Graphite drawing

Five Images a Day by Jeannine Cook

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Every artist is told - practice, practice, practice. But it is not always easy to do this, since life tends sometimes to get in the way. So finding a way to keep doing art is always important but nonetheless often challenging. However, I listened with interest to an interview done on NPR a couple of days ago by Rachel Martin. She was talking to famed photographer David Hume Kennerly about his new adventures with his iPhone 5 which he used as a camera. Having pared down his equipment to this one "camera", he set out to photograph the world around him in a very simple fashion, returning to basics of observation and curiosity.  The resultant book, "David Hume Kennerly On The iPhone: Secrets And Tips From A Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer", has just come out.

David Hume Kennerly

David Hume Kennerly

He set himself the challenge of going out into his neighbourhood and taking at least five photographs a day, trying to look at the familiar and perhaps even the trivial around him in a new fashion. It was a way to sharpen his skills and extend his powers of seeing. In other words, it was the perfect example of practice, practice, practice to improve as an artist.  It was, as he described, his "photo fitness workout".

The parallel I made, as I listened to Mr. Kennerly talking - and remember, this is a revered photographer and Pulitzer prize winner talking - was the advice to go out with a simple, small drawing book and drawing tool. As a visual artist, I have always considered drawing to be the basis of understanding whatever it is that I am seeing in the world around me.

It takes seconds to make marks on a drawing book page - but whatever you are drawing then "belongs" to you. You know it, understand it better, remember it. It has become an integral part of you by the actions of mark making as your eye, brain and hand interact to record that simple object or sight.  Countless artists, down the ages, have done this.

Page from sketchbook, (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Page from sketchbook, (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Sketchbook, (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Sketchbook, (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Sketchbook, (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Sketchbook, (image courtesy of the British Museum)

Having absorbed the image, it is then easier to edit and strengthen it, transmute it to something else. In other words, you can create art. Just as Mr. Kennerly created art through his simple medium of the iPhone, so each of us can use the image captured as the springboard to something else. Or just use the moment as a "limbering up", an exercice to keep eye/brain/hand coordination and skills.  Just look at what Turner did in his wonderful sketchbooks.

Joseph Mallard William Turner, 1831 sketch. (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

Joseph Mallard William Turner, 1831 sketch. (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

A Tower, 1831, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

A Tower, 1831, Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

Study of a Tree, with a Line of Trees Beyond, circa 1789, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775-1851 (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

Study of a Tree, with a Line of Trees Beyond, circa 1789, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775-1851 (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

Sketch of an Interior; Also, a Renaissance Church Tower, circa 1831, Joseph Mallord William Turner (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

Sketch of an Interior; Also, a Renaissance Church Tower, circa 1831, Joseph Mallord William Turner (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

The Blue Rigi, 1844, watercolour, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775-1851, (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

The Blue Rigi, 1844, watercolour, Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775-1851, (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

The Channel Sketchbook, c. 1845, watercolour, Joseph Mallord William Turner (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

The Channel Sketchbook, c. 1845, watercolour, Joseph Mallord William Turner (Image courtesy of Tate Britain)

Five quick drawings a day - a diary of one's voyage through life as you look around you, a record of moments of fascination and interest. And a way of remembering each day that your passion in life revolves around art.

Not a bad bargain to make. David Hume Kennerly's example is a wonderful one to follow for us all, in whatever version of art-making.

Evaluating Art by Jeannine Cook

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Changing gears from producing art to matting and framing art for exhibitions is always a bit of a wrench, I find. I don't know if others find it to be so. First of all, of course, it depends on what the exhibition is to be about, and where the show is to be held. An exhibition in a museum is different from one in a gallery where your art is for sale, and the choice of artwork to exhibit will correspondingly be different. Not of less quality, nonetheless. Any professional artist will always try to put the best work out for exhibition, no matter where.

However, deciding on what the "best work" is can be an interesting exercice. I think any artist is always excited about the latest work done, and hopes and believes that it is better than previous work. Nonetheless, I have privately decided that whenever possible, it is good to put the art just completed aside for a while, so that I can then come back to it with a fresh eye. Only then can I have any distance and can better evaluate its merits and/or defects.  I sometimes feel a little like the meandering salt water rivers entering the coastal Georgia marshes, such as I painted once.

A Day at Julienton, watercolour, artist Jeannine Cook

A Day at Julienton, watercolour, artist Jeannine Cook

I am in the throes of trying to do just such an "agonising reappraisal" of work I had put away in a drawer, all carefully stored in mylar envelopes for the metalpoints and acid-free tissue leaving for the watercolours. First of all, I needed to sort through to try to make a coherent ensemble for a solo exhibition I am holding in January-February at the new gallery for Glynn Visual Arts on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Having selected out some art, then comes the more critical, eagle-eyed time. And that is the hard part!

March at Butler Island, graphite, artist Jeannine Cook

March at Butler Island, graphite, artist Jeannine Cook

Having winnowed again, the resultant selection has to be matched up with types of mats - 4 ply or 8 ply museum mats. Next come their shades of white and cream (I tend to be super conservative in mat colours, trying to let the artwork speak for itself). Then what type of frame, what colour of moulding? So many decisions. And all part of the evaluation process because until the artwork on paper is matted, glazed and framed, you really do not know how it will finally look.

So I scratch my head a lot, turn the artwork upside down, walk away from it, come close to it. I play light on it (especially for metalpoint drawings because the metals shimmer when you catch them in the correct light and really come alive). I fiddle with mats, mouldings, skin my fingers screwing and unscrewing moulding pieces – such fun!

Cedar Lines. gold-silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

Cedar Lines. gold-silverpoint, artist Jeannine Cook

At the end of this whole evaluation process, which I suspect is familiar, in some form or another, to every artist, one just hopes that the result is an interesting, uplifting ensemble of art that appeals to the public.

Stay tuned for January's news!

Changing Gears in Art by Jeannine Cook

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Now that some time has elapsed since I finished my residency at DRAWinternational in France, I find I am still thinking about how to change gears. I went there on the premise that I wanted to explore the option of working on a larger scale in metalpoint, especially metalpoint on a black ground.

Setting out on a new path in art-making always takes time for one to readjust, I know.  It has happened to me before, but this time, other issues in life have complicated the "digestion period".  You have to filter all the advice, new thoughts and suggestions, new concepts, and try to decide which road to take and how.

This was one route, one way of changing gears, using graphite instead of metalpoint.

Caylus, 14th July, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Caylus, 14th July, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

This was another experiment in graphite.

Caylus Stones II, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Caylus Stones II, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Eventually, I wanted to return to metalpoint, so I started trying to work larger and adjust - at least a little.

Maple Bark, metalpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Maple Bark, metalpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

I am still going back and forth in my mind about the direction I want now to follow, but I know that the residency was good for me, jolting me out of ruts. 

I am at the stage where I can look back on the work I did in France and join philosopher R. G. Collingwood as he talked of his own artistic upbringing.  He said, "I learned to think of a picture not as a finished product exposed for the benefit of virtuosi, but as a visible record of an attempt to solve a definite problem in painting, so far as the attempt has gone."  For me, the operative words remain, "as far as the attempt has gone".  Still more changes to come, I hope!

Mysterious Metalpoint by Jeannine Cook

Silverpoint, or metalpoint when one refers to all the metals potentially used to make marks, seems to be a drawing medium which elicits instant interest in everyone to whom one talks about it.  It always surprises me how its mysterious attraction remains intact.

I was recently reminded of this attraction when I mentioned to a Spanish friend that I draw in silver, and also gold, copper, etc.  What had been interest in what I said became intense attention as I was carefully quizzed about just was this drawing medium.

Telling the story of how the monks started using lead for their lines in handwritten manuscripts  and outlines for illumination from possibly the 8th century onwards, as demonstrated by the Lindesfarne Gospels, brings home the antiquity of this medium.  The fact that, later, all the great artists whose names everyone knows - Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Lorenzo di Credi, Albrecht Durer - all used metalpoint, especially silverpoint, elicits even more interest.

Rogier van der Weyden - Head of the Virgin

Rogier van der Weyden - Head of the Virgin

Leonardo da Vinci - Studies of Horses

Leonardo da Vinci - Studies of Horses

Raphael - Study for St. Thomas 1502-03

Raphael - Study for St. Thomas 1502-03

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Graphite's appearance helping to decrease the popularity and use of drawing in metal is another surprise.  Most people have never even thought about the origins and history of the "lead pencils" they use so often. 

The virtual disappearance of metalpoint after Rembrandt's few silverpoint drawingsand Judith Leyster's botanical studies in silver are the next chapter in the story I find myself frequently telling about this medium. 

Rembrandt - His fiancee, Saskia, 1733

Rembrandt - His fiancee, Saskia, 1733

When Cennino Cennini's manuscript of the Il Libro dell' Arte was re-found in the early 19th century in an Italian archive, and people learned once more about silverpoint from Cennini talking of this medium and how to prepare all the materials to draw in metalpoint, there was a renewal of the medium.

Now, in the early 21st century, after spluttering interest during the 20th century, there seems to be another renaissance in metalpoint, despite its relentless aspects of narrow value range, impossibility to erase marks and slow development of the work.   With increased interest in drawing media in general, it is natural that metalpoint be one of the voices in the drawing chorus.  There is a wonderful diversity in the work being done, from classical approaches to very experimental work.  Realistic (helped by the very fine lines which characterise drawing with a metal stylus) approaches are complemented by strictly abstract work, but share the shimmering, discreetly elegant characteristics of these drawings.

Tom Mazzullo - Elliptical, 2011 (courtesy of the artist)

Tom Mazzullo - Elliptical, 2011 (courtesy of the artist)

Lori Field - Ducky in Pinky Talky Town (courtesy of the artist)

Lori Field - Ducky in Pinky Talky Town (courtesy of the artist)

Koo Schadler - Titmouse (courtesy of the artist)

Koo Schadler - Titmouse (courtesy of the artist)

Jeannine Cook - Havre de Grace, gold and silverpoint

Jeannine Cook - Havre de Grace, gold and silverpoint

Jeannine Cook - Ariadne's Thread II - Pine Bark, silverpoint

Jeannine Cook - Ariadne's Thread II - Pine Bark, silverpoint

Metalpoint's allure, a medium that to me seems very much of our contemporary often sleek and understated approach to art and design, comes from its lustrous appearance and also, as I keep finding, its mystery of origins and history.  I must admit, I thoroughly enjoy telling people about this drawing medium, and I suspect that my hundred or so fellow metalpoint artists also relish their role of ambassador for this special way of drawing.

The Eye of the Art Collector by Jeannine Cook

Thanks - once again! - to ArtDaily.org's listings, I happened on an up-coming Sotheby's sale of old Master Drawings from a private collection. I spent a fascinated hour on their site, going through the E-Catalogue of the drawings, some eighty of them, the ideal occupation for a dark, rainy day.

It is always extremely interesting to view a collection of art formed by one person, particularly a person who has a trained eye and knowledge of the media involved. I quote from the news release about this collector (who apparently spent about 25 years assembling this collection). "In his very personal forward to the sale catalogue, the collector who assembled this remarkable group of drawings wrote that he embarked on collecting “with the bold aim of looking over the artist’s shoulder”. There can be no question that he succeeded in this aim. The light that these extremely varied studies shed on the artistic creative process is both intense and wide ranging: we see every moment in the artist’s thought process revealed and illuminated."

There is a remarkable energy and life evident in the drawings this collector assembled. The artists are clearly in the throes of excitement and creativity. Famous names or not, it does not matter. The hallmarks of these drawings are immediacy, directness, sureness of touch and stroke. The collector does indeed describe well what he sought - and found - when he selected these works. Different media, different subject matter, some clearly well thought-out and planned, others on the spur of the moment, catching images almost on the fly... Some as aide-mémoires, others as exploration. In short, the collection came across to me as a most interesting selection of artists' emotions, desires, endeavours, aims... running a gamut of approaches and techniques. Little interesting items too, such as remarks about an exquisite study of a seated woman by Jean-Antoine Watteau. "It was executed in a combination of media that Watteau used only occasionally, but to striking effect: the majority of the figure is built up with a network of silvery strokes of graphite (a very rare medium in Old Master Drawings), (my emphasis) while the accents in the face and hands are in a more typical red chalk, an extremely effective juxtaposition that creates a lively yet utterly elegant figure."

When you go back and try to find out about the use of graphite before the early 18th century, it is indeed hard, as a neophyte, to find allusions to many graphite drawings. Pure graphite, first mined in Borrowdale, England, in the 1500s, seems initially to have been used for under drawing in the 16th century. It was more forgiving than metalpoint, especially silverpoint, the draughtsman's favoured medium during Renaissance times in spite of silverpoint's linear qualities and permanence of mark. Graphite does not seem to have been used much for drawing until well into the 17th century. Artists tended to favour chalks, red and black, as well as charcoal for studies and finished drawings alike. (Interestingly, the Venetian artists continued to favour black chalk, whilst the perhaps more flamboyant Florentine and Roman artists preferred the harder red chalk with which they could show off their skills!) Graphite became widespread only in the 18th century, with the increasing difficulty of obtaining good-quality natural chalks and the simultaneous production of a fine range of graphite pencils after the invention of a graphite pencil in Nuremberg in 1662.

Graphite drawings then become far more widespread: John Constable, Jongkind and later John Singer Sargent, for example, all used graphite in their work, particularly when working plein air.

Self-Portrait, 1806, John Constable, (Image courtesy of the Tate, London)

Self-Portrait, 1806, John Constable, (Image courtesy of the Tate, London)

Ingres was famed for his use of hard graphite pencils when drawing his wonderful detailed portraits of people.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867).  Study for "Raphael and the Fornarina  "  (detail), ca. 1814. Graphite on white wove paper, 10 x 7 3/4 in. (25.4 x 19.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867). Study for "Raphael and the Fornarina" (detail), ca. 1814. Graphite on white wove paper, 10 x 7 3/4 in. (25.4 x 19.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

By the turn of the 19th century, Cezanne and so many others commonly used pencils, as have we all done since in the art world - often to great effect.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) , Hortense Fiquet (Madame Cézanne) Sewing,  ,c. 1880, Graphite Samuel Courtauld Trust: Princes Gate Bequest, 1978

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), Hortense Fiquet (Madame Cézanne) Sewing, ,c. 1880, Graphite
Samuel Courtauld Trust: Princes Gate Bequest, 1978

But back to the Sotheby E-Catalogue of the drawings that occasioned my little foray into the rarity of Old Master graphite drawings... (and by the way, the definition of Old Masters in Western art is work executed before 1800...), it is well worth going through this collection of images of drawings. It allows one to remember how interesting it can be when one sees an art collection formed by one person with the courage of his or her own convictions and erudition.

The Elegance of Imperfection by Jeannine Cook

Back in May when I was in Spain, I read with interest a long article in El Pais by Antonio Muñoz Molina on the artist Vija Celmins' exhibition then showing at New York's McKee Gallery. The descriptions told of how Celmins works, in her studio, in quiet solitude, communing with objects that she has brought into the studio from walks on the beach or Western deserts, from sidewalk or garage sales in New York or where ever. Her close inspection of the objects then is translated into minutely detailed, intimate paintings and drawings of surfaces, interiors, textures, patterns. Their abstraction and depth, both in tactile effect and message, seem to reach far beyond the mere frames. But always, these images apparently allow for imperfection, as it is first in nature and real life, but more so as she creates her art. The overall effect is powerful and compelling.

Vija Celmins  , Web # 1,  Charcoal on paper, Image courtesy of Tate /  National Galleries of Scotland

Vija Celmins , Web # 1,  Charcoal on paper, Image courtesy of Tate / National Galleries of Scotland

Sky, 1975, Vija Celmins, Lithograph on paper, (Image courtesy of the Tate, London)

Sky, 1975, Vija Celmins, Lithograph on paper, (Image courtesy of the Tate, London)

Her work is very well considered, with awards and exhibitions in major institutions in this country. What interested me was the way she apparently deals with blacks - in paint but especially with graphite. When drawing with graphite, with all its permutations of hardness in the grades of Hs and soft Bs, a lot of skill is need to go on getting a more and more intense black. Unless you are careful, as with pastels, the paper surface gets to such a point of "saturation" that no more graphite will adhere.

What is always fun, when looking at other people's art or reading about it, is to have a sudden idea about something interesting and new to try in one's own art. Thinking about Celmins' work brought back to mind a wonderful goldpoint/platinumpoint drawing I saw in the Telfair Museum of Art metalpoint exhibition, The Luster of Silver, in which I was involved in 2006. Dennis Martin, now sadly deceased, had done the most sensitive and beautiful portrait of his wife. He then surrounded this delicate, almost ethereal three-quarters-size portrait with deep, dark, lustrous graphite. The contrast with the goldpoint drawing was dramatic and most effective.

All these thoughts about artists' skills with graphite are tempting me. Now if the temperatures outside would just diminish a little, I could go off and start doing some drawing plein air!

Silverpoint and graphite drawings from Sapelo by Jeannine Cook

It is interesting how a beautiful place like Sapelo Island inspires one to do so many different types of art. Now that I have been able to look again at the work I produced last weekend on the Island as Artist-in-Residence, I realise that I managed to produce some very different pieces, ranging all over the place in subject matter and in approach.

Long after the Storm,  silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Long after the Storm, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

It reminds me how one responds to places and situations in such varied ways. There seems, certainly in my case, to be some unspoken dialogue that goes on subliminally between what one's eyes are seeing and what one instinctively senses could become a drawing or a painting. It is almost beyond cogent thought. You just "know" that that will be a subject worth trying to tackle. It usually ends up humbling one, resulting in a somewhat different result that one visualised... in essence, the subject dictates the whole process. Scouting for possible subject matter is always initially instinctive. Only after one has decided that there is something there to be explored does one try to analyse what exact medium to use and how to go about actually physically doing the artwork. Often this whole process is rapid, because when working plein air, you know that the whole thing is fleeting. Light will change, the tide will alter, the birds will fly off, people might come along to fill the empty scene or whatever.

In any case, I found so many things of fascination to try and draw or paint. These three drawings I am posting are just examples. The Cedar Tree posted above, in silverpoint, was the crown of a huge old tree that had been blown down many years ago and was lying, burnished and reduced to its core, in deep marsh grasses.

Sapelo Dunes was an early morning silverpoint study of the different parts of the dunes facing the restless waves that aided the wind to shape these dunes. Holding the sand against these forces, the sea oats cling tenaciously, their roots amazingly long and lying exposed at the eroded face of the dunes.

Sapelo Dunes, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

Sapelo Dunes, silverpoint, Jeannine Cook artist

The third drawing is a graphite drawing done as the sun was setting on the wide sweep of low-tide beach, the light glinting on the marvellous ridges left in the sand by the water's motion. I was racing the light and only had a very short time before darkness fell. No time for thought, just a fascination to try and make something of nature's marvellous complexity in Low Tide Tracery.

Low Tide Tracery, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Low Tide Tracery, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

My Art-Tasting open studio - December 5th by Jeannine Cook

Well, the house is turned upside down and has become an airy, spacious studio in which my artwork is out on display. The windows are clean, the floors scrubbed, the flood lights placed outside to turn the oak trees into wondrous night-time cathedrals. The guest list is filling fast and the caterers primed. All these are the rituals of preparing for my Art-Tasting, the fifteenth year I am doing this open studio and wine-tasting, now a tradition for many faithful friends and collectors.

I am sure that every artist experiences the same moments of surprise, sometimes irritation, and general feeling of being able more dispassionately to assess the art hung at an exhibition. I find it an interesting experience every time my art is exhibited, for of course, each piece has a different conversation, depending in part on its neighbours and the general context. Displaying watercolours, silverpoint and graphite drawings together seems to work, thank goodness, and they are definitely the ying and yang of each other. However, a unity in matting and framing help pull everything together. The art of displaying is just as much a skill as the creation of any artwork - and one can constantly learn about placement, context, lighting, labelling.

Now to hope that the weather gods will be kind for tomorrow - Cedar Point is always more beautiful in the soft December afternoon sunlight. Greeting guests and friends is a delight, however, no matter what the weather.

The Marshes at Cedar Point, Georgia

The Marshes at Cedar Point, Georgia

Gifts of the Moment II by Jeannine Cook

I wrote yesterday of my magical day drawing, with the added incentive of Sketchcrawl, truly a worldwide day of drawing. Each of us, in our own environment of choice, records and celebrates different drawing media. I was mainly using graphite. These were some of the small drawings I did.

Aground, graphite on tinted ground, Jeannine Cook artist

Aground, graphite on tinted ground, Jeannine Cook artist

Cedar Point Pines, graphite on tinted ground, Jeannine Cook artist

Cedar Point Pines, graphite on tinted ground, Jeannine Cook artist

Summer Marsh, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

Summer Marsh, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

The Old Dockhouse, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

The Old Dockhouse, graphite, Jeannine Cook artist

The small drawings were all done along a wonderful saltwatercreek near my home. The marshes are wide flung to islands, and the high ground is fringed with majestic old trees that have seen much history.

Gifts of the Moment by Jeannine Cook

Today was one of those gifts that nature bestows on one a few times each summer along the coast, when the humidity drops, the skies are clear and a gentle breeze makes the world joyously sparkling. It was the perfect day to be out drawing along the marshes, a welcome respite from other activities and concerns. The additional incentive was that it was a day designated for drawing by being part of the international Sketchcrawl group.

It was a day to experiment too, with a slightly different format of graphite drawing, with prepared grounds in different subtle colours. I had seen artist George Sorrels' wonderful Arches drawing book in which he had prepared varying sizes of small squares and rectangles in subtle colour, page by pages. Then, according to the subject matter he found, he would select a prepared area and do a graphite drawing of exquisite beauty and sensitivity. So I prepared paper in a number of colours, and sallied forth.

It was enormous fun to be drawing and experimenting, but more than the fun, there were so many gifts of the moment. The salt water marshes, emerald scintillating to golden, were generous with their ever-changing light. The tide flowed full and then softly ebbed, transforming the whole landscape, with the water surface rippled in a million patterns of light from the on-shore breeze. Osprey keened and sailed above. Herons stalked and drowsed, wood storks dangled their long legs just above the spartina grass as they flapped along to the next hunting ground and gulls dipped into the water and swirled back around to dip again. Marsh wrens chattered endlessly from their hidden perches. Schools of fish made their distinctive whoosh of water parting as they leapt in unison to escape a hidden peril. Time lost any meaning.

I don't know if these gifts of beauty, music and peace show up in the art I did in any way, but as artist Phyllis Purvis-Smith remarked in a March 2009 article in American Artist, "experiencing nature for the artist is also important". I know that after the time spent drawing, I felt utterly restored by the generosity of the day.