Research Task 1:0 – Emma’s Sketchbook

Viewing Emma’s sketchbook was a pleasure, it is very different from other sketchbooks I have made or seen. One of the reasons for that is that she works with printing instead of drawing or painting, which is different form what I am used to, but the thing that stood out to me is her ample inclusion of references and finished products in her sketchbook.

She creates pages of photographs, unfinished versions of her work and finished versions of her work, then puts them all in one place, creating a diary of her project process. This is different form the way I have used my sketchbook for projects. Most of the time, I only have a few sketches of various versions of my project and maybe a color study for that particular project. The rest of the materials I use for my art like notes or reference photos tend to be in various other places in my office or in my computer. I can see how having everything in one place and being able to just scan through that on occasion would be very useful.

The second most noticeable difference is the way her sketchbook is bound. I have never attempted binding, but after seeing the way Emma was able to include a variety of papers, notes, and photographs all in one place, I would love to try this myself as well. Truthfully, it is a little daunting, but I am sure the results will be worth it.

Research Task 1:1 – Artists sketchbooks

Out of the many artists referenced in the handbook, the artists’ sketchbooks that I was most curious about were: Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Guillermo del Toro, Katsushika Hokusai, Ruby Elliot and David Hockney.

After researching each artist, I did my best to emulate an element of their technique. Drawing in each of their style made me feel like a small child playing with crayons. I was drawing what I thought were the right marks, but as I went on, I couldn’t help but feel like I’m missing the point or the reason behind each mark. Because every one of these artists draw with purpose and none of their strokes are either redundant or wasteful.

Leonardo da Vinci

It really is no wonder that Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the most revered human beings in history. His accomplishments in not only art, for which he is most popularly know for, but also algebra, geometry, architecture, physics, zoology, biology, anatomy and engineering is awe-inspiring. His sketchbooks reflect his widespread interest in the sciences. They are filled with notes on all of these subjects and with detailed drawings of  not only studies of the natural world, but also with his many inventions most of which were far ahead of his time.

The mediums used in his era are equally fascinating. His earlier work is characterized by beautiful metal-point on a special type of paper coated with a bone and glue ground. This was later replaced with red, brown and white chalks on tinted or white paper (which was made from linen or hemp materials.) Da Vinci also worked with black ink (red-brown five hundred years later) using goose-feather quills.

His sketches are precise, but expressive. They show perhaps more eloquently than any of his finished works, the perfect marriage of science and art.

 To try to emulate Da Vinci’s style, I first stained the paper yellow with coffee in order to make it look less bleached, as the natural bleaches they used back in his day were not as powerful as they are now. So, Da Vinci’s white paper would not have been as white as my sketchbook even when it was still new and the paper was not yellow from age.
After the paper dried, I looked up the New Masters Academy YouTube channel in order to use their nude figure drawing videos. They are a free resource I infinitely appreciate, since their videos have photographs with excellent models and lighting.
I first drew a very light sketch of the model in pencil, though Da Vinci did not own pencils, he would sketch either using metal point, charcoal or chalk if he sketched at all. Then, without erasing, I went over the sketch with my nib pen dipped in brown ink (which I mixed myself using other inks in the primary colors).

My grasp of anatomy is still in its early stages of development, so trying to emulate Da Vinci’s confident lines while keeping everything proportional and in motion when using ink was very difficult.

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh’s sketchbooks contain a variety of styles and mediums such as charcoal and ink. Most of his sketches depict people, places or things around him, some of which are drawn literally, others which seem to capture a state of mind more than an object. Of Van Gogh’s sketches, the ones that mimic his brushwork in ink are the most fascinating and expressive, such as the one depicting the corner of his asylum and the garden with a cut tree. The strokes of ink are not just meant to create the shapes of bark and leaves, the also create movement, making the trees look alive.

The utensils for this exercise were similar, but the style and subject matter were entirely different. I decided against laying down a stain for this one, but I did mix a darker brown for the ink. I wanted to depict a similar landscape to some of Van Gogh’s own sketches, but sadly I live in the city, so I was forced to look up some photographs form around my country of scenes I found vaguely familiar. Though I have never seen someone lounge so casually on a haystack before…

I am familiar with using nib pen and ink, but using Van Gogh’s whimsical sort of hatching was more difficult than I expected. There is a great deal of analysis needed to determine which way these wave-looking lines should be heading. One has to consider if the ground in flowing to the right or to the left, and if this section of the tree is growing and twisting in this direction or that. To create that sense of living movement one has to equally observe and imagine what that tree or the ground looks like.

Guillermo del Toro

The interesting thing about Guillermo del Toro is the fact that he is primarily a movie director, not a traditional artist. His sketchbooks show a mimicry of Da Vinci’s aesthetic with the tinted pages and ample text highlighting the drawn concepts and studies on the page. But his subject matter is entirely alien in comparison with Da Vinci, sometimes literally. His sketchbooks are the place where Del Toro conceives his macabre creations for his movies. Whether they be crowns with living cities or monsters with eyes in their hands.

Del Toro’s pieces are the furthest thing from the everyday, but I will argue that this is a perfect example of a sketchbook showing everyday thought process of the artist. The everyday creation for his life’s work, his movies.

The everyday monsters in his head.

Since Del Toro seems to do the same thing, I decided to stain my surface yet again. Then, I mixed the closes approximation to the crimson red ink color he both writes and sketches with. Concept-wise, I decided to try to design my own movie monster.

The interesting thing about Del Toro’s creatures is the fact that most of them are not necessarily good or evil, and that all of them have a story. A story which he always makes sure to incorporate in their design. One of his more interesting quotes is the “eye candy versus eye protein” saying. Meaning that although he likes his monsters to look good, he doesn’t like his monsters to look good and have no substance and no depth. Even if that depth is never analyzed in the motion picture, the fact that it exists written on the character visually is already enough.

I started out my sketch by writing down my thoughts regarding this challenge in Romanian. Since Del Toro writes his own notes in Spanish, I thought the effect would be similar. Plus, this contributes to the “hiding private things in plain sight within my sketchbook” section of this course. Romanian speakers would be able to read it, and perhaps others who speak romantic languages would be able to understand a little, but that still cuts the number of people pretty low. Most of what I wrote is regarding the character itself.

I thought of designing a character after one of our Romanian folktales named Muma Padurii. Roughly translated to “Mother of the Forest”, “Muma” being an archaic term. Muma Padurii is a reoccurring character in many tales, most of the time an antagonist to Fat Frumos (Prince Charming). She is usually some type of witch and she sometimes has a beautiful daughter whom Fat Frumos falls in love with. I wanted to re-imagine her as a more neutral character. Someone who truly imbodies the spirit of the forest and will react negatively if harmed whether purposefully or inadvertently, but is otherwise benevolent.

Aesthetically, she is a living tree. She is ancient and cracking and wrinkled, but her leaves are green. She has holes in her face and her hair is made of spider webs, but the birds nest inside of her and the spiders keep the harmful critters away. She cannot see very well anymore, but she has butterflies with eyes on their wings whom she can use to see for miles even if she never moves a muscle.

Katsushika Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai, most well known for his woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, is one of the most prolific artists of his time, having produced an extraordinary amount of work in both painting and printmaking with woodblock carving. His sketchbooks are very easy to find, considering that he had fifteen of them published. Some of his sketchbooks are meant to help teach a simplified way of drawing, others are simply random sketches of various subjects ranging from classics such as animals, plants and people working to self defense techniques to fantastical scenes.

This was much more difficult than the rest. I had tried to mimic Asian art styles before, but only as short experiments, so not only was the artist new to me, but also the general artistic style. It is fascinating to look at art from a completely different culture and to be able to understand the image, while seeing a completely different design approach to how they got that image.

For this piece, I wanted to try one of the Mount Fuji landscapes, since it is iconic. I used simple ink with a Chinese calligraphy brush on my relatively thin sketchbook paper. Exploring the wealth of texture in contrast with the stark minimalism of the misty parts of the mountains was interesting. Though I am certain that there are many balance issues in my piece. Hokusai was a notorious perfectionist (you have to be to believe you can only reach artistic perfection by the time you’re 110) and I suspect he wouldn’t take kindly to my sloppy linework and minimal regard for negative shapes.

Ruby Elliot

Ruby Elliot is a contemporary illustrator whose extremely minimalistic approach manages to deliver an important message about mental health. Her characters are naïve and their design is such that it looks deliberately bad, which enhances the humorous take on the serious issues she addresses.

I drew the following characters in 0.5 gel ink pen.

Let it be known that minimalism and cartoons are not my strong suit. I will never be able to understand how some people think putting less on a piece of paper is easier than putting more. This is the epitome of my statement in the introduction. These characters were very deliberately designed to look a certain way and to give off a certain feeling. The lines were are meant to be placed precisely, but I felt a bit left in the dark as to where that is. The thing that Ruby and all these artists have that I hope to achieve someday is that intentionality, that ability to place a line and to know the true stack of things its supposed to achieve. I want to eventually be able to create those lines loosely and deliberately. To have fun, but to not make useless marks.