The title of this exhibition is self descriptive of the works within and was one that started apparently with a series of creative acts that seems to have begun just by capturing the lines created by the curator/exhibitions officer of Derby Museum, Andrea Hadley-Johnson, as she waled through a field of grass. The one photograph created a call for more images that captured lines that appear around us and eventually to the exhibition that concentrates on mark-making and the simple act of drawing.
What immediately appealed to me is the fact that mark-making is one of my weaker areas so this exhibition gave me an opportunity to explore a wide variety of different lines and marks using different media by a varied selection of artists including sketches by some well known names. Below is a small selection of some of the works in the exhibition – I appreciate I have concentrated on the more well-known names and perhaps that is part of my art history background that means that I have wanted to study these pieces but also a feeling that I can take lessons forward from them in conjunction with the work of the contemporary artists also on display.
I fully admit to having made a bee-line for the work of local artist Joseph Wright whose paintings have their own gallery in Derby Museum. What I find interesting about this drawing is the primarily horizontal nature of the marks with just the addition of a few vertical or diagonal lines which are suggestive of form and movement – the horizontal marks also suggest form but I feel are also textural and tonal marks. This sketch feels very much that it may have been a quick preliminary sketch to a larger oil painting and captures the essence of the landscape rather than the intricate detail.
This sketch is a direct contrast to Joseph Wright’s landscape and was done by L.S. Lowry in 1960 and as the title suggests was of the steelworks in an industrial city but instead of using pencils, pens or paints as chosen media the work is done in chalk. I feel the chalk gives a slightly softer or muted appearance than charcoal – the grey is not as harsh and this helps to create the smokey industrial scene. I find the combination of smudged tones and sharper descriptive lines immediately appealing in the scene that the lines and marks used are not overworked – there is nothing there that does not need to be and even the figures are in the match-stick style for which Lowry is so well known but the figures give both a sense of scale and perhaps a sense of life that would otherwise not have been there … yes the steelworks in full use suggest the harsh working life within but the figures reinforce this just that bit further.
If I compare and contrast both of the above images – one in pen and ink is strong, defined and linear despite the subject being landscape whilst the other uses smudged chalk with slightly softer but no less defined lines to create distinct forms and shapes. The Joseph Wright piece is able to suggest distant hills through lighter, thinner horizontal lines which are enhanced by the thicker horizontal and vertical lines of the trees in the foreground – I know the landscape of Derbyshire well and this scene is suggestive of the High Peak area and I find it gives me a direct lesson in how to capture the scenes I frequently see without the need for colour. The L.S. Lowry piece is such a direct contrast because of the use of softer chalk to create the marks and smudges of the steelworks – there is a grittiness and harshness in his depiction of the urban landscape.
Staying with the theme of heavy industry Henry Moore depicted the scene at a coal face in a very heavily worked piece using a mixture of media. By using his combination of media he was able to create wide variety of marks that give the impression of depth , textures, form and lines whilst creating the harsh environment of the coal face during World War II – this is the one sketch I would love to go back and study much further as there is a hint of colour that is suggestive of the lack of light down in the mines. It is frustrating that my photograph is not clearer due to the lights in the gallery reflecting on the glass as the lines and marks cannot be seen as clear as I would like.
Pablo Picasso’s Dove of Peace is again a complete contrast to the above two works – simply done with red biro in broad sweeping lines. There is virtually no detail on this dove but only marks made to suggest the form and character of the bird.
These gestural sweeping marks can also be seen in the work of Horace Brodzky with his drawing of a nude female figure. The marks are bold and linear suggesting the human form whilst not being overly descriptive – there is a simple capture of a reclining figure which leaves a viewer questioning the narrative (or at least that is my perception of this sketch).
I find a direct contrast to the simple lines of Brodzky’s sketch in the work by Gustav Klimt – my photograph unfortunately was not the clearest due to the lights within the exhibition. The female figure that Klimt has drawn is much more detailed and has a direct eroticism due to the depiction of clothing draping across the woman and also in the way that he has depicted her face – the more detailed softer pencil lines give an indication of character and who this woman and also there is a more direct narrative.
This sketch by Linda Karshan is of an abstract genre – there is no indication in the information of any inspiration or narrative and hence the viewer is able to perceive the sketches and marks in their own individual way. Initially I was unsure about this sketch of repetitive marks but a little research into the artist informs me that the artist’s works reflect the very processes of their making so in this instance the repetitive marks are exactly that i.e. repetitive marks! I now feel that this process of making marks in this manner is also reminiscent of the pointillism of Georges Seurat albeit in a monochrome and abstract style with no sense of form – the process of pointillism can take on a meditative and rhythmic form in the same way as the works of this contemporary artist.
Liz Atkin’s series of charcoal sketches on newspapers are reflective of the works that she draws on discarded newspapers and gives a way to other passengers. Information in the Museum booklet on this exhibition reveals that these drawings are both given away as just simple acts of kindness and also to be advocacy for mental health and Compulsive Skin Picking and for me I find this creates a new depth in my understanding of the pieces – art has enabled this artist to recover from her own personal difficulties as it refocuses her mind and keeps her hands occupied and prior to this exhibition the artist had not exhibited any of the drawings in a public space so this in itself maybe forming part of the healing process. I really loved the combination of marks and the ability to use the charcoal to swiftly sketch scenes (apparently 1 minute sketches) that are both emotive and descriptive – for me I found it was these images that created the strongest emotional response. The newspaper background itself provides the colour that really punches out the lines and marks of the charcoal and almost grounds the scenes within the newspapers.
Finally I loved the simplicity of the lines and marks of the cloisters of San Gimignano – the artist has given a sense of depth by the depiction in dark harsh marks of the tree in the foreground whilst keeping the lines of the cloisters light and deliberate.
These photographs are just a very small selection as stated above – there were over 60 drawings in all from simple doodles to The exhibition did as it stated it would – it brought the viewer back to the simple joy of drawing and encourage participation by including paper and drawing tools to enable you to add your own mark to the exhibition whilst also taking away some confidence in mark-making. The exhibition stated it wanted to show that drawing is a way of expressing emotion and therefore can enhance a sense of well-being and this is certainly shown in the work of Liz Atkin.
At the back of the Museum booklet there is a page titled ‘Card Provocations’ which encourages you to create everyday acts of creativity – simple suggestions such as draw fierce marks, look out of the window and draw what you see or simply draw your finger and these suggestions I will be adding to my noticeboard as a way of warming up for the day or for when my mind goes blank and can work in conjunction with the verbs and words suggested in Exercise 1.5.
What did I learn from this exhibition and what have I really taken away? Certainly I have gained a little more confidence in my own mark-making as there is no right or wrong way – my marks are my own way of expressing myself or getting the essence of what I see down on paper. I have also been able to study the lines and marks of some artists I have long been a fan of – the Joseph Wright sketch was of particular appeal due to his paintings being in the gallery below. It was fascinating to see the wide range of media used which in turn serves as a reminder to keep working on my sketches using different media to create different marks and perhaps I should set aside an afternoon to create some of the early mark-making exercises of A Creative Approach – it is always productive I feel to sometimes go back to the foundations of drawing skills and revisit them. This exhibition also served as a simple reminder of why I am sat here typing – I enjoy making art and I enjoy sketching in all its form and sometimes when I get bogged down in study or research I need to remind myself of that fact …. the exhibition takes you back to the simplicity of enjoying being creative.
Footnote: what is really lovely is the booklet that accompanies the exhibition and which can be purchased in the shop is interactive – there is an encouragement not just to read about the exhibition but to draw or scribble on it and to use it to be creative … the booklet becomes part of the exhibition and its aims in itself.
Derby Museums. (date unknown). Finding Lines. Derby. Derby Museums.
artsy.net. (date unknown). Linda Karshan [online]. [Date accessed: August 2017]. Available from: https://www.artsy.net/artist/linda-karshan