Feeling the Subject

Feeling the Subject

In order to understand what we see, we must first analyse it closely. This close looking or analysis is termed observational work. Many students shudder at the thought of this exercise because they see it as a way of being judged, instead of realising the value of it - that is, achieving what we want to represent.

You would never expect to go to a piano and be able to play a tune without knowledge or practice, even though we know what the tune should sound like. Yet many of us go to a blank piece of paper and expect to produce a composition with the knowledge we have already stored in our heads.

This is probably why our practical outcomes often don't match the wonderful ideas and pictures we have in our heads. So, many of us come to drawing with a real sense of trepidation because of the negative experiences earlier in our lives.

Remember: only by understanding what we are looking at, can we put across what we would like others to see.

We have used line as a form of expression since preschool years and it is probably our first starting point for achieving what we want to say visually. The importance of how we use marks to record and the materials we use to do this can reveal much about us.

Look at A Tree Study by Robert Medley:

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There seems to be no order in this sketch, yet rising out of the page is a wonderfully energetic study. The lines sometimes flow softly and have direction, whilst in other areas, they appear random and without purpose. All of the marks accumulate to achieve this atmospheric composition. Medley has captured elements such as movement, energy, space and scale in an almost careless way.

Now look at the botanical illustration of Quercus Reticulata from Plantes Equinoxiales:

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If someone came from another planet and wanted to know what a leaf looked like, this study would give it a great deal of information. From this work, you can understand the shape, texture and construction of a leaf, the regularity of pattern, the thick veins of each leaf and how one leaf relates to another. The artist has used such control with the tonal shading to produce the ridges and valleys of the leaf. Clever use of light and shade gives form to the acorns, casts shadows creating depth in the composition and a sense of perspective.

Many marks have been used in this composition but it is not obvious to us because the artist was trying to achieve something very different from Medleys study. His skill was to fool the viewer completely; it is as though he wanted to lay 'real life' out on the page.

Both compositions tell us something about the tree, but in very different ways. You could say that neither is complete, but they are both important pieces of work in their own right. I hope they serve to illustrate how important it is to observe no matter what techniques or materials you use to portray your images. Lastly, how rewarding and beautiful such pieces can be. Do not be precious with all your studies - sometimes working quickly enables you to capture the more elusive qualities such as movement, atmosphere and energy.