Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Before I even read the brief for the Assignment 5 final piece I knew I wanted to achieve two things - 1. to produce something that was fun to create and not a chore, and 2. to leave alone the pencils and other delicate mark making tools. They might seem like obvious aims and you might wonder why I've even bothered pointing them out. But it's basically because I feel like throughout this course I've been trying to learn how to draw beautifully, and have had a (so far unfulfilled!) desire for someone to look at my drawings and say "Wow, that's amazing Fran" - but only recently have I learned that this desire is completely irrelevant if I haven't taken any personal enjoyment from the work I am producing. I've so often come to hate a drawing and its subject, and frankly I got fed up with that. So this assignment sees me letting go of any outside desire, and taking my work in a direction that was completely natural, unrestricted and with no particular end in sight.

I started by looking at other artists' depictions of the skull. Such variation! Some with a typical theme of death and mortality (theVanitas), some of a sinister and macabre scene, and some simply showing the skull in its natural environment as no more than an object. The designboom website has some great insight on the image of the skull and its meaning to us as a race

This Vanitas by Philippe de Champaigne is fairly typical amongst its kind although the ordered composition is unusual. The Vanitas paintings always contained obects symbolic of time and mortality so the hourglass was common, as were flowers (with their tendency to be cut, popped in a vase and then wilt away) and more often than not the skull features heavily for obvious reasons. A cold reminder of the undeniable path for all of us.

Toulouse-Lautrec's representation of a bullfight had me gasping at how simple but honest and shocking it is. Such a pointless and atrocious sport that obviously sat heavily on the artist. It's a wonderful point he's making here - almost a Vanitas in itself - the fragility, and often futility, of life.

Above is a couple of Steven Gregory's Skulduggery skulls - beautifully crafted with real human skulls and precious stone or shell, and fitted with glass eyes. Frightenly sinister but with an air of ridiculousness about them I think - perhaps the over-embellished, bejewelled skull makes me laugh because it makes me think of how ridiclous we are in life when it comes to these vain adornments.
Adolphe Duvocelle clearly likes to give us nightmares with this creepy ghoul, like it's peering over you as you sleep. There's a real horrific appeal for artists to include eyes inside the skull's sockets. It's so frightening, you wouldn't want to gaze at it for too long or it really will make an appearance in your dreams.
Here the image of death is used in a propaganda poster to represent the threat of the Bolsheviks in Germany - a very real threat, and so the need for a powerful and frightening image was necessary. And what better than a skull.

'Albert Houthuesen's 'Yew tree and sheep's skull' is really quite beautiful. Simply set against a likely background, the skull loses any of its macabre symbolism and becomes a lowly natural object in its natural environment.

I gave this idea of a skull in its natural environment some thought. My Mum took some photos of dry stone walls in and around her garden in Cumbria for me - the first whole skull I ever found was a huge ram's skull, and I found it lying next to a dry stone wall in Cumbria. It seems natural for me to associate the two things.

I planned a composition to include the wall and my skull, with the idea that I'd be creating my own simple Vanitas.

I wanted to draw using my newly acquired drip-drawing method so had a practice run first. There is always an element of chance with this method, sometimes I made a complete mess of it and had to start over, but sometimes I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I painted a colour wash over my paper first and used oil pastel to add colour once the drip-drawn lines had dried.

And for my final drawing I was more careful over the composition - I shrunk my skull to a more realistic size (compared to the one in the preliminary pencil study above) and ensured there was a good wall to grass ratio. I used the torn paper collage method for the skull itself but found it was quite weak against the strong background of thick black line, so I used the drip-drawing to outline the skull hoping to bring to the two aspects together more successfully. The result is a vibrant representation of my skull in its natural environment - perhaps more of an illustration than an accurate drawing? The palette of colours in the dry stone wall have been accentuated to bring it to life. I didn't want to create a cold Vanitas reminding me of the sad inevitability of death. I wanted to create something warm and comforting - this may seem silly but we can't escape death, so why target the morbidity and misery of it when you can show it for what it really is - just a fact of life and not something to be afraid of.

Wow. What a fun assignment. I'm genuinly surprised by where it has taken me, and I've produced work that I didn't know was in me. I'm so accustomed to being literal with my work and so discovering that I can do and enjoy work that is unscrupulous and accidental in a way, is a wonderful surprise.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for letting me share your experience with this assignment. Not only do you write well you draw well too