PART 1: EXPLORING COMPOSITION – project 1 observational drawing




Project 1 Observational Drawing

I began by taking several photos of unlikely compositions around the house and the garden. As it’s generally the unlikely which interests me this was fun and I could see the possibilities of some of the images. I chose to draw some garden equipment which had been left outside the house.


I began with an observational drawing in pencil. At the same time as doing this exercise I have begun reading ‘Writing on Drawing’, edited by Steve Garner, and this has had the effect of focusing my thought on why I draw and what drawing means to me. A first drawing, as this was, is my way of getting into the subject and so I guess it is a kind of exploration of the subject. Even though my work tends to end up rather loose and non-representational, the initial study is generally as close as I can get it to portraying what I see. It was interesting to be thinking this through as I worked.


My next step was to photograph the drawing. This allows me to stand outside the drawing to see what it is telling me. Each element had its own space and there was a silent ‘waiting’ feeling. Interesting shapes had been created between the different items. I took quite a few photos close up of the different sections of the drawing and I always find this a fascinating step as so many new images emerge. While I was photographing, the sun suddenly came out and I found that a section of each photo was in darkness and this happenchance was just too good to ignore.

The first study into composition was to take one of these ‘close-ups’ and reproduce it in charcoal and pan pastel. I liked the feeling of exploring the shapes and it was interesting to see what a tiny section of the original drawing could produce. I may take this idea further using more than one of the images but at this early stage I just wanted to get an overall feeling of where the possibilities lay.


I then began to explore a composition based on a photo montage. This held many possibilities and the original image began to take on a new energy. I wanted to explore this energy with the pencil and so I began to draw focusing on line. But as I continued to study the photomontage it was the tonal shapes which held my attention. So I abandoned the lines and followed the shapes of tone. After several hours of working with this, I wanted to obliterate some areas and painted over them with acrylic white. It was interesting that when these dried it left a texture on the surface. I continued to explore the tonal shapes. Looking at this study alongside the original observational drawing it is interesting how much more energy and movement I can see in this study.



Going back to the original observational drawing and looking again at cropped details of it, I decided to explore the lines of the image further. I wanted a more playful image. I spent some time with loose line drawings using different media, ink and pen, then biro. I simply worked on pieces of paper and just pasted them over the top of others trying not to be precious about the outcome. I loved the immediacy of the pen and ink even though it was incredibly difficult to achieve the right lines – you only get one chance at it! I need to practise more to get my ‘eye in’. I am finding I’m much more hesitant when using pen than with pencil. The spareness of the line in this sketch was intriguing! Exploring with the biro took me further in terms of composition of shapes and lines and I was thinking more about the whole picture plane and the composition of the image. However there is a deadness about it!


The exercise in terms of my own practice

Because I want to use each exercise to inform and extend my own practice, I did a final study using line with pen and ink and acrylics. By now the image was firmly in my memory so I wanted to draw using only memory. I always enjoy this point in image making when you have the freedom to invoke the image from memory and it’s fascinating to see where that takes the image. I used A2 paper and began to draw freely with the pen and ink not thinking about accuracy of form etc. I really wanted the expression of the idea to come through. I love the movement of the line now and the image is beginning to take hold of the form on its own. Following this study, I repeated the idea on cartridge paper, this time thinking more about space on the paper. I want to explore a very expressive use of line and so after the first drawing I obliterated most of it with white paint and then redrew using paint and a thick brush. The parts I didn’t like, were then covered over with white paint again.

Final reflection

I think I’ve moved somewhat from the original drawing but there are still elements there. It is fascinating to view the studies as they progressed. In the first observational drawing I was simply reproducing what the eye was seeing in as careful a detail as I could. In a way it is a kind of analysing step. But after that I was exploring what the image was revealing…its secrets in a way! So much is possible from any image. Even though I feel to have ‘nudged’ the image into greater energy and flow through the exploration of line and shape, there are still many more compositional possibilities.




I’m not sure that this final composition is making the best use of the space particularly on the left hand side. I like the right side where shapes are simply suggested but left undefined. The image itself seems too far to the bottom of the composition. More planning of the composition is needed at the start – I feel it was still the lines and shapes which I was focused on rather than the composition. perhaps a drastic cropping of the drawing slicing off the top third would produce a more interesting result. The same could be said of the line drawing which I have positioned in the centre of the page leaving areas of white paper around the image…not particularly interesting!

This has been a very exciting project because of the possibilities that I can see in it.


About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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