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The power of tonal contrast

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We were proposed with the choice of two themes on which to base our year work: Ordinary vs Extraordinary or Migration. After exploring both themes, I chose Ordinary vs Extraordinary as I found that it provided a much wider scope in which to work. Since then, I have completed two artworks based off of that theme. The first artwork is a portrait of Pablo Escobar and the second artwork is a portrait of my sister. Both works were drawn in charcoal however the portrait of my sister includes various other media. The two dominant artists that inspired me throughout the process of my charcoal portraits were Erika Farkas and Tyler Farinholt. My first artwork that I completed was a large scale portrait of Pablo Escobar. Initially, I was unsure of the medium I wanted to use to paint/draw the subject and so I experimented with multiple media, ranging from red acrylic paint to brown pastels. It was Erika Farkas who inspired me to do a charcoal portrait after seeing her magnificent work. The work that particularly inspired me was “Old Iraqi Man” because the subject’s intense and suffering expression caught my attention and evoked a feeling of compassion within me. I liked her use of technique, as the artwork is expressive yet still fine and detailed, showing the wrinkles of the old man’s face. The implied texture of Farkas’ work is extremely lifelike which is seen in the man’s leathery skin which looks so touchable.

I chose to draw Pablo Escobar because he represents a man of extraordinary capabilities with a world famous reputation who came from an ordinary background. He exemplifies the theme of Ordinary vs Extraordinary as he created a remarkable (and unlawful) life for himself from absolutely nothing. What I saw in my Pablo Escobar idea I recognized in Farkas’ “Old Iraqi Man”. The artwork holds a story behind it. The subject in Farkas’ work holds a painful, intolerable expression that looks as if he has lived through war and seen too many deaths that a person should see in their lifetime. This theme of extremity was something that I reflected in my artwork by drawing one of the most phenomenal criminals in the world and using strong contrasts in tone to reflect his extreme emotions. Farkas has evidently used detail to portray the subject in her artwork by using thin, clear brushstrokes and sharp contrasts in tonal value. The artist’s use of charcoal gives the artwork a raw and atmospheric feeling to it, which is what I was drawn to and what inspired me to use charcoal for my portrait of Pablo Escobar. Farkas’ work has an honest feel to it created by the closeness of the subject to the viewer and the artist’s close attention to detail. This quality of her work was something that I wanted to reflect in my portrait of Pablo Escobar, as the photograph was also relatively personal and had a candid approach to it, seen in the look of Escobar’s eyes as well as his stance. It looks as if he was almost caught off guard by the viewer but is trying to act calm. I drew Pablo in great detail, using fine, thin and smooth brushstrokes and making sure there were strong contrasts in tonal value in his face and the surrounds. The second work which I have just completed under the theme of Ordinary vs Extraordinary (towards the end of term one in matric) is a large portrait of my younger sister, Kristin. It is a mixed-media portrait that I created using charcoal, gold leaf, transparency paper and acrylic paint. This artwork was inspired by the work of Tyler Farinholt.

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I used charcoal to complete the drawing aspect of the artwork (i.e. her face and upper body). As I was in the process of completing the portrait, I then decided to use gold leaf for my sister’s hair. Tyler Farinholt inspired me to create a mixed media portrait comprising of charcoal and gold leaf through his Gold Series, namely his artwork titled “Rhyan”. This was my second time using charcoal as well as gold leaf (from an art course I completed in Grade 11) and so I was somewhat experienced with the media. I chose to draw a portrait of my nine-year-old sister because she is one of the most extraordinary people in my life. She is far beyond her years and has the intellectual capacity of someone many years above her. She is beautiful and so is her soul. She reflected my chosen theme of Ordinary vs Extraordinary because to anyone who does not know her, she seems normal. Once you get to know her you understand what a complex and layered character she has, and at such a young age. I used charcoal powder to develop depth within Kristin’s face and upper body by creating darker and lighter shades. Farinholt’s work “Rhyan” inspired me to create a sense of depth in my artwork while creating a smooth finish. His work has a soft texture to it which gives the artwork a warm mood. I attempted to mirror this quality in my portrait of Kristin by using charcoal powder and applying it freely and expressively, and then I would go back and soften the hard edges and marks. I found Farinholt’s use of gold leaf with charcoal very innovative and creative as the two mediums are very different and contrast each other in every way.

Charcoal creates depth in an artwork with a raw, matte and subdued finish whereas gold leaf is shiny, bright, and even obnoxious. I liked the idea of putting the two contrasting media together as the juxtaposition of the clashing media also served to emphasise the theme of the artwork – Ordinary vs Extraordinary. Since this was now my second time working with charcoalI found the process a lot easier and it went much faster too. Once I had completed the hair with gold leaf, I added a layer of transparency (or acetate) paper over my artwork. I then used black acrylic paint to create a background behind the subject. I had never worked with acrylic on acetate before but after practising in my visual diary I became comfortable with it. The layer of transparency paper gives the artwork a contemporary feel (which is different to my previous, more traditional charcoal portrait of Pablo Escobar) and it is very versatile as it can be removed at my choice. Overall, I learnt a lot through Farkas’ and Farinholt’s work and was able to apply some of their techniques and qualities to my own artworks. Farkas’ use of detail and thin, evident brushstrokes to evoke a feeling within the viewer inspired me to emphasise the emotions within my charcoal portrait of Pablo Escobar by using fine line and strong tonal contrasts. The effects of tonal value in my first work created an atmospheric mood and direct glance towards the viewer. Farinholts’ inventive and well-executed use of gold leaf on charcoal was a huge driving force for my second artwork. His soft use of brushstrokes to create a smooth and in dept finish were a great inspiration for my use of charcoal in my portrait of Kristin. As a result, my artwork has a sense of depth to it and an aspect of contemporary value.

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