3.5 Large scale image-making

The purpose of this research task was to explore the working practices of a number of artists that produce work at large scale, so that any insights can be taken forward and incorporated or considered in my own work.

Key words from the brief:

  • Watch a 2 minute document of a drawing event
  • Make notes on the different drawing techniques and physical processes undertaken by the participants.
  • Search for and record your thoughts on some of the following artists [from list provided]
  • Choose one artist and ask yourself the following questions about their artwork [from list provided]

Event documentary analysis

The Embodied Experience of Drawing One-Day Symposium was a workshop that took place in Ocean Studios in Plymouth on Friday 13th April 2018.

The processes and techniques explored in the video that recorded the event include:

Process 1

Drawing with both hands simultaneously, using the movements of limbs (and the constraints of movement), to make marks on paper using a range of drawing implements including charcoal, pencils and marker pens.

Variation 1 – Lying face up on a huge sheet of paper, drawing ‘blind’ with three pencils raised over your head.

Variation 2 – Lying face up on a huge sheet of paper, hands outstretched on either side of your body, drawing with both hands using charcoal (like making angel shapes in snow).

Process 01
Fig 1 – Video still showing drawing process 1 (2018)

Variation 3 – Same a previous but sitting up.

Variation 4 – Kneeling on the paper, hands on either side, swishing charcoal backwards and forwards in each hand.

Variation 5 – Lying face down

In all of the processes above, the range of the drawing is constrained by the physical movements that are possible. The drawing marks combine the ‘big’ arches or shapes that come from the movements of the whole arm, and the smaller variations within the large marks that come from the movement of the wrists.

Using both hands to draw at the same time means there is sometimes synchronicity and reflection in the movement.

Process 2

Using a brass rubbing technique by placing tracing or layout paper on top of textured surfaces found outside, such as manhole covers or textured masonry.

Process 02
Fig 2 – Video still showing drawing process 2 (2018)

Process 3

Drawing at body size, using graphite powder as the drawing medium. Using a variation of the same drawing process in #1. This time the range of movement is extended beyond just arms and wrists to the whole body.

Process 03
Fig 3 – Video still showing drawing process 3 (2018)

Processes 1 and 3 are very physical and the marks evidence the physical nature of the activity. This is purely drawing as rules based process and the artist’s reaction to what is produced.

Artist research

Emma Stibbon

Emma Stibbon is a British artist that studied at the Portsmouth College of Art, Goldsmiths College and the University of the West of England.

The core of Emma Stibbon’s practice is observational drawing, usually of hostile and inhospitable landscapes. Talking about her own practice she says “The physical experience of the place is really important to me, and I like to get out there, walking and gathering research in the field” (Stibbon, 2020).

Her work starts with observational drawings on location, and these are translated into large scale drawings and prints back in the studio. Speaking about drawing, she says: “I believe drawing, like nothing else actually,  can really connect us to place, through not just our critical faculties, but also our emotional and tactile faculties too” (Stibbon, 2020).

One of her major projects was related to Antarctica, when in 2013 she travelled to the polar extremes, both the high Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula, on two ship based expeditions. The experience seems to have had a profound effect, and she talks about the beauty of the place and it’s frailty. She goes on to talk of her conviction to use creative methods, such as drawing, to engage an audience in ways that will change behaviour to minimise global environmental impacts and transition to new ways of being. She describes how the landscape is literally melting and receding, and her being a witness and recorder (Stibbon, 2016).

Her description of how she adapted her working process on the Antarctic trip is interesting. Because the landscape around the ship was moving all the time, she had to use materials such as diluted Indian Ink and large brushes and watercolour so that she could more rapidly capture the subject.

Emma Stibbon - Sea Ice
Fig 4 – Sea Ice (2014)

As well as making large scale studio based artworks, she also uses large scale intaglio printmaking processes.

Adam Dant

Adam Dant is a British artist known for creating large pen and ink visual narratives. He trained as a Graphic Designer and then did an MA in Printmaking at the Royal College of Art.

His works works are intricate pen and ink visual narratives.

In 2015 he was commissioned to be the 2015 General Election Artist for the House of Commons. Part of that process involved the creation of a number of videos in which he explains his working process in some detail.

I’ve used this specific work for my research because it’s so clearly documented.

Adsam Dant 2015 General Election
Fig 5 – Close-up of The Government Stable (2015)

He describes his process of making as:

Research

  • For the General Election project Dant spent a number of weeks travelling around the country recording rallies and events related to all the political parties.
  • One of his objectives in creating the work was to represent the British public in the work as opposed to politicians or political parties. So this work is an apolitical record that covered the whole of the campaign period.
  • He uses a rapid sketching technique using chinagraph and soft pencil to capture his subjects. On some sketches he adds a small amount of colour. The sketches are really shorthand notes for what occurred and any salient points of interest.
  • He describes why he uses rapid sketching: “When I look at the sketches I have done, even though they might have taken three or four seconds, I can, from them, recall all the peripheral aspects of what occured” (Dant, 2015).
  • During his research for the work he filled two dozen sketchbooks.

Making the finished artwork

  • Stretching up large sheets of paper – he uses paper rather than canvas because it holds the detail better
  • Materials he works with – sepia ink and a brush
  • After stretching the paper, he paints it with a sizing (the application of a substance, such as hide glue or acrylic polymer, to a support to reduce the absorbency of the support material), often with colour.
  • Ideas for how the finished work might be constructed are thumbnailed in an A4 sketchbook. The thumbnails include visual of written notes.
  • He used an interesting technique to organise his research. He drew a map of the UK (lying on its side to fit the landscape aspect ratio of the paper), and used that to tack his A4 sketches physically onto the paper. In other words he was using location as a method to organise his thinking.
  • The content of the final work is based on personal observation. “I want to include a lot of personal material – things that I witnessed – translated into something visual that could embody the whole of the general election” (Dant, 2015).
  • The way Dant organises all of the content is to use s fictitious museum space as the framework. The individual elements of research become visual exhibits. The space is loosely based on Leeds Town Hall where the final leaders debate took place.
  • The final work dimensions of the work are 230 x 170cm.

Pete Codling

Peter Coding is a British artist based in Portsmouth.

I first became aware of his work through a friend who showed me a catalogue of a one-man exhibition titled Soul of Souls that was held in Portsmouth Cathedral, where Codling was artist in residence.

The exhibition consists of eight huge drawings, that when fitted together make a dome shape, inspired by the dome of the cathedral or the ‘Hermitage’, which was Codling’s studio space during his residency.

What struck me were the subjects and visual style of his work; both things that resonate with me. The drawings are all made using charcoal and are 4-metres high in a trapezium shape.

The analysis for this exercise focuses just on this work.

The theme he was working with when he created the drawings was ‘time’.

The drawings are arranged in two groups. The first hanging symmetrically from from each nave facing inwards towards each other, and the second on on the reverse facing outwards.

The first set of images use subjects derived from some of the historic stories related to the rich history of Portsmouth as a large naval base.

This includes:

  • They rose – The story of the Mary Rose
  • They sank – Burials at sea
  • They sang – The SS Mendi – the tragic story of huge loss of life when a steam ship packed with men from West Coast of Africa was hit by another steamship just off the Isle of Wight with the loss of 646 lives in 1917
  • They flew – A mid air collision of a Second World War hurricane and messerschmitt resulting in the deaths of the two young pilots
Pete-Codling.-Soup-of-Souls.-Photo-Joe-Low.-2019.-Low-res-1-jpg
Fig 6 – A photograph showing four of the images hanging in Portsmouth Cathedral as part of the Soup of souls exhibition (Codling, 2019)

The second set of drawings deal with more personal stories and tragic stories of people lost at sea.

  • They lost – Suicide – “people lost at sea but perhaps already lost on land” (Codling, 2019)
  • They swam – the story of a local Portuguese man who drowned saving the lives of two young children and the horrific story of naval diver who was killed on a mission spying on a Russian ship.
  • They fell – They fell into the water – a euphemism for people who have drowned.
  • They fish – The Wilhelmina J – a local fishing boat that sank after it collided with a Cypriot tanker with the loss of six lives.

A booklet that accompanied the exhibition can be downloaded here.

All eight drawings are read from top to bottom, with the subjects starting at the top of the image on or above the sea, and then traveling down the images to the floor of the sea at the bottom, forming a momento mori, (an object kept as a reminder of the inevitability of death). The images are rich in symbolism, sea folklore, nautical and local reference.

Artist analysis

How do they choose their subjects?

Emma Stibbon chooses remote and inhospitable landscapes as her subjects. In her 2013 trip to Antarctica, she was interested in making works with an environmental message and using art as a way to raise awareness of the frailty of a landscape that is severely threatened by global warming.

Adam Dant’s subject (for my analysis), was the 2015 General election. This was a specific commission.

The Soup of Souls exhibition catalogue describes the references Peter Codling uses in his work as: “classicism, art history and contemporary politics as well as interpreting local histories and folklore” (Soup of Souls: Peter Codling, 2018).

How do their creative and material approaches differ?

Creative approaches

Both Stibbon and Dant use observational drawing as a basis of their practice. For the works analyised in this research, both use rapid drawing techniques that suited the fleeting nature of the subjects they were recording.

Dant then used a location/geographic based framework to reflects on his visual research before designing a composition that would hold a mega narrative (many smaller stories and incidents compressed into a single large scale image), together.

Peter Codling describes his creative approach as: “memory, draughtsmanship and traditional chiaroscuro techniques to create bold visions of the human story fed directly by the artists own experience and thoughts” (Soup of Souls: Peter Codling, 2018). 

He uses thumbnailing to roughly design the composition of the work.

Material approaches

Emma Stibbon uses a variety of materials to create her largely monotone drawings. She occasionally uses material such as volcanic ash, found in the landscape, to create her work.

Adam Dant uses pen and ink on paper to create large and very detailed drawings. The Government Stable (2015) measured 230 x 170cm.

Peter Codling uses charcoal to create his drawings. The panels he created for Soup of Souls are 4-metres in length. He chose a trapezium format so that when all of the eight panels are joined together they create the domed shape of the Hermitage, the name of the small square room that sits at the top of the Cathedral tower that he used as his studio.

He describes working with charcoal as “just carefully arranging dust” (Soup of Souls: Peter Codling, 2018), raising questions about the nature of art.

Why do they make their work at a large scale?

Perhaps the reason for Emma Stibbon working at scale is because it reflects the majesty and beauty of her subjects. It could also relate to the need for her to use her public work as a platform to communicate issues around climate change and the fragility of the beautiful landscapes she is depicting. Working ‘big’ means working at museum and gallery scale, and I would suggest that curators are probably more likely to be interested in a series of large works because they more easily fill a gallery.

The nature of his work means that Adam Dant’s drawings need to be large. He has to compress a huge amount of detailed content into his finished pictures.

Peter Codling’s background is in making public art and murals. Soup of Souls is an interesting mix of mural, street art, narrative illustration and classical painting. On a practical level, the hanging of the works along each nave of Portsmouth Cathedral meant that that works had to be very large so that they would read.

What hurdles have they encountered or initiatives have they had to develop in order to produce their work?

All three artists have studio spaces that allow them the freedom to work at scale.

In order to travel to the Antarctica, Stibbon had to travel on a ship based expedition alongside a group of scientists. This collaboration between the arts and the sciences is another theme that she explores in her work. “I believe that it’s only through dialogue between science and creativity that we’re really going to tackle these big challenges that we face today” (Stibbon, 2020).

In one of her recent videos she mentions how the coronavirus lockdown prevented her from accessing her studio space, so for a period of time she was restricted to working from home (at a small scale).

Adam Dant’s work was commissioned. My guess is that his research, that took place for the duration of the 2015 election campaign, would have been quite expensive, both in terms of his time, and the expenses related to travelling the length and breadth of the country.

I haven’t been able to find information on how of where Codling creates his large scale drawings but working on images 4-metres high must involve some logistical challenges. Not only where to do the work, but also, assuming the drawings are hung on a wall, how to physically do the work.

Working with a fragile media like charcoal must also involve many challenges. How do you fix the drawings and then handle or store them afterwards?

References

Codling, Peter (2018) Soup of Souls: Peter Codling [Exhibition catalogue] Portsmouth

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Video still showing drawing process 1 In: The Embodied Experience of Drawing One-Day Symposium – Friday 13th April 2018 At: https://vimeo.com/267261033 (Accessed: 15/07/20)

Figure 2 – Video still showing drawing process 2  In: The Embodied Experience of Drawing One-Day Symposium – Friday 13th April 2018 At: https://vimeo.com/267261033 (Accessed: 15/07/20)

Figure 3 – Video still showing drawing process 3  In: The Embodied Experience of Drawing One-Day Symposium – Friday 13th April 2018 At: https://vimeo.com/267261033 (Accessed: 15/07/20)

Figure 4 – Stibbons, Emma (2014) Sea Ice [Watercolour, graphite and aluminium powder] At: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/emma-stibbon-polar-art (Accessed: 12/07/20)

Figure 5 – Dant, Adam (2015) The Government Stable [ink on paper] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCMA9LlbQH4 (Accessed: 14/07/20)

Figure 6 – Codling, Peter (2019) A photograph showing four of the images hanging in Portsmouth Cathedral as part of the Soup of souls exhibition At: http://www.petecodling.com/soup-of-souls-drawings-2018-19/ (Accessed: 17/07/20)