Today’s artwork offering is again from the distant past – an 18 x 14 inch drawing dated 1965 from my Manchester art college days. This is an abstract interpretation of a few dried seed pods of the Honesty flower “Lunaria annua”. The seed heads when seen on the plant after flowering in the garden resemble translucent ovals and are often called “Moon Flower”. I arranged this simple still-life in a jar… but instead of looking at and drawing it from a more traditional side-on angle, I chose a viewpoint directly above, thus looking down vertically onto the subject.
Note from Wikipedia… “The Latin name lunaria means “moon-shaped” and refers to the shape and appearance of the seedpods. The common name “honesty” arose in the 16th century, and may also relate to the translucence of the seedpods. In South East Asia, it is called the “money plant” and in the United States it is commonly known as “silver dollars”, “Chinese money”, or “Chinese coins” because its seedpods have the appearance of silvery coins. For the same reason, in French it is known as monnaie du pape (“the Pope’s money”). In Denmark it is known as judaspenge and in Dutch-speaking countries as judaspenning (coins of Judas), an allusion to the story of Judas Iscariot and the thirty pieces of silver he was paid for betraying Christ.”
I also chose to interpret the still-life as a ‘negative’ image (perhaps my latent interest in black-and-white photography was making itself known) and after drawing the outlines of the overlapping seed heads in green, I filled-in – with much rubbing and blending of the colours with my finger-tips – the spaces surrounding the outlines of the seeds with a mélange of medium and dark brown soft pastel crayons from the Dutch Talens “Rembrandt” range which I bought from an art shop opposite the college, and many of which I still have and use today… and, although initially expensive, what a good investment they proved to be!
Image © 2014 Ed Buziak
I found another drawing dated 1963, from the same period at art college, and where I can still remember sitting… but this time at the end of a cold draughty platform of Piccadilly Station in Manchester. Our pre-diploma group must have been sat there at various spots for a couple of hours… but as the station was a terminus, the end carriage of the train next to this platform thankfully wasn’t going anywhere.
My technique for this drawing was the same as yesterday’s “Art college studio” subject… pen and black ink but on 15 x 22 inch paper (the photo is cropped from the original) which must have been quite unwieldy in the wind, unless I had it well-clipped to a small drawing board at the time. Again there is no trace of pencil sketching-in to establish the basic shapes, perspective and proportions – which do feel right – so I mush have been developing a good eye at the time.
I still have several original drawings and paintings from my art college years half a century ago, and whilst a few are being placed on Saatchi for sale, I will always keep some which, apart from being probably unsalable, have more personal memories… this being one of them.
Even though this drawing is dated 1963 I can still remember sitting in a corner of the art college studio under the eagle eye of Miss Hopwell… she was the hard working and enthusiastic tutor during my pre-diploma year at the Openshaw annex of the Regional College of Art and Design, as it was known then, later becoming the Manchester College of Art and Design, and I think now probably a part of the sprawling university campus known as the Manchester Polytechnic.
Miss Hopwell gave interesting exercises, all meant to try and test our techniques and skills. Here – judging by the feint traces of inked lines – she would have told the group to draw directly with pen and ink with no initial sketching-in of shapes and proportions with pencil, which could easily be erased later if mistakes were made. This is a good test of co-ordination of mind, eye and hand.
From memory I think the initial sketching was made with a fine mapping-pen, with a much thicker nib used for the stronger outlines and shapes; and the ink colour looks as if I used Raw Umber, Sepia or Vandyke Brown… all favourites then as today with soft pastels, although I haven’t adopted that grouping from the colour palette for my acrylic works. Maybe those “browns” are more traditional, and my current abstract subject matter doesn’t suit such earthy tones.
I wonder if artists at college today still use pen and ink to the same extent as we did as students 50 or more years ago – and of course as most artists would have used for hundreds of years before that. Nowadays artists have an incredible range of materials at their disposal from Sharpie markers in several colours to Faber-Castell PITT artist’s pens and Pigma Micron pens… the list is almost endless! However, our bottles of pure inks in the 1960s were probably a lot safer than the Sharpies of the early 1990s which used toluene and xylene, two substances both harmful and characterized by a very strong smell. Today, the ink is usually made on the basis of alcohols, e.g. 1-propanol, 1-butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresols… Hmmm, think I’ll stick to water-based liquids!
, wax candle
“Sea Shell” ~ Ed Buziak (1962)
This is a typical example of an exercise given to my group of fresher students – at the Regional College of Art and Design, Manchester – by a wonderfully odd, but patient, spinster tutor known only as Miss Hopwell.
I was one of the 1962 intake at that Northern UK art college and felt a frisson of excitement every day at the shackles of strictly uniformed grammar school years were cast off for a dress code of anything-goes so long as it included blue jeans (and for me, collarless blue or white ex-army officer’s cotton shirts worn outside with an ethnic sash tied at the waist). We were given freedom for the first time in our lives (although I was one of the few who still lived at home) and we all took the bait and included “free love” in the equation!
However, and back to the artwork, I clearly remember this exercise even though it was done all of fifty years ago. The group had a choice of several objects, large and small, with the medium of expression being left to our own imagination and skills. I cannot remember the time we were given – it was meant to be basically a quick exercise – and although I now like to think it was a 10-minute bash, in reality it was probably a 30-minute period more in line with the limits given to contestants on the “Top Chef” programmes so popular on French TV.
I chose a small sea shell as my subject with a bottle of black ink, a pen-nib, stick from a shrub in the garden, a wax candle and a small/medium watercolor paint brush, on dampened cartridge paper. Dampening our drawing-paper sheets was a normal procedure – using brown gummed tape all around the edges so it stayed “stretched” and flat on drying – but on this occasion I drew rapidly with a pen-nib and included a few sweeps of a wax-candle to act as a “resist” to the later ink-wash… then filed-in the solid areas whilst the paper was still quite damp, allowing the ink to merge and spread within the paper’s surface. My intention (now forgotten) at the time was probably to re-create a “wet-look” for the watery subject… and the dribbly blurs do seem to represent delicate fronds of sea-weed or other organic frond-life growing from the shell’s surface.
Image © 1962 Ed Buziak