Modern Woman is a small window into the changing position of women in the last hundred or so years—a truly lovely exhibition showing at the Queensland Art Gallery until 24 June. I saw it at the height of my frustration with my own progress at my atelier art classes and came away feeling at peace with my lot of continued study in drawing. If a stump of burnt stick is good enough for an old dead French dude (or lady dude), it’s good enough for me. And what a delicate, serene world they created with their soft scribbles and curved hatched lines with white highlights. I floated out of the gallery and blinked at the Brisbane River in confusion, because I had been transported momentarily to Paris.
Drawing is undeniably underrated. Anxious to move on to painting at the Studio, I’ve struggled with the idea that drawing is an important art form in its own right, worth dedicating considerable time and effort to. The skill that forms a sturdy scaffold on which to construct a painting, drawing itself can capture the subtle shifts from light to shadow on the skin. Drawing isn’t just for learning about tone and proportion. Once such concepts have been mastered, deploying them through drawing is every bit as striking and powerful as painting.
It continues to amaze me that our eyes lie to us unrelentingly. If you’ve ever applied a shadow to a light object, you’ll probably have done so with reservation, carefully greying part of your picture, perhaps what you consider to be by quite a lot. But unless you’ve been trained to really concentrate on tone, you’re probably not making it dark enough. Darker, darker—it’s always darker than it looks! And when you’ve painted the shadowed side of a white jar in a shade or two lighter than black, your eye will tell you it’s a travesty, but in all likelihood the shade is completely correct.
The reverse is true when you are painting up a tonal chart. I’ve been instructed to create one of these before, but only recently have I been instructed how. This one is constructed from raw umber and white, with ivory black tacked on the end. Ignore the black, and squirt some raw umber next to it. Mix the midtone first. Get a palette knife and mash them together, testing the mixed colour against both the raw umber and the white, until it appears equally distant from both. Keep making mid-midtones until you have the full suite. Here is the trick: make it much lighter than you think. As soon as you muddy the white, it darkens significantly, but you are aiming for a subtle gradation in tone.
Mix lighter; paint (and draw) darker. Your eyes are big fat liars.
News: My super friends at Strutten have done a lovely little write-up on my work. I’m somewhat infatuated with Brisbane at the moment, and I’m pleased to hear that this shines through in my paintings.