Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sketching Sargent at the RA

Sketch of John Singer Sargent's 'En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish)', 1878
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I managed to get a sketch done at the end of the Press View of Sargent and the Sea at the RA on Tuesday.  My sketch is of the feature painting in the exhibition 'En Route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish)' which is on loan from the Corcoran Museum in Washington.

You can read my review of the exhibition on Making A Mark later today - see [to be inserted]

This sketch took about 30 minutes. My focus was on trying to understand the composition, the values and the colour relationships

I do enjoy sketching paintings by artists as it I learn such a huge amount about a painting as I attempt to make my own version of it.  Here are some of the things that I do:
  • In plotting the key verticals and horizontals on the page I attempt to work out how the canvas might be divided roughly into squares.  In essence it's an attempt to work out the ratio of the height to the width - which is always useful to know before you start to plot key marks.
  • I then mark on key horizontals and verticals such as the horizon line, the four main figures and the lighthouse
  • I use a pen which makes me focus on trying to get it right first time!
  • However I use lots of little light feathery strokes so that it's easier to lose them if I do in fact get anything badly wrong
  • In drawing the figures I'm measuring off relative heights and distances between heads.  The negative space between the figures is just as important as the shape of the figure
  • In this particular composition, the placing of the figures partly against the sky makes it a lot easier to see them as figures.  Earlier studies showed figures portrayed against the foreshore and their clothes became lost in the colour of the foreshore and forms were much less distinct.  By putting dark upper torsos against the light sky and the legs of the key figures (left of centre) against the lighter sand it's much easier to see the figures and what sort of people they are - ladies setting out the gather the fruits of the sea.
  • The figures are all 'contre jour' so there's absolutely no need to focus on the faces - especially as Sargent pretty much ignored them as well!  It's not a portrait of individuals as much as a figurative painting.
  • I try to get something of the relative values down.  This is an aspect which very often cannot be done to the full extent in a short amount of time of sketching. My figures in fact need to be even darker.  Using a very soft pencil would have allowed me to get a better range of values - but then I wouldn't have been able to capture the colour in quite the same way.
  • When using the coloured pencils I quickly became aware of how much of this work is coloured greys and darks.  There are slivers of pure colour but much of it is "mouse" colours.
  • The overall palette is a "mooch" around the extremes of two complementary colours - a light orange and a dark (Prussian? Cobalt?) blue.  I suspect much of the sand and foreshore relates to a mix of those two colours with dans of white and black added.
There are lots of pencil sketches in the exhibition - and quite a few sketchy paintings done plein air.  One also sees the process of building from sketches and studies through to a complete painting.

One curious aspect of the RA's website is that it lists Objects eligible for protection under Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.  If you then click a link and then take a look at the pdf files listed on that page you get a very good view of sketches by Sargent - mostly in pencil - which belong to various museums in the USA.

Sargent and the Sea is on display to the public in the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts from Saturday 10th July 2010.  The exhibition continues until 26th September.

1 comment:

  1. Katherine, you amaze me. How you make colored pencils resemble the softness of watercolor is incomparable.


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