The purpose of this assignment was to undertake a more sustained and focused project that goes through various iterations and processes of making, addressing the theme of ‘movement’ in either the production of the work or in its content in order to further embed learnings from the coursework so far, and use this to create interesting and unexpected results.
Key words from the brief:
- Using the material you have already produced for the exercises, you will combine elements of your work
- Four options
- It should take about 4 days to produce from beginning to end
- Write a 500-word reflection
My initial task was to create a ‘so what do we know’ mindmap that captured what I understood from the brief, and my current areas of research and visual interest, to gather my thoughts and define an approach.
You can download a higher resolution version of the image here: What do we know mindmap
This provided me with a direction and next steps.
The key points:
The essence of the brief was movement through a creative process using the lessons and experience gained from the exercises so far. I decided that I would ‘document as I go’ and use this as a way to pause and reflect at each stage.
Based on my current areas of investigation and interest, the option I decided to choose was to create three character illustrations with suitable backdrops and details of character traits.
Each character would be created using a different creative approach (using the processes from PART 2 Visual approaches), and different creative making (using the approaches explored in PART 3 Making).
The high-level process I would follow was:
- Gather source materials/research to give a base starting point
- Document as I go and use this to reflect throughout
- Decide on creative approaches (for each character), and do the work
- Decide on creative making (for each character), and do the work
The germ of an idea
I have been a great admirer of Marcelle Hanselaar’s etchings after I came across her etching in Anthony Dyson’s book, Printmaker’s secrets (2016).
The reproduction that struck me depicted a scene from the Old Testament story of Jael and Sisera, where the heroine Jael is about to kill Sisera, the leader of the army of the Canaanites, by driving a tent peg through his temple.
Not only is the composition full of intense drama but the combination of different etching and aquatint techniques that provide deep blacks and broad tonal range, and inventive layered texture are beautifully executed.
Hanselaar says that the inspiration for the image was Rembrandt’s pen and ink drawing of the same subject.
The idea for the subject of this exercise, or at least it’s starting point, came to me when I listened to a episode of the BBC Radio 4 podcast In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg. The subject was ‘Judith beheading Holofernes’, another Old Testament story of a heroine defeating an army through extreme courage. The story has been depicted many times.
I did some research and was struck by a fairly gruesome painting by Caravaggio Judith beheading Holofernes. I made a sketch of the painting from an online photograph (the original painting is in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini, Rome).
What I found interesting is how different artists depict the story and the characters in what has become “Art history’s favourite icon of female rage” (Frey, 2019).
It can be read as a story of humility overcoming pride or the weak defecting tyrants, and it raised questions about where the power lay between men and women.
From a process perspective, it was really interesting to see that Marcelle Hanselaar was using the work of Rembrandt as a starting point for developing her own ideas, and I wanted to explore this as an approach.
Gather source materials/research
The story of Judith slaying Holofernes
The story of Judith slaying Holofernes is a tale about the Israelites’ heroism against their oppressors. The Book of Judith appears in the deuterocanonical version of the Old Testament,
It can be downloaded here.
Judith was a widow. She was extremely pious and beautiful and lived in a city called Bethulia. At the time the story was set the city was besieged by the Assyrian army led by its general Holofernes.
Judith heard that Ozias who was the leader of the city had agreed to give up the city to the Assyrians if they received no help within five days. She gathered together the elders and Ozias and urged them to be pious and God fearing, and that, if they could remain steadfast, God would deliver them of their oppressors. She offered herself up as an instrument to enable this to happen.
After making herself look even more beautiful with clothes, jewelry and ointment, and praying to God to give her strength and grant her success, she left the city with her maidservant with the blessings of the elders and travelled to the enemy camp.
She convinced the Assyrian guards to take to the tent of their general by telling them that she could tell Holofernes how to take the town without the loss of any of his soldiers.
After prostrating herself before Holofernes she explained why she was betraying her countrymen. She said that they were eating unclean food and doing other things that were forbidden to them, and that because of this God had sent her to Holofernes so that he might bring punishment down upon the sinners.
Judith and her maidservant stayed in the camp for three days, coming and going as they pleased.
On the fourth day Holofernes asked his eunuch Vagao to convince Judith to spend an evening eating and drinking with him. This he did.
Judith went to the tent of the general and ate only of her food, whilst he ate and drank more wine that he had ever done in his life.
When it was late, Vageo closed the doors of the chamber and left Judith together with the drunk and sleeping Holofernes. Judith asked her maidservant to stand watch at the door whilst she took the generals sword out from where it was hanging. After praying to God for strength, she cut off his head with two strikes. She put his head into a bag and gave it to her maidservant, and the two made their escape back to the city.
As she arrived, a great crowd surrounded her. She showed them the head of the general and told them that this was the time to attack the enemy camp.
This they did.
On seeing the approaching army, Vageo tried the raise the general. He believed the general had spent the night with Judith and was filled with anguish when he discovered the decapitated corpse lying on the tent floor.
When the Assyrian commanders heard the story they panicked and fled, pursued by the Israelites.
The main characters
There four characters in the story that could be developed visually.
- Judith’s maidservant
- Vagao (Holofernes’ eunuch)
Hampton Court Palace visual research
Hampton Court Palace is fairly close to where I live, and since coronavirus lockdown restrictions have started to be lifted, it’s been gradually reopening to the public. I used the location, (looking in through locked gates and over walls), several times during lockdown to do some observational drawings. When I heard it had reopened I went into the gardens to do more drawing.
I’ve been aware of the The story of Abraham tapestries that hang in the Great Hall of the palace for some time, but have never really looked at them in any detail.
It seemed an ideal opportunity and perfect as input into this assignment; The subject is a classical interpretation of a biblical story that I could easily access and freely photograph/draw. I could also return to see them again if needed.
I spent an afternoon in the Palace and gardens drawing and taking photographs using my iPhone.
Spending the time to really look at the tapestries was valuable.
They are full of figures, symbols and drama that is a rich source of inspiration for this assignment.
As well as photographing the tapestries, I also took pictures of painting and sculptures that I found interesting in some way.
I additionally did some observational drawings.
When I got home I experimented with sketching from the photographic reference to get a feel for what this might be like to work with.
Artists research – Paula Rego
Paula Rego is another artist I greatly admire and whose painting Crivelli’s Garden (The Visitation) (1990), aligns with aspects of what I was exploring with this assignment in a number of aspects.
The work was commissioned by the National Gallery where she was an Associate Artist. In a video interview where Rego describes how the painting came about, she describes how she used the paintings in the National Gallery as a starting point for her own work. The idea for Crivelli’s Garden came from a Carlo Crivelli painting, where a depiction of a garden had a series of niches, and each niche contained a saint, and so the life of the saints were contained within the painting.
Rego extended the scope of her own painting to not only include the stories of the women saints in the National Gallery, but also mythological stories and folk stories.
She used this approach for other paintings during her association with the National Gallery.
In other words, she had a creative process that used the work of other artists as the starting point or inspiration for her own work.
The second aspect of Paula Rego’s work that I find interesting is that she uses models and modelmaking (alongside live models), as the subjects for her paintings. Model making is an approach I used in 3.0 Fast, and a making approach I could experiment with for this assignment.
Decide on creative approaches
I took my initial research and created another mind map to decide on the creative approaches for each of my characters.
You can download a higher resolution version of the image here: Creative approach mindmap
This resulted in a decision to develop three characters using the creative approaches below:
- Judith – Creative approach: cut and fold
- Holofernes – Creative approach: Words to pictures
- Maidservant – Creative approach: Multi-dimensional thinking
The mind mapping exercise defined the making approaches but I wanted to complete the creative development before deciding in how to make each character.
I felt a bit uncomfortable choosing this as an approach because the process is so abstract I couldn’t see how I could pull this back to the brief.
I used this cut and fold process in and OCA tutor led workshop titled The cut and fold that is written up here.
The process took about 2-hours and is completely rules based. I recorded the outputs at each stage of the process so that I could return and reuse them as required.
The key steps are recorded in this series of photographs:
The final step was to create 15cm square crops from the large single image. At this point I chose to do this step digitally so that I could have more control over the crop and keep the integrity of the large image.
At this point I decided to stop and cropped a final version of collage.
I used the words to pictures process for the creative development of the Holofernes character. I used character traits keywords from the creative approaches mind map as the starting point for creating word lists using a thesaurus.
This gave me a helpful insight. Unlike the processes I followed for 2.3 Words to pictures that used a set of rules that I rigidly applied, for this exercise I was more liberal and only created the word lists for as long as they made sense.
This meant, for example, that whilst the word ‘arrogant’ produced a 13-word word list, I only used the first three. This insight was important because my struggle with using random process is how to retain some level of control in order to keep the results relevant. This rather obvious approach seemed to give at least part of a solution.
Just like my approach to the word lists, I was selective about which words I illustrated because some seemed more relevant than others.
The result was a set of sketches that I could develop further.
For the Maidservant character I wanted to use the automatic drawing process that was the process used in 2.1 Multi-dimensional thinking.
I used my insight from the previous character and used a semi-automated drawing process. What this means is that in the back of my mind I had the character traits of the Maidservant and all of my reference materials, and I used these, as well as my imagination, to just draw whatever came to mind.
Like the Holofernes creative development, I wanted to use renaissance symbols (such as the dog and dove), to help represent the attributes of the character. I also added references to the Judith story such as the tents in the background and the Maidservant carrying a basket.
I had intended to photograph the image development in stages but completely forgot about this when I got into the flow of the drawing.
I decided to develop the Holofernes character more fully.
Given his brutal tyrannical nature, the visual style needed to match, and I used one of Marcelle Hanslaar’s etchingings Ways of the world 5 (2010) as my inspiration.
I tested out a number of compositions combining the different elements from my creative development.
The final illustration was started with a light wash of diluted drawing ink to put in key lines. I then drew the line art using a fountain pen and Indian Ink and finally added tone using charcoal and Conte Crayon.
The following series of images show the making at different stages.
The final artwork.
Reflection on the assignment
- I really enjoyed the opportunity to take all of the learning from PART 2 and PART 3 into a more sustained piece of work.
- I uncovered a really interesting approach to visual research through investigation of the work of Marcelle Hanslaar and Paula Rego and how they are inspired by the work of renaissance ‘classical’ artists.
- I’m glad that I used different creative approaches for each character and spent time and care following through with each, because I got some really important insights. The most important being, with hindsight the rather obvious point, that I don’t have to follow each process slavishly. It’s possible to use just as much I need, and then pull this back in order to use what’s been generated to create a more focused piece of work.
Reflection on PART 3 – Movement
What were the main challenges you encountered when working with alternative making approaches?
When I started I just couldn’t see how rules based or chance based processes could be used to produce a set of character illustrations. It was my perennial struggle between the need to relinquish control and take control.
Now you have made work with unusual materials and techniques, which of these are you going to use for future work?
I will use them all and look for others. I’ve been really excited by how these experimental techniques have pushed my illustration in completely new and unexpected directions.
I currently have ideas for Assignment 4 that could result in a mural or paper-based animation.
It is interesting that before starting this Unit my go to option for Assignment 4 would be based around the theme ‘Place’. Having experimented with the creative approaches, I may opt for the theme ‘Imagination’, or perhaps a combination of the two. This demonstrates quite a positive shift in my thinking and approach.
How did you find moving from working with singular elements to combining them? Did you need to make adjustments to the singular elements for them to work together?
Adjusting the way elements worked together was the insight mentioned above.
What have you learned about making that you want to take forward when you look at part four?
I’m essentially an artist that uses observational drawing as a basis for my illustration. I’m very comfortable with fast drawing techniques and continually develop and innovate this aspect of my work through life drawing and urban sketching.
What I would like to investigate further is the use of figurative models as a way to push the boundaries of my practice. I captured the following research practice point after 3.0 Fast where I’d used clay models to capture facial expressions:
- How do I use models/sets as an approach to create future narrative illustrations?
It is also possible that I’ll create another mural, this time in a public location, although I do have some reservations about whether I can commit to the time it would take to make.
Which of the artists mentioned in this section did you most enjoy looking at and why?
I got a lot of value from the artist research and analysis.
I found the working processes of Adam Dant and Peter Codling interesting because of the way they collect all of their inputs together and then organise them into mega narratives.
It was because of this that I decided to create a ‘pool’ of visual research from Hampton Court Palace, not really knowing what I was going to do with it but trusting that it would be useful and something I could weave into my work.
deuterocanonical – are books and passages considered by the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East to be canonical books of the Old Testament but which are considered non-canonical by Protestant denominations.
List of illustrations
Figure 1 – Hanselaar, Marcelle (2007) Jael and Sisera [Etching and aquatint] In: Dyson, Anthony (2016) Printmaker’s secrets London: Bloomsbury. p.68
Figure 2 – Rego, Paula (1990) Crivelli’s Garden (The Visitation) At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/associate-artist-scheme/paula-rego (Accessed: 20/07/20)
BBC Radio 4 – In Our Time, Judith beheading Holofernes (s.d.) In: BBC At: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002hl7 (Accessed 20/07/2020).
Caballero, W. D. (2020) VICTOR & ISOLINA. At: https://vimeo.com/436212708 (Accessed 15/07/2020).
Frey, A. (2019) How Judith Beheading Holofernes Became Art History’s Favorite Icon of Female Rage. At: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-judith-beheading-holofernes-art-historys-favorite-icon-female-rage (Accessed 20/07/2020).
Web of Stories – Life Stories of Remarkable People (2017) Paula Rego – My commission for Crivelli’s Garden at the National Gallery (40/51). At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sf42-n7pSzI (Accessed 20/07/2020).