Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Best of this Summers Drawings.

I have not been abroad this summer, but at weekends and on sunny evenings I have been out drawing  at Wiseman's Bridge where the beach was often crowded with families and holiday makers.

Many say hello because they already know me from previous years.  This sketch brings back vivid memories of little Ava and Lola walking on the beach with their father and dog
Ava, Lola and her father 7 June  2015
but I cannot remember which was Ava and which was Lola.

These children are Emelia and Harrison Frost

Emelia and Harrison
I think their father is an engineer and their mother Nicki is a primary school teacher in Sheffield

Nicki Frost with her Children

Drawing in public spaces is social, very often when I arrive children will greet me and sit in a crowd around me, others times I am left alone. When I am being watched it is a bit like reading out loud in a classroom, they expect me to put on a show, work fast, pay attention and not make mistakes, but  I do not meet all the people I draw.   Such was the case with this drawing, one of the best of the season, it evokes memories of a moment alone after the crowds had dispersed for supper.  In the crisp twilight air excited chattering and laughter travelled towards me, down the way a little girl in a blue polka dot dress was patting her grandfather's head and giggling, they were looking across the sea towards a distance horizon that was the lit with the dying embers of reflected sunlight in clouds. 

My other favourite haunt is Manor House Wildlife Park where the children interact with the animals 

This year I have been studying how the form of the body changes as we grow.  I have made images of babies with their mothers

and toddlers

making their first wobbly steps

A toddler called Mali

and I have been trying to capture how very small children walk and run,

which is different from the older children like this boy

and  these two sisters from Pakistan with flowers in their hair.   Sanzay (7) and Lalina's family have come to Pembrokeshire because their father is a doctor in Haverfordwest.   Sanzay's dress was embroidered with flowers too and they had one more even younger sibling who I did not manage to draw.

Most of all I have been working on my portraiture.  For many years, almost every evening between 9.30pm to 2.00am, I have been making scribbled drawings of moving faces from television. The scribblings are a technical learning excises to help my subconscious brain build a detailed and structured virtual model of the head and face.   Making the mental construction feels like putting together a three dimensional virtual jigsaw puzzle with movement, the learning involves developing the shape of the pieces as well as fitting them together.  After these sessions I sometimes have very vivid hallucinatory dreams of the shapes and relationships of the pieces I am trying to grasp and assemble, as these elements have coalesced my drawings of faces have become easier to make and more of a likeness.

This is an image drawn whilst watching a television costume drama (I think Wolf House).  A drawing like this represents the present state of my virtual model with some added embellishments. 

The long summer's evenings have been an opportunity to make drawings from real people and to check how well my portraiture has developed since last summer.  This image of  a teenage girl at Wiseman's Bridge demonstrates how my models are transposed into idealised portraits of  real people:

A Teenage girl with flowers in her hair June 2016

But the teenage girl is a drawing about classic idealised beauty, it is not about personality. It represents the first stage in learning to draw and make art.  Only recently did I understand how closely my drawing technique mirrors the way the subconscious mind creates that glorious technicolour cinema experience we call sight.  In the centre of the brain, sitting above the tip of the Brain Stem, is an organ called the Thalamus. It is comparable in size to the two halves of an unshelled walnut, with the nut-shell joining in the horizontal plane.

The  Thalamus (Wikipedia)
Brain scientists sometimes call the thalamus the brain's relay station, this is because all the raw sensory data (except smell) from the eyes, ears, tongue and skin is transmitted through the thalamus to specialised areas for further analysis and processing.  For instance visual data is collected at the retina and sent along the optic nerves to the thalamus before being relayed on to Visual Cortex in the Occipital Lobe at the back of the skull.

Eye : Thalamus : Visual cortex

But the thalamus is much more than just a relay and distribution station, it also recognises patterns,  analyses and processes the data. It was recently discovered that when we are looking at an object six times more visual information is travelling from the cortex to the thalamus than from the thalamus to the visual cortex. This is counter intuitive, how is it that sight is using more information coming from inside the brain than from the eyes that are looking at the outside world? 

Eye : Thalamus : Visual Cortex : Internal model

There is a theory that the thalamus is supplementing incoming sensory data with virtual images generated by the cortex: Suppose you are looking at a set of traffic lights, analysing all the raw visual data sent from the eyes will tell your brain that the lights are in a black box on top of  pole.  The brain has seen the black box and pole many times before and expects it to be there, what it really wants to know is when will the lights change from red to green?  The brain already has a virtual model for the traffic lights in its mental vocabulary, so instead of wasting energy analysing the raw visual data to produce a new virtual pole, it reuses the one it has pre-made in it library of experiences. The mind confines its collection of the raw visual data from the outside world to the one piece of information it wants to know about above all others; when will the lights change from red to green?  As a system this method makes perfect evolutionary sense because it is so energy efficient, it also has the benefit of being a top down system that provides the rational sentient brain, through its control of the eyes, free will to spotlight which news is being brought into the visual arena.  In contrast when we are dreaming and consciousness is absent, the technicolour screen is lit up with hallucinations that have been entirely created from our mind's visual libraries.

The other thing to note is that this energy efficient system does not waste time analysing the raw data for information that is unimportant to the job at hand.  Less analysis makes sight faster, faster sight gives faster decision making, faster decisions make us more adept at taking advantage of situations and faster to escape from danger.  When the lights change from red to green we have an opportunity to move forward at once, when they turn back to red we stop at once. If we dithered we would get killed.

One of the commonest remarks from onlookers watching me draw is "you draw so fast, how do you do that?".   If I observe myself whilst I am drawing I can see how I am generating pictures on paper. It appears that I am using the same method as sight, my hands make marks within the context of ghostlike virtual images held in my mind's eye. These ghosts are gently modified by my sentient mind as the drawing  develops on the paper.  Whilst I am drawing my eyes spotlight the area where new marks are to be made.  For instance when drawing a cheek bone the sentient mind directs the eyes to look at the cheekbones and my mind becomes interested in just two things

1.  Placing the marks in the right position relative the ghost and/or modified image of the virtual model on the paper.
2.  The shape of  the cheek bone I am drawing is made by comparing virtual cheekbones generated in my mind against the unique shape of the cheek bone of the subject.

Similarly when I am drawing someone catching a ball I do not waste time and energy wondering which side of the hand the thumb goes, without thinking I can see where the thumb belongs on my virtual model, but when I come to draw the hands my sentient mind does look at my subject's thumb to find out if I should modify the virtual thumb to be a fat or thin thumb, with or without nail varnish?.

The answer to the onlookers is that if I were to slow down and start measuring the size and positions of objects I would lose sight of the virtual model, my system would fall apart. The speed that my drawings take place is a function of the efficiency of the system (an extension of sight).  A few years ago I went to drawing classes where the models sat in static positions for hours, my drawings that took hours were often structurally weaker and less of a likeness than the drawings that were made in seconds from fleeting memories.

Having learnt how to create an image of an idealised face with unique features I want to take my drawing processes one stage further.  I now want to breath life into the drawing and add personality, perhaps by choosing heads with a lot of structural individuality

Man at Wiseman's Bridge, Aug 2016
  or opening the jaw as if the subject has just moved and taken an inward breath.

or using gesture and body language

Little Boy on a Bench
or by adding interesting hairstyles, possessions and gait

Lady at Heathrow airport 2016

But the most important way to add personality is through facial expressions.  Adding facial expression is the hardest thing to do well because they are movements of the eyes and soft tissue that float over the immoveable bone structure. For these images the artist has to use complex multidimensional virtual models which combine knowledge of static bone under-structures with knowledge of how the soft parts move over the bones.  I have not done nearly enough studying in this area, it is the work for the remainder of my life, at present my mental representation is not up to making convincing drawings of symmetrical smiles.

Ironically strong structural individuality together with slight lob-sided facial expressions are quite easy to do.

A policeman at the Millennium Centre April 2016
Another big subject I am always attempting to draw are relationships, such as images of parents holding children.  In Western art we have many images of mothers with children, Madonnas.  There are less images of fathers with their children.  At Wiseman's Bridge it is very often the fathers that are playing most intimately with their children, perhaps the summer holidays are the only opportunity that they get to spend whole days with their families.  I find the father-child relationships very appealing to draw

This image is statuesque

and this one has warmth

and of course  there are the young mothers too

and finally there are the pets they bring to the beach, dogs with tongues that hang out and run over the sand and play in the surf and are constant companions to their owners

I have also been working on plants, but those can wait for further posts.

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