the red and yellow was too much like a warning which wasn’t offering enough of a conflict. The purple and blue and black were too dark and brooding and the pinks and blues looked too pretty.  The green and yellow and blue seems very serene and that would really conflict with the contorted hand and scary hornet. I wanted it to be a drawing of conflict and each part of the drawing to make all the other parts increasingly less likely and comfortable.

So I went for the green, blue and yellow.

I did a small piece of paper with a wash and the masking fluid. Once the ink wash was dry, I peeled off the making fluid and then drew the hornet over the top of the wash. This was the mock up of what I hoped would be an effective piece.

hand hornet mock up on background
hand hornet mock up on background

Next I wanted to do the drawing of the hornet on the background in more detail. I was happy with the way that that the mock up came out and felt confident that it would work on a bigger scale and  started out confidently.

One thing I did decide to change was instead of using the masking fluid, I found that when I was trying to peel it off, it was lifting off layers of paper as well as just the dry fluid. Instead I decided to flick tiny spots of white ink which was not as effective but worked out ok.

As it happened, it wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. I found it really difficult to achieve the same kind of wash as I had in the mock up, it came out rather a lot darker than I wanted and though the hand and hornet were obviously more clear and the colours more pigmented, as I had intended, making them more striking and stand out better, the overall effect was not as pleasing.

hand hornet idea for final piece maybe
hand hornet idea for final piece maybe?

I think that the idea is good and I think that it would benefit from further development and thought. I would really like to use the hornet as I LOVED drawing it, it would be a shame to leave it behind completely and I am hoping that there will be an opportunity to ise it again. But I am not entirely happy with the finished article and think that it is definitely still a work in progress.

Exercise 1: Still life using Line: Line Drawings

for this part of the course we were asked to draw a still life composition using just monochrome to imply texture and tone without excessive shading.

To start with I decided to draw a bag of apples.

line drawing apples in carrier bag
line drawing apples in carrier bag, white ink on black paper

I decided to draw a bag of apples on a small table. I used white ink on black paper. Even though this is a pretty good representation of what I was looking at, I am not really that enamoured with the outcome. It could be a cabbage or a pile of rags, there is nothing that determinable about it that makes it shout apples! So I decided to add in the bunch of bananas again to give it some context which then made the apples make sense.

white pencil on black paper line drawing fruit and bag
white pencil on black paper line drawing fruit and bag

I drew it again on black paper with a white pencil crayon. It was difficult to avoid blending and shading as this is something that I do a lot of when I am drawing.

I decided to try doing this same image, either as a whole or small sections of it using different colours and different materials.

I was finding  it more challenging to do this exercise than I thought I would. I have enjoyed it though.

line drawing fruit in carrier bag
line drawing fruit in carrier bag with white ink on black paper

I did the same colours and the same composition but using white ink again and using a stiff paint brush.

I think that this worked better than the white pencil drawing of the same style and type.

I like the flow of the ink and the way that it sits in some lines much more thickly and with greater saturation and in others more thinly and more delicately. I have not drawn much with ink in the past but I really liked using it.

I decided to try doing something a bit more different later on with various pens and also a couple of drawings that were more abstract and then a picture with different subject matter.

The next couple were felt tip pens in different colours on differently coloured papers. I also had a go at pointillism.

I added a paper bag and moved the composition around slightly and drew on white paper with a fountain pen with purple ink:

purple fountain pen on white paper, fruit and paper bag, preliminary sketch for playing with colour final piece
purple fountain pen on white paper, fruit and paper bag, preliminary sketch for playing with colour final piece

This one I did as a preliminary sketch for the final piece for the playing with colours part of the module.

mackerel heads pointillism
mackerel heads pointillism

I decided to draw a few different monochrome pictures with different subject matter. This one is of three mackerel heads.

Although I really do like the effect of pointillism it is very time consuming and a bit tedious. I have to remind myself whilst I am doing it that the outcome will be very pleasing and striking so that I don’t get fed up and give up. This is a small drawing (A bit bigger than A5) stuck in my sketch book and it took around an hour or so to draw! All those tiny dots instead of shading takes absolutely ages!

Having said that is IS very striking and effective and a good way to use monochrome to achieve a totally different effect.

monochrome sheeps skull black and white pencil on black paper
monochrome sheeps skull black and white pencil on black paper

This one, above, was a change of subject again, black and white pencil on black paper of a sheep’s skull.

monochrome skull still life, black and white pencil on black paper
monochrome skull still life, black and white pencil on black paper

Above is a still life composition of sheep’s skull and various other shells, bottles and paint brushes which I drew using the black and white pencils on black paper. I really liked this one. I like the composition and think it looks very effective. I didn’t pursue this one any further. I wish that I had all the time in the world to pursue loads of the things in this module, there is so much scope for developing nearly everything that I have done!

abstract pepper
abstract pepper

This one on the right is an abstract line drawing of a capsicum pepper.

I decided to use lots of colours for this one just as an experiment. It was just a bit of fun, but it was so effective and fun that I decided to stick it in my sketch book after all! I also did a row of a few colourful garlic bulbs in a similar style.

I used loads of different ink pens, biros, felt tips, gel pens and fine liners and a fountain pen for the pepper and a mixture of coloured felt tip pens for the garlic.

Although I deviated from the initial brief for these ones, I think that they are really effective and they were great fun to draw too!

abstract garlic
abstract garlic

Again this was a most enjoyable part of the course and something that I really could take further. It will be really difficult to decide which parts to develop when I am finally ready to prepare to get things wrapped up and ready for assessment. Although it has taken me a long time to get things sorted out, this has been a hugely important and exciting journey for me, where I have come up against a lot of my own demons, barriers and walls but also been enormously inspired and excited by what I have done so far!

Playing with Colour and Still Life

If at first you don’t succeed….

FOr this part of the module we were asked to design a still life composition and to play around with colour to achieve texture, tone and depth, using colours that were not what we would expect to use, rather than ‘just’ drawing in the regular colour scheme.

I was really looking forward to this part of the module and was developing something of a real respect for the humble apple and banana. I had also become aware of the importance and significance of texture in drawings and therefore decided to stick with my theme of apples, bananas and carrier bags.

I have done extensive drawings in my sketchbook of these things using various different materials and achieving varying levels of success.

I decided to go all out and use bright and garish colours to depict these subjects and dove right in with my first attempt.

playing with colour #1
playing with colour attempt #1

I was getting along nicely with this one and thoroughly enjoying it, then massively overworked the carrier bag in the middle of the drawing. I was disappointed because until then it was working rather well. I was having fun playing with alternative colours and thought that it was going to plan, but got a bit obsessed with the carrier bag handle and over did it!

playing with colour #2
playing with colour attempt #2

So I started again…. same subject but honestly, lost all interest in it because I think that the colours went from being quirky and fun and a bit different to just looking rank and offensive …. time to try again…..

playing with colour #3
playing with colour attempt #3

number three started, I was a bit happier with the colours but then realised that as I had shifted my position without realising it whilst drawing the initial sketch for the shapes, I had inadvertently and unknowingly caused the apples at the back of the carrier bag to appear as if they were floating and not sat on the table top properly. Completely unsatisfied with that outcome, I decided to stop again and start a new one…..

Also reflecting back over this exercise, I had not done a very good job up until this point in terms of making the apples look shiny and round, the way that i have drawn them, the very shiny, round parts of the apples look like they are actually flat and shiny.

playing with colour #4
playing with colour attempt #4

drawing the outlines again, I managed to sort out the floating apple issue and get that part of the drawing right, but then managed to pick colours for the bananas which were in danger of triggering a migraine. I am all for creating challenging pieces but added to the frustration at having started the same drawing 4 times was the fact that the colours that I had chosen were making me feel nauseated…. I decided to sling it to one side and start again…..

playing with colour #5
playing with colour attempt #5

Studying the still life composition carefully for the 5th time, I managed to draw what I thought was an accurate depiction of what was in front of me, I accidentally ended up with a floating apple. Not deterred, I persevered and finished the outline then plucked possibly the most disgusting colour out of the 200 or so colours that I have to choose from and coloured in the wall behind the fruit all in that colour.

By now I was tearing my hair out somewhat as this previously pleasurable and enjoyable task was now becoming a migraine-inducing, nausea promoting pain in the backside!

I decided at this point to take a hiatus from the carrier bag of fruit and leave it well alone for a couple of weeks and get on with something else.

WHen I came back to it some time later I decided to do things a bit differently. I swapped the plastic bag for a paper one and put a bunch of bananas (obviously not the same ones) on the opposite side of the composition instead.

This actually was way more pleasing on the eye!

The I set about taking into consideration everything that I had learned from my first five attempts at drawing this picture and set to.

This time…. IT WORKED!!!

playing with colour final piece
playing with colour final piece

I think that this works really well. I much, MUCH prefer the colours that I have chosen to use. The only part of the drawing that I am not happy with is the dark shadow on the left side of the apple at the front of the drawing looks like a hole and not like a shadow…

I like the use of light and dark and how I have managed to achieve some quite striking differences in tone with out using obviously contrasting shades of black and white. I am having something of a love affair with brown paper, I LOVE drawing on it and think it gives a really great effect.

Over all this was a really interesting if a little frustrating exercise at times. I think that I have met the required outcomes and I am happy with the result.