Audio discussion of my recent exhibit in “Visualising the Network” at the Moss Gallery, Wollaton Street Studios, Nottingham UK – and despite it being my voice, it doesn’t sound too bad!
For a field study project I have in mind I want to test the possibility of using iPad vector drawings with laser cutters to create woodcuts or wood engravings, having used vector apps for several years on an old iPod Touch and a couple of iPads. But now having finally got a big iPad Pro most of my old vector apps haven’t been re-configured for the Pro so I had to try some new ones.
Testing Concepts as a vector app to draw towards woodcut printmaking, I discovered that the Fountain Pen “brush” most appropriate for the appearance of woodcut lines didn’t fully support the Apple Pencil (which I’m also learning how to use) so I couldn’t control the thickness of line, often have to re-draw lines several times or else tweak the position or length after drawing by “transforming” individual lines, so that very intense concentration was required to get a drawing of relatively few lines right, though I gradually improved over about a month of use.
I did try Adobe Draw (a kind of Illustrator lite — but this only offered a white background: I wanted black) and Autodesk Graphic for this job but didn’t like the equivalent brush, the way that the app over “smoothed” every mark (a problem with the Concepts Pen brushes but less so: whose drawing is this — the artists or the apps?) or the “user interface”. Probably fine for the designers well practiced on desktop programs like Illustrator that this app was built for; these vector apps have lots of whistles and bells that I don’t need and the UI often gets in the way. I just want to draw and then use the vector file to print from.
So I got in touch with Tophatch, Concepts developers, through their Facebook page asking if they had plans to make the Pen “brushes” respond to the Apple Pencil, giving a link to the drawings I’d posted to show what I was talking about, and also posted some of them on Instagram using the Concepts hashtag.
The response from the Tophatch Communications Director was “they are gorgeous!” asking if they can “share along your series of sketches with our community” and wanting to keep in touch about how they print. “On the laser engraving, I realize this is new for you, but if you wouldn’t mind keeping me posted on your process… this is exactly the type of application we’ve intended for Concepts, and our team would like to see your progress and hear your feedback as an artist.”
Fine, I’m happy to help, but it’s the summer holidays and the technicians at the art college will be off, so no laser cutting or printing for now, it will have to wait. Besides, I had a long list of things I needed to get on with before teaching starts again, including getting back to “real” painting which I haven’t had time to do since last summer (these days the underpaid over-demanding day-job is killing my art!)
Oh, and I’ve since found out from their Facebook group that the Concepts developers are working on the Pen issue.
So next I thought I’d test Concepts for more conventional drawing, beginning technically very simply by using a fixed width “pencil” brush in black, then white over a mid-to-dark toned ground. I’ve always found it easier to get to know an app — or anything else for that matter — by starting as simply as possible, gradually testing functions cumulatively so that I don’t get lost, wondering how on earth I did something. A few days before I had discovered a set of Google Sphere View postings on Google Maps of the Wałbrzych Mausoleum, a ruin that I’ve been surveying online for my project Considering Silesia for several years. These Sphere Views were photographed in May of this year (2017) so are very new. I thought that Concepts property of enabling an endlessly add-able “infinite canvas” might offer possible ways of ‘documenting’ with Sphere Views’ all round 360 degree panoramas, offer ways of exploring an equivalent way of looking to panning around and zooming in and out on the computer screen, continuing my investigation into our digital “ways of seeing”.
First I had a day out to do some teaching prep in Sheffield galleries including the Ruskin, whose drawings I really enjoy, so did a couple of sketches using Concepts after the Graves Gallery closed earlier than I expected, before visiting the fifth annual show by the Tenderfoot group of our ex-students, now confident graduates of Goldsmiths, Edinburgh, etc., and then also on the train home. I started again in the studio the next day, but I think seeing the Ruskin drawings had a bit of a hangover effect.
The first test drawing seemed promising, though about half way through the three day process I realized that I should have started with a rough overall sketch (again remembering what I teach rather too late!) to get a better idea of the changes of perspective — initially I had been too focused on seeing how the quality of marks I could make might effectively render the image. And then on day three I wondered if I might come across the internal memory limit I’d hit with the other vector apps I’d used on older iPods and iPads — years ago I eventually discovered that the limit of one such app was 40,000 “instructions”. Probably not a problem for most artists, but one I’d hit several times, sometimes having to duplicate drawings at later stages and find ways to re-draw them from earlier stage duplicates with fewer “instructions”. Anyway, I didn’t come across the limit on the first test, so we’ll see.
The next day there was an app update from Concepts which considerably added to the capabilities of the Pencil “brush” I’d just been using and the eraser, so I spent a while playing with those.
My next effort sadly failed because, although I started with an overall under drawing (in red), along with my inexperience on the app I haven’t yet worked out how to “interpolate” my movements around the Sphere View images. I do need to spend more time focusing on this. However, I need that app experience first, so I kept the following drawing simpler — just one perspective and no moving around.
I began again with a straightforward view, indeed I worked from a screen shot of it over the following days as I hadn’t moved perspectives at all, did a light sketch then began to work into it just using the new Soft Pencil brush in black over an ochre ground, gradually adding more detail and tone in two layers — the first at 100% opacity and a second at 28% for lighter tones, only starting the high-lights in white (one layer at 100% opacity, then a second at around 30%) on the third day.
One thing that I was very pleased about was that as the drawing developed I realized that I’d drawn a small section in the wrong position, so I just picked it up and moved the whole section slightly to the left. No having to erase and redraw — result!
I did get to a point towards the end of day three on this drawing when I felt that the app was slowing down (there was a bit of lag after drawing lines and zooming in and out) having spent a lot of time and “instructions” as hatching on the sky, so perhaps I was coming close to its internal memory limit, but I will probably push against this on future efforts. I need fully worked drawings to exhibit, not just sketches. That’s why I’d bought the iPad Pro.
The fourth drawing, on a dark pink ground, followed much the same course, though I felt I gained a little more control over the Pencil. I realized that I was able to make lines of a medium thickness to add to the narrow and broad, though I haven’t yet fully grasped a good range of thicknesses.
I find the limited colors available through the Copic system rather unusual, though designers will be familiar with it, but it may have benefits when the work goes to print — I guess the printers will be able to read the colors from the files. Once again the app slowed later in the drawing, not helped by the Pencil running out of charge, adding time to the process. However, that did show me how much more accurately I could now draw with the Pencil than just my finger, so I’ve evidently made progress.
I’m a long way from being in full control of the Pencil, still using it rather crudely, but to create lighter lines and areas I simply reduced the opacity of some of the layers. However, Concepts’ new “soft eraser” is amazing: as well as erasing it allows you to reduce the opacity of lines or areas really very subtly — knocking back just as you would a real drawing with a good rubber or a brush or tissue. This amount of control in a vector app is tremendous — this is the kind of control it needs to give its Pen brushes.
Will I actually get round to doing any proper painting before term starts?
It’s three years since I last wrote a newsletter, so I guess this is well overdue, but I’ll just give the highlights of what I’ve been up to: –
The big news is that I am currently working towards a large solo exhibition creating a ‘digital survey’ of a ruined Silesian Nazi Mausoleum for the gallery newly built at the Attenborough Arts Centre of the University of Leicester. This new work will be a mix of painting and digital work, the most ambitious element of my project Considering Silesia, begun in 2003, but the show won’t be until 2019 at the earliest. Focussing on iPad stuff and work on paper until I can raise funds for more substantial materials, it’s looking good so far but I have big plans!
Indeed, I’ve now focussed almost exclusively on iPad work for over a year for all my work: it allows me to create even large scale work relatively quickly (no waiting for paint to dry) testing ideas, and – until printing – is cheap and without storage issues. I’ve had a number of top quality archival giclée test prints done at John E Wrights, with the expert guidance of Adrian Nicholls, and even entered my favourite iPad painting into the national John Moores Painting Prize competition – unusually, the rules don’t say “no digital” – so wish me luck!
As if Silesia
My before-going-to-Silesia field studies have been enormously assisted by a series of commissions from City Arts / Creative Quarter (funded by EU Regional Development Fund), First Art and Wash Arts (both funded by Arts Council England), Staffordshire University and Nottingham Castle. These field studies are a training programme of tests, experiments, and thinking for when I eventually go to Silesia – perhaps a bit like Turner in the Alps with an iPad? Begun originally in Heanor and Codnor, I am happy to be asked to go to other places, meet other people. A recent review of iPad landscape sketches at the Lace Market Gallery said: –
Mik Godley’s drawings of scenes glimpsed from buses in north Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are the dominating feature of the gallery.
Godley has become one of the best, and best known, exponents of drawing using iPhone and iPad apps in the region and this work ably demonstrates that his drawing talent is just as expressive on a screen as it is on paper or canvas.
Mark Patterson, Nottingham Post, January 28 2015
Last year’s interview with Kayt Hughes in Left Lion also gives a good overview: –
As well as East Midlands Visual Arts Network feature “Meet the Artist”: –
A City Arts commission for Light Night generated terrific public feedback, a feature on BBC East Midlands Today, interviews on both NottsTV and BBC Radio Nottingham and local press coverage. You can see the BBC feature on my YouTube channel here: –
East Midlands Today posted an “out-takes” video clip on FaceBook that had over 4,000 views in just two days, on top of the thousands of TV viewers on the night.
Now I’m working on new (second!) commissions for Wash Arts – “Unexamined Lives” a project to investigate 20th C heritage of Borrowash near Derby, where I’m under instructions to visit the local pub. I’ve just done a series of drawings documenting Mansfield’s Christmas Lights Switch-on ceremony, again for First Art, and City Arts have also asked me back to create a series of portraits of “older people in care” for the Imagine project and next years Light Night festival – which could be seen as training for a proposal I have to meet any remaining WW2 refugees of former eastern German states who settled in Chicago en masse in 1953, if I can raise the money.
Last year I finally began looking at the controversial subject of post war recriminations and expulsion in former eastern German states in a presentation at PRIMARY. “Document Sudetenland” was a test installation of iPad and smart-phone prints, paintings of dying German soldiers from a US Army documentary film and charcoal drawing on tracing paper over a ten metre long mirror – people could see themselves in the gaps – with beer and German sausages for the audience. Laurence Ismay kindly created a short “trailer” video of the show which you can see here: –
I was very pleased that my Silesian portrait painting was published as the cover for “Representations of Flight and Expulsion in East German Prose Works” by Bill Niven (Prof. School of Arts & Humanities, Nottingham Trent University) by Camden House in Rochester, New York USA. An academic book, so not cheap, but I’m hoping that it will be seen by people that I might work with in the future.
Also on the academic front “Anthropology & Aging Quarterly” published a portfolio of portraits that had featured in “Winter Fires – Art and agency in old age” by François Matarasso, published by The Baring Foundation. Editor Jason Danely (Rhode Island College, USA) said “Ever since I saw Godley’s portraits, they have been lingering in my mind. He does with portraiture what a good ethnographer does with writing.”
I still have my much loved “day-job” (I think students are hilarious – most of the time – and teaching is an important contribution to society, though pay in Further Education is pathetic) despite the education minister telling students not to study arts and a halving of Art & Design Foundation students since the banking crash. So I must thank the many people who wrote letters of support during the redundancy fight – I don’t know what I’d do without this job – sweep streets perhaps? Indeed I have been presented with a Long Service Award of 25 years at Chesterfield College, which is going towards a new iPad Pro.
Realising the potential of an ‘entry level’ smart-phone to draw with for a couple of years, I’ve invested in a much larger “phablet” – basically a pocket tablet that I can make calls on. The new phone has a 5.5 inch screen that has as many pixels as my 27 inch iMac, so I’m now testing what I can do with this – it’s promising so far.
With all the activity on commissions, I did manage a few exhibitions too. (detail) curated by Andrew Bracey went to Bangkok, London & Lincoln, a show of the Light Night drawings at City Arts, a small solo show at Leeds University (see link below) and the aforementioned drawing show at New College Nottingham’s Lace Market Gallery.
PRIMARY continues to grow despite the scarcity of arts funding, but as a founding member having completed the maximum possible of nine years on the board of trustees (actually twelve years from starting) I am stepping down to devote more time to my work.
It’s been fun to see the press reports on the Silesian Nazi Gold Train – a long running “myth” – in Albert Speer’s “Der Riese” tunnels that I have been investigating, below the bunkers I painted. That should help bring a bit of attention to the project – especially if the Polish Army excavations really do find it.
I created a showreel of some of my best iPad and phone drawings for the show at University of Leeds, School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies. You can see it on my YouTube channel here: –
P.S. The text link to YouTube shows at a higher resolution
The book is out – two copies arrived at the studio today – thanks Bill!
During Winter and Spring I worked with a group of Staffordshire University Fine Art students on a project to explore and document Hanley Park in Stoke on Trent through drawing. We had various drawing activities, both on site in the park, and within the Fine Art studios. The project was funded through the Staffordshire University Vice Chancellor’s Teaching Innovation Fund
We sat in silence on the bench just off our regular circuit, listening to the tennis players behind us, facing away so as not to make them self conscious. In a few minutes they built up a regular “womp” until one exclaimed “rally” in triumph – I got the impression these weren’t well practiced players.
Documenting the weekly changes brought by the emergence of Spring, I suggested one student try to record sound, so a second walk-through began by approaching the lake with its noisy geese and quieter ducks. This rare fine day had brought many more people to the park, and the cricket and tennis courts were pretty busy. The splashing of the fountains and waterfalls to the “crack” of cricket bats would make a great soundtrack to the many photos taken of repeated points along the way. Previously, other than the geese, surrounding traffic and the wind, the park had been quiet.
On the train to Stoke again, quite excited to be continuing this project despite it teaming with rain (again) at the moment. However, the forecast is good, and the clouds seem to be breaking. The first couple of Fridays on this project had been plagued by very bad weather, not fitting well with our timetable. But I can see blue skies up ahead – that looks promising.
Back in late Autumn a big old chap wandered over to us with his dog, telling us how the park was in his youth, a well kempt destination for social promenades, the centre of things with music and games, and boating on the lake. After a while the dog was impatient to be off, and we needed to get back to work, so he ambled along to tell his stories to another group of students sat on benches drawing the ornate bandstand. I suppose people have other entertainments these days, other priorities to spend time on, but then more recently seeing a bit of Spring’s good weather bring out the cricketers and dog walkers proved that there is still life in the park – in the very idea of a park, even if it has been sadly neglected and abused.
I’ve become quite fascinated by notions of ‘field studies’ and ‘documentary’ over the last few years, and its connection to my many years teaching observational life drawing. Perception and daily observation are at the core of visual arts, and though ideas tend to take precedence, looking and recording are how art education begins – even if the students don’t quite appreciate that yet, as they are often keen to run before they can walk.
And in these recent years of going out drawing, I’ve occasionally surprised myself by finding something genuinely new – something I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, something that has taken my own practice into exciting new directions. Well, exciting for me, at any rate – even if my fingers have nearly frozen off! Hanley Park in early Spring is a good spot for that.
Oh, and I can recommend the local chippy – very good.
Though, I’m told I should have tried the pies!
These drawings were created with an iPad2 and various drawing apps, and a Samsung Galaxy S3 mini mobile (cell) phone.
Copyright: Mik Godley 2013 – 2014
Thanks to Anna Francis and Sarah Key, Fine Art, Staffordshire University
There will be a free drawing workshop in Hanley Park on Friday 13th June 2014 – follow the link for information: –