There are two things that resonate in my mind after visiting the temporary exhibition Master Drawings from Mantegna to Matisse at the Courtauld Gallery: the importance of developing a work of art through drawings and sketches, and the authority of line in many a finished artwork. Having been to Italy and experienced the masterpieces of artists like Michelangelo and Tintoretto, I found the Courtauld’s drawings exhibition very refreshing. From this selection of sketches, the visitor is able to access the artists’ intentions and priorities for their work without having to see a finished piece at all.
The exhibition inpired me to explore the concept of creative development and line using photographs of my own drawings, and editing software. I photographed a selection of portraits which I made while on the Art History Abroad Early Summer Course 2012.
Above is a portrait, ‘Rose’, edited with an applied “coloured pencil” filter. Here, I have sketched over digitally to create the chiaroscuro affect present in Piazzetta’s Head of a Boy and an Old Man (above right). I have also tried to imitate Piazetta’s use of white chalk to heigten the contrast of the black chalk on grey paper which in turn creates a soft suggestion of form.
I was also struck by Ingres’ beautiful study for the Grande Odalisque, which demonstrates that line and composition can dominate colour and detail, creating something just as effective.
Above left: Here, I have divided my portrait in two, leaving the original drawing on the right hand side. Similarly to Ingres’ study, I have erased the detail on the left hand side, allowing the viewer to focus on the line and composition of the photograph.
Above : Self portrait taken 3 times in the Marino Marini museum in Florence and “Emma” in Santa Maria Novella. I decided to place these drawings together after seeing Da Vinci (Mary Magdelene studies 1480 ) and Veronese’s Studies of Christ Carrying the Cross (both above right). In both drawings the artists experimented with slightly different compositions before settling on the final outcome. Viewing the sketches, one can see the figures merge together, almost creating a sense of movement. It is rare that we are able to follow an artist’s thought process like this.
So in conclusion I am amazed at how effective a simple line drawing can be. The exhibition perhaps told me even more than if I’d seen the finished works. Here, I end with my final photograph, “Ella” which combines two layers – one of the original grayscale photograph, the other digitally sketched. As I hope you will see here, with a sketch, you do not necessarily need an abundance of detail and colour for the result to be effective. What you do need, is a clarity of line and of composition – something the drawings of the old masters illustrate in abundance.