Salvaging Old Drawings: Fire Balloons

 

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Figure 5c

Like the initial drawing for Solar Flare, the figure above is an old drawing which I want to make use of. I’ve been thinking of creating layers and using sketches as elements in a larger story.

In my sketchbook, the figure fills the page, but it’s like the detail of a larger image. You get a character and not a full vignette, much less a full story.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Oracle.JPG

The challenge of creating a story for the element goes hand in hand with the challenge of making the new drawing look like everything in it was meant for one drawing. I was looking for something simple and which the figure could naturally support. I randomly thought of fire balloons.

I prepared the paper with tea and created my first layer, which were lines depicting clouds, in the style of old Chinese paintings and painted with coffee.

I then made a carbon copy of the figure with the idea that it would act as a double image: an oracle and a fire balloon on fire.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, sketch (1).JPG

Midway, I thought of titles, but I may have gotten ahead of myself or ahead of the drawing. I thought of “Oracle on fire and there are people watching,” and I let the words guide me, because I couldn’t think of how to complete the drawing and sketched in silhouettes of people on the bottom.

I put it away for a couple of days and when I was ready to paint, I realized it was too much or it felt contrived or it didn’t seem like the drawing was developing organically in that way. (I can’t quite articulate the problem, but people on the bottom was not the right choice.)

So I replaced them with a close up of one of the balloons, which gave me an opportunity to have two elements interact.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons

I knew, even while painting it, there were too many colors or it’s not a unified color scheme, and I definitely need to spend some time developing basic skills in watercolor. However, having completed the drawing, I could look at it critically. I could also look back at the process, which has revealed to me a few things.

Elements

New elements, like the wisps of smoke near the figure’s head and the fire/smoke in the balloon at the forefront of the picture look pretty and I’m already using them effectively as elements in this drawing, so I know I can use them again in other drawings.

They’re simple and can be used as building blocks, unlike the oracle, which seems too complex to use again in the same drawing without it looking like wallpaper or contrived in some way.

Line

In the original drawing, the lines in the bodice of the figure feel like lines from another drawing, so it looks confused.

However, if the bodice is really a balloon and the smoother lines are really fire and smoke, there would naturally be tension between the two elements, and using different lines for each can be seen as supporting this tension.

Story

It’s in the context of the story that this can work. It makes use of the structures that are already there and helps explain them.

There’s also the theme of Man vs Nature, and thus the oracle. Fire balloons are sent to float up into the heavens with the hope of granting wishes, while an oracle is burning. Or is the message too didactic?

The oracle having a girl’s face seems a little too explicit. Maybe I should focus more on the fire and less on the oracle… but the face is what’s pretty about the oracle. … Maybe it’s the hair, which looks too much like hair. Yes.

I’d forgotten the initial drawing had the face as the centerpiece and everything flowed from the figure of the girl, so it looked too much like a girl. It demands your attention and competes with the fire balloon as the center of everything, when it’s not anymore.

Color

I originally had the figure in red, but decided midway that it would be difficult to use it and have an overall unified color scheme, so I added blue to make it purple.

I’m not very good with colors, and it’s something I need to work on in terms of finding what I like. You have to like what you draw in order to gauge whether or not it’s getting better or worse each time you edit the piece.

I tend to approach my work with the idea that Less is More, and for this drawing, as with many others, I want to show off the line. I tend to use the variety of colors (if there is a variety) to help me do this.

Like Flowers II, each color can help a viewer keep an eye on an element while it interacts with another element.

The elements for this drawing are Fire (bodice of the oracle, bottom fire balloon), smoke, fire balloon (intact), fire balloon (not intact) and Oracle. (Some parts double as parts of two elements.)

Technique

Layering two colors of ink looks really cool.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1 sketch

So I decided to limit the colors to red and black (Fire vs Smoke vs Fire Balloon) The smoke and fire balloon will both be in varying hues of gray, which suggests the fire balloons, even the ones intact, are floating up like the smoke; they are both the color of ash.

This makes room for the color of the clouds, which are painted with coffee.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Fire Balloons, Edit 1, sketch 2

I had considered not having clouds and actually freaked out a little when I added them midway, because they seemed to be overwhelming the figure, but after applying ink to the bottom fire balloon, it all balanced out again. One of those things you don’t know until you try.

Because they are in a different color and are a different style of line, they do not readily interact with the figure and fire balloons, and therefore add another layer or the illusion of depth. They also make the transparency of the ink more noticeable, which underscores the idea of the fire balloons being beautiful and fragile, which creates tension with their being dangerous and their power to wreak havoc on the environment when their thin shells inevitably burn and start fires elsewhere.

WIP

I still have to finish the larger balloon and add and color in a few smaller balloons but the overall idea is there.

 

Salvaging Old Drawings: Solar Flare

I have a few things that are products of automatic drawing, which I’ve put aside for a while. I always wanted to do something with them but, until now, I couldn’t think of anything.

They are works in progress. (Sorry, more incomplete work.) But they share something in common: each were completed in one sitting but can be used as an “element” in a larger work.

For the first two, I was limited by the actual surface area.

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When I ran out of room, I simply stopped. This was last year and at the time I wasn’t at home, where I could reach for a larger piece of paper, and once I was home, I had stepped out of the right frame of mind and didn’t bother trying to find it again.

Drawing, Teel SaleWell, in 2009, I had bought a book that takes you through techniques in contemporary drawing (Drawing, 5th edition (2003), by Teel Sale, et al), and recently, an image I’d seen while flipping through its pages, had lead me to a place, mentally, where I could expand on the above ideas.

It was Brice Marden’s Cold Mountain Addendum 1 (1991-1992). It’s on p. 60, in Chapter 2, which is on “gesture and other beginning approaches,” and is used as an example of a continuous drawing.

 

Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Addendum, 1991You know how they say, “There’s no role too small for an actor?” It reminds me that, no matter how basic one’s approach is, you can still create something as moving and intriguing as this.

Material used were ink, ink wash and gouache on paper, which also gives me ideas, although, for now, I’m sticking to ballpoint pen, at least until I’m sure of what I’m doing.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (1).JPG

I’m tentatively calling this Solar Flare. I made a carbon copy of the top drawing (above) and considered simply repeating it over and over again… but it quickly started looking like a wallpaper design.

Do you see how in the initial drawing there appears to be a girl’s head? It’s fine if I do it once, but it’s easy to notice if I do it more than once. I thought it would be enough to change all but one of those places where the girl’s head hows up.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch  (2).JPG

But it wasn’t enough. I began noticing how the other part of the initial drawing was making patterns. It was becoming “easy,” which doesn’t incline a viewer to keep one’s eyes roaming through the whole work, and although I’d wanted to call this “Wires” before, and even had planned on drawing half of the lines in green pen, I can’t help but see this other part of the initial drawing as a flower.

On the other hand,… maybe I was being too ambitious. Maybe I should see this approach through (using one drawing over and over again). I could be hanging onto the idea only because I like parts of it, mostly the new parts… and it takes a lot of time… and there was so much hope for the initial idea… Sigh…

But I decided to start over again with the intent to use the flower as a recurring element, but to space them out with new lines and to make sure no two flowers are going in the same direction or doing the same exact thing.

I’m in the process of making a carbon copy of the larger work, and along the way, editing the lines or making different choices than the first attempt, one 9″ x 12″ sheet of tracing paper at a time.

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, sketch (5)

I never do a good trace, so I really am drawing the image over again, which is good practice for drawing “good” lines and maybe even developing a style… ?

Gaa Wai (dot) com, Solar Flare, edit 1, sketch (6)

So far, this is what I have for my second attempt.

Next: Fire Balloons

 

Materials: Ballpoint Pen

Do you remember my Trees? Here are my attempts at drawing Lenny or Tree 2.

First, I did a really bad wash, then trying again, I made the mistake of using a sharpie, as a short cut, which isn’t waterproof… LOL. Then, I tried again, but I noticed — finally — that my pen work was very heavy handed. Here’s a close up of the first and third images from above.

In person, it’s much worse. I learned, eventually, that you just have to have patience with the medium. The ink won’t come out faster because you’re putting more pressure onto the paper.

I also learned that you can do a lot with a pen, like varying the intensity of the color and even shading in areas the way you would with a pencil. In fact, it’s very much like using a pencil, but the color won’t smear and it shows up more easily on digital files… yay!

Trees 2c crop

I’ve also practiced using two different techniques: hashes and randomly filling in all the little white spaces. Okay, the second one isn’t really a technique… but I think it works better, or once your hands get accustomed to doing it that way, you don’t have to be as mindful of what you’re doing. I mean, it’s easier, overall, to get an even finish.

I used hashes for the above and randomly filled in all the white spaces for the one below.

Tree 2c scan resize 10

For the record, the images at the top of the page are of the 2nd to 5th attempts and the two directly above are from the 5th and 6th attempt. They were both scanned with a setting of 600 dpi. The 5th has a wash of tea, so it’s more yellow, but as far as how smooth the color is, I’m much more pleased with the 6th.

It may be that if I had better skills at using hashes, the 5th would’ve been better.

Trees 1

Here’s an attempt of another tree (George or Tree 1). I used hashes, and I think I was doing a pretty good job, but at one point, I got a little antsy and wasn’t happy with how dark one of the sections was getting, so I desperately used a Pearl Pink eraser to try to erase some of the ink.

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Above is a close up of the hashes and below is a close up of where I applied the eraser too harshly.

Trees 1, crop b

I allowed myself to do this, because an eraser can actually be your friend when using a ballpoint pen. I used the Pink Pearl eraser to get the textures for Don or Tree 3c, below.

Tree 3c scan resize 10

It did do some damage to the surface but not so much that I couldn’t keep applying ink and erasing some more. Very sturdy paper (Strathmore watercolor, series 400).

With the hashes, if done well, it looks a little like cloth, with the eraser, it reminds me of stressed denim (I don’t know why), and with randomly filling in the white spaces, it looks the most polished.

By the way, you can find the following trees on Saatchi: two versions of George or Tree 1a and Tree 1b, one version of Lenny or Tree 2c , versions of Don or Tree 3b and Tree 3c (although Tree 3b is only for show) and Val or Tree 4a.

Tree 1a scan resize 5Tree 1b scan 5
Tree 1a and Tree 1b

Tree 2c and Tree 3c

Trees Val 2 102218

Tree 4a

Materials: Tea

Lately, I’ve been working on developing some basic skills, which when done well, can go unnoticed when looking at a work of art; but if not done well, can be a distraction. I’ve also been trying my hand at using household items.

Specifically, I’ve been practicing the art of preparing paper and using a ballpoint pen as the primary medium, as well as tea as a wash. I’ll start with the tea.

I’ve learned that not all tea is created equally. Below is a picture of  Lipton Tea (left)  and Best Tea, a Taiwan brand that is made from dried whole leaves.

Gaa Wai, tea washes (1)

Lipton Tea photographs very well, because it’s more saturated in color. It would certainly be a great “dupe,” if you like using tea as a wash (I know, so niche) but are on a tight budget.

However, when applying either one, the Best Tea — like the skills of a practiced hand — was not distracting, while Lipton tea was. First, looking at the tea again, we can see that Lipton is opaque, while Best Tea has some transparency.

Gaa Wai, tea washes (2)

Also, because Lipton is darker, it’s easier to leave streaks while applying it as a wash, while Best Tea goes on smooth, whether or not you are skilled at applying washes.

I admit, I need a little more practice, as I initially just slathered on the wash with multiple brushstrokes before moving further on down the paper, as opposed to applying one brushstroke and adding more wash, so that there was always a bit of liquid at the edge of the wash.

There’s a video of Shahzia Sikander applying a tea wash in this way in “Spirituality” on Art 21‘s website. I did this for the Best Tea (bottom right). Again, it’s very subtle, between washes, but you have a lot of more control.

P1010201

Lipton Tea (top, applied 2-4 times), Best Tea (middle left, applied 5-6 times), Best Tea (bottom right, applied 2 times) and a sheet of printing paper (bottom left). There are ranges of 2-4 and 5-6, because when I used multiple brushstrokes, it was like I was applying multiple washes… ?

It doesn’t show up on camera, but when in person, you can see subtle bands of discoloration on the paper with Lipton Tea. Below is another side-by-side comparison but in different lighting. Best Tea is on the left and Lipton is on the right. Both were given the same number of washes, and Lipton of course takes fewer washes to show a difference.

Gaa Wai, tea washes on watercolor paper.JPG

I guess if you want to save time and money and aren’t adamant about having a uniformly applied wash, you should choose Lipton. But I like how subtle Best Tea can be. You have to apply it a few more times, but you have more control over the final outcome.

Next: Materials: Ballpoint Pen